Five Technology Designs that Mimic Nature

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Biomimicry is the process of technologically simulating structures and systems found in the natural world. Scientists and engineers are interested in biomimicry because it often leads to innovations that help us live better and do more. Here are five examples:

The Shark-Skin Swimsuit

Speedo has a line of swimsuits called Fastskin that are made from super-stretch nylon and strategically covered with a texture that mimics the tiny teeth-like projections of a shark’s skin. Known as denticles, these projections cut the drag as the shark swims, allowing it to swim faster and use 10 percent less energy while doing so. Like a shark’s skin, the Fastskin suit sucks water closer into the swimmer’s body, reducing drag by 4 percent. During the 2004 Olympics, champion swimmer, Michael Phelps wore a Fastskin suit. He went on to win six gold and two bronze metals, becoming the first swimmer to do so in a single Olympics. Additionally, out of the 26 Olympic records broken during that year, 18 of them were by swimmers wearing this suit.

The Skinkansen Bullet Train

The designers of the Shinkansen Bullet Train modelled the train’s nose after the beak of the Kingfisher. The Kingfisher’s beak is streamlined, with an increasing diameter from the tip to where it meets the bird’s head. This shape allows the bird to move efficiently from the low resistance environment of the air into the higher resistance environment beneath the surface of the water as it hunts for food. The main issue facing the train’s designers was the loud noise that high-speed trains make when they exit underground tunnels into the open air. In mimicking the shape of the Kingfisher’s beak, the designers were able to reduce the train’s noise as well as make the train 10 percent faster while cutting its power usage by 15 percent.

The Dew Bank Bottle

The tiny Stenocara beetle of Namibia is the inspiration for a revolutionary water collection system that scientists hope will help countries in arid regions get the water they need. The bumps on the beetle’s back collect water from dew or fog. In addition, the little creature’s shell is coated in a waxy substance that channels the water into the beetle’s mouth. Taking note of this, Pak Kitae of the Seoul National University of Technology created the “Dew Bank Bottle.” Like the tiny insect, the bottle’s material encourages water to condense on its surface. The water is then repelled toward the bottle’s interior.

Termite-Inspired Climate Control

Termite dens are able to maintain a temperature of 87 degrees despite wide swings in the outside temperature, from 30 to 100 degrees in a single day, for example. The termites do this by building thick walls and encouraging air flow from holes near the bottom to those at the top. Architect Mick Pearce used the same concept for the design of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe. Large chimneys encourage air flow via convection, wherein hotter air rises to the top and is replaced by cooler air from below. Thanks to this layout, the massive 333,000 square foot building uses 90 percent less energy for climate control.

Water Filtration Inspired by the Cell

Scientists have discovered proteins in the cells of animals that transport water across the cell membrane. These proteins are called aquaporins. Aquaporins are quite selective and are able to filter out unwanted particles to a degree that no human made water filter has been able to match. Inspired by biological aquaporins, scientists have developed a synthetic variety that, through reverse osmosis, can filter water with a similar degree of selectivity.

From shark-skin inspired swimsuits to better water filtration, biomimicry is helping humans live and work better. You can read about more biomimicry here and here.

 

 

Four Superhero Powers Achievable with Real World Technology

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Anyone who has ever read a comic book or seen a superhero movie has lived vicariously through the characters, imagining what it would be like to have those kind of powers. How unstoppable would you be if you had Wolverine’s regenerative healing power, the Hulk’s brute strength, Spiderman’s climbing ability, or Batman’s armor? You might think wishing for such powers is as much an exercise in futility as it is in fantasy. Surprisingly, though, the technology requisite for many of these superhero abilities already exists, including those listed below.

1. Super-Strength Suit

Image via Flickr by angeloangelo

Imagine having an exoskeleton, a la Iron Man, that endowed you with superhuman strength but was no bigger than a backpack. Believe it or not, Japanese research student Hideyuki Umehara has developed a prototype that does exactly that. The wearable “muscle suit,” as he calls it, is about 20 pounds and sits on the user’s back. It also has sleeves that allow for shoulder and elbow rotation. To show how it works, the inventor had a volunteer squat down, and Umehara placed an almost 90-pound sack in the volunteer’s arms. The wearer of the suit felt his hips move forward and legs straighten until he was standing with the sack without expending any energy.

2. Regenerative Healing Factor

One of the many powers Wolverine of the X-Men crew has is his regenerative healing ability, which is usually instantaneous and complete. While we’re not quite there yet, we do have rudimentary technology to produce a self-healing muscle. At Duke university last month, biomedical engineers grew living skeletal muscle that integrated into mice quickly and showed its ability to heal both inside an animal and inside the lab.

3. Climb Every Surface

Image via Flickr by JD Hancock

Wouldn’t it be so much easier next time you were running late for work just to scale the side of the building and pop in through the window to avoid your boss’s reprimands? Engineers at Cornell University have developed a device the size of your palm that uses water’s surface tension to create an adhesive bond that can stick to brick, wood, and glass. They’re currently working on applying the technology to shoes and gloves to enable users to climb up flat surfaces.

4. Arm Yourself

BATMAN, or Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge is the Air Force’s nod to the Dark Knight. This uber-expensive suit is bulletproof, yet still light and agile enough to allow wearers to run and maneuver freely. Just like mythical Batman’s suit, this armor also comes with numerous visual displays. Here’s the best part, though–wearers have the option of repowering the suit’s gadgets with a Bat Hook that they can throw onto a power line to juice up their batteries.

Clearly, it’s no longer fantasy fiction for humans to have superhuman powers. Perhaps eventually gadgets like these will have us looking back at superheroes and laughing at their relatively unremarkable powers. With this kind of technology, the only question is whether you’ll use your newfound powers for good or evil.

 

Stunning Robotic Animals as Fascinating as the Real Thing

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Fascinating and horrifying at the same time, robots inspire powerful emotions in people. This is especially true the more real to life they are. The following six robots are equally amazing and sometimes cringe-worthy.

Cheetah/Wildcat

With its long legs and articulated back, the Cheetah robot is as long, lean, and dangerous looking as its biological counterpart. Also like the fastest land animal, its robotic variant is the fastest legged robot in the world. Reaching speeds of more than 29 mph, it has set a new land speed record for robots. As amazing as this is, the Cheetah is confined to the lab; it can only operate on a treadmill, tethered to a support beam for balance and to its power-source, an external hydraulic pump.

The next generation of this robot is called the Wildcat. While its current maximum speed is only 16 mph, it’s able to run free. The scientists at Boston Dynamics, the developers of these machines, expect the Wildcat to eventually reach speeds of 50 mph over all types of terrain. Read more about the cheetah and other robotic wonders here.

Robot Spider

As odious as some people find them, no one can deny that spiders are master acrobats. As agile creatures, they’re able to move quickly across all types of surfaces and some are even able to jump. Their hydraulic limbs have inspired researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing, Engineering, and Automation to design limbs for their own spider robot.

The robotic spider not only mimics the legendary speed and agility of its namesake creature, it’s also able to jump. Researchers anticipate that the mechanical arachnid will be able to aid scientists in mapping inaccessible and hard-to-reach places as well as aid in finding trapped survivors of natural disasters.

Robotic Snake

For something without legs, the snake is remarkably fast. Its elongated body is also able to squeeze into places legged animals would have a hard time fitting into. Two scientific teams across the world from each other have created two robotic snakes that move just like living snakes.

The ACM-R5H, developed by Hbot of Japan, is a modular expandable serpentine robot that can crawl and swim. The Biorobotics Lab of Carnegie Mellon University has developed its own robo-snake, a flexible wonder that can crawl, swim, and climb. Both labs are developing these robots to aid rescue workers in finding people trapped in inaccessible places.

Robot Fish

There’s probably nothing in nature that’s able to change direction as quickly as the fish. The reason fishes can change direction so quickly is the flexible structure of their bodies, especially their tail. Fishes sweep their tails from side to side to power their bodies through the water. When a fish wants to change direction, it turns its tail sharply and almost instantly is swimming the opposite way.

Scientists at MIT have developed a soft-bodied robotic fish that’s capable of the rapid motion escape manoeuver of real fish. Powered by carbon dioxide flowing through elastic channels, the robotic fish’s tail is able to bend just like the real thing.

From the racing Wildcat to fast fish, scientists are getting closer to making the robots of science-fiction movies and novels a reality. Is that a good thing? Only time will tell. Until then, find out more about animal robotics here.

5 Places to Find Nanotechnology in the Near Future

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The field of nanotechnology is exciting and innovative, and you’re about to become much more intimately acquainted with it, even if you don’t yet realize it. From the food you eat to the medical procedures performed on you, nanotechnology is quickly becoming both more available and more widely used. Where will you find it?

In the Food You Buy

Image via Flickr by Anthony Albright

Nanotechnology has so many potential uses that defining all of them is well-nigh impossible. One of the most exciting possibilities you’ll see in the future, however, involves finding nanotechnology in the food you buy at the grocery store. In addition to creating packaging designed to cut down on carbon emissions, this technology will save you money and keep you healthy.

You know those sell-by and best-used-by dates. Often, if you don’t use food before one or both of those days, you throw the product away—even if you think it’s still good. New technologies will soon use sensors and phages—or bacteriophages—that can specifically target any unhealthy bacteria in your food. That means that even if it’s a few days over its sell-by date, you can check that steak or those eggs and see if the food is still safe to eat.

In the Computers You Use

Image via Flickr by James Byrum

Nanotechnology will entirely change the way people use computers. It will even change what computers are able to do. With faster processor speeds, smaller designs, and incredible innovations, computer engineering will change more than you’ve ever imagined. From the use of ferroelectric crystals to the creation of NVRAM, or nonvolatile random access memory, you’ll soon see lighter, smaller computers that bring the world one step closer to Jetsons-inspired gadgets.

In Your Medical Care

Nanomedicine will have a lifesaving impact on so many people. It is already helping the world of health and medicine, but even better things are on the horizon. It promises to help cancer research, care, cures, and even prevention. However, treating diseases may get easier all the way around, in part by cutting the need for drugs and medication. Nanotechnology promises to reduce side effects and increase efficacy.

In Your Beauty Products

Image via Flickr by Kanko

Don’t think nanotechnology can improve your beauty routine? Think again. Nanoscale cosmetic materials will soon find their way into your makeup and beauty products. Some of the benefits associated with this type of everyday nanotechnology are:

 

  • Better coverage;
  • Deeper cleansing;
  • Improved absorption;
  • More personalization;
  • Increased antioxidant and antimicrobial properties;
  • Better sunscreens, lotions, creams, hair care, skin care, and complexion products; and
  • Specialized makeup.

 

In the Activities You Enjoy

The everyday applications of nanotechnology get even more practical. They’ll start showing up as nanoscale additives in the polymer materials used to make baseball bats, helmets, luggage, power tools, tennis rackets, and many other household and sporting items. They’ll also appear in clothing fabrics, to prevent wrinkling and the growth of bacteria. Thin, barely there films will improve your glasses, your computer screen, and even the display on your camera.

Consider all the possibilities here, and think about how much nanotechnology will help you. Aren’t you excited about the potential?

Four Innovative Robots That Wowed Crowds at CeBit

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At first blush, a business technology tradeshow doesn’t exactly sound like the Mardi Gras of good times, but four very special robotic guests livened things up at CeBit, the biggest international computer expo in the world. From stripper skills to analogue muscles and tendons, the talents and features of these humanoid robots ended up stealing the show.

The Pole-Dancing Prowess of Lexy and Tess

Image via Flickr by abulhussain

Drawing some of the biggest crowds of the 2014 expo, the Tobit Software booth continued its tradition of displaying pole-dancing robots. Costing about $40,000 to make, the two mechanical strippers are controlled from a PC, have LED lights in lieu of faces, and are powered by the 12V motors that control the windshield wipers of cars.

Tobit, a mobile app maker, gave the two gal gadgets some upgrades this year. Lexy and Tess now have more colors and larger breasts. Additionally, the company can now operate the girls from an Android smartphone, highlighting the endless potential and versatility of cellular technology.

The Diplomacy of RoboThespian

The unofficial robotic host of CeBit this year, RoboThespian offered the eloquent welcome address to attendees and then schmoozed political figures like British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. David Cameron shook hands with RoboThespian, who apparently took a selfie of the moment and then tweeted the pic just moments later.

At six feet tall, RoboThespian has cameras, can recognize facial expressions, and possesses depth perception. The Cornish company Engineered Arts created RoboThespian as an alternative to human exhibition guides who would have to recite the same tour every day. Currently, however, RoboThespian serves primarily educational purposes and also makes occasional appearances in plays and other live shows.

The Bright Future of One-Year-Old Roboy

Meet Roboy Junior, the inaugural prototype of the Roboy project, whose goal is to construct a robot that moves just like a human. Roboy has tendons, bones, and muscles fashioned after those of humans, which allow him to make complex movements. The purpose of anthropomimetic robots like Roboy is to better understand how the human body works and then apply those lessons to industrial production, such as the manufacturing of prosthetics. Roboy’s ability to simulate diseases might also help reduce the cost of training physicians. Roboy can do much more than just play sick–he can make appropriate facial expressions for many emotions, including turning red when he is “angry.”

Although robots that gyrate on poles might not exactly be a boon to the future of the human race, the technology powering their robotic peers holds tremendous promise in education, medicine, and more. RoboThespian can save human resources by handling speaking and presentation tasks, even offering a human-like touch by responding appropriately to verbal feedback from audience members. Likewise, Roboy could do wonders for prosthetics and medicine in general by helping doctors fine tune their understanding of human mechanics. Needless to say, it’s obvious why these four humanoids wowed at CeBit this year.

4 Implant Technologies Waiting on the Horizon

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If you’re a technophile who enjoys joking about your desire to have cybernetic implants installed in your skull, you might be upset to know that you’re a little late to the party. Implantable technologies have been on the rise over the past several years and are making some incredible advances thanks to breakthrough research in the field of neurology. Here are just a few of the incredible new devices poised to dramatically change our world in the near future.

Spinal Implants

Injuries to the spinal cord are perhaps some of the most heartbreaking to hear about. But thanks to recent developments in biotechnology, implants are already helping patients stand. A groundbreaking study led by the University of Louisville’s Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center developed an implantable device that delivered an electrical stimulation to the patient’s spinal column. According to Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, all four of their test patients regained “some level of voluntary function,” lending hope to the idea that implants may soon provide quadriplegics with a complete cure for their paralysis.

Retinal Implants

While we’re still a far way off from creating eyes that let us zoom in on sporting events, retinal implants to assist the blind are already here. The Argus II retinal prosthesis system is on the market in the U.S. as the first FDA-approved retinal implant for people suffering certain types of blindness. While patients showed improvement in their ability to recognize various shapes, these types of implants are still primitive in function and only allow patients to recognize blurry images. However, groups like the Boston Retinal Implant Project are continuing on with their years of experience in a quest to build a true bionic eye for the blind.

Memory Implants

Although current technology doesn’t allow us to target individual neurons in the brain, it does allow us to locate which areas of it are active and when. Selective targeting of these active sections is helping researchers at the Pentagon agency, DARPA, to work on brain implants that improve memory. This could turn a soldier’s brain into a biological black box to help bring back intel from a war zone, and perhaps later be adapted into helping people recover memories after a stroke or accident.

Sensory Implants

Who needs a GPS when you could have your very own biological compass that points north? Brian McEvoy, an electrical engineer and biohacker, has developed the first internal compass known as the Southpaw. This compass has a small whisker that brushes the underside of the skin once the wearer faces north. Other researchers like Rich Lee have found ways to embed magnets in their ears that allow them to sense magnetic fields and Wi-Fi signals, granting users an entirely new level of sensory perception to their world.

While it’ll be some time before implants really start to take off, the advances thus far have set the stage for a very interesting future. Although current implants are primarily centered on helping the disabled, it won’t be long before we seek out ways for them to improve ourselves in more ways than we could ever imagine.

The Future of Bitcoin and Gambling

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Bitcoin is no longer some secret wonder, understood only by the chosen few. It has become blatantly clear that crypto-currency is here to stay (regardless of which currency takes the top spot).

Thanks to the fundamental properties of Bitcoin, this currency is ideal for online gaming, and has been used to make millions of wagers to date.

4 Reasons Online Gambling is Way More Fun

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Image via Flickr by cloud2013

 

If you’re a fan of the rush you get from gambling but don’t have easy access to a casino, then online gambling is perfect for you. There are a lot of benefits from gambling online that you can’t get from a standard casino. Here are a few reasons why gambling online is way more fun.

More Games to Choose From

In a literal casino, you’re limited to whatever games they have available and that selection can be limited due to space. You’re also at the mercy of the crowds. If you want to get to a specific machine or table and it’s being occupied, you have no choice but to wait. When you play online, you can pick any game, any time and that freedom is exhilarating.

Slot machine fans will also love the wide variety of slot machines available online. You can choose from the older three or five-reel machines, or go for a more updated experience with the video versions.

Convenience is Important

One of the biggest perks of gambling from home is the comfort and convenience of it. You can hop on for a quick game anytime you want, day or night. Thanks to laptops and mobile devices, you can also enjoy your favorite games from anywhere. If you have a few minutes to kill while standing in line or sitting in the coffee shop, you can access your favorite games quickly and easily from your mobile device.

There’s also no time requirement for playing online. If you want to play for a few minutes or a few hours, it’s up to you. You can play passively while watching TV, or sit down for an intense game.

You Can Play For Free

Another great reason to play online is the ability to play for free. If you’re new to gambling and not ready to invest any money into a certain game, you can play a free version online. Once you feel comfortable with your ability, then you can start to wager money.

Brick-and-mortar casinos don’t give you this luxury, you always have to pay something in order to play. Playing without the risk of losing anything can be really gratifying, especially if you’re a casual player.

Gambling Across the Globe

Online gambling gives you access to a wide community of gambling enthusiasts from across the globe. You can pop in for a game of poker and be playing with people from Italy, Spain, and China all at the same time. It’s a great way to expand your horizons and meet new people.

Some games even have the option to set up a private room so you can connect with friends and family who may be living far away. This is a great way to keep in touch and share something you all enjoy.

Gambling doesn’t have to be done in a smoky and crowded casino, you can relax and enjoy your experience at your leisure when you play online. What are some of your favorite games to play online?

5 of the Biggest Jackpot Winnings in Casino History

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Image via Flickr by Mark Ramsay

 

It is true that not all players win, but it is equally true that players can win — and win big. These players are here to prove it. From penny slot machines to mobile gaming apps, these players definitely took home the bacon.

1. Largest Jackpot in Vegas History

Who was the biggest winner ever in Sin City? That honor belongs to a former software engineer from Los Angeles. The 25-year-old was playing a Megabucks machine in the Excalibur on the Vegas Strip on March 21, 2003. He put just $100 in the machine, which soon rewarded him aith a $39.7 million return on his investment. Becoming the largest winner ever at a Las Vegas jackpot, he beat the odds of 16.7 million to one when the machine hit.

2. Largest Win for Mobile Online Gamer

Okay, so players can win in the big casinos on the Strip in Vegas, but what about those online gamers playing on mobile devices? A 50-year-old man who remains unidentified took the top mobile prize of $1.4 million, breaking the world record for the most money won from playing on a mobile device. He was using his cell phone. The previous record was set just one month before this hit, and was worth $866,000.

3. Largest Hit on Penny Slots

A 66-year-old man from Nevada became the largest ever jackpot winner on penny slot machines when he hit a jackpot worth $18,799,414. He was playing the Penny Megabucks machine at the Pahrump Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, and played the machine on a whim. Normally a fan of the video poker games, he put in $100 and played his way down to $44 when the jackpot hit. He planned to use his winnings to treat his wife to a trip to Australia.

4. First Time Megabucks Machine Surpassed $20 million Jackpot

A $300 investment turned into a $27.5 million payout on November 15, 1998 for a 67-year-old retired flight attendant from Las Vegas. Putting $300 into the machine by accident instead of the intended wager of just $100, the winner became the first jackpot recipient of a Megabucks machine worth more than $20 million. The winner had previously won $680,000 from another machine, called the Wheel of Fortune. Both wins occurred at Palace Station in Las Vegas.

5. The Win That Spawned a Legend

When Vegas cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay-Brennan put her money into the Megabucks machine at the Desert Inn, the 37-year-old won $34.9 million. But just six weeks after her January 26, 2000 jackpot hit, she and her sister were in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Her sister died, and Cynthia was left paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, sparking the urban legend that all jackpot winners will have bad luck. This myth continues to circulate in Vegas and other popular gambling hotspots today, though no correlation between severe accidents and jackpot winners exists.

These winners know that there really is one criteria for hitting it big — you have to play.