ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

July 2017

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Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT

Science & Tech


Miniaturizing the brain of a drone
In recent years, engineers have worked to shrink drone technology, building flying prototypes that are the size of a bumblebee and loaded with even tinier sensors and cameras. Thus far, they have managed to miniaturize almost every part of a drone, except for the brains of the entire operation — the computer chip. Now, MIT engineers have taken a first step in designing a chip that uses a fraction of the power of larger drone computers, and is tailored for a drone as small as a bottlecap. Learn more here.

Hacking functional fabrics to aid emergency response
Hazardous environments such as disaster sites and conflict zones present many challenges for emergency response. But the new field of functional fabrics — materials modified to incorporate sensors, connect to the internet, among other things — holds promise for novel solutions.  A competition hosted by the MIT Innovation Initiative, the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) Institute, and a partnership between the U.S. Department of Defense and a network of national research universities, brought together students and researchers to develop functional fabric concepts. The innovative applications proposed included real-world solutions to issues facing soldiers in combat or training, first responders and victims, workers in refugee camps, and others.  Learn more here.

Why do some neighborhoods improve?
Four years ago, researchers at MIT’s Media Lab developed a computer vision system that analyzes street-level photos taken in urban neighborhoods in order to gauge how safe they would appear to human observers. In an attempt to identify factors that predict urban change, the MIT team and colleagues at Harvard University have now used the system to quantify the physical improvement or deterioration of neighborhoods in five American cities. Learn more here.

Health/Convergence

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant
Many diseases can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer organs are available. To help address this shortage, researchers at MIT, Rockefeller University, and Boston University have together developed a new way to engineer liver tissue. In a study of mice with damaged livers, they’ve developed an expandable design that can perform normal liver tissue functions after being implanted in the abdomen.  Learn more here.

New gel coatings may lead to better catheters and condoms
Catheters, intravenous lines, and other types of surgical tubing are a medical necessity for managing a wide range of diseases. But a patient’s experience with such devices is rarely a comfortable one. Now MIT engineers have designed a gel-like material that can be coated onto standard plastic or rubber devices, providing a softer, more slippery exterior that can significantly ease a patient’s discomfort. The coating can even be tailored to monitor and treat signs of infection. Learn more here.