Prototyping a Cookie
Oct30

Prototyping a Cookie

Ever since Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the toll house chocolate chip cookie in the 1930’s, people have been on the hunt for that elusive creature: The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. Although it has been found and captured on occasion by some, somehow it doesn’t seem to reproduce reliably in captivity, and back to the field we go, armed for another search-and-retrieve mission. So, what is it exactly that goes into the perfect chocolate chip cookie? Maybe it’s adding just a bit more brown sugar.  Perhaps a little less butter. Whatever it is, since most people only try out chocolate chip cookie recipe variations occasionally, you may never come to know just what the answer is. The solution to this pressing problem is a cookie prototyping machine that mixes one cookie at a time, using a unique recipe for each one.  The result is a cookie sheet that has multiple variations that all go into the oven and bake together, allowing you to try them all at the same time for a direct comparison. This prototyping machine is a carousel set-up, with each station housing just one of the ingredients. These ingredients are dispensed onto a scale to accurately weigh them (because baking is chemistry) and the entire system is controlled by a computer program. It’s simply a matter of specifying the amount of any given ingredient, pressing dispense, and voila! The machine rotates and dispenses exactly what you asked for directly into a mixing bowl. The current prototype does not have a mixer, but, for the time being, it’s easy enough to just stir up the mix with a spoon. For now, the machine is being refined to ensure it runs smoothly and is user-friendly. On the plus side? Mistakes are a whole lot of fun to...

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Movie’s Special Effect Leads to Scientific Advance
Oct29

Movie’s Special Effect Leads to Scientific Advance

Astrophysicist Kip Thorne has created a simulated black hole with properties quite similar to a real occurrence of this bizarre component of the universe. The simulation is being used as a visual effect for the film “Interstellar” and Thorne needed a staff of 30 technicians, along with multiple computer work stations, to complete this challenging project. The creation of this effect required complex mathematical computations and the result has been called the most accurate visual representation of a black hole ever made. The movie, which premiers in North America on November 4th, depicts a dystopian future where Earth is no longer habitable for the human race. The storyline follows a crew of astronauts traveling through the far reaches of the universe in search of a new planet to call home. The end result is a visually intricate experience that brings the mathematical theories of relativity to life in three dimensions. In theory, black holes were once stars that collapsed on themselves and created a vacuum of dark matter, generating enough force to bend the space-time fabric of the universe itself. Moving closer to the threshold of a black hole also changes perceptions of space and time. The concept of bent and curved space has also appeared in other feature films, with Thorne applying and building on ideas from Carl Sagan. These visual effects incorporate the properties of wormholes as well. Along with Thorne’s work, both types of visual effects have been created, each with multiple tricks of light and reflection to create just the right optical illusions. In short, in order to accurately create a visual for the black hole, Kip Thorne produced an entirely new set of equations that guided the special effects team’s rendering software. The result was a visual representation that accurately depicts what a black hole would look like in space. Chris Nolan and Kip Thorne discuss their creative process in the video below:...

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Tomorrow’s Inventors Need STEM Skills Today
Oct29

Tomorrow’s Inventors Need STEM Skills Today

Math is used in practically every type of career. In fact, mathematics is considered to be the main building block in more than 80 different career types. From architects to teachers, mastering this subject is crucial. Quite clearly, our nation needs to find a way to bridge the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills gap that has been forming in recent years. According to the ACT reports, only 44 percent of U.S. high school graduates in 2013 were prepared for college-level mathematics, with that amount dropping to 36 percent for college-level science. If these students aren’t excelling in these subjects before reaching the post-secondary level, it will become much more difficult to get them onto the STEM path once they’re there. Since at least 20 percent of all jobs in the United States require knowledge of one or more STEM field, it’s vital that we start making changes in how we approach this area. That’s where Samsung comes into play. The biggest consumer electronics business in the world with over 8,000 employees in the U.S.. Samsung has decided that in order for more individuals to excel in STEM skills, we have to prepare students today for their future. The process starts with getting students motivated about the topics they’re learning in school. However, this goal could prove to be quite difficult to achieve considering the fact that only one-fifth of teachers say that they have the right level of technology in their room. To help with this issue, Samsung developed the Solve for Tomorrow competition, which calls for students and teachers across the nation to use STEM to help out in their communities. By aiding their neighborhood, schools can win all sorts of classroom technology like tablets and smart boards. However, it’s more than that. While winning items is always encouraging, it’s the community-based learning that peaks students interest in STEM. While there are rewards that come with taking an active part in STEM, the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition aims to inspire students to discover their love for STEM and all it...

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Boston Startup’s Robotic Gripper Set to Revolutionize Prosthetics
Oct28

Boston Startup’s Robotic Gripper Set to Revolutionize Prosthetics

Empire Robotics is a two-year-old business located in Boston. The company can trace its origins to Cornell University and engineers John Amend and Bill Culley. Empire Robotics isn’t interested in being known as a robot manufacturer. Instead, this company is a leader in the gripping devices that can be attached to the robots working in a manufacturing plant. The company found early success with the Versaball. This product looks like a balloon, but it can use a vacuum to modify its shape, allowing it to pick up a variety of different objects. Amend described the inside of the balloon as a bean bag. When the vacuum is working, air allows this bean bag balloon to become soft and pliable like jelly. Once the air is vacuumed out, the same bean bag balloon becomes hard and can pick up an object. The result is a robotic grip much more versatile than the traditional finger or claw. Amend, who earned a PhD from Cornell, reported Empire Robotics has already sold 30 to 40 development kits to companies in the manufacturing industry. While Amend declined to state the names of his customers, he did state all of the sales have occurred since this past January. Manufacturing companies aren’t the only ones interested in the new robotic grip. The National Institute of Health wants to see how it can be used with a prosthetic limb, providing Empire Robotics with a $214,000 grant this past August to explore the topic. Empire Robotics is partnering with prosthetic device manufacturer Liberating Technologies for this project. Amend explained how their prosthetic work could be of a great service to disabled people. “It would allow somebody who was doing a labor job to get back to that job. A lot of people suffer hand injuries in their work and really need to get back to their work,” Amend said. Located in the Seaport District of Boston, the company currently has seven employees. Amend reported it has already raised an amount close to $500,000 in debt and equity funding in addition to more than one million dollars in...

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Diabolical Machines
Oct28

Diabolical Machines

When you sit down to watch a film that features a diabolical supervillain, that villain often has some truly amazing gear with which to irritate the good guys. While the hero still wins out in the end, the gear that a villain carries could, with a bit of repurposing, be made quite useful to society. The idea behind diegetic prototypes speaks to what these devices could do if they were used for good. If you sit down to watch the movie a few more times, you may come to see how the gear used by the villain could be beneficial to society. However, you must have a clear vision for these products and how their purpose has been turned from evil to good. Let’s face it, no one is going to finance your projects if they think you are just some crazed nerd who wants to make a red light saber. When your inventor gene gets inspired by things you see in movies, you do not necessarily need to stick to the things the good guys use. Sometimes, the weapons that the villains use could be put to good use in the real world. You could create better body armor for police officers, better defensive weapons for private citizens or medical items that could save lives. Your designs will be on the cutting edge of design, and they will stay there because your inspiration is far higher than the inspiration behind most products. Just imagine the possibilities that Dr. Victor Fries‘ (Dr. Freeze) ice ray could present to the medical industry. Not to mention Dr. Otto Gunther Octavius (Dr. Octopus or Doc Ock), who had a mechanical exoskeleton that bears a remarkable resemblance to some real-world devices now being developed to help the disabled walk and to help factory workers deal with heavy lifts. When you have fully formed the idea behind your prototype, you can explain to people how something that was once used for evil can now be used for good. This transformation is beneficial to everyone who uses the product, and it makes for a good story behind the...

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