The Weekly Round-Up: Chocolate printers and giant robot worms

Meanwhile, sat-navs and smartphones kill the skill of map-reading...
Written by The Round-Up, Contributor

Meanwhile, sat-navs and smartphones kill the skill of map-reading...

A few years ago, the Round-Up remembers the news breaking that printer ink was so expensive it would be more cost-effective to fill your printer cartridge with vintage champagne.

A striking image indeed, although, all things considered, the quality of prints may suffer as a result if you opted for the fizz.

If the thought of champagne printers tickles your fancy, what about a machine that can print 3D objects in chocolate? Yes, the Round-Up thought that would get you going.

If you've quite finished slavering you'll be delighted to learn that researchers at the University of Exeter have identified a niche in the market that will no doubt have Canon and HP kicking themselves.

Chocolate! It seems so obvious. Maybe they should have kept that Wonka guy in R&D and not moved him into HR.

The 3D printing technology used by the chocolate printer works by building up successive layers of material and is already used for plastic and metal products - clever, but not such a nice accompaniment to a cup of tea.

Dr Liang Hao, who led the project at Exeter, told silicon.com the machine can print any design sent to it, so people can watch the 3D chocolate design of their choice printed in front of them.

Hao said: "People love chocolate. This will provide huge commercial opportunity." Both to the confectionery and diet industries, the Round-Up suspects.

The research team initially found chocolate a difficult medium to work with. It requires precise heating and cooling cycles that had to be integrated with flow rates for the 3D printing process.

After presumably consuming their own body weight in chocolate, the researchers found a temperature system that enables the chocolate to be successfully printed.

According to one of the academics, the development of the chocolate printer is "a good example of how creative research can be applied to create new manufacturing and retail ideas".

He added: "By combining developments in engineering with the commercial potential of the digital economy, we can see a glimpse into the future of new markets - creating new jobs and in this case..." - wait for it - "...sweet business opportunities."

Thank goodness it's Friday...

There's a worm at the bottom of the garden...

A printer with chocolate ink wasn't the only weird and wonderful idea coming out of British universities this week. Elsewhere in Blighty, researchers were looking at how to bring together worms and technology.

Not normally a happy combination, the Round-Up grants you, as anyone on the wrong end of Blaster can attest. Luckily, those clever folk at the University of Leeds have come up with something far more benign.

As part of his research into the way the C elegans nematode worm moves, Dr Jordan Boyle decided to make a giant robotic equivalent of the 1mm-long invertebrate. While you'd be forgiven for thinking this sounds like the stuff of post-apocalyptic nightmares, you'd be quite wrong - this worm bot is out to save humanity, not crush it in its all-powerful jaws.

According to Boyle, one day the same technology that powers the worm bot could be used for search and rescue operations, allowing the robotic worm to wiggle through buildings hit by natural disasters to seek out any humans trapped in the wreckage and deliver aid to them.

It sounds like this technology's got legs. Which is more than you can say for the worm...

Apps replace maps

I think we can all agree that technology is a wonderful thing. If you don't agree then you're almost certainly reading the wrong weekly newsletter but the Round-Up salutes you for getting this far. Bravo!

Technology is an enabler, a communicator, a leveller and many, many other fine things. Yet technology will have no truck with the old order it has so speedily replaced.

For example, the Round-Up's handwriting is deteriorating at a frightening pace due to its vast reliance on keyboards - both real and more recently virtual. It's on a downward trajectory.

Meanwhile, the point will soon come when a six-year-old's handwriting will be more comprehensible. The upward trajectory is likely to intersect the Round-Up's later this year. Around October.

The same is true with other old-school concepts. Like what? Well, take map-reading, since you're asking.

Millions of us have some kind of GPS technology in our lives now, whether in our smartphones or satellite-navigation devices in our cars.

Research from discount website MyVoucherCodes has revealed that 67 per cent of under-25s don't know how to read a map, thanks to their reliance on GPS-enabled consumer technology.

In news that would make Baden-Powell turn in his grave, a whole generation of folk have lost the basic map-reading skills that scouts and guides of old took for granted.

They don't need such archaic skills to navigate from point A to point B - there's an app for that.

Some 83 per cent of under-25s polled said they have a sat-nav system in their car, while less than a quarter admitted having a map on the back seat. Almost three-quarters think map-reading isn't important.

Around half admitted their sat-nav device had resulted in them getting lost on a journey, yet less than one in five said this had prompted them to learn basic map-reading.

Most have a far more effective method of getting out of a directionless fix. If they get lost without a map, over half said the problem would be solved by simply ringing their parents.

Pah, kids these days.

The Round-Up's off for the week and, as chance would have it, needs to write an old-school letter, although if its child-like scrawl becomes too incomprehensible the task will be delegated to the nearest six-year-old...

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