Tech Universe: Friday 21 June

By Miraz Jordan

Could fruit stickers be replaced by tattoos? Photo / Thinkstock
Could fruit stickers be replaced by tattoos? Photo / Thinkstock

LASER GUIDED FRUIT: Those sticky labels on fruit are a nuisance. In the EU though they may soon be replaced by tattoos laser-printed on the skin. The lasered marks can contain barcodes or fruit information, while iron oxides and hydroxides can be used in the process to enhance the contrast of the mark. That takes one more paper annoyance out of the environment.

SKINNY BATTERIES: These days we pretty much want batteries in everything. US researchers have used 3D printing to create a battery thinner than a human hair. The printer used a 30 micron wide nozzle to deposit layers of nanoparticle-packed paste in a comb-like shape. A second printed comb interlocks with it. Each comb functions as an electrode. The whole assembly is then placed in a tiny container filled with solution. The completed 3D printed lithium-ion battery is dense and thick enough to compete with a traditional battery, and could be invaluable in objects such as hearing aids or tiny drones.

The hardest thing about replacing it though will be finding and grasping it.

SKINNY WINDOWS: The screens in our smartphones and tablets are made from thin but tough and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass from Corning. Now think what would happen if cars used Gorilla Glass too in their windows. It would save a lot of weight and change the centre of mass for a car and that would improve fuel economy. It could also make for a quieter ride. Or at least, so Corning say. With a lower centre of mass it should affect handling too.

KICKING AROUND: There are many high-tech artificial legs around but the Kickstart Walking System takes a new approach: it uses a spring, making it an orthotic that helps, rather than a prosthetic that replaces. The Kickstart is a leg brace to help people who've had a stroke or spinal cord injury. It uses a pulley system and a long spring aligned to the front of the leg. As the walker pulls their leg back it stretches the spring. That coiled energy is released when the leg is lifted, causing the spring to contract and help power the leg forward. More research though aims to add features such as sensing when the foot is on the ground. Walk this way.

OFF THE WIRE: Blind rats are in luck: a new solar-powered retinal implant can help them see again. Unlike other implants the chip is inserted into the sub-retinal layers of the eye and receives images wirelessly from special glasses. Infrared images from the glasses power the implants. Eventually the implants may make their way from rats to people, of course. In the meantime, it may not pay to ask how the rats came to be blind in the first place.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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