Tech Universe: Tuesday 3 June

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

TOOTH FOR A TOOTH: One day your dentist may take a laser to your teeth instead of a drill. If it's damaged, the hard dentin in the middle of a tooth is usually replaced with a synthetic material, like a filling. Researchers have shown though that rodent teeth with damaged dentin respond to a blast from a low-power laser. The laser light stimulates chemically active molecules in stem cells, prompting them to generate new dentin. Human clinical trials are next on the list, and then eventually your dentist may swap out a root canal procedure for a few zaps with a laser. Pew, phew.

SUNNY OR NOT: Offices, tunnels and shopping malls can all be seriously lacking in windows to the outdoors. That means artificial lights that many people find unpleasant, or that give them the feeling of being shut in. CoeLux LED lights look just like a window letting in sunlight. The lights replicate the colour temperature of sunlight — Nordic, Mediterranean or Tropical — and also use nano-structured materials to recreate the Rayleigh scattering process that makes the sky seem blue.

A high-tech false ceiling and window system create a sense of depth in what looks like the sky. In testing, even people with claustrophobia reported feeling happy and relaxed in a windowless room of just a few square metres. All that with no risk of sunburn or worrying about the room getting too hot.

NO RIDING ON THE FLAT: The Energy Return Wheel from Britek is designed for bicycles, and it does away with both pumps and tires. The lightweight wheels are durable and offer precise handling because you adjust the tension of rubber stretched around a 29-inch carbon fibre wheel. Two layers of rubber are separated by a series of elastic cushions that react to compression. As bumps on the road compress the internal rubber layer, elastic potential energy stored within the wheel is returned and converted into forward momentum. The company is still testing the wheels and see one potential problem in the gaps that could accumulate mud and debris. They could add a thin sidewall to help prevent that build-up. No more punctures sounds like a bonus.

HANDS-OFF APPROACH: German scientists are working on having pilots fly planes without touching the controls. In their experiments using flight simulators pilots wore caps full of electroencephalographic sensors and thought about what they need to do to fly the planes. Seven testers were successful in staying on course, while some also managed a landing approach in poor visibility. One problem is that pilots also use physical feedback from a plane's controls to help them judge steering and other activities. Using brain control doesn't allow for that feedback. I think I'd like pilots on any planes I fly on to be more hands-on.

NO SEAT DRIVERS: Sit back and relax: Google's car will handle the driving. The small two-seater has a Stop / Start button, but no steering wheel or pedals. The car will be guided by data from laser, camera and radar sensors, but for testing, controls will have to be fitted. It's designed for the city, has a flexible windscreen and a foam-like material at the front to help protect pedestrians. The electric car will initially be limited to 40 Kph to help with safety. It seems certain there will be a day where self-driving cars will be everywhere.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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