Tech Universe: Friday 18 July

By Miraz Jordan

JIBO, the first family robot. Photo / YouTube
JIBO, the first family robot. Photo / YouTube

IT'S A BOT!: If you're expecting your domestic robot to have arms, a head with a face and legs or wheels then Jibo will surprise you. Jibo is a family robot — friendly, helpful and intelligent, but it looks more like a desk fan. The device can see, hear and speak, communicating and expressing itself using natural social and emotive cues. Artificial Intelligence algorithms learn your preferences to adapt and fit into your life. It can remind you of tasks and events, send and receive messages, take photos, be a screen for video calls, including turning in the right direction. There's a lot of potential here.

WAVING: FloWave is a circular pool 25 metres in diameter. It's not for swimming in though. Instead it can generate waves from any direction and function as a real sea simulator. Why? Well, before a company spends millions of dollars installing structures such as wave turbines on or under water it's useful to find out how the sea currents and the turbines will interact.

The 5m deep tank contains 2.4 million litres of fresh water. Around the circumference are 168 absorbing wave makers. 28 submerged flow-drive units can drive current across the tank in any direction, with maximum current velocities of 1.6 metres per second. Does fresh water behave the same as salt water though?

WIND BAGS: The London Array is an offshore wind farm in the UK. It has 175 turbines and an installed capacity of 630 megawatts — when the wind blows. But it's those lulls in production that are the problem, as with all wind or solar arrays. One idea is to use energy that's surplus to run compressors that fill flexible bags with air. The bags are then stored somewhere between 80 metres and 500 metres below the surface of the sea. When generation falls because the wind drops that air can then be run through a turbine to pick up the slack. The thing is that the London Array alone would require up to 812,000 cubic meters of compressed air to compensate for a one-day lull. That would need 27,500 bags if the bags were 5 metres across, or 23 bags if they were 41 metres across. Then you also need ballast and strong rope. The ideas are interesting but still need a lot of work. Bubblewrap for the larger denizens of the deep!

PEW PEW: The Russian Platform-M combat robot is to be used for gathering intelligence, discovering and eliminating stationary and mobile targets, providing firepower support and guarding important sites. The vehicle, equipped with optical-electronic and radio reconnaissance locators, runs on tracks and is armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and 4 grenade launchers to destroy targets in automatic or semiautomatic mode. What could possibly go wrong?

FACE THE WALL: Flip a touchscreen over and you'll quickly find the other side doesn't work the same way at all. Unless it's the TransWall, a two-sided, touchable, and transparent display wall, developed in Korea. The TransWall could be useful in places where it's important to keep people physically separated but where they still need to communicate, such as an isolation room in a hospital. The wall uses a surface transducer to provide audio and vibrotactile feedback to the users. A holographic screen film is inserted between the sheets of plexiglass, and beam projectors installed on each side of the wall project images that are reflected. That means people can work on either side of the glass, sharing images and interacting to play games or simply communicate.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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