TWIE 124: Bounce Over the Seine on a Trampoline Bridge

This Week in Engineering - Recovering a cruise ship; improvising robots; improving carbon dating accuracy; wheelchair climbs steps; silk data transmission; and trampoline bridge.

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Recovering a cruise ship
In January, the Costa Concordia cruise liner sank next to Giglio island off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. This week, US company Titan Salvage and Italian offshore rig company Micoperi are attempting to move the ship without spilling its rotting contents into the Mediterranean Sea. The plan includes driving 26 pillars into the seabed to support platforms to raise the ship, and then metal tanks, which can be filled with water, will be welded onto the sides as ballast, for when cranes pull the ship into an upright position. If successful, it will be the biggest ship recovery operation in history.

Improvising robots
A team from the Georgia Institute of Technology is trying to teach robots how to use various objects found in an environment as tools to accomplish high-level tasks. For example, a robot could use a chair or a box to climb over an obstacle, or use random debris as a lever to pry something. The so-called (MacGyver-bot÷ would require knowledge of material properties, rigid body mechanics and simple machines, and might someday be used with military personnel on challenging missions. Robots can improvise? Just don¦t let me catch you doing improvisational comedy. Oh, you can take our jobs, but not our hipsters¦ delusions of stardom!

Improving carbon dating accuracy
Carbon dating uses the known decay rate of radioactive C-14, which is present in the atmosphere, into stable C-12 to determine how long a carbon-containing object has been buried. But carbon dating is slightly inaccurate because the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere has not always been constant, and has not been measured for every historical year. Now, scientists have used core samples from the bottom of the pristine Lake Suigetsu in Japan, which has alternating layers of algae and leaves without the interruption of ice age freezing, to help calibrate carbon dating methods. Wow, researchers have never had this much fun dating. They don¦t get out much.

Wheelchair climbs steps
Shuro Nakajima and his team from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan have created a prototype robotic wheelchair that can climb steps. The wheelchair has four wheel drive and five axes, and will automatically sense obstacles and take appropriate action to get around them, while the user just indicates where to go using a joystick. When the robot traverses uneven ground, it keeps the user¦s seat level. Right now, the chair is just a prototype, but the inventors plan to get user feedback to help improve the driving experience.

Silk data transmission
Researchers Nolwenn Huby from the Institut de Physique de Rennes, and Fiorenzo Omenetto from Tufts University, have tested silk for its fiber optic properties for surgically implantable biomedical devices. The silk fibers, which have more tensile strength per unit weight than steel, were able to transmit light efficiently enough for digital data, and in a medical device, silk could potentially cause less irritation or infection than copper electric wires or glass fiber. Implants made of silk? Better than my idea: implants made of soy milk. I¦m okay with insect larval secretions in my body, but that? Yuck.

Trampoline bridge?
Architectural studio Atelier Zundel Cristea in Paris has submitted a concept design for a bridge across the river Seine made of trampolines. The design includes three giant inflatable buoys arranged in three nearly one hundred foot diameter rings, with trampoline mesh spanning each one. The design was submitted for the (A Bridge in Paris÷ competition, and would coexist with the thirty-seven other bridges currently spanning the river. Dang, France, that looks dangerous. Have you never seen Tosh.0? You can¦t hurt your tourists, or you won¦t have any tourists lef... Ohhh! Well played, France. Well