An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.
Imagine if you were trying to pull a heavy sled up an icy hill, while wearing slick-soled boots. Well, that's kind of what it's like for locomotives working on snowy mountain railways. If there's too much ice or snow on the rails, their steel wheels will just spin out when traveling up inclines. Because of this problem, trains going along such routes are generally kept short and light – which isn't cost-effective. Now, however, GE Transportation has developed a supersonic air blower to keep those tracks dry.
Your smartphone already has a powerful processor and multiple sensors, so why pay for all those things over again when buying a drone? That's the thinking behind the PhoneDrone, which utilizes its user's smartphone as its brains. Kind of like a flying version of the Romo
robots, it requires users to dock their phone into it for each use. That approach helps keep its price down ... and also serves as an added incentive not to crash the thing.
In modern airliners, much of the structural paneling used in the cabin and wings has a honeycomb-like structure. Although this helps keep the weight down while maintaining strength, it does a poor job at blocking noise within the aircraft. That's why researchers from North Carolina State University and MIT have developed a membrane that helps the panels to do so.
Although the Microsoft Kinect was designed first and foremost for gaming, the fact that it's a cheap but reliable depth-sensing camera has led to its use in everything from navigation systems for the blind
to user-following grocery carts
to remote-control cyborg cockroaches
. Soon, however, it may be facing some competition. The Northwestern University-designed Motion Contrast 3D Scanning (MC3D) camera should also be economical, while offering higher-quality imaging and the ability to operate in sunlight.
Although we've seen at least one off-road skateboard with built-in suspension
, aftermarket suspension systems for more traditional boards are few and far between. The designers at California-based Avenue Trucks, however, are out to change that. They claim that their suspension trucks should improve the skateboarding experience in several key ways.
Cleaning up liquids spilled into carpets can be difficult – no matter how firmly you press a rag against them, you've always got to wonder how much of the liquid you're really soaking up. That's why the SpillMate was created. It attaches to the hose of a conventional vacuum cleaner, allowing it to actually suck liquid out of the carpet.
As consumer drones are becoming increasingly common, we seem to be seeing more of a certain "value-added" feature – quadcopters that are able to hover as needed, but which can also transition to faster and more efficient fixed-wing flight. Recent examples have included the Skyprowler
and the X PlusOne
. Now, there's also the Vertex.
It's a frustrating situation. There are already stem cells in the nervous system that are capable of repairing the damage done by multiple sclerosis, but getting them to do
so has proven very difficult. Now, however, a multi-institutional team led by Case Western Reserve University's Prof. Paul Tesar may have found the answer – and it involves using medications that were designed to treat athlete's foot and eczema.
There are already beverage cans that contain chemically-activated chilling modules
. Now, three students from Houston's Rice University are working at applying the same principle to hypodermic needles. Instead of keeping the medication in the syringe cool, however, the idea is that a special needle cap could be used to first chill and numb the patient's skin, making the subsequent injection relatively painless.
There are already in-vehicle systems that keep people from driving while intoxicated, although most of them require users to blow into a breathalyzer. The prototype AlcoStop system, however, takes a less intrusive approach – it measures users' blood alcohol levels by analyzing their sweat via built-in sensors, and won't allow the car to start if those levels indicate that they're too drunk to drive.