Tech Universe: Thursday 10 July

By Miraz Jordan

British Airways' 'Happiness Blanket'. Photo / British Airways;YouTube
British Airways' 'Happiness Blanket'. Photo / British Airways;YouTube

FLIGHTS IN BLUE: There's no hiding behind this blanket: embedded with neurosensors interconnected with fibre optics that measure the wearer's brainwaves, the blue blanket turns red when the person using it is tense or stressed. British Airways has been testing the blankets on flights between London and New York. The airline hopes the information this gives them about passenger wellbeing will help them better time meals and improve other inflight amenities such as lighting and movies. The blanket doesn't do all the work alone though: volunteer passengers had to wear a headband that measured brainwaves and sent the data via Bluetooth to the blanket. Maybe the horror movies are best avoided.

CALORIE CRUSH: Counting calories? It's tedious work and not terribly accurate unless you destroy the food in the process. A prototype device from GE can get an accurate measure of the calories on your plate though.

The device passes low-energy microwaves through a weighed portion of food and measures how the microwaves are changed by the food. Since fat and water affect the microwaves in different ways the device subtracts water and fat weight from the total weight to derive the calorie content. At the moment all the food must be blended or liquid but GE aim to develop a more sophisticated version that can just measure a regular plate of food. Meanwhile just put all the food in a blender. Yum.

CHAIRED SECRET: The EarlySense Chair Sensor is something doctors and hospitals may invest in. It's a cushion for a chair and is hooked up to a nearby monitor. Sitting on the cushion allows patient's heart rate, respiratory rate and movement to be continuously monitored. Similar systems previously were only available for a patient lying in bed, but the cushions means people can sit up, improving healing, reducing the risk of complications and reducing the length of hospital stay. The sensor also alerts staff if the patient tries to get up from the chair, so someone can go and help. Cushions like that could be a hit in movie theatres to judge how to make more exciting movies.

STOP START CONCEPT: Safe, effective contraception is a huge issue for millions around the world, including being able to stop and start at will. US researchers are working on a tiny computer chip that can be implanted under a woman's skin and release a small dose of levonorgestrel every day for 16 years. The key thing is though that the woman can use a wireless remote control at any time to stop or start it. Security is hugely important so communication with the implant has to occur at skin contact level distance. In addition secure encryption prevents a third party from trying to interpret or intervene between the communications. The idea could also be expanded to other medications. The project has been backed by Bill Gates, and will be submitted for pre-clinical testing in the US next year. Don't lose the remote.

A TON OF BRICKS: Many a child has slotted together toy bricks to build houses, garages and other structures. Kite Bricks bring the idea into actual buildings. The Smart Bricks are constructed of high-strength concrete, designed to be easily joined together, with open internal spaces for insulation and infrastructure elements. The bricks are made to order, including shapes, sizes and finishes, both inside and out, so a building can be quickly, easily and quietly put together. The Smart Brick offers high thermal control, full passage of pipes, wires and cables, finishes for both indoors and outdoors, extraordinary tensile strength, ease of construction and safety of materials. It'll be interesting to see how they handle earthquakes.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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