New Scientist Tech: Inventions

Exercise bed

Adjustable beds are commonly used in hospitals to help patients change position and get up with minimal help. Now Charles Filipi, a surgeon at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., wants to take them a step further, literally.

He says that many obese patients are required to exercise as part of their treatment. But getting them into a standing position can involve numerous staff and finding a treadmill for them to work out on can be even more time consuming.

So, Filipi suggests building the treadmill into the hospital bed. When not in use, the treadmill sits in a vertical position at the end of the bed.

When the patient needs to exercise, the bed slowly tips into the vertical position, planting the treadmill onto the ground ready to be used. That means a person can always access the treadmill easily, with minimal assistance from anyone else.

Read the full hospital bed treadmill patent application.

Satellite image sharpener

Images from spy satellites are often blurred by swirls of atmospheric turbulence. Finding better ways to correct for that could help anyone from CIA spooks to people checking out the neighbour's swimming pool on Google Earth.

The most promising method so far involves determining how the turbulence has distorted a simple point source of light in the image and reversing the effect.

But a human expert is required to locate what appear to be point-like sources from which the distortion can be calculated. Now Yitzhak Yitzhaky, an electronics engineer at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, has developed a system that automates a version of the process.

It works by searching the image for what appear to be step-like edges, and then calculating how such edges must have been distorted. It applies the reverse of that to the entire image.

This method only determines the distortion in one direction across an image (since edges are straight lines). But Yitzhaky points out that blurring due to atmospheric turbulence is usually the same in all directions this doesn't matter. The result is an automated system for removing the blur from satellite images of the Earth.

Read the full satellite image sharpener patent application.

Human-motion energy harvester

Magnetoelastic materials change their shape when zapped with a magnetic field and are widely thought of as a way to produce movement, for example in small robots. But they also work in reverse, producing a magnetic field when they are deformed.

Greg Hampikian and Peter Mullner, both at Boise State University in Idaho say this property can be used to harvest energy from human movement.

They connect the magnetoelastic material to a magnetic transducer that generates a current from changes in a magnetic field.

This approach can create energy from low-level vibrations. The inventors say that relatively small movements are needed to produce an effect, making their devices ideally suited to harvesting power from human movement. That could be useful to stretch the battery life of portable gadgets, or medical implants.

Read the full human-motion energy harvester patent application.

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