New, slippery toilet coating provides cleaner flushing, saves water

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Penn State researchers have developed a method that dramatically reduces the amount of water needed to flush a conventional toilet, which usually requires 6 liters. Credit: Wong Laboratory for Nature Inspired Engineering, Penn State

Every day, more than 141 billion liters of water are used solely to flush toilets. With millions of global citizens experiencing water scarcity, what if that amount could be reduced by 50%?

The possibility may exist through research conducted at Penn State, released today (Nov. 18) in Nature Sustainability.

“Our team has developed a robust bio-inspired, liquid, sludge- and bacteria-repellent coating that can essentially make a toilet self-cleaning,” said Tak-Sing Wong, Wormley Early Career Professor of Engineering and associate professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering.

In the Wong Laboratory for Nature Inspired Engineering, housed within the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Materials Research Institute, researchers have developed a method that dramatically reduces the amount of water needed to flush a conventional toilet, which usually requires 6 liters.

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Dory is aimed at bringing underwater drones to a wider audience

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The Dory underwater drone is presently on KickstarterChasing Innovation

 When consumer aerial camera-drones first hit the market, buyers were mostly limited to models costing $1,000 or more. These days, half-decent quadcopters can be had for under a hundred bucks. While not going quite that cheap, Chasing Innovation is now aiming to make underwater drones similarly more affordable, with the Dory.

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Skydio’s new auto-follow drone is basically a flying A.I. cinematographer

Up-and-coming unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturer Skydio unveiled a new drone today. The Skydio 2, as it’s called, is essentially a new-and-improved version of the Skydio R1 — an autonomy-focused camera drone that was released in early 2018. The new version boasts a bundle of improvements, including better battery life, longer range, and dramatically improved auto-follow capabilities

“Skydio 2 combines groundbreaking artificial intelligence with a best-in-class 4K60 HDR camera, 3.5 kilometers of wireless range, and 23 minutes of flight time in a drone that fits anywhere you can carry a 13-inch laptop,” the company said in a statement. “For experienced pilots, Skydio 2 makes every aspect of flying drones more creative, more fun, more useful, and less stressful. But it’s also capable of flying completely by itself with the skills of an expert pilot, opening up the power and magic of aerial capture to new audiences.”

Auto-follow mode has been a standard feature on camera drones for years now, but despite the fact that it’s relatively common, it’s typically more of an afterthought than a flagship feature on most drones. For Skydio, however, auto-follow functionality is the main event — and it shows. The company’s first-generation drone can fly and dodge obstacles better than practically any other drone on the market, and the Skydio 2 builds upon that already stellar foundation.

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In a world of smart gadgets, why are toilets still so dumb?

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Your butt deserves better!

I spent the last three days talking to dozens of people about pooping.

The ease with which I can discuss the act of defecation is somewhat of a paradox — because I am exceedingly bathroom shy. Silent office restrooms with stall doors that end a foot and a half off the ground are my worst enemy, while the best workspace toilet experience I’ve ever had was, oddly, at a WeWork, where the barriers were floor to ceiling, there was always music playing, and each stall came equipped with its own bottle of air freshener spray.

Yet such restrooms are rare. In the United States, at least, we’re far more likely to encounter cramped, quiet bathrooms with terrible two-ply toilet paper and dribble on the seat. Even at home, where our bathrooms are typically more comfortable than what you’ll find at the mall or an office building, we’re limited to a basic setup: a plain porcelain bowl, with maybe two flush settings, beside a roll of whatever toilet paper you’re willing to invest in. God help you if you run out.

“Imagine a world where you only need to wipe once”

But it doesn’t have to be this way! All over the world, restrooms are blessed with more humane configurations. In some places, they come equipped with hoses so the user can more easily cleanse themselves after use. In others, such as France, bathrooms have bidets which perform the same function as the hose, only hands-free. And in some regions of Asia, most notably Japan, high-tech toilets with sound effects, heated seats, several bidet functions, and air dryers are as ubiquitous as automatic faucets, as Jane, a New York-based freelance calligrapher who lived in the Kagawa region of Japan for four years and requested that only her first name be used, told me.

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This brilliant hydroponic system puts a whole garden on your countertop

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Growing your own food is one of life’s great pleasures—plus it’s good for you and for the environment. But in increasingly tight, urban homes, we don’t all have room for gardens. And hydroponic systems, as appealing as they may be, often appear to be a whole lot of hardware for only a bit of actual green. Some fresh arugula would be nice for dinner, but who wants giant plastic box taking up half their kitchen to get a few leaves?

The Rotofarm, by an Australian company called Bace (which appears to have produced skincare products in a past life), is a space-friendly hydroponic system, and it doubles as a beautiful sculpture in your home. With a circular design, which rotates plants like a Ferris wheel through the day, the Rotofarm is able to fit nearly five feet of growing area inside a countertop footprint of just 11 inches. Water is dispersed through the nutrient and water reservoir in the stainless steel base, and a bright LED grow light lives in the middle like a tiny sun. Then to harvest, you can tilt the farm 180-degrees and pull off its clear cover. You take what you want (kale, mint, lettuce, spinach, or, yes, marijuana), and close it back up.

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HUD swim goggles put performance data in your face

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Form Swim Goggles sell for US$199

Competitive swimmers certainly like to track their performance, often using devices such as swim watches – the problem is, the athletes have to stop to look at those things. A Vancouver-based startup is out to address that problem, with its head-up display (HUD) Form Swim Goggles.

Looking for the most part like regular goggles, the Forms are equipped with an IMU (inertial measurement unit), a microprocessor, and a Google Glass-like transparent projection screen that can be worn alongside the left or right lens.

With some help from the IMU’s accelerometer and gyroscope, the processor is able to track metrics such as split time, interval time, rest time, total time, stroke rate, stroke count, distance per stroke, pace per 100, pace per 50, distance, length count, and calories burned. Selected bits of that data are continuously displayed via the screen, superimposed over the wearer’s view of the pool.

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Softer-than-cotton antibacterial shirt is made out of milk

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The Limitless Milk Shirt is claimed to be three times softer than regular cotton

Every day, dairies dispose of milk that for one reason or another is deemed unfit for human consumption. A Los Angeles-based startup by the name of Mi Terro is taking some of that milk and using it to create T-shirts, that reportedly have some big advantages over regular cotton Tees.

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No more cardboard boxes? 3M invents an ingenious new way to ship products

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The company is launching a new material that could reduce the time, materials, and space required to ship products by 50%.

Getting things delivered has never been more convenient. With just a few clicks, you can have a new bottle of shampoo sitting outside your door the next day, or that cool T-shirt you’ve been eyeing on Etsy. But when those items arrive at your door, there’s a good chance they’ll be in a too-big box, stuffed with lots of wasteful packaging filler.

That’s why the Minnesota-based materials company 3M is releasing a new type of packaging that requires no tape and no filler, and it can be customized to fit any object under 3 pounds—which 3M says accounts for about 60% of all items that are bought online and shipped. 3M claims that the material, called the Flex & Seal Shipping Roll, can reduce time spent packing, the amount of packaging materials, and the space needed to ship packages.

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Sony is crowdfunding a wearable ‘air conditioner’

 

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The Reon Pocket helps you stealthily cope with heatwaves and cold winters.

Are you struggling to cope with the heat outdoors? Sony might have a solution, if not as soon as you might like. The company’s First Flight program is crowdfunding a wearable ‘air conditioner,’ the Reon Pocket, that slips into a pouch in a special t-shirt. The stealthy device doesn’t condition the air as such. Rather, it sits at the base of your neck and uses the Peltier effect (where heat is absorbed or emitted when you pass an electrical current across a junction) to either lower your temperature by 23F or raise it by 14F, all without bulk or noise. You could wear a stuffy business outfit on a hot day and avoid looking like you’ve just stepped out of a sauna.

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This honeycomb-shaped bike helmet folds to fit in your bag

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Made from recycled plastic, the Cyclo is designed to make it easier to carry a helmet with you.

 

This honeycomb-shaped bike helmet folds to fit in your bag

If you commute on a bike-share bike, you probably don’t wear a helmet—one recent study in Seattle found that only one in five riders using bike-share services wore helmets, versus more than 90% of riders with a bike of their own. It’s largely about convenience; most people don’t want to lug a bulky helmet around all day, particularly if they’ve left home on foot and might not necessarily ride later.

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Cooling/heating window film captures and releases solar energy

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The MOST window film keeps rooms from heating up during the day, but warms them at night(Credit: Yen Strandqvist/Chalmers University of Technology )

A couple of years ago we heard about the MOlecular Solar Thermal (MOST) system, in which solar energy is stored in a liquid medium, then later released as heat. Now, the technology has been applied to a clear film that could be applied to the inside of windows in energy-efficient buildings.

Developed at Sweden’s Chalmers University, the MOST film incorporates a norbornadiene–quadricyclane molecule. This causes the transparent polymer film to take on an orangey-yellow color when not being directly exposed to sunlight.

Once the sun rises in the morning and its rays strike the material, however, much of the sunlight’s solar energy is absorbed by the molecule. More specifically, the molecule captures some of the incoming photons, causing it to isomerize – this means that it temporarily becomes another type of molecule, with exactly the same atoms but in a different arrangement.

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The Band-Aid of the future knows when you’re healed

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The Band-Aid of the future knows when you’re healed

 It’s easy to imagine these wearable circuits on the shelves of CVS.

The Apple Watch is an enticing product, but it hasn’t revolutionized personal health the way its cheerleaders have promised. It can track steps, but it can’t see how your body is moving. It can measure your heart rate, but it can’t see how you are healing. The Apple Watch really only scratches the surface of what we imagine for intimate, wearable electronics.

But a new research project out of Carnegie Mellon is nearly as easy to put on as an Apple Watch and a whole lot more capable and customizable. Dubbed ElectroDermis, it’s a spandex bandage topped with stretchable, electric wiring and the sorts of circuits and sensors you find in any mobile electronic. “We were inspired by traditional medical bandages, as they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, soft and conformal, and can be placed anywhere on the body” for more accurate readings, says the paper’s co-lead Eric Markvicka.

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