The Dragon Comes Home - IEEE Spectrum

The Dragon Comes Home – IEEE Spectrum

The big picture features technology through the lens of photographers.

Per month, IEEE Spectrum Selects the coolest tech images recently captured by photographers around the world. We choose photos that reflect an important progress, a trend, or those that are great to look at. We display all the images on our website, and one also appears in our monthly print edition.

Enjoy the latest images, and if you have suggestions, leave a comment below.

shape of fantasy

For centuries, people in China held an attitude of awe and reverence for the dragon. In traditional Chinese culture, the dragon—which symbolizes strength, nobility, honor, luck, and success in business—has a place on the calendar; Every year twelve dragon years. Flying, fire-breathing horses covered in lizard scales have been a part of myth, tradition, and literature since these things first appeared. Now, in the age of high technology, an engineer has created his own mechatronic version of the legendary monster. François Delarosier, founder and artistic director of French street performance company La Machine, is shown riding his brainchild, named Long Ma. The 72-ton, wood-burning robotic vehicle can carry 50 people on a covered porch built into its back and still travel at speeds of up to 4 kilometers per hour. It will flap its wings covered in leather and cloth, releasing fire, smoke or steam from its mouth, nose, eyelids, and more than two dozen other orifices located along its 25-meter body. Long Ma spends most of her time in China, but the mechanical monster has been moved to France so he can take part in exhibitions there this summer. It was already shown at the Toulouse International Fair, where it impressed viewers from April 9-18.

Alan Peyton / Noor Photo / AFP

body area network

Your social media accounts and credit card information aren’t the only targets found in the crooked cross banners. Criminals would benefit from even the slightest lapse in security for electronic medical devices such as pacemakers, implantable insulin pumps, and neuroimplants. No one wants to imagine their last experience being a hostile takeover of their life-saving medical devices. Therefore, researchers brainstorm ideas to thwart cyberattacks on such devices that exploit security weaknesses in their wireless power or Internet connections. A team at Columbia University in New York City has developed a wireless communication technology for wearable medical devices that sends signals safely through body tissues. Signals from a pair of implanted transmitters are sent to a pair of receivers that are temporarily attached to the device user’s skin. Compare this to radio frequency communication, where the device is constantly transmitting data waiting for the receiver to pick up the signal. With this system, there are no security risks, because there are no uncoded electromagnetic waves sent into the air to penetrate. The small transceiver pair shown in the picture can communicate through a flower petal. The Columbia researchers say the larger versions would get signals from transmitters located next to internal organs deep in the body to noninvasive external receptors stuck to the skin.

Dion Khodagoli / Columbia Engineering

sun in a box

Anyone who has ever been interested in how an incandescent lamp works knows that a great deal of the energy intended to create the light is lost as heat. The same is true in reverse, when solar panels lose some of the energy in photons as heat rather than converting it all into electrons. Scientists are steadily reducing these losses and increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic cells, with the goal of making them operational and economical par with power plants that generate electricity by spinning turbines. The most efficient turbine-based generators convert only about 35 percent of the total theoretical energy contained in, say, natural gas, into an electric charge. Until recently, that was enough to keep them head and shoulders above solar cells. But the tide appears to be changing. Developed by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the thermal photovoltaic (TPV) cell hits the 40 percent efficiency mark. The so-called “sun in a box” captures enough light energy to reach temperatures above 2,200 degrees Celsius. At these temperatures, filaments of silicon inside the box emit light in the infrared range. These infrared photons are converted from light to charge rather than more heat, which ultimately enhances the device’s overall conversion efficiency. TPV’s creators and outside observers believe such devices can operate at 50 percent efficiency at higher temperatures. This could dramatically reduce the cost of electric power, MIT researchers say, turning fossil-fuel- and fission-fueled power plants on which we rely heavily into bizarre anachronisms. The cost of a turbine-based power production system is usually within [US] $1 per watt. However, for thermal photovoltaics, there is potential to reduce it to within 10 cents per watt,” says Asegun Henry, the MIT professor of mechanical engineering who led the team that produced the TPV cell.

Phyllis Frankl

Big rat, catch the drops

Mice are irrepressible. They go where they want, eat whatever they want, and they seem immune to our best efforts to eradicate them and the pathogens they carry. Scientists have now decided that since we can’t beat them, the smart thing to do is to enlist them for our purposes. But training rodents to carry out our desires while ignoring their instinctive impulses is unlikely to be a successful endeavor. Therefore, researchers are making robot mice that have real rodent physical traits but can be controlled remotely. One of the first use cases is in disaster areas, where debris and unstable terrain make it dangerous for human rescuers. The robotic rat pictured here is the product of a group of researchers at the Beijing Institute of Technology. They have tried other designs, but “large quadruped robots cannot enter confined spaces, while micro quadruple robots can enter narrow spaces but have difficulty performing tasks, due to their limited ability to carry heavy loads,” says Professor Cheng Shi, member of In the team that developed the robotic rodent. They decided to model their machine on the Rat because of how adept it was at compressing into tight spaces and running a dime, and its impressive power for its size.

ching shi

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