MM Awards

Innovation Lab: Ice-fishing Robots, Nanotech Sieves and Cancer-diagnosing Contacts

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.

NASA Prepares to Go Ice Fishing on Jupiter’s MoonsThe moons of Jupiter and Saturn show some of the highest potential for alien life within our solar system, thank to huge oceans that could harbour microscopic or even complex organisms. However, these oceans are beneath miles of ice, making detection a uniquely complex challenge.

Since 2015, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in California has been developing prototypes for robotic probes that could explore these frozen worlds, experimenting with features including robotic arms that can unfold to reach faraway objects, projectile launchers to launch then retrieve sensros, and even a subsurface probe that could burrow through miles of ice, taking samples as it goes.

“In the future, we want to answer the question of whether there’s life on the moons of the outer planets – on Europe, Enceladus and Titan,” said Tom Cwik, who leads JPL’s Space Technology Program. “We’re working with NASA headquarters to identify the specific systems we need to build now, so that in 10 or 15 years, they could be ready for a spacecraft.

The systems will have to be able to operate in temperatures hundreds of degrees below freezing, leading to a variety of engineering challenges, like heated prongs to hold drills in place and using radioactive materials to melt chunks of ice. The prototypes created by the JPL are just starting points, and NASA will now review the results and continue to develop them, with the hope of eventually exploring what lies beneath the surface of these far-off moons.

Nanotech Sieve Can Make Seawater Drinkable
A team of researchers based at the University of Manchester has created a graphene-based sieve capable of filtering salt from seawater, a development that could potentially aid millions of people without easy access to clean drinking water. By 2025, the UN estimates that 14 per cent of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity.

The graphene sieve comprises a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal lattice which provides it with extraordinary tensile strength and electrical conductivity. The sieve was first created in 2004, but has been impossible to manufacture on an industrial scale until a more recent development, which uses graphene oxide.

The latest advancement, which involves strengthening the sieve with epoxy resin, means that the membrane can support holes small enough to filter out common salts, which were previously too fine to be removed in this manner.

“This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime,” said Professor Rahul Nair, who worked on the project. “We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes.”

Take Your Drumkit Everywhere You Go

One of the major challenges of drumming is that it’s hard to practice quietly, and even harder to do so on the move, given the size and complexity of most drum kits. One company has a solution, however, in the form of a set of connected devices called Drumistic, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

The Drumistic kit uses connected sensors that are attached to drum sticks and your feet, which pair with an accompanying app on your smartphone or tablet. The app then enables you to define your hitting zones, creating virtual drums and cymbals of different kinds, which you can then practice on, with the sounds accurately recreated using the app.

Drumistic enables you to record your sessions directly into the app, then export them as sound files, midi files or even directly transcribed sheet music for later use. It also includes hundreds of drumming exercises, enabling musicians of all levels of expertise to improve their skills and get personalised feedback on their technique.

Contact Lenses Could Detect Diabetes and Cancer
Engineers at Oregon State University are working to embed transparent sensors within contact lenses which could monitor biomarkers in the human eye, tracking drug use and blood glucose levels, and even detecting early warning signs of cancer.

The technology uses a similar method to glucose testing strips, and combines with another project the team was working on to make transparent transistors. Lead engineer Greg Herman realised that the clear transistors could be modified to be sensors, creating a clear device capable of monitoring key biosignals then relaying that information to a healthcare provider.

While the technology is still in its early stages and could be years in development, over 2,500 different biosensors could theoretically be embedded in a patch of contact lens just 1mm square. These sensors could detect everything from ocular disorders like glaucoma to various cancers and even multiple sclerosis, providing a crucial early warning without the need for regular invasive testing.

Send Your Doodles Anywhere with this Connected Whiteboard

Joto is a connected whiteboard that can sketch everything from a child’s doodles to a complex graph, all produced automatically thanks to an articulated drawing arm that can transform digital images into pen and ink drawings.

The whiteboard connects to an app that enables users to draw freehand with a finger or stylus, write or type using a keyboard, or even take photographs and then turn them into simple black and white illustrations that can be sent to the pair whiteboard from anywhere in the world.

The team behind the project suggests that the device can be used both at home, serving as a hub for information or a picture that can change from day to day, and in business situations, for presentations or information that changes daily like specials at a restaurant. Whatever your intention, Joto is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.