« September 7, 2010 | Main | September 9, 2010 »

September 8, 2010

Programmable origami sheets fold themselves

Wrote John Matson in the September 2010 Scientific American, "Researchers have invented a real-life Transformer, a device that can fold itsef into two shapes on command.... The concept could one day produce chameleon-like objects that shift between any number of practical shapes at will."

"'Instead of programming bits and bytes, you program mechanical properties of the object,' said Daniela Rus, a roboticist at MIT."

"The system... consists of a thin sheet of resin-fiberglass composite... segmented into 32 triangular panels separated by flexible silicone joints [below]."


"Some of the joints have heat-sensitive actuators that bend 180° when warmed by an electric current, folding the sheet over at that joint. Depending on the program used, the sheet will conduct a series of folds to yield a boat or airplane shape in about 15 seconds."

Wrote Charles Q. Choi in a June 28, 2010 msnbc.com story, "The achievement could help pave the way for 'programmable matter' that could one day serve much like a Swiss Army knife, bending and creasing into any number of tools.

"Instead of carrying a toolbox with all these specific items in them like screwdrivers and wrenches, you could carry around a small pallet of these sheets that you would use to create something for a particular function," said Harvard roboticist Robert Wood.

The researchers foresee a number of potential applications:

  • Measuring cups that fold to hold anywhere from a quarter teaspoon to multiple cups.
  • Shelves that fold into as many divisions as required.
  • A puckering sheet that can display information for the blind or people in the dark.
  • A Swiss army knife of sorts able to form a tripod, wrench, antenna, or splint.

Instead of employing shape memory alloy strips, the actuators could be made of a number of other materials as well, such as artificial muscles, the researchers say. "We could also think of sheets that not only change shape but also structural or electromagnetic properties as well," Wood said.

The researchers detailed their findings online June 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper's abstract follows.



Programmable matter by folding

Programmable matter is a material whose properties can be programmed to achieve specific shapes or stiffnesses upon command. This concept requires constituent elements to interact and rearrange intelligently in order to meet the goal. This paper considers achieving programmable sheets that can form themselves in different shapes autonomously by folding. Past approaches to creating transforming machines have been limited by the small feature sizes, the large number of components, and the associated complexity of communication among the units. We seek to mitigate these difficulties through the unique concept of self-folding origami with universal crease patterns. This approach exploits a single sheet composed of interconnected triangular sections. The sheet is able to fold into a set of predetermined shapes using embedded actuation. To implement this self-folding origami concept, we have developed a scalable end-to-end planning and fabrication process. Given a set of desired objects, the system computes an optimized design for a single sheet and multiple controllers to achieve each of the desired objects. The material, called programmable matter by folding, is an example of a system capable of achieving multiple shapes for multiple functions.

September 8, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"I'm as big as" Height Chart


From the website:


Photos and images on television can be deceiving.

If you ever really wanted to know how you measure up to a jockey, a blue whale's heart or Napoleon, the "I'm as big as" Height Chart belongs in your home.

This chart allows young and old, tall or small to measure themselves against an amazing scale of mythical creatures, household ephemera, birds, beasts and iconic objects.

From a 1cm drawing pin up to a 190cm giant, this fascinating and informative measuring device is sure to raise a smile as friends, family and pets discover that they are bigger than a baguette, smaller than the Statue of Liberty's nose or make the height requirement to become a NASA astronaut.




[via boxbank+]

September 8, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Placebo Buttons


David McRaney's wonderful February 10, 2010 article appeared on his blog (You Are Not So Smart) and is well worth the time spent reading it.

Excerpts follow.


The Misconception: All buttons placed around you do your bidding.

The Truth: Many public buttons are only there to comfort you.

The problem here is that some buttons in modern life don’t actually do anything at all. The magic between the button press and the result you want is all in your head.

For instance, the close buttons don’t close the elevator doors in most elevators built in the United States since the Americans with Disabilities Act. The button is there for workers and emergency personnel to use, and it only works with a key.

Non-functioning mechanisms like this are called placebo buttons, and they’re everywhere.

Sound engineers and video editors sometimes press a key on their computer keyboards or click around with the mouse and change absolutely nothing, or make the screen go blank for a few moments. When clients ask for nonsensical changes to a project while hovering over the worker’s shoulder, they can press the placebo button and tell the client they’ve made the requested change. Most people will be satisfied and convince themselves they’ve seen a slight difference.

Computers and timers now control the lights at most intersections, but at one time little buttons at crosswalks allowed people to trigger the signal change. Those buttons are mostly all disabled now, but the task of replacing or removing all of them was so great most cities just left them up. You still press them though, because the light eventually changes.

In an investigation by ABC news in 2010, only one functioning crosswalk button could be found iin Austin, Texas; Gainsville, Fla.; and Syracuse, NY.

In many offices and cubicle farms, the thermostat on the wall isn’t connected to anything. Landlords, engineers and HVAC specialists have installed dummy thermostats for decades to keep people from costing companies money by constantly adjusting the temperature. According to a 2003 article in the Wall Street Journal, one HVAC specialist surmises 90 percent of all office thermostats are fake (others say it’s more like 2 percent). Some companies even install noise generators to complete the illusion after you turn the knob.


I use placebo syringes to appease surgeons when it's in a patient's best interest.

A common example is toward the end of a laparotomy when the surgeon says "The patient's tight," meaning abdominal muscle relaxation isn't ideal for closing.

The surgeon is tired and relaxation is maxed out according to my peripheral nerve stimulator but this isn't the time nor the place for a debate.

Instead I raise a syringe of something or other above the drapes so the surgeon can see it and say I'll give more relaxant.

I put the syringe back on the cart and tell the surgeon to give it a minute to work.

"How is it now?" I ask.

Invariably, the response is "Much better. Thanks."

September 8, 2010 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How Apple created its 2010 iPods


[via bennybb]

September 8, 2010 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's fastest piece of furniture hits 130mph


Here is Nick Collins' September 6, 2010 Telegraph story.


Perry Watkins, an inventor from Buckinghamshire, is thought to have set a world record for the fastest piece of furniture after driving his dining table [top] down a racetrack at more than 113mph.

The 47-year-old piloted the Queen Anne table, set for a silver service dinner, twice down a 500m track at Santa Pod, Nottinghamshire, last weekend.

The table, named "Fast Food", reached a top speed of 130mph and averaged 113.8mph, comfortably eclipsing the 92mph set by a sofa in 2007.

Mr Watkins expects to become the official world record holder for the fastest piece of furniture when his time is accepted by Guinness.

A 1994 Reliant Scimitar Sabre underneath the table, boosted by a nitrous oxide kit, provides the thrust for the makeshift vehicle.

Mr Watkins, who has put together a number of unusual cars with his own hands, said Fast Food took about a year to build in his garage.

He was previously the holder of the record for the world's lowest car and can still lay claim to having built the smallest car ever made, by attaching a 150cc engine to a Postman Pat toy van.

He said of his latest achievement: "It was actually worse than I thought it would be. It felt like 200mph."


[via Milena]

September 8, 2010 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Introducing the Beer Popsicle: Hopsicle


From an August 10, 2010 post on urbandaddy: "Introducing The Hopsicle Experience, a frozen can of beer, sliced in half and served like a Push Pop for big kids, launching today at Diablo Royale Este.

"Now, the thing about the hopsicle is that it looks like your standard can of Tecate: Red. Cylindrical. Icy cold. Except the barman-witchdoctors at Diablo have taken the 'icy' bit quite literally, injecting the beer with simple syrup and lime juice, jamming a wooden stick into the hole of the can and then putting it in the freezer. For four days.

The result is a genuine beer popsicle, which the bartender must saw in half with a serrated steak knife (or samurai sword) to open. Then it’s up to you to push the wooden stick upward to dispense the hopsicle in true Push Pop style...."

[via Nuclear Toast]

September 8, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

British Pathé newsreels now online

Thanks to Mark McDonald who wrote, "The British Pathé newsreels [1896–1976] are online now at britishpathe.com. 90,000 clips (about 3,500 hours worth)."

Fair warning: there goes the day.


Note added at 5:09 p.m. today — reader antares just commented as follows:

"The clip shown is not of the first flight at Kitty Hawk. No motion picture cameras were there that day. Only a handful of still pictures exist from the Wright Brothers first day of flight. The first Wright flyer used a cradle to control the wing warp; the pilot lay prone in the cradle. The flyer shown has a seat for the pilot. It is the flyer the Wrights took to Paris. Orville and Wilbur -- lambasted in the French press -- hosted a flying demonstration near Le Mans, France, 08 August 1908. The clip is from that day. The gentlemen wearing armbands you see in the clip came from the Aero Club de France and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The narrator says many had problems building a 'stable' flying machine. This is wrong. Santos-DuMont built a stable machine. It could only fly straight ahead. The Wrights knew the problem was to build a CONTROLLABLE flying machine."


Note added at 5:58 p.m. today — Mark McDonald just emailed me as follows:

To respond to the comment, the clip you have embedded from YouTube is from a BBC/British Pathé co-production series.

The metadata against the clips on the site are the result of a huge pile of work around restoration, recovery of documents and tenacity of the archivists involved.

There is a "History of British Pathé" currently in production at the BBC which will cover the history of the organisation right up to the present day.

September 8, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Shinkansen (Bullet Train) Chopsticks


From the website:



This is certainly one way to make your meals more interesting! The Hashi Tetsu are pairs of chopsticks based on the most famous locomotive in the world, the shinkansen bullet train.

These chopsticks can of course just be for collectors — but they serve perfectly well as regular chopsticks too.

Train fans and Japanophiles will instantly recognize the classic 0 Series and N700 trains, as well as the Kikura and the distinctively yellow and blue 922 train.

Unique, stylish and fun — the Hashi Tetsu have even been officially endorsed by Japan Rail so you know they are just like the real thing!


• 8.3" (21cm) long

• Made in Japan

• Plastic




September 8, 2010 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

« September 7, 2010 | Main | September 9, 2010 »