A PARALLEL WORLD

Monday September 5 2016 / Science & Technology

In the past, understanding the world used to be so much easier: mail went by post not by wire; a drone was somebody who bored you, not somebody who bombed you; and robots were big, made of metal, and rusted in water – not small, soft and swimming.

Today email has largely replaced mail, and drones hunt targets from the sky. Luckily, we still know where are with robots, don't we?



Sorry, but no. Robocop has now been superseded by Octobot.

Engineers in the USA and Italy have built and tested autonomous soft robots that look like an octopus, wrap their arms around objects like an octopus, and swim through water like an octopus. OK, I'll admit that last one is a stretch.



Octobots are made from a variety of silicone gels offering varying stiffness and powered by chemical reactions that push gas in and out of chambers in their eerily flexible legs.



Thanks to the use of chemical reactions instead of electricity for power, Octobots do not require ridged and corrosion-prone components like batteries. A small pre-programmed microchip controls the movements of the arms.



The fuel is a hydrogen peroxide solution that is exposed to platinum particles infused into two of the robot's internal "arteries." When the hydrogen peroxide is strategically released by the microchip and hits the platinum, it rapidly breaks down into water and oxygen. The resulting burst of pressurized gas inflates, extending one set of arms before eventually exhausting through vents.


While today's Octobots are more laboratory proof-of-concept models than practical eight-armed underwater R2D2s, that is likely to change in the not-too-distant future. The present generation of Octobots currently run for a maximum of eight minutes on one miniscule millilitre of fuel. So if you feel something wrap around your legs next time you are at the beach, try to relax and convince yourself that it should drop off before you can count to 500!



I wonder how long before we see the perfect watchstrap: one that wraps around the wrist securely, though not too securely, automatically adjusting its size throughout the day or on any size wrist?

Suggested by
Ian Skellern

Monday August 1 2016 / Science & Technology

''The Six Million Dollar Man" is an American TV series that ran from 1974 to 1978. Steve Austin, the fictional hero of the series, became the world's first bionic man after having an eye, arm and both legs replaced by bionics offering more power and functionality than his lost flesh and blood limbs and organs.

But while computing power, sensors and technology have all evolved in leaps and bounds over the decades since the series aired, prosthetics − though they have certainly advanced − haven’t appeared to keep pace.



We have self-driving cars, but most robot arms still cannot hold a glass of water . . . or couldn't until the Luke.


Monday June 6 2016 / Art & Design

Nick Brandt has been photographing African wildlife since 2001 and during that time has observed that the animals' natural habitat was being destroyed at an ever-alarming rate.

To highlight this plight, Brandt conceived of a series of huge photographs called Inherit the Earth. To create them he erected larger-than-life-sized portraits of Africa's four-legged inhabitants in landscapes where they once may have roamed but no longer. Rubbish dumps, quarries and warehouses have replaced the wild plains.


Monday May 2 2016 / Science & Technology - A Little Levity

We've all been here, haven't we? Well, hopefully a few of you at least will have shared the following scenario with me in childhood: you have folded the perfect paper plane, which in your imagination soars effortlessly across the room to gasps of admiration (and a tinge of jealousy) from the rest of the room. But, in reality, when you release your plane (with just a little too much force) it flies straight down to the floor with a paper- and soul-crushing thwack, followed by a quickly rising volume of laughter and sniggers.

If only there was a better way.

Monday March 28 2016 / Science & Technology

Think about how we move in rough terrain for a movement: whether walking uphill, downhill, or across hills, we always try and stay vertical because that's how our bodies balance best.



However, we do tend to learn over when going around corners quickly because that keeps apparent forces vertical to our bodies. French company Swincar has now developed an off road buggy that operates in the same way on rough terrain and at speed as our bodies do.

Friday January 1 2016 / Art & Design

When the Eiffel Tower was erected for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, many outraged people averted their eyes from what they viewed as a hideous iron beast. But the construction that once turned away so many is now among the most recognisable monuments in the world.


In Seville, Spain, the challenge of convincing the public was no different but the materials and engineering were: try building the largest wooden structure on earth atop ancient ruins while creating an inviting space for everyone to enjoy . . . in addition to rehabilitating a dilapidated part of town. This was the Metropol Parasol project.

Monday November 2 2015 / Science & Technology

For its era, it was a racing machine of a different ilk, even its name – The Beast of Turin – evokes images of a forceful, grumbling animal terrorising the streets. But just as soon as the rocket-shaped Fiat racer won the 1911 world speed record, it disappeared. And then wasn't seen or heard again from for another 100 years.

That is until it fell into the hands of Duncan Pittaway.


Tuesday September 1 2015 / Art & Design

As summer ends and leaves slowly turn from green to varying hues of yellow, orange and red, we celebrate the warm and earthy colours of fall with photos of some of the most stunningly pigmented places on earth.

Here are ten of the best places on earth to view nature in all of her seasonal glory.

Wednesday July 29 2015 / Science & Technology - Art & Design

A robot that moves, swims, pushes and carries objects might not sound like something so novel. For many, that's what robots should do.

But take that robot and trim it down to the size of a thumbnail, that's something.

And not having to make the robot, but have it fold itself into its miniature robotic form would be even better.

And just for good measure, how about if after completing its mission that the robot dissolved and disappeared?  

Presenting the latest invention from MIT: the origami robot.

Friday May 29 2015 / Science & Technology

A staple of science-fiction films is the mad scientist searching to perpetrate evil by controlling peoples' minds. 

However, back in the real world, there is a “mad” Brazilian scientist who has discovered a way to use brains to control robots. And for a good cause, one that helps people walk again.

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