Light Friday: Tattoo-Based Telepathy

Plus:
The Art of Pepto-Bismol
Soft Robots Solve Hard Problems
How We’ll Live on Mars


As the pint-sized telekinetic tells Neo in The Matrix, the secret to manipulating objects with one’s mind is to realize “there is no spoon.” But according to research from the University of California, San Diego, what you really need for telepathy is temporary tattoos.

Electrical engineer Todd Coleman is leading a team researching the development of thin, temporary tattoos embedded with circuitry that could allow the user to move objects just by thinking. Similar technology has existed for mentally controlling objects such as prosthetic limbs, but these involve invasive brain implants. Coleman and his team are hoping their micro-controls will make the system more accessible and attractive.

The stretchy polyester tattoos are about the size of a piece of human hair. Coleman has embedded various sensors in the tattoos to detect electric signals linked with brain waves. The foldable, stretchable electrode arrays could one day interpret these signals and transmit them to electronic equipment, essentially allowing the user to control machinery with their minds.

Credit: Neural Interaction Lab

Credit: Neural Interaction Lab

Sensors on the throat could one day translate sub-vocal movements and transmit them to another user’s sensors, allowing them to communicate non-verbally. “We’ve demonstrated our sensors can pick up the electrical signals of muscle movements in the throat so that people can communicate just with thought,” Coleman told i09.

Although Coleman admits that brain implants are better than his devices at picking up brain waves, the new system could prove valuable in the future for hands-free computer control. While it’s still more science fiction than fact, TIME points to Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The Art of Pepto-Bismol

That bottle of pink indigestion liquid in your medicine cabinet may also be a source of surprisingly beautiful metal. The active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol is bismuth subsalicylate, which is derived from bismuth salts. Although it’s common today, bismuth was once regarded as a kind of miracle substance, for its anti-inflammatory, bactericidal, and antacid properties.

In a recent science-based instructional video, Melanie Hoff showed how the metallic bismuth in a bottle of Pepto can be separated from the rest of the liquid using muriatic acid and foil, producing a strangely lovely slag.

Soft Robots Solve Hard Problems

A new soft robot modeled after sea creatures could soon be the newest member of search-and-rescue teams. The four-legged rubber machine is able to constrict its “limbs” and crawl or undulate into small crevices when activated by air.

Researchers at Harvard University designed the five-inch long robot, which resembles a starfish, using elastomeric polymers. The soft robot is resistant to damage from rocks and falling objects, but the downside is that it’s more susceptible to puncture wounds. The project, funded by the Pentagon’s research unit, is part of an effort to model robots after organisms without skeletons.

The small bot has a lot of potential: it may be eventually used as a surgical tool to hold fragile tissue, or in rescue missions. The robot can squeeze into tight spaces – including gaps only two centimeters high, according to American Scientist.

Air  pumped through a small tube into microchannels allows the bot to wrap around an item and pick it up. The robot is able to grip delicate objects without damaging them, even an uncooked egg, as shown in the video demonstration below, which features a six-limbed version of the machine.

How We’ll Live on Mars

People have long fantasized about what life on the red planet might be like, but Czech designer Lukas Vojir has taken the extra step of fully modeling and animating his vision of life on Mars.

Styled as a 1930s-era newsreel, the short clip features 3-D modeled structures spreading across the Martian landscape, including terraforming systems and rapidly assembling pre-fabricated apartment buildings. The retrofuturistic aesthetic is sure to delight:

Have a great weekend, folks.

 

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