Watching Venus on the Moon
In early June, Venus will transit the sun, presenting a very rare opportunity for the Hubble space telescope. But, just like the human eye, the telescope cannot look directly into the sun. Instead, Hubble will use the moon as a mirror, and watch the transit as a reflection. Astronomers often use light passing through a planet’s atmosphere to infer its composition, but since we already know what’s in Venus’s atmosphere, this transit will test the technique, possibly for use in the search for exoplanets. I get it, NASA; you’re using the moon to improvise a pinhole camera. I wonder why Hubble doesn’t have one. You know NASA budget cutbacks are harsh, when they can’t afford a shoebox.
Military drone from video game
A fictional, weaponized quadcopter drone from the as-yet unreleased video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” has inspired the Department of Defense to investigate building it. Game producer Treyarch released a trailer for the game, and then a mockumentary “demonstration” that faked the non-existent technology. Now, according to Peter Singer of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute, the Pentagon has begun investigating the feasibility of actually building it, thanks partly, to seeing it on youtube. Alright, military. As long as you’re drawing inspiration from video games, why not include giant rolling mushrooms in field rations? Let’s make our soldiers into super-soldiers!
India-based Tata Motors, together with Luxembourg’s Motor Development International, says it has tested two cars with engines that run on compressed air, and is looking to mass produce them. Compressed air engines work a lot like internal combustion engines, with air pressure turning pistons. But cars running on compressed air face a challenge getting adequate power, and also likely have a very limited range. Tata is the first auto manufacturer that has committed to manufacturing one. I look forward to pneumatic drag races -- instead of that low grumble, they’ll sound like you just pulled into an auto shop. I wonder if girls will find that attractive.
Glass stays clean
Researchers at MIT have developed a process of etching nanotextures onto the surface of glass, reduces reflection and fogging, and keeps the surface clean. The process effectively etches tiny cones, five times as tall as their width, onto the surface of the glass, which prevents reflections and repels water. The technology might be used to improve the efficiency of solar cells, which will absorb more energy by reflecting less, while staying clean. I want this technology on my windshield, so homeless guys downtown guilt me out of a few dollars. “Sorry, guys! Nanotexture! Stays clean. What can I do?” My tires are SO getting slashed.
Robots imitating high heels
Walking heel-to-toe, like the human foot, is difficult for a mechanical foot, like one for a robot or for an above-the-knee prosthesis. Now, a study by Jim Usherwood of the Royal Veterinary College in London has shown that a mechanical foot is more stable if the ankle motor is further up the leg, like a human foot wearing a high-heeled shoe. A mechanical foot differs from a human foot, in that a motor does not waste efficiency applying opposing forces, as in the case of the high-heeled foot. High-heeled robots? Great! I’m much less worried about the Robocalypse -- how are robots going to take over the world, when they’ve got that glass ceiling?
Paralyzed woman completes marathon
Claire Lomas of the UK was paralyzed from the chest down in a horse-riding accident in 2007. This week, Claire, equipped with an FDA-approved motorized bioskeleton from Israeli firm ReWalk, completed a full 26.2-mile marathon after sixteen days. The $69 thousand ReWalk suit senses motion, and activates motors to simulate how joints would be moving. I hope the next version works, not just for the paraplegic, but also for the chronically lazy. My parents will be so proud!