Tech Universe: Thursday 31 July

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

THE BEST THING SINCE FRESH BREAD: You buy a loaf of bread and then before you know it there's mould on it. That's because as soon as it's baked it interacts with microbes, fungi and yeast in the air. One way to delay that process is by adding preservatives to the bread mix. Brazilian researchers though have tried adding natural preservatives to the packing material rather than to the bread itself. The compounds are derived from plants such as oregano and clove that have antimicrobial properties and are used to make an edible film. The edible film goes inside the bread bag and keeps the bread mould-free for up to 15 days at room temperature. That should save those awful moments of indecision about whether the slice at the end of the otherwise mouldy packet is still OK to eat.

IN THE BLOOD: Blast some white blood cells with long-wave Ultraviolet A waves and the results are interesting. Nothing happens for most people, but the DNA from those who have cancer is easily damaged.

Cells from people with pre-cancerous conditions show an intermediate response. This finding, tested on around 200 people with melanoma, colon and lung cancer or with no cancer, could perhaps mean that a routine bood test in future could reveal the presence of cancer. This would be good news for those who currently rely on invasive and slow biopsies. First though, a great deal more testing is needed to prove the results can be repeated.

PHONING IN THE RAIN: Perhaps you find that a rainstorm degrades your cellphone signal. That can be pretty annoying. It could also be useful. Research in Burkina Faso shows that the change in cell phone signals caused by heavy rains can be used to calculate the amount of rain that's fallen in places where there are few traditional rain gauges. That data in turn could help predict floods and allow for early warnings, or help communities battle malaria. One stumbling block though is getting telcos to cooperate and provide information on cell-phone signal quality. That's an ingenious approach.

NO HIDING PLACE: These days large numbers of people carry cellphones, and that could help rescuers find them in a disaster. A Swiss system uses a drone to find people via their cellphone signal. In the sky is a drone with two antennas that sniff out the data packets from a phone when WiFi mode is active. On the ground, a computer tracks the drone in real time and displays coloured dots when phones are detected. In tests, the system has been able to detect signals to within 10 metres accuracy. Presumably the system carried on the drone could also be hand held for even more flexibility.

SUNNY HOPES: The Sunswift solar car is the fastest electric vehicle over a distance of 500 kilometres, on a single battery charge. The Australian car took to a 4.2 kilometre circular racetrack to break a world record, achieving an average speed of more than 100 Kph. Although the car ran only on battery during this attempt, the current car usually uses solar panels on the roof and hood to charge the 60 Kg battery. The university students who design the car hope it will meet Australian road registration requirements within a year, then maybe it'll find its way into general use. Hello sunshine.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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