Tech Universe: Thursday 19 June

By Miraz Jordan

Photo /  Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

FRUIT? VEGETABLE? NO, CAR: Heinz make tomato ketchup, along with sauces and soups, which means they use a huge quantity of tomatoes. But they don't use every scrap of tomato, so there's plenty of skins, seeds, stems and leaves to deal with. Now Ford are scooping up that material and aim to process it into a composite bioplastic for use in their vehicles. The idea is to take the food waste, mix it with polyproprylene and cook it all at a lower than normal temperature so that the natural fibres aren't degraded. The process uses less energy for production and creates lighter bioplastic which in turn reduces vehicle weight and fuel consumption. It will also be possible to recycle the plastic. The feasibility of this work is being tested at the moment, but maybe your next car will include tomatoes in its build.

CUEING UP A COUGH: Under the weather? With a droplet of saliva, blood, or a nasal swab inserted into a disposable tracking cartridge Cue can diagnose what's up with you and send the results to your smartphone.

Using molecular analysis it can check whether you have flu or a cold, and it measures vitamin D, testosterone, inflammation, and fertility levels. The device can share data with your doctor, and also recommend exercise and food choices to help you stay healthy. Now if only the cure could be in a cartridge too.

IN THE DRINK: Pour your coffee, home made fruit juice, lemonade, beer, green tea or any other drink into the Vessyl drinking cup and it analyses its nutritional content such as calories, fat, sugar or protein on the spot, sending data to your smartphone. The app also lets you track progress towards goals such as losing weight or sleeping better. Tilt the cup away from you and it displays information about how hydrated you are. The cup is intended to be an adjunct to other fitness and activity trackers, allowing you to track the fluids you ingest, alongside your physical activity. There goes your favourite tea cup.

BRAIN BOX: A bike helmet can just be a bucket intended to protect your brain. Or it could be an adjunct to your brain, recording how engaged you are, signalling danger hotspots and areas where you're more relaxed on your ride. The MindRider helmet system shows your levels of engagement in real-time as you ride or skate. A smartphone app allows for maps, tracks and sharing. A comfortable soft sensor embedded in the helmet's foam is part of a brain-computer interface that uses electroencephalography to measure signals from the brain and translate them into a level of engagement. A small colour-changing light on the helmet shows green for relaxed and works through a gradient to red for sharply focused or stressed. The idea is that you can adapt your route so you ride in places where you're more relaxed and less stressed, and your ride can help others adapt their route too, or even help city planning. Or the adrenalin junkies can head for the red spots.

JUST ADD SALT: Trees are made of cellulose fibres. Each of those fibres is composed of as many as 40 million smaller fibres, known as fibrils. Now Swedish researchers have found a way to bind fibrils together into filaments about 10 to 20 microns thick and as strong as the original fibre in the tree. The filaments could be used for creating natural clothing textiles or replacing fibreglass in cars, trucks and boats. The process uses common sodium chloride to bind the fibrils together, and the product is biodegradable when it's no longer useful. To make materials that are stiff and strong or flexible, as needed, depends on how fibrils are arranged in the thread. Align the fibrils with the grain and the material is strong. Avoid that alignment and the material is more flexible. Usually going with the flow is the more flexible approach.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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