Thinking ahead at MIT – from Calum Davidson in Boston

Winter can come early to New England, and even though its only the 2nd of November, the rain is turning to sleet, and the skyscrapers of downtown Boston are dim through the grey clouds. Our group from Scotland is having a quiet breakfast, catching up e-mails, and chatting about some of the quite remarkable things that we have seen over the past few days on the MIT campus, luckily in bright autumnal weather.

 Rugby ball sized autonomous underwater robots designed to inspect the insides of nuclear reactors, fleets of mini kayaks that roam the waters of the Charles river testing the limits of underwater accoustic communications to the limits, and weird new ship hull and propeller shapes that dramatically reduce drag, increasing speed and fuel efficiency.

 Clever new underwater sensing technologies inspired by the navigation methods of blind Mexican cave fish, and harbour seals whiskers, a remotely operated vehicle that can be built for £100 by a group of bright 10 year olds, suitcase sized robots with sophisticated sonar that crawl under the hull of ships looking for things that should not be there – anomalous objects in MIT research speak.

 Crazy new battery designs using chemicals that you may find under a domestic sink, powered by seawater, robots being trained to understand human emotions and body language, and a museum that mixes art, technology and innovation in a way that make everyone pause and say “wow”.

 Over dinner and late into the night the conversations and discussions continue, “why would anyone want to design a ship that travels at over 100mph?”, “Oh, so they are the people who invented that ROV back in the 80’s. I still use one”, “Mmm – we have a problem measuring strain on turbine blades, thats an interesting approach”, “Very sensible not rushing into prototyping yet, needs more research into alternative designs. Wish we had done that”.

 Still another day to go, before flying north through the snow to Canada.

Calum Davidson, Director Energy & Low Carbon, HIE.

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