Tech Universe: Tuesday 02 July

By Miraz Jordan

A thermoelectric torch could prove to be very handy. Photo / Thinkstock
A thermoelectric torch could prove to be very handy. Photo / Thinkstock

COOL TORCH: Looking for something down behind the stereo? You may reach for a torch and hope the batteries haven't gone flat since the last time you used it. But how about if just holding a torch in your hand could generate enough electricity to power the light? 15 year old Ann Makosinski from Canada has invented just such a thermoelectric torch. The key to her success was to use a hollow tube that allows air to flow freely and cool one side of the Peltier tiles that make the system work. Peltier tiles produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other. Because the flashlight relies on temperature differences it works best when the ambient air is cooler. Which leaves you wondering what other devices could exploit this principle.

MOVING PICTURES: Wi-Vi isn't a typo, but rather a new way to see through walls.

Researchers at MIT are working on a system that uses WiFi to track moving objects through walls. The system works rather like radar, sending two WiFi signals through a wall and measuring the way they bounce back. The signals are encoded in such a way that they cancel each other out when one signal hits a stationary object. If a person's moving behind the wall though the signals don't cancel each other out and the device creates a real-time display of the movements. The researchers suggest such a system could even be built into a smartphone. This could be useful for rescue services and police, but as always, who monitors the monitors?

CAP THE SOUND: You may think of hearing aids as devices you stick in your ears, but the Cynaps Enhance is a baseball cap that does the job. Instead of transmitting sound through the eardrum, the cap uses bone conduction to send vibrations directly to the inner ear. Dual microphones in the bill allow the wearer to pinpoint the location of amplified sounds, such as oncoming traffic or voices which aren't necessarily in their direct line of sight. Meanwhile a Bluetooth connection means phone calls and streaming audio can be transmitted through the cap too. People who can hear just fine may choose to wear the cap with earplugs to keep out environmental noise while receiving specific sounds they want. All that and the cap provides shelter from sun and rain too.

BIKE LIGHTS FOREVER: Rydon's Pixio solar-powered bike light can be permanently mounted to any bike frame. The light is fully sealed, water resistant and a rubber casing makes it impact resistant too. The solar panel stores energy during the summer for cycling at night. After 5 days of sunlight the batteries are charged with 75 hours worth of light — enough for roughly 2 years of use without sunlight. A locking mechanism on the strap can only be released with a special tool, making the light resistant to theft. The big question, of course, is how bright is the light? Rydon.

IMAGINARY STRANGERS: People have anxieties about all kinds of things, such as using public transport, shopping, talking to strangers in places like museums. The University of East Anglia has tested whether virtual environments and green screen video techniques could help them overcome their anxieties. Participants saw their own life-size image projected into specially scripted real-time video scenes. The virtual environments encouraged participants to practice small-talk, maintain eye contact, test beliefs that they wouldn't know what to say, and resist safety behaviour such as looking at the floor or being hyper-vigilant. Further research is needed now to see if this is in fact a useful technique. It sounds like a great way to practice things that are normally scary.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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