TWIE 107: Transparent Smartphone

This Week in Engineering - Paralyzed rats walk; splitting the SKA; self-stirring pot; Alpine space equipment tests; transparent smartphone; and radiation-detecting smartphone.

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Paralyzed rats walk
In a study led by Greguire Courtine of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, researchers have partially restored voluntary movement in rats paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. Researchers injected the rats with drugs, and stimulated them with electrodes, to improve the intact spinal pathways and help generate new ones. They then put the rats into a specially-designed robotic vest that held them upright, allowing them to use their legs for power. After several weeks, the rats had learned to use their legs to get food, even moving over stairs and obstacles. This is amazing. And also, I need a pet rat with a bipedal walking harness. Don't think that's cute? Wait till you see him being chased by my cat on a Segway.

Splitting the SKA
The multinational Square Kilometer Array will be the largest radio telescope ever built, made up of thousands of small antennas with a combined collecting area of roughly one square kilometer. Now, the decision has been announced that Africa and New Zealand, both of whom had been lobbying for the project, will now share the duties, with the entire Phase 1 mid-frequency array going to Africa, mostly in South Africa, and the low-frequency array in later phases going to Australia and New Zealand. See? This is what happens when King Solomon can't figure out who the real mother of the telescope is. So sad. (It was Arecibo.)

Self-stirring pot
Japanese dentist Hideki Watanabe has invented the Kuru-Kuru Nabe, or the "Pot Round and Round". As the liquid inside heats up, it rises from the bottom, and ridges around the sides cause it to move in a whirlpool. By moving the liquid, the pot provides more efficient and even heating, and the self-stirring motion would prevent pasta from sticking to the bottom. I say, this pot is a must-have for everyone... who is so bad in the kitchen, they could screw up pasta. You know who you are.

Alpine space equipment tests
Researchers from the Austrian Space Forum and NASA's JPL have spent five days testing space suits and rovers in the Eisriesenwelt, a limestone ice cave in Werfen, Austria, south of Salzburg. The equipment was tested in temperatures and on terrain similar to what may be encountered on a mission to Mars. If ice caves exist on Mars, they would have cold but stable temperatures, and would be shielded from radiation, and therefore might just sustain some form of life. Trust me, the only space equipment you need in that ice cave is something to reach your light saber, so you can kill that Wampa snow beast. Don't let him get away!

Transparent smartphone
Japanese telecom provider NTT Docomo has teamed up with Fujitsu to create a transparent smartphone display prototype with two touch screens -- one in front and one in the back. The display allows for more fine-tuned control of apps, such as manipulating 3D objects by swiping across the front while holding a point in place in the back. My only problem: now people in front of me know I'm browsing pictures of corgis in sunglasses. Fine. If you didn't want me browsing, you'd make this staff meeting more interesting.

Radiation-detecting smartphone
Pigment company Pantone has teamed up with Japanese wireless provider Softbank to release a colorful new smartphone with a radiation-detecting feature. While not as accurate as a Geiger counter, the phone does measure radiation with an accuracy of about twenty percent -- useful for people who live near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site. The phone runs Android 4.0 and has a 1.4 gigahertz processor. So, this smartphone could save my life with an alert that I wandered into a radiation zone. Or it would have, if I hadn't silenced it earlier in the movie theater. Dangit!