Tech Universe: Wednesday 07 May

By Miraz Jordan

An image made from a frame grabbed from NASA-TV. Photo / AP
An image made from a frame grabbed from NASA-TV. Photo / AP

SPACECAM: Love sunrises and sunsets? If you watch NASA's continuous live stream from the International Space Station you can see one every 45 minutes. Live video from the ISS includes internal views when the crew is on-duty and Earth views at other times, though sometimes the space station is out of contact with the ground and only a blue screen is visible. Now there's some real TV.

NO SWEAT: Many a crime show has relied on fingerprints left at the scene to identify a suspect. But fingerprints don't have only a pattern of ridges. Beads of salty perspiration that seep from the pores on the finger also leave detailed maps. South Korean scientists have created polymers that change from blue to red when they touch those droplets, creating unique dot patterns that match up with traditional fingerprints.

Forensics experts can pick up dots of sweat left on a piece of paper even after a decade, while fingerprints may have failed to make an impression. While those dots of sweat may have been useless in the past, the researchers say they now could be mapped and provide useful data. The lesson of the day: don't sweat while committing a crime.

TRUSTING EYES: The blood vessel pattern of the retina is different in every human being and can be used to authenticate us. Retinal scanners though are big and bulky so aren't feasible for use at a supermarket or to unlock the car. That's about to change though as German researchers have created a prototype of a retinal scanner that is small, ergonomically correct for the human hand and suitable for those who wear glasses. The researchers say the device could eventually become an accessory for a smartphone, but that security implications could be a problem. Throw another gadget in the handbag.

SCAN IT ALL: Imagine this: you pull a tiny device from your pocket, point it at the meal on your plate, and within 5 seconds your phone displays an analysis of the chemical makeup of what's on the plate, reporting back the calories, fat, protein and carbs. The SCiO does just that. It's a handheld spectrometer, about the same size as a thumb drive that sends its data to the cloud for an online algorithm to analyse. The results are then sent to your phone. Current apps can scan food, medicine and plants. The information could help you assess how ripe a fruit is, the quality of cooking oil, how plants in your garden are getting on, or even the authenticity of food supplements or medication. That gadget bag will be getting heavy.

FELT LIKE PRINTING LATELY?: 3D printing generally uses plastics or metals, or maybe even concrete, all materials that are hard to the touch. A new 3D printing technique from Carnegie Mellon University adds felt into the mix. Their printer uses wool and wool blend yarns to produce 3D objects made of a loose felt such as teddy bears, scarves, hats or even parts for soft robots that would work closely with humans. The process has a printer head that feeds out yarn. A barbed felting needle then repeatedly pierces the yarn, entangling the fibres and bonding the layers together. We may soon need extra rooms for all the different 3D printers.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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