Billy's Blog

On Billy's Blog, Billy Hurley, Digital Editorial Manager, writes stories about new and innovative achievements in design engineering, from industrial robots and autonomous vehicles to 3D printers and see-through solar cells. Along with other Tech Briefs writers and editors, Billy shares his opinions, poses questions to readers, and finds the fun, interesting, and unexpected stories behind today's leading-edge inventions.

Cell Division: The Movie (In 3D!)

There may be some new movies coming out in 3-D, and no, I'm not talking about a Yogi Bear sequel. A new live-cell microscope invented by scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus lets researchers use a thin sheet of light to reveal three-dimensional shapes of cellular...

Susie Prototyper

Ideally, the concept of "on demand" shouldn't limit itself to pay-per-view movies. If 3D printers were widely available in every household, consumers could quickly "demand" and fabricate specialized food and other objects at the touch of a button. Scientists in the emerging field of "bioprinting" are even attempting to make it...

Fungi Fuel

Will tomorrow's cars run on fungi fuel? As gas prices are set to rise, I thought it'd be interesting to point to recent biomass fuel efforts by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories. The Sandia team is modifying an endophytic fungus so that it will produce hydrocarbons, which work well as fuels for internal combustion engines....

Today, we’re pleased to have a guest blog from Bettina Giemsa, Marketing Program Manager at PTC, which delivers Product Lifecycle Management and design software solutions. Bettina’s...

Bringing Machine Learning to Microscopy

Software called Micropilot may help researchers struggling to pinpoint particular cells in their microscopes. The technology, developed by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) scientists, searches for cells with specific features.

After detecting the cells that a researcher is interested...

Eye, Robot

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a nickel-size, curvilinear camera with a 3.5x optical zoom. Or, to put it simply, an eyeball camera.

The lens and photodetectors are on flexible substrates. A hydraulic system then changes the shape of the substrates,...

A Self-Repairing Solar Cell

Photoelectrochemical cells convert sunlight into electricity, but their light-absorbing dyes, called chromophores, eventually degrade because of sunlight exposure. For plant cells, the degradation of chromophores isn't a big deal - they simply self-regenerate.

Now, Purdue researchers are in the early stages of...

Biologically Inspired = Highly Desired?

Mother Nature is a great innovator. In fact, one might argue that some of today's most efficient technologies were not engineered, but rather, exist in nature as the byproducts of a little process called evolution.

As such, it comes as no surprise that scientists sometimes look to nature as a source...

Emergency? A robot will be right with you

The emergency room may look a bit different in five years. And when I say "different," I mean that mobile robots will be waiting on you and collecting your blood pressure and pulse rate.

Computer engineers at Vanderbilt University have a new idea about improving a hospital's emergency department,...

Baby You Can Charge My Car

We’ve been hearing for some time now how emissions-free electric vehicles (EVs) could someday save the planet – or at least our part of it – by replacing cars powered with internal combustion engines. What nobody can seem to tell us is when that day will come.

Two companies that hope to answer that...

The Antimatter Mystery Continues

Matter and antimatter are almost identical, but their one crucial difference, an opposite charge, can cause mutual annihilation when the two are mixed.

So if there's plenty of matter here in the world, where is its counterpart? When the universe formed, matter and antimatter should have been produced in...

Not Just Playing Around

Like many other alluring things on this Earth, video games can toe the line between good and evil. They are notoriously addicting (sometimes to their users' detriment) — but that quality also allows them to function as a successful medium in rehabilitation and therapy applications.

“There are some people who...

Cleared for Takeoff

You just know somebody’s going to make a movie about this.

On October 22, New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, presided over the dedication of what could become the world’s first commercial spaceport. And what is a spaceport, you ask? Think of it as an airport for space travelers, and apparently they’re...

New Energy-Efficient Design Brings the Heat

To provide an alternative to energy-inefficient, fume-heavy fire cooking, Paul Montgomery, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, is helping to design a better, cleaner stove for people in developing countries. Central to the design is a heat-powered fan.

Here's how the process is...

Finally! My invisible cardigan is ready!

Designing a material to cloak objects from visible light has always been a challenge -- Trust me, I've tried it many times during my childhood.

Published today, the New Journal of Physics (co-owned by the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society) details how Meta-flex, a new material...

R2's Excellent Adventure

When the Space Shuttle Discovery launches tomorrow, it will carry six human -- and one non-human -- crewmembers to the International Space Station. The non-human is Robonaut 2 (R2), which is set to become the first humanoid robot in space. R2 will be unpacked several months after it arrives, and tested on the station. He...

Analysts Add to Creo Conversation

Yesterday, after unveiling Creo, PTC's soon-to-arrive design application suite, the company arranged for a panel of analysts to address attendee questions about the product. The roundtable included Marc Halpern, Research VP at Gartner, Sanjeev Pal, Research Manager at IDC, and John MacKrell, a senior consultant...

Lightning Strikes With PTC's Creo

There was a bit of a crowd lining up near Boston's Park Plaza this morning, and if it wasn't for all the business-casual attire, you may have thought another Apple Store was opening up down the street. The event was actually PTC's unveiling of its new product suite: Creo.

Here's the quick...

NASA Wants You to Help Rock Space

If you're an astronaut, the last thing you need jarring you awake first thing in the morning out in space is a beeping alarm clock. So, since the Apollo days, NASA has chosen to get its astronauts moving with a wakeup song. Now NASA is giving you two chances to help select wakeup songs that will be played during...

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter where you go,

If it’s a million miles away, or just a mile up the road.

Take it in. Take it with you when you go.

Who says you can’t go home?”

So says New Jersey-born rocker Jon Bon Jovi in a hit song he penned several...

Taxi...Take Me to The Moon

In the words of the late, great gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” That’s comforting to know because the future of America’s space exploration program has suddenly gotten weird, and the last thing you need when that happens is amateurs calling the...

Big Ideas for Small Innovations

Another day at MD&M West has come and gone, and I'm continuing to see a lot of focus on miniaturization -- which makes sense, considering the multitude of medical applications that could benefit from compact yet efficient devices.

The SQUIGGLE motor from New Scale Technologies measures 2.8 x 2.8 x 6 mm....

Engineering Design at its Coolest

Day one at the Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West show in Anaheim, CA was bustling with energy. Nearly everyone I spoke with said that they had found themselves happily busy throughout the day.

One nice part about meeting people at trade shows is that you might come across information you...

Movies and Manufacturing

Day two at SolidWorks World, the worldwide event for SolidWorks users, drew a record crowd. And this time it wasn’t because of the sunny Southern California weather. It was because the special guest speaker happened to be James Cameron, who just this morning was nominated for Best Director and Best Picture Academy...

Transforming Design

This week, I’m coming to you live from Anaheim, CA, and SolidWorks World 2010. The SolidWorks user community continues to flock to this annual event, and this year, there are more than 5,000 registrants learning about new features coming up in the next version of SolidWorks, as well as networking with other users,...

Do The Russians Know Something We Don't?

Do the Russians know something we don’t?

In the waning days of 2009, the head of Russia’s federal space agency, Dr. Anatoly Perminov, made huge headlines by telling a Russian radio station that their space agency was contemplating sending a mission to Apophis, an 885-foot (270-meter) asteroid...

Scan My Body - As Long As It Is Safe

I mentioned in my last blog post I will travel to Anaheim in early February to attend several shows, notably the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show and Medical Design & Manufacturing West . That means once again subjecting myself to the rigors of airport security - whipping out my photo ID, emptying my...

Gearing Up For Trade Shows

As the holidays fade and the New Year unfolds, it’s back to business for most of us. For NASA Tech Briefs, that includes a bunch of trade shows and conferences our editors will attend over the next few months.

One show I plan to attend is the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show, taking place at the Anaheim...

A Muddled Crystal Ball

As another decade comes to a rapid close, it seems like just yesterday that the main topic of discussion was how to prepare for the impending Y2K disaster that was supposed to throw computer networks into chaos and create massive disruptions in our lives. Though most level-headed citizens did not buy into the Y2K hype,...