Human brain cells integrated into silicon chips, reconfigurable robotic triangles and nanocrystal arrays. Here are three of the latest tech innovations from across the world.
A team at Swiss university EPFL has developed a modular robot that consists of two-dimensional polygons that can be reconfigured into different shapes and sizes to achieve different tasks. Named Mori3 — for Modular Origami Robot — the robot is constructed from triangles of different sizes that communicate and link up with one another.
“We have shown that polygon meshing is a viable robotic strategy,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr Christoph Belke.
“These robots can change their own shape, attach to each other, communicate, and reconfigure to form functional and articulated structures.”
The robot has demonstrated its ability to move around, handle and transport objects, and interact with users. The team hopes it can be used for communication and repairs in spacecraft, but also sees potential applications on Earth for such purposes as helping people with limited mobility.
A research program at Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health has grafted human brain cells on to silicon chips in an effort to create “programmable biological computing platforms”.
Working with Melbourne start-up Cortical Labs, the program has already shown that brain cells grown in a petri dish can control the 1970s-era computer game Pong.
“This new technology capability in future may eventually surpass the performance of existing, purely silicon-based hardware,” Associate Professor Adeel Razi said.
“The outcomes of such research would have significant implications across multiple fields such as, but not limited to, planning, robotics, advanced automation, brain-machine interfaces and drug discovery, giving Australia a significant strategic advantage.”
The program has received a grant of almost $600,000 from the National Intelligence and Security Discovery Research Grants Program. The researchers hope that the human brain cells will allow artificial intelligence to engage in “continual lifelong learning” — acquiring new skills without losing already developed knowledge.
Engineers at the US’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a technique to grow precisely positioned and sized individual crystals of halide perovskite, a family of materials with optoelectronic properties.
Halide perovskites can be used in light-emitting diodes, lasers and solar cells, but engineers have struggled to position them precisely enough to allow advanced applications, such as photodetectors, on-chip light sources and memristors.
Rather than fabricate the crystals separately, the team grew them directly on a nanoscale chip using a tiny template pitted with wells that mark the places they want the crystals to develop.
“As our work shows, it is critical to develop new engineering frameworks for integration of nanomaterials into functional nanodevices,” Assistant Professor Farnaz Niroui said.
“By moving past the traditional boundaries of nanofabrication, materials engineering and device design, these techniques can allow us to manipulate matter at the extreme nanoscale dimensions, helping us realise unconventional device platforms important to addressing emerging technological needs.”