Covid-19 Technology The World After Covid

Three Scientific Advancements You May Have Missed During Lockdown

By Jude Holmes

This year, the world has appeared to simply stop. Throughout the pandemic, the scientific advancement on everyone’s lips has understandably been the search for a vaccine as many labs have been turned over to cope with Covid testing and antibody research. But the world continues to turn, and wherever there is motion, there’s usually a scientist researching it. You might have heard about the 2020 Nobel Prizes awarded in early October but these often take years to be awarded, so here are a few 2020 breakthroughs you might have missed.

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Life On Mars?

What’s happening: On the 30th July the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, was launched into space. The journey is a long one, with Perseverance due to land in February 2021. This exploration will head into new territory as the mission aims to record potential ancient life on Mars while collecting more data on the rock composition of the red planet. On landing, Perseverance will use a range of imaging equipment, including cameras and X-rays to explore its surroundings. The rover will also complete experiments such as technology demonstrations which could help future missions. The most highly-anticipated is a demonstration of flight by a small helicopter – the first time scientists have attempted flying on another planet – so watch this space! For a countdown and stats of the rover, check out NASA’s webpage here.

What next: If the rotorcraft mission is successful, we move one step closer to the sci-fi renditions of interstellar life, allowing us to explore some of the harsher terrain of planets we land on. This will be a test of our cumulative knowledge and understanding of aerodynamics and could lead to innovation on Earth and in future space travel.

Curly Robots on the Rocks

What’s happening: Curling is sport you might consider safe from robot takeover, but not anymore. Introducing Curly, the robot who can beat experts in the ice field. This is a huge leap forward for robotics, requiring motor control over icy surfaces and information processing in an ever-changing set-up as both the ice and stones change with each throw, requiring precise judgement skills. The real world interaction of these robots is the focus of the paper, published in Science Robotics in late September, and is an exciting insight into the future of robotics.

What next: The development of agile robots is one of the key parts to creating useful machines. Imagine a robot that could walk over icy pavements while clearing and gritting them for safer use. Or a robot on duty at an ice rink, there to provide fast and efficient first aid. Off the ice, this motor control and decision making could support the design of machines to predict potential traffic collisions for safer self-driving vehicles. 

Wind Harvesting on a Tiny Scale

What’s happening: A new handheld windmill could be your next phone charger. Using a scientific phenomenon known as the Bernoulli effect, the small device goes “wind energy scavenging”, harvesting energy from the air at the smallest scale seen so far. Unlike the bulky, unsightly, and loud turbine farms, this pocket device has shown demonstrable energy production* at low wind speeds, comparable to a fast walking pace. Great news for fans of computational fluid dynamics!

*note, energy is not actually made or destroyed here – the laws of physics still apply!

What next: while it is unlikely that we will start holding wind harvesting devices while we walk, perhaps designers could incorporate this into your work bag keeping an integrated portable charger topped up, or into your bike to light you up at night. However it is used, this discovery will inform and continue the conversation about renewables.

Jude Holmes is a staff writer at The International. Find her here on LinkedIn.