Tech Universe: Tuesday 11 February

By Miraz Jordan

The Elio car. Photo / Elio Motors
The Elio car. Photo / Elio Motors

ONE TWO THREE: A 1 litre, 2 seater 3 wheeled car that uses 2.8 litres of petrol per 100 Km and can reach speeds of over 160 Kph — that's the Elio. The composite body panels and solid body help keep the car quiet. It's a compact car where the passenger sits behind the driver, and the boot can hold an airline carry-on bag. The low cost car runs on an inline, 3 cylinder, 0.9 litre, 55 HP, fuel-injected, SOHC gas-powered, liquid-cooled, automotive engine. It's definitely distinctive.

A SENSE OF TOUCH: A prosthetic arm and hand can change the life of an amputee. But if the hand can't sense how firmly or delicately to grasp an object it's still rather clumsy. European researchers connected touch sensors in an artificial hand to electrodes surgically embedded in the remains of nerves in an amputee's upper arm. A computer converted the sensor output into a form the nerves could recognise.

In tests the wearer was able to control how forcefully he grasped objects, and feel their shape and stiffness, as well as distinguishing between objects by shape and firmness. The system needs further work to make it truly wearable, and a great deal more testing, but it brings more hope for amputees.

THE HUNGER BALLOONS: With a balloon in your stomach you'll feel full faster, eat less and lose weight. The Obalon gastric balloon system comes in the form of a capsule you swallow. It has a tiny tube attached that's used to inflate the balloon, but then detaches and is removed. The balloon stays in the stomach for a month, then up to 2 more balloons can be added if necessary. Eventually though a doctor uses an endoscope to remove the balloons. The Obalon system aims to help obese people avoid gastric bypass surgery. That balloon would need to be pretty tough.

COLD, COLDER, COLDEST: While space is extremely cold — around 3 degrees Kelvin — NASA plans to make an even colder spot, aboard the International Space Station. The Cold Atom Lab aims to reach a low temperature of 100 pico-Kelvin. That's one ten-billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, possible because of the low gravity on the ISS. At that temperature, in theory at least, all the thermal activity of atoms stops, making the concepts of solid, liquid and gas irrelevant and creating new forms of energy. The team will be working with Bose-Einstein Condensates which show quantum effects. That's definitely cool research.

ARE YOU THERE?: After an avalanche rescuers have around 15 minutes to recover alive anyone who's trapped. Avalanche transceivers help locate victims, but are very expensive so many skiers and walkers don't carry one. What most people do carry though is a smartphone so the Galileo-LawinenFon system from the Fraunhofer Institute hooks in to that. The system processes magnetic field signals in 3D for pinpoint accuracy, and also uses the combined signals of the USA's GPS, Europe's Galileo and Russia's GLONASS satellite systems. The Galileo-SmartLVS is a dongle connected to the mobile phone via USB. It includes a 3D magnetic field antenna for picking up signals, an analog-digital converter, a satellite navigation receiver, acceleration sensors and a reserve battery. An app takes all the data and makes it useful for searchers. The system has been successfully tested and should be available in a couple of years, though researchers hope to increase its range from the current 30 metres. That 30 metre range could severely hamper its usefulness.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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