3D-Printed Smart Gel

Rutgers University-New Brunswick engineers have created a 3D-printed smart gel that walks underwater and grabs objects and moves them. The watery creation could lead to soft robots that mimic sea animals like the octopus, which can walk underwater and bump into things without damaging them. It may also lead to artificial heart, stomach and other muscles, along with devices for diagnosing diseases, detecting and delivering drugs and performing underwater inspections.

Soft materials like the smart gel are flexible, often cheaper to manufacture than hard materials and can be miniaturized. Devices made of soft materials typically are simple to design and control compared with mechanically more complex hard devices. During the 3D-printing process, light is projected on a light-sensitive solution that becomes a gel. The hydrogel is placed in a salty water solution (or electrolyte) and two thin wires apply electricity to trigger motion: walking forward, reversing course and grabbing and moving objects. The human-like walker that the team created is about one inch tall. The speed of the smart gel’s movement is controlled by changing its dimensions (thin is faster than thick), and the gel bends or changes shape depending on the strength of the salty water solution and electric field. The gel resembles muscles that contract because it’s made of soft material, has more than 70 percent water and responds to electrical stimulation.

Read more here (Todd Bates, Rutgers University, “Engineers Create 3D-Printed Smart Gel That Walks Underwater, Moves Objects”, SciTechDaily, 19.05.2018)

Uber Air ‘Skyport’ concepts

At the ride-hailing company’s second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles, six architecture firms presented their winning designs of what these so-called “Skyports” could look like. The “Sky Tower” by Pickard Chilton and Arup wouldn’t look out of place among the Star Destroyers and Dreadnoughts of the Galactic Empire (or the First Order, depending on your trilogy). The beehive-esque “Uber Hover” concept by Humphreys & Partners could easily pass for an Ewok village on Endor. BOKA Powell’s “Skyport Prototype” looks like it’s ready to take flight and begin doing battle with a swarm of TIE Fighters.

As part of Uber’s design competition, the proposed Skyports needed to support transport of more than 4,000 passengers per hour within a three-acre footprint, as well as meet noise and environmental requirements. They also needed to ensure that electric-powered aircraft were able to recharge between trips with minimal impact to nearby communities. There were no requirements about droid recharging, however.

Read more about the designs here (Andrew J. Hawkins, “These Uber Air ‘Skyport’ concepts look straight out of Star Wars”, The Verge, 09.05.2018)

Who’s Winning the Self-Driving Car Race?

In this article, Bloomberg presents an analysis of the current state of the autonomous driving industry. It is a short presentation of companies such as Waymo, Volkswagen or Tesla through the perspective of several factors such as estimated time of autonomy, annual budget, current rides, methods of deployment, and key partners. The focus is on presenting the level of autonomy that the cars have reached, and the costs to build such a car that can drive on the roads.


Credit: Waymo

“In the next three years, almost all of these contenders will be able show off cars capable of navigating city streets at casual speeds along firmly fixed routes. Most of the companies now building autonomous vehicles can already handle basic driving at low speeds.” The limitation of autonomous cars are obvious: they need an accurate representation of the map of the environment they are navigating in, and clear, clean environments. They cannot work in chaotic conditions, where the poles are covered with other occluding objects or if there are no lane markings. Therefore it is important to reach an uniformization of the roads and to teach the population how to behave in a rational way in traffic.

A current focus in this domain is the communication and information sharing between cars, that poses new problems that are addressed in journals such as IEEE’s Transactions on Intelligent Transportation systems, issue 5, May 2018 . It remains to be seen how an agreement will be reached between all the companies that were mentioned in the Hyperdrive article, because a collaboration is necessary in order to solve traffic problems.

Source (Bloomberg, “Who’s Winning the Self-Driving Car Race?”, Fortune, 31.05.2018)

World’s smallest optical implantable biodevice

Japanese researchers describe a new implantable device no bigger than the width of a coin that can be used to control brain patterns. The device, which can be read about in AIP Advances, converts infrared light into blue light to control neural activity and is both the smallest and lightest wireless optical biodevice to be reported. The miniaturization of implantable devices has been hindered by a dependency on electromagnetics. In such devices, both the voltage and the current decrease with a reduction in size, thus limiting the power. On the other hand, in devices that depend on photovoltaics, voltage remains unchanged as size is reduced.


Credit: Takashi Tokuda

The new device made by Tokuda’s research team uses a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor that controls photovoltaic power. “We integrated two sets of photovoltaic cells onto semiconductor chips. Ten cells were integrated for powering, and seven cells for biasing,” he said.

The device includes an InGan LED chip, which causes the device to emit blue light. A more distinguishing feature of the device, however, is that it can be activated with infrared light. Infrared is used in many light therapies, because it can penetrate deep in the body, whereas blue light cannot go much deeper than the surface. Therefore, the device can be implanted several centimeters into the body. At just 1 mm3 and 2.3 mg, the volume and weight of the device are almost one order of magnitude than any other reported device, leading Tokuda to call it “the world’s smallest wireless optical neural stimulator.”

Source (Nara Institute of Science and Technology. “World’s smallest optical implantable biodevice.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 April 2018.)

Original paper: Tokuda, T., Ishizu, T., Nattakarn, W., Haruta, M., Noda, T., Sasagawa, K., Sawan, M. and Ohta, J., 2018. 1 mm3-sized optical neural stimulator based on CMOS integrated photovoltaic power receiver. AIP Advances8(4), p.045018.