This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Flying Fairy Robot
Researchers of the Lights Robot group at Tampere University have developed a passively flying robot equipped with artificial muscle. The polymer-assembly robot flies by wind and is controlled by light. The artificial fairy has several biomimetic features. Because of its high porosity (0.95) and lightweight (1.2 mg) structure, it can easily float in the air directed by the wind. A stable separated vortex ring generation enables long-distance wind-assisted travelling. The fairy robot can be powered and controlled by a light source, such as a laser beam or LED. This means that light can be used to change the shape of the tiny dandelion seed-like structure. The robot can adapt manually to wind direction and force by changing its shape. A light beam can also be used to control the take-off and landing actions of this polymer assembly. The fairy-like robot has potential applications in agriculture for artificial pollination.
Contact: Hao Zeng
Many current designs of reconfigurable antennae dysfunction in high or low temperatures, have power limitations, or require regular servicing. To address these limitations, electrical engineers at the Penn State College of Engineering combined electromagnets with a compliant mechanism, which is the same mechanical engineering concept behind binder clips or a bow and arrow. When applied to a reconfigurable antenna, its complaint mechanism-enabled arms bend in a predictable way, which in turn changes its operating frequencies — without the use of hinges or bearings. The team designed a circular, iris-shaped patch antenna prototype using commercial electromagnetic simulation software and then 3D printed it and tested it for fatigue failures as well as frequency and radiation pattern fidelity. The technology can be scaled to the integrated circuit level for higher frequencies or increased in size for lower frequency applications. Such antennae can be integral to future communication network systems, like 6G.
Contact: College of Engineering Media Relations
A research team led by City University of Hong Kong has developed a wireless, soft e-skin that can both detect and deliver the sense of touch and form a touch network allowing one-to-multiuser interaction. It offers great potential for enhancing the immersion of distance touch communication. The uniqueness of the novel e-skin is that it can perform self-sensing and haptic reproducing functions on the same interface. The button-like actuator, comparable in size to a HK 10-cent coin, serves as the core part of the e-skin. Once the actuator is pressed and released by an external force, a current is induced to provide electrical signals for tactile sensation to a corresponding actuator in another e-skin patch. Such a device could be useful for the visually impaired, who could wear the e-skin to gain remote directional guidance and read Braille messages.