The latest in engineering and technological innovations!

Welcome back to “The Left Handed Mallet,” our new technology round up. Whilst the title is a tongue in cheek reference to a very old joke, the subjects of this tech round-up are all seriously innovative engineering solutions. This week we look at self-healing plastics, the 'Luke Skywalker' of prosthetics, and how the humble USB could help the third world gain access to computing.

Self-healing plastic coagulates like blood clots

Researchers at the University of Illinois have pioneered new technology whereby synthetic materials mimic the repair and re-growth akin to the natural coagulation of blood clots.

“To achieve this repair by regrowth phenomenon the new material contains 'specially formulated fibers' that act as capillaries, branching through the body of their host polymer,”

“Composed of two separate lines that run parallel to one another, each capillary is equipped with two 'regenerative materials' that are mixed when their host is damaged. Once mixed, the binary regenerative cocktail forms a gel that crawls over itself, hardening into a polymer with mechanical properties identical to its original,” Reported Engineering.com's Designer Edge.

Don't expect your delicate iPhone screen to magically re-mould anytime soon but the future potential of such a material – in remote applications, like spacecraft and deep drilling rigs especially – is truly exciting.

Watch: Regenerating plastic grows back after damage

Handy breakthrough in prosthetic technology

A high-tech prosthetic arm, controlled by the body's electrical signals, has been approved for commercial sale.

New Scientist said, “The Deka Arm System, developed by Deka Research and Development Corporation in Manchester, New Hampshire, uses electromyogram electrodes to pick up electrical signals from muscle contractions where the prosthesis is attached, or from a wireless controller operated by foot movements. It learns to convert these signals into the arm movement intended by the user.”

Nine out of ten test subjects from a study of 36 amputees were able to carry out delicate tasks (unthinkable with a traditional static prosthesis) like picking up eggs, brushing their hair, turning keys in door locks and unzipping clothing. Fitted via a customised plastic or carbon-fibre socket, rather than surgically, these amazing man-made limbs are so intuitive that users report full mastery of their control in a matter of weeks.

Watch: A breakthrough in Prosthetic limb technology

The humble USB to unlock third world computer access

Two visionary entrepreneurs behind the Keepod start-up hope to distribute $7 USBs to make computer literacy accessible to some of the most inaccessible and deprived areas of the world.

The project, which is being trialled in the Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya employs a bespoke desktop version of Google's Android 4.4 operating system, which transforms any ageing computer into a user-friendly platform reminiscent of a smartphone's functionality.

The BBC said:-

“It will allow old, discarded and potentially non-functional PCs to be revived, while allowing each user to have ownership of their own "personal computer" experience - with their chosen desktop layout, programs and data - at a fraction of the cost of providing a unique laptop, tablet or other machine to each person.”

Such a simple solution, which will hopefully kickstart a digital revolution for the 70% of the world's population who have no means of accessing a computer otherwise.

Look out for more technological wonders and engineering innovations from the “The Left Handed Mallet” series soon!

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