TWIE 105: Manned Mission to Asteroid

This Week in Engineering - Wifi-connect anything; bulletproof vests with air conditioning; electricity from viruses; robot sailboat; manned asteroid mission; and DOD stimulates 3D printing.
 
Channel: This Week in Engineering iTunes Podcast
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Transcript For This Video

Wifi-connect anything
Electric Imp is a just-released customizable platform for connecting any electronic device to the internet through any wifi network, with no additional back-end hardware or software required. Costing only around $25, the Electric Imp uses a cloud service to quickly configure to a secure network, and runs code written in the open-source C-like language, "Squirrel". Developer preview models and kits will be available in late June. IÆm gonna invent a wifi device that will email me whenever my cable company drops my internet connection. Why doesnÆt it ever work?

Bulletproof vests with air conditioning
Regular bulletproof vests are insulators, and can cause overheating in hot conditions. Now, Empa, a Swiss research institute, has added Coolpad technology, originally designed for cooling medical garments, to the vests. The vests are first equipped with water-filled pads. The water evaporates through a membrane, aided by tiny, rechargeable cooling fans blowing air through a tiny fabric spacer. The vests have already passed testing by the Zurich City police force. I love it. But then, IÆm from Texas. I would take ANY clothing with air conditioning. In summers like these, even our swimsuits could use some extra cooling.

Electricity from viruses
Scientists from the Department of EnergyÆs Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found a way to generate power from viruses. The viruses are a specially engineered version of the M13 bacteriophage, which is harmless to humans, and can quickly be produced in well-ordered films. By adding four negatively-charged amino acid residues to coat one end of the viruses, the scientists amplified the existing piezoelectric effect, and then, by stacking films and applying pressure, they were able to generate enough power for a small LED display. So weÆre breeding microbes to generate power for our machines. We have developed the Microbe Matrix. I get it! "Why oh why didnÆt I take the blue pill?"

Robot sailboat
The Austrian Society of Innovative Computer Sciences has built the ASV Roboat, an unmanned fully-autonomous sailboat which can self-navigate and even respond to changing winds. Propulsion is all from wind, while power to move the sail and rudder, and for the computer, comes from the 285W solar panels and a backup fuel cell. In July, the Roboat will be going for a world record for distance and time, all while collecting data on the endangered Baltic Sea porpoise. An unmanned nautical vehicle? Awesome! All the beauty and majesty of sailing the high seas, without the inconvenience of actually being there. Why, oh why did I take a desk job?

Manned asteroid mission?
NASA is reportedly considering a manned mission to an asteroid, for sometime in the next decade, and a team of astronauts has already started preparing. The multinational team of six will reportedly be spending twelve days in an underwater habitat off the coast of Florida running spacewalk simulations. More details are expected at the upcoming Japan Geoscience Union meeting. Hey NASA, why not fund this mission with corporate sponsorship? "Oh, but no company wants to be associated with what killed the dinosaurs." No one except insurance companies. Mayhem is coming.

DOD stimulates 3D printing
As part of President ObamaÆs push for manufacturing innovation, the US Department of Defense is setting aside $60 million to invest in future 3D printing technologies, with over $18 million in this year alone. The goal of the program is to spur innovation for faster and cheaper manufacturing of parts for the aerospace and defense industries. I say, to really spur innovation, have the president challenge the Russians: "This nation should commit itself, before this decade is out, to autonomously printing out a fully-functioning bobble head, and a troll doll. With the hair."