Tech Universe: Friday 02 May

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

CLEAN AS A CAR: Car a bit dirty? Buy a Nissan Note and that may never happen again. The European model Nissan Note test car is coated with specially engineered super-hydrophobic and oleophobic paint called Ultra-Ever Dry that repels mud, rain and everyday dirt. Nissan don't plan to include the coating as a standard production item, but if the tests work out may offer it as an after-market option. No more weekend carwashes, eh?

AWAKE AT THE WHEEL: A car driver may grow drowsy and risk being involved in an accident. Researchers have tried various methods of detecting that drowsiness, including watching eye movements or establishing that a car is drifting out of its lane. Now researchers at Washington State University have developed a system that analyses the movements of the steering wheel to detect driver drowsiness.

Data analysis from simulations showed that variability in steering wheel movements and variability in lane position best predict driver fatigue, and that steering wheel variability predicts lane drift. A low cost and easily installed sensor can check for steering wheel variability and could be installed during the manufacture of the car or as an after-market accessory. Sometimes solutions are simpler than we think.

HEATED WASTE: Asphalt roads may absorb a lot of sun, but rather than put that potential solar energy to good use it's just emitted as heat. Solar Roadways have a different view: why not capture the energy and use it to power microchips that could light LEDs and make the road smart? Their hexagonal road panels feature photovoltaic cells and circuit boards, 128 programmable LEDs, a heating element to help deal with ice and snow, and are topped with super-strength textured recycled glass. The company has created a parking lot as a prototype, with a generation capacity equivalent to a 3600 watt solar array. A Cable Corridor alongside the parking lot houses standard power and data cables, doing away with overhead wires. But is it feasible over extended distances?

BULK HOUSING: Why wait months, or even years, for your house to be built when a 3D printer could do it in a few hours? A private company in east China recently printed 10 stand-alone single-story houses in a single day. The walls were made from layers of refined construction waste or mine tailings mixed with quick-drying cement, but roofs could not be printed. The printing array has 4 printers, each 10 metres wide and 6.6 metres high that use multi-directional automated sprays. It's hard to imagine a production line for houses though.

WATER TROUBLES BRIDGES: Concrete degrades over time thanks to water penetrating into tiny cracks, so bridges and other structures may develop faults that need maintenance. In fact, bridges may last less than 50 years. US engineers have developed a durable Superhydrophobic Engineered Cementitious Composite concrete mix. Unlike regular porous concrete, this mix repels water, and its ductile nature means that any cracks that do form don't propagate and lead to failure. The new mix includes additives that create a microscopic spiky surface nearly impermeable to water, while unwoven polyvinyl alcohol fibres, each the width of a human hair, are strong enough to let the concrete bend without breaking. Engineers say the SECC mix could last for hundreds of years without needing repair. By then maybe road bridges will be superfluous anyway.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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