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Innovation Lab: Transforming Drones, Parasite Machines and Nunchuck Robots

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 features 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 newest ideas. They might be interesting, disruptive or just outright strange, but these are the stories that have caught our eye over the past week.

Spinning Drone Could Be Future of Aerial Combat

Engineers at aerospace firm BAE Systems have unveiled a next-generation concept for an unmanned aircraft that can switch between fixed and rotary wing flight. Designed together with students from Cranfield University, the firm believes that within the next few decades, vehicles like the Adaptable UAV could be used by armed forces for greater battlefield flexibility.
The Adaptable UAV is a hybrid between a fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and uses adaptive flight controls and advanced navigation and guidance software to switch between the two modes. The vehicle could use rotary-wing mode to hover and achieve vertical take-off and landing, before switching to fixed wing mode to benefit from the greater speed and range that it provides.
In rotary-wing mode, the Adaptable UAV could be easily and safely launched and recovered in dangerous environments from a variety of launch stations, including a docking pole that helps the UAV launch or land in strong winds. Gyro-stabilisation technology would help the pole remain upright even when mounted on a ship in rough waters, or on the back of a land vehicle navigating slopes or rough terrain.
“The battlefield of the future will require novel solutions to meet emerging threats and to keep human operators safe wherever they may be,” said Professor Nick Colosimo, BAE System’s futurist and technologist. “The Adaptable UAVs concept and related technologies are one of a number of concepts being explored through close collaboration between industry and students in academia."

New Type of Microscope Can Look In Your Brain While You Move
Traditionally, scientists hoping to examine the brains of living subjects have required their subjects to remain extremely still in order to get a good look at what they're examining, but a whole new concept of microscope may enable researchers to observe brain activity without affecting behaviour at all.

The NeuBtracker is an open source microscope created by a team of scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich, designed to observe the neuronal activities of zebrafish. The device has a significant advantage when it comes to its subject - zebrafish have transparent heads, enabling scientists to observe their brain without any need for x-rays, MRI equipment or surgery.

The NeuBtracker has two cameras, one of which tracks the behaviour of the zebrafish while the other automatically remains pointed at the head of the subject to record fluoresence images. The team behind the device has released the instructions on how to construct a model online so that other researchers can make use of it and even advance the technology themselves.

"We wanted to give our scientific colleagues the possibility to build their own NeuBtracker because we had been waiting for such a device for years," said Prof. Dr. Gil Westmeyer from the Helmholtz Zentrum München. "It is finally possible to see the effects of pharmacological substances on the behaviour and the neuronal activity - or other cellular signal processing events - at the same time and across an entire organism."

'Parasitic Machine' Forces You To Generate Power For It

As technology extends to control more and more of our lives, it's easy to ask the question of whether we are still using it, or if it is using us. A new art project created by researchers at the Human Computer Interaction Lab at Germany's Hasso Plattner Institute makes users confront that idea with a 'parasitic machine' that forces users to power it.

The device consists of two crank mechanisms housed in a rectangular acrylic tube, with a seat at either end. When users insert their arm and grab the crank, a pair of electrode cuffs lock their arm into place and stimulate their wrist muscles, forcing them to crank the lever and generate power. The only way to escape is to get someone else to sit down opposite and crank the other lever.

"The purpose is to stimulate the viewer or visitor," said Pedro Lopes, one of the device's creators. "The project itself is a reversal of our own work in HCI where all our prototype technologies, much like in our everyday life, includes a human [coming out] on top of machines. We just wanted to let visitors try out how it feels if a machine is 'on top'."

New Jersey Robot Learns How to Use Nunchucks
Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a new way of teaching robots how to perform tasks, and have, of course, opted to demonstrate it by teaching a robot arm to wield nunchucks.

The research was part of a project exploring machine learning methods that required robots to handle complex objects that had combined a variety of parts with different materials and rigidities. The same methods used to teach the robot to be a ninja could be used for tasks where precision and a delicate touch are important, from picking fruit to fitting car interiors.

The method expanded on existing teaching processes where robots watch human actions and then repeat it, with the researchers demonstrating the skill multiple times and evaluating their own performance, prividing the robot with valuable extra data on how the task should ideally look. The approach enabled the robot to deftly wield the weapon in under an hour, a significant improvement on previous methods.

Woobo is The Cuddliest Science Teacher Your Kid Could Ask For

If you're a parent frustrated at being stumped by questions from your kids like "Why is the sky blue" and "Why should I eat my vegetables", Woobo may be just the smart toy you've been looking for. The cuddly robot is designed to fuel kids' imaginations by answering their questions and leading them in fun activities that range from physical games to creative exercises.

The connected toy, which is currently seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter, serves as a launchpad for learning, exploration and play, and is constantly updated with new games, stories and activities from an online catelogue. It also helps kids establish healthy daily routines, encouraging habits like brushing their teeth and getting dressed.

An accompanying app for parents enables them to communicate with their children while at work, sending voicemails back and forth and controlling Woobo's online library of content. Developed with feedback from over 250 parents and 100 kids, the toy is designed to be a friendly and educational companion that embraces the latest in technology.