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3D Technology

Seahorses are those almost comical looking creatures that inhabit shallow tropical waters in temperate climates.  They are really cool to look at and are a particular favorite of children.  Watching one “swim” can inspire wonder…how DO they do that anyway?  (Since I never made it much past the dog-paddle stage myself, observing a seahorse in motion is quite fascinating for me!)

But there’s more to the structure of a seahorse than meets the eye – and their specific skeleton and musculature may lead the way to improved technology and less stiffness when we move forward on invention of the next generation of robots!  Traditionally, our attempts to make robots have had some problems when it comes to mobility.  Further, the exoskeletal properties of the seahorse could lead to improvements in body armor or protective materials.  A study was led by Michael Porter, an assistant mechanical engineering professor at Clemson University in South Carolina that has been published online in the Journal Science.  His findings are quite amazing!

Read about it here:

Seahorse’s Amazing Tail


Could Inspire Better Robots



The seahorse Hippocampus abdominalis at the Seattle Aquarium.
Credit: Dominique Adriaens


The piece linked below has some really interesting stuff about these little guys, too.  Give it a look-see…

Secret of the Sea Horse:How Creature Got its Curve

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June 25th, 2015

Origami is an ancient art form of paper folding.  Maybe when you were a kid, you folded up bits of paper in art class to make a crane (mine always looked like a smooshed diaper).  Traditional Japanese origami has been practiced since the Edo period (1603–1867).  Designs range from simple to extraordinarily complex – and it takes a lot of practice.


Technology is seeking to transmute this art form and take it to a new level – by creating an Origami Robot.

Read about it here:

Tiny, Origami Robots Can


Climb, Swim and Burrow


The tiny robot is made of pre-cut polystyrene or paper panels which, when heated, fold themselves into a very specific and asymmetrical shape.  The research is being conducted at MIT and TU Munich and was unveiled at ICRA 2015 in Seattle.

One potential application is to someday deploy the ‘bot inside the human body, where — guided by magnetic fields — it could be used to scout around and deliver medicines to specific locations.  The researchers intend to miniaturize their creation even further, and eventually attach integrated sensors and communication devices.

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I’ve read about many applications for 3D printing, but this is one I would not have realized.  Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have built a cheap 3D-printed attachment able to turn smartphones into sophisticated microscopes. Armed with the new device, a smartphone would be able to detect single DNA strands and analyze them to diagnose diseases including cancer and Alzheimer’s without bulky and expensive equipment.  This could make a real difference in assisting patients in third-world countries or remote areas.

blog dna

The device designed by Professor Aydogan Ozcan and team, however, pushes the envelope further than ever before by giving smartphones the ability to scan single strands of DNA, a mere two nanometers across.

The typical fluorescent microscope, which works by labeling the samples with fluorescent molecules and then “exciting” them with a laser, is very bulky and expensive so those tools are only available in specialized labs.

Ozkan and team managed to pack an external lens, a thin-film filter, a miniature dovetail stage mount and a laser diode inside a small 3D-printed case to make their own miniature fluorescent microscope. A software interface running on the smartphone scans the DNA and sends the data to a remote server in the team’s laboratory. The servers use the data to measure the length of the DNA strands, and return the results in less than 10 seconds, assuming users have access to an internet connection.

Next up, Ozcan’s group plans to test their microscope in the field to detect the presence of malaria-related drug resistance.

Using technology to save lives is truly a worthy calling.  Do you have expertise in this area?

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NASA has issued a challenge to designers aimed at stimulating innovation in 3D printing solutions that may one day be the key to establishing a permanent presence on Mars.

NASA has launched the multi-phase 3D Printed Habitat Challenge as part of its Centennial Challenges program.  Phase 1 of the competition runs until September 27, with the top 30 submissions to be judged at the World Maker Faire in New York.

The first phase of the challenge will award a $50,000 prize based on pure architectural merits, while a second will hand out two $1.1 million prizes for those who figure out how to manufacture individual components and whole shelters from “indigenous materials,” such as rocky soil. NASA hopes that the winning ideas will make it possible to settle alien terrain without bringing mountains of Earth-made construction supplies. That would not only let crews pack light, but fix their own abodes if something goes wrong millions of miles from Earth.

blog 3d habitat

Do you have the skills needed to accept this challenge?


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June 2nd, 2015

We’ve all heard about 3D printing.  Are you ready for the next generation?  Here comes 4D printing, where time is the fourth dimension.

The aim of so-called “4D printing” is to extend additive manufacturing to the dimension of time. The idea is to create 3D-printed objects using special materials that are sensitive to heat, water or pressure that can autonomously change shape in very specific, purposeful ways in response to environmental conditions, long after they’ve come out of the printer. In some cases, the objects can even revert back to their original shape.

YouTube Preview Image

Examples of 4D printing have included simple self-assembling bodies that fold together when baked, polymers that bend into shape in response to water, heat or pressure, and smart strands inspired by self-assembling nanostructures. Admittedly, 4D printing is far from practical in its current iteration, but the technology is very young and will likely take big steps forward as 3D printing becomes more accessible.

Do you have an application that could use this 4D technology?  Or, do you have the skills needed to advance this technology and make it prevalent throughout our world?


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