Tech Universe: Thursday 12 December

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

UPHILL'S A BREEZE: Skiers and snowboarders like to slide down mountains, and often aren't excited by the need to use a chairlift or rope tow to be hauled up again. The UpSki is designed to make going up much more fun. It's effectively a round 4.5 Kg kite or parachute that the skier attaches to a harness on their body and that pulls them along. The kite is controlled by the attached short lines. The biggest problems seem to be that the sail can block the skier's view of what's ahead and there may be a risk of tangling skis in the lines.

A VIEW UNFOLDS: Optical telescopes need huge chunks of heavy glass to do their work. For telescopes that go into space the glass is fragile, bulky and very costly to deal with. DARPA's Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation program aims to use lightweight polymer membrane optics instead of glass.

Membrane optics diffract light rather than reflecting or refracting it. In the past such membranes have been to inefficient to use but DARPA has been able to increase the efficiency to 55%. The membrane is etched with circular concentric grooves that focus the light onto a sensore which converts it into an image. The light weight of the membrans, which are about as thick as kitchen plastic wrap, could allow for giant space telescopes perhaps 20 metres across that unfold when they reach their destination. Etching grooves on plastic that thin will be a challenge.

LEND AN ARM: When you exercise your muscles after an injury it would help to be able to see exactly the effect of each particular movement. The R-cloud support robot does just that for arm rehabilitation. Sensors measure the force of each muscle and the angle of the arm then send the data to a screen that overlays the information graphically on an image of the arm. The robot also has pneumatic muscles that assist the user with required movements. Measurements are also added to a database to help with rehabilitation training in future. That would surely also be useful for athletes to help them train for sports such as archery where correct arm movements are fundamental. Video:

INKED TO THE BONE: If you're unlucky an accident may damage your bones. In future a surgeon may turn to the BioPen to reconstruct the bone. The BioPen, from the University of Wollongong, is a handheld device that works like a 3D printer. In the pen head it combines cell material inside a biopolymer with a gel material then the surgeon draws with the ink mixture to fill in a damaged section of bone. A low powered ultra-violet light source attached to the pen solidifies the material while the surgeon works. Once the material has been applied the cells multiply and rebuild the damaged area. That's a new way for surgeons to sign their work.

YOUR SHOE IS CALLING: As with all sports and exercise you need to take some care when running so you don't sprain something or tear a ligament. That's why researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute are developing a smart running shoe. Sensors and microelectronics integrated into the sole of the shoe collect data about the runner and warn them about incorrect foot position, asymmetric loading, exhaustion or overload. The system includes accelerometers and GPS sensors, a microcontroller, RF module, and batteries. Data goes via Bluetooth to a smartphone app and on to a website that can sort out a customised training programme. Recharge the shoes by placing them on the charger. It's not quite a shoephone, but may be better.

Miraz Jordan,

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