Tech Universe: Friday 11 July

By Miraz Jordan

The Finger Reader . Photo / MIT Media Lab
The Finger Reader . Photo / MIT Media Lab

POINT AND SPEAK: How about if you could run your finger along a line of type and hear it read aloud? The Finger Reader may be only a proof of concept research prototype at this point but it has some interesting capabilities. It's designed to help visually impaired users with reading texts or words and takes the form of a ring the user wears on their index finger. Inside are a camera and some haptic actuators for feedback. As the user runs their finger along a line of text on perhaps a business card, a menu in a restaurant or on a sign, the device reads the words out loud. Feedback from the device helps users keep their finger on track. While this device is designed for people with visual impairments, it could clearly be helpful for children or adults learning to read, and for people confronted with a language they don't understand. Think how useful that could be for reading print that's way too small too.

SHIP OUT OF WATER: A fully assembled oil rig can weigh as much as 110,000 metric tons. But do you assemble it at sea or find some way to transport it to its drilling destination? The Dockwise Vanguard is a huge transport vessel that can submerge itself up to 15 metres — that's enough to slide under an oil rig or ship and lift it up onto the deck.

Then the Vanguard carries its load at speeds as high as 14 knots. The transport vessel's ability to submerge also means it can lift other vessels for maintenance and overhaul at sea, acting as a dry dock without the inconvenience of heading back to a port with suitable facilities. Wouldn't that be a sight to see!

AIR SHIP: European researchers are developing airbags that could help stop a ship from sinking in an emergency. They could also be used to stabilise capsized ships or lift those that have already sunk. Kevlar-reinforced balloons have cartridges attached. When triggered gunpowder oxidises an epoxy resin which inflates the balloons. A second cartridge containing compressed air helps to cool the explosion. The project is currently at proof of concept stage. Next up is developing a control unit for the whole system. Keeping a ship afloat in an emergency makes good sense.

A LITTLE PROGRESS: It's bigger than a motorbike, but only just. Toyota's 3-wheeled 2-seater i-ROAD electric vehicle will be tested out in a car-sharing programme in Grenoble, France. The Smart City car-sharing scheme is designed to reduce traffic congestion and promote clean air by encouraging people to use public transport and then switch to an electric vehicle if necessary for the final portion of their journey. Travellers will be able to pick a car up at one location and drop it off at another. That's a useful idea.

UNDER GLASS: The Mall of the World to be built in the United Arab Emirates will cover more than 4.5 million square metres — around 450 hectares. The temperature controlled facility will contain the world's largest shopping mall and an indoor theme park covered by a retractable glass dome that opens during winter months. The idea is to also include a cultural celebration district, shopping and entertainment, hotel rooms and apartments and other hospitality options. One aim of this giant pedestrian area is to draw as many as 180 million visitors per year to Dubai. There's nothing quite like a mall to draw the crowds.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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