The Most Interesting Devices Invented By Engineers in 2014
In 2014, engineers achieved record levels in the field of solar energy, created revolutionary neuroprostheses and nanomotors, as well as unique robots.
Solar energy has become more efficient
This year was a breakthrough for the development of solar energy. In November, the world’s largest Topaz solar power plant with a capacity of 550 megawatts began to operate in the United States. Engineers installed 9 million solar panels on California plains over an area of about 25 square kilometers. The project cost $2.5 billion. Specialists from the University of New South Wales announced that they had achieved a 40.4% efficiency by equipping existing solar panels with mirrors and filters to reduce energy loss. However, a little earlier, the engineers of the German Institute of Solar Energy Fraunhofer exceeded this figure, achieving 44.7% efficiency.
In the Netherlands, the world’s first solar panel bike path appeared. During construction, a 70-meter section of the road was opened, which is part of the SolaRoad project to create energy-producing public roads.
And researchers from the University of Sheffield created special cells that absorb sunlight based on the substance of perovskite. Such cells can be applied by spraying on the surface of any area, which will greatly simplify the production of solar panels. American and Japanese engineers also presented promising projects for the extraction of solar energy from space.
Neuroprostheses return to normal life
The so-called neuroprostheses – artificial limbs connected to the human nervous system – are becoming more and more perfect. In October, two groups of scientists – Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Chalmers University in Sweden, taught two patients with prosthetic arms to carefully take objects and even feel the texture of these objects. Ohio scientists have created a neurocomputer interface to help a paralyzed man move his arm using his own thoughts.
A computer chip was implanted in the human brain and then a neural bridge was used to redirect brain signals to the arm, which transmits electrical signals to the human forearm and arm. As a result, the patient was able to control the hand with the power of thought.
Japanese company Cyberdyne is developing a brain-driven exoskeleton. In Brazil, at the opening ceremony of the World Cup Games, a person with paralysis of the lower extremities, using an exoskeleton controlled by the power of thought, made the first blow.
Nanomotors against cancer
This year, several ultrafast miniature nanomotors appeared at once, which will be used for nanorobots that deliver drugs to the human body and help treat dangerous diseases, including cancer and diabetes. University of Pennsylvania engineers placed tiny motors inside living human cells and controlled their movement using ultrasonic and magnetic waves. Such nanomotors will be used to treat diseases by mechanical action on cells from the inside.
Scientists from the Cochrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas designed the smallest and at the same time the fastest nanomotor in the world, one micrometer in size. For 15 hours, it continuously converts electrical energy into mechanical energy, maintaining a speed of 18 thousand revolutions per minute, which is comparable to the speed of a jet engine.
Exoskeletons multiply strength and speed
This year, the US military introduced the TALOS costume. It protects the wearer from bullets, allows him to lift weights and comes with an arsenal of technologies that monitor the environment. This suit is designed not only for the military but also for areas related to extreme working conditions. Specialists from the Wiss Institute at Harvard University have created the Light Exosuit tissue exoskeleton to be used by DARPA. The new exoskeleton mimics the movements of muscles and tendons when walking. This is possible thanks to belts fastened in the right places around the legs and equipped with flexible sensors. The whole structure is microprocessor controlled.
Workers at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering began wearing exoskeletons to help carry 100-pound loads.
Also, the 4MM project (Four Minute Mile) appeared, the purpose of which is to increase the speed and dexterity of the owner of the jetpack, to endow it with the ability to run long distances with a minimum expenditure of effort. A jetpack for runners weighs 5 kilograms. Volunteers who tested the device at a 200-meter distance showed good time (25 seconds) and low energy consumption. According to experts, even a slight advantage in running can be significant for a soldier because his life can depend on this.
Smart uniforms save lives
DARPA military engineers have created a unique uniform that sends information about the wound to the nearest medical center. Sensors implanted in the tissue record the location of the bullet, the depth of its location and which vital organs were affected. Other sensors monitor blood flow to detect other types of damage, chemical, nuclear or biological.
Engineers from the University of Houston, the University of Illinois, and Northwestern University have developed color-changing camouflage that functions like the skin of octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. Before that, there were similar technologies, but they introduced autonomous adaptation for the first time.
The device sees colors and recognizes them. It reads the environment using thermochromatic material. The flexible skin of the device consists of ultra-thin layers, including semiconductor drives, switching components and photocells between inorganic reflectors and organic color-changing materials. As a result, the coating automatically adjusts to the colors of the environment.
Robots for Earth and space
Xenex engineers have created a robot that kills the Ebola virus. It irradiates the hospital room with intense millisecond pulses of ultraviolet light with a high nominal power, destroying microbes. The light is able to completely clear the hospital room in 5 minutes – in particular, it destroys the Ebola on any surface in 2 minutes. About 200 hospitals in the US alone have included Xenox in their room disinfection system.
In December, the US Navy research unit showed off a Silent Nemo robot fish, which is able to silently and quietly get to an enemy court. An almost complete visual simulation of tuna will be used for military purposes, the collection of classified information and ship repair.
The UK Department of Defense has invested £1 million in the creation of a robotic dummy for testing special suits designed to protect soldiers in the use of chemical and biological weapons.
Porton Man is made of modern lightweight materials used in Formula 1 racing cars. The prototype can walk, march, run, sit, kneel and even raise its hands for aiming – almost like a real soldier.
U.S. hotels start using A.L.O. Botlr (short for robot butler -bot-butler) to help real living concierges. Programmed to perform all the necessary services, it is equipped with a 7-inch tablet, has 4G network support and a Wi-Fi module with which it can call elevators and, if necessary, go up to the upper floors of the building. NASA and the Houston Methodist Research Institute have developed a humanoid robot to perform medical procedures, including operations on the ISS and, possibly, on the road to Mars. Robonaut 2 has already passed successful tests.
Tags: devices, engineers, technology