Monthly Archives: November 2018

Does the future of aviation start now?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Current planes have a lot of problems. Fuel efficiency and how loud they are, being the main ones. How can one solve both problems at the same time? No moving parts is the answer and that’s exactly what MIT researchers have just done.

The plane their build weighs about 2,5 kg and has a wingspan of about 5 meters. The first sustained flight was achieved after 9 years since the first research. It has zero moving parts and somehow manages to maintain a stable flight. It has flown 60 meters (full length of a school gym they tested the prototype in) multiple times.  The plane is built of wings, main body with batteries in it, power supply that converts batteries’ output into high voltage, and thin and thick wires parallel to the wings and beneath them. It looks like this:

MIT motorless pane render

And this is how it looks mid-flight:

How does the propulsion work? The plane uses very high voltage (40,000 volts) to generate ions out of the air. Electromagnetic field is created by the flow of electrons inside the wires. This field moves ions from positive to negative electrode. Moving ions push air molecules in the same direction they are travelling and make thrust, that propels the plane. It is called ionic wind. Here is some visualisation:


A researcher at Oxford Thermofluids Institute says “Although it is still a long way off from commercial gas turbine propulsion … electroaerodynamic propulsion has the potential to be a game-changer for short-range, small-payload drone flights”. The researchers of the project aren’t convinced this technology can be used in commercial aviation, but say that it can be used in modern planes to reduce fuel usage by reducing the drag created by the air travelling along the aircraft and make planes quieter. They also said that they want to optimise current prototype. It is a big and one of the fist steps in this area of aviation, and surely not the last one. If the technology can be optimised in order to produce more thrust with less voltage, it has a real potential to replace jet engines.

The project has two downsides that are rarely mentioned. The first one is that it leaves an ozone trail. It is a gas made out of three molecules of oxygen. You probably know its smell, because it is present during and after lightning storms. Ozone is good in the higher levels of our atmosphere (stops UV light), but near the ground level it can harm whole respiratory system, causing premature death or asthma. The other downside is its efficiency. It is very, very insefficient compared to all means of transportation used today.

I also highly recommend watching a video made by Nature you can find below.

Fun fact: The main researcher, Steven Barrett, was inspired by television series “Star Trek”. He said:“This made me think, in the long-term future, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines,” Barrett says. “They should be more like the shuttles in ‘Star Trek,’ that have just a blue glow and silently glide.”

What do you think?


also the video linked above




Alexa, a witness of a murder?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Echo speaker

Since the release of Amazon Alexa in 2014 there have been many controversies regarding the amount of data that the speaker is collecting at all times. The way it works is that the Echo device is designed to detect “wake words” and only then start working. However, there were a lot of cases when Alexa actually recorded more than the user would expect. Echo can sometimes misinterpret the “wake words” or other commands and start listening and recording even when a user does not intend to record.

Court cases

Even though this is something that should not happen at all, the New Hampshire authorities investigating the murders of two women still want to check. A judge ruled that they can examine recordings from the Echo device because they believe that there might be evidence related to the crime. Investigators believe that Echo could have recorded the attack and the events that followed it.

Last year, when the similar case occurred in Arkansas, the suspect who owned the speaker agreed to release recording from the day of the suspected crime. In the end, a murder charge was dropped.

Is our privacy at stake?

Though these recordings might be beneficial in such cases, we have to think about the amount of information we are giving away to large corporations. Should we question our actual privacy, or should we believe that our recordings are in good, safe hands? Using Alexa you can do almost anything, from ordering food to your home address, to checking your bank account. While at a time it is very convenient, we need to keep in mind that such devices are always listening and gathering all kinds of personal data from the user.

It all comes to personal preferences and the ability to adapt to the actual changes. In the modern world the word “privacy” almost lost its meaning. Every device that you own collects information. About you, your data usage, your shopping preferences and so on. There is almost nothing you can do about it, since this is the life that we have now. This data can be used in many different ways, from personalized ads to such things like winning presidential campaigns. In most of the cases it won’t affect you that much, however, it is worth imagining what could be done with the information that is being collected about you. Who knows, maybe one day you say something that you would like to buy around Echo speaker and a couple of days you will see ads about this on Amazon.


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Reading Time: 2 minutes


Since the first manned flight was accomplished by the Wright brothers more than 100 years ago, literally every aircraft in the sky has flown only with the help of moving parts such as propellers, turbine blades and fans, which are powered by the combustion of fossil fuels or by battery packs that produce a persistent and annoying noise. We could only dream about futuristic shuttle crafts that effortlessly skimmed through the air, with seemingly no moving parts and hardly any noise or exhaust.

But it seems that science fiction is becoming a reality. In paper, published in Nature journal, MIT researchers, who was inspired by the Star Trek movie, reported that they have created and flown the first plane without any moving parts. It became possible thanks to the concept known as “ionic wind” – the wind is generated in the air between two electrodes when current goes between them. When enough voltage is applied, a thrust can be produced with the “ionic wind” to power a small plane without the need for any moving parts. The idea was first introduced in the 1920s but never widely spread and was successfully applied only in avionics.

MIT’s magic plane flies without fuel or moving parts


Application of this technology would give us many opportunities in the future such as safety, low noise levels, maintenance, and environmental benefits over traditional planes. But this idea also entails many challenges for scientists that they will have to solve.  Prospective aircrafts powered by “ionic wind” would require sustainable supply of electricity in order to create sufficient voltage to propel the plane. A small 2,45 kilograms MIT’s plane model needs around 40.000 volts to get off the ground and scaling it up to the size of commercial aircraft will create huge weight problems that the design would need to overcome.

Obviously, there is still long way to make this concept widely used but some things may become possible in the foreseeable future. Not talking about using this technology for drones, it also creates some prospects for hybrid planes.  Steven Barret, MIT professor and one of the plane creators, believes that this technology could be used in conjunction with jet engines to make the overall craft more fuel efficient by re energizing the air that passes over the aircraft and eliminating drag.

The First steps to create our future are done. Now, looking forward to the continuation of the story.


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Revolutionising Food Production with the Small Robot Company

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Small Robot Company has won a prestigious Horizontal Innovation™ Award from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC).

The Company harnesses the power and precision of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the way that food is produced. The £50,000 funded research award will look to develop ‘Harry’. It is precision drilling and planting robot.

The company aims to make farms more profitable, and increase yield and efficiency, through using small robots instead of tractors.

The technology is built on 15 years of robotics research by Professor Simon Blackmore, the world’s leading expert on precision farming at Harper Adams University. Harry has the potential to help farms to increase yields and profits whilst substantially reducing the use of chemicals.

Its arable farming robots Tom, Dick and Harry enable farmers to be kinder to soil, kinder to the environment, more efficient, more precise and more productive. It will also reduce chemical usage and cultivation energy in arable farming by up to 95%.

Harry will accurately place seed individually in the ground at a uniform depth to within 2cm accuracy, creating a plant level map showing the location of each seed. Harry will also radically reduce soil run off and associated water pollution.