Research Picks – January 2015

Pedestrian-friendly vehicles

Researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, USA, suggest that as SUVs (sports-utility vehicles) become more popular on our roads and as the expediency with which an aging population can cross those roads diminishes, so the number of collisions between vehicle and pedestrian with concomitant torso injury will rise. The team have reviewed the research literature on vehicle safety and suggest that while there is a conflict between pedestrian safety and economic SUV design, there are also many passive safety designs and active safety designs that have demonstrated that might be deployed by manufacturers more widely in order to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities.

Hu, J. and Klinich, K.D. (2015) ‘Toward designing pedestrian-friendly vehicles’, Int. J. Vehicle Safety, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.22–54.

Printing up body parts

A low-cost 3D, or fast prototyping, printer can be used to create porous and biodegradable scaffolds for tissue engineering. The structures could be used to grow living cells in the shape of a particular organ or tissue for subsequent transplant with the scaffold degrading in the body and being excreted like any other bodily waste product once the tissue was in place. The new type of scaffold is being developed by researchers in the Fluid Technology and Microfluidics at the University of Rostock, Germany. The team points out that they can easily control the size and shape of the pores within the scaffold and could thus tailor its properties to accommodate different cell types as well as allowing blood vessels and the body’s own cells to grow appropriately into the implanted structure. The low cost and simplicity of such an approach might make it easier to create “living” replacement heart valves, skin grafts, prosthetics and even whole organs possible.

Drescher, P., Spath, S. and Seitz, H. (2014) ‘Fabrication of biodegradable, porous scaffolds using a low-cost 3D printer’, Int. J. Rapid Manufacturing, Vol. 4, Nos. 2/3/4, pp.140–147.

Healthy fast food? There’s an app for that

Might mobile technology allow consumers of fast food to eat more healthily? Researchers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Garza García in Mexico, recruited several managers at fast food outlets and a number of their customers to test a smart phone system that would allow customers to scan a quick response (QR) code on the menu that would provide them with detailed nutritional information about the food they were about to eat. This is information usually missing from a meal eaten outside the home. The team found that customers were happy to use the app if the information provided by the restaurants was known to be accurate. Conversely, the potential of a social media ratings element would likely encourage restaurateurs to provide more nutritious food and to tailor their menus more precisely to the culinary desires of their patrons whether they are after a burger or a three-course meal.

de la Peña, A. and Castaño, R. (2014) ‘Healthy choices with the aid of technology’, Int. J. Built Environment and Asset Management, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp.252–267.

I have the touch

Haptics in the context of computing is a technology that allows an interaction with the device, a computer, mobile phone, tablet PC through a touch interface. Features are often incorporated into the software and hardware to give users the feeling, through vibrations and sounds, that they are clicking and pressing actual buttons and other objects on the screen rather than simply touching their finger to a sheet of glass or plastic. Researchers at Nagasaki University, Japan, are investigating one aspect of such pseudo-haptics in the form of controlled cursor movements that emulate “motion blur”. Motion blur is common in photography, wherein a longer than normal exposure is used to slur the motion of a fast car or athlete for instance and so give a sense of car or the athlete’s speed. The team has exploited the familiarity of motion blur in photographs to endow a moving cursory with a “feeling” of viscosity when a person slides their finger across a touch screen to move the cursor, pressure sensors in the touch screen synchronizing the viscosity with the pressure applied to give more expressive feedback and make the otherwise two dimension experience of a touch screen a greater feeling of reality. The work could have applications in all kinds of software from games to graphic design.

Fujimura, M., Fukushima, M. and Takemoto, T. (2014) ‘A study on pseudo-haptics by cursor moving with motion blur’, Int. J. Space-Based and Situated Computing, Vol. 4, Nos. 3/4, pp.203–208.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.