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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.

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.

 

Spark Music Issue
June 26, 2014 | Announcements

Tune into this issue of IEEE Spark to learn how engineering and technology are applied in the music industry. Learn how engineers make music sound better, meet a music technology maestro, design your own loudspeaker, and discover free online tools to make music at home.  
 
 

June 24, 2014 | Student Opportunities

Google, along with Chelsea Clinton, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts of the USA, Mindy Kaling, MIT Media Lab, National Center for Women & Information Technology, SevenTeen, TechCrunch and more, Google has launched Made with Code, an initiative to inspire girls to code. The program includes:
 

  • Cool introductory Blockly-based coding projects, like designing a bracelet 3D-printed by Shapeways, learning to create animated GIFs and building beats for a music track.
  • Collaborations with organizations like Girl Scouts of the USA and Girls, Inc. to introduce Made with Code to girls in their networks, encouraging them to complete their first coding experience.
  • A commitment of $50 million to support programs that can help get more females into computer science, like rewarding teachers who support girls who take CS courses on Codecademy or Khan Academy.

Check it out here: https://www.madewithcode.com/

 

 

 

Touchscreen Film
June 9, 2014 | Innovations

Researchers at the University of Akron have developed a transparent electrode that could put an end to cracked screens on smartphones and tablets. Touchscreen devices on the market today use a coating of indium tin oxide (ITO) which is expensive to produce and likely to shatter. The screen material developed by the researchers is made up of transparent electrodes attached to a polymer surface. It is just as transparent as ITO screens but much more conductive. The researchers have completed several tests of the screen including repeated bending and scotch tape peeling. They discovered that the material was able to maintain its shape even after being bent 1000 times! Since the screen is flexible it can be manufactured in large cost-effective rolls. The material has the potential to someday replace conventional touchscreens leading to more economical, more durable handheld devices. 

water bead on hydrophobic surface
June 3, 2014 | Innovations

Engineers at Brigham Young University have created a surface with extreme water-repelling properties. Known as super-hydrophobic surfaces, these materials are so waterproof that water molecules can be bounced off of them like a ball. The surfaces are also "self-cleaning" in that as water beads up on them, it picks up dirt and just rolls it away. Engineers created the surfaces by combining micro-etched patterns of channels or posts with a hydrophobic coating such as Teflon. The surfaces have a plethora of potential uses including self-cleaning tubs and toilets, more efficient ship hulls with less drag, and ice-resistant plane wings. The surfaces can also make power-generation more efficient and less costly by speeding up the condensation process. The researchers are currently experimenting with the widths and angles of the channels and posts to optimize performance of the surfaces.   

 

 

 

May 27, 2014 | Innovations

An electrical engineer at Stanford University has developed a way to wirelessly power and charge electronic implants safely within the body, without the need for batteries or clunky recharging mechanisms. Known as mid-field wireless transfer, the system combines both near-field and far-field electromagnetic waves. Using roughly the same power as a cell phone, the system can be used to run small electronics such as pacemakers, sensors, or nerve stimulators. Implantable medical devices can be powered and charged using a credit card-sized power source placed on the skin over the devices. This technology may someday allow doctors to use electronics to treat disease and monitor health, also known as electroceutical techniques. For example, small microimplants can be used to monitor vital systems, change neural signals in the brain, and target the delivery of drugs within the body. 

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