Tech Universe: Monday 8 April

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers have created a flying robot that looks like a dragonfly. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers have created a flying robot that looks like a dragonfly. Photo / Thinkstock

FLY THE DRAGON: Festo's BionicOpter is a flying robot shaped like a dragonfly. Flapping wings propel it in all directions, allow it to hover in midair and to glide without beating its wings. The wings can flap, tilt and twist. With a wingspan of 70 cm and a body length of 48 cm, the model dragonfly weighs 175 grams. A thin foil covering over a carbon fibre frame is used for the wings, while the body is made from flexible polyamide and terpolymer. That's a hefty and impressive dragonfly.

A JELLY BY ANY OTHER NAME: Our oceans are vast, but still they're filling up with pollutants. At Virginia Tech a team is creating life-like autonomous robot jellyfish that could help with cleaning up pollution, monitoring the environment or surveillance for the military. Models range in size from a few inches to a couple of metres. The RoboJelly is being designed to operate on its own energy, perhaps powered by hydrogen found in water or by batteries.

Real jellyfish have no central nervous system, can move vertically on their own, but depend on the ocean for horizontal movement. The main focus of the programme is to understand propulsion systems found in nature.

Maybe we need laws to specify that all these imitations of natural organisms should be made to look not like the real thing.

CHARGING MICROBES: It would be mighty convenient to create clean energy from plentiful bacteria. It turns out that proteins on the surface of bacteria can produce an electric current by simply touching a mineral surface, as researchers from the US and the UK discovered recently, using a synthetic version of the bacteria. The researchers say the bacteria show great potential as microbial fuel cells. I guess you'd have to feed and water the fuel cells from time to time too.

SCENT SCREENING: Scientists at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology have invented a smelling screen. Odours from vapourising gel pellets are fed into air streams from each corner of the screen.
Fans manipulate the streams of air to make it seem as though the scent is coming from a particular spot on the screen, for example an image of a flower. The screens could be used in advertising or for museums.
Imagine a supermarket full of them.

FLOAT A MORTGAGE: Finland is creating its first floating village in Pori. The 16 houses are designed to withstand extreme winds and wave conditions, and incoprorate energy-saving systems and technologies.
Prefabricated modules are assembled on site then lifted onto pontoons which are floated into place and anchored to the seabed. Heat recovery systems help reduce energy bills. Utility connections go through the piers. So, they're more like houseboats that don't go anywhere.

Miraz Jordan,

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