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TryEngineering Today!

TryEngineering Today! is dedicated to providing the latest news and information for students, parents, teachers, and counselors interested in engineering, computing technology and related topics.

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory say origami could be useful one day in utilizing space solar power for Earth-based purposes. Imagine an orbiting power plant that wirelessly beams power to Earth using microwaves. Sending the solar arrays up to space would be easy, Trease, a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, because they could all be folded and packed into a single rocket launch, with “no astronaut assembly”.  A panel this size could generate 250 kilowatts of power, compared to the current maximum of about 14 kilowatts. Panels used in space missions already incorporate simple folds, collapsing like a fan or an accordion. But Trease and colleagues are interested in using more intricate folds that simplify the overall mechanical structure and make for easier development. A larger version could one day beam solar energy back to earth, or even power future spacecraft.




Interested in learning the various applications of folding such as parachutes, wings in a cocoon, heart stents, and solar panels in space? Check out TryEngineering’s “Folding Matters” lesson plan to get started! http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/folding-matters


The Siemens Foundation established the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology in 1999. The Siemens Competition is the nation’s premiere science research competition for high school students and seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects in math, science, engineering and technology. This competition fosters intensive research that improves students’ understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines.

The Siemens Competition is a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, administered by the College Board. This competition provides students with the opportunity to win college scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. Students can compete as individuals or as members of a team. The deadline to register and submit the project is Tuesday, September 30th, 2014. 

With nothing more than a smartphone and less than $10 of trinkets and hardware supplies, students at Missouri University of Science and Technology now can build their own microscopes as part of a biology lab this upcoming semester. This do-it-yourself microscope is part of Missouri S&T’s effort to re-imagine how lab courses can be taught in five science and engineering disciplines on the campus. Organizers of the project hope to use the findings from their experiment to create a how-to manual for other colleges and universities. The DIY microscopes can magnify samples up to 175 times the single laser pointer lens, or nearly 400 times when stacking two lenses, says Daniel Miller, who recently earned his master of science degree in biological sciences from Missouri S&T. Miller created a prototype to use in a biology lab last spring, where he served as a teaching assistant offering his students extra credit if they were to build one themselves. Traditional learning is being reinvented in to a more hands-on approach sparking creativity and innovation in the classroom. 


Figure 1. Sam O’Keefe, Missouri S&T. Reinventing biology lab with $10 and a smartphone. July 28th, 2014. 


The IEEE Power Electronics Society together with Google present a challenge to design a smaller power converter that could impact the future of power electronics. The Little Box Challenge is not only a grand engineering contest but also a chance to make a big impact on the future of power electronics by designing a much smaller but higher-power density inverter.

The Little Box Challenge is designed to spur innovation that can drive a 10x or greater reduction in the size of power inverters, devices that convert electricity from direct current into alternating current. These technology advancements can lead to higher efficiency, increased reliability, and lower energy costs. For example, a smaller inverter could help create low-cost microgrids in remote parts of the world, or allow people to keep the lights on during a blackout via their electric car’s battery.

Registration is due 30 September 2014. Eligible academics may also register and apply for grants to assist in the development of their devices. For more information or to enter the Little Box Challenge, visit www.littleboxchallenge.com.

Starting July 28th 2014, SSC Pacific TRANSDEC’s  RoboSub Competition in San Diego, California will commence lasting for 9 whole days. This competition is co-sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) with the goal to advance the development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) by challenging a new generation of engineers to perform realistic missions in an underwater environment. The annual RoboSub Competition is an important key to keeping young engineers excited about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math and has been tremendously successful in recruiting students into the high-tech field of maritime robotics. The event also serves to foster ties between young engineers and the organizations developing AUV technologies. Teams consisting of professional engineers as well as high school students come from all over the world to put their newly developed and extremely innovative technologies to the test. 

July 21, 2014 | Innovation

Twisting a screwdriver, removing a bottle cap, and peeling a banana are just a few simple tasks that are tricky to pull off single-handedly. Now a new wrist-mounted robot can provide a helping hand – or rather, fingers. Researchers at MIT have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand. The device, worn around one’s wrist, works essentially like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb. A novel control algorithm enables it to move in sync with the wearer’s fingers to grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. Wearing a robot, a user could use one hand to; for instance, hold the base of a bottle while twisting off the cap. “This is a completely intuitive and natural way to move your robotic fingers,” says Henry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “You do not need to command the robot, but simply move your fingers naturally. Then the robotic fingers react and assist your fingers.” He hopes that the two-fingered robot may assist people with limited dexterity in performing routine household tasks, such as opening jars and lifting heavy objects. Wearable robots are a way to bring the robot closer to human’s daily lives. 


July 14, 2014 | Innovations

In the movie “Terminator 2,” the shape-shifting T-1000 robot morphs into a liquid state to squeeze through tight spaces or to repair itself when harmed. A new phase-changing material built from wax and foam developed by researchers at MIT is capable of switching between hard and soft states. Robots built from this material would be able to operate more like biological systems with applications ranging from difficult search and rescue operations, squeezing through rubble looking for survivors, to deformable surgical robots that could move through the body to reach a particular point without damaging any of the organs or vessels along the way. This material was developed by Anette Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering and applied mathematics at MIT, and her former graduate student Nadia Cheng, alongside researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and Stony Brook University. The researchers are now investigating additional unconventional materials for use in robotics, such as those that can change state by applying either electrical or magnetic fields. 


July 9, 2014 | Student Opportunities

Down an alley off Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, there’s a “maker space” called NuVu Studio, where local high school students leave their classrooms behind to design robots, websites, and medical devices, among other things. An MIT alumnus, Saeed Arida PhD, creator of NuVu, enrolls students from local schools during the academic year and the summer to focus on real-world projects. In so doing, they’re exposed to the collaborative, experimental, and demanding design process applied in many industries. Over the course of the 11 week stay, students choose to attend a selection of two-week studios under themes such as “science fiction,” “health,” “home of the future,” or this summer’s theme, “fantasy.” Sometimes, studios even bring students to international destinations, such as India and Brazil, for research. During studios, NuVu’s coaches (i.e. full-time employees and local experts such as doctors, engineers, and graduate students from MIT and Harvard University) present students with realistic problems to solve. During those two-week studios, a brief research period gives way to a bulk of the student’s time as they develop a rigorous design process that includes prototyping, critiques from coaches, and constant documentation of progress. Students have full use of NuVu’s equipment, including 3-D printers, designing software, art and photography equipment, and other machines. At the end of each studio, students present finished projects to guest experts as well as professors, practitioners, entrepreneurs, and designers for evaluation. The rapid design process is “intense,” but beneficial, Arida says. Hands-on learning experiences such as these are breaking down the walls of the traditional classroom by taking students beyond the textbook to facilitate application of knowledge and learning by doing. 

July 2, 2014 | Innovations

Stanford engineers have developed what could be the next big thing in interactive gaming. These engineers designed handheld game controllers that measure players’ physiology as they play video games, giving cues about their mental state. This information has the potential to be used to alter the game to make it more engaging for the user. The prototype controller was born from research conducted in the lab of Gregory Kovacs, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, in collaboration with Corey McCall, a doctoral candidate who worked in Kovacs’ lab. Their research focused on the autonomic nervous system; the emotional part of the brain that changes when you get excited or bored, happy or sad.  This activity, in turn, influences your heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, perspiration and other key bodily processes. McCall figured out a way to measure autonomic activity in video game players by popping the back panel off an Xbox 360 controller and replacing it with a 3-D printed plastic module packed with sensors. He inserted small metal pads on the controller’s surface to measure the user’s heart rate, blood flow, and both the rate of breath and how deeply the user was breathing. Another light-operated sensor was inserted to give a second heart rate measurement, and accelerometers were used to measure how frantically the person was shaking the controller.  They also developed custom-built software to gauge the intensity of the game, which McCall then compared to the rest of the data to generate an overall picture of the player’s level of mental engagement in the video game. McCall plans to take this research a bit further to where the controller could provide feedback to the actual video game console, which would then alter the pace of the game-play to best suit a player. This could lead to even more customizable gaming experiences.


July 1, 2014 | Innovations

Personal trainers are becoming a thing of the past. Technology incorporated directly into fitness equipment such as wristbands, smartphones, and watches provide athletes with all of the feedback they need. A new addition to the fitness technology world known as SmartTech 560 dumbbells allow users to track, monitor, and perfect their weightlifting form. Users can adjust the weight on demand from anywhere between five and 60 pounds of heft, as well as, log in reps, and get feedback on whether they are moving their arms too fast. The dumbbells then send the recorded data over Bluetooth to an Android or IOS app so users can log workout progress, view video tutorials, and also participate in challenges. Now instead of needing to buy over a dozen weights to stock up your home gym, you only need one set.



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