One of the most exciting fields of engineering is the application of existing principles in totally new ways to solve long standing human-centric problems, and there have been recent breakthroughs on two such problems that will extend help to millions of people.
The GyroGlove is just what it sounds like: a glove with one or more small but intense Gyroscopes attached to it that will help steady the hands of victims of Parkinson’s and other degenerative neural disorders. Being able to shave without slicing your own throat/femoral artery or being able to eat soup without splattering half of the bowl across the table is a given for most folks, but for those who suffer from the trembling such a condition induces it makes all the difference in regaining a life with dignity and control.
For the visually impaired, electronic communication has meant a telephone so you could talk to people, or a (tiny motors driving very tiny vertical rods mechanism slaved to your internet connection) single line of Braille that you would have to read and remember until the next line was built up on the interface, and maybe the next, until you finally held the entire sentence in your mind. The advances in speech-to-text have been tremendous in the last decade, and that has helped, but there is finally a cost effective potential solution for a Braille Tablet. Using microfluidics rather than motors, a whole new class of Braille electronic outputs become available that make it possible to offer a complete screen worth of text rather than a single line, and for a fraction of the previously available outputs price.
These are powerful advances to my mind, offering new help to a lot of people that never had these options before. Even though each solution will only benefit some percentage of their target populations, I can’t help but grin at the thought that we continue to push back the barriers that keep us all from advancing.
The Live DVD build CAE Linux is a complete engineering toolkit for designing, simulating, testing, and creating/printing your own projects. Everything in the build is free and open source software, allowing you to design your device, do multiphysics simulations to optimize it, and generate the code for building it with 3D printing & milling. You can also design and develop your own printed circuit boards, and microcontroller circuits for automation. Not only do you not need to pay for a license for any of this (because of the GNU/Creative Commons licensing it comes with), you don’t even have to install it on your computer; it all runs directly off the DVD, being a Live Disc. This is pretty much the most powerful open source engineering package I know of, if you have any interest in the design and creation of anything from toy cars to advanced robotics, do yourself a favor and check out this build. You can find the download here, although I recommend visiting their home page to learn all about it and see what kind of support resources are also available.
I wanted to break from my usual kind of entry for a moment and cheer on the MOD production process, meaning Manufacture On Demand. Warner Brothers, Shout Factory, MGM, and several others have done this with a lot of titles which have not been available for a while, and it is a great business model for the digital age. You pick one of the titles in their MOD catalog and put in your order, at which point they burn you a copy of the CD or DVD on their industrial grade reproduction gear, print out a label, and send it your way. For the customer, thousands of titles you could not previously get your hands on except possibly in very low quality bootleg format are now accessible. For the manufacturer, titles they own but were not previously making any money on can now turn a small but steady profit for them, without the loss incurred by going to a full press run when the demand for the product is not there. If it turns out the demand is there as evinced by the number of folks putting in orders for an MOD title, they can then release the disk or box set as a full press run (“press” being a leftover term from pressing vynal records, the original media distribution format).
Obviously this process is good for both music CDs and video DVDs, but it doesn’t stop there. With the advent of 3D printing, objects of all kinds can be put through the manufacture on demand process. Even better, they might be designed anywhere in the world, but you could have them printed locally and avoid the shipping costs, downloading the printing template across the web. Did you know this is the same technology Jay Leno uses to produce mil spec perfect replacement parts for his vintage automobile collection? This stuff is available today, and although it can be a bit pricy, there are also open source 3D Printing options worth looking into, such as the ongoing MIT research.