Tech Universe: Thursday 27 March

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A VOICE LIKE YOURS: Millions of people have severe speech impediments and may use a computer to speak for them. Those computer voices are notoriously robotic though and VocaliD would like to humanise them, with prosthetic voices created from a Human Voicebank Initiative. VocaliD first assess what the voice of the person they're helping might be like, based on sounds they can produce. A voice might be high-pitched, raspy or breathy, for example. Then they record several thousand sample sentences from a donor who is similar in age and the same sex. Finally they use software to blend the surrogate's voice with the recipient's, stripping it down into tiny components that make up speech. It's a time-consuming process that the team hope to speed up by having donors record their voices with an iPhone app. That's one time when you really can speak for someone else.

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE: Every time we exhale our breath contains trace amounts of gases that can be used in health diagnostics — acetone may indicate diabetes, while methane provides clues about the health of our intestines.

Toshiba's working on a prototype compact breath analyser that irradiates exhalations with an infrared laser. The resulting absorption spectrum is currently able to reveal acetaldehyde, methane and acetone in the breath, but the developers aim to extend to other gases too. One day perhaps the forensic experts will be able to identify folks by their breath prints.

ONE DROP AT A TIME: A lancet gathers a drop of blood while test strips assess your blood sugar level. The Dario personalised diabetes assistant includes a glucose meter that plugs directly into a smartphone or tablet. An app includes a database of foods and favourite meals, tracks insulin and exercise, and lets you record and analyse blood glucose readings. Data is stored online and you can send reports to your doctor. If you have to prick your finger anyway, having an automated recording system could only be useful.

GO ON THE RED: That blob of strange goo on your carton of milk may not be something to wipe off, but instead an indicator of whether the milk's gone bad or not. Researchers in China developed low cost time-temperature indicators made of tiny silver and gold nanorods and other chemicals, including chloride and vitamin C, that track a product's exposure to extreme temperatures and the amount of time at that temperature. The tag starts out red, indicating that the food is fresh, then cycles through orange, yellow and green as the food loses freshness. Bright green means the product is spoiled. Red shows good while green shows bad: that won't confuse anyone at all.

FOREVER BLUE: Is that coat of paint looking a bit faded? Paints and dyes usually absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect the remainder. The absorbed energy gradually changes the material, causing the molecules to deteriorate, so fading occurs. Structural colour though is created when an object's nanostructure amplifies a specific wavelength, as is the case with the feathers of the spangled cotinga bird. Researchers at Harvard aim to create materials that would never fade by using tuneable capsules whose average distance between particles determines their colour. Such materials could be used in displays that create pixels with coloured particles, or in paints and dyes. That could be specially handy for warning signs.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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