Moving around in zero gravity is hard. MIT’s solution? Spider-Man’s web shooter

In the mid-1980s, Spider-Man was removed from his usual New York environment and sent into space as part of Marvel Comics’ “Secret Wars” storyline. Jump forward to 2018 and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been researching optimal ways for astronauts to more easily move around in zero or microgravity conditions such as on board the International Space Station. One of their suggestions? That astronauts use spider-inspired web shooters to pull themselves from location to location. See kids, this is why you need to listen in comics class!

“The mechanism is, in fact, quite similar to Spider-Man,” Xin Liu, the arts curator at the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, told Digital Trends. “The device shoots a string out with a magnetic tip. Once the tip is in contact with a steel panel, it secures the attachment due to magnetic forces. Then the device will rewind, like a fishing spoil but reversed, and drag the wearer. Because you are technically weightless, it doesn’t need much torque to pull a person around with such a small device.”

With the promise of more and more astronauts spending extended periods of time in space, solutions like this will become increasingly important. While astronauts like Tim Peake were able to adjust to life in microgravity by finding the best way to push off walls, or crawl using handrails, a device that makes this easier would certainly be welcome.

mit webshooters micogravity underwater conceptshooting 1 photocredit rob chron s
Xin Liu

At present, MIT’s so-called Orbit Weaver device hasn’t been put through its paces in actual orbit. However, Liu had the opportunity to test it out on a parabolic flight, which uses freefall to create the feeling of weightlessness for a fraction of a minute.

“It was effective; I was able to shoot the string and navigate with it,” Liu explained. “But I have to say it was tremendously hard to do just about anything there. It was my first time in zero-G. The weightlessness only lasted around 10 seconds. It gets dizzy fast. I also couldn’t move too fast due to safety protocols in the airplane. Everything we did had to follow federal regulations.”

Liu said that there are no plans to commercialize the technology (which, to be fair, is kind of useless without your own space station). However, she plans to work with others who want to push the technology forward.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light

What do you get if you cross Boston Dynamics and Ant-Man? You get Antbot, a robot from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which uses ant-like navigation to move around without the aid of GPS.
Emerging Tech

China’s mind-controlled cyborg rats are proof we live in a cyberpunk dystopia

Neuroscience researchers from Zhejiang University, China, have created a method that allows humans to control the movements of rats using a technology called a brain-brain interface.
Wearables

Sony’s weird Wena isn’t a smartwatch, it’s a smart watch strap

Sony's Wena smart watch straps have been around since 2015; but the company has now decided to launch them outside of Japan, starting with the U.K.. The straps convert traditional watch straps into smart watches.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how Facebook taught its Portal A.I. to think like a Hollywood filmmaker

When Facebook introduced its Portal screen-enhanced smart speakers, it wanted to find a way to make video chat as intimate as sitting down for a conversation with a friend. Here's how it did it.
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s space observatory will map the sky with unprecedented detail

NASA is preparing to launch a cutting-edge space observatory to create the most detailed map ever produced of the sky. Doing so will involve surveying hundreds of millions of galaxies. Here's how it plans to do it.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.