Lots of things happened in the week before Halloween, but most of the regular news was dominated by the continuing financial crisis and the Greek debt.
Worry not! You can always rely on The Geek Show to trawl the interwebs and bring you some of the best bits from science and technology (and if we can’t find anything good, we can always find something weird or robotic).
Anyway, here’s the news.
Although it seems improbable, Andrea Rossi’s Electric Catalyzer appears to have passed its biggest test so far, but before every goes cold fusion crazy there are a few minor things that need clarifying. First is that while the E-Cat didn’t hit it’s predicted 1 megawatt per hour target, it did manage to produce an average of 470 kilowatts for more than five hours – apparently. The problem is that the demonstration was monitored by engineers from Rossi’s mysterious US backer (who some believe may be DARPA), and they continue to remain anonymous so rumours of an elaborate hoax may continue to follow the project.
The second issue is that the E-Cat remained connected to the mains power for the duration of the test, which was apparently turned off. Finally, there were some indpendent observers and press there, but they were only allowed to see the test for a few minutes at a time.
Now while there seems to be a lot of cloak and dagger about this test, there is a logic to it as well. After all, if you were on the verge of changing the world, would you want someone stealing your ideas?
A team from Stanford University have managed to create an “artificial skin” out of sensors made from silicon film held within a matrix of liquid carbon nantubes (which sounds weird no matter how many times we say it). The surprising thing is, it can actually sense pressure, touch, and even pinching, and the material is flexible and elastic enough to return to its original shape after you’ve messed around with it (streatching, bending, twisting, etc).
There are lots of obvious applications for this technology, some of which are covered in the video below. Be careful though, because there’s actual science in there.
Researchers at Paris-Diderot University have built themselves a working hoverboard, but it may be a while before we can all join in the fun, mainly because of how it works.
The MagSurf is basically a board with a superconducting plate on the bottom that runs along a 5 meter rail of permanent magnets. The board is cooled using liquid nitrogen until it reaches the temperature necessary to elicit the Meissner Effect, and that’s what causes it to hover.
Check out the video to see it in action.
According to Solar Ship you get a vehicle that can carry up to 1000 kg of cargo, is able to travel up to 1000 km, and can take off or land on a stretch of ground that’s much smaller than a regular airstrip. Oh, and did we mention it’s solar powered as well (up to a point that is – it still needs fuel, just a lot less of it than other aircraft of similar size and/or capability).
The “wing” is a helium filled chamber that is topped by an array of photovoltaic cells. These produce enough electricity to generate lift and move the vehicle along.
Solar Ship are hoping to release the plane in 3 different sizes – Caracal, Chul and Nanuq (the latter will supposedly carry up to 30 tonnes).
Mohsen Shahinpoo, a mechanical engineer at the University of Maine, has built a contraption using a material he invented, and while it doesn’t look like a robot in the tradition sense, it’s what it heralds that is worth considering.
The device is a small venus fly trap, but the jaws are made of ionic polymeric metal composite, which mimics muscle function. The material will flex when voltage is passed through it, but it also generates electricity when flexed, and that’s the important bit as it could potentially be used in aritficial muscles for amputees and those who have lost muscle control. Combine it with the Stanford’s artificial skin and things really get intersting, or terrifying if the first thing you think of is the T-1000.
After creating a twitter account, @beeri, and an iPhone 4s contact called Tweet Beeri, Reed is able to to ask Siri to pour him a beer. This command sets of a series of events that work like a virtual Rude Goldberg machine, but for all its complexty, the final bit is the epitome of ghetto science.
Reserchers have tried to incorporate human leg movements into the robot, and the result only requires gravity, a slight downward slope, and a little push to get it started.
W foresee this becoming some kind of evoskeleton to help people with difficulty walking, but if they ever make a powered version then exosuits aren’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Check out the video to see it in action.
Based on the biography of Steve Jobs, the short manages to condense some of the major points, but NMA.TV have put their own weird (and ever so slightly demented), spin on things, and compressed the whole book into just 93 seconds.