The astounding science and engineering of printer jams

Anil Dash's third law holds that "Three things never work: Voice chat, printers and projectors." But Joshua Rothman's long, fascinating, even poetic profile of the Xerox engineers who work on paper-path process improvements is such a bit of hard-science whimsy that it almost makes me forgive every hour I've spent swearing over jammed paper. Read the rest

Warehouse with automated vertical storage shelves

Static shelves with bins holding small parts take up a lot of space. It's interesting to see this case study of how a traditional warehouse was able to use wasted air space to reduce storage area by 94%. Read the rest

Microfluidic LEGOs for scientific research

Microfluidic systems that move and mix tiny amounts of liquids are used in laboratories for biotechnology, chemistry, and even the development of inkjet technology. Frequently, microfluidic devices are integrated into a single "lab on a chip" but fabricating such systems can be costly and time-consuming. Now, MIT researchers are using customized LEGO bricks to make a modular microfluidics platform. Their prototype system "could be used to manipulate biological fluids and perform tasks such as sorting cells, filtering fluids, and encapsulating molecules in individual droplets." From MIT:

To demonstrate modularity, (mechanical engineering grad student Crystal) Owens built a prototype onto a standard LEGO baseplate consisting of several bricks, each designed to perform a different operation as fluid is pumped through. In addition to making the fluid mixer and droplet generator, she also outfitted a LEGO brick with a light sensor, precisely positioning the sensor to measure light as fluid passed through a channel at the same location.

Owens says the hardest part of the project was figuring out how to connect the bricks together, without fluid leaking out. While LEGO bricks are designed to snap securely in place, there is nevertheless a small gap between bricks, measuring between 100 and 500 microns. To seal this gap, Owens fabricated a small O-ring around each inlet and outlet in a brick.

“The O-ring fits into a small circle milled into the brick surface. It’s designed to stick out a certain amount, so when another brick is placed beside it, it compresses and creates a reliable fluid seal between the bricks.

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Egg processing machine supercut

The gold standard of egg machine videos is back with some lovely footage of some new devices: Polish egg processor OVO-TECH demonstrates the Egg Splitter Rz3. Read the rest

The fascinating history of the first commercial jetliner

The de Havilland Comet, unveiled in 1952 to great acclaim, was beset with technical problems that grounded the entire fleet by 1954. One of the big design flaws? Square windows. Read the rest

Man builds airplane on apartment roof

Pilot Amol Yadav upped and said, one day, that he would construct an airplane on the roof of his apartment building in Mumbai. But how will you get it down, friends asked...

"I really don't know," he told them. Mr Yadav, who flies twin-engine turboprop planes for a living, is nothing if not obstinate. The five-storey building, home to his 19-member joint family, didn't have a lift, so they lugged factory lathes, compressors, welding machines, and an imported 180kg (396lb) engine up the narrow stairwell to the roof. Braving sticky summers and torrential monsoon rains, Mr Yadav and his motley crew - an automobile garage mechanic and an expert fabricator - worked under a tarp shed on the unkempt 111.5 sq m (1,200 sq ft) roof, less than half the size of a tennis court. In February last year, his six-seater propeller plane was ready.

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New methods can 3D print high-strength aluminum alloys

Unweldable materials like aluminum alloys can now be fused using additive manufacture techniques. HRL Laboratories did this interesting demonstration. Read the rest

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

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