Most musicians can tune their instruments whenever they like. The exception is the pianist, who typically isn't trained to tune the piano's 200-plus strings. Instead, both amateur and professional piano players must hire a technician to get their instrument in shape. But Don Gilmore has accomplished an engineering feat that he says could do away with the need for tuners: a self-tuning piano.
An insole restores communication between the brain and injured feet
By Becky FerreiraPosted 06.18.2012 at 10:08 am 1 Comment
Long before he became an inventor, Jon Christiansen was a sea captain. In 1985 he was hired to sail a replica of the Godspeed, the ship that landed at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, in a reenactment of the original voyage. One day while he was cleaning the ship's hull, someone spun the wheel, trapping Christiansen's leg between the rudder and a support post. The accident severed or damaged most of the nerves below his left knee. Doctors told him he would never have feeling in his left foot again.
When James O'Neill, a retired marketing executive, first learned how helicopter powertrains worked a decade ago, he immediately started redesigning them. Most helicopters have a huge transmission that reduces the engine's high speed to a level more fit for the main propeller and turns the tail rotor to keep the aircraft from corkscrewing out of control. Engineers had found a way to get rid of the tail rotor years ago: Place a coaxial propeller on the main propeller, and spin it in the opposite direction. But doing so still required a complicated assembly to achieve the proper speed and to create spin in opposite directions. O'Neill realized that a cam engine, which trades a crankshaft for a series of lobed cams, could power both propellers at the right speed without the need for a weighty, maintenance-heavy gearbox. If he could just design a cam system that produced counter-rotational force, he'd have a new kind of helicopter that was simpler and lighter.
One evening last fall in Heiskell, Tennessee, Michael Robinson was battling a house fire when he saw a fellow firefighter struggling to pick himself up off the ground. The man, who was wearing 70 pounds of gear, was delirious from heat and overexertion. Robinson rushed to his side, removed him from the area, and cooled him down as best he could with wet towels. Very slowly, the firefighter’s core temperature returned to normal, and eventually he recovered. But, Robinson says, the outcome could have been much worse.
While serving as an army medic during Operation Desert Storm, Richard Schwartz became all too familiar with gunshot wounds, particularly shots to the pelvis and upper legs. Enemies would target that region because body armor doesn’t always cover it. Conventional tourniquets don’t work around the abdomen—it’s impossible to tie them tight enough to cut off blood flow from the aorta. Soldiers with “junctional hemorrhages” may have only a few minutes before they bleed to death.
For the better part of Frank Will’s life, he has been consumed with improving engine performance. He started racing motorcycles as a teenager in Germany in the 1970s, winning a world championship race in 1991, and later became an automotive engineer at Ford in Australia. When he left his job in 2008, he applied his passion to a new endeavor: Over7, a system that by redirecting and then heating an engine’s oil, cuts gas consumption by 7 percent and emissions by up to 30 percent.
By Rena Marie PacellaPosted 06.08.2012 at 10:26 am 11 Comments
Taking a shower draws more water and more energy than any other daily household activity. Low-flow showerheads save only a little of both, typically at the expense of comfort. That’s because they let the hot water—and all the heat energy it contains—go down the drain.
Spring-loaded skates that give hockey players a boost
By Bjorn CareyPosted 06.07.2012 at 11:00 am 0 Comments
David Blois manages condominium properties near Toronto, but at any given time he's usually also working on several inventions—a solar-powered smoke detector, say, or an age-spot-erasing skin cream. In 1998 he was ice skating at his local rink when an idea popped into his head: a hockey skate that used springs to harness a skater's kinetic energy. "It's really hard to invent something new," Blois says. "As I researched patents, I got more excited. No one had ever tried this before."
During a regular fishing season, most lobstermen can afford to check and rebait their traps only every three or four days. Each run to the traps can cost as much as $600 for fuel and take 18 hours of work. But three or four days can be more than enough time for lobsters to eat the chunks of herring or mackerel that serve as bait. With no bait left, lobsters don't enter the trap and fishermen are left with a smaller catch. Thus, the millions of traps that dot the Atlantic from Newfoundland to North Carolina remain empty about half the time.
Vince Stuart, the owner of a Nova Scotia company that makes winches, gantries and other fishing-boat rigging, first heard about the lobstermen's problem from his clients on the docks in 2003. He soon began building the Bait Savour, a device that would release an extra supply of lobster bait a few days after a trap was laid. It allows the lobstermen to check their traps less frequently (about once every five days instead of every three or four), saving time, labor and fuel.
A set of contact lenses that turns the wearer's field of vision into a screen
By Joseph A. BernsteinPosted 06.05.2012 at 10:03 am 12 Comments
After two decades as an electrical engineer, Randy Sprague quit his job in 2008 to start a solar power company. He had been planning the venture for years, saving up, getting his wife's blessing. But then one morning while taking a shower, he had a brainstorm for an entirely different idea: contact lenses that could act as part of a wearable display. Users could instantly augment their view with information—say, the price of an antique in a store or the species of a tree in the forest—or transform their field of vision into a virtual videogame screen.