Engineers create smart glove that turns sign language into text

University of California San Diego engineer Timothy O’Connor led a team that developed a smart glove that turns the American Sign Language alphabet into text. The project used inexpensive off-the-shelf products totalling about $100. Read the rest

Giant high-tech rooftop greenhouse uses no soil

Lufa Farms is a commercial rooftop greenhouse built in 2010, one of three such gardens that help feed 2% of Montreal. Read the rest

Small space robot launches like a model rocket

This handheld, rocket-powered robot can leap about 30 meters and make a targeted landing. Once it's on the ground, it can then spin up and then abruptly brake its flywheel to jump forward or backward for a bit more mobility. Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the rocketeer robot could someday liftoff from a planetary or lunar lander or rover. The 450-gram prototype uses an Estes C11 rocket engine like those used in model rocketry! From IEEE Spectrum:

The robot is mounted on an angled rail and when it’s time to fly, it spins up its reaction wheel and sets off the primary rocket. The rocket launches the robot on a parabolic trajectory with a maximum range, in Earth gravity, of up to about 30 meters, which would increase to about 200 meters under lunar gravity. The reaction wheel minimizes the effect of the robot body tumbling during flight, keeping the robot going on a straight line: We held this little thing with the gyro wheel turned on during an interactive session at (the International Conference on Robotics and Automation), and it was impressively powerful: There was a significant amount of resistance to any kind of sideways rotation. Since solid-fuel rocket engines can’t be throttled, the opposing thrust motors are fired when necessary to alter the robot’s trajectory for a targeted landing. It’s a fairly effective technique, and in their tests the standard deviation of a series of launches decreased from 1.2 to 0.29 meters, or four times more precise than without the opposing rockets.

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World's tallest spokeless Ferris wheel opens

A 145-meter spokeless Ferris wheel just opened in Weifang, China. Built on a bridge spanning the Bailaing River, it's about ten meters taller than the London Eye, a spoked Ferris wheel. Read the rest

Omnidirectonal conveyor belt is smarter than I am

Intralox makes these incredible machines. Excellent material for making perfect-loop GIFs.

Previously: Lost and lonely dildo on a conveyor belt Some sort of machine pooping out globs of meat Read the rest

Photovoltaic venetian blinds

These SolarGaps prototypes are interesting ways to harness sunlight as it's being blocked. Note: the video is heavy on the promotion and light on the tech specs, but it's a neat idea. Read the rest

Air-free non-pneumatic tires are coming to a bicycle near you

Few things are more annoying for cyclists than changing a flat, especially on a back tire. Non-pneumatic tires that have proven workable for off-roading and other vehicle prototypes are now getting tested for bicycles. Read the rest

Students build working version of Leonardo da Vinci's self-supporting bridge

Students at Missouri's Truman State University got a cool lesson in in a class about Leonardo da Vinci: a chance to turn his sketch for a self-supporting bridge into a working version. Read the rest

Why shoelaces become untied

Why do shoelaces suddenly become untied? Mechanical engineer Oliver O'Reilly and his UC Berkeley colleagues have just published a scientific paper exploring this mystery of the ages. According to O'Reilly, understanding how simple knots work, and then don't, could lead to better knots for surgery, protect undersea optical networking cables from breaking, and enable more realistic animations of hair in computer graphics. From Nature:

The scientists expected that the knots would come undone slowly. But their slow-motion footage — focused on the shoelaces of a runner on a treadmill — showed that the knots rapidly failed within one or two strides. To figure out why, O’Reilly and his colleagues used an accelerometer on the tongue of a shoe to measure the forces acting on a knot. They found that when walking, the combined impact and acceleration on a shoelace totals a whopping 7 gs — about as much as an Apollo spacecraft on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.

Further experiments demonstrated that simply stomping up and down wasn’t enough for a knot to fail; neither was swinging it back and forth. It took the interlaced effects of the two forces to undo the knot: the repeated impacts loosened it while the changes of direction pulled on the laces.

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How to teach robots teamwork

For robots to make our lives easier, they'll need to work together. But how do we teach them teamwork? University of Southern California engineer Nora Ayanian studies how groups of robots, including flying drones, can be better collaborators and what the machines can teach humans about collaboration. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Nora about robot collaboration in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud Read the rest

Watch these hypnotic transplanting machines

This nifty little device is used in a lot of larger greenhouses. Transplanting delicate seedlings used to be done by hand on long conveyor belts. One facility said it took 35 workers to do as much as the machine. Read the rest

Watch a 200-ton boulder get blowed up real good

Heavy rains on the west coast have caused rockslides like this behemoth blocking an Oregon highway south of Eugene. Oregon DOT set up a camera as they blasted it into manageable chunks.

Spoiler: it went way better than Oregon's exploding whale...

PS: here's the "blowed up real good" reference if you're scratching your head.

200-ton rock blown up on Oregon highway (The Oregonian) Read the rest

The giant ships that ship other ships through the shipping lanes

Behold, the Blue Marlin, a "semi-submersible heavy lift ship" that is capable of hoisting and transplanting other, full-sized ships (that is ships as big or bigger than a US Destroyer-class vessel) all around the oceans. Read the rest

Watch Australian bush mechanics get a wrecked car rolling

When I saw the state of the Hyundai these guys found in the bush, I thought the clip was going to be a joke. Then they fix it with their axes. Mad props to Aboriginal Australian mechanics and Korean engineers. Read the rest

Fifty years later, the same flight takes longer. Why?

Fifty years ago, American Airlines' flight from New York to Los Angeles took 5 hours and 43 minutes. The same flight is 6 hours and 27 minutes today. Wendover Productions examines why planes don't fly faster in this interesting video. Read the rest

The six official levels of autonomous vehicles explained

Self-driving cars can mean a number of different things, so the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted a zero-to-5 scale of the types of automation created by SAE International, with level zero being non-autonomous. Generally: Read the rest

Idiot-proofing low clearances with water curtain stop signs

Maybe the 11Foot8 bridge or the 10Foot6 bridge could invest in these nifty signs to stop inattentive drivers from using a bridge to give their trucks a moon roof. Read the rest

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