Tech Universe: Thursday 23 January

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

HIGH SPEED WINE: As you pour that next glass of wine think about how many grapes went into making it and how the grapes were selected. Pickers get the grapes from the vine but only the ripe ones must go on through for processing. Traditionally this has been done manually, but an optical grape sorter machine can do it faster. Each morning the vintner selects 200 perfect grapes and feeds them into the sorter which takes photos and creates a composite image of an ideal grape. Then bulk grapes are fed in and the machine snaps a picture of each at 10,000 frames per second. Each grape is compared to the ideal and selected for wine or ejected with a blast of air. Where 15 people can sort 2 tons of grapes per hour the machine takes only 12 minutes. That kind of repetitive work is exactly what computers should be doing.

ROGUE CURTAINS: A lot of heat can come into a building when the sun shines through windows. In large office blocks air conditioning may compensate for that, at the cost of some electricity. Researchers at the University of California have developed a smart curtain fabric that doesn't need batteries, processors or electricity to work.

The fabric expands when lit up and contracts when the light goes off. Take a plastic polycarbonate membrane and layer on carbon nanotubes to create the smart fabric. As the nanotubes absorb light they produce heat which causes the plastic but not the nanotubes to expand. The process is very quick — it takes only a fraction of a second. It seems the smart curtains at the moment are tiny, but perhaps one day they could be big enough to cover an office window. With no way to control smart curtains like these, just watch out for those days where patchy fast-moving clouds keep covering the sun.

BRACED FOR ACTION: Many children around the world are born with a club foot. If it's not treated they will be unable to walk properly and may lose access and opportunity for education and employment. In developing countries the braces that can help correct the problem are somewhat makeshift and may be expensive, poorly designed and difficult to use. Students from Stanford University have designed a colourful injection moulded plastic brace featuring removable shoes that looks like a toy the kids would want to play with. It's easy for parents to use and best of all costs only $20. The plastic braces could mean many more children around the world have their club foot problem successfully corrected. You'd think 3D printing could be useful with a project like this too.

CAR CARES: Your car may include various logging devices that you probably have no access to, even if there's a data port. Truvolo is a small device that plugs into that port and links with smartphone and cloud apps. The device allows for sophisticated tracking, including monitoring speed, detecting engine problems, tracking travel by purpose and giving information about nearby mechanics or petrol stations. It aims to help you manage all the cars in your household, save petrol and improve your driving safety. That would mean all the cars would have to be new enough to include the necessary computer tech.

SPARKLING DOG: Would you like to make your dog a bit more visible at night? The NightDawg Dog Collar from Nite Ize will let you see your dog wherever she is even on the darkest night. The nylon collar embeds both a reflective stripe and a light-transmitting flexible polymer core with 2 modes: glow and flash. The red LED light from the collar shines for 100,000 hours from a replaceable lithium button battery and is visible from up to 300 metres. The battery supplies around 75 to 100 hours of power. Unfortunately the collar is available only for medium sized dogs, so your Chihuahua is out of luck.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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