Tech Universe: Friday 05 July

By Miraz Jordan

How amazing it would be to have a folding, portable washing machine. Photo / Thinkstock
How amazing it would be to have a folding, portable washing machine. Photo / Thinkstock

WASH AND GO: If you have a washing machine it's a fair bet it's large, heavy and plumbed in to the laundry. That's no help if you need to wash clothes on the go. Pu Qingliang, a student in China, created a folding, portable washing machine that weighs only 3 Kg. The machine has a base on which is a foldable tube that expands to become a washing barrel with a wave wheel and rotating shaft connected to a small electric motor. The motor spins an impeller that spins the water to wash the clothes. The whole thing can handle up to 5 items of clothing at a time, so don't expect to be doing a family wash. It'd be great on a caravan trip though.

ACRONYMS WITHOUT BORDERS: GPS is actually an American thing, while Glonass belongs to Russia, and some countries would prefer to control their own version. India has launched their first dedicated navigation satellite, the IRNSS-1A.

By 2015 the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System should have 7 satellites in orbit and the system will be fully operational. It's a regional service that will provide an all-weather absolute position over the Indian landmass and 1,500 Km beyond its geo-political boundary. At least the redundancy could be helpful.

RE CYCLING: So you just disposed of your old broken cellphone for a shiny new one, but where did that old one go? It may have ended up on the streets of a developing nation where residents burned it to extract the precious metals. While doing that they would have inhaled toxic smoke and released heavy metals into their environment. One Harvard undergrad wanted to do something about that problem so she created Bicyclean, a pedal-powered grindstone that pulverises entire circuit boards inside a polycarbonate enclosure, capturing the dust. Bicycles are very common in developing countries where hazardous electronic waste is a problem and the bicycle powered grinder is something the locals could make for themselves. It's a clever idea, but even low cost could be a significant barrier.

NO PRESSURE: Turning nitrogen into ammonia so it can be used as fertiliser takes massive amounts of energy under high pressure. Some estimates say 2% of the world's energy goes to transforming nitrogen into fertiliser. Or, you could use tiny industrial diamonds, hydrogen and light. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin coated synthetic industrial diamonds with hydrogen and exposed them to deep ultraviolet light creating a stream of electrons into water. That reactant liquid then reduced nitrogen to ammonia. The technique could prove useful, and save energy, though the deep ultraviolet light could be a problem. It's definitely the seed of an idea.

GOING UP: Steel cables are often used for high stress jobs such as lifting lifts or loads on cranes or holding up bridges. Because of the stress they have to be inspected regularly, and how better to do that than by robot? The FluxCrawler crawls along cables scanning the steel surface and detecting defects by means of a magnetic flux leakage test. The test exposes the cable to a magnetic field that is disrupted by any defect. The 70 cm robot scans cylinder-shaped surfaces by revolving around the cable.The robot can check cables between 4 and 20 cm in diameter and reports exact details of any crack or fissure. Think about those possible cable defects next time you're in a lift. Fraunhofer Institute.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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