TWIE 126: Gasoline From Air

This Week in Engineering - Robot waverider survives Sandy; inflatable plug for flooding; dental music player; nanotube transistors; gasoline from air; and deflecting asteroids with paint.

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Robot waverider survives Sandy
Mercury, a Wave Glider autonomous floating robot built for monitoring ocean weather conditions, has survived a trip through Hurricane Sandy about a hundred miles off the coast of New Jersey. Built by California company Liquid Robotics, the robot resembles a surfboard floating on top of the water, connected to an underwater glider that uses energy from ocean waves for propulsion. During the hurricane, Mercury recorded winds as high as 80 MPH and a 54.3 millibar drop in barometric pressure, and lived to tell the tale. Wave Gliders and similar robots are being deployed over the world to help meteorologists learn more about storms and tsunamis.

Inflatable plug for flooding
Part of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy has been the flooding of New York subway lines, but perhaps the damage would not have been as severe if we could have sealed off parts of the tunnels. Designer ILC Dover, working with the Department of Homeland Security and West Virginia University, have already been testing a giant inflatable plug that can seal off entire subway tunnels from floodwaters. The prototype is still years away from a practical deployment, but could help with future disasters. Personally, I think this would be great for your car dealership¦s giant inflatable pink gorilla -- as an inflatable barrel he can throw at an inflatable Mario.

Dental music player
Aisen Caro Chacin, a graduate student from Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, has created the Play-A-Grill, a digital music player worn over the teeth that transmits music to the wearer¦s inner ear through bone conduction. The player was integrated directly into a mold of Chacin¦s own mouth, with the controls operated by her tongue, and it includes cosmetic mouthpiece jewelry for the hip-hop crowd. I say, it would make a perfect holiday gift for that uncle whose mouth should be controlling electronics, rather than ranting politics at dinner. See, this is why we never visit!

Nanotube transistors
Scientists from IBM¦s Watson Research Center in New York have created computer chips with transistors made from carbon nanotubes instead of silicon, using conventional semiconductor processes. The process starts with a layer of silicon, then a layer of hafnium oxide, then a layer of silicon dioxide which is etched away where the carbon nanotubes will be deposited. The IBM chips had a density of one billion transistors per square centimeter -- roughly equivalent to Intel¦s 22 nm process -- but with five times the performance of traditional silicon transistors.

Gasoline from air
British company Air Fuel Synthesis has combined carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with hydrogen to turn it into a fuel for combustion engine cars. The company¦s demonstration plant in Stockton-on-Tees in northern England has been using the process to create five liters of the fuel over the course of about two months, so it¦s not yet practical. The process requires hydrogen, which comes from electrolyzed water that for now requires power from the grid, although that power may someday come from renewables like wind power -- gasoline entirely from air. My process is to give CO2 to trees, which I chop down and burn in my steam engine smart car. It¦s not street-legal. Or street safe. Or regular safe.

Deflecting asteroids with paint
Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student from MIT¦s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has proposed a method of deflecting earth-bound asteroids by pelting them with white paint pellets. First, the asteroid would be moved by the impact force of the pellets, and then, because the paint would double the albedo -- or reflectivity -- of the asteroid, photons from the sun would gradually deflect the asteroid even more. I say, as long as the mission sends a team