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The Vanguard

5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Tomas Kellner
June 29, 2017
A real flying car landed at the Paris Air Show, Michelin unveiled a vision for 3D-printed tires you will never have to replace, and a team in North Carolina developed a smart patch that “harvests” body heat and turns it into electricity. What a powerful idea!


A Flying Car Arrives At Paris Air Show

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What is it? We were promised flying cars, and now we have them. The Slovak company AeroMobil brought to the Paris Air Show a sleek vehicle that can drive like a car and also take off like small plane.

Why does it matter? Flying cars and similar vehicles have the potential to change transportation and the way we live. Google’s Larry Page is reportedly funding a flying car project and so is Uber. Business Insider reported that AeroMobil plans to produce 500 units of the vehicle and has started taking preorders. Each will cost between $1.3 million and $1.6 million.

How does it work? The flying car uses a gas engine to achieve speed of up to 100 mph on the road. It comes equipped with a pair of wings that swivel out before takeoff. The company claims the transformation takes just three minutes. During flight, the engine powers a variable pitch propeller that allows the vehicle to travel as fast as 223 mph.

Top image credit: AeroMobil.

The Body Electric

 width= Liquid metal in the flexible thermoelectric device allows for self-healing. Rigid devices do not have the ability to heal themselves. Image and caption credit: Mehmet Ozturk, NC State University.

What is it? Engineers at North Carolina State University have developed a flexible, wearable electronic patch that uses body heat to power itself.

Why does it matter? The discovery could lead to new, efficient health-monitoring devices that stick better to the skin and are comfortable to wear. “For body [heat] harvesting, it is preferable to have [thermoelectric generators] that are thin, soft and flexible,” the team wrote in the journal Applied Energy. “Unfortunately, the performances of flexible modules reported to date have been far behind those of their rigid counterparts.” Mehmet Ozturk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State, said the team “wanted to design a flexible thermoelectric harvester that does not compromise on the material quality of rigid devices yet provides similar or better efficiency.”

How does it work? The team used a liquid alloy of gallium and indium to connect the thermoelectric parts inside the patch. “The electric resistance of these connections is very low, which is critical since the generated power is inversely proportional to the resistance: Low resistance means more power,” Ozturk said. “Using liquid metal also adds a self-healing function: If a connection is broken, the liquid metal will reconnect to make the device work efficiently again. Rigid devices are not able to heal themselves.”


No More Excuses

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What is it? Researchers at Georgia Tech developed another cool medical patch. This one is studded with “microneedles” that can deliver flu vaccine without a sting. The patch just successfully completed the first human clinical trial.

Why does it matter? The university reported that “only about 40 percent of adults in the United States receive flu shots each year.” The new self-administered “vaccine skin patch containing microscopic needles could significantly increase the number of people who get vaccinated.” The team is now working on vaccine patches targeting measles, rubella, polio and other diseases.

How does it work? “With the microneedle patch, you could pick it up at the store and take it home, put it on your skin for a few minutes, peel it off and dispose of it safely, because the microneedles have dissolved away,” according to Mark Prausnitz, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a senior co-author of the study. “The patches can also be stored outside the refrigerator, so you could even mail them to people.”


Ride On!

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What is it? The 3D-printing revolution is picking up speed. The tire maker Michelin unveiled its “Visionary Concept” for “an airless, rechargeable, 3-D printed organic tire” at the Movin’On conference in Montreal this week. The “connected tire” also “provides real-time information about its condition” and other insights to an app.

Why does it matter? Using an organic design that resembles the structure of a succulent plant or a coral allows the company “to use just the right amount of materials.” The rechargeable properties allow users to “actually print new and different surfaces onto your tires, like more aggressive threads in the winter months,” according to Popular Mechanics. “When the tread becomes worn it can be printed on again, meaning you'd never need to replace the tire,” added Business Insider.

How is it made? Michelin says the tire would be “developed from bio-sourced, biodegradable materials” and printed using a “cold cure” 3D technology.


Double Duty

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What is it: A team of engineers and pathologists at the University of Washington have invented a light microscope that can body image and examine tissue in 3D during biopsies and cancer surgery. “By imaging tissues in 3D without having to mount thin tissue sections on glass slides, we are trying to transform pathology much like 3-D X-ray CT has transformed radiology,” said Jonathan Liu, a mechanical engineering professor at the university.

Why does it matter? “Surgeons are sort of flying blind during these breast-conserving surgeries,” according to Liu. “Oftentimes they’ve left some tumor behind which they don’t know about until a few days later when the pathologist finds it. If we can rapidly image the entire surface or margin of the excised tissue during the procedure, we can tell them if they still have tumor left in the body or not. And that would be a huge benefit to cancer patients.”

How does it work: The microscope uses “a sheet of light to optically ‘slice’ through and image a tissue sample without destroying any of it,” according to the university. “All of the tissue is conserved for potential downstream molecular testing, which can yield additional valuable information about the nature of the cancer and lead to more effective treatment decisions.” The results were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.