Archive for August, 2011

Taki Lau/Flickr.com

Taki Lau/Flickr.com

Golfing with lobsters

August 31st, 2011 by Gene
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It’s hard to use the words lobster and golf in the same sentence. Engineers have given us a reason to. Let’s take a look, today on Engineering Works!

The story starts on a cruise ship, where golfing passengers used to work out on the ships’ driving range. Driving golf balls into the ocean. Great fun for the golfers, but the golf balls usually ended up in the ocean.

Dumping plastic into the ocean was banned more than 30-years ago. Since golf balls are largely plastic, that meant no more onboard driving ranges.

Bioengineers in Maine teamed up with a fishing industry group, the Lobster Institute, to come up with a process that turns shell fragments left over after lobster meat is canned, into golf balls. Details of how they do it are confidential until the patent they’ve applied for comes through. The balls perform almost identically to real golf balls, the engineers say. Close enough to use on a driving range, anyway.

And they’re biodegradable. Once in the ocean, they sink the bottom and dissolve away in weeks. They’ll even dissolve eventually if you lose one in the woods, just not as quickly. And one of the best parts: they’re inexpensive to make. About 19 cents each, compared to about a dollar apiece for more conventional biodegradable golf balls.

We don’t golf, but these still sound pretty nifty. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: It’s easy to laugh at this kind of thing: I’m neither a golfer nor a fan of going on cruises. But a lot of people like to golf and go on cruises and this helps them do what they like to do. Would you use lobster-shell golf balls?

For more:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/14/lobster-golf-ball-biodegradable_n_849255.html

http://umaine.edu/news/blog/2011/03/30/umaine-researchers-use-lobster-shells-to-create-biodegradable-golf-ball/

http://articles.boston.com/2011-04-25/business/29472126_1_david-neivandt-lobster-shells-lobster-institute

http://ecoscraps.com/2011/04/02/lobster-golf-balls/

NorthrupGrumman

NorthrupGrumman

Star Wars afloat?

August 24th, 2011 by Gene
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Lasers zapping the bad guys. Science fiction, right? Maybe not. The U.S. Navy doesn’t think so. We’ll check it out, today on Engineering Works!

Guns that use death rays, directed energy weapons instead of bullets to destroy enemy rockets or kill bad guys have been standard fare in science fiction for decades. Now, weapons like this may be zapping out of the movies and into real life.

The U.S. Navy is working with defense contractor NorthrupGrumman to test a real-life laser weapon. And it seems to work. In a sea-going test on a Navy destroyer, a demonstration weapon successfully disabled a remote-controlled small boat simulating an attack on the test vessel. Researchers also tested the weapon’s ability to track and fire on targets on land.

This is the first time a weapon like this has been tested in actual at-sea conditions from a moving ship and linked to the vessel’s navigation and radar systems. It’s early days yet, but the Navy and Northrup Grumman say this test sets the stage for them to begin to work on an actual weapons system.

The laser weapons aren’t supposed to replace conventional gunpowder weapons, but should extend what they can do, especially against small boat attacks.

Our laser isn’t operational yet, but we’ll still see you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU- FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: It’s always fun to talk about high-technology weapons like this, but are they really worth it? Let us know what you think.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/navy-solid-state-laser/18359/

http://www.irconnect.com/noc/press/pages/news_releases.html?d=218331

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=59668

wikipedia.org

wikipedia.org

Fire ants, ahoy!

August 17th, 2011 by Gene
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Sometimes engineers investigate some strange things. How about ants that group together into rafts that float? Check it out. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you live in Texas or most other places across the South, you know about fire ants without an engineer to tell you anything. Most places there’s an open, sunny area, you’ve got colonies of the biting little pests. Underline biting. They hurt.

Fire ants are unpleasant, but if a bunch of them land in water, they do a fascinating thing. Individually, they sink. But get a bunch of them together and they make a raft that floats. An engineer in Georgia has figured out how that works.

When the first ants hit the water, they grip each other with jaws and feet, making a mat-like structure sort of like a fire ant pancake. Because they’re so small and grip together so tightly, none of them break the surface tension at the water’s surface. And the structure is waterproof. As more ants join the pancake, it gets bigger and supports more ants. Visualize a trampoline when you land on it, except made of water.

The next question should be, why does an engineer care? The floating ants give us clues about how many parts organize themselves into a whole without outside control. Crowds, networks of neurons, even simple autonomous robots.

Our fire ants are floating away and we’re going to let them go. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: I suppose it’s good that fire ants are good for something. There must be other pests that are good for something. What do they do that’s useful?

For more:

Mlot, N. J. , Tovey, C. A. & Hu, D. L. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.1016658108 (2011)

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110426/full/news.2011.257.html

For a short video of floating fire ants, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/antlabGT

Emi Tamaki, Takashi Miyaki, Jun Rekimoto/University of Tokyo

Emi Tamaki, Takashi Miyaki, Jun Rekimoto/University of Tokyo

Making music electrified

August 10th, 2011 by Gene
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Music has been electrified since at least 1941. But not like this. Today, on Engineering Works!

Anyone who plays a musical instrument can tell you that one of the hardest parts of learning a new instrument is training your muscles so your fingers will make the notes. There’s only one way to do it. Practice, practice, practice. Engineers in Japan have developed a device that uses electricity to – train – muscles in your forearm to move your fingers where and how they need to be moved. It uses a network of 28-electrodes in two fabric bands that wrap around your forearm. A microcontroller and switchboard link the electrodes to a PC programmed to play an especially coded musical score into the electrodes.

Electric signals from the electrodes cause muscles that control 16 joints in the playing hand so your hand and fingers move as they need to, to make notes. Making sure the electrodes are in the right places to stimulate the right muscles is kind of tricky, so the engineers built in an automatic calibration system that can figure out where the electrodes are and where they need to be.

The engineers designed the system – they call it the PossessedHand – to help beginners learn a Japanese stringed instrument called the koto. But it seems like it could be programmed for most instruments and most kinds of music.

We don’t have one of these, so we’re going home to practice. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Technology is turning up in the most unlikely places. We wonder what musical purists will think about this. It’s pretty cool.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/possessedhandt-electrical-stimulation/19096/

http://lab.rekimoto.org/projects/possessedhand/

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/w_MindBodyNews/possessed-hand-nerve-stimulating-device-makes-fingers-move/story?id=13912515

Virgin Oceanic

Virgin Oceanic

Diving deep, really deep

August 3rd, 2011 by Gene

A new submarine promises to take researchers deeper in the ocean than any submarine before it. A lot deeper. We’ll dive into it, today on Engineering Works!

More than two-thirds of Earth is covered by water. Oceans mostly. Yet we know very little about what’s going on under that water, compared to what we know about the rest of the Earth.

Some people are fascinated by what we don’t know, and engineers are pushing the boundaries of where we can go underwater to find out more. That means diving into the really deep water. Miles deep, sometimes.

The submarine is being built from high-tech materials such as titanium, carbon fiber and quartz. They will make it light and very strong. It’ll have to be. The deepest dive planned will take it more than 36,000 feet down. That’s almost seven miles. With pressure more than a thousand times greater than what we feel on the surface.

Instead of being lowered on a cable, the new submarine will fly freely, sort of like an airplane, instead of like a conventional submarine. It’ll have positive buoyancy. That means if it stops flying through the water, it’ll float to the surface. So far, the submarine’s sponsor, Sir Richard Branson, plans the first dives to go to the five deepest places under the Earth’s water.

That’s it for now. If you call and we don’t answer, it’s because we ran away to take a ride in the submarine. We’ll see you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: This project sounds like great fun, and with luck we might actually learn something from them. We’d like to go along. How about you?

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/virgin-oceanic-plans-to-explore-deepest-oceans/18342/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Oceanic

http://www.dailytech.com/Richard+Branson+Announces+Virgin+Oceanic+Submarine+/article21307.htm

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