Tech Universe: Tuesday 12 November

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Christine Cornege
Photo / Christine Cornege

FARMER'S LITTLE HELPER: If you're a farmer you want to keep your paddocks in good condition. The prototype Agri-Rover from AgResearch is designed to find its own way to a paddock, even under fences, then traverse the paddock taking measurements and treating patches, after which it returns to base. It can report its results to a cellphone or computer. Add a camera and the rover could help monitor stock, especially during calving. The rover runs on battery and solar power, travels at about 5 Kph and can go up and down slopes of up to 20 degrees. Just watch for a feisty cow giving it a good kick.

MORE PRECIOUS WITH RUBIES: If you have money to burn then the Lykan Hypersport car with its 700 HP 3.7 litre flat-six engine will help you make short work of it. The supercar is the first from the United Arab Emirates. Its top speed is an eye watering 395 Kph. The cabin uses carbon fibre, titanium and precious stones and features a holographic display system.

W Motors plan to produce 7 cars. Each will set the buyer back $3.4 million. Precious stones in the cabin? Surely that's pretty much just gilding the lily.

PANTS OFF: How long does it take to make a pair of underpants? Three seconds, if you want a 3D printed disposable pair from Tamicare. Their 3D printer sprays polymers and fibres in a controlled manner to produce disposable underwear, sportswear, bandages and other products. A single printer can produce 10 million biodegradable underpants in a year. Biodegradable disposable underwear could be seriously useful for places like hospitals and rest homes. Perhaps that's one kind of manufacturing that could become local again.

PIECES OF EIGHT: Kite surfers use air currents to skim over the surface of the sea, but how about using kites to catch currents of water under the sea to generate electricity? The idea comes from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US. There are many ocean currents and tidal flows that could be harnessed for power. For example, estimates suggest the Florida Current, which flows from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean, could provide 20 gigawatts. The idea is to tether kites with rigid wings to a floating platform. The kites would spin generators as they spool and unspool on reels while being moved in a figure of eight pattern by water currents. Moving kites would be easier to access for maintenance than stationary turbines on the sea floor. Also they would fly faster than the current so could be smaller while generating more output. So kites and power lines could be a good mix.

GLASS HALF FULL: It's tricky to dispose of nuclear waste, but engineers at the University of Sheffield have an idea that could help. Mixing plutonium-contaminated waste with blast furnace slag and turning it into glass reduces its volume by up to 95%. The process also locks in radioactive plutonium, making a more stable product that could be easier to transport and store. At the moment similar waste must be stored underground and capped with cement, which further increases its volume. One problem with plutonium waste is that it includes filters, protective equipment, metals and masonry. As plastic and other organic materials degrade they can affect the movement of plutonium underground. Turning the whole lot into glass avoids that problem. It's a shame it can't be made useful.

Miraz Jordan,

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