A MetaSense joystick

3D-Printing Complex Sensors And Controls With Metamaterials

If you’ve got a mechatronic project in mind, a 3D printer can be a big help. Gears, levers, adapters, enclosures — if you can dream it up, a 3D printer can probably churn out a useful part for you. But what about more complicated parts, like sensors and user-input devices? Surely you’ll always be stuck buying stuff like that from a commercial supplier. Right?

Maybe not, if a new 3D-printed metamaterial method out of MIT gets any traction. The project is called “MetaSense” and seeks to make 3D-printed compliant structures that have built-in elements to sense their deformation. According to [Cedric Honnet], MetaSense structures are based on a grid of shear cells, printed from flexible filament. Some of the shear cells are simply structural, but some have opposing walls printed from a conductive filament material. These form a capacitor whose value changes as the distance between the plates and their orientation to each other change when the structure is deformed.

The video below shows some simple examples of monolithic MetaSense structures, like switches, accelerometers, and even a complete joystick, all printed with a multimaterial printer. Designing these structures is made easier by software that the MetaSense team developed which models the deformation of a structure and automatically selects the best location for conductive cells to be added. The full documentation for the project has some interesting future directions, including monolithic printed actuators.

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A bee pollinates a flower.

Even Bees Are Abuzz About Caffeine

Many of us can’t get through the day without at minimum one cup of coffee, or at least, we’d rather not think about trying. No matter how you choose to ingest caffeine, it is an awesome source of energy and focus for legions of hackers and humans. And evidently, the same goes for pollinator bees.

You’ve probably heard that there aren’t enough bees around anymore to pollinate all the crops that need pollinating. That’s old news. One solution was to raise them commercially and then truck them to farmers’ fields where they’re needed. The new problem is that the bees wander off and pollinate wildflowers instead of the fields they’re supposed to be pollinating. But there’s hope for these distracted bees: Scientists at the University of Greenwich have discovered that bees under the influence of caffeine are more likely to stay on track when given a whiff of the flower they’re supposed to be pollinating.

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NASA Are Squaring Up Against The Asteroid Threat

The world faces many terrestrial crises right now, so it’s easy to forget that giant space rocks may one day threaten the very existence of entire civilizations. Yes, the threat of asteroid strikes is a remote one, but nevertheless something humanity may have to face one day, and one day soon.

NASA takes the issue seriously, and has staffed its Planetary Defence Coordination Office since 2016. In service to these efforts, it’s also developing a mission to research how dangerous androids may be deflected. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is set to launch within the next year. Continue reading “NASA Are Squaring Up Against The Asteroid Threat”

Brain electrodes

Brain Interface Uses Tiny Needles

We often look at news out of the research community and think, “we could build that.” But the latest brain-machine interface from an international team including the Georgia Institute of Technology actually scares us. It uses an array of tiny needles that penetrate the skin but remain too small for your nerves to detect. Right. We assume they need to be sterile but either way, we don’t really want to build a pin grid array to attach to your brain.

It seems the soft device is comfortable and since it is very lightweight it doesn’t suffer from noise if the user blinks or otherwise moves. Looking at the picture of the electrodes, they look awfully pointy, but we assume that’s magnified quite a few times, since the post mentions they are not visible to the naked eye.

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Scanning electron micrograph of a microfabricated lens array

Getting A Fly’s-Eye View With Microfabricated Lens Arrays

Atomic force microscopy, laser ablation, and etching with a witches brew of toxic chemicals: sounds like [Zachary Tong] has been playing in the lab again, and this time he found a way to fabricate arrays of microscopic lenses as a result.

Like many of the best projects, [Zach]’s journey into micro-fabrication started with a happy accident. It happened while he was working on metal-activated chemical etching (MACE), which uses a noble metal catalyst to selectively carve high-aspect-ratio features in silicon. After blasting at a silver-coated silicon wafer with a laser, he noticed the ablation pits were very smooth and uniform after etching. This led him to several hypotheses about what was going on, all of which he was able to test.

The experiments themselves are pretty interesting, but what’s really cool is that [Zach] realized the smooth hemispherical pits in the silicon could act as a mold for an array of microscopic convex lenses. He was able to deposit a small amount of clear silicone resin into the mold by spin-coating, and (eventually) transfer the microlens array to a glass slide. The lenses are impressively small — hundreds of them over only a couple hundred square microns — and pretty well-formed. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but for an initial attempt based on a serendipitous finding, we’d call it a win. As for what good these lenses are, your guess is as good as ours. But novel processes like these tend to find a way to be useful, and the fact that this is coming out of a home lab doesn’t change that fact.

We find this kind of micro-fabrication fascinating. Whether it’s making OLED displays, micro-machining glass with plasma, or even rolling your own semiconductors, we can’t get enough of this stuff.

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Image of detonation engine firing

Japanese Rocket Engine Explodes: Continuously And On Purpose

Liquid-fuelled rocket engine design has largely followed a simple template since the development of the German V-2 rocket in the middle of World War 2. Propellant and oxidizer are mixed in a combustion chamber, creating a mixture of hot gases at high pressure that very much wish to leave out the back of the rocket, generating thrust.

However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has recently completed a successful test of a different type of rocket, known as a rotating detonation engine. The engine relies on an entirely different method of combustion, with the aim to produce more thrust from less fuel. We’ll dive into how it works, and how the Japanese test bodes for the future of this technology.

Deflagration vs. Detonation

Humans love combusting fuels in order to do useful work. Thus far in our history, whether we look at steam engines, gasoline engines, or even rocket engines, all these technologies have had one thing in common: they all rely on fuel that burns in a deflagration. It’s the easily controlled manner of slow combustion that we’re all familiar with since we started sitting around campfires. Continue reading “Japanese Rocket Engine Explodes: Continuously And On Purpose”

Printing Ceramics Made Easier

Creating things with ceramics is nothing new — people have done it for centuries. There are ways to 3D print ceramics, too. Well, you typically 3D print the wet ceramic and then fire it in a kiln. However, recent research is proposing a new way to produce 3D printed ceramics. The idea is to print using TPU which is infused with┬ápolysilazane, a preceramic polymer. Then the resulting print is fired to create the final ceramic product.

The process relies on a specific type of infill to create small channels inside the print to assist in the update of the polysilazane. The printer was a garden-variety Lulzbot TAZ 6 with ordinary 0.15mm and 0.25mm nozzles.

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