By Leong Qi Tyng – Contributing Writer
The article this month focuses on current and upcoming inventions that could change our human lives for the better (or worse, depends how you see it).
The dancing drones, named Shooting Stars, made its appearance during Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. Intel controlled 300 drones used in the show via a central computer. It was noted that a single central computer could control a fleet of 10,000 drones. The successful use of drones at an iconic event might change and improve how performances are done in future events. I would like to see the drones incorporated in films such as Now You See Me (if they make a third film) because I think it’ll make good prop to distract the public. It would also fit the franchise’s theme of incorporating technology with magic tricks. Learn more about the drones and see a close up of it in the video above.
In 2010, British neuroscientist Adrian Owen reported that changes in the blood flow in certain parts of the brain showed that a person believed to be in a vegetative state was actually conscious. A brain-computer interface designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer measures changes in electrical waves in the brain, and also blood flow using near-infrared spectroscopy; which enabled patients to answer yes or no questions. The brain-computer interface fits on a person’s head like a swimming cap, and were tested on four patients over 10 days. The results of the experiment were detailed in the journal PLOS Biology. According to the report, the relayed answers were consistent about 70 percent of the time. When the statement “I love to live” was asked, three of the four patients replied yes. Family members were relieved to be able to communicate with their loved ones after more than four years of silence.
It sounds morbid, but the ability to distinguish the smell of a rotting human body from a rotting animal plays an important role in search and rescues. Researchers have been trying to understand the “smell of death” for more than a decade. Two papers kicked off the effort in 2004, one from a research station in Tennessee called the Body Farm and the other from Greece. In 2010, the Belgian Disaster Victim Identification Team asked analytical chemist Eva Cuypers, and her forensic toxicology lab at the University of Leuven, Belgium, to help find the best way to train cadaver dogs to sniff out human scents. They are now working to create a synthetic smell to train the dogs to accurately find human bodies and in the future, develop “electronic noses” that could detect the compounds of decomposing bodies in order to locate victims of natural disasters or murder. Dr. Walter Bishop and Bones would definitely have a field day with these inventions. Read more here.
Ocado is working on building robots with Cambridge Consultants to help with retrieving stocks in the warehouse. The robots look like a washing machine or a large photocopying machine (start at 0:31 in the video). Stocks in individual totes are stacked on top of one another, and the robots will move around the grid above. To retrieve the needed items, the robot will slide over to the right stack and reach down to lift the items. If the needed item is in the lowest stack, for example, the robots can come together and cooperate. For example, the first robot will lift the top stack while the second robot reaches for the lowest stack of items. Ocado’s new warehouse will be the size of a football pitch and plans to have dozens of these robots operating simultaneously. The robots will be controlled by a central system to ensure they won’t bump into each other. To be able to operate the robots in a huge area, Ocado built 4G technology, instead of using wifi, into the robots. The 4G is on an unlicensed part of the wireless spectrum, so it’s not the on the same airwave our phones use. It seem like robots and technology are slowly taking over human jobs but are humans really redundant? Ocado believes humans are still needed because robots cannot adjust its grip strength unlike humans. It is a skill that is needed to sort fragile items into bags and boxes to be sent out.
Scientists have long looked at nature for solutions and design inspirations. The latest form of biomimicry was a wind turbine modification, done by the company called Tyer Winds. The wind turbine was redesigned to mimic the motions of one of nature’s skilled flyers, the hummingbird. Instead of having the usual three spinning blades, the prototype uses a pair of wings. Each wing is five-feet long and sweep back and forth in a figure of eight motion. It doesn’t generate as much power as the 3-blade turbine but the new design is less prone to high wind damage. It is also less harmful to birds. The Tyer Wind Converter isn’t available for sale yet but the creators are building prototypes to be tested in real world conditions to see if it can actually generate enough power to be worth the cost.