TWIE 83: Organic Air-Conditioning With Holey Ice Sheets

This Week in Engineering - Building a Mongolian ice sheet; teen invents eye tracking device; inflatable anteater robot; longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries; software measures call center rage; and elephant fences made of beehives.

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Building a Mongolian ice sheet
This winter, Mongolia will combat global warming and the heat island effect by geoengineering "naleds", or ice sheets, by continually drilling holes in the ice along the Tuul river, allowing fresh water to flow onto the surface and freeze. In the summer, the thick ice will hopefully melt gradually, while cooling the capital city of Ulan Bator, reducing air conditioner usage, and also providing extra drinking and irrigation water. I live in Texas, with really hot summers, and I say we do it, too, but build our ice sheet out of Margarita! Now that¦s green engineering!

Teen invents eye tracking device
To help people with severe motor disabilities, Luis Cruz, an eighteen-year-old from Honduras invented and built a new eye-tracking device made from about three hundred dollars in parts. The device uses electrooculography, which measures the resting potential of the retinas with electrodes near the eyes. The teenager wrote all the tracking software himself, and released it as an open source project, hoping other programmers would contribute features such as autocorrect. You know, I¦m beginning to suspect that kids in America might be idolizing the wrong teenagers. Hey Bieber, what have you done for us lately?

Inflatable anteater robot
Otherlab has created an inflatable robot named Ant-Roach, to demonstrate the high strength-to-weight ratios of inflatable structures. Strong enough to ride while being light enough for one person to lift, the robot uses textile-based actuators that contract when inflated, allowing the robot to be controlled by the release of compressed air. Not be the most advanced robot technology but it¦s a great ride for the kids. Would you rather have them ride the Boston Dynamics Big Dog? That¦s where nightmares come from, sicko!

Longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries
Engineers at Northwestern University have found a way to make lithium-ion batteries run ten times longer, while charging in one-tenth of the time. Scientists have previously looked at using silicon to store the lithium instead of carbon, to increase the charge densitt, but that expands and contracts during charging. Now, researchers have stabilized the silicon by sandwiching it between sheets of graphene. Then they sped up the charging time ten-fold by poking microscopic holes in the graphene, allowing electrons to flow quicker. Keep at it, researchers! I want a battery strong enough to power my laptop with my usb coffee mug warmer and personal air conditioner. You know, for the long flights.

Software measures call center rage
Researchers at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and the Universidad de Granada are using software to try to detect the mood of customers on automated call centers, to try to improve their experience. The system looks at vocal tone, speed, and pause duration, as well as the command history, to try to differentiate between a user who is confused (and might need more elaboration) from one who is impatient and annoyed (and would need less). Reality check. If I¦m on an automated call center, I¦m annoyed. Ever been enjoying an afternoon and think, (Hey, I wonder how my CableVision help line is doing?÷ No. If your software says I¦m not annoyed, I dialed a wrong number.

Elephant fences made of beehives
Biologist Lucy King had an innovative idea for preventing conflicts between endangered African elephants and people. Apparently, elephants have a fear of bees, and wherever they have been stung, they avoid the area in the future. The biologist surrounded farms with beehives every ten meters connected by wires. Whenever an elephant tripped a wire, the bees got angry, and the elephant retreated ninety-three percent of the time. And they thought I was crazy when I proposed building a