Tech Universe: Tuesday 16 July

By Miraz Jordan

Imagine a watch with no hands or digital display. Photo / Thinkstock
Imagine a watch with no hands or digital display. Photo / Thinkstock

TIME BALL: The Bradley is a wristwatch. It has neither digital display not hands though: instead it has a couple of magnetic balls that indicate hour and minute to those who touch or look at it. The watch face has ridges that mark out 12 hours. The hour ball runs around a channel on the side of the watch, and the minute ball uses a channel on the top. If the magnetic connection is lost a gentle shake restores it.

TOUCHING TONES: Imagine if the exact position of your fingers on a piano key could affect the sound that was produced. TouchKeys add a capacitive surface to keys on any piano-style keyboard. Sensor overlays precisely measure the location, contact area and even pressure of the player's fingers on the key surfaces. Data goes via USB to a computer to control synthesis software to create expressive effects including vibrato, pitch bends, timbre changes and improved emulations of non-keyboard instruments.

Learning to play keyboard could have just become a lot harder.

HEAD SHOT: Those who play sports are liable to suffer impacts to the head. But how serious is that impact? The Reebok Checklight is a cap that can be work under a helmet or on its own. A green light on a tab at the back shows the cap is on and functioning. A yellow light reports a moderate impact, while a red light indicates a severe impact. The cap's gyroscope, accelerometers, and microprocessor are connected through flexible electronics for a real-time impact display. With the light behind the head, an audible alarm could be a handy thing too.

COUGH HERE: Pneumonia kills many children all round the world, yet it's easy to treat with antibiotics. Part of the problem is that in some places it's not easy to get access to a trained healthcare worker who can diagnose the distinctive cough by listening to it. Researchers from Australia and Indonesia recorded children with and without pneumonia coughing then trained a computer algorithm to tell the difference. The algorithm is very accurate and requires only a microphone and small computer. In fact, it would make an ideal smartphone app. It's starting to seem as though one of the most effective forms of aid to some developing countries would be smartphones and the services they need to support them.

OFF BY ONE: How long is a year, a day, a second? Scientists need an incredibly accurate measure. Since 1967, the second has been defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the microwave radiation absorbed or emitted when a caesium atom jumps between two particular energy states. Special clocks called Caesium atomic-fountain clocks are used to measure this frequency and set national time standards. But these clocks aren't accurate enough: after 100 million years they may be out by as much as one second. Now scientists are working with optical lattice clocks that measure the average emission frequency from several thousand trapped atoms, rather than just a single atom. There's no room for rough and ready estimations in that work.

Miraz Jordan,

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