Tech Universe: Monday 24 February

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

AIR FRIED: The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near Las Vegas uses more than 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto boilers on top of towers 137 metres high. That leads to hot water and steam turbines and electricity. It also leads to some very very hot air around the towers: up to 537 C. And that's hot enough to scorch and kill any birds unfortunate enough to fly through the wrong spot. Some biologist believe the birds may mistake the mirrors for a lake. Sounds like lots and lots of netting may be required.

TICKER TOUR: Got a dicky heart? Imagine if your doctor could actually watch what was going on, from inside! Researchers at Georgia Tech developed a prototype 1.5 mm wide device that provides real-time 3D image data at 60 frames per second from inside blood vessels. The catheter-based device is attached to 13 tiny cables that handle all the data so surgeons can see what they're doing while operating.

The dual-ring array includes 56 ultrasound transmit elements and 48 receive elements and operates with just 20 milliwatts of power. There's nothing like actually seeing what's going on.

POMEGRANATE RICE: A new generation of lithium-ion batteries that uses silicon hasn't been an easy thing to achieve. Silicon anodes could store 10 times more charge than the graphite anodes in today's rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Scientists at Stanford University may have managed it though, after being inspired by pomegranates. They've clustered silicon nanoparticles like seeds in a tough carbon rind for the electrode. Experiments showed the pomegranate-inspired anode operates at 97% capacity even after 1,000 cycles of charging and discharging. Before it's all commercially viable though researchers must simplify production and find a cheaper source of silicon nanoparticles, such as rice husks which are 20% silicon dioxide by weight. Those rice farmers are running silicon mines after all.

AN OPEN BOOK: You may already use activity loggers to track your walking or food intake, but a cognitive activity tracker developed in Japan can keep an eye on your reading habits. It spots how many words we read, how often and how fast we read, and whether we're skim reading or concentrating on the content. Volunteers wore infrared eye-tracking glasses whose data went to software that accurately counted the number of words read and how fast they read. The software could also distinguish different types of reading matter such as magazines or text books. Such software could be used alongside ebooks to help us read and understand what we're reading. Just wait till schools try to use it to force kids to learn more efficiently.

SPY IN THE DARK: The Komamura Falcon Eye KC-2000 night vision video camera produces colour images, unlike the green and black images of other night vision cameras. The camera is weather sealed and can record high quality video or still images. If that could reduce the number of security lights dimming the stars that would be a very good thing.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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