Four for 2014: Engineering breakthroughs set to make an impact

A recent article from Business Insider sheds light on new Citi research predicting ten disruptive innovations that are likely to hijack our collective consciousness in 2014. Needless to say, PIF was very interested in four of those innovations in particular, those that appealed to our predilection for all things engineering.

Please welcome 4D to the stage

Skylar Tibbits. It's an unusual name and one that you should have no trouble remembering. Especially if his hypotheses about 3D printed objects that can reshape and self-assemble themselves (like a printed pipe that can sense when to expand or contract) take off. The research scientist, from MIT's Department of Architecture, has the backing of world leading 3D printing manufacturers Stratasys and CAD software gurus Autodesk in his pursuit of so-called 4D technology.

4D printing - truncated Octahedron

“Today at the micro and nanoscales, there's an unprecedented revolution happening,” Tibbits told a California TED conference in 2013. “And this is the ability to program physical and biological materials to change shape, change properties and even compute outside of silicon-based matter. There's even a software called cadnano that allows us to design three-dimensional shapes like nano robots or drug delivery systems and use DNA to self-assemble those functional structures.”

Video: 4D Printing: Truncated Octahedron

Conserving energy

We recently brought you news of Danielle Fong's Moonshot project to store renewable energy using compressed air and water spray. It's the kind of premise that's getting Citi analysts hot under the collar. Jason Channell, from Citi, said..

“Solar generates its electricity when most households are empty or have limited demand. Saving that electricity for later would dramatically offset consumption prices.”


He goes on, "The potentially greater value is in terms of avoided capacity payments, and the grid stability which storage could provide. If storage could be combined with smart metering and demand response, we could conceivably move to a situation where load is managed (i.e. by dishwashers etc. being turned on automatically when demand was lowest and vice versa) and supply is being managed by storage. This could significantly reduce the amount of stranded capacity and hence wasted cost on an electricity system, as well as improve its reliability."

Robots in disguise

We're a long way off the post-apocalyptic cybernetic revolt portrayed in the Terminator franchise. But we are moving ever closer to greater robotic reliance than ever before. You need only look at Google's foray into the world of self-driving vehicles, which could very well transform how we interact with the automobile forever.

Then there's the delivery drones earmarked for humanitarian aid deliveries in the remotest enclaves of Africa and a Skywalker-esque prosthetic arm that taps into the body's electrical signals to make even the most delicate of operations possible. It's the rise of the machines alright and you can bet your bottom dollar that we'll be hearing lots more about robotic advancements over the course of 2014.

WATCH: Mitsubishi showcase their innovative range of Robotic arms for pick and place applications.

Electric avenue

It seems that 2014 could be the year that electric cars go mainstream according to Citi forecasts. "The consumer purchases a new EV at a much lower price ($11-13k depending on size/cost) and does so worry free of any residual value risk tied to future battery technology advancements,” predicts Citi analyst, Itay Michaeli.

“The operator would own the batteries, bill customers and operate battery switching stations that allow consumers to quickly (and robotically) switch batteries when desired or when taking very long drives," he adds.

CarCharging is the largest EV charging station owner and operator in the U.S. The company's CEO, Michael Farkas, expects major expansion after a watershed previous year. Writing on The Chairman's Blog, he claims his company has increased its number of charge stations from 157 to more than 14,000; Net EV charging services had grown from $16,743 to $327,971; and monthly kilowatt-hour charging output had risen from 2,492 to more than 374,000. It's clearly an industry on the move.

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