Engineering Innovations Showcase: best in show at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Image credit: Bento Bio
The Engineering Innovations Showcase at the Royal Academy of Engineering put a selection of brand new gadgets on display: from a football-playing robot to the first prototype of a VR remote control.
Some of the new technologies at the show included:
Magnetic filtration for bloodborne diseases
This medical device, developed by MediSieve, aims to be the basis of a one-off treatment for bloodborne diseases such as malaria, sepsis and leukaemia.
“It is a tool to allow doctors to remove practically anything they want directly from a patient’s blood […] we clean blood using magnets,” Dr George Frodsham – who developed the technology during his PhD – tells E&T. “It’s quite similar to dialysis in the sense that we circulate a patient’s blood outside of their body in a continuous flow and then use magnetic forces to remove the targets.”
The blood is circulated through a disposable external blood loop containing the filter. The filtered blood is then returned to the body.
Malaria-infected cells have natural magnetic properties, while treating other diseases requires the addition of tiny magnetic particles coated with antibodies; these magnetic particles are currently under development now that the magnetic filter itself has been completed.
The Raspberry Pi for biology
The Bento Lab is a DNA analysis lab contained within a small 3D-printed box. It contains a centrifuge, PCR and transilluminator, allowing citizens to process and visualise DNA at home.
“In the same way you can teach yourself to code at home you can also teach yourself to do DNA analysis,” said Bethan Wolfenden, founder of Bento Bio. She hopes that the Bento Lab can do for biology and biotechnology what the Raspberry Pi and Arduino have done for programming.
Already, the compact lab has been used in a study to identify the genes that make plankton grow and to understand the molecular chemistry of craft beer in order to improve precision brewing. While the Bento Lab is aimed at citizen scientists, it has also been taken to Madagascar for use in DNA analysis and will travel with researchers to the Arctic.
The Bento Lab will begin manufacturing this month.
Touch sensitive materials for VR touch controllers
A flexible, conductive, touch sensitive material could prove an elegant alternative to keyboards. The company behind the material, Tangi0, aim to make it possible to replace all electronic sensors and chips in a device with this material.
“The idea is that we use this material, paired with software to get as much information as possible about touch location, movement, speed and pressure,” said Ming Kong, CEO of Tangi0.
Tangi0 are looking into the possibility of using the material in interior control panels for cars, where the touch sensitive material could replace and “uninspiring” rigid buttons for operation of windows, wing mirrors and other non-driving functions. They have also developed a sleek VR remote controller which allows a user to navigate through virtual 3D environments and manipulate objects within it.
“Lego” for music education
This gadget was inspired by watching children play the keyboard for the first time; they played only the white notes and one at a time, being worried that they would create an unpleasant noise.
“Soundbops” aim to give young children a more positive first experience with music and enable music education without traditional instruments, which often require well-developed motor skills.
The child is given a selection of large, colourful, clearly labelled buttons, which they can press into gaps in a board. When these “soundbops” or “musical building blocks” are pressed, they play different notes.
“It allows children to learn music more easily because they only need to place the notes that they need, they start to learn about chords and through play and experimentation they start to learn about music as well,” Michael Tougher, CEO of Soundbops, told E&T.
A joystick for stroke rehabilitation
According to the Stroke Association, one in five British women and one in six British men will suffer a stroke during their lives. Most survivors lose control of an arm, and require intensive physiotherapy to recover. But with NHS physiotherapists unable to treat the sheer number of stroke survivors, there is a need for technology to help patients through the most time-intensive, repetitive tasks.
Neurofenix has developed a hand controller and companion app – the GameBall Platform – to assist stroke survivors with physical and cognitive therapy in the clinic or at home. The patient places their hand on top of the controller to train the whole upper limb through a series of tasks.
“Competing robotic devices were £10,000 or £20,000 in clinics, and we said this cannot be like that,” said Guillem Singla Buxarrais, co-founder of Neurofenix. “We need to create a portable device that is easy for stroke survivors to use themselves or with minimal supervision.”
The company aims to launch the GameBall Platform in the UK in 2018 for less than £1000 per unit.