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Canadian snow bike offers fresh thrills for downhill mountain bikers

This week’s video comes from mechanical engineering students at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec who are building a bike with a difference. With Project Avalanche the five students are looking to develop a bike that lets downhill-mountain biking enthusiasts extend their hobby into the winter months when mountains are covered in snow. They state their mission is “to conceive and manufacture a prototype reproducing stability, braking capacities, manoeuvrability and propulsion of a regular mountain bike” and cite SDS braking, a track system, and an internal geared hub as key concepts to be incorporated into the finished product. They’ve embarked on a KickStarter campaign to fund the project and details on how to sponsor the team can be found at the end of this promotiona

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It folds, it walks, it swims, it dissolves: the self-building mini-robot – truly fantastic potential!

This week’s video shows how a sheet can self-fold into a functional 3D robot, actuate immediately for untethered walking and swimming, and then dissolve in liquid. In use, the robot could be used in medical applications but making one as agile – and disposable - as this one has proved challenging. An Untethered Miniature Origami Robot that Self-folds, Walks, Swims, and Degrades,was presented at ICRA 2015 in Seattle According to its developers from MIT and TU Munich, the sheet weighs 0.31g, spans 1.7cm square in size, features a cubic neodymium magnet, and can be thermally activated to self-fold. They add that since the robot has asymmetric body balance along the sagittal axis, the robot can walk at a speed of 3.8 body-length/s being remotely controlled by an alternating exter

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Printable graphene enables low cost consumer electronics

A low-cost method for printing graphene onto materials such as paper and plastic could take us a step closer to low-cost consumable electronics. Graphene, a sheet of carbon that is one atom thick, has been hailed as a wonder material thanks to its strength and conductive properties. But to date the process used to make printable graphene ink has limited the surfaces it can be applied to, making it unsuitable for truly low-cost applications. Now researchers at Manchester University have developed a technique to allow graphene to be printed onto even delicate materials such as textiles, paper and plastic, according to Dr Zhirun Hu, lead researcher on the project. The researchers published their results this week in the journal Applied Physics Letters. “The ink could be used for lo

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Manufacturing technique pushes black silicon closer to commercialisation

Scientists in the US have simplified the manufacture of solar cells using the top electrode as the catalyst that turns plain silicon into valuable black silicon. According to the team, which has been working to fine tune the creation of black silicon, an advance in the manufacturing technique should push it closer to commercialisation. The work led by postdoctoral researcher Yen-Tien Lu had two major attractions, according to chemist Andrew Barron of Rice University, Texas. “One, removing steps from the process is always good,” he said in a statement. “Two, this is the first time in which metallisation is a catalyst for a reaction that occurs several millimeters away.” The metal layer used as a top electrode is usually applied last in solar cell manufacturing, Barron said. T

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Portable device diagnoses sepsis within 15 minutes

A portable device designed to diagnose the deadly condition sepsis has successfully completed preliminary trials. The device, being developed by Leicester-based engineering company Magna Parva with funding from Innovate UK, uses antibodies to detect biomarkers for sepsis within blood samples. Sepsis is a common yet deadly condition in which an infection triggers an extreme immune response, resulting in widespread inflammation, blood clotting and swelling. If left untreated, it can lead to organ failure and death. Around six million people worldwide are killed by the condition each year. In the UK alone, sepsis is thought to kill 37,000 people every year, more than three times the number killed by breast or prostate cancer. Between a third and a half of hospital deaths are attributed t

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Brain-inspired computer memory consumes less energy

A quantum phenomenon is key to a low-energy technology for electronic memory. A new technology for fast, non-volatile computer memory uses a similar mechanism to the human brain, according to its developers at Paris-Sud University. This technology works with no power attached, but is faster than USB keys or CD memory retrieval. Both current types of computer memory — volatile, which only retains data when it has power running through it, and non-volatile, which does not need power — store information in the form of an electrical charge. Volatile memory systems work fast, whereas non-volatile are slow. A newer version, called magnetic memory (STT-MRAM), is as fast as volatile memory but does not need applied energy. Unfortunately it’s also very expensive. Rather than using charge

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Antenna-on-chip to enable internet-connected appliances

Wireless antennas small enough to squeeze onto computer chips could be built thanks to research at Cambridge University. The antennas, at just 10 to 100 micrometres in size, could be used in mobile phones, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and the so-called Internet of Things, in which everyday devices such as toasters are able to communicate wirelessly. The research is published in Physical Review Letters. Antennas work by converting electrical energy into electromagnetic, or radio waves. These radio waves are then picked up and converted back into electrical energy by an antenna on the receiving device. However, while the electronics used in mobile devices are constantly shrinking, the antennas have remained bulky in comparison, said Gehan Amaratunga, professor of enginee

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Synthetic muscles set for work out on International Space Station

Astronauts are due to test a synthetic muscle that could give future space robots more agility.  The artificial muscle, developed by polymer chemist Lenore Rasmussen from the US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL), was part of the payload launched this week aboard an International Space Station (ISS) re-supply mission. On arrival at ISS, the synthetic muscle, which adheres to metal electrodes, will be subject to periodic assessments. It is believed that these synthetic muscles could enable the development of more dexterous robots for space exploration, which will better mimic the natural body movements of humans. Lenore Rasmussen examines a titanium coupon used in her synthetic muscle being treated in an oxygen plasma at PPPL “We can’t explore space w

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Shell and Gordon Murray Design announce city car collaboration

Engineers from Shell have joined forces with legendary racing car designer Gordon Murray to develop an ultra-efficient concept car based around the internal combustion engine. According to Shell, the concept vehicle, scheduled to be unveiled later this year, is intended to be a simple, practical global city car drawing together the most innovative aspects of lightweight engineering, streamlining, and driveline efficiency. The collaboration - dubbed Project M - brings together Shell’s Lubricant’s Technology Team, The Gordon Murray Design Group and engine specialist Geo Technology. Shell’s main focus will be on developing fluids for the car, and demonstrating the efficiency gains that can be made when oils, lubricants and fuels are considered at the beginning of the design proce

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New structures ‘tougher than Kevlar’

Researchers have created new structures that exploit the electromechanical properties of nanofibres to stretch to up to seven times their length, while remaining tougher than Kevlar. Developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, these structures are said to absorb up to 98 joules per gram whilst Kevlar, a common material in bulletproof vests, can absorb up to 80 joules per gram. The University claims also that the material can reinforce itself at points of high stress and could potentially be used in military aircraft or other defence applications. In a study published by ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, researchers twisted nanofibre into yarns and coils. The electricity generated by stretching the twisted nanofibre formed an attraction 10 times stronger than a

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