Tech Universe: Tuesday 21 January

What if you could fit a windmill on your smartphone? Photo / Thinkstock
What if you could fit a windmill on your smartphone? Photo / Thinkstock

TALKING INTO THE WIND: How about putting a wind farm in your phone? Researchers at the University of Texas have designed and tested micro-windmills each about 1.8 mm at its widest point. 10 tiny windmills could fit on a grain of rice, while hundreds could be embedded into a sleeve for a smartphone. Wave the phone in the air or hold it by the window on a breezy day to recharge it. Hundreds or thousands of the windmills could be manufactured on a single wafer at low cost. The question is, how long would it take to charge the phone?

HEAD START: If you hit your head hard the brain keeps going inside your skull and starts to crumple. The result can be concussion or brain damage. If you fall off a bike at 24 Kph your brain may be subjected to a force of around 220G. After around 300G you're sure to suffer serious brain damage. Conventional polystyrene helmets are designed to absorb some of the energy and give your skull and brain more time to slow down, reducing the force of impact.

One British designer has found that cardboard, formed into a dual offset honeycomb design, crumples and absorbs more of the impact so you experience around 70G rather than 220G. That gives your brain longer to slow down and can reduce the risk of serious injury even further. The helmets are already on sale in the UK. Those are some seriously high impact forces.

OPEN SPACES: It's so frustrating when you can't find a space to park your vehicle near your destination. But equip parking spaces with sensors that detect when they're occupied and Audi's Urban Intelligent Assist can sort that out for you. A smartphone app connects with the car's on-board navigation system which can then display which streets have spots and when they may open up, based on historical data and nearby events. The app can also work out how long it'll take for you to reach your destination, even taking into account your driving style which the app learns as you drive. Which could all just increase your frustration when the driver ahead of you steals the space.

A DUSTY JOB: Astronomers want to study the dust grains that form around dying stars and then go on to create planets and stars. That's impossible to do on site so they're planning to create the atmosphere of a star in the lab. Project Nanocosmos will build 3 five metre long machines working with hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, titanium, iron and other metals at 1500 C. The simulation chambers in Spain and France will allow them to study physical and chemical processes that create interstellar dust. So, no travel perks with that job.

BOOST THE BUS: In Milton Keynes in the UK 8 new electric buses will take to the roads soon. After charging overnight via cable the bus travels 25 Km along its assigned Number 7 route between Bletchley and Wolverton. At each end of the route a wireless induction charger is embedded in the road and the driver lowers a charging plate beneath the bus. During a 10 minute rest stop the bus receives a booster charge ready for another run. The booster charges mean the buses can use smaller, lighter batteries that in turn reduce the power required to run the bus. That seems so much better than ugly overhead trolley wires.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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