Guests Can Stay in Inflatable Hotel in Iceland

Aurora Bubble Hotel inflatablePeople are always looking for unique places to spend their vacation. Visitors to Iceland can sleep under the stars and possibly see the famous aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, when they sleep in an inflatable bubble.

The Aurora Bubble Hotel is a clear, inflatable plastic structure created by Icelandic Northern Lights expert Robert Sveinn Robertsson. When he was advising a customer on a Northern Lights expedition, the customer suggested creating a hotel with a clear ceiling so guests could sleep under the Northern Lights. Robertsson followed the suggestion, and the Aurora Bubble Hotel was opened to guests in January.

The hotel is inflated with a noiseless ventilation system. It continuously refreshes the air inside at two to seven times its volume every hour to prevent humidity. A thermostat controls the temperature, keeping the inside of the bubble comfortable, even in the winter. If the bubble gets punctured, it will slowly deflate, but a thin metal frame will support the walls until the bubble can be repaired.

The inside of the bubble has enough space for a full bed, a lamp, and two small suitcases. The bubble does not have a bathroom. Guests can use an outdoor outhouse and shower at the Secret Lagoon, a hot spring powered by a geyser that is located nearby.

During the winter, guests can enjoy the aurora borealis and a sky full of stars. In the summer, they can sleep under the midnight sun surrounded by birds and butterflies.

Privacy is a concern for guests, since the shell of the bubble is clear. Robertsson only shares the location of the bubble with guests after they have made their reservations.

Demand for the bubble has been so high that Robertsson plans to open two more to guests in July. The new bubbles will be large enough for a bed, a table, and two chairs. A new house with a toilet, shower, and kitchen will also open in July.

BEAM Inflatable Module to Be Launched into Space

BEAM inflatable space moduleThe Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is an inflatable habitat made of advanced materials that can withstand impacts in space. It has a thick outer layer that is tough enough to protect the craft and crew from space radiation.

The BEAM will be transported into space as an 8-foot bundle. After it is inflated, it will be large enough to hold a car. When it expands to its full size, the BEAM will measure 12 feet long and 10 feet wide.

When it arrives at the International Space Station, the space station’s robotic arm will remove the BEAM from an unpressurized compartment. The BEAM will be the first of Bigelow’s space habitats that astronauts on the ISS will be able to enter. The hatch will be closed when astronauts are not using the BEAM. The crew of the ISS will not live in the BEAM because it will be too experimental and risky.

The module will function like an additional room added to the rest of the International Space Station. It will have a slightly cooler temperature. When it expands, there will be some slight condensation.

This will be Bigelow’s fifth berthing with the International Space Station. It will be the fourth with NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Similar operations are planned for the future.

The environment in the BEAM will generally work in the same way as the environment on the ISS. If the BEAM is successful, it will prove that inflatable habitats can work in space.

Bigelow licensed inflatable space habitat technology from NASA after Congress canceled TransHub, an expandable habitat project, in 2000. It is easier to transport inflatable habitats into space than other parts of the ISS, which need to be transported one piece at a time.

A SpaceX Dragon capsule will transport fungi specimens to the International Space Station. The capsule is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 8.

Grips Win Oscar for Inflatable Green Screen

Aircover inflatable green screenA green screen is a backdrop that is all green or sometimes blue that is mounted in the background as a scene for a movie or television show is filmed. In post-production, the single color is replaced with video footage of computer-generated special effects.

Green screens are an important component of many Hollywood films, allowing actors to be placed in any setting with monsters and special effects. Most big budget films use a green screen to generate special effects.

Four grips from Canada received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an inflatable green screen. David McIntosh, Steve Smith, Mike Branham, and Mike Kirilenko won an Oscar for engineering for their Aircover Inflatables Airwall. They received the award at a ceremony hosted by Jason Segel and Olivia Munn.

The Airwall consists of large vinyl air mattresses in sections 20 feet wide and 24 feet tall. They can be placed on the ground or stacked on cargo containers if a taller height is needed. Several air mattresses can be attached if necessary. The mattresses are covered with green or blue material.

The walls can be lowered if the director needs more light on the set or if it is necessary to eliminate green or blue spill, which is caused when the sun hits the green or blue material and is reflected onto the actors. If there is too much green or blue spill, air can be let out of the wall to reduce it. The screen can be lowered to allow more sunlight but still block the background.

Older versions of green screens used metal scaffolding, stacked cargo containers, or telephone poles. The new design is more versatile since it is not a solid structure. The inflatable green screens are easier and faster to set up than ones traditionally used.

The team first came up with the idea eight years ago, but they got their big break in 2013 when the technology was used on the set of “Godzilla” in a Golden Gate Bridge destruction scene recorded in South Vancouver. Aircover has provided green screens for many other movies since then.

The developers of the new inflatable green screen were honored to receive the award for their work. They said grips are often not recognized for their contributions to Hollywood films.

Inflatable Robots Could Be Coming to Hospitals

inflatable robots hospitalsThe film “Big Hero 6,” which was released in 2014, featured an inflatable robot called Baymax that worked in a healthcare setting. In the future, robots like Baymax could be a reality.

Most robots are solid machines used in factories to grip and hold objects and to carry out tasks such as assembling, painting, and welding. Manufacturers often choose to use robots since they are accurate, reliable, and can work around the clock.

Robots have been used in surgery for over a decade, but they occupy a niche. Robots may be used in other aspects of medical care in the future, such as lifting patients on beds and helping them get to the bathroom. They are looking attractive to some hospital managers who are under pressure to provide essential services but have limited funds to pay staff.

Technical issues still need to be worked out before robots can be used for more roles in hospitals. Safety is a primary concern. In factories, robots are often kept separate from humans to prevent accidents.

One possible solution is to use inflatable robots. The forces generated by inflating devices with air can be strong enough to lift objects or people. Since inflatable robots are soft and lightweight, the potential for accidents and injuries is low.

Inflatable robots can change shape as they inflate. By controlling the inflation rates of different parts of the robot, a finger can grip an object without the need for hinges, grippers, rotational cuffs, or a control system. A research group at Harvard has designed soft gripper arms that can pick up fruit and eggs without any mechanical moving parts.

Inflatable robots require a pump to fill them with air. One way to get around this requirement could be to use a chemical reaction similar to the one used to inflate air bags in vehicles. The reaction is not reversible. Until the problem is solved, soft robots in hospitals will probably be used on stationary patients and inflated with pumps.

Researchers are working on inflatable suits for rehabilitation that can fit around injured limbs and joints and help patients develop muscle strength and flexibility by inflating and deflating. These technologies could also help with bed sores and assist patients in sitting up.

University of Maine Researchers Work with NASA on HIAD

hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator HIADA group of researchers at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine are working with NASA on inflatable technology that might one day be used to land humans on Mars.

The Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) consists of a series of large inflatable rings called tori that are similar to inner tubes. They are arranged in decreasing diameter and are connected with fabric in a cone shape.

As a spaceship passed through a planet’s atmosphere, it could deploy the HIAD to slow it down and keep it from crashing into the surface. It would also shield the vehicle from the heat of reentry. A system of parachutes or boosters would help the spacecraft set down safely.

The HIAD was designed largely by engineers at NASA, but the space agency looked to researchers at the University of Maine for their help and expertise. They had experience working with inflatable fabric structures, including the Bridge-in-a-Backpack.

The university is currently in the third year of a four-year, $750,000 grant from NASA. The university pledged another $250,000. The team is studying a variety of inflatable braided fabrics and using a machine that NASA provided to test how much stress they can withstand. NASA issued the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grant through the Maine Space Grant Consortium.

NASA also awarded University of Maine civil engineering doctoral student Andrew Young a 2015 NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship. The fellowship will provide up to $148,000 in funding over two years. Fellowships were awarded to about 50 students across the United States to study technologies related to space travel.

NASA asked Young to find methods to predict how HIADs of different sizes, orientations, and materials would perform and respond to stress. NASA needs models because testing a HIAD on a full-scale basis would be cost-prohibitive.

The researchers at the university hope the project will lead to future collaborations with NASA and increase NASA’s interest in the university’s institutions and companies.

Inflatable Art Teaches about the Environment

Evelyn Roth Inflatable AnimalsArtist Evelyn Roth creates handmade inflatable works that educate people around the world about environmental issues. She has been making Festival Arts inflatable “Nylon Zoo” animals from her kitchen table at her home in Australia for the past 25 years.

Many of the inflatable animals are 15 meters high. They are made by hand from nylon in an array of stunning colors. Each one takes about 70 hours to make. An inflatable sculpture can fit in a backpack and be inflated easily.

The material captures and blends light to produce an effect similar to stained-glass windows in a church to create an engaging atmosphere for people to listen and learn. The animals provide a mobile schoolroom that can seat up to 50 people. A storyteller educates visitors about the environment and social responsibility.

The inflatable animals have been put on display in countries around the world to educate members of the public about environmental issues, endangered species, public health, and ecology. Roth made giant salmon that are currently on display in Brazil and Alaska, a platypus for Germany, a beaver for Canada, and dragons for Singapore and Hong Kong. She has also made a swamp monster, rooster, giant squid, and tiger. Roth has displayed her inflatable creations at the annual WOMADelaide for the past 20 years.

Roth was commissioned recently to create an inflatable southern right whale and two monk seals in Hawaii. The species are endangered. The monk seal colony on the island of Kauai is the last one in the world. She believes it is important for people to understand the importance of the colony, the threats it faces, and what people can do to help.

Nylon Zoo installations have been displayed at festivals and fairs in Australia. They have also been used to educate people in indigenous communities in the remote Outback. Roth created an inflatable ear to teach people in remote Aboriginal communities about deafness. People were able to walk through it to learn how the ear works and how to protect their hearing. A public health nurse explained things, answered questions, and gave advice.

Action Park Has World’s Longest Inflatable Water Slide

worlds longest inflatable water slideAction Park in Mount Vernon, New Jersey earned itself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s longest inflatable water slide, measuring 1,975 feet long. It was verified as the world’s longest water slide on July 10, shortly after work on it was completed.

Riders travel down the slide at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Rides last 60 to 90 seconds. It takes riders 30 to 60 seconds longer to reach the end of this water slide than it takes to go down other slides.

Trial runs have been successful. So far, only park employees have ridden down the water slide. It still needs to be approved by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs before it can be opened to the public. That can be a lengthy process, and park officials do not know when it will be completed. The water slide is expected to be open to the public in 2016.

The water slide is made of 10,000 feet of polyvinyl chloride, a synthetic plastic polymer that is used in bounce houses, and has six million stitches. Builders linked together 20 600-pound, 100-foot sections. Two generators and 15 blowers are needed to keep the water slide inflated. Mountain Creek ski resort provides the 1,000 gallons of water that are needed every hour.

The water slide was created by New Zealander Jim Hunt, the founder of Live More Awesome, who had no prior experience constructing water slides. He created his first water slide as part of a fundraiser to raise awareness of mental health issues. It took about four months to manufacture the water slide and cost about $100,000. The money was raised through crowd sourcing. The water slide was assembled in Auckland in March.

The record-setting water slide is one of over 30 slides, rides, and attractions at Action Park. It does not yet have a name. The Travel Channel will air an episode of “Xtreme Waterparks” about the slide on July 26.

Pneubotics Creates Strong and Safe Inflatable Robots

Pneubotics inflatable robotsPneubotics, a San Francisco-based startup, is creating inflatable robots that they hope will be safer and more versatile than those currently used in manufacturing. They hope these robots will be able to be used in areas closer to humans in fields such as construction, warehousing, and agriculture.

Pneubotics was founded by Kevin Albert and Saul Griffith. The company creates inflatable hands that can shake a human hand and a red tentacle called Elephant Trunk that can wrap around a person. The tentacle does not have joints or a skeleton. It is made mostly of heavy-duty nylon cloth with a main shaft surrounded by chambers that curve when it is inflated.

About 1.6 million robots are currently in use, but their growth has been limited because most consist of dangerous claws attached to metal arms. Rigid robots need to be strong to do their jobs, but they are also inherently dangerous. They need an envelope, or a space around them that is free of obstructions, to avoid injuring humans.

Rigid robots can be made safer by adding compliance, or the ability to give way when they meet resistance, through specialty motors and expensive sensors. Inflatable robots have built-in compliance. They can conform to the environment and move out of the way of obstacles.

Rigid robots are relatively weak pound-for-pound. They can generally only move one-tenth to one-fifth of their weight. Pneubotics’ inflatable arm, however, can move up to five times its own weight.

Robots helped double labor productivity in the manufacturing sector from 1990 to 2010, but there were much smaller increases in productivity in the transportation, warehousing, and service industries, in part because it was dangerous to use robots. Their combination of safety and strength means that inflatable robots could potentially be used in more industries than rigid ones.

Compliant materials can also benefit from improvements in computing power. Control algorithms calculate gas dynamics and material strain 1,000 times per second. The drop in the price of microprocessors has improved the performance of inflatable robots.

Pneubotics plans to produce a low-cost lifting robot that can be used for logistics, manufacturing, and mechanical applications in as little as a year.

Parachute Fails to Inflate in LDSD Test

low density supersonic decelerator testNASA conducted a test of its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), a vehicle that was designed to transport payloads to Mars, on June 8. The supersonic parachute, the largest one ever deployed, was torn apart during the test when it deployed but did not inflate.

The test was performed at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The test flight was originally scheduled for June 2, but it had to be delayed due to strong winds and rough seas that could have interfered with recovery of the LDSD vehicle.

The system consists of a saucer-like vehicle called a “supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator” (SIAD) and a 100-foot parachute. The SIAD fits around the rim of an atmospheric entry vehicle and increases its surface area and drag to slow it down as it enters the atmosphere. NASA is working on two versions of the SIAD. One is 20 feet wide when inflated, and the other is 26 feet wide.

The LDSD was tested in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, which is similar to the Martian atmosphere. A 400-foot-wide balloon lifted the LDSD vehicle to an altitude of about 23 miles. Then the 7,000-pound craft was dropped, and an onboard engine moved it at supersonic speeds and raised it to a height of 34 miles. Then the SIAD inflated and slowed the craft from four times the speed of sound (Mach 4) to Mach 2.35. That should have been slow enough for the parachute to deploy and guide the vehicle down into the Pacific, if the parachute had inflated correctly.

Engineers will need to study data on the LDSD’s “black box” to figure out why the parachute failed to inflate. That will help them improve their designs to prepare for a future mission to Mars.

This was the second test of the technology. The first flight test was conducted on June 28, 2014. The parachute was destroyed when it came time for it to deploy. NASA considered the test a success nonetheless because they gained valuable information that could help them improve the technology. The supersonic parachute was improved for the second test.

The 2,000-pound Curiosity rover that landed on Mars in August 2012 was the heaviest object NASA has ever landed on the planet. It touched down with the help of a rocket-powered “sky crane” and a 50-foot-wide parachute. The new technology would allow NASA to land payloads as large as 30 metric tons or more.

The LDSD program costs about $230 million. A third test flight is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2016 from Kauai.

Inflatable Maze Delights Boston Residents

Pentalum inflatable maze BostonSouth Boston’s experimental park, The Lawn on D, brings attractions that draw in residents and visitors of all ages. The park has hosted activities including yard games, public art installations, food trucks, and craft brews. From May 28 to 31, The Lawn on D hosted Pentalum, an inflatable maze consisting of five domes. It refracts light to provide a sensory artistic experience for anyone who enters.

Architecture firm Architects of Air, based in Nottingham, UK, designed and built Pentalum. Artistic director Alan Parkinson has been experimenting with inflatable structures since the 1980s.

Pentalum was built completely by hand. Parkinson created a plan, and the workshop made a template. Workers cut thousands of meters of fabric and glued them together by hand over a period of five to six months. The maze is 168 feet long and took 10 people an entire day to erect on the 2.7-acre site.

Architects of Air’s goal is to make its luminaria as inclusive as possible. They draw in visitors of all ages, from babies to senior citizens. Many people are touched by the experience of the luminaria. People of all ages, and some with developmental disabilities, find it soothing.

The luminaria are beautiful regardless of the weather. On a cloudy day or when the sun is setting, the changes in lighting can create amazing visual effects.

Architects of Air has created only five inflatable mazes that are scattered around the world. Pentalum is the only one in the Americas. Each has unique characteristics. Some are set up at organized events or private functions.

Part of the name of the exhibit is based on the prefix “pent,” which refers to the five domes. All of the names of the luminaria are based on members of Parkinson’s family, the structures themselves, and features of the structures. The others are named Aboria, Miracoco, Mirazozo, and Amococo.