Tech Universe: Wednesday 01 May

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers implanted a Micro Mote inside a mouse tumour. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers implanted a Micro Mote inside a mouse tumour. Photo / Thinkstock

A MOTE IN THE MOUSE: Back in the day a computer would fill a huge room; now you often carry one in your pocket. Researchers at the University of Michigan are working on smart dust, with prototypes only a cubic millimetre in size. Their Michigan Micro Motes include sensors to monitor temperature or movement then send data via radio waves. Of course you'll be wanting to know if these microscopic computers need AA batteries. The idea is that they'd scavenge energy from nearby sources, perhaps via a solar panel or by exploiting temperature differences. Although this all seems more a fantasy than a practicality, the Michigan team has implanted a Micro Mote inside a mouse tumour so that it can report back on its growth. There may yet come a day when a magician can sprinkle a handful of dust and wave a wand to work miracles.

SOAPY SAVINGS: Mosquitoes famously help transmit malaria — a big problem in some parts of the world. Hundreds of thousands of people die from malaria each year.

That's why two students in Burkina Faso invented a mosquito repelling soap. Faso Soap, is made from karate citronella, and other secret local herbs. Who needs nano-stuff? Low tech can also save lives.

DID YOU SAY?: The Chinese Si-Rui brand cars are gaining voice recognition supporting Mandarin Chinese. Soon drivers will be able to us voice commands for the radio, TV and DVD player, media player and navigation system. For example, apart from just playing the next song, a driver may be able to say "Search gas station" to find the nearest place to fill up. Actually, it's the DVD controls that concern me.

EARTH AND WATER: Hydrophobic materials are usually made from thin polymer coatings that degrade when heated and are easily destroyed by wear. This reduces their usefulness in equipment for taking salt out of water or in steam-based power plants. Researchers at MIT created a new class of hydrophobic ceramics that can endure both extreme temperatures and rough treatment. That's an achievement because ceramics generally attract water, rather than repelling it. It's rare-earth oxides that do the trick. By fusing them into a solid ceramic form through sintering the result is materials with strong hydrophobic properties.

THE THINKING PHONE: We already control lots of devices with our brains — it's just that the signals pass through an intermediary such as fingers or voice box to do it. Now Samsung's Emerging Technology Lab want to let us be more direct. Their research involves a cap studded with EEG-monitoring electrodes. They've already shown that people can concentrate on an icon blinking at a distinctive frequency to launch an app and make selections within it, for example. Unlike traditional EEG monitors that can take nearly an hour to set up this cap takes only a few seconds as it doesn't require any gel. At this stage it's all very slow and clunky, but further research should help speed things up. It's good to see plenty of research going on around controlling devices by thought alone.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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