Tech Universe: Tuesday 14 May

By Miraz Jordan

HERB is a robot that can separate the cream from an Oreo cookie. Photo / Thinkstock
HERB is a robot that can separate the cream from an Oreo cookie. Photo / Thinkstock

THE ROBOT OR THE CREAM?: HERB is a sophisticated Home Exploring Robot butler being built at Carnegie Mellon University. Its role will be to perform challenging manipulation tasks in places where people live and work. Its first task was to separate an Oreo cookie from its cream — a surprisingly challenging task for a robot, but obviously an essential skill. In the end one side prevailed …

GENERATOR PLANT: When researchers at the University of Georgia in the US wanted to find a better way to generate electricity they studied plants — photosynthesis, to be precise. Using structures called thylakoids, plants capture photons of sunlight and convert them into almost an equal number of electrons, splitting water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen. The electrons eventually create sugars that allow the plants to grow.

The researchers manipulated proteins contained in the thylakoids, interrupting the pathway along which electrons flow. Then they added carbon nanotubes to act as electrical conductors. Their approach resulted in greater levels of electrical current than those reported in similar systems. They suggest this system could be used for remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run. We're still only playing catch-up with nature.

C+ FOR FRUIT: LED lamps are the in thing for those wanting to save energy. It turns out they also boost the amount of Vitamin C in tomatoes grown under them. Researchers at Wageningen University suspended special LED modules between the plants around tomato clusters, exposing the tomatoes to extra light. Some varieties of tomatoes grown under the LEDs contained up to twice as much vitamin C as the tomatoes not exposed to the lights. Hmmm, is there any effect LEDs are having on us then?

TOUCH TO LOCK: Fumbling with doorkeys while juggling an armload of shopping is never fun. With a Kevo doorlock all you have to do is touch it, and let your iPhone handle the unlocking side of things. If you don't have an iPhone, you can buy a key fob instead. The smartphone app also lets you send an electronic key to other people, such as tradespeople, and you can revoke access at any time. The lock uses military grade PKI encryption to protect you, and works via Bluetooth Smart Ready Technology. The lock also has a standard key for when you've lost your smartphone. It's helpful that you don't have to actually work the phone to make the door unlock — just having the phone in your pocket is all it takes.

BABYGRAMS: An ultrasound picture of a foetus is so flat. Pioneer's new hologram service in Japan creates a 3D image of a developing baby, using a compact hologram printer. A full colour hologram takes 120 minutes to produce, while a single colour takes only 90 minutes. The hologram is visible within a 23 degree viewing angle and in white light. I wonder how that extra level of detail will affect those who later go on to miscarry?

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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