Tech Universe: Friday 28 June

By Miraz Jordan

The Rosphere is a robot that lets farmers know when they need to tend to their crops. Photo / Thinkstock
The Rosphere is a robot that lets farmers know when they need to tend to their crops. Photo / Thinkstock

SPIN DRIFT: The Rosphere from the Technical University of Madrid is intended to travel regularly around fields to monitor conditions and tell farmers the best time to water or otherwise tend their crops. As a sphere though it needs a way to make it move and keep it going if it's not on a slope. The trick, it seems, is to have control systems swing on a spindle at the centre of the hollow device. The swing of the electronics inside makes the sphere roll. Drive wheels at either end of the spindle allow for setting the ball in motion, or for steering by moving just one drive wheel. Cameras, sensors and comms form the working parts of the sphere which can also be remote controlled. It would be interesting to add a mechanism like that to a football just for fun.

POWER HUNGRY: If you're travelling with your laptop you may want to conserve as much battery juice as possible. But on the other hand perhaps you really need to plug in that USB peripheral you've been toting along.

Maybe it would help to know just how much power each device draws. The Centech USB Power Meter plugs into the computer's USB port and then you plug the peripheral into it. An integrated LED display shows you just how much power that device is drawing. It has several modes, including real-time, per second average, maximum and minimum. Knowing how power hungry a device is and then being able to do something about it are unfortunately very different things.

BRIGHT EYES: Facial recognition is popping up everywhere these days in the name of safety and security, or even just thanks to casual photos by folks on the street. The privacy glasses being developed by Japan's National Institute of Informatics aim to help. Light from near-infrared LEDs on the glasses can't be seen by the human eye, but appears bright on an image recorded by a camera. Eleven lights are placed near the eyes and nose as these are crucial for facial recognition. Of course, for cameras that aren't affected by infra-red light this particular method won't work. Just look for the person in the weird glasses, you can't miss her!

COOL RUNNING: The TriMet Portland-Milwaukie light rail line in the USA has been designed to capture power from braking trains and use it for accelerating trains. As trains brake the energy released is stored in a supercapacitor, rather than being lost as heat. When demand spikes, such as when trains accelerate, the supercapacitor delivers instantaneously. Lose some, win some.

FLIGHT PATHS: Unlike buses, or planes for that matter, trains assemble a group of carriages to be towed by one engine. The carriages can hold passengers or cargo, can be dropped off by one engine and picked up by another to reach the correct destination. Clip-Air wants to apply that concept to air travel. A pilot would be in charge of engines, wings and a framework that can pick up modules. Passengers or cargo would be assembled into modules to be carried by a plane. In that way an aircraft could carry perhaps two modules of passengers and one of cargo, leaving each at a different airport along a route and picking up other modules. And best of all, perhaps we cattle class customers wouldn't have to suffer the business class with their leg room, beds and fancy meals as they could be segregated into a module on their own.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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