From Terminator to Pollinator: Bees Go Robotic
Robotics engineers are buzzing about a machine with potentially transformative implications for agriculture, surveillance, and mapping: the “robobee.” Researchers at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences plan to have the mechanized critters flapping though the air autonomously within the next three years, according to NPR. And if coaxing the machines into flight isn’t enough of a challenge, the real innovation lies in getting the machines to mimic the collaborative behavior of a colony.
Each robobee will be equipped with sensors and cameras, instead of antennae and eyes, that will allow them to do everything from pollinating a field of crops to searching for survivors after a natural disaster. Communication among a swarm of bees—decentralized and leaderless—is a particularly compelling model for an automated system, since the insects are able to efficiently adapt to changes in their environment without receiving orders from one authority. If successful, the project promises an important step forward for designing and coordinating systems of machines.
Manufacturing the bees has required completely rethinking materials and process. Last week, the team announced a new method of mass production that takes a page from pop-up books. Laser cut sheets of fibers expand with one smooth movement into the shape of a bee. See the robobee take off below.
Here’s a list of 9 ways you can modify your body to be even more useful, from bionic implants to portable power generators.
1. RFID Chips – A nice and easy way to start out with body hacking is to implant an RFID chip into you. An RFID chip is just a passive antenna that’s pre-configured to transmit a specific code when it’s brought near an RFID reader. Generally, RFID is used as a key of sorts; so for example, you can set up your computer or your phone to unlock only when you pick them up. Or install an RFID-enabled deadbolt on your front door and an RFID reader in your car and you won’t need to carry your keys around anymore. It’s completely safe — you can even do it yourself.
2. Medical Sensors – Most people go to the doctor when there’s something wrong with them, at which point it’s too late to take much in the way of preventative measures. Sensor systems implanted inside our bodies would be able to detect even the faintest little whiff of something like cancer, alerting us when we’ve still got plenty of time for treatment. A couple years ago, a professor from MIT developed a 0.2-inch-long implant embedded with nanoparticles that respond to cancer cells, but much more is possible. In the near future, we may all get implants with entire arrays of nano-sized virus and disease detectors that can send instant alerts to our cell phones. And our doctor’s cell phone.
3. Energy Harvesters – As anyone who’s seen The Matrix knows, humans have the potential to generate a lot of electricity. The tricky part is finding a good way to harvest it, but one solution is to use piezoelectric rubber films that can be implanted beneath your skin. This “piezo-rubber” is able to convert 80% of mechanical energy (bending or pressure) into electricity, and coupled with an induction coil, you could charge your phone by just pressing it against a layer of energy harvesters right under your skin.
4. LED Arrays – Want something that can outshine every single tattoo ever inked? How about implanting a programmable LED array underneath your skin. Think of it: you could play movies on your forehead, use your palm as a flashlight, or even turn your entire body into one giant music visualize and dance around in pulsing naked glory. And if you just pair your LEDs up with some of those energy harvesters from the previous slide, and won’t even have to worry about recharging yourself.
5. Augmented Reality Contacts – Consider how much time, effort, and money has gone all over theworld into developing bigger and fancier and 3D-ier TV screens, all for the benefit of our tiny little eyes. Putting screens into our eyeballs themselves seems inevitable, whether it’s for augmenting our existing realities or constructing entirely new ones. The contact lens in the above picture is just a prototype, but the next generation will contain a wireless antenna plus an array of semi-transparent LEDs that are entirely invisible when turned off. When turned on, they form perfectly in-focus images. Power is wireless too. The only thing to be careful of is that anything that the lenses show you appears inside your eyelids, so like it or not, you’re going to see it.
6. Brain Remote – Yes, soon it will be possible to change channels on your TV and even browse the web while entirely motionless. Intel has been working on brain implants designed to read your brainwaves directly and translate your thoughts into commands that can then be sent wirelessly to a variety of electronic devices, from TVs to computers to cell phones.
7. Bionic Limbs – We’re just starting to get to the point where bionic limbs with nerve integration and brain control work well enough for them to be a viable option for people who need a replacement. In fact, some people who have lost the ability to use a hand are choosing amputation in order to get a new bionic version, which incidentally has a greater range of motion than a human hand, being able to spin around at the wrist. It’s no stretch to imagine that at some point in the future, you might have the option of replacing your hand with a bionic one that’s identical in every sensation, except that it’s ten times stronger, much more maneuverable, and detachable to boot.
8. Bionic Eyes – Our eyes do a decent enough job of letting us get around I guess, but in the absolute sense our biological hardware is a little primitive. We can see three different colors in a fairly narrow spectral range, and we need a large amount of light to do it. Compare that to the eyes of the tiny mantis shrimp, which can see twelve different colors from infrared to ultraviolet while also detecting both linear and circular polarization and performing redundant trinocular depth analysis. Luckily, we can just replace our eyes with cameras, which we can tune to see whatever different wavelengths we want. This pic shows a prototype bionic eye from the Boston Retinal Implant Project.
9. Orgasm Button – A spinal implant designed to alleviate chronic pain has a happy side-effect for some women: it gives them orgasms. The doctor that invented it has patented the design and is trying to convince Medtronic to develop a dedicated remote-control orgasm machine: you’d just push a button or activate an app on your phone and bam, orgasm. The device has also worked for men, and FDA approval is in the works. Expect to pay about $12,000 for one of these on-demand orgasm implants, which are called (seriously) Orgasmatrons.
This latest generation of newly constructed or retrofitted pedestrian bridges—where cars are strictly off-limits—takes a number of forms. Some exist primarily to thrill tourists. Pedestrian bridges are going to cool new heights, turning the need to get from here to there into an adventure!
Capilano Suspension Bridge – Vancouver, British Columbia
Come face-to-face with wildlife in Vancouver’s lush treetop ecosystem while strolling this skinny 450-foot-long canopy bridge that floats 230 feet above the Capilano River. Just 10 miles from downtown, the bridge dates back to 1889, when a Scottish civil engineer strung a hemp rope and cedar plank to his isolated cabin.
Langkawi Sky Bridge – Malaysia
More like an observation deck, this bridge to nowhere dangles spectacularly about 2,300 feet above sea level in Langkawi, an archipelago on Malaysia’s west coast. It’s reached by a harrowing cable car ride up Mount Mat Cincang, and the bridge’s gently curving promenade provides tourists with dazzling views of the Andaman Sea far below. Every posted description of the bridge includes the not-entirely-reassuring phrase: “Langkawi sky-bridge is safe.” The view is impressive and so is the engineering: the bridge is suspended from a single mast that sticks up from the mountain below like a construction crane.
BP Bridge, Millennium Park – Chicago, US
Get an overview of Chicago’s most impressive architecture, not to mention Lake Michigan, when you set out from the brushed-steel Jay Pritzker Pavilion and amble along Frank Gehry’s 925-foot-long bridge above Columbus Drive. Clad in shiny lizard-skin-patterned steel and paid for by its oil-company namesake, the overpass’s only shortcoming is that it doesn’t make it all the way to the water’s edge—you’re left to fend for yourself on traffic-filled Lakeshore Drive.
Puente de la Mujer – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Architect Santiago Calatrava’s “Woman’s Bridge” on the Rio de la Plata is female by association; the surrounding streets are named for noteworthy women such as human rights activist Alicia Moreau de Justo. The bridge faces a new crop of trendy hotels, restaurants, and condos in Puerto Madero—and can take some credit for inspiring the neighborhood’s redevelopment.
Walkway over the Hudson, Poughkeepsie – NY, USA
It feels like you’re walking in the sky. This former railroad bridge is suspended 220 feet above a wide, unusually straight stretch of the Hudson those Dutch seafarers once called “Lange Rack” or Long Reach. That means you can see up and down the river for miles—without any overhead structure to obscure the view. The official website states that, at 6,767 feet long, it’s the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. One not-so-small problem: the Anping Bridge in Fujian China, a stone pedestrian bridge dating from the 12thcentury, is 526 feet longer.
Henderson Waves Bridge – Singapore
You can see why Singapore is nicknamed the Garden City. Crossing from one hilltop park to another, 118 feet above busy Henderson Road, its highest pedestrian bridge overlooks treetops, flowering bushes, the harbor, and the skyline. Cooler still is this bridge’s resemblance to a Slinky toy. A sculptural wave of steel ribs follows the walkway, periodically curling up and over the edge to create little coves of sheltered seating. Singapore’s Southern Ridges area is also home to the Canopy Bridge, where you’ll find wild orchids, pitcher plants, and tons of birds.
Kurilpa Bridge – Brisbane, Australia
Masts attached to cables jut out from this bridge in all directions—as if trying to distract your attention from the impressive cluster of skyscrapers lining the Brisbane River. Powered by 84 solar panels, Kurilpa looks its finest when the LED lighting system puts on dazzling shows. It may appear to be a crazy jumble, but the positions and the strength of the mast connections are the product of sophisticated calculation; this is the first major bridge built according to the principles of tensegrity.
Rolling Bridge – London, England
The payoff for pedestrians is usually the view from on high, but here the bridge itself is the sight to see. Each Friday at noon, genius architect Thomas Heather wick’s Rolling Bridge allows a single boat to pass in or out of its moorage. You’ll be transfixed as the bridge, powered by hydraulic rams, levitates upward as a unit, and then curls backward, allowing its eight triangular hinged sections to roll into a wheel. The Rolling Bridge is one small element in a major redevelopment of the area around Paddington Station. Other novel canal crossings include the Helix Bridge, which screws and unscrew to allow boats to pass.
Infinity Bridge – Stockton on Tees, England
Opened in 2009, this long bowstring bridge is named for the infinity symbol formed by its dramatic double curve and reflection in the River Tees. The main arch is almost 400 feet tall and the span is nearly 900 feet, creating a flamboyant wave. Special nighttime lighting enhances the infinity effect, and LEDs built into the handrails and footpath is programmed to change color as pedestrians and bicyclists pass by. Another landmark Tees crossing, the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, completed in 1911, carries cars and pedestrians across the river in a suspended gondola, 90 seconds each way.
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge – Omaha, US
The first pedestrian bridge to link two states extends for 3,000 feet over the bucolic Missouri and traces a gentle S-curve around its two supporting towers—a plaque marks the spot where you can have one foot in Nebraska and the other in Iowa. Opened in 2008 and illuminated at night, the bridge has become a teen hangout and has energized the waterfronts of two cities that haven’t always been so hospitable to pedestrians. On the Omaha side, the bridge syncs up with a riverfront trail, part of a 1990s redevelopment.
Hot Metal Bridge – Pittsburgh, US
Gazing at the Golden Triangle—the city’s gleaming downtown at the confluence of two rivers—it’s hard to imagine that the view used to be disrupted by the noise and fumes of ladle cars loaded with molten iron. They once chugged along this steel truss bridge to processing mills on the other side. Pittsburgh was, as James Parton said in 1868, “hell with the lid off.” The bridge was reborn in 2007 with a smooth new roadway, decorative railings, and an eye-catching LED installation at either end. Ambitious cyclists, take note: this bridge is a pivotal piece in the 316-mile bike route that runs from Pittsburgh to D.C.
Nesciobrug – Amsterdam, Netherlands
This suspension bridge connects IJburg, a new district on reclaimed land, to central Amsterdam and a lovely waterfront park. Despite its no-cars policy, Nesciobrug functions as a key component of the city’s transportation system. Stretching 2,559 feet over the Amsterdam Rhine Canal, it splits in two at each leafy bank; the forks add structural stiffness and create separate approach paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. The main span of the bridge was dropped in place by a crane and installed within 12 hours; the Amsterdam Rhine canal, an important shipping artery, couldn’t be closed for any longer.
The High Line – NY, US
Originally built in the 1930s as an elevated freight train bridge, the High Line reopened in 2009 as a pedestrian-only “floating park” above Manhattan, stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 30th Street. Eventually the park will extend all the way to 34th Street. The High Line is a prime street-food spot. Artisanal ice-pop makers People’s Pops and La Newyorkina, for instance, dish out their icy treats in flavors such as mango-chili and hibiscus during summer 2011.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge – Gateshead, England
Sure, this bridge is popular with pedestrians and bicyclists, who use it to cross between the cities of Gateshead and Newcastle. But it also draws crowds of onlookers who want to witness its ingenious design: the bridge tilts upward when boats pass underneath on the River Tyne. The Gateshead is the first and only tilting bridge, so far, in the world.
Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk – Walpole-Nornalup National Park, Australia
This lightweight but sturdy metal bridge lets those who aren’t scared of heights explore the canopy of giant tingle trees from 130 feet above the forest floor. It’s within the Walpole-Nornalup National Park, a four-and-a-half-hour drive south of Perth. Tingle trees are some of the world’s largest trees and unique to this corner of Australia.
Te Rewa Rewa Bridge – New Plymouth, NZ
Opened in 2010, in a corner of the North Island of New Zealand, this bridge crosses the Waiwhakaiho River and brings to mind both a large white wave and a bleached whale skeleton. The bridge provides easier access to the northern riverbank for fishers and surfers. The bridge is aligned to perfectly frame Mount Taranaki, a nearby volcano, within its whalebone-like arches.
Liberty Bridge in Falls Park – Greenville, SC, US
A travelandleisure.com reader’s comment drew our attention to this bridge, which has futuristic curves and a support system that are unusual for the U.S. A single suspension cable and two 90-foot-tall masts that lean away from the curved footpath at a 15-degree angle support this 345-foot-long lightweight bridge, making it appear to float on air. Enjoy the expansive view of the Reedy River Falls, where Greenville’s first European settler, Richard Pearis, set up his trading post in the 18th century.
The Bridge of Peace – Tbilisi, Georgia
Italian architect Michel De Lucchi and French lighting director Philippe Martinaud joined forces to create this futuristic bridge, opened in 2010. This structure is topped by an undulating web like canopy of glass and iron and was commissioned by the government of Tbilisi to add a contemporary landmark to their city. The Bridge of Peace spans the Mtkvari River, connecting the historic district of Old Tbilisi with an up-and-coming district.
Pedro e Inês Bridge – Coimbra, Portugal
From the banks of the Rio Mondego, it appears that the bridge snapped in half at the middle and is in a precarious position. Designed by engineer Cecil Balmond, the bridge is actually made up of two cantilevered walkways joined in the middle by a zigzagging platform. The bridge is named for Pedro and Inês, two star-crossed 14th-century lovers whose affair ended tragically.
Seonimgyo Bridge – Jeju Island, South Korea
Seven white nymphs playing musical instruments decorate each side of this bright red bridge over a waterfall on Jeju Island. They’ve earned the bridge its nickname, “Chilseonyeogyo,” meaning “seven nymphs.” Legend has it that these seven nymphs descended from heaven at night to take a dip in the waterfall.
Esplanade Riel – Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
This cable-stayed pedestrian bridge over the Red River, connecting the neighborhoods of The Forks and St. Boniface, is most notable for the Salisbury House restaurant, part of a chain of local diners, which sits smack in the middle of it. Signature dishes at the Salisbury House include Nip, its version of a hamburger, and grilled hot dogs called Winni Dogs. But surely the unobstructed views of the river and downtown Winnipeg will be more memorable than the food.
Tree Top Canopy Walk – Sabah, Borneo
Strung between five enormous trees in the rainforest, this suspension bridge spans nearly 1,000 feet and stands about 85 feet at its highest point. Admire the beautiful green canopy of the 130-million-year-old jungle from the large viewing platforms situated about halfway up the trunks of these massive trees. In order to protect the trees, the walkway was designed so that steel cables didn’t have to be rigged directly into the trunks.
Stockholm, Sweden, has plenty of cold, but not much in the way of snow or hills. So the members of a Stockholm ski club convinced architecture firm Berg/C.F. Møller to construct the most energy-efficient indoor ski park in the world. Skipark 360° will be powered by sun, wind, water and heat from the earth.
SKI, SCHUSS, SHOOT, SLAP, SALCHOW
Skipark’s main slope will be the only indoor run in the world approved by the International Ski Federation to host World Cup slalom events. At 2,300 feet long and 165 feet wide, with a vertical drop of 525 feet, the bottom of the ski slope fans out and connects to an area that contains a 2.2-mile cross-country ski tunnel and a full-scale biathlon arena, complete with shooting ranges and a rink for hockey, bandy (Swedish hockey) and skating.
Six tapered 180-foot-wide concrete pillars and crossbeams give the run an open feel—the structure is nearly transparent on its sides—and the design merges with a natural slope for the final 55 feet of the ski run.
The arena is expected to consume around 10 million kilowatt-hours of energy a year, less than half of what most indoor ski parks use. It is cooled by two processes: actively converting solar or geothermal heat through adiabatic cooling, the way a refrigerator works; and passively, by opening its window walls on cold days, of which there are plenty in Sweden.