Tech Universe: Wednesday 27 November

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / John Borren
Photo / John Borren

ON THE WINGS OF A JELLY: It flies in the air as a jellyfish flies in water: by pumping air downwards with a sweep of its 4 wings. The four-winged robot from New York University has a carbon-fibre frame surrounded by two pairs of thin plastic wings that open and close when driven by a motor. The robot weighs only 2 grams and could easily drift on air currents. For now it's tethered to a power source, but if the shape and flexibility of the wings could be refined it may become powerful enough to carry a battery. A robot like this could be used for monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. That seems more useful than a balloon.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE PLANET: UrtheCast's cameras have been launched and will soon be streaming live satellite images of the Earth into any computer that asks for them. The cameras are being installed onto the International Space Station and will provide a continuous almost-live view of the surface of the Earth.

That Space Station circles the Earth 16 times per day and provides coverage between 51 degrees North and 51 degrees South, which includes New Zealand. One camera has a resolution of 5 metres, while a 4K video camera can create videos up to around 90 seconds long at a resolution of 1 metre. No more waiting for Google Maps to be updated.

STEALTH COPTER: E-volo's VC200 Volocopter seats two people. Instead of a helicopter's usual blades though it uses 18 small rotors arranged in a ring above the cabin. The rotors are driven by electric motors, making the volocopter very quiet. Test flights have shown it to be stable and smooth. The aim is for a cruising speed of at least 100 Kph with a flight duration of more than an hour. So that's 18 motors that could fail?

SUNLIGHT ON THE SHIRT: Korean researchers think they could turn a shirt into a battery charger by using a flexible, inexpensive material. They found they could coat polyester yarn with nickel and then carbon, and use polyurethane as a binder and separator. The result was a flexible battery that kept working, even after being folded and unfolded many times. They were also able to integrate lightweight solar cells into the fabric to recharge the battery. I can't see that shirt being able to go through a standard wash cycle.

FULL-ON 3D: 3D printers generally use a single material that is uniform across the object being printed. A research team at the University of Southern California is working on being able to print objects using various materials with various qualities, all at the same time. For example, a pair of tweezers may need a hard portion for the grip, but softer portions for the hinge and tips. The team are using a pool of resin hardened by laser. But instead of using a single laser working point by point they're projecting a 2D laser image of the entirety of each layer, and changing the duration of parts of the projection to vary hardness. The result is also a quicker print. That makes a lot of sense.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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