Superhuman Robotic Arm Wins Dyson Award
Mystery barges, floating cities, mind-controlled cars and Bitcoin ATMs are just a handful of the latest technology to surface this week.
The New York City Council officially approved plans for the Empire Outlets and the New York Wheel, a 630-foot-tall ride and tourist attraction that will finally put Staten Island on the map. Groundbreaking will take place in 2014.
Laboratoire de Photophysique et Photochimie Supramoléculaire et Macromoléculaire, in Paris, and Crime Scene Technology
A new product called Lumicyano reveals fingerprints faster and cheaper than existing techniques. The fingerprint powder is made from a chemical compound and a dye considered the smallest fluorescent colorants known to date. As opposed to waiting two days for results, this technique gives results instantly when dusted and then shined with a UV lamp. Additionally, any DNA in those prints remains unharmed.
Video screengrab, Tom Bell, Portland Press Herald
Two mystery barges have shown up in the harbors of San Francisco and Portland, ME. They belong to Google, but the company won't divulge what the vessels, which are made from stacked shipping containers, are for. Speculations and rumors abound. Some say the barges might be floating data centers or floating retail stores for Google Glass or floating VIP party boats. No is certain and only time will tell.
+ Phil Pauley
London designer Phil Pauley has reimagined the home of the future, where sea levels have risen and land is scarce. His Sub-Biosphere 2 is comprised of a Central Support Biome surrounded by eight spherical Living Biomes. According to Pauley's website, the biome would contain life support systems for air, water, food, electricity and "other resources through its innovative control of variant atmospheric pressures that occur at depth."
The world's first Bitcoin ATM, owned by the company Bitcoiniacs, went live inside a downtown Vancouver coffee shop. Bitcoin is a distributed peer-to-peer digital currency that functions without the intermediation of any government or central authority.
Alejo Bernal, a recent graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, has developed a toy car that can be driven forward with thought. He designed it to improve concentration skills. The user controls it wearing NeuroSky EEG headset and then focusing for several seconds on the car. He knows if he's concentrating correctly because the vehicle lights up to indicate neuronal activity and then drives forward.
New technology could reduce cop car chases. The “Starchase” projectile is a GPS-equipped bullet that is launched from a squad car’s grille and controlled from a console inside the cab. Once shot, the device sticks to the perpetrator's car and then sends real-time GPS coordinates to a law-enforcement computer or phone, allowing the police to track the offender without engaging in a high-speed chase.
Laboratory of Intelligent Systems
The GimBall robot, created by roboticists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, is a quadrotor encased in a spherical, flexible cage that protects its innards. Inspired by flies that simply bounce off walls or windows and then continue their flight, this robot needs no sensors to view its flight path. It merely follows its direction to get from point A to B, and if it collides with an obstacle along the way, it simply bounces off and continues flying.
A pair of smart glasses could help visually impaired people see. The glasses have two small cameras that capture two different images, just as human eyes do. A computer transfers the images to transparent LED displays on the lenses, so the wearer can see an enhanced image. The cameras also read text from road signs, send it to the computer, which then converts it into speech and plays it through a set of headphones.
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The Neurocam and its accompanying app use EEG sensors to measure brainwave activity and look for spikes. When one is measured, the app assumes the wearer is interested in what she is seeing and that cues the phone's camera to start recording a video. Footage is recorded as five-second GIFs, which are then stored in an album so users can remember what exactly struck their interest.
A battery-powered, upper-body robotic arm that increases human strength just won the 2013 James Dyson Foundation Award. University of Pennsylvania engineering students created the arm and will receive $45,000 to advance their prototype.
Unlike these other existing robotic arms, this one is ergonomic, non-invasive, wireless, battery-powered and affordable. The student team at Penn created the robotic exoskeleton Titan Arm for physical rehabilitation and super-human strength on the go.
When donned, the Titan Arm augments arm strength by about 40 pounds, according to the team that created it. While not quite Iron Man level, the added strength can accelerate rehab for patients with back injuries. It could mean being able to lift heavy objects for work despite having an arm injury or disability. And the arm could aid search and rescue operations. The prototype cost about $2,000 to make while similar robotic exoskeletons cost upwards of $100,000, the students pointed out.
The Titan Arm team was handed the Dyson Award, an annual international competition for university-level engineering students that challenges them simply to “design something that solves a problem.” In addition to the $45,000 to continue work on their prototype, the students’ department will receive $16,000 for rapid prototyping equipment.
Health-related designs also took some of last year’s awards. A re-adjustable prosthetic socket project was one of the runners-up to the SafetyNet system for safely releasing juvenile and non-targeted fish from nets.
Exoskeletons generally aren’t covered by health insurance even though robotic devices have helped speed recovery for injured people. Physical therapists have used them to provide assistance or resistance to rebuild muscle. The repetitive movements also retrain the brain when there’s been a spinal injury. Having an affordable option could be huge for many patients.
Next the student team plans to use 3-D printing to make arms that are customized to fit specific users. They ultimately hope to make the arm commercially available for less than $10,000. Even if hospitals and physical therapy centers don’t spring for them, Titan Arms could be a boon for movers. Sure beats wheeling around a dolly.
Photos: The Titan Arm in action. Credit: James Dyson Foundation.