Innovation Lab: Robot Gardeners, Laser Teeth and Scuttling Straws

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.

Inventors of the Roomba Return with a Robot for your Garden

Former employees of iRobot, the company behind the original automated vacuum cleaner, have struck out on their own to tackle a new area of domestic maintenance, and this time they’re headed outside to the garden. Franklin Robotics’ Tertill is designed to patrol your lawn, using a trimmer to keep your grass a uniform height.

The robot is entirely solar-powered thanks to solar cells on its back, and is programmed to react to changing weather patterns, moving less in cloudy weather and then bursting into action when the sun comes out. The 2.5lb cylinder is also waterproof, so you don’t need to worry about running out to bring it in during the rain.

The Tertill is fairly undiscriminating when it comes to what it classifies a weed, trimming down everything that fits under its chassis, but the robot comes with a range of plastic “collars” that you can use to protect plants you don’t want chomped. You’ll also need to set up a short barrier to stop the Tertill from wandering off your garden, whether that’s a fence, edging or some other border.

Franklin Robotics are currently crowd-funding the Tertill on Kickstarter, and have already passed its initial target, so now’s the time to put your order in if the thought of taking the lawnmower out to tackle your overgrown lawn fills you with dread.

Regrow your Damaged Teeth with Lasers
Traditional fillings, crowns and false teeth may soon be a thing of the past, if research by a team of Harvard scientists has any say in it. According to a study published in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers have cracked a method of regrowing teeth using lasers, which could even lay the foundations for more advanced regenerative processes like regrowing bones or accelerating healing.

The method uses a low-power laser beam to trigger human dental stem cells, encouraging them to form dentin, the bone-like substance that makes up most of a tooth’s mass beneath the protective layer of enamel. The non-invasive process has been successfully tested using multiple laboratory and animal models.

The research is ground-breaking for a number of reasons. Stem cells, the undifferentiated building blocks that develop into a variety of specialised cells, have been studied extensively by scientists, but so far researchers have struggled to find reliable methods of manipulating the cells with precision so that they can control how they develop, especially without removing the cells from the body.

“Our treatment modality does not introduce anything new to the body, and lasers are routinely used in medicine and dentistry, so the barriers to clinical translation are low,” said David J. Mooney from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. “It would be a substantial advance in the field if we can regenerate teeth rather than replace them.”

Deep Learning Robot Learns to Play the Marimba

The musical genius of the future could well be a four armed marimba player called Shimon. The robot, created by engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is using artificial intelligence and deep learning to create its own compositions, based on almost 5,000 existing songs that range from Beethoven to Lady Gaga.

The robot, created by Ph.D. student Mason Bretan, requires only a ‘seed’ of four measures worth of music, then creates its own sequence based on techniques it has learned from all the data it has processed, and plays out the composition on its marimba. So far, the robot has generated two 30-second songs, but as its deep learning is improved, it will be capable of longer and more intricate tunes.

“Shimon’s compositions represent how music sounds and looks when a robot uses deep neural networks to learn everything it knows about music from millions of human-made segments,” said Bretan. “Shimon is now coming up with higher-level musical semantics. Rather than thinking note by note, it has a larger idea of what it wants to play as a whole.”

China Opens World’s Largest Floating Solar Power Plant
The Chinese government has announced that the world’s largest floating photovoltaic (PV) facility has been completed and connected to the local power grid, a symbol of the nation’s ongoing efforts to lead the world in renewable energy adoption after decades of criticism for its high carbon emissions.

The 40-megawatt facility, located in the city of Huainan in the Anhui province, is ironically constructed on a lake created when a former coal mine was flooded. As the costs of PV technology plummet thanks to continued research, China is hoping to build enough solar power plants to equal its coal facilities by 2020.

The power plant, created by PV inverter manufacturer Sungrow Power Supply, is just one of multiple large facilities China has invested. A 20-megawatt floating power plant was opened in the same area in 2016, and the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park is reportedly the largest solar power plant on Earth, stretching over a 10-square-mile area.

Harvard Engineers Create Robot Spiders from Drinking Straws

Soft robotics is a growing field that seeks to make automated devices that are agile and flexible, often inspired by the natural world. That’s why a team of engineers at Harvard University is messing around with drinking straws, building multicoloured spider-bots that scuttle around using pneumatics.

Drinking straws are actually remarkably well-suited to the engineers’ purposes. Like an insect exoskeleton, they boast a high strength-to-weight ratio, and their hollow structure is similar to a spider’s leg joints, which are extended hydraulically by filling up with fluid.

The ‘arthrobots’ also used balloons to extend their ‘legs’ and elastic bands as tendons to snap them back into place. The engineers working on the project were able to create a variety of designs, capable of crawling with one or two limbs, walking on four, six or eight limbs and even rowing across the surface of water.