Technology Improving and Saving Lives - and a Musical Light Bulb

While I was writing for a Colorado newspaper, I once had an editor tell me that I got to use only one exclamation point per year.

And while I (very) often ignore that rule now, if I had to follow it I would use it with the following statement: I’m so happy it’s finally Spring! I’m also very happy that it’s finally Friday and it’s been another great week full of cool geeky things on the web for this edition of Week in Geek.

A First Dance on a Next-Generation Bionic Limb

Hat tip to my colleague and Creative Director extraordinaire, Rob, for sending this incredible article my way. I love TED, and if I didn’t have so much work to do most days I could easily just sit around and watch TED Talks all day. But sometimes, a TED presentation just hits you in a way that others can’t quite compare to, and this one from TED2014 does just that.

This post from the TED blog discusses a presentation by Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechanics Group at the MIT Media Lab. He’s also a double amputee due to frostbite from a climbing accident. He started his presentation by summing up his thoughts from shortly after his accident:

“At the time, I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be broken,” he says. “I thought: Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate. This simple but powerful idea was a call to arms to advance technology to the elimination of my own disability, and ultimately the disabilities of others.”

And with that call to arms, Herr embarked on a journey to create some of the most powerful and advanced prosthetics the world has ever seen – and his goal is to ensure, once perfected, that they are within reach of anyone who needs them. During his presentation, he discussed the number of challenges his group needed to solve -- mechanical, dynamic and electric.

The entire posting is worth reading, both from a technology point of view and a human point of view. However, the best part is when Herr begins to talk about Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dancer who lost part of her leg in the horrific Boston Marathon bombing. After meeting her in the hospital after the attack, Herr simply said, “Let’s build her a bionic limb.”

“In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor,” Herr says. “In 200 days, we put her back.”

Then, the truly remarkable happens. Herr invites Haslet-Davis onto the stage with her dance partner, Christopher Lightner, for what will be her first dance since the attack. The photo below just drives home how poignant of a moment this was, and how far technology has come to help people who have faced horrific injuries.

Technology Improving and Saving Lives - and a Musical Light Bulb CREDIT: James Duncan Davidson/ TED2014


It’s a Light Bulb, and It’s a Speaker

Next up on our list this week is this post from Mashable about France-based AwoX that has created what I can only describe as a stroke of common sense genius – a LED light bulb that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker. Why do I love this so much? Because it’s always connected, no need for charging and there are no unsightly cables running everywhere. I realize many of you are probably saying, “Well, my JamBox does just fine, why would I need this?” And you’d be right, for the most part. However, I see a JamBox as something that really works well for the beach, the park and travel in general. At home, I usually always forget to charge mine or have left it somewhere.

I don’t know what the company has planned for the future, but what I’d love to see is a way to string several of these together to get a whole-room or whole-house music experience, or maybe even a way to get surround sound from your TV without spending hours trying to hide and camouflage wires.

Algae Powered Lamps

For our next post, we’ll look at another TedX video (inserted below) that’s been making the rounds this week, even though it’s a bit older. According to the video description:

“Using micro-algae, Pierre Calleja has prototyped a lamp that does not only emit zero CO2, it actually absorbs massive amounts. In the future, these lamps could be used to illuminate our streets, parks and homes.”

Not only would these lamps be a great way to produce light without creating pollution -- in fact, actually capturing CO2 -- but they look incredibly cool too.

A Potentially Life-Saving Toilet

I’m pretty sure this will be the least glamorous entry I’ve ever included in the Week in Geek, but it’s nonetheless a pretty incredible breakthrough. According to this story from HuffPo Tech, a team at the University of Colorado has created a prototype of a toilet that turns number two into biochar, a type of charcoal that can be used for heating, as well as substantially improving agricultural yields.

The Sol-Char toilet uses mirrors and fiber optic cables to channel solar power into a chamber that reaches 700 degrees, and converts the waste into a usable material. While it sounds disgusting, the endeavor is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge,” which addresses the very real problem of human waste disposal. According to the Foundation, every year, poor sanitation contributes to the deaths of 1.5 million children from diarrhea. In that vein, this project can pack a one-two punch – improving sanitation conditions in the developing world, while also providing a usable fuel and agricultural product.

That wraps up another week of geeky goodness. Let me know what else you’d like to see featured in the comments below.