Tech Universe: Friday 10 May

By Miraz Jordan

Designers are reinventing the wheel. Photo / Thinkstock
Designers are reinventing the wheel. Photo / Thinkstock

A NEW WHEEL: Bike wheels have spokes, as we all know. Except for Loopwheels — bicycle wheels with integral suspension. They're designed for smaller folding bikes that don't usually have any room for suspension. The wheels reduce vibration and give a smoother ride. Rather than spokes radiating to the rim from a central hub, Loopwheels have 3 oval loops of carbon composite material between the hub and the rim. Aluminium extrusion connectors attach the springs to the hub and rim. That's a clever idea.

THE WIND AND THE LIGHT: The new LED streetlights PingQuan, China are interesting. Rather than being connected to the grid via underground wires each one has its own HoYi! wind turbine, two 280 watt solar panels and a storage battery, allowing it to function completely off-grid.

I guess maintenance costs could be quite a bit higher than regular streetlights though.

DNA TO GO: Extracting DNA is no easy task, given that it involves a centrifuge, lots of toxic chemicals and 20 or 30 minutes of work. Researchers compare it with picking up human hairs using a crane. A handheld device from the University of Washington does the job easily in 3 minutes thanks to microscopic probes and electric fields. DNA-sized molecules stick to the probe and are trapped on the surface ready for collection and analysis. The handheld device can handle 4 human fluid samples at a time, but it should scale easily to handle the more usual 96. Perhaps this could be useful for crime scene forensics.

TB ON A STICK: If a doctor suspects you have TB it can take a couple of weeks to culture a sample and make a diagnosis that may or may not be accurate. A new microfluidic device the same size as a standard lab slide can reduce that wait time to a couple of hours. The new system detects DNA from the tuberculosis bacteria in small sputum samples. The device amplifies any target DNA sequences and captures them with polymer beads. Then a miniature nuclear magnetic resonance imager identifies the TB. Test results from known samples produced no false positives and were highly accurate. The device isn't yet ready for real-life use yet, but it could be very valuable for controlling the spread of TB in developing countries. This move to handheld medicine is very encouraging.

TWO FACED ADS: There's a poster on a bus stop in Spain. As seen by most adults it displays an innocuous message, but viewed from lower down, where a child would see it, there's a phone number and information about getting help if you're being abused. The aim of course is to help children even where they're being accompanied by an adult who's abusing them. The ad uses lenticular printing which many of us are familiar with from cards that show different pictures depending which way you turn them. How long until junk food advertisers twig to this?

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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