Tech Universe: Wednesday 26 June

By Miraz Jordan

Electric motors make it greener for plane during taxi operations. Photo / Thinkstock
Electric motors make it greener for plane during taxi operations. Photo / Thinkstock

GREEN ON THE GROUND: Planes do two main things. They fly through the air for the most part, needing powerful engines to do so. But they also spend a chunk of time moving around on the ground as they taxi into position or line up with the terminal. For taxiing they don't need so much power — in fact, small electric motors could often do the job, saving on jet fuel, pollution and overall costs. The Electric Green Taxiing System powers electric motors on the aircraft's main wheels. Power electronics and system controllers give pilots total control of the aircraft's speed and direction during taxi operations. In some of those huge airports around the world using electric motors for taxiing could make a lot of difference.

IN THE FLOW: So you're on your motorbike and need a bit of help with directions. Do you stop and unfold a paper map or haul out the GPS unit? Or do you simply issue a voice command to your helmet and see the information directly on your visor? Moscow-based LiveMap are going with an augmented reality GPS system built directly into a carbon fibre bike helmet.

The system provides a full-colour, translucent picture projected right on the visor as in an F-35 fighter helmet. It provides an unobstructed view that doesn't distract the rider. The developers are working on a prototype at the moment, and aim to release the helmet in the English-speaking world first, as that's where voice recognition is best right now. I bet Ngauranga Gorge and Manukau don't do well with voice recognition.

A SILENT RIDE: If you're in the Special Forces the noise of a regular motor vehicle won't help you sneak up on the bad guys. The Zero MMX electric motorcycle will though because it's pretty much silent. Its heat signature is minimal and an override switch lets the headlight be turned off. The bike's rugged enough to go through a metre of water, while a keyless ignition makes for quick starts. The battery packs can be swapped out in under a minute for the long distance missions but will carry a rider for a couple of hours at up to 135 Kph. Now, in the hands of the bad guys…

ON THE SPOT: At one time asbestos was very popular as an insulation material. Now it's known to be dangerous to health, but is still present in many buildings. One problem is to know if asbestos fibres are floating around in the air, especially if tradespeople are working on a building, potentially stirring up fibres. Current methods mean hours of waiting, but a team from the University of Hertfordshire has created a low cost portable asbestos detector that gives on the spot results. The new devices shines a laser whose light is scattered by asbestos fibres in a pattern that gives them away. Presumably you have the point the thing in the right direction in the first place.

ROCKING THE ICE: What's underneath all the Antarctic ice? A rocky landscape of mountains, rolling plains, gorges and valleys is the answer. In some spots that ice is 3 Km thick. The ice doesn't just lie around on the landscape though. In many places it flows to the sea which can have an effect on sea levels around the planet. Bedmap2 is a map of the landscape beneath the ice. The map has been created by combining millions of data points from satellites, laser readings and ground measurements over two decades. Scientists will be able to use the map to model the behaviour of the ice sheet in the future, making more accurate predictions of behaviours that could affect the daily lives of each of us. Three kilometres of ice is almost impossible to imagine.

Miraz Jordan,

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