One way to survey whales is to circle above them in a small plane and count. That's a risky business though and finding a way to automate the count would be a good idea. The

platform uses extremely high-resolution satellite pictures and image-processing software to detect whales on or near the ocean's surface. Tests with counting southern right whales off the coast of Argentina showed the automated count captured 89% of the whales spotted in a manual search of the images. Researchers hope that higher resolution satellite images and improved image processing will boost that accuracy and allow researchers to track other species and in more locations. And I bet small planes can't get very far out to sea either.

CHIPPING AWAY AT COSTS: When manufacturers make paper they take biomass such as wood chips and separate the material into lignine and cellulose, then use the cellulose to make paper. That separation's not an easy thing to do though. It's a costly process that needs high pressures and temperatures. A new biodegradable solvent produces very pure lignine and requires much less energy than traditional methods. The solvent should lead to at least 40% lower energy costs and 20% less CO2 emissions in paper production. That's a huge energy savings.


THE DIMENSIONS OF CRIME: Police in Queensland will soon use the Zebedee handheld laser scanner to map crime scenes. The 3D scanner has already been used in mining, and in capturing the inside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa but will allow police to make better images of crime scenes. While someone walks through an area the LiDAR scanner moves on a spring that allows an inertial measurement unit to do its work, meaning no GPS is required. Software later takes the data points and prepares a 3D image from the capture. It's not clear how fine the resolution is: had the vase been moved or not?

POINT, THEN SHOOT: Shooting something, or someone, on purpose involves correctly lining up the target in the sights before pulling the trigger. TrackingPoint rifles use a laser range finder to lock onto a moving target, add a virtual tag to the target and stop the gun from being fired if the target isn't correctly lined up. Meanwhile, software in the scope compensates for 16 variables, including temperature, the expected spin drift of the bullet and the direction the wind is blowing. The US Army is testing the weapons for use in places like Afghanistan where military targets may be mixed in with civilians and accuracy is absolutely essential. If it helps reduce unintended shootings that must be a good thing.

HOVERING: Flat land, flat water, even choppy water: the Amphibious Trimaran with Aerostatic Discharge can cross them all. The amphibious vehicle is a combination of hovercraft, airboat and pontoon inflatable boat. It's the kind of thing that would be very useful in the debris-filled streets of a flooded city, on sensitive mudflats and even on the dangerous ice of a Canadian lake in winter. The vehicle shows exceptional stability at speeds of up to 90 Kph over water or 120 Kph over snow and ice. The deck can be arranged for passenger seating, cargo or a mixture of both, and has standing room for up to 9 people, plus the pilot. The vehicle is driven by a single readily available 140 hp 2.0 L Ford Duratec car engine and would be suitable for rescue or military operations, as well as research, hunting, fishing and just having fun. Get ready to ride.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz