Tech Universe: Monday 08 July

By Miraz Jordan

Dangerous landmines are still buried all over the world. Photo / Thinkstock
Dangerous landmines are still buried all over the world. Photo / Thinkstock

MINED ON THE JOB: Unexploded landmines are still a huge problem around the world, and people are out there all the time risking their lives to clear them. One UK designer is experimenting with 3D printed electronic mines as training devices. Handle them incorrectly and they'll detonate, but harmlessly with a red flash and a loud noise. The purpose of the fake mine is to teach deminers about pressure and sensitivity. For training, mines are laid in pairs, with one above ground that uses light and sound to warn that the mine below ground is close to its trigger pressure as the deminer probes around. That definitely beats learning by experience of the real thing.

HELLO YELLOW: Generally when farmers spray herbicides they may be targeting the weeds but the crops get their fair share of spray too. The Danish ASETA project is exploring the idea that a drone aircraft could identify patches of weed by their colour and send lightweight automated ground vehicles to target the weedkiller to the weeds alone.

This could reduce consumption of weedkiller, reduce potential damage on the ground and reduce fuel use for ground vehicles. On the aircraft, a camera is tuned to pick up parts of the light spectrum that correspond to the reflective signatures of particular weeds and crops. For example, thistle absorbs yellow light more than surrounding beet plants. The craft sends data back to a central computer that analyses the images and dispatches ground craft with sprayers. One day the drone will do the whole job.

SPEED RING: While companies are busy laying out fibre optic cables to bring high-speed broadband to the masses the DSL Rings system claims to achieve the same thing at a fraction of the cost and without all the disruption. The system effectively bonds together the copper cables currently in use to create a single large channel rather than multiple small channels. Then it uses a RING configuration from each house to the cable that is claimed to bring higher speed and more bandwidth. The key thing is that DSL speeds drop off over distance, and some houses are further from the all-important box on the street than others. Meanwhile the distance between houses is fairly constant, so speeds can be maintained. There's a great power in clubbing together.

THE GLASS CEILING: It seems a bit wasteful to put a roof on a building and then put solar panels on top of that. Couldn't a roof be made of solar panels? Corning's Willow glass might make that possible. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US made flexible solar cells out of Willow glass that could perhaps be used as a roof instead of on it. Being made of glass such roof shingles could be long-lasting and durable, strong and resilient. The glass also makes it possible to use cadmium telluride, rather than silicon, as the solar cell material. Unfortunately the researchers were testing the idea rather than producing commercial solar panels, but maybe the idea will be picked up by others.

VOICES IN YOUR HEAD: If you're on a train in Germany soon and start to hear voices in your head, don't worry — it might be the window talking to you. One ad company is considering using bone conduction technology to transmit ads directly into the heads of those who lean against the train windows. The Talking Window campaign relies on a special transmitter attached to the window that sends out inaudible high frequency vibrations. When a passenger leans their head against the window they hear audio, such as an advertising message. I'd bet the transmitters won't last more than a day before they disappear or malfunction, with a little help, of course.

Miraz Jordan,

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