Archive for February, 2014

Pizza that lasts forever

If you love your pizza you know its kind of difficult to eat it if its not fresh out of the oven. There may be some of you who argue that cold pizza from the fridge tastes just as good or even better. However we would all agree that the cheese in the pizza is not conducive for it to last a long time without spoiling.

Now what if you could have pizza that would last forever without going bad? That is exactly what the US Military is looking for. Well, while it may not last forever, this special pizza will have the ability to sit on the shelf for nearly three years and still be good to eat. Researchers at a U.S. military lab in Massachusetts are working on a recipe that doesn’t require any refrigeration or freezing.

The pizza is cooked, packaged and set down on a shelf till its consumed said Michelle Richardson, a food scientist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. The quest for this good pizza has become known as the holy grail at the Natick labs. Richardson has spent nearly two years developing the recipe in a large kitchen full of commercial equipment.

As per Richardson pizza is the most requested food that soldiers have mentioned when asked about what they would like to see in their rations. Hopefully at the successful completion of this science project, the soldiers will not be disappointed.

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Robotic Construction Crew

Having robots do the work of humans in inhospitable or hostile environments would indeed be a boon. That is why so much effort and energy is expended in developing perfectly functional robotic construction crews. So what activities does a robot like this need to be able to perform?

A study at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has outlined a set of functions that these robots must definitely be able to perform. These include the actions like moving forward, backward, and turning in place. Being able to climb up or down a step the height of one brick. Also the ability to pick up a brick, carry it, and deposit it directly in front of itself.

It should also be able to detect other bricks and robots in its immediate vicinity. It should also have the knack of keeping track of its own location with respect to a “seed” brick. In addition to these autonomous actions that the robot must perform it is imperative that the robot also be able to follow certain instructions as well.

These instructions could include obeying predetermined traffic rules for the robotic crew.  Circle the growing structure to find the first, “seed” brick for orientation purposes. Being able to climb onto the structure to obtain a brick. Then attaching the brick at any vacant point that satisfies local geometric requirements and climbing off the structure. It does seem like a complex science project to design.

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Construction Without Human Supervision

There have long been science fiction novels and movies made about robotic construction crews that do the work of human builders and supervisors in the future. Now the scientists  at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University are hoping to make that robotic crew a fact.

The researchers have been working on an autonomous robotic construction crew which needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no constant communication. Harvard’s TERMES system shows robotic crews building complex, three-dimensional structures without the need for any intervention. Each robot builds independently of the others. If it takes a break it does not affect the rest of the construction crew. A robot is fitted with four simple types of sensors and three actuators to help it do its tasks.

Inspired by termites in nature, TERMES robots can build towers, castles, and pyramids out of foam bricks. They can build staircases to reach the higher levels and add bricks wherever they are needed. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars. The TERMES science project is definitely one to watch out for.

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Bending Glass That Doesn’t Break

We are used to thinking about glass as a brittle and fragile object. If you knock it too hard it will crack and even worse shatter altogether. However the latest research being conducted by scientists at the McGill University is likely to end in the production of a type of glass which can be more durable in nature.

This highly shatter proof glass is likely to bend and dis-form  without breaking. The toughness of the glass will be greatly enhanced making it a viable option for a number of commercial uses. The inspiration for this new technology is said to be mollusk sea shells. These shells are made up 95% of chalk, which as you know is a highly brittle substance.

However the mollusk shells are made hard and durable by the inner coating of nacre. Nacre, which is also known as mother of pearl, is made up of microscopic tablets a little like Lego blocks. These provide the strong infrastructure to the shells that they need to survive in the sea.

Earlier attempts to replicate the nacre structure have not been successful. The challenge has now been taken up by the researchers headed by Professor Francois Barthelat. The science project they are undertaking will be a major learning process even if they do not manage to succeed in their mission.

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Wearing a Book

You could read a book, but now scientists at MIT are experimenting with wearable books that will allow you to feel the emotions that the characters in the book feel.  The project which they call “Sensory Fiction” involves wearing a vest that is hooked up to the prototype book. The sensors use the events in the story to produce physical sensations for the reader wearing this vest.

For instance as the plot develops and the main character is feeling scared the pressure bags in the vest will fill up with air and constrict the chest of the reader. This will make the reader feel like how the character is supposed to be feeling. The project is naturally in a very experimental stage with only one working model.

So its going to be a while before you can pick up a book and a vest from your local book store that will allow you to experience all the sensory experiences that the characters in the story go through. It is going to be difficult to set all human emotions experienced in a vest, and the scientists will probably have to limit themselves to a few motions. Whatever it may translate into, it was an interesting science project.


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