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Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard

Toyota continues to do some fun and interesting research while they produce great cars (and make a lot of money doing so that allows them resources to do interesting research). Some past posts on their engineering exploits: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2009), Toyota Engineering Development Process, Innovation at Toyota, How to Develop Products like Toyota, Toyota IT Overview.

Toyota is teasing with the hoverboard announcement but it seems they have actually created it (though it isn’t ready to be in stores this year.

Liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors and permanent magnets combine to power the Lexus Hoverboard.

Sadly they haven’t bothered to hire a decent web designer. They have a pretty but broken website, with essentially no information. It is sad when interesting stories are keep to nearly no information using poorly designed websites created by people obviously more concerned with old fashion paper design thinking than how the web can be used to be clear and useful (not just pretty).

Pretty much for the last 10 years Toyota has had pretty but web hostile design for their web sites. It is a shame they can’t hire people that know how to properly create good web sites. Thankfully they hire good engineers and use good processes to actually develop products.

Computer Code for NASA’s Apollo Guidance System

photo of Margaret Hamilton, NASA

Margaret Hamilton, NASA. Standing next to a printout of the source code she and her team wrote for the Apollo guidance computer that made the moon landings possible.

Meet Margaret Hamilton, the badass ’60s programmer who saved the moon landing

The software for the guidance computer was written by a team at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (now the Draper Laboratory), headed up by Margaret Hamilton.

The guidance computer used something known as “core rope memory“: wires were roped through metal cores in a particular way to store code in binary. “If the wire goes through the core, it represents a one,” Hamilton explained in the documentary Moon Machines. “And around the core it represents a zero.” The programs were woven together by hand in factories. And because the factory workers were mostly women, core rope memory became known by engineers as “LOL memory,” LOL standing for “little old lady.”

Hamilton is now 78 and runs Hamilton Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company she founded in 1986. She’s lived to see “software engineering” — a term she coined — grow from a relative backwater in computing into a prestigious profession.

In the early days, women were often assigned software tasks because software just wasn’t viewed as very important. “It’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now,” Rose Eveleth writes in a great piece on early women programmers for Smithsonian magazine. “They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better.”

My aunt was one of those early software engineers. She wrote a chapter for a book, Programming the IBM 360, in the 1960s. My uncle was one of the first employees at NASA and rose to be one of the senior administrators there over his career.

It is great when society is able to capture the value individuals are capable of providing. We need to make sure we allow everyone opportunities to contribute. We do well in many ways but we also do lose from discrimination and also just making it uncomfortable for people to contribute in certain roles when we need not do so.

We have accomplished great things with software in the last 40 years. We could have accomplished more if we had done a better job of allowing women to contribute to the efforts in this field.

Related: The Eagle Has LandedBarbara Liskov wins Turing AwardGreat Self Portrait by Astronaut with Earth Reflected in His Visor

Data Furnaces: Free Heating, for Those with Fiber Internet

Data furnaces have arrived in the Netherlands offering free heating for those with fiber internet connections. Those running data centers spend a lot of money cooling them off or thinking of ways to keep cooling costs down Google Uses Only Outside Air to Cool Data Center in Belgium (weather should provide free cooling for all but about 7 days a year).

Nerdalize is offering an interesting engineering solution to this issue. Even better than eliminating cooling costs this idea will use the excess heat to warm people’s houses.

By placing high performance servers in homes Nerdalize creates highly distributed compute cloud without the overhead cost of conventional cloud and co-location solutions. This creates a triple-win where sustainable computing power becomes an affordable commodity, homes are heated for free and emissions are drastically reduced!

This structural cost advantage allows us to offer computing power that is up to 55% more affordable than major cloud-providers or co-location solutions whilst giving incredible performance.

The Nerdalize heater contains high-performance servers in the form of a radiator and allows for them to be placed in your home safely and secure. As Nerdalize covers the cost of electricity, the heat generated by computations, such as medical research, heat your home for free.

image of the Eneco eRadiator

The Eneco eRadiator

The installation of a server heater, the Eneco eRadiator, in the living rooms of five families at different locations in the Netherlands this month starts a field test of the units. The purpose of the test is to collect information on customer experience and to identify possible areas of improvement of the eRadiator.

Sign up on their website if you want free heating (Netherlands is likely the best bet but they may expand around Europe also, or even further).

Related: Google Lets Servers Stay Hot, Saving Air Conditioning CostsData Center Energy Needs

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2015

Raymond Wang, 17, of Canada was awarded first place for engineering a new air inlet system for airplane cabins to improve air quality and curb disease transmission at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Wang’s system improves the availability of fresh air in the cabin by more than 190% while reducing pathogen inhalation concentrations by up to 55 times compared to conventional designs, and can be easily and economically incorporated in existing airplanes. Wang received the Gordon E. Moore Award of US$75,000. The system uses vents to create a “bubble” around passengers that deflects incoming air.

Nicole Ticea, 16, of Canada received one of two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of US$50,000 for developing an inexpensive, easy-to-use testing device to combat the high rate of undiagnosed HIV infection in low-income communities. Her disposable, electricity-free device provides results in an hour and should cost less than US$5 to produce. Ticea has already founded her own company, which recently received a US$100,000 grant to continue developing her technology.

Karan Jerath, 18, of Friendswood, Texas, received the other Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of US$50,000 for refining and testing a novel device that should allow an undersea oil well to rapidly and safely recover following a blowout. Jerath developed a better containment enclosure that separates the natural gas, oil and ocean water; accommodates different water depths, pipe sizes and fluid compositions; and can prevent the formation of potentially clogging methane hydrate.

This year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair featured approximately 1,700 young scientists selected from 422 affiliate fairs in more than 75 countries, regions and territories.

Related: Intel Science Talent Search 2012 AwardeesGreat Projects From First Google Science Fair Finalists (2011)2008 Intel Science Talent SearchHigh School Student Creates: Test That is Much More Accurate and 26,000 Times Cheaper Than Existing Pancreatic Cancer Tests

Car Powered by Compressed Air

I wrote about cars powered by compressed air back in 2008. Turning such innovative prototypes into products of sustainable businesses is quite difficult.

This new attempt to produce cars powered by compressed air has an innovative design with a joystick instead of a drivers wheel. The AirPod is being developed in France. Compressed air has been used to power trams in France since the 19th century.

The AirPod has a range of 150 to 200 km and a top speed for 80 km per hour. The cost will be about US$10,000.

They claim the cost per mile is about 1/3rd of that for electric vehicles. It is nice that we have engineers around the globe continually working on new uses of technology to provide us better options for living.

I hope such cars can be a success. It does seem to me electric cars seem the more likely large scale success but it is good to have people seeking out innovative solutions.

Related: Compressed Air Powered Car Webcast (2008)Self Driving Cars Have Huge Potential for Benefit to SocietyEngineers Save a Life, With Safe Car DesignToyota Scion iQ (2011)Car Style Mass Transit Mag Lev System (2009)

3D Printing at Home: Today, Challenges and Opportunities

Guest post by Noah Hornberger

The State of 3D Printing at Home

Rapid prototyping is very rewarding. Moving from an idea that you had during breakfast to an object you can hold in your hands by lunchtime feels like magic or science fiction.

Modeling tools are getting easier to use, making the actual process of designing 3D objects fairly intuitive and dare I say . . . easy. I suspect home 3D printing is empowering a silent revolution that will be more and more apparent in the coming years.

3d printed taco holder with tacos

Taco Shell Holder, a recent idea I had during breakfast was ready to test the next day.

Even so, there is a lot of quirkiness to the 3D print technology that an average consumer is probably not ready to deal with. In this post I want to give inside information I have learned by running my own home-based 3D print business. I have been there in the trenches, with a queue of orders, a few 3D printers and the drive to make it happen. And let me tell you that without the drive to push past the obstacles, it really would not be possible to run a 3D print-on-demand business this way.

3D printers have enabled me to pull off an impossible task of distributing my own artistic products to an international market. I have shipped to USA, Spain, Australia, Norway, Canada, and the UK. And this May of 2015 marks my first year of owning a 3D printer.

small 3d printed planters, 1 with a plant growing in it

Mini Dodecahedron Planters, my first attempt at designing and printing an idea from scratch. I was hooked.

So there is some magic I would say in being able to move through iterations of your ideas so fast. And magic in being able to post photos of your products that people can understand to be real and tangible things.

I have had ideas for products for many years and even tried to launch them (unsuccessfully). But now things are different. I do not have to convince people that an idea is good, I can show them a real example of finished art they can own.

I would argue that 3D modeling is the easiest part of the process. Getting a spectacular print can take some work and patience, because it can involve re-starting the printer with small changes in settings each time. As an American trained artist, I have a tendency to want things to be fast and easy. I want to press a button and it just works. 3D printers can kind of promise this ability, but most often, I am stepping in to keep the machines on track.

Continue reading

Biomass Fueled Power Generator from All Power Labs

All Power Labs produces biomass fueled power generators. They have grown from a open science and engineering foundation to their current position. I really like how they are focused on promoting understanding and encouraging collaboration.

They reject the copyright cartel closed science mindset; which is something I like. Their product takes waste biomass; for example walnut shells, coconut shells, hardwood chips (Oak, Beech), softwood chips (Douglas Fir, Pine). It also takes corn cobs, palm kernel shells and others but there are additional challenges to operation.

Their products use gasification which is most simply thought of as choked combustion or incomplete combustion. It is burning solid fuels like wood or coal without enough air to complete combustion, so the output gas still has combustion potential. The unburned gas is then piped away to burn elsewhere as needed.

The Power Pallet is a complete biomass power generation solution that converts woody biomass into electricity. It costs $29,995 which translates to a cost of $1-$2/watt which is more cost effective that alternatives. They have significant sales in developing markets where power is often problematic. It is specifically not suited to some fuel – wastepaper (could maybe work in pelletized form), municipal waste, coconut husk…

This webcast is the start of a presentation on the history and current state of their efforts (continue to view other clips for the whole presentation):

Related: Ethanol: Science Based Solution or Special Interest WelfareDo It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home HeatingKudzu Biofuel Potential Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally from 2005 to 2012Turning Trash into Electricity (2006)

Using The Building of Robots to Engage Students in Learning

Fundi bots has a mission to use robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and change-makers. I believe strongly in this type of effort. We waste so much human potential by killing students design to learn. Instead we need to create systems that not only don’t kill that desire but allow it to flourish.

Fundi Bots focuses on the technological process of building robots as a way for students to look at the world around them from a practical, solution oriented perspective. By guiding students through problem identification, brainstorming, collaboration, construction, programming, final deployment and system feedback, we show them how the problems around them can be solved through a technological approach and persistent reductive analysis.

Fundi Made is an effort to create professional grade electronics right in our Fundi Spaces, and deploy the products in five core market segments; home-automation, agriculture, energy, security and health.

Related: Promoting Innovation in Sierra LeoneLetting Children Learn using Hole in the Wall ComputersGiven Tablets but No Teachers, Kids Teach Themselves (Having Never Seen Advanced Technology Before)Teaching Through TinkeringEncouraging Curiosity in Kids20th Annual US First Robotics Competition (2012)

Manufacture Biological Sensors Using Silk and Looms

The fabric chip platform from Achira Labs in India uses looms to manufacture biological sensors.

Image of process for creating silk test strips

image by Achira Labs

Yarn coated with appropriate biological reagents like antibodies or enzymes is woven into a piece of fabric at the desired location. Strips of fabric are then cut out, packaged and can form the substrate for di erent biological assays. Even a simple handloom could produce thousands of these sensors at very low cost.

The resulting fabrics can be used to test for pregnancy, diabetes, chronic diseases, etc.. Achira Labs, an Indian start-up, received $100,000 in Canadian funding in 2013 to develop a silk strip that can diagnose rotavirus, a common cause of diarrhea and can be used in diapers.

The company is planing to start selling silk diabetes test strips using there process this year and expects costs to be about 1/3 of the existing test strips using conventional manufacturing processes.

Related: Appropriate Technology Health Care Solution Could Save 72,000 Lives a YearWater WheelUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasAppropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

20 Most Popular Post on Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2014

Here are the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2014.

I think it is interesting to see the distribution over the years of publication

2014: 1
2013: 2

2011: 2
2010: 5
2009: 3
2008: 4
2007: 2

2005: 1

Related: 10 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2014

The Downside of Adopting the Metric System

The only downside of adopting the metric system is less control over room temperature (based on my experience). Every ºC = ºF * 1.8 so have less control (when using only integers to control temperature as is the case in my experience).

Granted this could be solved easily by using .5 (option in air conditioning and heating controllers but in my experience they don’t) for Celsius. For Fahrenheit this works out to enough control for me. For Celsius in a fair number (lets say 15%) of systems it is a bit uncomfortable.

The specific circumstances add greatly to creating a problem. My guess is those that annoy me swing even further than 1 ºC, they move further in one direction in order to not turn on and off all the time. So maybe that moves to swings of 2 or 3 ºC at the measurement point. But that is another issue, the measurement on home (or hotel) systems is often 1 reader so the variation is often greater in other locations.

Add to that the imprecision of their measures, I don’t have good data, but I am confident that the measurement error is fairly high. I am pretty comfortable at about 25ºC for air conditioning. But in some places I am cold at 27º and others I am warm at 23º. It could be me, but I don’t think so (most of the time – sometimes it is me).

A long time ago I had some imprecise portable temperature gauge and while I wouldn’t stake my life on results based on it, it confirmed my feelings (when I felt it was warmer than the local reading said my device agreed and when I felt it was colder my device agreed). Hardly scientifically valid proof, but it made me more comfortable trusting my opinion on this matter anyway.

My guess is in a unit using ºF you often can be 4 or 5 degrees off (or more) in different locations. For some people that might be ok. But for me that often starts to be uncomfortable. If you convert the issue to that time 1.8 it is noticably worse.

Now in reality I don’t think it expands quite that much. While the manufactures balance the confusion of adding .5 to a Celsius controller and decide not to, I would think they don’t swing 1.8 times as far (in heating or cooling in order to not turn on and off all the time), but it is still let precise than using Fahrenheit integers. I believe (hope) they set their internal dynamics not based only on integers but could say for example turn off .5º past the setting and turn on when the conditions are .5º worse than the setting (so .5º too warm in the case of air conditioning, for example).

It is still lame the USA fails to adopt the metric system, but reducing this problem in the USA is one small benefit of holding off :-) I wonder if 1 in a million, 1 in 10 million… up to 1 in 7.2 billion people (just me, all alone in the world) have my concern for the lack of precision of heating and air conditioners when using the metric system.

Related: Google Lets Servers Stay Hot, Saving Air Conditioning CostsDo It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home HeatingUsing Algae Filled Window Panes to Provide Passive and Active Solar

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