She Geek Eris drops a knowledge egg on dat ass via her segment on local radio show The Week in Geek. Here are this week's topics:
The Tesla Tower: It (maybe) LIVES!!
Last week was the anniversary of Nikola Tesla's birthday (the brilliant scientist I like to refer to as The Man Who Invented Thomas Edison), and Dave asked for more info about this project. I am happy to oblige.
There is an IndieGoGo campaign (closing on August 1st) from a pair of Russian physicists, Sergey and Leonid Plekhanov, who believe they can meet the world’s energy needs by rebuilding Nikola Tesla’sWardenclyffe Tower with modern day materials and advances in technology. The original tower, built in 1901, was Tesla’s vision for providing renewable electricity to the world, wirelessly and with little to no environmental impact by using the Earth itself as a universal transmitter. A humanitarian at heart, it was Tesla’s belief that everyone should have access to clean energy to help filter water, light their homes, etc. In addition, he believed strongly that the use of fossil fuels as a source for energy would ultimately lead to irrevocable damage to the environment. Instead, Tesla believed that he could design a method of using the energy released by the sun. Unlike the solar energy we are familiar with today, Tesla’s vision involved the use of an antenna to tap into (what is now known as) the Earth’s ionosphere, the ionized portion of our atmosphere. Unfortunately, his funding was cut, the tower was never finished, and the structure was ultimately demolished for scrap in 1917.
The Plekhanov brothers have spent several years pouring over Nikola Tesla’s patents, notes, and diaries, and believe that they can successfully build his dream tower. They plan on adapting his original plans to incorporate solar panels and lighter building materials to make the tower efficiently operational as well as more cost-effective. In addition to the tower itself, their plan involves the erection of roughly 38,000 sq miles of solar panels in a desert near the equator (to collect the solar energy they would then use the tower to transmit across the globe). One of the main issues the brothers’ detractors bring up, however, is the potential cost for this field of solar panels. Some claim such an installation could carry a 20 trillion dollar price tag, which is significantly more than the $800,000 the brothers are seeking to build the tower itself. It is worth noting that there is merit to the brothers’ use of such a solar panel field. Based on global energy usage for the year 2009 (20,279,640 GWh), scientists have calculated that the sun produces an equivalent amount of energy in just one hour. The main issue with solar energy, however, is the problem of collecting, storing, and distributing the energy. It is possible then that the Plekhanov brothers’ proposed Tesla Tower could solve that problem, if it works. It seems the brothers are running into the same financial roadblock Nikola Tesla himself ran into in the early 1900s, as their IndieGoGo campaign has thus far raised a mere 5% of their goal with less than two weeks until it closes.
A pair of MIT engineers has made an incredible breakthrough in robotics, thanks in part to some octopus inspiration. Professor of mechanical engineering, Anette Hosoi, and her former graduate student, Nadia Cheng, have developed an inexpensive method of fabrication that could be used to create squishy or (as they’re calling them) “deformable” robots that can move through a space with fluidity (like this octopus squeezing through a 1 inch hole), but retain their rigidity when needed to perform feats of strength or manipulate an object. They started with a structure made of open cell foam because of its ability to twist, turn, and squish but consistently bounce back into its original shape. From there, they laced the struts with thread-like wiring and coated and soaked the whole thing in wax. They can then heat the wax by running a current through the wires causing it to soften and the structure to become temporarily flexible. When the wax is cooled, the structure again becomes rigid. Since they are able to target specific areas of the structure with heat, they were even able to create joints and make the structure move by pulling on a cable that had been run through the middle of it. As an added bonus, should the structure become damaged, it can repair itself using the same method of heating and cooling the wax (much like the T-1000 from ‘Terminator 2’ as Helen Knight pointed out in her article for MIT). This technology could be invaluable in the medical field, if deformable robots could be made small enough to be used in surgical procedures. Their fluidity could allow such robots to move around internal organs without the risk of causing additional damage. Additionally, first responders could use deformable robots to quickly squeeze in-between pieces of rubble during search and rescue missions. Certainly, there could be some military uses for this technology as well, but I think that overall (so long as your name isn’t John Connor), these probably aren’t the robot overlords we need to fear.