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Photo by Dan Saelinger
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Photo by Jamie Chung
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Silicon InkA Robot That ClimbsRecycled CoalA New Metal Stronger Than SteelA Tiny, Wireless Heart MonitorA New Method of IrrigationA Rooftop Wind TurbineA New Way to Fight GermsRetinal Implants for the Blind
Silicon ink has been a dream for decades, and now it’s a reality. Kovio, based in Milpitas, California, has addressed the problem in part by layering silicon ink with a solvent made of nanoparticle powder. The company hopes its first product, a radio-frequency identification tag with a printed chip in it, will one day replace the bar code as a low-cost identification stamp that can be placed on almost any product.
Okay, so it looks a bit wacky, and its description – a snake-like robot that can roll up a pole – might seem a bit weird, too. But eventually, the HyDRAS (Hyperredundant Discrete Robotic Articulated Serpentine), developed by Virgina Tech professor Dennis Hong, will be able to climb scaffolding and perform dangerous tasks – inspecting an oil and gas pipeline, for example, or the underside of a bridge.
When a coal mine shuts down, what’s left behind is not pretty: vast pools of thick, black sludge containing toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury. Several companies have figured out how to extract coal from slurry, but Gary, Virginia-based Green Fields has gone one step further: It cooks up a binding agent that holds the pieces together so they won’t crumble when handled.
Imagine a metal that’s stronger, lighter, and more energy absorbent than steel -- yet is cheaper to make. Seattle-based company Modumetal grows its product (of the same name) in a tank full of acid -- scraps of nickel, iron, and other metals are dissolved and then reborn, with a series of electric charges that alter the metals’ atomic structure. The company wants to use the metal to create lightweight bulletproof vests, heat-resistant aircraft turbines, and vehicle suspension systems that can absorb some of the energy from a bomb blast.
CardioMEMS, based in Atlanta, envisions a world in which wireless sensors implanted throughout the body constantly monitor a patient’s cardiovascular health. The company’s first sensor, the EndoSure, is implanted in 5,000 patients suffering from aortic aneurysms. The sensor measures pressure inside the aorta and transmits data, via radio waves, to physicians during appointments a few times a year, so they can tailor patients’ drug regimens.
For a farmer, water can be frustratingly ephemeral; even when rain arrives, the moisture is often lost to runoff or evaporation. Absorbent Technologies in Beaverton, Oregon, wants to make water more reliable with Zeba, a white granular substance known as a superabsorbent. Zeba absorbs up to 500 times its weight in water, then releases the moisture slowly when plants need it. The company plans to use the biodegradable material for products like diapers and fire-suppression fluids.
Generally, rooftop turbines can’t produce electricity unless the wind is blowing six or eight miles per hour. This turbine is different. Developed by WindTronics, based in Muskegon, Michigan, it’s only 6 feet in diameter and can generate energy at wind speeds of just two miles per hour. WindTronics moved the power-generating parts to the outside of the wheel, where the blades turn faster. Reducing the bulk in the center also allows the turbine to turn more easily.
When searching for a way to keep barnacles from sticking to ship hulls, Tony Brennan, co-founder of Sharklet Technologies, looked to sharkskin, which is known for its ability to resist microbes. Peering through a microscope at an impression of the skin, Brennan confirmed his hunch that a diamond-shaped pattern of tiny tooth-like projections was keeping it clean. Now, the Alachua, Florida-based company makes sheets of plastic called SafeTouch, which are imprinted with a raised sharkskin-like pattern and can be adhered to germ-prone surfaces to prevent bacteria from settling in for up to 30 days.
In an effort to provide vision to the blind, Sylmar, California-based company Second Sight has developed the Argus II, a retinal implant that receives images taken with a video camera mounted on eyeglasses. The images are converted into electronic signals by a processor and wirelessly transmitted to a receiver implanted on the eye. The receiver sends the data through a cable to an array of electrodes, which emit electric pulses that activate cells in the retina, sending signals through the optic nerve to the brain. Patients interpret the resulting patterns as low-res black-and-white images.