Science Saturday: SpaceX Docks + Real Hypospray + VISOR Tech + Robo Dance + More

Start your weekend with some science! This week, help astronauts unload cargo after SpaceX Dragon’s historic docking with the ISS, get a hypospray injection from a modern day Bones, and don a pair of glasses second only to Geordi’s VISOR. All this and more, plus our gadget(s) of the week: synchronized robo dancers!


SpaceX Dragon Capsule Docks with ISS
For the first time ever, a commercial space vehicle has docked with the International Space Station. Less than 24 hours after its historical maneuver, the astronauts of the Expedition 31 crew opened the SpaceX Dragon capsule to recover some welcomed supplies. “Like the smell of a brand new car,” said NASA astronaut Don Pettit, after going inside. While the cargo delivery was not the prime mission of Dragon — the ISS is well stocked — it achieved what no other commercial vehicle has done before, to reach orbit and dock with the ISS. This marks an important turning point in commercial spaceflight and bodes well for the future of the up and coming industry.

More at

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule docks with the ISS

A Very Trek-like Hypospray in the Works
We’re no strangers to needleless injection technology (Exhibit A; Exhibit B), but this new hypospray device developed at MIT is the most Trek-like yet. This device uses a powerful magnetic piston that can deliver drugs into your body at speeds up to the speed of sound (343 m/s in air). What’s more, the injection stream is so fine that medicine can be injected into eardrums or even eyeballs without causing any damage or leaving any trace.

More at MIT News.

Bonus points for use of the word “proboscis”

Sight for the Blind with Geordie La Forge-approved Glasses
New glasses being developed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia could give sight to the blind and even to those without eyes at all. This new innovative technology uses video cameras mounted on a pair of glasses. Images from the video are then translated into electrical signals and sent wirelessly to a chip implanted in the back of the brain. So far, the images it can produce are very rudimentary, as you’ll see in the video below, but the team hopes to improve the tech so that more realistic imagery can be realized.

Gadget(s) of the Week: Synchronized Dancing Robots
Researchers at MIT have taken cues from how bacteria work in nature to synchronize a group of robots with a new method that bypasses typical networking latency issues. While they look adorable performing a dance to Thriller, this kind of synching can allow groups of robots to perform intricate group tasks.

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


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I feel like “Houston, we’ve caught a Dragon by the tail” may become nearly as iconic as “The Eagle has landed”. I’m happy about SpaceX’s progress, now I hope they hurry up and refine developments on the manned version.

The Libertarian in me says, “Ahh, we don’t even need government for space flight!” Makes me happy.

Love that private industry can now step in, where NASA laid the ground work. Go, SpaceX!

I think the visor chip is wonderful… but, it’s still a HUGE chunk of anything to stick into someone’s noggin’. I do hope they make em smaller.

“Thriller”? Really?

Ian Anderson’s 43,000 year old flute? Man, now I really feel old.

Thanks, Kayla!

I’ve been following the progress of SpaceX and other commercial aerospace companies for months now. I am soooooo excited about this industry! Can Starfleet be far behind? After all, who will “regulate commerce” in this brave new world?

Although a few companies are publicly traded, most are private concerns.
Someday, I’m sure SpaceX will have an IPO. I just want to own a few shares, just so that I can get an invitation to the shareholder’s meetings. Boy, I bet those will be a blast! [NPI]

But as all the media attention around the retirement of the shuttle, space exploration and the revitalization of NASA, shows, the public is still interested in SPACE. So where’s the science fiction? Huh?
Again, the movie industry has dropped the ball, looking to make a quick buck on stupid teen flicks instead of something thoughtful adults might be interested in.

Congratulations to the Space X team for making true commercial spaceflight a concrete reality. Can’t wait to see how it all takes off (literally) when the Dragon capsule is rated for manned flight! ;-)

Those camera glasses are amazing! A great first step. Although I’m sure future versions will come much closer to normal vision. Inspiring story.

As for the synchronized dancing robots? They remind me of the ending of BSG…. ;-D

4 – Agreed. Still, June 8 — Prometheus.

I got mad when the Space Shuttle got cancelled before NASA had another system ready to go to replace it but now I think the private sector could do space exploration better than than Nasa and save the Government some money. Except I wonder if the private sector has good saftey protocols to prevent it from bringing back some alien virus that threatens mankind.

SpaceX……Enter the Dragon!!

#2 – You’re right! Just think, without government, there wouldn’t have been a space station for SpaceX to fly to in the first place. They could have just drifted freely into space instead of being snagged by that government-built station. Yep, no need for government.

Be realistic: This demonstrates that we need the proper balance of private enterprise and government involvement.

If nothing else, I’m sure we can agree that Delos D. Harriman would be proud. If you don’t know who that is, shame on you.

#9, I think you misunderstood the spirit of #2’s comment. =)

#10 And you, mine.

awesome to see docking by private sector

Perhaps in a future Trek they can show the Enterprise as leased to Starfleet by a private company. Starfleet falls behind on its payments and the Enterprise gets repossessed! Think of the drama!

Dig those MIT folks with their hypospray. Cool. I had a student who went off to MIT. He was a french horn player. He told me he was going to invent something and make millions. I told him to invent a better french horn valve that doesn’t rely on strings and break all the time. I’m still waiting for that one to happen. That’ll make somebody a zillionaire.

Thanks Kayla – step by step we get closer to the Trek future it seems

RE: Public/private space
I for one am glad to see low earth orbit handed over to private industry. NASA should focus on exploration of the solar system (robots and hopefully people some day) plus telescopes peering into deep space and other such things. Leave the cargo hauling to ISS to a space trucking company like SpaceX.

I think they should add mudflaps with those girly silhouettes to the next Dragon launch

It’s hard to resist articles on new technologies and promising research–thanks, Kayla–but it’s discouraging how few promises ever seem realized. How long before technology widely enables blind people to see? Well over a decade ago Dean Kamen demonstrated a device that I thought would bring renaissance to people in wheelchairs, even allowing them to climb stairs. Far as I can tell, Kamen’s the only one who’s ever used the iBOT (

On a more positive note, glad to see commercial success in reaching for the stars.

I think we’ll need a private organization to build a base on the moon and take passengers on a trip they’d never forget. The government just is not willing, able, or needed to do something of that sort. Even when it comes to exploration, I think maybe the time has come for commercialization.

I like how Elon Musk has drive… He pretty much said we’d like to go to Mars with NASA but if they decide not to want to go “fine” we will go ourselves… I think it’s fantastic..

That vision implant is an amazing but it’s very odd to imagine the world interpreted as a 1970s video game resolution.

# 15

I agree with ya there, while I was sad that the shuttle was retired, it was stuck in LEO. NASA should focus & actually do real exploring & leave the taxi service to the peivate companies. Now if we could only convince some people to STOP cutting the budget @ NASA…

mmmm…. who doesn’t love that new spacecraft smell! Space X! Very impressive!

Thank you Kayla. Love the science features.

I like the fact that space travel is not now completely dependent on the government. If one company can do it, others can. And they will. In the hands of people we might actually get somewhere beyond earth orbit sooner.

16. NCM – May 26, 2012

The iBot was cool, but that’s also the guy who promised to change the world with the Segway. Are you running around on one of those yet?

Kamen has even been beat on the sheer number of wheels by backyard inventors who’ve managed to make self balancing unicycles that are even cheaper and smaller than the Segway.

One guy built something called a RIOT. It’s a giant self balancing wheel where the driver is sitting suspended out in front!

How about designing a shell for those and putting THEM in a Star Trek movie?

Nothing Syd Mead didn’t already see coming:

The man who invented the Segway died after falling off a cliff…while riding a Segway. His own invention was the death of him.

True story.

@24: Dean Kamen invented the Segway. He’s still alive.


Really? I heard he went off a cliff a couple of years ago. It was reported on the news, unless I’m confusing him for someone else.

Yeah, okay, he’s still alive. I checked.

@24: RDR, The guy who rode his Segway over a cliff did so after he’d purchased Kamen’s company, I believe. I think he was ‘hiking’ on it, oddly enough.

@24: DM, can’t say I’m disappointed not to have seen the two products you referenced brought to market; they look like good science fair fun, but my point is, for reasons I don’t understand, therapies and products which seem to hold such promise for improving people’s lives rarely seem to make it to market. If you look at the iBOT…, sure, it was terribly costly, but cheaper than a luxury car. Maybe getting service was difficult…, Just seems the money and marketing was never put behind the effort and I’m not sure I’d fault Kamen. This scenario seems to be the rule rather than one man’s failing (check out Kamen’s other inventions, if you haven’t done so.)

As for Segway… I recall scooters being a source of derision for a long time before college students yielded their pride to scooter usefulness.


Ah, thanks!

28. NCM – May 26, 2012

The SBU (Self Balancing Unicycle) is available if you’re interested, NCM. ;-)

$1795, built to order. Which is probably going to be cheaper than the Honda model that was in the news this last week.

But seriously — I remember thinking how expensive the iBot would be for anyone to own when I saw it unveiled. Great invention, I thought, but who would buy those when less than revolutionary but still good enough alternatives were more cheaply available?

Neither did the Segway change the world, really. So as brilliant as Dean Kamen is — and he is brilliant, his projections of the consequences of his work haven’t always been accurate.

DM, re: SBU… Thanks, but I think walking’s under-rated;)

As for iBOT, I don’t think there’s a comparable alternative. I don’t see people in wheelchairs climbing stairs. I guess the obstacles are cost and maintenance. You need wide scale production to bring down costs, but you won’t have wide scale production unless the product’s affordable–how the heck did Henry Ford do it?

Ironically, ‘we’ll’ probably land billionaires on the moon before many ordinary people will prevail over a 4″ curb.

31: “As for iBOT, I don’t think there’s a comparable alternative. I don’t see people in wheelchairs climbing stairs.”

No, I don’t think there’s anything that does what iBot does, but what I’m saying is that there are alternative ways of solving the problems the iBot was designed to help people solve. None of them as convenient perhaps, or that work for everybody, but workable for most people who need wheelchairs, except the wealthier people who can afford not to be inconvenienced.

I don’t think it’s even legal anymore to do new public or business construction without the benefit of handicap ramps and doors for building access. Stairs ain’t the problem they used to be.

Also, as cool as the stair walking technology is, I find the prospect of a system failure half way up a flight of stairs horrifying to contemplate.

The iBOT may not be the future for the disabled, but powered exoskeletons could do the trick. At least several different companies (some with military funding) seem to think so.

Wearable robots?
Sounds cool.

@33: That’s cool. And here’s Dean Kamen demonstrating his “Luke” arm.


Incredible! Kamen is one of my heroes. Amazing what they’re doing with prosthetics and robotics these days. An exciting time to be alive.

Now… where’s my jetpack…? ;)

32. dmduncan – May 26, 2012

“there are alternative ways of solving the problems the iBot was designed to help people solve. None of them as convenient perhaps, or that work for everybody, but workable for most people who need wheelchairs”


With due respect, DM, I’ll guess you’ve spent no time hanging out with someone in a wheelchair. When my mother could no longer get upstairs to bathe, I could no longer provide for much of her care without selling our home and moving to a single-level dwelling: numerous obstacles to that plan. Our stairs weren’t wide enough for a lift. She loves to shop, but clothing racks, believe it or not, are not spaced to admit wheelchairs. I have to park her and bring to her clothes I think she might like. Scores of new restaurants don’t have handicap accessible doors. I have to try to prop doors open and wheel her in at the same time. Sometimes people help: most often, they don’t. Where there are double door/entry-ways, I really need to be able to hold open two doors at once while pushing her into the too small space between. We’ve waited outside in the rain until a hostess was free to hold open a door. When I take her grocery shopping, I have to push her chair (b/c I can’t transport her electric wheelchair), which leaves no one to push the cart. There are tens of thousands in her position, without better solutions. I think the inconvenience is greater than you imagine. She simply can’t do clothes or grocery shopping independently.

@33 and 34: Very cool…, and maybe such products will become available to common joe’s (outside the military), due to the military connection, which might move these ideas into practice. (Behold the military industrial…:). I’d argue so many great steps forward do come by way of “gov’ment.” Even so, the Kamen video is 5 years old. I wonder how well equipped those 24 soldiers and their luckier counterparts are today.

Did you notice that the weight-bearing soldier wearing the HULC was a Hulk, himself? It is exciting. I’m sure the look and mechanics of such devices will become remarkable, someday; be it in 10 years or 30.

Congratulations to the team at SpaceX. I live pretty close to the McGregor test site and enjoy watching the growth out there. Pretty soon, they’ll be starting to test the reusable launch vehicle, call the “Grasshopper.”
We are living in exciting times, folks!

36: “With due respect, DM, I’ll guess you’ve spent no time hanging out with someone in a wheelchair.”

Yeah, I figured you had some sort of personal experience with this issue which wouldn’t be covered by the generality I was making, which is why I specifically said workarounds wouldn’t fit everyone.

Suffice it to say that I do understand that the iBot would make your lives more convenient. And that is what technology and the iBot are supposed to do. And if some convenience is an option I can realistically have (with the exception of cellphones, which I intentionally gave up), then like most anyone else I will take it. And if it isn’t an option, then I adapt to what is available.

I also understand that I am unusual. E.g., probably, most people wouldn’t have been fine with sleeping on a 1″ thick camping mattress in their apartment for 2 years. I had no complaints. So, since my views on convenience are probably beyond the norm, it also doesn’t make much sense for me to argue the point with them.

I can talk about the joy of not having a cellphone until my tongue falls out too, and I’m not going to make many (and probably not any) converts.


Convert me, please! I have an iPhone. Can’t stand the thing. Overly complicated status symbol. Starting to miss my land line….


Lots of people seem to like the IDEA of not having a cell phone. :-)

I cannot believe what they did to that poor android front stage, center. And yet he/it picked up the rhythm again like a trooper.

Cuteness overload.

That is, unless you remember all the dancers these things will put out of business. Broadway and Vegas will never be the same.

Well, at least when they put prosthetic mammaries on these robots…. Just sayin’.

Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but once these androids grow up to become adults and/or larger-than-life, what’s to prevent them from going alll Terminator on us? Again, just sayin’.

P.S.: iPhone / iPod Touch / iDevice fan here.


Would like to see in the next movie Chekov playing games on his iDevice while the Enterprise is being destroyed around him. Finally, some realism in Trek!


Only a meanie would dislike iDevices.


43. Vultan – May 27, 2012

Haha! That’s how it would happen, too. Only by the real 23rd century people will be living inside capsules plugged into virtual worlds. No time for that space exploration crap.

What’s space exploration? Is that a game? Can I get it in the app store?

DM; not to beat a dead horse, but generalities would suggest the rule rather than the exception. I’m saying that, as a rule, obstacles to people in wheelchairs are more than inconveniences. Your cellphone and bedding choices hardly compare to not having the choice to shop independently for your own food, or to the life of a paraplegic 20-something living in a nursing home for lack of independence.

The wheelchair stuff’s an inconvenience to me. It’s something more to people who must rely on them. Anyway, I don’t mean to dwell on it. It was just an example. The same scenario is true of ‘promising’ treatments and technologies across the board, as far as I can tell. And you’ll just have to take my word for it (or not) that my family had more experience living without conveniences than you’d ever imagine:)

I haven’t lived a sheltered life either, NCM. We have different definitions of convenience.

48. dmduncan – May 28, 2012

We have different definitions of convenience.

Yes, we do: but, we have in common a penchant for Trek and for espousing our views–two things endemic to regulars, here. Disagreement adds depth to a landscape of common ground. We’re just doing our part:]