Inflatable TrunkMonkey Makes Transporting a Bike Easy

TrunkMonkey inflatable bicycle rackThe TrunkMonkey is an inflatable bike rack that is designed for anyone who needs to transport a bicycle on the back of a vehicle or might need to hitch a ride home with a friend after being caught in bad weather.

Tyler Nelson came up with the idea for the TrunkMonkey after he was caught in a storm riding home on his bike. A friend offered him a ride, but he had to turn it down because he could not fit his bicycle in the car and he didn’t have a rack.

The TrunkMonkey inflatable bike rack can fit on the back of virtually any vehicle with a trunk or hatchback. The inflatable carrier is designed to protect both the bike and the vehicle transporting it. The polyvinyl inflatable cover is protected by a Cordura/Kevlar outer shell. The TrunkMonkey is designed to work with many types of bicycle frames.

The inflatable TrunkMonkey is more versatile than traditional bike racks that mount on a roof, trunk, or hitch. When deflated, the TrunkMonkey fits in a carry case that also holds a 12V pump. The case, which is about the size of a two-liter bottle of soda, can be mounted under the saddle of a bicycle.

The TrunkMonkey is inflated by hooking it up to the vehicle’s 12V outlet. It takes about two minutes to inflate the core. Then the user secures the rack straps to the vehicle and straps in the bike. It can be deflated easily with a two-way pump. The TrunkMonkey weighs about six pounds. The weight can be reduced by leaving the pump at home and inflating the TrunkMonkey manually.

The TrunkMonkey is not only meant to be used in an emergency. It can also be used to transport a bike on a trip. It can easily be packed into a suitcase or duffel bag.

TrunkMonkey recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for production. The company expects to begin deliveries in August.

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.

Engineers Design Inflatable Tent for Moon Missions

inflatable moon tentThe Apollo program landed a dozen astronauts on the moon from 1969 to 1972, but they were only able to spend three days and six hours exploring its surface because they could not venture far from the life support on the lunar lander. A team of researchers from MIT have designed a packable, inflatable tent that could double the distance astronauts could travel from the lunar base and increase the reachable area by a factor of four.

The tent has a pill shape and can sleep two astronauts. The pod is supported by silicone-coated fabric tubes and has an interior area of 425 cubic feet. When the system is packed, it takes up a space about half the size of a refrigerator. It weighs 273 pounds.

The pod has a reflective shield that can protect astronauts from the sun’s rays. Life support systems on the rover would supply oxygen, food, and water; maintain the temperature in the inflatable habitat; and remove carbon dioxide and excess humidity from the air. A flexible solar array would provide power and recharge the rover’s batteries.

The astronauts would be able to explore with a rover, enter the inflatable tent, remove their space suits, and rest for eight hours before exploring the next day. They would then return to their base.

The tent is designed to protect astronauts from moon dust, which can be hazardous to human health. Moon dust is electrostatically charged, sticks to everything, and is similar to shards of glass. It can cause skin and eye irritation and congestion or lower-airway issues if inhaled. A flexible divider inside the pod would separate the area where the astronauts removed their suits from their sleeping quarters.

The lunar camper is still in the research stage. It is unclear when it might be used since NASA is not currently planning an expedition to the moon.

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.