Tech Universe: Tuesday 13 August

By Miraz Jordan

Surf Lifesavers might be able to get to those who need rescuing quicker. Photo / Michael Craig
Surf Lifesavers might be able to get to those who need rescuing quicker. Photo / Michael Craig

GO GETTER: A surf lifesaver on a beach may need to paddle furiously on a rescue board to reach the person in trouble. The ASAP rescue craft is designed to speed the lifesaver along l at up to 25 Kph with a solar powered electric motor. The craft resembles a tiny boat that the rescuer lies on top of. The ASAP is lightweight and can easily be launched by one person. A sloping centre platform is designed to make it easy to slide an injured person on board. More speed, more rescues.

GOOD AS GOLD: To see if a sample of ore contains gold you may turn to chemical analysis, and wait days for the results. A gold processing plant may only recover between 65% and 85% of gold present in mined rock. CSIRO have developed a new technique using gamma-activation analysis that takes only a few minutes and is much more accurate.

When you're searching out minute traces of gold accurate testing can mean a difference of millions of dollars of revenue. High-energy x-rays activate any gold in the sample, and the activation is then picked up using a sensitive detector. The new technique causes rocks to be processed that may otherwise be discarded. The technique could also be modified for other precious metals. It sounds a lot like squeezing gold from a stone.

GOOD WITH GOLD: If you think your mobile phone or camera is still too big and clunky then soon you may find them slimmed down. German researchers made tiny and flexible power supplies using vaporised manganese dioxide that precipitates into thin, bendy films. Since manganese dioxide isn't a terribly good electrical conductor the researchers also added a layer of gold, which is conductive. Tests show that the tiny, bendy power supply can store more energy and provide more power per unit volume than state of the art supercapacitors. And this is one reason why the world needs so much gold.

FROM FRONT TO SIDE: Is 3D still popular? A team at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences uses mathematical image processing to create a 3D movie of any scene, using just 2 frames from a stationary camera or microscope. The system uses clues from how the light enters the camera to compute how the image would look if it were taken from a different angle. The method infers the angle of the light at each pixel, based on 2 images from the same camera position but focused at different depths. From there the software can compute how the image would appear if the object were moved sideways, creating a stereo 3D effect. Those computers, eh!

THERE IS NO NUMBER 6: If you want to keep a copy for your records of something like an invoice you may turn to a scanner. The problem is that with some scanners what you get out may not be the same as what you put in, especially where numbers are concerned. It's not a problem with optical character recognition either. Some Xerox scanners / copiers randomly replace digits with different digits. One researcher found the problem appeared to be created by a lossy compression of the image data where patches of image data are reused. The researcher found the number 6 would often be turned into an 8, but other numbers are affected too. We already know not to trust photos. It seems that may need to extend to scans too.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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