Tech Universe: Friday 09 August

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

SQUISH THE ROBOT: The Sub-Ice Rover is a 1,000 Kg submersible craft that carries 27 sensors and tools. One of its most remarkable features though is that it can fit through a 76 cm wide hole and then expand to full size once it's in place. The problem is that researchers in the Antarctic sometimes want to explore what's beneath that 2.5 Km thick shelf of ice. To do that they hot drill a hole, but the hole is only 76 cm wide, which limits the kinds of instruments they can deploy. A submersible would normally be out of the question. This submersible folds up into a pencil shape to fit through the hole. In the water, joints bend outward along the tube's sides, unfolding it into its normal configuration. That's a nice way to solve the problem.

PHONEPRINTS ARE UNIQUE: You may think your cellphone is identical to any other of the same model, but apparently it's actually unique. German engineers discovered that the radio signal from every cellphone handset has an unalterable digital fingerprint, thanks to tiny variations in the quality of its various electronic components.

Power amplifiers, oscillators, signal mixers and the like can all introduce radio signal inaccuracies. That means each phone produces unique error patterns in its signal. Mind you, the method of detecting these error patterns is technically very demanding, so you may be safe for a while from this problem metadata.

SCRATCHLESS: Touchscreens may be the domain of the smartphone and tablet, but Corning's new Gorilla Glass NBT brings them to laptops. Although some laptops already include soda-lime glass touchscreens the new version of GorillaGlass is tougher and more resistant to scratching and breaking. Anything that makes a laptop more robust without adding weight must be a good thing.

THE EYES HAVE IT: Some paralysed people can't move any part of their body, so communication is almost impossible. They are said to have locked-in syndrome. However the size of the pupil of our eyes changes according to emotional arousal and also thought processes such as making decisions. Scientists have created a system to measure that pupil size, with a camera connected to a laptop. Patients are told to concentrate on solving a maths problem they see while being asked a question. In tests, results were promising for basic communication with locked-in people, based on changes in pupil size. It must need an environment with a really steady light level.

STABBY ROBOT: Drug trials may involve frequently drawing blood from a lot of people. Veebot aim to automate that with a robot that can both find veins and insert needles. The robot examines the patient's arm with a camera while an infrared light illuminates the inner elbow. Software matches what the robot sees with vein anatomy to detect a good candidate. The vein is then examined with ultrasound to confirm that it's large enough and has sufficient blood flow. Then the robot aligns and inserts the needle. The robot can currently match human experts by identifying the correct vein 83% of the time, but the developer aims to bring that up to 90% before starting clinical trials. Interesting that with all the sophisticated imaging equipment the robot can still only match a skilled human.

Miraz Jordan,

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