Tech Universe Favourites: Monday 4 August

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

SHARED POWER: Maybe you can't put solar panels on your roof, even though you'd like to benefit from solar power. In parts of the US community solar gardens are helping to solve that problem. The idea is that an array of solar panels is put up by a developer in a suitable place and anyone can buy in. In return they receive credit on their electricity bills for the power their panels produce. That definitely beats buying shares in a big power company.

THE FLUSH THAT BURNS: When we flush a toilet the waste probably goes to a septic tank or through pipes to the town's sewage treatment plant. But 2.5 billion people around the world don't have that luxury. A toilet being developed at the University of Colorado instead heats human waste to a high enough temperature to sterilise it and create biochar, a highly porous charcoal that can be used in agriculture to stabilise soil.

The work's done by 8 parabolic mirrors. They focus concentrated sunlight on a postage stamp sized spot on a quartz-glass rod connected to 8 bundles of fibre-optic cables, each consisting of thousands of intertwined, fused fibres. That energy then heats up a reaction chamber to over 315 C to treat the waste material, disinfect pathogens in both faeces and urine, and produce char. The toilet could serve 4 to 6 people a day and costs less than 5 cents per day to run. The next step is to test the toilet beyond the lab. It'd be great to see a scaled down model for disposing of dog poop in dog parks.

HANDS MAKE WORK FOR THE IDLE: Some people and institutions have 3D printers that lie idle for much of the time. Meanwhile some people need a hand — literally, because they were born without a hand or an accident has lost them their hand. The Robohand project aims to match up these two groups to allow people to get a prosthetic hand for thousands of dollars less than it would normally cost. Free designs are published on Thingiverse and candidates are assessed by the organisation before prints are made using materials like medical Orthoplastic and stainless steel. Brilliant!

GET THE DROP ON DRUGS: The Mission district of San Francisco doesn't have many tall buildings and is fairly flat which makes it a good spot for drones to deliver drugstore items because aerial mapping is easier. The company QuiQui intends to use drones that will fly below 150 metres any time of day or night, delivering orders in less than 15 minutes. When the drone arrives at its destination it will text the buyer who will use an app to release the package. That should help stop thieves from intercepting parcels and delivery to a wrong address. Now train the dog to fetch the parcel and you won't even need to leave your sickbed.

PILL POST: Some people have to take numerous prescriptions at specific times. Managing all the pills can be a difficult chore. The PillPack service in the US takes most of the work out of it. Send the prescriptions to the online pharmacy and they return labelled sealed packets of combinations of pills, dated and timestamped. All you have to do then is open a packet at the time it shows and take the contents. The service manages refills and ships out the packages every 2 weeks. That's good thinking.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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