Pipes, instruments and surfaces that come into contact with salty water usually end up with a corrosive layer of salt and other dissolved minerals caked on, which needs to be scraped or washed off. Now, engineers at MIT have developed a new method for making those minerals so easy to remove that they often just fall off on their own – by forming “crystal critters.”
Normally, when a drop of salty water sticks to a surface, the salt forms a globe shape as the water evaporates away. That leaves a crystal with a high area of contact to the surface, and eventually you end up with a salty crust along the whole surface that’s difficult to scrub off.
So for the new study, the MIT team set out to investigate ways to change that crystallization process by tweaking the surfaces themselves. Eventually they stumbled upon an intriguing phenomenon that had never been seen before.
If a surface is hydrophobic (water repelling), heated, and has a particular nanoscale texture of low ridges, the salt crystallizes in a unique way. It starts off much the same as usual, forming a globe. But soon, strange leg-like structures begin sprouting underneath, pushing the globe upwards. Eventually they grow so long that they can no longer support the weight, and the crystal breaks off. Due to the weird animalistic shapes they form, the team dubbed them “crystal critters.”
“These legs are hollow tubes, and the liquid is funneled down through these tubes,” says Samantha McBride, lead author of the study. “Once it hits the bottom and evaporates, it forms new crystals that continuously increase the length of the tube. In the end, you have very, very limited contact between the substrate and the crystal, to the point where these are going to just roll away on their own.”
The team says that the texture could be easily transferred to a range of surfaces, through etching or coating, making it relatively easy to scale up and implement in existing infrastructure. It could prove handy for a range of facilities, such as desalination plants, water distribution pipes, geothermal wells, and essentially anywhere that regularly deals with impure water.
This kind of surface could reduce fouling and the frequency of cleaning in all of these places, and could even allow for more brackish water to be used for some processes, such as cooling systems. As an added bonus, the team suggests that the salt could be collected for its own uses too.
The research was published in the journal Science Advances. The crystal critters can be seen forming and falling in the video below.
First TECLA 3D-printed eco-home reaches completion
Italian 3D-printing company WASP and partner Mario Cucinella Architects have successfully completed the TECLA 3D-printed house. Located outside of Bologna, Italy, in a small town called Massa Lombarda, TECLA is the first eco-sustainable housing model to be constructed entirely from local raw earth materials using 3D-printing technology.
The TECLA project is inspired by the 1972 novel titled Invisible Cities by Italian author Italo Calvino, which talks about a city in continuous construction. The TECLA project therefore hopes to link the theme of ancient timeless homes with advanced 21st-century technology. Furthermore, the project responds to the current global urgency of climate change and the need for efficient and fast onsite sustainable construction methods, especially in the context of natural disasters or the displacement of large communities.
“We like to think that TECLA is the beginning of a new story,” says Mario Cucinella, Founder and Creative Director of Mario Cucinella Architects. “It would be truly extraordinary to shape the future by transforming this ancient material with the technologies we have available today. The aesthetics of this house are the result of a technical and material effort; it was not an aesthetic approach only. It is an honest form, a sincere form.”
TECLA is a pioneering example for low-carbon housing construction, which almost achieves a net zero footprint, due to the use of 100 percent locally sourced raw earth material and the reduction of waste and scraps.
The construction process involves a digging and a mixing phase, where local terrain is mixed with water and additives, before construction starts. Engineers first analyze the soil samples before proceeding with printing the external structure of the house.
Two synchronized printer arms then simultaneously work together during the construction phase, avoiding collision and ensuring a smooth operation. Each printer has the capacity to print an area of 50 sq m (538 sq ft), making it possible to accomplishing a single housing module in a matter of days.
“TECLA shows that a beautiful, healthy, and sustainable home can be built by a machine, giving the essential information to the local raw material,” says Massimo Moretti, WASP Founder. “TECLA is the finger that points to the Moon. The Moon is the home, as a birth right, for everybody on the planet. From TECLA on, that’s getting possible.”
The TECLA design incorporates thermo-insulation, ventilation and water collection within the single structure. The dome shape of the dwelling is an effective way to enclose the building without the need for support structures during the construction process. Furthermore, the design can be optimized to balance thermal mass, insulation and ventilation according to different and unique locations and climate conditions.
The first TECLA home measures approximately 60 sq m (646 sq ft) and features an open living zone with kitchen, and bedroom zone which includes bathroom and wardrobe storage. Both volumes of the home feature a central dome-shaped skylight, offering an abundance of natural light during the day and the added benefit of star gazing at night. The living zone can also open up to the outdoors via the large arched glass doorway. Many of the interior furnishings have been partly printed using local earth materials and are integrated into dwelling.
In summary, a TECLA module can be finished within 200 hours, utilizing 7,000 machine codes (G-code), 350 12-mm (0.47 in) layers, 150 km (93.2 miles) of extrusion, and 60 cubic meters (2,119 cu ft) of natural materials for an average consumption of less than 6 kW.
The construction process can be viewed in the video below.
Eco-sustainable 3D printed house – Tecla
Smart anti-rollover coupling can jettison the trailer to save truckies
Big trucks tip over rather more often than you might expect. Whether because of high winds, driver error or the frequently baffling behavior of other road users, roughly 9,000 injuries and 400 American deaths per year are the direct result of rollover accidents involving class-8 semi trucks. That’s more deaths than roofers, airline pilots, loggers, garbage men and oil derrick workers combined.
These are terrifying accidents for all involved; the trailer can start to roll over for any number of reasons, and when it does, it grabs the front cabin section of the truck by the trailer hitch and twists it, slamming the cabin down sideways on the ground. Should the driver survive, there’s not much they can do but wait until the thing stops sliding. You certainly don’t want to be in the way.
California company Axicle aims to completely eliminate semi-cab rollovers with a new fifth-wheel coupling plate designed to jettison the trailer altogether if it starts to roll, keeping the driver safely upright and in a position to control the cab, potentially steering away from further incidents.
The TARS (Tractor Anti-Roll System) looks a fair bit like most fifth-wheel setups from the top, with its cast steel top plate and trailer locking mechanism. It can handle 55,000-lb loads, it’s easy to use with a low-effort handle for coupling and decoupling, and it’s got a visible pin that pops out when the kingpin is properly latched.
But it’s also got some extra smarts built in, with sensors collecting all kinds of operational parameters including load, vibration, wind and trailer coupling information and a high-fidelity inertial measurement unit. If the TARS system detects a rollover incident, it fires its pneumatic- or pyro linear-actuated anti-rollover release mechanism in the space of a millisecond and drops the trailer off the back of the truck.
Axicle founder and engineer Steve Krug tells us that the TARS system has the potential to be a huge winner not only for truckers, but for the trucking companies themselves and the insurance companies that have to pay out on the damage and trauma caused by these accidents. “We have had verbal estimates from leading insurance companies, that this technology will save $2K-$3K each year per semi truck on insurance premiums, where the product itself will cost around $4K,” he says. “So it makes you money in under two years, even before it eliminates any rollovers.”
The TARS system has been prototyped and tested at one tenth scale. A full-scale prototype has been tested with low loads, and by the end of the year, Krug says a production-ready prototype will undergo full-scale testing with heavy loads. The company has the seed funding to get it to that point, and its series A funding round is “mostly secured upon success of the full scale testing.”
“Once we demonstrate a successful full scale test and conduct more rigorous testing, we’ll build a high-volume production line, that down the line, will ultimately be able to output 100,000+ units per year,” says Krug. “We believe our technology will become a standard for all fifth wheels in the future, as it prevents more injuries than rollover bars for convertibles.”
Seems like a very promising life-saving technology with the potential to nearly halve the yearly fatalities among long-haul truckies. The company says it’ll have some fun demonstration videos put together later in the year.
Enough forest has naturally regrown since 2000 to cover mainland France
In what’s described as the first thorough study to track natural forest expansion, researchers have found that an area larger than mainland France has regenerated since the year 2000. While deforestation continues to pose a grave threat to the world’s biodiversity, the study does emphasize the potential of natural regeneration to help tackle the problem, which offers a number of benefits over active replantation strategies.
The research was published by Trillion Trees (a collaboration between the World Wildlife Fund, BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society) and focuses on natural forest regeneration, where these ecosystems are either left to recover on their own or given a little nudge along the way.
This can include active restoration and planting of trees in areas where land is degraded, but also more passive techniques such as clearing away invasive vegetation, adding fencing, or simply doing nothing at all. Compared to large-scale active planting, natural regeneration is up to 76 percent cheaper, promotes higher biodiversity of plants and animal species and offers advantages for pollination, water and the health of the soil.
The new analysis draws on 30 years of satellite data and surveys from experts on the ground, to gauge how much of an impact natural regeneration has had on the world’s forest coverage since 2000. This culminated in a map developed through a “rigorous scientific approach,” illustrating how much has been regrown and where hotspots lie across the globe.
This revealed that nearly 59 million hectares of forest have regrown since 2000, enough to store the equivalent of 5.9 gigatons of CO2, which is more than the annual emissions of the US. Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is one example of a hotspot, where 4.2 million hectares have regrown, or an area around the size of the Netherlands. In Mongolia’s boreal forests, meanwhile, 1.2 million hectares have regrown.
While these findings around naturally regenerating forests is undoubtedly a good thing, deforestation continues at an alarming rate and it will take a lot of work to arrest the slide. According to the UN, 420 million hectares of global forest were lost between 1990 and 2020. The annual rate of deforestation is slowing, however, at an estimated 10 million hectares a year between 2015 and 2020, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.
The hope is that this new map can act as a tool for conservationists and policy makers to leverage the ability of natural habitats to recover when allowed to do so, and promote these processes in other locations on larger and larger scales.
“Even though this is an exploratory effort, it still highlights the potential that enabling and consolidating regeneration has for mitigating climate change and securing its biodiversity benefits,” said Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui, senior director of forest carbon science at WWF and data analysis team lead. “However, this remains difficult to map and a lot of additional work lies ahead.”
You can check out the map and learn more about the project here.
Ebo gives video callers a roaming robot body
Robots are invading our homes more and more, but (so far at least) their intentions seem nice, as they vacuum our floors, watch for intruders or keep our pets company. Enabot’s latest home robot looks to give video calls a bit more mobility, letting remote users drop in, roam around and chat.
Ebo is basically a webcam on wheels, wrapped in a Pixar packaging. It started life as a pet companion robot two years ago, but now Enabot has taught it a few new tricks. Users can log into it through an app and drive it around the house from wherever they are, using the HD camera, microphone and speakers to see, hear and talk to whoever’s home. It can snap photos and videos too, storing them on an internal SD card.
That gives it a range of possible uses. It can be a way to keep in touch with the family when you’re away, check on the kids or the old folks, or play with a pet while you’re at work. Up to five different people can be given permission to jump into the driver’s seat.
Ebo can also be set up as a security camera, recording video 24 hours a day from its dock or going out on scheduled patrols around the house. Motion detection and night vision help out in that regard.
There’s also an autonomous mode, where Ebo can roam around like a robotic pet, if that’s what you’re after.
Of course, this little robot is loaded with a few other features to keep it from spending all its time flipped upside down or stuck in the corner. ToF sensors can detect obstacles and either turn or stop Ebo. When it’s running low on power, the robot will automatically return to its charger.
Ebo comes in two models, the SE and the Air. The latter is the more advanced version, which adds a laser pet toy, a more powerful processor, faster movement speeds and a drop sensor that will keep it from falling off tables or down stairs.
We do foresee a few problems, though. For one, “from the ankle up” isn’t exactly a flattering camera angle for anybody.
But the bigger issue of course is privacy – Ebo has all the concerns that come with an internet-connected camera, with the added issue of “hackers” being potentially able to scope out your entire house. But even intended users might not be welcome all the time – it’s annoying enough when your parents drop in unannounced, let alone giving them the chance to livestream whatever shenanigans you get up to in the privacy of your own home. It looks like you can turn Ebo off, but it has to be a conscious decision and kind of goes against the design of the device.
That said, you probably wouldn’t give control permission to anyone you didn’t trust, so it might not be too much of an issue. Overall Ebo looks like an interesting smart home addition, packing in a bunch of features from a range of other household robots. It’s much more affordable than aibo, more versatile than Vector, and more fun than flying security drones like Tando.
Enabot is currently seeking funding for Ebo on Kickstarter, where it’s already smashed its US$10,000 goal more than 17 times over. Early bird pledges start at around US$59 for the SE model and US$99 for the Air model, and if all goes to plan, shipping should begin by September.
Check out Ebo in the video below.
Introducing the EBO AIR and SE
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