TWIE 134: New Lunar Rover

This Week in Engineering - Superomniphobic materials; smoke screen school security; car airbags for cyclists; new lunar rover; anti-loneliness ramen bowl; and telepresence robot doctor.

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Superomniphobic materials
Researchers from the University of Michigan claim to have developed the first superomniphobic surface coating that repels all types of liquids. Many omniphobic materials repel only certain types of liquids -- those with high or low surface tension, for example, or only Newtonian or non-Newtonian liquids. The new coating is electrospun in a tight cross-linked pattern, so that individual drops of liquid actually bounce off the surface, having mostly touched only the tiny layer of air on top. Some interesting possible applications of this material include smooth, low-drag coatings for ocean vessels and protective, hazardous chemical-resistant clothing for the military.

Smoke screen school security
As part of the effort to improve safety from gun violence in schools, British company Concept Smoke Screen has proposed a system that generates a thick, non-toxic fog at the push of a button, preventing a shooter from seeing potential victims. While a blind shooter is still dangerous, the system could at least improve a potential victim¦s odds. The concept has already been deployed to protect bank vaults, but now has been suggested for American classrooms as well. And best of all, as a kid I would never, ever have activated the system as a prank on Senior Skip Day.

Car airbags for cyclists
Bicycling is much more popular in Europe than in the United States -- in fact, in the Netherlands, nearly 26% of all trips are taken on a bicycle. Now, Dutch company TNO, in an effort to improve bicycle safety is developing an airbag for the outside of a car that will protect a cyclist from impact with some of the car¦s hard edges. In crash dummy tests, the airbag caused fewer and less severe indicated injuries up to 45% of the time. My feature request: if the cyclist¦s center of gravity is too high, instead of hitting the soft airbags, he is caught in the Hipster Net. Its ropes are made of poison ivy.

New lunar rover
In order to deliver the heavy lifting and transportation required to build a base on the moon, NASA engineers have developed the All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra Terrestrial Explorer, or ATHLETE -- a six-wheeled walking and rolling robot. The rover has 48 stereo cameras, rechargeable hydrogen fuel cells, and all kinds of construction tools. It can roll on flat terrain, or step over obstacles, and it will pick up and deliver heavy cargo pallets. NASA has demonstrated a $2 million prototype, and the 26 ft tall version could be ready for space by 2017.

Anti-loneliness ramen bowl
Daisuke Nagatomo and Jan Minnie have developed MisoSoupDesign¦s (Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl,÷ a deep soup bowl with a slot for holding an active iPhone. It¦s a perfect gift for anyone whose loneliness is caused by an inability to Skype with loved ones while binging on noodle soup. The Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl is currently in prototype, but could be available for purchase as early as April. Yeah, this might fly in Asia, but not in America. We need an anti-loneliness Jack Daniels bottle.

Telepresence robot doctor
In Touch Health, teaming up with Roomba creator iRobot, have developed the Remote Presence Virtual and Independent Telemedicine Assistant, or RP-VITA, a self-navigating telepresence robot just cleared by the FDA for use in hospitals. A doctor can control the RP-VITA remotely using an iPad app, and given a destination, the robot is smart enough to navigate itself around even a busy intensive care unit. The RP-VITA has been cleared for active patient monitoring and remote doctor-patient consultations, but not for surgery like the daVinci System. Gee, thanks for the advice, TV Doctor... Wait, why is there a golf course behind you? No, don¦t use the pitching wedge! To think I let you near my prostate...