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A Touch of Bionic

May 7, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

 

If you were to compare Star Trek and Star Wars in how close we are to living those realities, the bulk of the evidence says Star Trek should win. We have an international team of scientists and engineers in space, medical devices that can scan your insides, androids, and of course, the "Enterprise," the first commercial spaceship.

However, a company called Touch Bionics has finally brought Star Wars into the race. Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke gets a new bionic hand? And it moves just like a real one, only with little mechanical sounds? Well, the new i-LIMB Pulse is almost there. It's lighter, stronger, and the sleek black aluminum casing, reminiscent of Skywalker's glove, is sure to entice a whole new generation of amputees.

This new version can be customized like no other - not custom as in, "Pimp my Hand" - but as in, using wireless technology to tailor the movements to each patient. The i-LIMB Pulse also has more precise motor control in individual fingers, allowing fine movements like tying shoelaces or building lightsabers.

We often hear the word "bionic" and think "human," but many advances in bionics mimic other animals, and even plants. The Bionic Handling Assistant, made by Festo, is based on an elephant's trunk. It has a flexible arm with an almost unlimited range of motion, and fingers on the end for grasping objects. Not only does this design give operators freedom in mapping out motion paths, it also means less risk - it has virtually no pinch points and can better avoid collisions. The designers intend for such technology to be used as human-computer interfaces in hospitals or elderly-care facilities.

 

Researches have also unlocked the secret of the salvinia plant, which has dry leaves for months while submerged underwater. Scientists know that tiny hairs help trap air bubbles around the surface of the leaf, but they didn't know how the barrier lasted for so long. In looking at the tiny hairs, which are hydrophobic (water-hating), they discovered that the tips are hydrophilic and protrude into the water, effectively "stapling" the bubbles to the leaf at regular intervals. This knowledge will be used to make fast-drying swimsuits, ultra-efficient raingear, or as a coating for ship hulls - which could cause an estimated 1% drop in fuel consumption worldwide.

Now, if you don't mind, I must get back to building my protocol droids...

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