The Engineering Edge review: 3D printing meat and medicine in space

The Engineering Edge


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IT IS easy to take the devices and machines holding our modern world together for granted. The Engineering Edge , a podcast now in its second series, is a great guide to the fascinating technology.

Each of the six episodes in the most recent season explores how technology transforms lives, giving us an edge in everything from space happen to be healthcare and even assisting to save the planet. It is what lets us do the “extraordinary things” described by host Lucy Rogers. She actually is currently a visiting professor of engineering at Brunel University in London, in addition to an author and presenter – but, luckily for listeners, she most strongly identifies as “an inventor with a feeling of fun”.

This becomes obvious when Rogers foretells engineering champions and pioneers, and she often tries to recreate technologies herself. In the first episode, she talks about using 3D printing in space to greatly help astronauts make materials and tools during missions, aswell concerning provide tailored health care by bioprinting tissues and eventually organs.

A number of the applications we hear about are suitably otherworldly. Engineering company Made In Space, which sent the first 3D printer to the International Space Station, is investigating how exactly to repurpose the ISS’s waste plastic and even dirt from the moon as feedstock for 3D printing. This may let astronauts utilize the materials to build lunar facilities, such as for example habitats for rovers. “Later on, makers are going to be up in space,” says Rogers.

Tommaso Ghidini, head of the European Space Agency’s structures, mechanisms and materials division, says the ventures aren’t far-fetched. “Many persons think that we are still in a sort of research and development phase – we aren’t,” he tells Rogers. Several upcoming ESA missions have what he calls the “added manufacturing baseline” of 3D printing, and there are plans to place a 3D bioprinter in space in a few years. NASA has even “printed” cow tissue from stem cells, that could be eaten by astronauts.

In the centre of it all may be the dependence on creativity. “I believe creativity, specifically for an explorer, is fundamental,” says Ghidini.

In episode two, Rogers turns her focus on haptics, technologies that produce vibrations or other feedback providing the feeling of touch. Haptic motors are in charge of the buzzing of from mobile phones to video controllers, together with more obscure applications that bestow us with a “sixth sense”, such as for example night-vision goggles.

Haptics can have life-changing effects, as Rogers discovers with naviBelt, created by researchers in Germany. The belt is embedded with a compass and haptic motors to greatly help persons find their way around their surroundings. Each motor vibrates individually depending on the direction where the user is travelling. This could have huge benefits for individuals who are blind or partially sighted.

One user (now medical device sales manager for the business that sells naviBelt) became blind 15 years back. He says this is a “brilliant idea for each and every blind individual”. In addition, it inspires Rogers to build up her own prototype that, by nearly working, provides light entertainment between interviews.

Considering I could only listen as Rogers hammers and drills in her shed, The Engineering Edge works surprisingly well. This is a testament to her enthusiasm and knack for explaining the science of what she actually is doing, as well regarding the stories of her guests. There exists a bonus: Roger asks (and answers) all the questions we are likely to think of as we listen.

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