Tech Universe: Thursday 25 July

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers have created a robot that mimics the movements of a crab. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers have created a robot that mimics the movements of a crab. Photo / Thinkstock

RESEARCH AT A CRAWL: The Crabster CR200 is a robot exploration vehicle from Korea, designed for turbulent coastal waters. Rather than using the propellers that drive other vehicles it has 6 articulated legs. It also has thrusters so it can fly just above the sea floor. The front two legs can be used as manipulator arms so the robot can pick up and store items of interest. The legs allow the vehicle to navigate even in the strong currents that would cause propeller-driven vehicles to drift off course. The whole thing is about the size of a Smart car. It must be the legs that make it much scarier though.

PHONE WITH A VIEW: The Surround-See prototype is a very interesting idea. A student at the University of Alberta modified his smartphone by adding an omni-directional camera that enables peripheral vision around the device.

Meanwhile the software allows the phone to use what the camera sees and learn from it. The phone can detect, for example, that the user is in a car and warn them not to use the phone while driving, or allow the user to control the volume of nearby speakers with a wave. It can even simply report on its location. The camera adds an inconvenient lump to the phone, but if it could be better integrated such a device could be very powerful.

THIS TOUCHSCREEN LIKES FINGERPRINTS: Security is a problem many are concerned with these days. Biometric measures such as fingerprints could be useful in areas like banking apps, but fingerprint readers are a whole separate device. The Fiberio from the University of Potsdam is a touch screen that also reads fingerprints. It's a rear-projected tabletop system that identifies users based on their fingerprints during each interaction, such as when approving invoices. At the heart of the system is a fibre optic plate that diffuses light on transmission, allowing it to act as projection surface. It also reflects light allowing for fingerprint recognition. The setup requires a high-res camera, a projector and a light source. Provided the glass doesn't smear from all the fingerprints, that kind of device could be very useful for bank tellers.

OPEN AND SHUT: People with diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar levels and use insulin to keep things in balance. Researchers at North Carolina State developed a special sponge that could deliver drugs as they're needed. The researchers created a spherical sponge-like matrix that surrounds a reservoir of insulin. The whole thing is only 250 micrometers in diameter and can be injected. An increase in blood sugar triggers a reaction in the sponge, essentially making the holes larger, allowing insulin to escape into the bloodstream. When blood sugar drops again the sponge closes up and the flow of insulin stops. The technique has been shown to work in lab mice and could perhaps be used for delivering cancer drugs by adapting the sponge. Anything to make the process easier.

BUMPS SMOOTH THE RIDE: United Airlines are adding a little something to their planes in order to save fuel and money; Along with a winglet, or upturned end on the wings, they're adding a ventral strake that goes under the fuselage. The additions help smooth the passage of air round the body of the plane and cut down on turbulent flow and drag. That in turn reduces fuel consumption. Tiny tweaks with a massive effect.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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