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Bizarre Tech: dinosaur tail, life-saving UAV and time-of-death blood test

Image credit: Keio University

This month, I’ve found some special bits and pieces for you to enjoy: a wearable for dinosaur fans, a life-saving craft, and a blood test that tells you when you’ll die. Nice!

Wearable agility tail

Every dinosaur enthusiast’s fantasy

Na na naaaa na na, na na naaaa na na, na na naaaa, na naaaa, na naaaaaa.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s my written version of the ‘Jurassic Park’ opening theme song. Read it back. There you go.

This in-your-face tail promises to improve your agility and balance – though personally, I think having a big ol’ wearable stuck to your bum makes the ‘better dexterity’ point moot, because you’ll look like an absolute loon.

You’ll resemble a messed-up robot velociraptor/human hybrid with that thing. Well, a much larger one anyway. Fun fact: velociraptors from the ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise were depicted as big lads, so they were extra scary to the audience. In reality, they were the size of turkeys, and probably had feathers. Lame.

The velociraptor’s size in the films warped the views of many people, like five-year-old me. Illusions were shattered when I read a factual dino book. I was especially surprised at the real size of the brachiosaurus. Those absolute units at the start of the ‘JP’ film – when the theme music really kicks in – weren’t the size of skyscrapers at all. Major disappoint.

Developed by researchers at Keio University in Japan, the wearable is called Arque, and is an “artificial biomimicry-inspired tail for extending innate body”. Its creation was apparently inspired by the way monkeys leap through trees, using their tails for balance.

It’s powered using compressed air, so four artificial muscles contract or expand to make the tail move. Made of multiple interlocking plastic vertebrae, the Arque is also modular, so bits can be added and taken away. Just in case you want a diplodocus tail. Those guys had massive swooshers.


Life-saving UAV

As epic as it sounds.

The Pouncer is a proof-of-concept unmanned air vehicle (UAV)developed by Windhorse Aerospace to deliver food aid to those who need it.

Natural disasters and conflicts often mean that access for aid deliveries by traditional methods is tricky, and can be ineffective, inaccurate, or even impossible.

Windhorse says Pouncer is designed to be loaded with appropriate food and transported to the disaster area. Then it flies independently to its pre-planned destination and lands accurately into the zone. This means it can avoid infrastructure problems or hostile groups while saving time, money and (obviously) lives.

With a wingspan of 3m, Pouncer costs around £500 and can carry up to 50kg of payload. Its glide range is 35-40km based on a release at 10,000ft. At its maximum release height of 25,000ft, it can glide 100km.  

So what’s so special about this UAV? Well, here’s the cool stuff: its pre-formed shell can be reused to provide shelter, the frame can be burnt safely to cook food, and the payload, which is food and water, provides the nutrition. The company claims that one day, even the frame may have edible elements. Bizarre. And a damn good idea.


Time-of-death predictor

As morbid as it sounds.

I don’t think I like this. It reminds me of the strange online quizzes where you answer a few questions, like your name, date of birth, or favourite food. Then, as if by magic, the fool-proof quiz conjures up how and when you will die, usually by showing you a gravestone with some weird eulogy, like: ‘Robert Timson, 5th February 2004-28th January 2067. Died by choking on a grape.’ That sort of thing.

Now science has come up with a test where biomarkers in the blood of elderly people could help estimate their vulnerability to disease. Basically, when you’re old, you might have a test that pretty much says what you’ll naturally die of. If you don’t choke on a piece of fruit first.

Aside from any morbidity and panic induced by this accurately timed impending doom, the studies by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing and the Leiden University Medical Centre could eventually be used to slow down the process of getting old.

Usually, when researchers investigate the molecular basis of getting on a bit, as it were, they study model organisms like worms, fruit flies or mice. The Max Planck people aim to link these “basic insights from model organisms” to the causes and processes of ageing in humans.

The scientists analysed blood samples of 44,168 people and found 14 biomarkers that indicate remaining lifespan.

The blood-based measurement is intended as a first step towards more personalised treatments.

Having the test could mean an elderly person can try to delay the inevitable with preventative measures. Then again, when you’re old, don’t you just want to enjoy yourself? Eat rich foods and drink good wine, just because? Go bungee jumping? Travel the world and attend all-night raves? Become a stunt double? You know, the usual.


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