Alaimo: My iShovel buried your butterfly drone with snow


Follow the news or Facebook lately and one would think we are living in an age of terror on the brink of collapse. Armed Crazies, GMOs, Fracking, Global Warming, Government Conspiracies, and who knows what else. Someday when I feel brave I will weigh in on those but for today let me say that sometimes I agree we are a destructive mess—other times I am not so sure. Sometimes I think we are living in an age of generosity and wonder. This month’s science sure makes me feel that way.
Just off of a pretty good cold snap here in Ouray County it seems like all I do is shovel snow. I wish they made a robot snow shovel like they made the robot vacuum. Oh, wait. Google says they have one already—the i-Shovel. I definitely need one now that I know it exists. That’ll sure save wear and tear on my legs. But if I were unlucky enough to lose my legs they have solutions for that too now. Prosthetic legs are a thing of the past thanks to new bionic legs like the one a local veteran showed me. As it senses weight (as in walking), the rechargeable limb supplies the opposite force supporting motion. The newest generation of robotic legs even supplies feedback—either in the form of inflating pressure cuffs on the living part of the leg or a tone that changes pitch. Now you might think that having something squeeze your leg or hum in your ear would be distracting but (just like the screech of the in-laws fades into background after they have been visiting for a few days) this feedback rapidly becomes background noise. After all, our natural legs transmit the feel of the surface that we walk on all the time but it is very rare that we are consciously aware of it. If only my ex mother-in-law would fade into the background.
If walking on legs is not your thing, inventors in Michigan have created a robotic fish that swims and glides. Most robotic fish until now (you know, all those robotic fish you have cluttering up the den) used a wiggle motion that took a lot of energy. This new robot fish can glide almost indefinitely thanks to whatever it is they did to make it do it. Currently the gliding fish is swimming around monitoring pollution in lakes and streams. Of course robotic fish are not nearly as cool as robotic snakes. They are being developed to crawl inside the rubble of collapsed buildings and look for survivors without disturbing the rock. For all you conspiracy theorists the military is reportedly working on a butterfly-shaped drone weighing just 20 grams. I can see it would be very inconspicuous around January in Ridgway. They just have to keep it from getting buried in the snow by my i-Shovel.
Of course at this time of year a lot of snow falls in the dark. Whoever thought of the solar powered flashlight was pretty tricky but it always runs out and I can’t recharge it at night! To the rescue, enter a couple of designers out of London who have invented the gravity-light. Apparently these two Limeys were working on the problem of light in Third World countries. After all, we take power lines for granted, but rural Africans don’t often have them, so they use kerosene lamps. At $5 a gallon and with an average income of about $9 a month, it really keeps them working if they want to see what they are eating at the dinner table. Besides, kerosene is a dirty fuel. Who would want it burning inside their house? And solar-powered lights just don’t cut it because the batteries wear out and are expensive. So these guys hooked up a plastic belt to a little generator with a weight at the end, much like old time pendulum clocks. No batteries! You hang the light where you want it then lift the weight up and when you let go gravity pulls it down spinning the internal generator. You can even use it to charge a cell phone, and the sturdy bag that the whole thing comes in is made to be filled with rocks for weight. That is pretty tricky invention kung fu! The whole thing costs only about a month worth of kerosene and won’t burn the house or smother the kids.
So that’s all for this month—call it ‘chicken soup for the intellect’. But before I go, with five words I am going to halve or double the subscriptions to this great paper. I frankly don’t really know which. Ready? Set? Here goes. “Climate change. Real or fake?” Next month that will be my topic. Email with your thoughts.