Tech Universe: Wednesday 30 July

By Miraz Jordan

The FLIR One iPhone thermal imaging add-on. Photo / FLIR Systems
The FLIR One iPhone thermal imaging add-on. Photo / FLIR Systems

HOT SNAPS: By turning your phone into an infrared scanner you could detect heat leaks from your home, over-heating circuitry and wiring, and even see your way in the dark without a light. The FLIR One iPhone imaging accessory does just that, detecting invisible heat then combining heat signature information with a live camera image to deliver a composite thermal heat image. Detectors in the device gather infrared light and turn it into a thermogram that then displays on screen in various colours from cool blue to hot red. FLIR One runs off its own internal battery and can thermal scan for up to 2 hours. Get ready to block off those heat leaks.

SENSITIVE SEATS: Falling asleep at the wheel of a car is a sure way to end up in an accident. The European project, Harken, aims to prevent driver fatigue and sleepiness with a sensor system that measures heartbeat and respiratory rate. Cleverly, it embeds the sensors into the seat cover and the seat belt.

The system detects the mechanical effect of the heart beat and respiratory activity, while filtering and cancelling the noise caused by the moving vehicle. The system has been tested on closed tracks so far, but needs some real-world tests to develop further. Embedding the sensors into standard car parts would certainly make their use more likely.

PRINTERS IN SPACE: If you have a 3D printer to hand you may enjoy the 21 free plans for space objects available now from NASA. You can print scale models of the near and far sides of the Earth's Moon, for example, or maybe the Gale Crater, the Rosetta spacecraft or the asteroid Vesta. It almost makes one want a 3D printer.

JUST LOOKING: The PD-100 Black Hornet is a tiny helicopter — so tiny, in fact that it fits in the palm of the hand and weighs only 16 grams. It's actually a military drone that can fly up to 20 minutes while providing real-time video via a digital data link from one of the 3 embedded cameras. It operates remotely with GPS navigation. Its electric propellers and motors make it almost undetectable. The drone provides valuable surveillance to troops on the ground. That could be so handy for so many things for civilians too.

GROWING PLASTIC: Using plant material to make plastics takes multiple steps, a fair bit of energy and it may divert food crops. Now Italian scientists are finding a way to use waste food scraps such as rice hulls, cocoa pod husks and spinach and parsley stems instead. They discovered that dissolving cellulose from cotton and hemp in the common chemical trifluoroacetic acid converted the cellulose directly to an amorphous form suitable for moulding into plastic. Unfortunately this easy one-step process may work well in the lab with controlled samples, but may not scale because waste products can have variable qualities. It's worth a try though.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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