Robot powered by exploding farts

Harvard uni boffins have 3D printed a robot with a soft butt able to belch hot gases, thus unleashing a remorseless and invincible-ish hopping trouser-cough machine…

The new design offers a fresh solution to the engineering challenge that the Harvard Gazette claims “has plagued soft robotics: the integration of rigid and soft materials.”

“The vision for the field of soft robotics is to create robots that are entirely soft,” said senior author Robert J. Wood. “But for practical reasons, our soft robots typically have some rigid components — things like batteries and control electronics. This robot is a demonstration of a method to integrate the rigid components with the body of the soft robot through a gradient of material properties, eliminating an abrupt hard-to-soft transition that is often a failure point.”…

To initiate movement, the robot inflates its pneumatic legs to tilt its body in the direction it wants to go. Then butane and oxygen are mixed and ignited, exploding the robot into the air.

Perhaps we could design something like this on a smaller scale to hunt grasshoppers. Or something like that.

This ship cost you and me $15 million – US Navy is selling it for $180K

Click to enlarge

Any millionaire can buy themselves a fancy yacht, but if you want a conversation piece … well, it helps if it has a story behind it, and the Lockheed Martin-built Sea Slice certainly does. Launched in 1996 by the US Navy as a military support vessel, the experimental watercraft features a unique hull design that reportedly allows it to remain as stable as a conventional ship three times its size. It cost $15 million to design and build, but you can have it now for the low, low price of just $180,000…

A regular SWATH boat has two hulls, kind of like a catamaran. Whereas a catamaran’s hulls resemble skinnier versions of a conventional single hull, however, a SWATH’s are more like cylindrical pontoons that sit completely below the surface. The struts that connect those hulls to the rest of the boat are quite narrow, thus minimizing volume at the sea’s surface, where all the wave energy is located. Because the hulls themselves sit deeper in the water, they’re not affected much by the waves.

In the case of the Sea Slice, there are four shorter teardrop-shaped hulls – two on each side, one behind the other. Apparently this modification reduces waves caused by the boat, along with hydrodynamic drag. That drag reduction allows it to travel at higher speeds for a given amount of horsepower, as compared to other SWATH boats of a similar size and displacement.

The 105-ft long, 55-ft wide, 180-ton watercraft features two 3,480 hp diesel engines, two 180-kW Caterpillar diesel electric generators, and (if its specs are still the same as they were when it was first built) a top speed of 30 knots. There’s no word on how many people it can accommodate, although judging by the photos, there are at least six bunks. It also has a full galley, shower-equipped bathroom, plus a washer and dryer.

Anyone vetting prospective buyers to see if they’re fronting for Mexican drug cartels – or worse?

NASA will demonstrate largest-ever solar sail by 2016

NASA’s upcoming Technology Demonstration Missions are intended to “transform its space communications, deep space navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities.” Three project proposals have been selected for these missions, which should be launching in 2015 and 2016. One of those projects…will be demonstrating a mission-capable solar sail. While NASA has recently tested a solar sail measuring 100 square feet (9.29 square meters), this one will be the largest ever flown, spanning a whopping 409 square feet, or 38 square meters.

So, what would one do with a solar sail that big?

For one thing, it could be used to gather orbital debris over a period of several years – sort of like a drift net fishing trawler in space. It could also be included in a satellite’s payload, and activated at the end of the spacecraft’s mission. The sail, still attached to the satellite, could then be used to drag it out of its orbit.

Not unlike a sea anchor, it could also be used to hold satellites in unstable locations. As an example, it could allow GeoStorm solar flare-tracking satellites to be located at points three times farther from the earth than is currently possible – the push of the Sun’s rays against the sail would balance the pull of the solar gravitational field on the satellite, ultimately resulting in the spacecraft staying put.

Finally, it could be used as a propulsion system for deep space travel.

Now, I should check in on how a similar Japanese space sail experiment is doing. It’s a technology that still hasn’t realized anything near its potential on paper. Yet.