Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.
Science. What good is it if the end result is Robosapien and a sweet 3D printed phone cases? Thankfully, there are great minds at work to put it to far better use. Like robo-legs and 3D printed body organs. The best part? The technology is almost ready for prime time. This is alt-week.
We know it's a bit of a stretch to call it "wearable," but a newly developed robo-ankle is way more useful than getting tweets on your wrist/eyeball, we think you'll agree. Developed by Yong-Lae Park at Carnegie Mellon University, the devices works by combining a shoe, ankle brace and knee strap along with four pneumatic tubes acting as the muscles. The pneumatics not only provide the "muscular" contraction, they have also been designed to mimic the anatomical configuration of the human lower leg. The purpose isn't to serve as a full prosthetic however, rather to help train and strengthen the legs of patients with conditions such as cerebral palsy -- though Park also suggests it could be used to help with injuries too. The video above shows it in action, and we're curious to see that the Vibram five-finger craze is catching on in the lab as much as the local park/mall.
One of physics' biggest names is proposing a new theory that takes on one of astronomy's biggest characters -- black holes. The problem with black holes is that they cause two of physics' top theories -- relativity and quantum -- to butt heads. Hawking applied quantum theory to black holes, and calculated some radiation should be emitted, eventually causing them to shrink and die -- something that, again contradicts the popular belief that they are immortal. The key issue is that of event horizons -- the boundary beyond which there is no effect to the outside observer. Hawking theorises that these should be reframed as "apparent horizons," where a surface can trap light, but also release it during slight changes in their shape. Is this going to usher in a new understanding, a new standard model for black holes? The paper -- at two pages, fairly short in physics terms -- is still pending full peer review, and Hawking's been wrong before, but at the very least, the hope is a fresh perspective could provide at least some new understanding of the sky's most mysterious object.
If you thought that 3D printing was mostly about creating trinkets and key fobs, then you'd be right. But, that won't remain the case for long as the technology advances to include metal, medicines and... body parts. In fact, according to a recent report, we could see 3D printed organs (of the body, not musical, variety) as soon as this year. San Diego-based company, Organovo, is claiming its bio-printing technology could deliver a working liver tissue, and has overcome the tricky part of a working vascular system to boot. Any tissue produced will be for lab use only, and will have to go through extensive checks before it's let anywhere near a needy recipient. Either way, should Organovo prove successful, the proof of concept that living tissue can be printed, and kept alive long enough for testing (and theoretically, human application) is a giant step forward.
Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.