Tech Universe: Monday 31 March

By Miraz Jordan

Droplet's robot watering system. Photo / Droplet Inc.
Droplet's robot watering system. Photo / Droplet Inc.

SPRINKLE SPRINKLE LITTLE BOT: When water's low automated sprinkler systems tend to be forbidden. Droplet's robot watering system though is smarter than the average sprinkler. Using a smartphone, tablet or website you can set up exactly what you want watered and when. The robot directs a targeted stream of water to exactly the points where it's needed so you don't waste water on paths or already wet parts of the garden. Droplet also keeps track of the local weather and uses comprehensive plant biological information to make decisions on when, where and how much water to deliver. It just needs one more setting for keeping the neighbour's dog or kids off the lawn.

PUDDLE SKIMMERS: The water may be only 10 cm deep but ReconCraft's Riverine Shallow Draft Vessels can still hit 45 knots at top speed. A special weed and debris grate stops the water-jet intakes from getting clogged while a Hardkor hull coating increases hull strength and reduces friction on contact points.

If the boat does meet an obstruction or barrier an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene lets it slide across. These boats are most likely to be used by the military and emergency services, and would be especially useful in disasters like floods.

HIGH ON LOWER COSTS: If you're heading for Fairbanks in Alaska look up. You may see the Altaeros helium-filled Buoyant Airborne Turbine that looks like a blimp. To demonstrate what it can do it'll be spending 18 months at 300 metres harvesting the wind and turning it into electricity. While the power it generates is a bit more expensive than some other options it may find its niche in remote communities where power costs are often quite high. Watch the power going up.

LIGHTS TO A MOTH: Infestations of insects can destroy a lot of crops but detecting the insects accurately and early enough is quite a problem. Sticky traps are helpful but it may be days before anyone identifies what insects they've caught and by then it may be too late to save the crop. Scientists at the University of California have turned to lasers. Their device shines a laser-thin line of light against a board that converts light fluctuations into sounds. The sounds are recorded and then analysed by computer. Features like the frequency of wing-beats can reveal not only the species, but sometimes whether the insect is female or male. Just using frequency the algorithm can classify an insect with about 80% accuracy. By adding in factors such as time of day, temperature and humidity the system can be made more precise. Such detection could be very helpful in agriculture, but also in fighting diseases such as malaria. It's amazing what a little light can do.

SLEEP ON THE JOB: A new Volvo car might be keeping an eye on you. The system bathes the driver in infrared light to detect position and eye movements. If you start to slump or become inattentive the system will notice and alert you while other safety systems prevent you straying from your lane or getting too close to the car in front. Volvo are currently testing these systems, that in future could be used in cars that drive themselves, relinquishing control only to a human driver who is alert. Perhaps one day we'll be able to have a snooze while the car drives on a long journey and be woken with a cup of tea as we near our destination.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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