Tech Universe: Tuesday 08 October

By Miraz Jordan

Not a bird, not a plane... What is an underwater Falcon?  Photo / Thinkstock
Not a bird, not a plane... What is an underwater Falcon? Photo / Thinkstock

BIRD: NO; PLANE: NO; SUB: YES: It's not exactly a plane, although it looks like one. The DeepFlight Super Falcon from Hawkes Ocean Technologies is a 2 or 3 person electric submersible. It's 6.4 metres long and up to 2.7 metres wide, depending on whether the wings are folded or not. It cruises at up to 6 knots and can descend to 120 metres. The sub operates on the same principles as aircraft, and is always buoyant so it'll return to the surface rather than sinking if everything is turned off. Oh, and you can launch the sub from your yacht, so that's handy.

A SWEET DEVICE: Some people with diabetes must constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and inject insulin if it's needed — that's a highly manual process. An artificial pancreas from Medtronic may make their lives easier. The device continuously reads the wearer's glucose levels then a computer algorithm triggers a pump to provide appropriate amounts of insulin.

The wearer inserts a sensor under their skin then hooks the device to their belt. The device can alert the wearer to low blood sugar and if necessary shut off the supply of insulin for 2 hours. At the moment the device's false alarm rate is 33%, but of course they're working on that. Even so, many people with diabetes will welcome the automation.

BOTS GO BALLASTIC: Cargo ships work hard and in conditions that make regular inspections and repair vital. Ballast tanks full of seawater help keep ships steady, but a visual inspection every 5 years means putting the ship in dry dock and it's a difficult and hazardous task for either humans or robots. Swiss students have created a functional prototype of a Ship Inspection Robot that uses magnetic wheels to crawl along the metal ballast surface. A human inspector controls the robot which can run for up to 3 hours on a full battery charge. Cameras, lights and infra-red distance sensors let the operator see via WiFi what's going on. Four overlapping magnetic wheels allow the robot to always stay in contact with the ship's surface, even as it navigates sharp angles, vertical surfaces and overhangs. As always: making the robots do the dirty and dangerous work.

WEEDS FOR THE POT: Samoa has problems with an introduced invasive Merremia vine that strangles more productive plants. Meanwhile electricity costs are extremely high and many villages where incomes are low cook on open fires that emit harmful smoke, polluting the air and damaging health. A biogas project in Piu Village aims to harvest the weeds and turn them into power for cooking and lighting. Weeds and waste are put into biodigester tanks along with bacteria. As the waste breaks down gas is released that can then fuel stoves and lights. Even weeds can be useful if they're just handled the right way.

HOW DID YOU SLEEP?: Would you like to monitor your sleep? Many devices that monitor sleep have you wear a bracelet or other gadget that can in fact interrupt your normal sleep patterns. Beddit is a passive sensor resembling a strip of sticky tape that you put under the sheet. The sensor uses ballistocardiography: it detects the tiny movements caused by your respiration and heartbeat then turns that data into useful information. The next morning an app gives you a full report on your sleep quality, heart rate, breathing rhythm, movement, sleep stages, snoring, and the sleeping environment; noise level and light. Then it goes on to provide personalised tips and guidance for improving your sleep and wellness. In a world where it seems we're all sleep-deprived this could change your life. Video:

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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