Tech Universe: Monday 10 February

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

STEP BY STEP: When you buy new shoes they usually come with a flimsy little insole designed to suit all feet. Your feet though are unique. Sols insoles are custom designed then 3D printed in nylon and all you need to do is provide a video of your foot. A 10 second video provides a complete set of data points used to generate a highly-accurate model for the 3D printer. The insoles are ultra-thin, washable, and odour-proof orthotics that store and return up to 75% percent of energy output in each footstep.

DROP BY DROP: It's always raining or snowing somewhere on Earth, and soon the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory will know exactly where that is thanks to its observations every 3 hours. The international satellite network carries 2 instruments to measure and observe small particles of rain, ice and snow: the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar and the GPM Microwave Imager.

Together, DPR and GMI will observe the size, intensity and distribution of raindrops and snowflakes. The Observatory will fly 407 Km above Earth in an orbit inclined 65 degrees to the equator, and provide data useful for studying climate change, freshwater resources, floods and droughts, and hurricane formation and tracking. Good water information is so essential.

UNDERGROUND INTELLIGENCE: Farmers are keen to irrigate crops with just the right amount of water: use too much and it wastes water and money and can damage crops, while too little can stunt growth. How to establish the right amount of water is a challenge that could be helped with sensors ploughed into the fields. The University of Manchester is currently testing low-cost, low-power sensors that will measure soil temperature and moisture content then transmit the data wirelessly to the surface. An RFID reader mounted on a tractor collects the data as it moves over each node and also provides power to the sensor. Data beats guesswork every time.

MORE ZAP: Electricity often flows through copper wires, but with enough current the wire may heat up and deform. By combining copper with carbon nanotubes Japanese researchers realised a 100 times higher maximum allowable current density yet with an electric conductivity equivalent to that of copper. The composite is not likely to deform very much with a large current either. More current, less heat: it sounds as though electronics could get a boost.

ROCKETY SPLIT: A rocket launch is one of the loudest noises ever created by humans. It's so loud that the spacecraft itself could suffer physical damage. That's why the ESA's Large European Acoustic Facility exists. It's a huge sound chamber where engineers test spacecraft to make sure they won't fall apart during launch. Pieces of rockets are hung inside the 15 metre tall room and wired with sensors. Then enormous speakers recreate the sound of a launch. The engineers say no human could survive inside the room during a test, so the soundproofing of the chamber is pretty important.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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