Tech Universe: Friday 14 June

By Miraz Jordan

Scientists are hoping to harness the power of the ocean. Photo / Thinkstock
Scientists are hoping to harness the power of the ocean. Photo / Thinkstock

OH, H2: There's one thing we have plenty of on this planet, and that's the ocean. So wouldn't it be useful if we could use seawater to power our homes and vehicles? Australian scientists have produced an artificial chlorophyll on a conductive plastic film that acts as a catalyst to begin splitting water. That's the first step to producing hydrogen for power. The research team say 5 litres of seawater could power an average-sized home and an electric car for a day, and their flexible catalyst could be used in portable devices. That daily dip in the ocean could perhaps refresh both you and your gadgets.

LOW FLYING TRAIN: On the Bullet Train it's a quick trip from Tokyo to Nagoya: a mere 90 minutes. Before too long though that trip will take only 40 minutes. Japan's L0 Series trains use magnetic levitation technology, and will eventually carry 1,000 passengers at a time at up to 500 Kph. The first tests have taken place and the trains should be ready for passengers in 2027.

No watching the countryside go by at that speed.

SPECCY 5 EYES: Monash University are working on a pair of glasses that will send signals directly into the brain. The glasses contain a camera and an eye movement sensor to direct the camera. Processors in the side of the glasses will modify images from the camera and send them wirelessly to an implant under the skull that will stimulate the brain's visual cortex. The final result will be to help people with impaired vision to see better, including those with glaucoma or macular degeneration. Researchers have produced a prototype and trials begin next year. At least most of the equipment could be easily upgraded as required, though the implant will be harder to update.

SMART AND DIM: If you're driving on the open road you probably want the headlights on high, but having to dim them every time there's another car around is annoying. BMW's Highbeam Assistant handles that for you. An image sensor on the inside of the front mirror checks the traffic and light conditions as you drive and sends control signals to the headlights. When you travel behind another car the headlights move to create a dark area immediately behind the car, so avoiding blinding the driver. Similarly, when oncoming traffic is detected the headlights move or dim to prevent glare. This one is long overdue.

GO SOLAR: There are electric wheelchairs, and then there are solar powered electric wheelchairs. A student team at the University of Virginia designed a solar-powered wheelchair with retractable panels. The chair uses lightweight and robust materials and high-efficiency solar cells. The solar panels charge batteries even when it's cloudy and offer shade on sunny days. A USB connection allows the user to charge devices on the go, while the panels provide around 4 or 5 hours of power for the chair to travel at 8 Kph. At low speeds it can run indefinitely without using the battery. Thanks to the folding solar panels, the wheelchair need take no more space than one without the panels. Be the envy of all your wheelchair using friends.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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