Tech Universe: Monday 07 April

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

BIONICS FUN: The Paralympics and the Olympics are well known sporting events, and maybe in time the Cybathlon, an Olympics for bionic athletes, will be too. The games are to take place in Switzerland in October 2016. Events will include races between avatars of folks paralysed from the neck down using a brain interface for control, and races for competitors wearing prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons. One aim of the games is to push development of assistive technologies towards devices that people can really use in everyday life. The games will also allow people to compete who have never had the opportunity before, as even the Paralympics excludes some technology. An element of fun can push many things along.

GOOD ENOUGH: That camera lens in your phone is a curved piece of transparent material such as glass that bends light onto a sensor. There's a limit though to how small such lenses can be made. There could be another way to capture images: a grating etched with a spiral pattern through which light can enter from every orientation.

The grating itself is smaller than the tip of a pencil. The images are low quality, but sufficient to reveal the subject, even if not every tiniest detail. The sensor itself captures a jumble of spirals, but software then turns that mess into a recognisable image. The highest-resolution prototype sensors at the moment can handle 128 by 128 pixels. Such low cost image sensors could find a place in security systems, toys and wearable devices. Can tiny size replace megapixels as the most desired feature?

KILL IN THE DARK: You might expect that a light-activated antimicrobial surface would stop working if the lights go out — and in the past, that's been the case. Some dyes react to bright light by producing highly reactive oxygen radicals that damage bacteria cell walls. This could be very helpful in places like hospitals, but turn the lights off and that useful property stops working. A team from University College London worked with different combinations of the dyes crystal violet and methylene blue with gold nanoparticles on the surface of silicone, using an organic solvent to swell the silicone so the methylene blue and gold nanoparticles diffused through the polymer. Then they added a thin layer of crystal violet dye. This process produced the most potent bactericidal effect ever observed in such a surface, but the big surprise came with the sample that was left in the dark, as it continued to kill bacteria. The team hope the new process will have applications for hospitals. Those surprises are the best findings of all.

UPHILL SPECIAL: Skiers fully expect a lift to take them to the top of a mountain, so why shouldn't city cyclists get a lift up hills? In Trondheim, Norway, the Trampe bicycle lift does just that. The road up the hill is 130 metres long. To one side is a rail with a footplate every 20 metres. Stand on your bike beside the rail, put your foot on the plate and then enjoy the ride at about 1.5 metres per second. Cyclists in hilly cities anywhere will surely welcome this.

BRAIN ON SHOW: One woman in Holland now has a see-through skull, thanks to 3D printing and a 23 hour life-saving operation. She suffered from a rare condition where her skull became unusually thick, leading to pressure on her brain. Over 3 months doctors at Utrecht University made a perfect plastic copy of her skull using a 3D printer and then fitted it to her to replace her own skull. You don't see that every day.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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