Voluum Leaderboard

Innovation Lab: Chain Robots, Space Junk and Smartphone Spermcounts

Tim Maytom

At Mobile Marketing we're proud to help tech companies showcase their cutting-edge solutions, whether it's on our website, in our magazine or at our Mobile Marketing Summits. Giving a platform to companies that are breaking new ground in their market brings audiences one step closer to the ideas and developments that will shape tomorrow.


In that spirit, our Innovation Lab feature takes a step beyond the world of apps, ads and handsets with slightly bigger screens, in order to share some of the tech world's innovative ideas. They might be interesting, disruptive or just outright strange, but these are the stories that have caught our eye over the past week.

Modular Robot Can Be Magnifying Glass, Exoskeleton and Digital Paintbrush


Just as the mobile phone's popularity exploded when it became more than just a way to call people, many believe the future of consumer robotics lies in multi-functional devices that can assist and entertain in a variety of ways.

If that's the case, then the ChainFORM, created by MIT's Tangible Media and Responsive Environments Group, is off to a flying start. The modular robot can be unspooled like tape from a reel to the length you need, and carry out an astonishing variety of tasks from serving as an analogue clock to correcting your posture when you slump.

The robot builds on a previous project called the LineFORM, and boasts touch detecting sensors across multiple surfaces, colour-changing lights and actuating motors that enable it to move and hold position. The team behind the device see it used in two practical scenarios: acting as a dynamic computer interface that can morph to different needs, and as a prototyping tool for animation and interaction.

"Out approach is a step toward a general platform for custom shape-changing interfaces," said Ken Nakagaki, research assistant at the Tangible Media and Responsive Environments Group. "Building on the idea and implementation of modular and serpentine robotics, we intend to extend their knowledge and technique to enrich interactions with shape-changing interfaces."

space debrisJapan Aims to Clean Up Space Junk with Magnets
There are an estimated 100m pieces of 'space junk' in orbit around the planet, including bits of old rockets and discarded equipment from defunct satellites. With many of these objects moving at speeds of up to 17,500mph, the risk to functioning satellites and future space travel is real and growing.

To help remove some of this vast layer of debris, Japan's space agency has launched an automated cargo ship into orbit that will use a half mile-long magnetic tether to slow down the space junk and eventually pull it out of orbit.

The tether, made of aluminium strands and steel wire, was developed in collaboration with Nitto Seimo Co, a 106-year old Japanese firm that specialises in fishing nets. It is designed to slow debris enough to change its orbital path, pushing it towards the atmosphere where it will burn up on reentry.

The experiment is part of an international initiative aimed at making space safer for astronauts, as well as protecting the billions of dollars worth of weather and communications satellites currently in orbit.

Disney's Digital Teeth are Super Accurate (and Terrifying)


Leaps forward in 3D scanning, motion capture and CGI technology have meant that digital models of humans can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing, but certain areas still pose a problem, and teeth are a major one. Very few actors are willing to get a full 3D scan of the inside of their mouth, and so digital smiles have tended to be a little off.

Disney Research, in collaboration with ETH Zurich, has come up with a new solution, using a set of 86 3D scans to model an 'average' set of teeth, then using a specialised algorithm that adapts it to an individual based on simple photos and video footage.

Being a product of Disney, the most obvious use for the technology is to create digital actors for films and video games, but the team behind the technology also believe it could be used by dentists to visualise a patient's mouth before beginning surgery, or even modelling more authentic-looking dentures.

yo sperm testNew App Will Test Your Sperm at Home
The awkwardness of producing a 'sample' at a fertility clinic is well known enough that it's become a trope of modern sitcoms, so it was only a matter of time until someone came up with an at-home solution.

YO Sperm Test is a mobile phone mini-microscope peripheral and accompanying app that enables the user to test their sperm count and motility (the rate at which they move) at home, even viewing their 'swimmers' on the screen of their smartphone.

The device has been developed from a commercial-grade solution for semen analysis, and testing has shown it to be 97 per cent accurate. It has been approved by the FDA, and will be available from the start of next year for just $50 (£39).

Home-made 'Wrist Rockets' Turn You Into a Human Torpedo


If you've ever dreamed of exploring the ocean depths, then the latest project by YouTuber and engineer PeterSripol is for you. Using two T100 thrusters, a pair of wrist straps and an Arduino-powered, belt-mounted unit, he created a set of 'wrist rockets' that can send you speeding through the water with almost no effort.

The video shows off the engineering process involved in making the entire device waterproof, and as Sripol adds in a triple-level throttle system, enabling him to accelerate underwater.

The wrist rockets get a thorough test on a visit to Hawai'i and seem to perform excellently, until a wire connecting them to the power unit gets accidentally chewed up in one of the propellers. Sripol is undeterred, however, and planning a Mark 2 version for sometime in the future.