TWIE 94: Robot Sketch Artist

This Week in Engineering - Robot sketch artist; Japanese space elevator; smart paint detects faults; driverless cars legalized; Hubble discovers a waterworld; and USB-powered genome sequencer.

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Robot sketch artist
The Center of Art and Media ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany has developed a robot sketch artist. When someone sits down, the robot takes an image with its camera, sketches it with a pencil, and after about ten minutes it grabs and displays its work. The robot showcases edge-processing software, combined with intelligent image processing that highlights important details while ignoring artistically irrelevant ones. So, robots are stealing jobs from caricature artists? Look robots, you want to work at a carnival? Go where you belong -- the freakshow! I¦d pay to see the robot born half man and half woman.

Japanese space elevator
Japanese construction firm Obayashi Corporation believes a space elevator might be possible as early as 2050. The plans call for a cable made of carbon nanotubes to extend from the ground, past a terminal station at the geostationary orbit of over 22,000 miles, all the way to a counterweight 60,000 miles up. The elevator would hold up to 30 passengers, and travel at 125 mph, to reach geostationary orbit after 7 + days. Riding a space elevator for over a week? I¦m thinking I¦d get really sick and tired of that music. Thanks, I¦ll just take the space stairs.

Smart paint detects faults
Dr. Mohamed Saafi from the University of Strathclyde in Glascow has developed a paint made from tightly aligned carbon nanotubes and fly ash, a product of coal burning power plants. When a painted surface begins to structurally fail, the electrical conductivity of the nanotubes change. Electrodes can detect the change in resistance and issue a warning of the defect. I like it! This kind of (smart paint÷ could make regular paint look as old and antiquated as Microsoft Paint.

Driverless cars legalized
The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has announced that it¦s Legislative Commision has approved regulations for self-driving cars, making Nevada the first state to legalize them for public roads. At first, autonomous vehicles will be marked by a red license plate, and after public approval, the required license plate will be green. I think this technology will cut down on moving violations. Nevada has already legalized gambling and prostitution. Now, no speeding tickets? I¦m starting to think Nevada police just don¦t feel like enforcing anything.

Hubble discovers a waterworld
Observations from the Hubble Space Telescope have led to the discovery of GJ1214b, the only known exoplanet made primarily of water. Sadly, though, at a distance of only 1.3 million miles from its red dwarf star, it is too close for the habitable zone. At that distance, a year lasts just thirty-eight hours, and the average temperature should be about four hundred fifty degrees fahrenheit. Water at those temperatures and pressures could take exotic forms like (hot ice÷ or (superfluid÷. Personally, I¦d like to see if we can get this water planet to collide with the Alka-seltzer planet. Hot planet, with total cold relief! Ahh!

USB-powered genome sequencer
Oxford Nanopore has unveiled a fast USB-powered disposable nucleotide sequencer called the MinION, which can sequence up to 150 million base pairs in a blood, plasma or serum sample during its six-hour working life. The MinION system uses 512 nanopores, tuned to differentiate the four nucleobases necessary for gene sequencing. I think a USB gene sequencer is a great idea, because when I worry about catastrophes from genetic science advancing to its inescapable horrific extremes, I¦m usually worried about the interchangeability of interface cables.