Tech Universe Favourites: Wednesday 6 August

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

THIS IS NOT A DRILL: Don't care for the dentist's drill? It may not be long before your dentist puts away the drill. A tooth develops decay when minerals leach out through a microscopic defect, undermining the enamel and possibly leading to a physical cavity. At the moment dentists drill out the decay and fill the tooth with amalgam or composite resin. The new technique uses a tiny electric current to speed up the re-entry of calcium and phosphate minerals into the tooth to repair a defect — that's the way nature would do it, but more slowly. The technique doesn't need a drill or an injection and the tiny electric current can't even be felt by the patient. And presumably your face isn't numb for hours afterwards either.

A CHEAP LOOK: What could you do with an expensive microscope? Identify giardia or malaria perhaps? All you really need is a correctly folded sheet of paper with a tiny lens, an LED and a watch battery, at a total cost of $1.

Scientists from Stanford have devised such a microscope that can be easily printed on a sheet of card, then cut out and folded. It can magnify up to 2,000X, enough to see the parasites that cause malaria and other diseases. With certain coloured LEDs it can see specific proteins or other biomolecules labeled with fluorescent dyes. You don't even need a glass slide for samples, as sticky tape will do the job. At $1 per microscope it could become possible for a billion people or more to be tested each year. This could create the opportunity to actually wipe out malaria.

AWAKE AT THE WHEEL: A car driver may grow drowsy and risk being involved in an accident. Researchers have tried various methods of detecting that drowsiness, including watching eye movements or establishing that a car is drifting out of its lane. Now researchers at Washington State University have developed a system that analyses the movements of the steering wheel to detect driver drowsiness. Data analysis from simulations showed that variability in steering wheel movements and variability in lane position best predict driver fatigue, and that steering wheel variability predicts lane drift. A low cost and easily installed sensor can check for steering wheel variability and could be installed during the manufacture of the car or as an after-market accessory. Sometimes solutions are simpler than we think.

WHEELS OF FUN: Using a wheelchair shouldn't stop you from enjoying off-road adventures, so the three wheeled Horizon all-terrain electric bike could come in very useful. The bike has two wheels on the front, and an electric motor driven by a lithium battery on the rear wheel. The bike can take foot or hand pedals or a footrest and be controlled by various means, such as tri-pin controls for those with limited use of their hands. Handlebars fold down and the seat can be raised for easy entry and exit, while the low centre of gravity makes balance easy. The Horizon can run on the road, grass, gravel and mud, but isn't designed for use indoors. That looks like a whole lot of fun.

WHEELS UP: So you're a wheelchair user who drives a car. That involves a lot of messing about transferring to and from the car, folding and unfolding the chair, stowing the chair and so on. Kenguru takes a different approach: you stay in your chair. The car has a single large rear door, operated by remote, that lifts up, and a ramp that drops down to allow the wheelchair to enter. The single-person electric car has a top speed of 40 Kph, a range of 96 Km and takes 8 hours to fully recharge. The steering wheel comes in the form of a handlebar or joystick, while large windows provide great visibility. A simple, clever idea that could transform lives.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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