MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN: You spend a fortune to heat the shower water then it just flows down the drain after briefly touching your body, taking all that expensive heat with it. EcoDrain gets some of that heat back from the waste water and uses it to warm the rest of the shower water. The device is a simple heat exchanger that passes clean cold water in a separate pipe through the hot waste water. The cold water picks up heat as it flows past, so less hot water is required to give you the warm shower you're after, saving both power and money. The device has no moving parts and needs no electricity to run. There's a thing that could be made a standard fitting in new buildings.
LOOKING GOOD: Some gadgets allow wheelchair users to steer by eye movements alone. The problem though is that the users have to stare at the device and lose the opportunity to look around, and it can also be very slow to operate. A team at Imperial College London have developed smart software that analyses eye movements and can distinguish between looking around and an intention to move in a particular direction.
It also responds within 10 milliseconds to a person's intention to move — a speed that feels instantaneous. The system uses two cameras trained on the eyes and a laptop to analyse the images from the cameras. The developers say the hardware required can be low cost as it's the software that does the hard work. That's exactly what software should be: doing more work so we can do less.
A TOT STOP: If you're teaching your child to ride a bike you may be worried about being able to stop them if they're heading for danger. The MiniBrake should do the job: it gives you the power to remotely bring their bike to a gentle stop. The MiniBrake is fitted just above the rear wheel on a small bike. A remote operates from up to 50 metres away to deploy the brake, lowering it to apply pressure to the wheel and slow the bike. If the battery's depleted or the remote is out of range the device automatically deploys as a safety measure. A moving bike will be stopped within about half a metre. Many parents would welcome this, surely.
UPHILL SPECIAL: Skiers fully expect a lift to take them to the top of a mountain, so why shouldn't city cyclists get a lift up hills? In Trondheim, Norway, the Trampe bicycle lift does just that. The road up the hill is 130 metres long. To one side is a rail with a footplate every 20 metres. Stand on your bike beside the rail, put your foot on the plate and then enjoy the ride at about 1.5 metres per second. Cyclists in hilly cities anywhere will surely welcome this.
SLOT CARS: The valet parking at Düsseldorf airport is handle by robots. Book parking online then drop your car at the valet parking spot and confirm on a touch screen that no-one's in the car. The robot measures the vehicle, picks it up with a forklift-like system, and places it in one of 249 reserved parking slots. The robot also knows when to have the car ready for returning passengers as it accesses flight data and customer trip information. A smartphone app lets passengers make any changes they need. But do you have to tip the robots?
Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz