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Living in the Future: July 1, 2013

This Week: Holographic TV through Acoustics, Alchemical Research, and Housecat-sized robots!

A new method of generating moving holograms has been designed by MIT’s Media Lab. They use waveguides to direct light to the appropriate 3d pixel location, using acousto-optic modulation. The technology uses crystals of lithum niobate which bends light at a variety of angles when exposed to acoustic waves. To make the image in full color, beams of Red, Green, and Blue light (the primary colors of Light) are sent through particular wave-channels to be scattered by the crystal. In analogy, picture a blanket stretched by kids (the crystal). Red, Green and Blue balls are dropped onto the blanket (the light beams) and then bounced by waves sent through the blanket (the acoustic signal). Using precise acoustics means that the RGB light streams are sent in the right direction, updating 30 times each second, just like broadcast television. The best part about this technology is that it’s actually cheaper and more efficient than current LCD TV technology.

When you think of Alchemy, generally the image that comes to mind is medieval philosophers trying to create gold from other metals. The research that they left behind has been difficult to decipher, but that’s where Larry Principe of Johns Hopkins University comes in. He’s an alchemical historian, trying to recover the experiments of the alchemists to recreate the materials and decipher their cryptic notes. Oddly, he’s also taken to labeling his material using their nomenclature, instead of modern chemical notation. Recreating the alchemical experiments may help modern scientists understand the history of chemistry and physics that much better.

Generally, modern robots are large pieces of equipment, using actuators and motors to move at a slow deliberate pace, or needing to be stabilized if they move quickly. A happy medium between these pondering beasts and unwieldy speedsters has been designed by EPFL Biorobotics Laboratory, and it is about the size of a housecat. It uses biomimicry to self-stabilize, and is able to run about 3.2 mph, quite respectable for its size. They’re calling it the CheetahCub, based on the name of its big-brother at Boston Dynamics, the Cheetah. Oh, it can also climb steps, which is very difficult for most robots!