Tech Universe: Thursday 22 May

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

STAY IN TOUCH: Braille is important for many blind people, so why not use it on a phone? OwnFone's Braille Phone is available in the UK and uses custom 3D printing to produce the front and back. The phone can be personalised with 2 or 4 Braille buttons pre-programmed to call friends, family, carers or the emergency services. It also has a 3D printed keypad. A regular smartphone may offer more options for most people.

HEART WARMING: Researchers or doctors may want to implant an electronic device in a human body, but those devices are really just lumps of stuff that aren't compatible with biological tissue. An implant needs to be stiff at room temperature, but then soft and flexible enough to wrap inside the body. Researchers are working on shape memory polymers and thin flexible electronic foils that respond to the body's environment and become less rigid when implanted.

The rigid devices become soft when heated. Before being implanted they're given the shape they'll need inside the body then released back to a rigid form. After implant, the device then warms and takes the required shape. Researchers aim to next make smaller devices with more sensory components.

TURN THE U: Skylock is a U-shaped bike lock, but it doesn't need a key. Instead it connects via Bluetooth with an app on your smartphone to unlock. You can deliberately tap an unlock button, or allow the lock to sense when you're nearby and auto-unlock. If your phone's not around, capacitive touch buttons on the device itself let you unlock it. Don't worry about the lock's battery running out either as solar panels take care of that. Log the Skylock into a local WiFi network and it alerts you if anyone disturbs the bike, thanks to a built-in accelerometer. If you have an accident the lock is able to alert authorities for you. But is that Bluetooth connection secure?

STEMMING THE PROBLEM: Carrying around a bike lock can be annoying, but the Stemlock uses a different approach. It integrates into the bike's stem and with a turn disassociates the handlebars from the fork. That means that no-one could ride off on your bike. You need a special tool to take the stem apart to replace it so that offers an extra layer of protection. Of course, they could still perhaps wheel it away on the back wheel, put it in the back of a truck or simply strip it for parts.

NOT A FRIDGE MAGNET: Funnily enough, a magnetic resonance imaging machine uses magnets to do its work. They're a far cry from the magnets you stick on the fridge though. With energy measured in Tesla units, a standard clinical magnet can help doctors make images of a brain or other bodily tissue. Doctors commonly use magnets as strong as 1.5 or 3 Tesla in MRI machines. GE's new MRI machine though generates a 7T magnetic field — 140,000 times stronger than the magnetic field around the Earth. The MRI machine produces very high quality images but must be charged for around 40 hours before use. The machine is also cooled over 2 weeks with 10,000 litres of liquid helium to a temperature of 4 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero in order to achieve superconductivity and generate the powerful magnetic field. Oh, and it's 3.3 metres long and weighs 36,287 Kg. Try sticking that on the fridge.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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