Tech Universe: Thursday 17 April

By Miraz Jordan

The ZUtA Pocket Printer. Photo / ZUtA Pocket Printer
The ZUtA Pocket Printer. Photo / ZUtA Pocket Printer

LET THE INK RUN: An inkjet printer generally makes a print head run back and forth across a piece of paper fed through by rollers. The whole machine is usually fairly large, even if it's portable. The ZUtA Pocket Printer handles printing by getting rid of the bulk of the device and turning the print head into a robot that finds its own way across a page. The prototype is about the size of a large mouse and can print images and text from any device in greyscale on any standard size page. The printer has a rechargeable battery with a power switch and connects directly to smartphones and computers. The inkjet lasts for more than 1,000 printed pages and the Lithium Polymer battery lasts for more than one hour per full-charge. Bluetooth makes the connection to the device you're printing from. That seems a sensible advance.

HOT SPOT: Wearable tech needs a power source, so Korean researchers have developed a glass fabric-based thermoelectric generator that's extremely light and flexible and produces electricity from the heat of the human body.

What's more the generator can be bent up to 120 times without degrading its performance. The thermoelectric materials were made to be like a liquid and then screen printed onto a glass fabric. That allowed the researchers to do away with thick substrates which remove some of the thermal energy and make the device heavier. As a wristband the device will generate power based on the difference in temperature between human skin and the surrounding air. Perhaps one day underwear will routinely include a power source like this.

CLAMMED UP: In only a little more than a minute an Atlantic Razor Clam can burrow up to 70 cm into packed sand. It achieves this by opening and shutting its valves, turning solid soil into liquid quicksand. That interested MIT researchers who studied the action and then created a robot that can dig at the same rate of around 1 cm per second. Their first prototype requires a significant rig of machinery to propel it and can reach a depth of only 20 cm, but they aim to improve that, of course. Such a device could be used for anchoring large vessels or perhaps for detonating mines or laying undersea cables. So clams shutting is only half the story.

HOW MANY BARS DO YOU HAVE?: Some soldiers in remote spots may have real problems with communications as there may simply be no coverage for phones or other devices. The US military have a way to deal with that though: turn drone aircraft into flying hotspots. They plan to mount a scalable, mobile millimeter-wave communications backhaul network on small unmanned aerial vehicles to provide a 1 Gb/s capacity. This would give the troops the same kind of connection as a 4G cellphone network elsewhere. Field testing has shown this approach could work.

ON THE WING: The Swiss team behind the Solar Impulse 2 plane aim to fly around the world between April and July 2015 using only solar energy, day and night. The single-seater aircraft has a 72 metre wingspan, compared with the 68.5 metres of a Boeing 747-8I, but weighs about the same as a car. 17,000 solar cells supply the power, recharging energy dense lithium batteries during the day which in turn power the craft at night. The plane uses better carbon composite materials and thinner solar panels than the previous model which flew across the US last year. Apart from all the other challenges, the pilots will spend some 500 hours alone in a 3.8 cubic metre unpressurised cockpit, up to 5 or 6 days at a time in temperatures between negative and plus 40 C. And you thought flying to the UK in the cheap seats of a regular plane was challenging.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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