Spider Man – Fun with Bio-mimetics

Gecko Feet

Enter the humble gecko. If you’ve ever lived or stayed in parts of the mediterranean then you’re probably used to seeing these cute little reptiles running up and down walls. In fact in many cultures having a gecko in your house is considered to be good luck and whether or not it has any supernatural benefits a gecko will keep your house free of insect pests. So why have I suddenly taken an interest in reptiles? This is a technology blog isn’t it? Yes it is and over the last few years an interesting new field of research has increasingly gained ground.

Bio-mimetics is the study of natural systems, models and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Although a relatively new recognised field of science, people have been looking at nature for millennia and wondering how animals achieve some of the amazing feats they do. Leonardo da Vinci made hundreds of sketches of the anatomy and flight of birds in his quest to build a working flying machine. More recently the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe was designed after architects had first looked at the internal workings of a Termite mound asking themselves the question “How does a termite mound maintain such a perfect and consistent internal temperature.” They discovered that it was due to the termites constantly opening and closing vents in the sides of the structure ensuring a consistent airflow. The Eastgate centre mimics this action and as a result uses about 10% of the energy of a normal building of its size. Bio-mimetics can be very profitable!

So why the gecko? Well the gecko has the amazing ability to stick vertically or even upside down on surfaces. How does it manage this amazing feet (pun absolutely intended)? Autumn, et al, in a article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2002) finally elucidated the mechanism that has been puzzling the casual observer for centuries. Gecko’s feet are covered in literally millions of tiny little “hairs” called setae.  These effectively give Gecko feet a very high surface area and these setae do something very cool indeed, they interact with surfaces at an atomic level! To put this into plain english, there is a weak inter-molecular force called a van der waal force after Johannes Diderik van der Waals, the Dutch man that discovered it. Simply put the van der waals force is a weak atomic force representing the difference in attractive or repulsive forces between molecules. Gecko setae use van der waals force to create an attractive force overall between themselves and the surface that they want to stick to. Clever little suckers huh?

Now one of Leonardo’s fellow countrymen, Nicola Pugno, working in the university of Trento has proposed that we could create a “Spider Man” like suit that could enable construction workers, or building cleaners by using the same trick as the gecko. Maybe better called “Gecko Man” our construction workers suit wouldn’t be covered in setae but by millions of tiny carbon nano tubules that would have the same ability to interact with surfaces using van der waals forces. Although weight and surface area for a climbing human would be different, such a suit is theoretically possible and could have many useful applications.

I for one will be pledging my money if Nicola Pugno ever places his “Gecko Suit” on Kickstarter.

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The Pebble Smart Watch – Another Must Have Accessory.

Wearable tech is currently all the rage, Google Glass is probably the most talked about piece of tech since the iPhone and other exciting products like Recon Jet’s sports sunglasses are capturing our imagination. Into this exciting mix enter the Pebble Smart Watch. Marketed as an E-Paper watch for iPhone and Android the Pebble Smart Watch allows wireless access to your mobile phone to control music, get notifications, use as a sports device or answer calls. The watch face can be fully customized with a range of different displays and the device will run for seven days between charges.

Pebble ran a phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign generating over $10 M in funds to get the project off the ground. The watch has an SDK allowing developers to create apps specifically for the Pebble. It can currently be purchased from Pebble on pre-order for $150.00.

Forget Google Glass – Take a Look at Recon Jet Sunglasses!

With all the hype around Glass it’s easy to overlook other players in this market. Recon Jet’s sunglasses are really built with sports in mind. Their sleek design and the fact that sports sunglasses tend to be more chunky means that you can wear this device, ski down a mountainside or leap out of a plane and not look geeky doing it. You can even be relatively certain your glasses won’t fall off because Recon Jet have thought quite carefully about balance placing the devices’ batteries on the opposite side of the glasses to the electronics.

The Recon Jet Sunglasses utilize a dual core processor and dedicated GPU. They have WIFI, ANT+, Bluetooth, a HD camera and GPS integrated. Much like Glass, the sunglasses are controlled by swiping on the right hand side of the device and the display, when not in use resides on the bottom right of your screen in your peripheral vision. The choice of a dedicated GPU means that the graphics are sharp and compelling.

Much like Glass, many of the applications for the Recon Jet Sunglasses are still in development but most of the applications are likely to cater to the sports enthusiasts if the marketing is anything to go by: heart rate monitors, timers, geo-location, sports performance enhancement information, etc. They will also include social media integration and audio/video download and upload from other devices.

At a predicted retail price of $300 – $400 dollars this device would certainly make me think twice about purchasing Glass.