Technology shown to change lives
Technology can change lives, no matter whether it is advanced technology or the most rudimentary you can find. The glue that lets technology take shape though is research.
There are two excellent examples of this at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition under way at the RDS in Dublin. One involved using electronics to deliver a new kind of interface for controlling a computer or other devices. The other uses little more than clay pots, sand and a large dollop of ingenuity to deliver a refrigerator for Africa that can be built for just €3.
In a project called 'The world at your fingertips" three transition year students from Davitt College in Mayo developed a replacement for a computer mouse – a glove that uses hand and finger movements to control a computer. Jack McEllin, Sean Murphy and Conor Reilly researched and then put together a glove bristling with sensors.
They built in accelerometers, magnetometers, gyros and other sensors along with a radio transmitter to deliver a glove that can control a cursor on a computer screen or manage other devices remotely and without hard wiring to connect it.
“It is a different way to interface with technology,” says Jack. “It is not a substitute for a computer mouse but it is a fun way to interact with a computer,” Sean added.
Although fun to use it was also a lot of work to develop. It took two months to research and build the glove and its sensors and another two weeks to produce a software programme to allow it to work, said Conor.
They demonstrated how the glove could be used to move a cursor across a screen and carry out various functions. But it could just as well be used to monitor progress in a person having physiotherapy done on a hand. A computer could be used to gauge patient progress and compare this over time.
It would be just as useful as a way to control devices such as an MP3 dock, the students added. Because it is wireless it would be possible to change songs with no more than a wave of the hand or the flexing of a finger, even if in the next room.
Far less technology but just as much research was needed from Anna Colwell and Daisy Barron, two second year students from Sutton Park School Dublin for their project, “A non-electric fridge for Africa”. They learned about a simple fridge, a smaller terracotta pot placed inside a larger one with sand filled in between them. If the sand is kept moist evaporative cooling will chill the inside pot to about 11 degrees, the girls said.
“We were trying to help African children who have no electricity and no way to cool their food,” Anna said.
They began a series of experiments and design changes to improve on this. They included inexpensive “hydroponic beads” in the sand to retain moisture during drought and added a simple metal shade fitted with tubing. This carried water and evaporative cooling helped to chill the shade’s lower surface. This provided a way to trap water evaporating from the fridge sand and recycled it to prevent it drying out.
The entire fridge could be build for just €3, the girls said. They made contact with the Barbro Johnson School in Tanzania, where students tested the girl’s prototype. In Ireland, with its cool damp weather, their fridge performed better than the original design. But in Tanzania’s hot climate, the fridge managed to chill down to between four and six degrees, about as cool as a standard electric fridge, the girls said.
It took a lot of testing and modification but the design was already being introduced to neighbouring villages, Daisy said.