Tech Universe: Wednesday 16 July

By Miraz Jordan

The Refuel Smart Propane Gauge. Photo / Quirky
The Refuel Smart Propane Gauge. Photo / Quirky

GRILL OR FILL?: The barbecue may be packed away for the winter, but next time you go to use it will the gas bottle have enough in it? The Refuel Smart Propane Gauge does away with the guesswork. The bottle sits on a donut shaped base that connects to a magnetic sensor. To find out how much gas is left tap the sensor for an LED light readout or check the app on your smartphone, provided the grill is near a Wi-Fi network. That's a nice touch, with the smartphone app.

QUICK CHIP: It takes a slow, expensive test using radioactive materials to distinguish between the two main forms of diabetes mellitus which have different causes and treatments. And that usually means a trip to hospital. Now researchers from Stanford University can do that test in a few minutes with a few drops of blood from a finger prick and a microchip. Each $20 chip can also be used for around 15 tests. The glass plates forming the base of each microchip are coated with an array of nanoparticle-sized islands of gold, which intensify a fluorescent signal, enabling reliable antibody detection.

The test is so inexpensive and easy to use it could enable broad screening and early detection of type-1 diabetes.

WHERE TO?: Helsinki aims to make the private car obsolete by vamping up its round-town transport system to be all-encompassing. The aim is to provide an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that private cars would end up being more expensive, less convenient and harder to use. A traveller would use a smartphone app to specify an origin and a destination. The app would then co-ordinate the best way to travel, and accept payment. Travel could include driverless cars, ferries, bike shares and buses, depending on the traveller's preferences. The Kutsuplus mini-bus service already does some of this. That's a bold idea, transforming even the idea of transport.

STRONG BLACK: What's so dark it absorbs all but 0.035% of visual light? A British made material called Vantablack made of carbon nanotubes. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss. The material's designed for astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems, and of course the military will find uses for it. The material packs carbon nanotubes together so tightly that light can't get in. Any light that squeezes into the gaps between the nanotubes bounces around until it's almost entirely absorbed. The material also conducts heat 7.5 times more effectively than copper and has 10 times the tensile strength of steel. Nothing to see here then.

BOOTING UP: US Marines carry a lot of equipment, and some 7 Kg of batteries to power it all. They spend a lot of time on their feet though so Lockheed Martin has developed a boot that transforms kinetic energy from the full motion of footsteps into a functional power source, generating up to 1.5 watts of power per foot. The additional equipment in the boot adds only a few grams extra weight. Now they plan to optimise the design and make it more rugged and better suited to use by the military. After that, we all want some of the kinetic action for charging our phones.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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