Magnetic Bricks Bring 3-D Interaction to Screens
This week, we present a host of tech meant to save people and perhaps save the planet.
Carbon nanofibers are grown in labs under extreme conditions, namely inside a vacuum chamber filled with ammonia gas and heated to 700 degrees Celsius. This week, researchers from North Carolina State University demonstrated that they could grow vertically aligned carbon nanofibers without ammonia and using ambient air. The advance will make the process cheaper and safer. The nanofibers could one day be used like wires to power tiny electronics.
Deserts are taking over the planet. The UN estimates that more than 1 billion people in some 100 countries are threatened by desertification, which consumes more than 46,000 square miles of arable land each year. The Green Machine concept, designed byMalka Architecture
and Yachar Bouhaya Architecture for the Venice Biennale, is a rocket platform that would be commissioned as a mobile oasis to roam over drylands and plant seeds.
Giant balloons would capture water condensation from the air, while the treads would inject seeds, fertilizer and water into the ground. Power would come from solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy sources. Enough electricity could be generated to support a small community. The architects are working on a project to address desertification on the Moroccan side of the Sahara Desert.
Francisco Meseguer, UPV/CSIC
Most solar cells convert the visible part of the sun's spectrum into electricity. But the infrared part of the spectrum remains elusive. Now researchers in Spain have created photovoltaic spheres just a micrometer or two across that trap infrared light until it's absorbed by the silicon and turned into electricity. That could improve the efficiency of solar power and make solar panels more cost effective.
Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya, Guo Shen via eVolo
This year's eVolo Skyscraper Competition churned out an amazing list of futuristic architecture. Take this piece from Chinese designers Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya and Guo Shen, who won honorable mention for their Sand Babel Tower. The twisting structure is built from sand using a 3-D printing manufacturing process and it's powered by the sun.
For those of us who still have cassette tapes collecting dust in closets, it's a little hard to believe that CDs and DVDs are about to join them. Instead of packing them into a box, though, one group of artists in Bulgaria turned them into a work of art. Mirror Culture is a curtain of 6,000 optical discs strung up over the entrance to the Sea Garden public park in Varna. Borislav Ignatov of Ignatov Architects, lead the project and describes it as a "literal reflection and recording of our time.”
The most powerful winds are located higher in the sky than land-based wind turbines can reach. That's why Altaeros Energies is sending an inflatable, high-altitude floating wind turbine 300 meters over the skies of Fairbanks, Alaska. The Buoyant Airborne Turbine is a helium-filled ring with a wind turbine suspended inside. It has a power capacity of 30 kilowatts and will create enough energy to power about 12 homes.
These sculptures look like giant wicker baskets but they're actually water harvesting structures that can turn atmospheric water vapor into more than 25 gallons of potable water per day. The WarkaWater, designed by Arturo Vittori and inspired by the Warka tree, could hydrate the more than than 750 million people around the world that do not have access to safe drinking water.
The structure has two layers: an external semi-rigid exoskeleton built from juncus or bamboo and an internal plastic mesh. Dew forms on the mesh and then drips into a basin at the base. Each tower costs about $550 and can be built in less than a week. Vittori is currently looking for financing to build two WarkaTowers in Ethiopia by 2015.
ETH Zurch and NCCR Robotics
A new competition, the Cybathlon, is being organized for people with disabilities that use advanced assistive devices, including robotic technologies. The event, conceived of by ETH Zurich and the Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics, will take place in 2016 and be comprised of different disciplines that apply the most modern powered knee prostheses, wearable arm prostheses, powered exoskeletons, powered wheelchairs, electrically stimulated muscles and novel brain-computer interfaces.
This autonomous airship is being developed to carry out long endurance missions 12 miles above the Earth’s surface. Designed by French-Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space, alongside Airbus Defense & Space, Zodiac Marine, and CEA-Liten, the rigid blimplike aircraft will work something like a satellite, conducting observations, maintaining security as well as improving telecommunications and broadcasting signals.
New LEGO-like magnetic bricks could soon bring a third dimension to the otherwise 2-D world of tablet interaction. They’re called GaussBricks and they allow users to make interactive shapes that bring digital drawings, animations and games to life.
Created by Rong-Hao Liang from from the National Taiwan University in Taipei, GaussBricks stack and lock together and when placed directly on a tablet’s screen influence animations on the display. A sensor grid on the back of the tablet tracks the bricks’ magnetic fields and algorithms use the data to reproduce the shape of the bricks onscreen, creating interactive digital forms. “It’s like an X-ray camera that can see through the tablet, detecting magnets on or above the display,” Liang told New Scientist.
Some of the blocks have two joint styles, allowing them to bend freely or lock into adjoining pieces. Other bricks include motorized joints and conductive coatings for more sophisticated, mechanical creations that respond like touchscreens. ”We created a virtual pet where caressing the surface of the cat changes its facial expression,” said Liang.
Incorporating physical objects into tablet interaction, Liang says, is more akin to how we live in the physical world. Therefore, GaussBricks could make educational programs, virtual therapy and games more effective. Liang and his colleagues are already working on tablet versions of popular board games that integrate the bricks with augmented reality. As popular as tablets have become with young children, I imagine adding anything that makes interaction more tactile would be quite marketable. Especially if the “bricks” could be streamlined into more recognizable shapes, such as rocket ships and dinosaurs for example. However, Liang’s GaussBits are already aware of that.
“We are trying to make the project open source,” said Liang. “We hope that other engineers and designers will come up with new uses for the technology to bring it beyond the lab and make a real impact.”
Check out he following video of GaussBricks in action.
Credit: National Taiwan University