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Researchers at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have engineered skeletal muscle cells that flex in response to light. This advancement may someday make possible the development of highly articulated robots combining biology and technology. Although muscle cells can be stimulated by applying electrical current using electrodes, this approach can be cumbersome when applied to small robotic devices. To create the photoresponsive muscle cells, the researchers genetically modified them to express a light activated protein.

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Engineers at the University of Utah have developed a system which can accurately monitor patients’ breathing without the need for connection to wires. The engineers placed 20 wireless tranceivers around the perimeter of a bed, sending crisscrossing signals on a patient lying in the bed. The breathing motion of the patient’s chest and abdomen impeded the intersecting signals, which were then translated into breathing rate. The system can capture 380 individual measurements of patients’ breathing and is as accurate as wired systems.

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The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) in London†is developing geo-engineering technology that can absorb detrimental carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere. Resembling fields of giant fly-swatters, the air capture devices are a thousand times more effective at absorbing CO2 than similarly-sized trees, which could help counter global warming. After being captured, the CO2 can then be used in industry or stored safely underground. It is anticipated that the technology will be ready to be rolled out in the UK by 2018.

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German researchers have developed a robotic rescue spider which could be used to explore dangerous areas after a disaster such as an earthquake. The robotic spider was produced so inexpensively using a 3D printer that it is literally disposable. The robot is programmed to move just like a real spider and some models can even jump. In the event of a disaster, the spider could provide responders with valuable information such as photos or air quality data from the disaster zone.

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An anti-icing system for airport runways is being developed by engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas. The design employs an overlay of conductive concrete panels atop the runway. A photovoltaic system supplies energy to embedded electrodes within the panels to maintain temperatures above freezing and prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. The system, which is currently in the testing phase, will have the potential to make runways safer and less costly to maintain during the winter months.

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Utah State researcher Randy Lewis developed a way to manufacture silk fibers using goats and silkworms injected with spiders’ genes. The silk was then woven together with human skin cells by Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi†to create “skin” capable of stopping .22 caliber bullets fired at low speed. The “bulletproof skin” may someday help surgeons repair large wounds and create artificial ligaments and tendons.

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Researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities have developed a new organic semiconductor material that may soon make flexible electronic displays in devices such as tablets and e-readers, a reality. Although flexible, the biggest obstacle with previously developed organic semiconductors has been that they cannot match the speed and durability of inorganic semiconductors such as silicon.

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stop_signComputer scientists at the University of Texas are developing a traffic system that may someday eliminate the need for stop signs and traffic lights at intersections.

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textured_plasticA team of engineers at Duke University have developed a process that enables them to change the texture of plastics, for example from rough to slippery, on demand.

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Biomedical engineering students from Tulane University are workingwoman_in_wheelchair on several projects to develop assistive devices for disabled individuals within the local community.

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