Using electricity and water, a new kind of motor can slide microrobots into motion

Look around and you’ll likely see something that runs on an electric motor. Powerful and efficient, they keep much of our world moving, everything from our computers to refrigerators to the automatic windows in our cars. But these qualities change for the worse when such motors are shrunk down to sizes smaller than a cubic centimeter. “At very small scales, you get a heater instead of a motor,” said Jakub Kedzierski, staff in MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Microsystem, and Nanoscale Technologies Group. Today, no motor exists that is both highly efficient and powerful at microsizes. And that’s a problem, because motors on that scale are needed to put miniaturized systems into motion — microgimbals that can point lasers to a fraction of a degree over thousands of miles, tiny drones that can squeeze into wreckage to find survivors, or even bots that can crawl through the human digestive tract. To Continue reading Using electricity and water, a new kind of motor can slide microrobots into motion

Feed Your Friends With Autonomous Chest-Mounted Robot Arms

Enjoy your food in a new, weird way with a robotic third arm with face control Eating food is an experience that tends to be about taste and texture and how the food looks and smells. Our focus goes from what’s going on on the plate to what’s going on in our mouths, without a lot of concern about what happens in between. Eating as a process doesn’t get all that much attention; we tend to treat it as just a chore involving utensils. Which is fine, but are we missing out somehow? The Exertion Games Lab at RMIT University in Australia thinks that the answer to that is yes, and they’re using chest-mounted social feeding robots to prove it.

Maryland Test Confirms Drones Can Safely Deliver Human Organs

A kidney was flown thousands of meters by a drone without incurring any damage When a patient who needs an organ transplantation is finally matched with a donor, every second matters. A longer wait between when an organ is removed from a donor and when it is placed into a recipient is associated with poorer organ function following transplantation. To maximize the chances of success, organs must be shipped from A to B as quickly and as safely as possible—and a recent test run suggests that drones are up to the task. One transplant surgeon’s personal experience at the operating table, waiting for organs to arrive, prompted him to think of new forms of delivery. “I frequently encounter situations where there’s simply no way to get an organ to me fast enough to do a transplant, and then those life-saving organs do not get transplanted into my patient,” says Dr. Continue reading Maryland Test Confirms Drones Can Safely Deliver Human Organs

How the brain switches between different sets of rules

Cognitive flexibility — the brain’s ability to switch between different rules or action plans depending on the context — is key to many of our everyday activities. For example, imagine you’re driving on a highway at 65 miles per hour. When you exit onto a local street, you realize that the situation has changed and you need to slow down. When we move between different contexts like this, our brain holds multiple sets of rules in mind so that it can switch to the appropriate one when necessary. These neural representations of task rules are maintained in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning action. A new study from MIT has found that a region of the thalamus is key to the process of switching between the rules required for different contexts. This region, called the mediodorsal thalamus, suppresses representations that are not currently needed. That Continue reading How the brain switches between different sets of rules