TWIE 147: Dark Matter Detector

This Week in Engineering - World’s smallest movie; robot fly takes off; infrared checkout line prediction; dark matter detector; drone beer delivery; and bionic dog.

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World's smallest movie
IBM researchers have been studying the limits of data storage capacity by manipulating single atoms, and now, they've had some fun with the technology by making a movie that uses individual atoms as pixels. The researchers used two tunneling electron microscopes to capture the images and to manipulate individual molecules of carbon monoxide. The movie tells a story about a boy named Adam playing with an Atom like a toy. In addition to demonstrating the technology, the movie meant to inspire the public. Chief researcher Andreas Heinrich said that if the movie inspires a hundred kids to go into science instead of law school, he'd be "super happy."

Robot fly takes off
A team of investigators, primarily from Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been working for over a decade on the Robobee, a tiny insect-sized robot that uses wings for flight. Now, the Robobee can take off, fly around, land, and take off again. The work required breakthroughs in manufacturing to make parts small and light enough for the robot, including using a laser to cut a two-dimensional design into a polymer film on top of carbon fiber, which pulls into a three-dimensional shape. The work should inspire many technologies, and help researchers understand aerodynamics at such a small scale. Of course, the real test of any robot fly is whether it can avoid the chopsticks of Mr. Miyagi. "You beginner luck."

Infrared checkout line prediction
About 95% of all Kroger stores are being outfitted with QueVision systems for predicting how many checkout lines should be open 30 minutes into the future. The system uses infrared cameras -- primarily known for military surveillance and night vision, but useful here because it is easier to distinguish people from store aisles using heat signatures than image recognition. The system should help optimize labor, while giving customers a shorter checkout line. I love it, because the longer I wait for a checkout, the more likely I am to relapse my Ferrero Rocher addiction. (Scratches arm.)

Dark matter detector
The space station's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer ain't the only dark matter game in town! A laboratory located a mile and a half below Ontario, Canada, is home to the Chicagoland Observatory for Underground Particle Physics, or COUPP-60. The project is a 30 L chamber filled with purified water and trifluoroiodomethane, a chemical found in fire extinguishers. By keeping the water barely below the boiling point, researchers hope to see a tiny bubble form when dark matter hits a particle. Some bubbles have already been detected, but it's still too soon to know whether they were caused by dark matter or by other particles.

Drone beer delivery
In August, South Africa's OppiKoppi music festival will feature octorotor drones to deliver beer to customers. Festival attendees can order a beer from a smartphone, and then an employee will attach a parachute to a can of beer and load it into the drone, which will fly over the customer and drop the payload. The system is being tested with remote piloting, but could fly autonomously for the concert. I say, the guy who ordered the beer might not be the one who drinks it. The festival could devolve into the world's largest bridal bouquet toss ever. Also the sweatiest.

Bionic dog
When Naki'o was a puppy, he was abandoned in the basement of a foreclosed home. Frigid temperatures took his mother and took his two rear paws, and seriously damaged his front paws. Now, Orthopets, a company that makes braces and prosthetic limbs for animals, has made Naki'o two rear leg prosthetics, and eventually artificial front legs, making him the first dog in the world with four prosthetic limbs. I say, sure, the dog likes the prosthetics, but he really wanted yo