Tech Universe: Thursday 08 August

By Miraz Jordan

Tel Aviv. Photo / Thinkstock
Tel Aviv. Photo / Thinkstock

UP IN THE AIR: In Tel Aviv they're going with a magnetically levitating skytran mass transit system. Use a website or mobile app to request a ride and a personal two-seater pod quickly turns up to collect you. You board and the lightweight pod whisks you off to your destination.The skytran pods move on a guideway suspended 7 metres above ground. Stations are simply a staircase and platform and are placed at frequent intervals. The electric pods could be powered via solar energy, while the magnetic levitation reduces friction and makes it possible to travel at up to 240 Kph. That kind of speed would need a very large city to actually make it viable.

SLING THE HOOK: It's a challenge to boost objects into space. Sending things up on a rocket uses huge amounts of fuel and requires enormous thrust. The Slingatron from HyperV Technologies aims to use the power of a slingshot to do the job at much lower cost.

While it couldn't transport fragile cargo such as humans or delicate equipment, it could be useful for water, fuel, and building materials. The ideas is that a spiral track 300 metres in diameter will accelerate and sling a payload into space at up to 7 Km per second. A small on-board kick motor would make final adjustments to put the payload into orbit. I wonder how those liquid payloads would respond to being swung round and round and round?

REUSE, REUSE, REUSE: Your old phone is worth something after all. In the UK one recycling company sifts through millions of old phones and sends on those that are still working for use in other countries. They use special software to wipe details from any memory residing in the phone — they say even bank details may remain in the phone itself. The company removes functioning parts such as camera or ringer modules from other phones and sells them on to be used in repairing broken phones. Metals such as gold, copper and palladium are recovered — there may be as much as 0.2 grams in an average phone. And you thought that old phone was worthless.

IN FULL VIEW: Selling your house? You might want your real estate agent to capture images with a MatterPort camera. The camera takes numerous images then an online service stitches them together to create a seamless 3D walkthrough. A 140 square metre furnished house could be captured within a couple of hours. It also creates an aerial view and a floorplan view, and even measures spaces. Images can be viewed with a web browser and special plugin, though you can also create a video flythrough.Plain old photos will soon be totally inadequate.

SMILE, YOU LIKE IT: Researchers from the University of Tokyo have been using software tweaks to make people look happier or sadder when they see themselves in a mirror. Their Emotion Evoking System takes a webcam image of a face then turns the mouth slightly up or down, and changes the area around the eyes. The changes make the person appear to smile or frown. When their faces on screen appeared to smile, people reported that they felt happier. They felt sadder when the faces frowned. When objects such as scarves were associated, the test subjects transferred those feelings to the object, liking or disliking it. The researchers say shops could use a system like this to subtly encourage shoppers to buy items such as clothing. So suddenly the most expensive line is the most popular.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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