Tech Universe: Tuesday 10 December

Jet engine nose cone inlet
Jet engine nose cone inlet

RECURSIVE WASTE: Jet engines are notoriously noisy. Using piezoelectric material, engineers built an extremely sensitive and thin aluminium membrane to capture vibrations caused by the sound and turn them into electricity. The sensors don't produce a lot of electricity: it's just enough to power a noise-cancelling device to quieten the jets. The same technique could be used to reduce the noise of industrial machinery. That's a nice touch: capture a waste product and use it to reduce the waste.

SHOW PHONE: The Russian YotaPhone features 2 screens: one normal capacitive touch screen on the front and an extra e-ink screen on the back. The e-ink screen's always on and can display information without waking the phone. That should translate to longer battery life. The Android phone features a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and a 12 megapixel rear camera. That could be handy for displaying things like addresses or maps while you find your way to a destination.


GIANT AT SEA: The Prelude FLNG is a ship, a very big ship in fact. The Floating Liquefied Natural Gas facility will be the biggest floating production facility in the world. It's 488 metres long and 74 metres wide, and will displace around 600,000 tonnes of water — the same amount of water as 6 of the largest aircraft carriers. It will draw 50 million litres of cold water from the ocean every hour to help cool the 5.3 million tonnes per annum of liquids it will produce. The massive vessel is headed for the Browse Basin off Australia. So presumably it will add an equal amount of warm or hot water back into the ocean. I wonder how the fish and other creatures will respond to that.

A STEP CHANGE: A Mexican entrepreneur has developed a low-cost system to capture energy from cars driving along the road, or even from pedestrians. The idea is to use a polymer ramp step around 5 cm high. As the vehicle passes over the ramp it compresses a bellows which compresses air. The air passes through a hose and eventually to a turbine that produces electricity. Constantly squeezing steps would make walking a bit of an adventure, and I suspect drivers wouldn't enjoy the ride.

PARTICLE PILLS: Nanoparticles that carry drugs right to where they're needed in the body may be the key to sorting out what ails you. One limiting factor though is that they need to be injected. US researchers have developed a type of nanoparticle that can be delivered in pill form. These nanoparticles are coated with antibodies that interact with the walls of the intestine, allowing the nanoparticles to enter the bloodstream. Tests in mice have had success, so it still may be a few years before you'll be swallowing a nanoparticle pill before breakfast.

Miraz Jordan,

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