Tech Universe: Wednesday 4 September

By Miraz Jordan

Could corn be turned into biofuel? Photo / Thinkstock
Could corn be turned into biofuel? Photo / Thinkstock

CORN FOR CARS: At the University of Michigan researchers are taking corn stalks and leaves then adding fungi and bacteria to create isobutanol. The isobutanol gives off 82% of the heat energy petrol provides when burned, compared to ethanol's 67%. It also doesn't mix easily with water. The researchers hope this biofuel could help replace petrol, especially as it uses waste plant materials rather than food crops. That's definitely better than using edible plants.

FULL FOCUS: NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is about to head off to the Moon. One of its missions is to test an alternative to radio frequency transmissions for communication. The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration will use two-way laser communication to carry 6 times more data while using only 75% of the power.

Its main mission objective is to transmit hundreds of millions of bits of data per second from the Moon to Earth. That's enough to send more than 100 HD TV transmissions at the same time. One possible use is to control a robotic mission to an asteroid, providing telepresence to a ground-based controller. Extra data capacity is great but surely speed of transmission is an area needing urgent attention too.

SOCK IT TO ME: A new baby is a scary thing as you wonder if it's doing OK in the other room or while you're asleep. The Owlet takes care of monitoring oxygen levels and heart rate just with a sock. The system of sensors, embedded in a sock, uses pulse oximetry to check vitals and creates a graphical view of health data that reveals trends and patterns. It also monitors skin temperature, sleep quality and sleep position. Data is sent in real time to your smartphone or computer. The sock can be washed in a washing machine so there are no worries about keeping it clean. That sock could bring a lot of peace of mind to worried parents.

STRIKE A BLOW TO CONCUSSIONS: In American Football and many other sports there's a risk of concussion as stress waves from an impact reverberate around the brain tearing tissue apart. A shock absorbing polymer created at the University of California could help prevent concussion. The 2 millimetre flexible polymer, correctly added to a helmet, can reduce the force a person feels from a collision by up to 25%. The polymer could also be added inside shoes to reduce knee problems in runners. It probably has uses in other sports where the shock from a blow is a factor too, such as when a tennis racquet hits
a ball.

ROUGH SHOCKS: Drive over a bump or catch a blast of crosswind and your car loses a bit of energy. The GenShock active suspension system can capture that energy and feed it back into the car's electrical system. Rough terrain, braking or acceleration cause motion. Active dampers respond to the type of road surface and change the pressure inside the shock absorber. Meanwhile fluid flows through a valve and gear pump on the shocks to smooth out the ride and feed the electric motor. That's
perfect for off-road drivers.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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