Tech Universe: Monday 23 June

By Miraz Jordan

Free-Form Display (Prototype).
Free-Form Display (Prototype).

OUT OF THE BOX: There's no getting away from rectangular displays. Or is there? Sharp's new Free-Form Displays can take any shape that's required. At the moment the bezel around the perimeter of a display contains a drive circuit. The new display disperses that drive circuit throughout the pixels on the display area, so the bezel need not be as thick. And with that comes the possibility of making the displays in almost any shape. That could mean a car dash with all instruments in one single display, interesting wearable devices with elliptical displays, or signage and large monitors that fit closely into whatever space is available. There's actual out of the box design.

QUICK CHARGE: Buses and bus stops go together, which means a quick charge at every stop is perfect for electric buses. The Swiss have just completed a successful pilot of the system, with buses powering up in only 15 seconds at specific stops and at the terminus station.

Now the challenge is to make it work in real life. One immediate problem is if two buses arrive at a stop at the same time. Researchers developed algorithms that account for 56 variables in determining the most cost-effective and efficient system for powering buses, including factors such as pay for drivers, weather conditions and numbers of passengers. At 15 seconds for a charge the buses shouldn't have to wait long in a queue.

BEAM IN THE EYE: Put a laser on one side of the road and a mirror on the other then shine the beam through passing cars. The reflected light can be analysed and detect whether someone in the car has been drinking alcohol. There are some problems, of course: the beam can't indicate whether it was the driver or passengers who have been drinking, or even if a bottle has spilled. What's more air conditioning and open windows can throw the detector off. There's probably also the problem of making sure the driver doesn't look into the beam by accident.

BREATHE EASY: Oftentimes a heart rate monitor is something you strap around your chest while running, but would you really want to wear it while sleeping? MIT's breath and heart rate monitor does its work wirelessly and even through walls. Their system can track the rise and fall of a person's chest and determine their heart rate with 99% accuracy. This could be useful for baby monitors, health tracking and for the military and law enforcement. The system is even capable of tracking up to 4 people at once, which could prove invaluable for those engaged in search and rescue. The system transmits a low-power wireless signal then uses its reflections to track moving humans, even if they're in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall. Part of the system filters out irrelevant reflections. Since strong emotions affect both heart rate and breathing, the researchers hope to eventually be able to detect emotions too. Surely that system could also be applied to wildlife monitoring.

GOOD VIBRATIONS: As you live and breathe your body vibrates with
sounds: from the beating of the heart to the breath in your lungs and the chewing of your food. The BodyBeat system from Cornell University is a microphone that straps to your neck and feeds data to a smartphone. The vibrations from a person's skin and bone are transmitted wirelessly to software that determines whether a heartbeat is irregular, for example. Such software could also monitor coughing or abdominal sounds. The team are working on making the device smaller and perhaps pairing it with Google Glass. Well, that's breathing all monitored every which way then.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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