Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Robot bees

What do you think? More work? (This is the Polish B-Droid.)
Isn't there an old axiom in the aviation industry that a big fuzzy bumblebee is so aerodynamically ill-designed it should not be able to fly? Yet it does.

This came to mind when I read about some mechanical pollinators being developed in Poland and at Harvard--the possible answer, temporary or permanent, to the declining population of honey bees.

Honey bees, wild and domestic, take care of  80% of the world's pollination.  This includes seventy of the top 100 human food crops. No bees, no food--or at least that could happen.

In the US, honey bees have declined from 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2008. That's 60% fewer hives. The cause is called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Now, after four years of work, scientists at the Warsaw University of Technology invented the B-Droid.

A tiny quadcopter, the B-Droid uses onboard cameras and an external computer to plan a flight path over a field.

Dina Spector, writing in the Business Insider (July 7, 2014),  also wrote about a small mechanical pollinator called RoboBees. When tethered to a power supply, they can lift off and hover mid-air using robot wings that flap 120 times a second.

As soon as 10 years from now, the Harvard people say,  RoboBees may be able to fly on their own and communicate like real bees (who use dancing movements to signal great pollinating).

One plus--the RoboBees do not eat and do not need to bring nectar back to the hive. They just pollinate.

But 10 years? Like the larger bumblebee, these seem heavy and clumsy--but they said that one couldn't do the job either--and it does.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Jackpot available for good educational simulation ideas

It's called the EdSim Challenge, a $680,000 contest in search of ways to use simulation in the classroom.

 VR and augmented reality are welcomed. Finalists could get $50,000 to build a prototype. 

The grand prize winner stands to get $430,000. 

Concept proposals are due by next Jan 17, 2017. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wow--a new take on an old favorite

I was going to say this is like vertical pinball and YOU are the pinball--but does anyone know what pinball is anymore?

Time Trial is an interactive video rock climbing wall. You can try it in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Boulders Sommerville twice a month.

To wit:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Look out, border collies--here comes Swagbot

Does it give kisses?
Even dogs may soon lose their jobs to a robot.

Writing in Nextgov, July 28, 2016, Mike Murphy says according to Smithsonian Magazine, researchers at the University of Sydney and the Australian Centre for Field Robots are working on a new robot that can:

--Monitor and herd farm animals

--Keep an eye on crops

--And do this off on its own, no human required.

The device wanders around the outback autonomously, picking up tree trunks like toothpicks and sending back messages on sick animals, among other services.

The things also work with drones watching the farm from on high. The drone can spot obstacles and help the Swagbot putter over to a trouble spot safely.

I wonder if this spidery, clunky thing appearing out of nowhere might frighten animals, cut milk production, run over things, I don't know...Seems a little ominous.

Yes, just call me a Luddite. Plus--I am standing up for the dogs!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Electricity-free "air conditioner" you can build

From Bangladesh come clever air coolers called Eco-Coolers invented by Ashis Paul, a creative supervisor at the ad company called the Grey Group.

You saw off the bottoms of liter soda bottles and insert the remaining neck  in a board, which is then placed "big side out" in a window.

With the wider part facing outside, hot air is drawn into the funnel created. Air pressure changes as the air passes through the neck into the room and cooled air is released. This can cool a room by five degrees Celsius in a short amount of time.

Maybe this wouldn't be "cool" in Phoenix, but it sure makes a difference in some countries where electricity is not available or is on and off.

For blueprints, check out

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Edible six-pack rings delight sea creatures
You've seen the awful pictures--deformed turtles that grew with a six-pack ring around the middle, or plastic taken from the stomachs of dead water creatures.

Thousands of birds, fish, and turtles ingest plastic waste that ends up in the ocean by the thousands of tons.

Now, Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, FL, has invented a biodegradable six-pack ring that can be EATEN by animals or even humans.

No poisonous after effects, no years-long entrapment.

The rings are made of wheat and barley byproducts of the beer brewing process. They are also compostable on land.

Hungry? People can even eat them--although they are not really a gourmet snack.

Since the rings are more expensive than the plastic ones, the inventors are hoping demand will increase and other brewers will use these, and thus the positive impact will justify the cost.

Hear that, Budweiser? The ocean you save may be ours.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Transparent wood--wow

Researchers at the University of Maryland have made a block of linden wood transparent.

They say eventually this will be useful as building material and in light-based electronics.

Basically, they removed the molecule called lignin, which makes wood rigid and dark in color. This left the colorless cellulose structures--which they then filled with epoxy.

You can check out the journal Advanced Materials for more details.

The results were a "wood" that is mostly see-thru and has a high haze (scattering light), which makes it comfortable to look at.

This material could help solar cells trap light. The light would come in because it was transparent, but the high haze would keep the light bouncing around until it was absorbed by the solar panel.

Right now, the blocks of wood they are working with are 4 inches wide--but they say the process is scalable.

They are looking at five years to getting this to the market for use.

Solid wood windows...what will they think up next? Stay tuned.