Tech Universe: Wednesday 08 May

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers have created a robot that resembles a bee. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers have created a robot that resembles a bee. Photo / Thinkstock

BEES WITH BRAINS: Carbon fibre RoboBees created at Harvard University are about the size of a coin and weigh less than a tenth of a gram.

Although they have to be tethered to a power supply and controller they fly vertically and horizontally with ease. The independently controlled wings flap at up to 120 times per second using piezoelectric actuators. Such tiny robots could be used for environmental monitoring, or perhaps pollinating crops where real bees are in short supply. Now the researchers want to find tiny power supplies and computers that can let the bees off their leashes. One day the skies may be full of tiny robots.

OIL SOAK: Boron nitride is also known as white graphene and it can do a particularly useful job: cleaning up organic pollutants from waterways. The material has a large surface area for its weight, so it can mop up a lot of pollutants. In recent tests researchers found it could mop up 29 times its own weight in engine oil yet still float on water.

Then the oil can be driven out in a furnace or by being ignited so the sheet of boron nitride can be used again. Even better would be to find a way to extract the oil so it could be used productively.

SILVER EAR: A team from Princeton University recently used 3D additive printing to create an ear with embedded electronics. They combined a matrix of hydrogel and calf cells to form cartilage with silver nanoparticles that form an antenna. Potentially electric signals from the printed ear could be connected to a person's nerve endings and restore or enhance human hearing. I guess the calf cells would be replaced with human cells.

SPIN CHARGE: An integrated motor drive and battery charger for electric vehicles may reduce charging time from 8 hours to two. The new power transfer method involves a rotating transformer that includes the motor and inverter in the charger circuit to increase the charging power at a lower cost. At the moment the system works in the lab, but the researchers aim to enhance it for industrial use. Getting those charging times down is crucial.

SEIZURE SIGNALS: Australian researchers have had success predicting epileptic seizures in a group of people who experienced between 2 and 12 seizures per month. They did it with two devices: one is implanted between the skull and brain surface to monitor long-term electrical signals in the brain. The other is implanted under the chest and sends signals recorded in the brain to a handheld device. The handheld device used red, white and blue warning lights to indicate the likelihood of a seizure. After a month of simply recording EEG data an algorithm was developed for each person. Although the warnings weren't always correct, 8 of the 11 patients had their seizures accurately predicted between 56% and 100% of the time. Which, after all, is a lot better than no warning at all.

Miraz Jordan,

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