Honey, I shrunk the electronics!

It’s a small world after all, as NTU scientists shrink huge devices like radar cameras into microchips smaller than your fingernail. Lester Kok spies a future on the horizon for these micro-wonders

Cyborg beetles

If you think drones and unmanned aerial vehicles make impressive surveillance equipment, say “hi” to the humble beetle. Asst Prof Hirotaka Sato from the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering found that it is possible to remotely control a flying beetle using tiny electronic components mounted on its back, without harming it. If equipped with a video camera, the cyborg beetle could become part of search-and-rescue operations, helping to locate survivors in hard-to-reach places. His research has been flying high internationally and has been featured in Newsweek, Discovery Channel, The Telegraph and more.

Eye in the sky

Hopefully, your first brush with a radar camera doesn’t end up in a speeding ticket. Radar cameras are now being used on the NTU campus to detect and display the speed of cars on the roads. Installed in satellites and aircraft, they take high-resolution photos of terrain and urban cities. However, current radar cameras are large, bulky and expensive.

Reinventing this surveillance staple, Assoc Prof Zheng Yuanjin from the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering shrunk the technology hundreds of times, creating a chip (left) small enough to be placed on your fingertip. Being so tiny, it can be easily installed in drones and car cameras to take crisp images or to detect objects and obstacles.

Hand-held T-ray

The end could be near for bulky X-ray and large body scanning machines at the airport. Meet the new handheld T-ray camera. Unlike X-rays, which can be harmful, T-rays use terahertz waves that are harmless and yet can easily detect metal and plastic objects. Developed by NTU’s Asst Prof Yu Hao, an expert in the Internet of Things, it can be used to scan for hard objects like contraband goods and weapons at security checkpoints.

Bad food detector

Had a severe case of food poisoning? Find out in double-quick time what caused it. A test for food gone bad can now be done in just a few hours with a palm-sized bacteria detector developed in NTU’s VIRTUS IC Design lab. Normally, such bacteria tests are done in a laboratory by scientists, but this new technology by NTU runs the test in a different and more compact way. The coin-sized wonder measures tiny changes in the pH values of the food, and bacteria present in food will raise acidity levels. All it takes is this lab-on-a-chip to give you greater assurance that the groceries you bought or the cooked food on the table are safe to eat.