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Will "4D" materials catch on?

This week's Question: While 3D printing has still not yet reached the mainstream, MIT and other researchers are performing primary tests on the next design dimension. 4D printing, a self-assembly design process, enables the production of composite materials that react and change shape in predictable ways when exposed to external elements such as water. A printed rear wing, for example, would have the ability to transform its aerodynamics during a downpour. Autonomous pipes, too, could expand and narrow based on flow. Self-assembling technologies may eventually allow the construction of space structures whose components deposit themselves in zero-gravity environments without human intervention. Wood and carbon fibers have responded well to 4D testing, but more materials and energy sources are likely required for the materials to self‑optimize according to sensing and logic. What do you think? Will "4D" materials catch on?

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Are robots an effective way of combating outbreaks like Ebola?

This week's Question: Next month, scientists will convene at universities across the country to consider the role that autonomous machines might play in combating the Ebola crisis. Telepresence robots, according to some researchers, could theoretically perform healthcare tasks like delivering food and medicine to the sick and cleaning equipment. The robots could also act as interpreters between patients and doctors, or provide checklists to medical workers as they put on and remove safety equipment. What do you think? Are robots an effective way of combating outbreaks like Ebola?  

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Will cosmic elevators take us to space?

This week's Question: Penn State researchers recently developed ultra-thin, super-strong nanothreads made from diamonds. The nanothreads could ultimately be used to construct a "space elevator" to take people to orbit. A Japanese company, Obayashi, similarly sees the feasibility of such an elevator and envisions a space station tethered to the equator by a 96,000-km cable made of carbon nanotechnology. In theory, robotics cars with magnetic motors would quickly take people and cargo to the station. What do you think? Will cosmic elevators take us to space?

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Is a sleeper ship our best bet to Mars?

At the Center for Research in Advanced Materials (CIMAV), scientists "captured" the energy produced by people walking. The team designed a pill-shaped cylinder adapted to a shoe in order to store the mechanical-vibrational energy that the person generates when walking. Similarly, the London-based company Pavegen produces a technology that harvests mechanical energy of walking feet and converts it to electrical energy via a special floor tile. Both ideas perhaps could lead to cities using the alternative, piezoelectric solutions to create power when and where it is required. What do you think? Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

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Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

At the Center for Research in Advanced Materials (CIMAV), scientists "captured" the energy produced by people walking. The team designed a pill-shaped cylinder adapted to a shoe in order to store the mechanical-vibrational energy that the person generates when walking. Similarly, the London-based company Pavegen produces a technology that harvests mechanical energy of walking feet and converts it to electrical energy via a special floor tile. Both ideas perhaps could lead to cities using the alternative, piezoelectric solutions to create power when and where it is required. What do you think? Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

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Are apps making us too lazy?

A San Francisco startup called Shyp is expanding to New York this week. For a small fee, the company will pick up your item, box it, and ship it. The app-based Shyp uses custom-made boxes and QR trackers, and its couriers currently have their own transportation, including bikes. Shyp is another example of an application that conveniently outsources tasks and chores for users. Uber, for example, finds cars on demand, and startups like Instacart and Munchery provide quick and easy dinner and grocery delivery. Fans  of the apps say convenient technologies like Shyp support efficiency and free people up to be more productive, while others suggest that the app-based systems encourage laziness. What do you think? Are apps making us too lazy?

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Are rechargeable battery modules viable?

Our lead story in today's INSIDER revealed engineers' attempts to power an electric car with removable, rechargeable battery modules. The potentially game-changing technology, however, faces challenges. The modules weigh 20 to 30 pounds, and no infrastructure currently exists for users to lease or purchase the rechargeable devices, for example. The engineers, however, say that they expect the battery technology to mature and shrink in size, and that exchange stations could easily be gradually deployed. What do you think? Are rechargeable battery modules viable?

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