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Innovation Lab: Electric Jets, Musical Prosthetics and Glowing Landmines

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.

Electric VTOL Jet Celebrates First Successful Flight Test

If you’re looking to complain that 21st century technology doesn’t match the vision of previous generations, you’re going to have to stop asking “Where’s my flying car?”, because the answer is now “Somewhere above Germany”, thanks to the hard-working team of engineers at Lilium.

The aeronautics firm has created the first zero-emission electric plan that is also capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), enabling it to be flown without the need for a lengthy runway. The two-seater prototype saw its first maiden flight earlier this week, executing a series of complex manoeuvres including transitioning from hover mode to wing-borne forward flight.

“The successful test flight programme shows that our ground-breaking technical design works exactly as we envisioned,” said Daniel Wiegand, CEO and co-founder of Lilium. “Seeing the Lilium Jet take to the sky and performing sophisticated manoeuvres with apparent ease is testament to the skill and perseverance of our amazing team.”

The Lilium Jet has a range of over 300km, with a maximum cruising speed of around 300km/h, and once in flight, its power consumption is comparable to an electric car. Following the test, the company is moving forward with plans for a larger, five-seater version of the jet that will serve for on-demand air taxi and ride-sharing services.

3D-printed Prosthetic Arm is Specialised for Playing Cello
Cello prosthetic
Advances in 3D printing made in the last few years have provided huge opportunities to people who require prosthetics in their daily life, enabling custom-made pieces to be designed and manufactured for a fraction of the expense that they previously would have. Not only do these advancements mean that people can spend their daily lives in greater comfort and with more mobility, but they also mean it’s easier to create specialised prosthetics with specific uses in mind.

The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) School of Computer Science has an ongoing project centred on developing methods to improve upper limb prosthetics, and as part of the initiative, the researchers worked with a young musician who was struggling to play his cello using his traditional prosthetic.

The 3D printing technology that the CMU researchers were using meant that iterative design was easy to carry out, with the designers able to fine-tune the prosthetic based on performance and feedback far quicker than previously possible. The techniques also made for a far cheaper unique prosthetic that was still capable of the fine-grain movements needed to play the instrument.

“By creating task-specific solutions, customised to the needs of the person and a task they care about, we believe it is possible to improve the retention of prosthetic devices,” said Jennifer Mankoff, professor at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “When a prosthetic does not fit the needs of its user well, it is likely to be abandoned. We believe that one way to reduce this is to make more task-specific solutions.”

MiRo Robot aims to Bring Together the Best of the Animal World

A dog may be humankind’s best friend, but the engineers at Consequential Robotics are aiming to create an upgraded version with their MiRo robot, which combines a friendly, emotive exterior with a wide range of sensors, navigation technology and even facial recognition, enabling it to act as both a pet and monitor the health and wellbeing of its owners.

Designed in conjunction with the robotics department at the University of Sheffield, the robot aims to bridge the divide between academic research and consumer robotics, and act as a companion to the elderly, in a similar way to the well-known Paro seal robot. The device is also fully programmable, and the makers at Consequential are encouraging developers to work on new behaviours and uses for the adorable device.

“With the right programming, MiRo should be capable of emotionally engaging with older users,” said Sebastian Conran, co-founder of Consequential Robotics. “The ethos is that companion robots should provide companionship and amusement whilst people are alone, alleviating isolation and encouraging people to look after themselves. It is designed to supplement human car and not in any way displace it.”

Researchers Breed Glowing Bacteria to Uncover Landmines
US soldiers disarming landmine
Even after wars have ended, there are, tragically, large areas of many countries that are unsafe for human activity due to the presence of landmines and other active ordnance. These dangerous explosives are a continual source of injuries and death for locals, and detecting and disarming them is slow and dangerous work.

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are hoping to speed up the process a little by cultivating bacteria that glows in the presence of these deadly explosives. Old landmines and other munitions tend to expel vapours over time which contain trace amounts of explosive compounds, and the microorganisms have been engineered to respond to these traces with a fluorescent signal.

While this glow isn’t detectable by human sight, it can be picked up with a laser scanner that could be operated remotely, making the whole detection process much safer and potentially quicker. The method is being tested to ensure it is consistent and, if successful, it could be deployed outside the lab very soon.

Take a Trip to the Micro Prix with Nanocar Racing

It’s doesn’t exactly match the pageantry of Monaco or Le Mans, but six teams from around the world will gather at the Centre for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies in Toulouse next weekend for the world’s first ever nanocar race, as molecule-sized machines speed their way to complete a track one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

The nanocars will be propelled along the 100 nanometer polished gold track using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) that shoots electrons, with various designs being used to take advantage of this unique set-up, such as butterfly-like wings that ‘flap’ when the STM provides a jolt.

As the racetrack must be scanned after each electron ‘prod’ to see how the vehicles are progressing, the races could take several hours, but the organisers will compile the scans every hour and post them online as short animations for the public to follow. As well as entertainment value, the event is a chance for scientists from three different continents to collaborate and compare research methods.