It can be satisfying to build something yourself, making careful measurements and ensuring your carefully routed wood slats fit together perfectly. Except when your measurements are off by a few microns and nothing fits. Some MIT students decided that a smart machine could help matters, and designed a re-routing router that automatically cuts the right shape.
In the 1930s engineer Adolf Busemann conceived of a supersonic biplane that produced no sonic boom—the shock waves would bounce off the plane's two wings at opposing angles, nullifying each other. But the design created so much drag that the plane wouldn't have been able to fly. Now two groups are trying to improve the concept with computer simulations. Engineers at Japan's Tohoku University devised wings with shifting flaps that adjust for drag at different speeds.
Small power generators that can harvest energy from ambient sources like heat, vibrations, and light hold a lot of promise across a range of applications, particularly in things like remote monitoring. They can harvest the vibrations imparted by vehicles passing over a bridge to power sensors that monitor the bridge's structural integrity, for instance, or keep a network of wildfire-detecting sensors working in the remote wilderness, no batteries necessary.
Oil companies look for oil where they think it might be most abundant, so doesn’t it make sense to seek wind power in the places where the wind is most abundant? An MIT spin out called Altaeros Energies seems to think so. Not content to harvest wind energy from atop a static tower just a few hundred feet tall, Altaeros has demonstrated an aerostat wind turbine that can be lofted up 1,000 feet from a trailer, no tower necessary.
It sounds like something out of a fantasy film: a vat of sand into which you plunge a small object only to watch the sand bind together to form larger copies of the same object. Such "smart sand" isn't exactly a reality just yet, but a team at MIT's Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) has a vision for tiny granules--"smart pebbles"--imbued with a small amount of computing power and covered in magnets on the outside.
This squishy ball, inspired by an equally cute kid’s toy, is a breakthrough in a new class of three-dimensional structures that can buckle reversibly. It starts out as an inflated sphere, and if you suck the air out of it, it buckles down along its dimples into a smaller ball 46 percent its original size. It looks sort of like a buckyball, so its creators at MIT nicknamed it a “buckliball.”
Landing airplanes on moving ships is no mean feat, but this will be especially true when the airplanes are unmanned. Along with making decisions, autonomous airplanes will have to heed their human counterparts during aircraft carrier takeoff and landing — but can a robot read and understand arm-waving signals?
The trick to any good 3-D tech is creating a system in which the viewer's eyes receive two slightly different images, creating the kind of dual perspective that gives imagery depth--and hence the illusion of three-dimensions even within a flat space like a television display. With most light emitters, which look the same when viewed from any angle, this can prove difficult. But a new kind of fiber developed at MIT that can emit light variably in different directions along its entire length can present light at different intensities to two different viewers, and it could lead to woven 3-D displays that project different visual information to a viewer's left and right eyes.
Scott Aaronson, a scientist at MIT who works mostly with theoretical quantum computers, issued a challenge to all of those deniers out there: prove that "scalable quantum computing is impossible in the physical world," and Aaronson will personally pony up $100,000 to the winner.
Installing a solar roof on your home could one day be as simple as mixing your yard clippings into a stew of inexpensive chemicals and painting the resulting mixture right onto your rooftop. An MIT researcher has developed a method of manufacturing solar panels on the spot from agricultural waste, sidestepping the need for silicon and making ready-to-mix solar cheap and abundant virtually anywhere.