TWIE 88: Butt Print ID

This Week in Engineering - Measuring the Earth’s wobble with lasers; wind farming with kites; light bulbs won’t keep you awake; robot farmers; microrobots in the bloodstream; and butt-print identification.

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Measuring the Earth's wobble with lasers
The Earth's rotational axis wobbles slightly, like a spinning top as it slows down, but that wobble has never been accurately measured until now. For ten years, German scientists have been building the world's most stable ring laser deep inside an underground bunker and behind five cold storage doors. Two counter-rotating laser beams change their wavelengths as the Earth wobbles, and the researchers calculate the change in the Earth's rotational velocity from the wavelength shift. I say we don't just measure the wobble -- fix it like I fixed my ceiling fan -- put a big heavy mountain on top of Australia, and move it around until it stops wobbling. Problem solved.

Wind farming with kites
Italian company KiteGen has proposed a tethered kite system for generating electricity from winds at high altitudes, where the wind speed averages about six miles per hour faster than winds harvested by traditional turbines. KiteGen esitmates that their system could lower the cost of wind energy to less than that of fossil fuels. Also, the KiteGen system would take up less space than turbine wind farms. Nice. But while we've got the kites out, how about some Ben Franklin-style static electricity farming? I bet that can generate over 1.21 jiggawatts.

Light bulbs won't keep you awake
Working late under ordinary light bulbs can make it hard to get to sleep, interfering with the circadian rhythm because special photoreceptors in your eyes interpret light as a signal to stay awake. Now, Lightning Science Group Corporation is testing a new LED light bulb that eliminates part of the blue light spectrum known to affect the hypothalamus secreting melatonin. I'm glad -- now my reading light won't keep me up at night. My reading material will do that instead. (I read a lot of Stephen King.) There's something under the bed!!!

Robot farmers
Iowan inventor, entomologist and robot hobbyist David Dourhout has built Prospero, a swarm of six-legged robots that work together to plant a field of crops. Instead of planting perfect grids, the robots make decisions based on soil conditions, and then communicate the results to other robots. Future versions should also be able to tend to growing crops and harvest mature ones. A robot farmer is an awesome idea, but you don't want to know what it will do if it catches you making out with its daughter. Exterminate!!!

Microrobots in the bloodstream
Korean researchers from Hanyang University in Seoul and from Chonnam National University in Gwangju have proposed a new system for future microscopic-scale robots to navigate a patient's circulatory system using an external magnetic field. The robots would have two distinct movement types: helical, for forward and backward corkscrew-like motion, and "translational" side-to-side motion. The robots could be directed anywhere in the body, perhaps to eliminate a blood clot. I'm looking forward to having microbots navigating my bloodstream, because I think they would make great pets. Oh, man am I lonely.

Butt-print identification
Japanese researchers at the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology developed a car seat that can recognize a driver based on the distribution of pressure from the backside. The car seat, fitted with three hundred and sixty pressure sensors, was able to correctly identify a driver ninety-eight percent of the time, and it will disable the ignition if the would-be driver is not the owner. Look, I like smart car seats, but I don't need it to foil a thief. I just want it to recognize and appreciate this perfection. (Butt spank.)