TWIE 119: Improv Toolkit on the International Space Station

This Week in Engineering - Solar desalination; robot quadruped speed record; robots repair coral reefs; hydrogel bounces a ball; repairing space station with a toothbrush; and bird-friendly turbine.

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Solar desalination
Designer Gabriel Diamanti has created the Eliodomestico solar-powered oven for desalinating sea water in developing countries. Sea water is poured into the upper chamber which is left to heat up in the sun, until it becomes steam and is forced down a pipe into the lower chamber, where it condenses into drinkable water. The device can yield up to five liters of drinking water per day, uses no electricity, and is built from widely-available materials like clay and recycled sheet metal. Diamanti has kept the design open-source, so that anyone can improve it.

Robot quadruped speed record
Boston Dynamics has created the Cheetah, a robot quadruped inspired by the world¦s fastest land animal. Now, they have released video of the Cheetah running on a treadmill at an astounding 29 miles per hour, which is faster than Usain Bolt¦s peak of 27.78 during the Olympic 100 meters. 29 miles per hour? Great, now we gotta keep it out of school zones. It breaks the speed limit, and gives children nightmares. Also, me.

Robots repair coral reefs
Coral reefs are crucial for fish and shark habitats, but they are often damaged, especially by trawling or bottom-fishing. Now, researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland are creating autonomous marine robots that will work in a swarm to keep corals healthy, by recognizing and retrieving broken pieces of coral, and even cementing them to the reef. The reefs of Scotland¦s western coast are currently maintained by volunteer scuba divers, whose time underwater is limited and who cannot exceed depths over 200 meters like the robots can. Look, Scotland, your robot swarm can fix all the coral it wants -- after they find Nesse! Priorities, Highlanders!

Hydrogel bounces a ball
Hydrogels, the hydrophilic polymer networks that absorb water to become jelly-like, have many uses -- from scaffolds in tissue engineering to contact lenses. Now, Harvard University materials engineer Zhigang Suo and colleagues have developed a new, tough hydrogel made from the polymers alginate and polyacrylamide. The polymers form networks using different types of chemical bonds -- alginate with ionic bonds and polyacrylamide with covalent bonds. Such a strong hydrogel could have many uses, including in replacement cartilage and in tissue engineering.

Repairing space station with a toothbrush
Last week, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide had trouble repairing the International Space Station¦s main bus switching unit because of a stuck bolt. With only limited tools available on the station, engineers, spacewalkers and flight controllers at NASA¦s Johnson Space Center improvised new tools out of what was available, including a brush made out of bent wires, and a toothbrush to lubricate the bolt housing. The extra spacewalk was successful after nearly 6 + hours. I say, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend you brush your teeth with your toothbrush, and fix your spaceship with spaceship tools. That¦s why dentists stay on Earth.

Bird-friendly turbine
89-year-old Raymond Green, a retired engineer, welder, and World War II veteran, has invented a wind turbine that generates electricity without endangering birds or bats. His $550 prototype weighs 45 pounds and has a 12-inch diameter turbine behind a 31-inch windsock and an inner compression cone, with the blades inaccessible to flying wildlife. Green tested his prototype by attaching it to his truck and driving. A windmill on the roof of your moving truck? This could help make Don Quixote into a blockbuster thriller. Pardon me, while I pitch this to Michael Bay.