Electric Eel-Inspired Device Reaches 110 Volts: This photo depicts the printed, high voltage implementation of the artificial electric organ. A 3-D bioprinter was used to deposit arrays of gel precursor droplets onto plastic substrates, which were then cured with a UV light to convert them into solid gels. Alternating high-salinity and low-salinity gels (red and blue gels, respectively) were printed onto one substrate, and alternating cation-selective and anion-selective gels (green and yellow gels, respectively) were printed onto a second substrate. When overlaid, these gels connect to form a conductive pathway of 612 tetrameric gel cells that can be used to generate up to 110 volts. (Image Credit: Anirvan Guha and Thomas Schroeder)

Electric Eels Inspire Electric Power Source

Looking to create a power source for future implantable technologies, researchers from the Universities of Fribourg, Michigan, and San Diego developed a device that produced 110 volts from gels filled with water called hydrogels. The results indicated a lot of potential for a soft power source to draw on a biological system’s chemical energy. The device was inspired by the electric eel’s ability to generate hundreds of volts, which prompted researchers to stack hydrogels filled with varying amounts of saltwater.

The researchers harvested energy generated from the electric potential across the ion gradients and as more hydrogels were stacked on top of each other, the voltage continued increasing. Researchers used a printer to deposit gel droplets with the precision and spatial resolution to print around 2500 of these tiny dots on a sheet roughly the size of a normal paper sheet. This was done in order to stack thousands of individual hydrogels necessary for generating over 100 volts.

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AR Helps Enhance 3D Printing

Researchers at Cornell University are incorporating augmented reality (AR) with 3D printing, enabling designers to construct their projects in physical space as a robotic arm rapidly prints the work. The robotic device is called ROMA, which stands for Robotic Modeling Assistant, and can be used when a designer wears an AR headset with hand controllers. Once a design feature is completed, ROMA prints the new feature.

Researchers developed an interactive technique allowing the robot and designer to work collaboratively, by knowing to print in the back of the object if the designer is working in the front, and also automatically re-computing the changes being made in real time. The researchers believe this robotic arm is capable of being an intelligent design assistant in the future, and is just the tip of the iceberg for a promising future in combining augmented reality and 3D printing.

The wireless charging system created by University of Washington engineers. The charging laser and guard lasers are normally invisible to the human eye, but red beams have been inserted in place of the guard beams for demonstration purposes. (Image Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

Charging Smartphones…With Lasers

Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time, developed a method to wirelessly (and safely) charge a smartphone using a laser. The laser’s narrow invisible beam can deliver a charge to a smartphone sitting across the room, and potentially recharge a smartphone at the same speed as a standard USB cable. The team mounted a thin power cell to the back of a smartphone, which charges the device using power from the laser.

The team also custom-designed safety features like a metal flat-piece heatsink on the phone to control excess heat from the laser, along with a reflector-based mechanism to shut the laser off in case someone moves in the beam’s path. The charging beam is generated by a laser emitter that's configured to produce a focused beam in the near-infrared spectrum. Researchers designed the laser emitters to eliminate the charging beam when any object comes into contact with one of the guard beams.

the WALK-MAN humanoid robot is thought for supporting emergency response teams. The robot is also able to activate an extinguisher to eliminate the fire. (Image Credit: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia)

Robotic Support For Emergency Response Teams

Italian researchers tested a new version of the WALK-MAN, a humanoid robot used for supporting emergency response teams in emergencies like fires. The robot is capable of locating and approaching fires, after which it activates a fire extinguisher. The WALK-MAN collects images during these operations, and transmits them back to emergency teams, who then use the photos to evaluate the situation and remotely guide the bot.

The WALK-MAN’s design has a lighter upper-body and new hands for reducing construction cost and improving performance. Currently in its final validation phase, the WALK-MAN is controlled by a human operator using a virtual interface and sensor-filled suit. The WALK-MAN is about 1.85 meters tall, and composed of lightweight materials like ergal, magnesium allows, titanium, iron, and plastics.