Tech Universe: Wednesday 26 February

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

STICK LIKE A GECKO: Geckos are known for their ability to stick to smooth surfaces, even after walking on dirty and dusty surfaces. Now researchers have created an adhesive tape that is reliably sticky, but which also cleans itself. Apparently when geckos walk friction against the surface they're walking on causes larger dirt particles to fall off their feet, while smaller particles are deposited amongst the hairs. Researchers achieved a similar effect by adding elastic microhairs to adhesive tape. The tape can be reused several times because any dirt it picks up is removed. Lab tests have so far used carefully controlled simulations of dirt but soon they'll be testing with the real thing. Imagine if the soles of shoes could automatically clean themselves too.

WHEN IS A PUMP NOT A PUMP?: Lab-on-a-chip systems could be really useful for diagnosis and other purposes, but at the moment they rely on large-scale external pumps.

That makes them much less useful. Now Australian researchers have a way to pump the fluids around such micro-fabricated systems without using any mechanical parts. Their system uses a single droplet of Galinstan, a non-toxic liquid metal alloy comprised of gallium, indium and tin. When they apply a voltage to the alloy it alters the charge distribution along the surface. That propels the surrounding liquid without moving the Galinstan droplet. By altering the frequency, magnitude and waveform of the applied signal they can alter the flow rate. So, the pump's gone, but what about the power source and power controller?

A BRIEF TRIP: Suppose you're interested in hiring a bicycle but find the thought of all that pedalling a little daunting. It's no problem if you have a ShareRoller with you. The 3.2 Kg device comes in a special little briefcase. Attach it to the mounting bracket above the front wheel of the bike and swing out the brushless DC motor that delivers 750 W of continuous power. The motor uses a drive belt to transfer 1.0 hp to the bike's tire so you can ride at up to 29 Kph without pedalling. A thumb throttle control pops out of the briefcase and clips onto the handlebars. The lithium nickel-cobalt aluminum oxide battery gives you a range up up to 32 Km. USB ports let you charge your phone, while headlights give you some extra visibility. That's not a bad idea at all.

THE SKINNY IN ELECTRONICS: Capacitors are key components in electronics that store energy. It would be useful if capacitors could be made very small, but currently available materials limit their minimum size. Now Japanese researchers have made high-performance ultrathin capacitors from oxide nanosheets. Its capacitance density is also about 2,000 times higher than that of commercially available products. The researchers hope this breakthrough could allow the ultrathin capacitors to be used in printed circuit boards and memory storage devices.

BANG, SMILE FOR THE CAMERA: Many soldiers already carry a 40 mm weapon. In future that weapon may help them with surveillance too. A SPARCS round from ST Kinetics can be fired into the air where at 150 metres it opens a tiny parachute and floats back down. As it floats a 360-degree onboard video camera captures images that are sent back to a handheld or helmet mounted device. After being stitched together the videos give the soldier useful information about the area. This system is cheaper and easier to carry than a drone and can provide crucial information very quickly. No problems with operating the drone either.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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