Tata to build the worlds cheapest house – for US$715

There is absolutely no doubt that the human condition thrives on challenge. Fresh from creating the world’s cheapest car, the US$2500 Tata Nano, Tata Corporation is now intending to create the world’s cheapest house.

The flat-roofed 20 sq meter house will cost $715, can be built in a week and came about from an aim to deliver a viable package for beneficiaries of the Indira Awaas Yojana shelter rehabilitation scheme in Tata’s native India. The scheme provides Rs 40,000 per house for people below the poverty line, scheduled castes and tribes, freed bonded laborers and ex-servicemen.

If Tata can hit its targets, the scheme will bring much greater access to shelter for millions of Indians. India is world’s second most populous nation with 1.21 billion people and it is growing at such a rate that it is expected to pass China by 2030. It has already surpassed China for the number of people who live in poverty (800 million people).

Utility can be inexpensive – no doubt. And kudos to Tata for trying on the project. Not exactly a corporate profit center.

How to get a wee snip of a car – in India

Indian health officials have taken an unusual step to slow the nation’s birth rate – offering prizes that include a car in return for being sterilised.

One lucky man or woman can win a free Tata Nano in exchange for ending their fertility.

The first person to volunteer for sterilisation in Jhunjhunu, west of New Delhi, will be given a Nano, the world’s cheapest car, with other prizes including motorcycles, televisions and food blenders…

Reports also suggest that those volunteering to give away their baby-making ability will be paid a cash incentive of Rs1000, and Rs200 to those who urged them to go under the knife.

The move comes as India tries to control its rapidly growing population, which a recent census estimating it at more than 1.21 billion people.

I guess I could say, “Times change.” When I got my vasectomy as a young man in a very Catholic state, the surgery had to be “underground” because it was illegal. As was the sale of contraceptives.

My urologist made me swear I’d tell folks I had it done in Rhode Island. 🙂

Thanks, Honeyman

An iPod watch project explodes online

A project that began with an iPod Nano and an experimental wristwatch design has quickly exploded online, receiving over $540,000 in funding through Kickstarter, a Web site that helps people find support for projects.

The project was created by the Chicago-based design firm Minimal, which wants to take the iPod Nano, Apple’s latest tiny multitouch iPod, and incorporate it into a wristwatch. Those who pledge $25 to the project will receive a Nano-holding watch kit when it is produced.

Scott Wilson, founder of Minimal, said his company had been astonished by the response to the idea.

“It just seems to keep on going,” Mr. Wilson said, referring to the number of pledges received since the project idea was posted online two weeks ago. “I had expectations that we would get $15,000 in funding from Kickstarter, but by the second day of sales we had quickly passed that.”

Fred Benenson, an employee at Kickstarter, said on Twitter Thursday that the project was the first on Kickstarter to top $500,000 in funding…

The TikTok design created by Minimal turns the Nano into a watch by letting you snap it into a wrist dock. The LunaTik, a more expensive design, is meant to be more permanent. It is made of aluminum and holds the Nano in place with screws.

Mr. Wilson said he decided to finance the project through Kickstarter to ensure that his designers had more input on the final product.

“I’m most excited about using this platform to give creative control to the designers and experiment with the product without having to enter a complicated corporate deal to produce it,” Mr. Wilson said. “It seems to be working; there’s nothing more validating than someone putting a credit card down to buy something.”

We’re starting to offer Giftmas suggestions to our readers, this week. This is the first of several.

I was a more than reasonably successful salesman when I was working at it – in fields as wide-ranging as sporting goods to tech goodies. This is one of those products I would have loved to sell to retailers. Its attractive design adds more functionality to an already successful product. Piece of cake.

Piaggio ready to offer low-polluting 3-person car

Italy’s Piaggio is preparing to launch a small city three-person, four-wheel car, including a hybrid-powered version, for use in Asian and European cities to overcome traffic congestion, said its Chairman Roberto Colaninno.

Best known for its Vespa scooters, Piaggio plans to launch the low-consumption, low-polluting vehicle on the market in the next three years but has so far made no decisions on where to produce the vehicle, nor where it will start selling, nor the price, Colaninno said at the presentation of prototypes at a motorbike show.

I know, I know. Smoke and mirrors – so far.

“We have not thought of the Nano for India even less the Smart,” Colaninno said, asked about possible competitors produced respectively by India’s Tata Motors and Germany’s Daimler AG.

The prototypes shown on Piaggio’s stand at the show resemble both these two other small vehicles, though the unnamed Piaggio vehicle has two seats behind and a single driver’s seat upfront.

Making music on a microscopic scale

Strings a fraction of the thickness of a human hair, with microscopic weights to pluck them: researchers and students from the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente have succeeded in constructing the first musical instrument with dimensions measured in mere micrometres – a ‘micronium’ – that produces audible tones…

Earlier musical instruments with these minimal dimensions only produced tones that are inaudible to humans. But thanks to ingenious construction techniques, students from the University of Twente have succeeded in producing scales that are audible when amplified. To do so, they made use of the possibilities offered by micromechanics: the construction of moving structures with dimensions measured in micrometres (a micrometre is a thousandth of a millimetre)…

The tiny musical instrument is made up of springs that are only a tenth of the thickness of a human hair, and vary in length from a half to a whole millimetre. A mass of a few dozen micrograms is hung from these springs.

The mass is set in motion by so-called ‘comb drives’: miniature combs that fit together precisely and shift in relation to each other, so ‘plucking’ the springs and creating sounds. The mass vibrates with a maximum deflection of just a few micrometres. This minimal movement can be accurately measured, and produces a tone. Each tone has its own mass spring system, and six tones fit on a microchip. By combining a number of chips, a wider range of tones can be achieved. “The tuning process turned out to be the greatest challenge”, says Johan Engelen. “We can learn a lot from this project for the construction of other moving structures. Above all, this is a great project for introducing students to micromechanics and clean room techniques.”

Bravo!

There’s a video about the process that debuted this weekend; but, their server doesn’t always keep up.

Cancer detection suggested using adhesion to cell surfaces

Methods for detection of cancer cells are mostly based on traditional techniques used in biology, such as visual identification of malignant changes, cell-growth analysis or genetic tests. Despite being well developed, these methods are either insufficiently accurate or require a lengthy complicated analysis, which is impractical for clinical use. Igor Sokolov and his team hope that the physical sciences can help to develop an alternative method in the detection of cancer cells, which will be more precise and simpler.

His group reports in Small on a method to detect cancer cells by using nonspecific (just physical) adhesion of silica beads to cells.

This finding is based on their recently published results in Nature Nanotechnology, where they reported on observation of unknown before difference in surface physical properties of cancerous and normal human epithelial cervical cells. Specifically, they found a substantial difference in the brush layer on the cell surface. This difference was the main motivation for their present work. The difference in the brush was expected to lead to the differences in the adhesion of various particles to such cells.

The adhesion was studied with the help of atomic force microscopy (AFM). Silica beads were attached to the AFM cantilever, and consequently, touched the cell surfaces. The force needed to separate the bead from the cell, the adhesion force, was measured.

The difference in adhesion, which has an essentially physical nature, was used to distinguish between cancerous and normal cells. High adhesion resulted in more particles adhered to cells…Using cells collected from cervical cancers of three cancer patients and cells extracted from tissue of healthy patients, the researchers found an unambiguous difference.

This achievement can lead to earlier detection and treatment of cancer, which is important to decrease fatality of this disease considerably.

Nano-technology begets nano-research and observation. New means and methods of investigation produce benefits previously undiscovered.

Nanoneedle is small in size, but huge in potential applications


Min-Feng Yu

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a membrane-penetrating nanoneedle for the targeted delivery of one or more molecules into the cytoplasm or the nucleus of living cells. In addition to ferrying tiny amounts of cargo, the nanoneedle can also be used as an electrochemical probe and as an optical biosensor.

“Nanoneedle-based delivery is a powerful new tool for studying biological processes and biophysical properties at the molecular level inside living cells,” said Min-Feng Yu, an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering and corresponding author of a paper accepted for publication in Nano Letters.

In the paper, Yu and collaborators describe how they deliver, detect and track individual fluorescent quantum dots in a cell’s cytoplasm and nucleus. The quantum dots can be used for studying molecular mechanics and physical properties inside cells…

With a diameter of approximately 50 nanometers, the nanoneedle introduces minimal intrusiveness in penetrating cell membranes and accessing the interiors of live cells…

“Combined with molecular targeting strategies using quantum dots and magnetic nanoparticles as molecular probes, the nanoneedle delivery method can potentially enable the simultaneous observation and manipulation of individual molecules,” said Ning Wang, a MechSE professor and a co-author of the paper…

“Nanoneedles can be used as electrochemical probes and as optical biosensors to study cellular environments, stimulate certain types of biological sequences, and examine the effect of nanoparticles on cellular physiology.”

Wow! As screwed-up as our education system is at the grassroots level, at least the realm of higher studies remains sufficiently advanced to attract the best and brightest.

If we could only figure out how to carry this obvious capacity down to our high schools and all undergraduate institutions.

Medical nano-robots ready to pass for bacteria

For the first time, ETH Zurich researchers have built micro-robots as small as bacteria. Their purpose is to help cure human beings.

Artificial bacterial flagella are about half as long as the thickness of a human hair. They can swim at a speed of up to one body length per second. This means that they already resemble their natural role models very closely.

They look like spirals with tiny heads, and screw through the liquid like miniature corkscrews. When moving, they resemble rather ungainly bacteria with long whip-like tails. They can only be observed under a microscope because, at a total length of 25 to 60 µm, they are almost as small as natural flagellated bacteria. Most are between 5 and 15 µm long, a few are more than 20 µm.

The tiny spiral-shaped, nature-mimicking lookalikes of E. coli and similar bacteria. are called “Artificial Bacterial Flagella” (ABFs), the “flagella” referring to their whip-like tails. They were invented, manufactured and enabled to swim in a controllable way by researchers in the group led by Bradley Nelson, Professor at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ETH Zurich. In contrast to their natural role model, some of which cause diseases, the ABFs are intended to help cure diseases in the future.

RTFA. This is a trip! One of those early moments when and where something as new as nano-tech begins to get exciting.

Test-driving the Tata Nano – the world’s cheapest car


Click on the photo for the road test video
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Taking the world’s cheapest car out for its first public test drive by a journalist makes for a surprisingly smooth ride. Thrifty transport is not meant to be this comfortable. Tata’s Nano purrs from zero to 40mph in eight seconds and its gearbox changes with ease. The brakes are solid, bringing the car to halt smartly.

True, its 623cc engine whines a little like a blender when pushed to its top speed of 65mph and the body leans like the Tower of Pisa when cornering at speed. But the wheels will give out before you can tip the car over, the Guardian was assured by Tata engineers.

Built for functional frugality, the Nano is a striking if not a beautiful car. Flashing through the dusty streets outside the Tata plant in Pune, southern India, the Nano’s distinctive look turns heads. Many people, especially those who are riding motorbikes, break into smiles and thrust thumbs into the air when its jellybean shape appears.

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Tata’s Nano – world’s cheapest car rolls out into Indian market


Daylife/AP Photo

India’s Tata Motors will launch its extra-cheap 10 feet (3 metres) long Nano car in Mumbai on Monday, selling for 100,000 rupees or $1,979. It will enable poorer citizens in developing countries to move to four wheels for the first time.

The four-door five-seater car has a 33bhp, 624cc engine at the rear. It has no airbags, air conditioning, radio, or power steering.

There are about 4 stories here. The BBC article [above] wanders off into worrying about the recession. Which accomplishes little.

I’ve posted about the Nano a few times in the past – telling of the run-up to production. Here and here. Here’s the newest I chose to add today because it offers a first-person response to the car:

For the last 40 years, Gopal Pandurang has lived a life without many luxuries.

He has worked as a chauffeur for top businessmen in Pune and Mumbai – ferrying them around the country, to important meetings in big, fancy and expensive cars.

He has sat behind the wheels of dozens of cars, from an old British Morris to the Land Rover he’s driving now.

It’s been an honest, hardworking life – albeit austere.

The salary of a driver in India can only afford you so much. Mr Pandurang has worked hard to support his family – putting his children in English language schools, so that they would get opportunities he never had.

He’s never been the kind of man to want anything for himself, working night and day to feed his family instead. But throughout his life, he has had one dream: to own a car of his own.

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