Tech Universe: Friday 27 June

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

FACE THE FACTS: Passwords and PIN numbers are a menace, but perhaps faces could work as a replacement. Researchers in the UK are developing a Facelock system which presents a user with a grid of faces. Users select the faces they know from the grid, having set them up previously. The system allows access based on correctly selected faces. The idea is users establish a set of faces that are well known to them, but are not well known to others. The faces could be from distant relatives perhaps or obscure athletes. Tests showed account holders were very successful at recognising the familiar faces, while unauthorised users were reduced to guessing and largely failing. Unfortunately those who knew the account holder well could guess better, at an unacceptably high 6.6% success rate. There are still many problems to iron out, but the system holds promise. As always though, it'll be up to each individual to select wisely in the first place.

STEAL A PERCH: Current commercial drones can't fly very far before they have to recharge their batteries.

Researchers at MIT though think that one solution to the charging problem is to teach the drones to perch on power lines and use their magnetic fields for a boost. The team's single-motor glider has on-board sensors and electronics that automatically direct it to slow down, tip its wings, and hook onto a line, even in moderate wind conditions. The control system mimics the way pigeons can stall while flying in order to perch. Hmm, I wonder what the power companies think of that idea?

SHARED POWER: Maybe you can't put solar panels on your roof, even though you'd like to benefit from solar power. In parts of the US community solar gardens are helping to solve that problem. The idea is that an array of solar panels is put up by a developer in a suitable place and anyone can buy in. In return they receive credit on their electricity bills for the power their panels produce. That definitely beats buying shares in a big power company.

DEEP SCAN: X-rays are great at letting you see inside things, but the machines tend to be very large and unwieldy. Now the US Military has a handheld backscatter X-ray gun that can see through boxes, bags, car seats and airplane wings to reveal various organic compounds. In tests the gun revealed bricks of simulated cocaine, paper, ammonia and other potentially explosive materials, and even a handful of grapes. The Mini Z generates a continuous beam of X-rays then sends its data to a tablet for display. Organic compounds appear bright white while inorganic material remains dark. Because the device can be easily moved around it doesn't need to be as powerful as stationary machines because the operator can quickly and easily scan an object from multiple angles.

SQUEEZE FOR A LIFE: Soldiers and civilians in war zones may suffer pelvic fractures and high leg amputations from IEDs. Medics have only a few seconds to save a life but current tourniquets are of no use for these injuries. The SAM Junctional Tourniquet though is not only designed for those specific injuries but to help a shocked medic apply it correctly. Instructions on the tourniquet explain how to apply it. Pneumatic air bladders under the surface inflate to stanch bleeding but a shut-off valve prevents overinflation. A special buckle provides feedback so the medic knows when it's correctly set. The tourniquet is light to carry, quick and easy to apply and is already saving lives on battlefields. Good design can be so much more than making something look good.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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