The top five tech innovations to come out of unis

May 28, 2015
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Most —if not all—of us were told that a university degree would give us the best chance to get that office job working for the man. But some of us have shown that we don’t have to routinise ourselves post-university – instead we can choose to create solutions and revolutions while we’re still there. Unis are a breeding ground for stellar new technologies, and these are some of the best.

Cochlear implants: first step to bionic humans

What do a seashell and a blade of grass have in common with bionic ears? They inspired the multi-channel cochlear implant, the brainchild of Graeme Clark. It began as a literature review for his PhD at the University of Sydney in the late 1960s, but eventually led the cochlear implant to become recognised as one of the most significant medical developments created for being able to prosthetically restore brain function.  

Invisibility cloaks: fantasy no more

It appears we may not need to attend Hogwarts to have cloaks of invisibility after all. In 2014, scientists at the University of Cambridge described how metamaterials can be created by stitching gold, or plasmonic, nanoparticles strings with light to create what appears to be an invisible cloak. In layman’s terms, it simply means that light going through this metamaterial is refracted and passes through it at an angle, showing mostly the background behind the material. This results in appeared invisibility. When this technology becomes mainstream—if ever—is unknown, but you can be sure defence departments around the world would want a piece of it.

World’s fastest camera: one-sixth the speed of light

While Red Bull can show off its ability to capture super slow-mo sports actions at 1,000 frames per second (FPS), it’s left in the dust by the new worlds fastest camera that can capture events that happen at one-sixth the speed of light. This camera—or “photo-device”, to be technically correct—capture images at 4.4 trillion FPS using sequentially timed all-optical mapping photography (STAMP) technology, and is a joint effort by researchers at Keio University and the University of Tokyo. Even though it’s mainly used for chemical- and physics-related events (like heat conduction and chemical reactions) that were nigh impossible to capture in the past, it can have other applications as well, such as medical imaging and (dare I say it) improved selfies.

Smart glasses: let there be light

Google Glass and Oculus Rift may have been in the limelight recently for eyewear technology innovations in the past few years (with the latter even getting social media giant Facebook to throw money at it), but on the horizon is the Smart Glasses by Dr Stephen Hicks at Oxford University. It’s another eyewear device that, while less glamorous and does not come with all the hoohahs of virtual gaming, helps partially blind people see the light. It does this by using combined cameras and a laser to sense and detect objects, then convert them into light on the glasses. While unable to communicate colour, these glasses still make everyday living easier for some.

3D printing: micro level

While 3D printing has been around since the late 1980s, it’s only over the past few years that its exploded from industrial settings to entry level. While some have put it to creative use, others have caused alarm for authorities and experts. Now, however, Jennifer Lewis at Harvard University has made 3D printing using only plastic shapes look practically ancient; she’s developed micro-scale 3D printing that uses multiple materials—from living cells to semiconductors—in ink form to create more sophisticated and intricate parts, including biological.

Toby Vue

Toby is a Master of Arts (journalism) student at Charles Sturt University. He tweets @tobyvue.

Image: Keoni Cabral, Flickr Creative Commons license