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BMW’s Futuristic Motorcycle Makes Helmets Obsolete

BMW's bike design ditches displays, helmets, and protective gear. Also, energy harvesting snow dumps and air-powered soft robots.

Air-Powered Soft Robots Help You Stand

Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland have created soft robots that are powered by muscle-like actuators.

Working out of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab, the team designed the robots to be used on the human body in order to help people move, like helping you stand and stay up for rehab and home care.

The researchers create the designs using a predictive model to carefully control the robot’s mechanical behavior before the robots are developed using elastomers that are controlled by changing the air pressure in specially designed soft balloons.

Right now, the soft robot is attached to an external pump, but the team is working on a miniaturized system that would be more mobile friendly.

The researchers are also working on adaptable robots that can navigate cramped and hostile environments. Because they are completely soft, the researchers say that they should also be able to withstand squeezing and crushing.

What I find most encouraging is that the researchers put their step-by-step design tools online, so other roboticists and students can take advantage of their work. Hopefully, we’ll start to see more soft robot designs pop up in the industry.

Harvesting Energy in Snow Dumps

A recent study from the University of British Columbia came out this week with the headline, "Snow Could Reduce Need for Air Conditioning."

In the study, researchers found that it is possible to stockpile snow cleared from winter roads in a snow dump and direct a building's air handling units through it to reduce air conditioning reliance during the warmer parts of the year.

The study included simulations for large buildings and accounted for the different types of equipment needed in both conventional systems with industrial cooling units and snow-dump based systems, which insulate snow collected during winter months to use during the summer.

The idea would make good use of waste material and this type of system could eventually help cities recoup some of the high costs of snow removal.

BMW’s Futuristic Motorcycle Makes Helmets Obsolete

In the next thirty years, Edgar Heinrich, a Head of Design at BMW, thinks that bikers will be able to ditch their helmets and protective gear. As part of its 100-year anniversary, BMW developed a series of Vision Vehicles, futuristic vehicles that based on the assumption that mobility will continue to become more connected. 

This week, the company unveiled the Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 futuristic motorcycle. The bike strips out all displays, and places the information on the Visior, a pair of smart glasses that could do quite a bit more than provide wind and weather protection.

According to Heinrich, they will provide an intelligent connection between the rider, the machine, and the environment. So they will be able to anticipate what lies ahead on the road and alert the rider on one of four designated display areas that the rider can control with eye movements.

It will also include a what they are calling a Digital Companion, which when paired with the rider’s smart-fabric clothing will monitor every aspect of the ride, from your speed to your heart rate. Now all this data would seemingly be annoying for the rider, but Heinrich says it will remain in the background or silent unless it detects an anomaly, because he believes it would otherwise steal you away from an otherwise analog experience.

And the days of tipping your bike or laying it down will also be long gone as active assistance systems will enhance stability and safety by automatically balancing the motorcycle, both on the road and when stationary.

All of this in thirty years? Ambitious, but attainable. 

This is Engineering By Design with David Mantey.

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