Kinetic Art

I’m always on the look out for cool art pieces that incorporate engineering. When I came across the Kinetic Sculpture exhibit at the BMW museum in Munich, Germany I was very excited. It’s basically a sculpture made up of metallic balls suspended on very thin wire to give the illusion that the balls are floating. The balls can be made to move up or down via the wires to create different forms. Enjoy.

Google X

So there have been various rumors floating around the Bay Area for a few years now about mysterious projects that Google is working on in a Skunk Works-esque speculative R&D lab called Google X (sounds like a comic book). Projects that have gotten a bit of publicity include self-driving cars, space elevators, and refrigerators that automatically order groceries as you run out of food.

Recently there has been a spate of new articles about the lab, possibly in advance of an upcoming announcement about one of the projects. Many of the projects are noteworthy not just for their jaw-dropping ambition but also for the degree to which they are (or seem) unrelated to Google’s core business operations (unless a space elevator is a natural extension of AdWords). However, the thing that stuck out most to me while reading one of the articles published last week was a significant focus on the “Web of Things” (Google’s words). Broadly speaking, it sounds like one of the main areas that Google is pursuing revolves around the potential to connect more objects in our everyday lives to the internet.

Setting aside how much I love what Google is doing on a philosophical level as an engineer and innovation-phile (Mars, here we come!), I am also excited more specifically as a mechatronic systems designer. The idea of the next phase of internet evolution being one that connects people’s physical lives to the web is one that many people (*cough cough* including us) have been touting for a few years now. It also demands products and systems that are exactly the types of design projects that mechatronics is best at undertaking: systems that combine physical and electronic utility. The post linked above explores some of my thoughts on Web of Things products so I won’t beat a dead horse but it’s great to see someone like Google putting serious time and resources into these efforts and dreaming big in what they try to address. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with (and sign me up for one of the cars right now).

Help Me Obi Wan

I found out today that Japan has created a system utilizing lasers that can create true 3D video. Let’s hope the Death Star isn’t next on their list.

Yesterday’s Factory Automation

I recently came across this video of 1936 footage from a car assembly line in Flint, Michigan. I was really impressed (and surprised) with the level of automation throughout many of the processes – I hadn’t realized that manufacturing technology had progressed so far at that time.

Although it looks like many of the processes shown are based on more purely mechanical systems than is the case today, it was inspiring to see how powerful a well-designed mechanical system can be, even without throwing electronic sensing and controls into the mix. It’s fascinating to imagine what some of the brilliant engineers of yesteryear could have cooked up with the power afforded by today’s (or tomorrow’s) technology.

New Asimo

Honda released a new version of their Asimo robot today. I remember when I first saw Asimo, it was 2002 at the Robocup championships in Fukuoka, Japan. At the time, we were all amazed that it was able to (barely) perform a penalty kick against a very forgiving goalkeeper. It’s amazing how far Asimo has come in only 9 years. I can’t wait to see what will happen in another nine years.