Tech Universe: Thursday 30 May

By Miraz Jordan

An app has been developed that can show you around your car's engine. Photo / Thinkstock
An app has been developed that can show you around your car's engine. Photo / Thinkstock

CAPS AWAY: If you're the kind of driver who has trouble with routine tasks such as checking the oil, water or washer fluid, and you drive a Ford then you're likely to find the augmented reality app from Inglobe Technologies pretty useful. Hold your iPad so its camera can see the engine compartment and an overlay shows where the crucial items are and how to access them, even including which way to unscrew the cap. Perhaps this would be most useful on rental cars.

PHONE SPECTRUM: Whip out your smartphone and quickly test for environmental toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses and other molecules. Well, maybe you can't do that right now, but thanks to researchers at the University of Illinois such capabilities aren't far away. They've developed a cradle and app that use the phone's built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor.

The cradle contains various lenses and filters and keeps the phone's camera correctly aligned. It also has a slot for a normal microscope slide that must be correctly prepared. The phone measures the spectrum of light from the slide and reports the data, just as a larger and much more expensive high resolution spectrophotometer would. Scientific field work seems to be growing easier and cheaper all the time, thanks to smartphones.

SWIMMING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT: Can't bear to go swimming because you'll miss out on listening to your tunes? The FINIS Neptune MP3 player doesn't use earbuds. Instead it transmits audio through the cheekbone directly into the inner ear via bone conduction. Attach the 2 side speakers to your goggles straps with spring clips and rest them on your cheekbones. Meanwhile the player sits at the back of your head. The player has a high contrast OLED screen that makes it easy to choose what to play. The unit is waterproof to 3 metres and holds about 60 hours of playback, while the battery lasts more than 8 hours so should suit most swimmers. Meanwhile, without earbuds you can still hear what's going on around you. Which could be rather handy.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: The River Congo is the second largest river in the world, dumping 42,000 cubic metres of water every second at Inga Falls. A new hydroelectric project plans to take advantage of that volume to generate 40,000 MW of electricity, starting with a smaller project to generate just 10% of the full amount. The energy though will go to the Congolese copper mines, South Africa and potentially Nigeria, Egypt and even Europe. The Congolese people are unlikely to use any themselves, since they are generally far from any power grids. The potential is there, it just won't be very evenly distributed.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE ORBIT: Thanks to orbiting satellites GPS lets us work out our position on Earth quite accurately. But spacecraft can't really use Earth-based techniques for working out their position. For one thing, the margin of error increases with distance from Earth so a spacecraft out at the edge of the solar system could be as much as 500 Km away from where it's supposed to be. One idea is to use pulsars that emit x-rays. By measuring the arrival time of pulses from 3 different pulsars a craft could work out its position in 3D space with an accuracy of around 5 Km, even beyond the solar system. Ahh, the optimism.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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