Tech Universe: Monday 30 June

By Miraz Jordan

The skyTran system could help ease gridlocked roads.
The skyTran system could help ease gridlocked roads.

A BRIEF HIGH: In Tel Aviv next year some travellers will be able to fly through the air — for 500 metres anyway. A pilot scheme from skyTran will suspend 2-person cars from elevated magnetic tracks around 7 metres off the ground as way to avoid congested roads. The 500 metre loop is a test track before setting up a commercial version.

Travellers will be able to call up a car on their smartphone to meet them at a specific station and then head directly to their destination at up to 70 Kph. If the Israeli pilot works out then other projects in India and the US should be able to go ahead. How many stations can there be on a 500 metre track?

COOL RUNNINGS: NASA's latest prototype space rover does its roving a bit differently: floating upside down and rolling along the underside of ice above. The untethered vehicle is operated through a satellite link. Why roll along the underside of ice? Well, after much more development this vehicle may eventually be destined for Jupiter's moon Europa where such skills may be required.

A rover like that could surely also be useful for research on planet Earth.

RUMBLE STRIPS: Airport runways are noisy places. Amsterdam's extremely busy Schiphol Airport is in a flat area too so noise travels a long way — up to 32 Km. But then researchers noticed things were a bit quieter after local farmers ploughed their fields. Now they've installed some carefully researched landscaping that helps deflect some of the noise up into the sky. GPS-guided robot excavators were used to create noise-deflecting ridges, spaced about 11 metres apart. That's about the same length as large-wavelength, low-frequency, long-range rumbles. Every airport should have them.

BRAINS IN THE TEETH: Some sports and activities leave players vulnerable to concussion. But establishing the severity of an impact to the head and deciding whether to take a player off the field is no simple matter. Stanford University is approaching the problem with a mouthguard equipped with accelerometers that can directly measure skull accelerations. Recording thousands of impacts has allowed researchers to see that players' heads frequently sustain accelerations of 10 G, and sometimes even 100 G — 30 times as much as astronauts experience during launch or reentry. Infrared proximity sensors in the mouthpiece determine whether the mouthguard is actually being worn, and allow software to ignore impacts that may be caused by dropping. The researchers hope that eventually the mouthguard will be able to report serious impacts as they happen, allowing coaches to make better decisions about withdrawing players from the field. That's a nice way to piggyback on existing technology.

A SOUND IDEA: The manufacture of microchips depends on thin film technology. The current approach is really just to spray on the film, but with little control. Australian researchers have discovered that high-frequency sound waves provide that missing control and precision.

Tuning the sound waves also allowed the researchers to create any pattern they wanted on the surface of a microchip. Thin film coatings are or could be used for paint, wound care, 3D printing, micro-casting and micro-fluidics. What other materials could sound control?

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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