Category Archives: IEEE Spectrum

Swiss Scientists Design a Turbine to Fit in Human Arteries

Coaches admire athletes for showing a lot of heart, and poets praise the organ’s passions, but engineers see the human cardiovascular system otherwise. The heart is a pump in a prime location, brimming with energy for the taking, says biomedical engineer Alois Pfenniger. So together with colleagues at the University of Bern and the Bern University of Applied Sciences, in Switzerland, Pfenniger has tested small turbines designed to fit inside a human artery, like an implantable hydroelectric generator. Continue reading Swiss Scientists Design a Turbine to Fit in Human Arteries

Acoustic Energy Harvesters Gaining Volume

Where some people hear noise, Jeong Ho You hears energy. “Acoustic energy is everywhere,” he says. And with the help of a tiny resonating chamber, he wants to trap some of that energy and convert it into a low-amperage current for use in small electronic devices. You, a mechanical engineer at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, will be presenting the results of a computer simulation of a resonating chamber design at next month’s Acoustical Society of America meeting in Seattle. He then plans to build a device to see how his idea holds up in the lab. Continue reading Acoustic Energy Harvesters Gaining Volume

EV Battery Swapping’s First Real Test

Smartphone owners know all about battery anxiety: Spend too long playing games and the battery icon flashes ”empty” the next time you need to make a call. For drivers of electric cars, the problem is more serious: They can’t just walk over with a 20-liter jug of electricity from the nearest charging station, and even if they do manage to glide into a station on their last electrons, it could take hours to top off a car battery.  Continue reading EV Battery Swapping’s First Real Test

A Robot’s Body of Knowledge

Early risers may think it’s tough to fix breakfast first thing in the morning, but robots have it even harder. Even grabbing a cereal box is a challenge for your run-of-the-mill artificial intelligence (AI). Frosted Flakes come in a rectangular prism with colorful decorations, but so does your childhood copy of Chicken Little. Do you need to teach the AI to read before it can grab breakfast?

Maybe not. A team of European researchers has built a robot called ARMAR-III, which tries to learn not just from previously stored instructions or massive processing power but also from reaching out and touching things. Consider the cereal box: By picking it up, the robot could learn that the cereal box weighs less than a similarly sized book, and if it flips the box over, cereal comes out. Together with guidance and maybe a little scolding from a human coach, the robot—the result of the PACO-PLUS research project—can build general representations of objects and the actions that can be applied to them. “[The robot] builds object representations through manipulation,” explains Tamim Asfour of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, who worked on the hardware side of the system.

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