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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: think ahead (4)

Preparing to Think Ahead

Author
by Alice
Publish date
5 December 2013
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The whole preparation department have been hard at work over the past few months getting their creations ready for the opening of Scienceworks' new permanent exhibition, Think Ahead.

I went to visit the team during their last week of preparation to see some of their projects in the final stages of development.

Building model houses Building model houses
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What has always impressed me about all the clever individuals in the preparation department is that their job combines highly refined artistic skills with science and design....and a whole lot of patience and lateral thinking!   

The team’s recent body of work for Think Ahead is certainly a testament to their craft. Using a creative mix of materials ranging from state-of-the-art plastic technology to readymade dollhouse furniture, the team have created a wide range of objects and interactives for permanent display including plastic foods, futuristic human figurines, replica ice cores, miniature dioramas and life-sized human mannequins. They even utilised the museum’s 3D printer to produce miniature model tyres for their futuristic farm machinery.

3D printed tyres 3D printed tyres
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Future food Future food
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

With the exhibition targeted at 8 to 12 year olds, the team have included many clever little twists to catch the eye of their audience. In one display, a model dolls house that shows the evolution of a child’s bedroom from the turn of the century to today, and references to contemporary pop culture are included in the form of mini Diablo and Angry Birds posters pasted on the walls of the modern bedroom. 

Bedroom diorama Bedroom diorama
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Other creations such as Michael Pennell’s future human figurines and Steven Sparrey’s silicone life sized mannequin (modelled from Michael's face) look like props right from the set of a new sci-fi blockbuster.

Future human figurines Future human figurines
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Think Ahead opens this week at Scienceworks.

Travel by tube...or is that tubes?

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
8 November 2013
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Can you imagine zipping around your city – or even between cities – via vacuum tubes? The idea of using air to push or pull people through tubes is familiar from sci-fi shows like Futurama, but could we really travel by tube from Melbourne to Perth, say?

Futurama Tube Transport System Characters in the TV show Futurama zoom around New New York City Tube Transport System.
Source: 20th Century Fox Television
 

For over a century, pneumatic (air-driven) systems have transported small parcels, cash and documents quickly and securely over short distances. You may have seen pneumatic tubes in supermarkets that provide change or send money from the till to a central depository. Several European cities, including Paris and Prague, once had pneumatic postal systems. These days, many hospitals use air tubes to transport drugs and tests between pharmacies, labs and wards far more quickly than a human could carry them. Stanford Hospital's network is so extensive that it earned a listing in the Atlas Obscura and features in this video made by the Exploratorium. 

 

But would the idea work on a grand scale for transporting people? Elon Musk, inventor and chief executive of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, thinks it could. Earlier this year he released his concept for the Hyperloop – a superfast, solar-powered, city-to-city elevated transit system that he says could take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Concept drawing of the Hyperloop Concept drawing of the Hyperloop transit system.
Source: Tesla Motors
 

Air tubes have moved people before; America’s first subway in New York City was actually a prototype pneumatic train built in 1870 by Alfred Ely Beach that ran for just one block. Other pneumatic railways operated in various cities from the 1840s, including London, Paris and Dublin. None traversed more than a few miles or survived longer than a few years simply because steam and electric trains proved more practical. However Elon Musk now estimates that the cost of building tubes across California would be far less than building above-ground rail tracks.

Beach pneumatic tunnel The remains of Beach's pneumatic tunnel photographed in 1899, 30 years after it was built.
Source: Scientific American via archive.org
 

The beauty of pneumatic transport is its simplicity: just by changing the air pressure in a tube, you can shift anything contained within the tube. This principle is familiar to every kid who has used a straw to sip a drink or fire a spitball at the teacher. All you need is a durable capsule, a powerful pump to push air through the tubes, and a way to divert the capsules to their correct destination.

Lamson Pneumatic Tubes brochure Lamson brochure circa 1920. This photograph was taken by a researcher in the New York Public Library - and the librarians sent the access request for this item via the library's pneumatic tube system!
Image: Molly Steemson
Source: flickr user maximolly
 

To demonstrate the concept, we’re installing a pneumatic system in Think Ahead that was made by Lamson Solutions. This company has built transport apparatus in Australia since 1898; their early retail systems evolved from hollow balls rolling along inclined tracks, through to flying-fox style wires overhead launching spring-loaded capsules of money. In 1908 they introduced vacuum tubes and still make them today for hospitals, stores, manufacturing plants and more. Pneumatic transport for rubbish or recycling collection in big cities is another developing idea; it would certainly take a lot of smelly and fuel-guzzling rubbish trucks off the roads.

The potential of pneumatic transport is just one of the fascinating ideas in Think Ahead, an exhibition about imagining the future, which will be opening at Scienceworks this December. 

1889 tram model

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
29 October 2013
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Comments (1)

Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

What do you do when a significant part of our local transport history would make a great addition to a new exhibition, but it no longer exists? Well, you recreate it in miniature, of course.

By 1888, Melbourne was already on its way to an integrated suburban rail transport network, and horse-drawn tramcars mingled with cable tramcars. Tramcars propelled by electric motors were very new and developing rapidly. Overseas commercially-operated installations were powered by either on-board batteries or connections to external underground or overhead electrical wiring. The first electric tram powered by an overhead wire in Australia was demonstrated as a fee paying, passenger-carrying attraction within the grounds of the 1888 Melbourne International Centennial Exhibition.

Men on Melbourne's first electric tram Australia’s first suburban electric tramway service at the Box Hill terminus on opening day, 14 October 1889. Do these passengers look excited about their ride on the latest public transport system in Melbourne?
Source: Doncaster & Templestowe Historical Society (DP0203)

While news reports from the time provide basic information about the tramcar and the exhibit, we couldn’t find any surviving photographs. However images do exist of its later use, in the following year, on the Box Hill-Doncaster Tramway Company’s route. This route ran from Box Hill Railway Station up what is now known as Tram Road, towards the Observation Tower and close to where Doncaster Shoppingtown now stands.

We provided these photographs, supplemented with curatorial research gleaned from historical literature such as newspapers, engineering journals, patents and electric tramcar and street railway technology reviews, to model maker Mark O'Brien. He used this information to prepare a digital model using 3D modelling software, carefully deconstructing parts to suit the manufacturing method.

Man sitting at computer showing a 3D digital model The 3D digital model can be rotated and viewed from all angles, to match the viewers’ perspective to the original photographic image.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Then came the real art of the project: translating the digital model into an actual object. The miniature parts were crafted with a blend of traditional model making techniques and additive manufacturing technology (3D printing).

parts of tram model Left: assembly of the tram model parts prior to painting and finishing. Right: the truck (or bogie) construction prior to painting, in the hand of the model maker Mark O'Brien.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

parts of tram model Left: detail of conductor base. Right: electric motor, wheels and axle box, 3D printed and finished to resemble metal.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Scanning the tram model into the collection system Upon its arrival at the museum, we checked the condition of the tram model, registered it, tagged it and scanned into the Collection Location System for tracking.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When the Box Hill tramway closed down, the original tramcar was sold to H.V. McKay’s Sunshine agricultural implements manufacturing plant and stripped of its electric motor and fittings. The tramcar carriage itself became one of the shelter sheds used for workers’ leisure activities in the nearby parklands. It suffered the fate of most wooden objects left out in the weather for years. In the museum environment however, this miniature representation of the tramcar will live on as part of the as part of the state’s permanent Rail Transport Collection, and will be part of the Think Ahead exhibition at Scienceworks from December 2013.

Da Vinci surgical system

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
21 October 2013
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The da Vinci robotic surgery system was first used at the Epworth ten years ago. Now superseded, this first da Vinci has been donated to MV by Epworth Healthcare for Think Ahead at Scienceworks, an upcoming permanent exhibition about the future. This robot is a great example of how technology is shaping our lives… and, in this case, saving lives.

da Vinci Si Surgical System.  This is what robotic surgery looks like: an operating room featuring the da Vinci Si Surgical System.
Source: Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
 

Like many robots, the da Vinci needs a highly-skilled human controller – surgeons like Dr Daniel Moon, Director of Robotic Surgery at Epworth. He’s a urologist who specialises in cancers of the prostate, the treatment of which has transformed since the introduction of robotic surgery.

Man at console of machine Surgeon Daniel Moon sitting at the console of a da Vinci surgical system.
Source: Daniel Moon
 

Treating this cancer involves removing the prostate (prostatectomy). It has always been a very delicate operation because this little gland, buried deep in the pelvis, is very close to important tissues that control urinary and reproductive functions. "With this operation," says Dr Moon, "if you get it wrong by millimetres, you can cripple someone."

So why is a robot so useful in this instance? Firstly, it can operate using much smaller incisions because its 'hands' – or robotic instruments – are much smaller than human hands. Smaller, less invasive incisions mean shorter recovery times. The instruments can perform very tiny, tightly-controlled movements beyond the range of usual human dexterity. Very high-definition footage is sent back to the surgeon which means he or she can see what's going on, and carefully avoid damaging any healthy tissues. "We see anatomy better than we've ever seen it before," says Dr Moon.

The surgeon sits at a console away from the operating table and controls the surgical instruments with sensitive thumb and finger grips. Foot pedals control the camera which, in the new generation of the da Vinci, can include ultrasound. The system is calibrated to the surgeon so that his or her hand movements are robotically scaled down and translated into minute adjustments of the instruments working inside the patient.

Controls of da Vinci surgical robot The surgeon operates the robotic arms with finely-calibrated finger controls.
Source: Daniel Moon
 

This medical advance coincided with the increasing prevalence of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which detects potential prostate cancers very early in their development. Previously, prostate cancers usually reached a more advanced stage before medical intervention. "Surgery to remove the prostate before PSA testing was risky and really interfered with quality of life," says Dr Moon. "We'd take those risks when you had a bulky and aggressive tumour, but not, for example, when you have a patient in his mid-50s with early cancer and no symptoms." The da Vinci offers a surgeon the best possible vision, dexterity, and ergonomics to reduce the operative risks.

From the first da Vinci operation in Melbourne ten years ago, surgeons  performed over 3500 prostate operations robotically in 2012, and da Vinci systems are used in dozens of hospitals across Australia. The types of operations are increasing, too – Dr Moon lists removing tumours from the uterus, bowel and kidneys, and repairing cardiac valves, as other kinds of operations suited to this tool. An added benefit is that the ergonomics of operating is much kinder on the bodies of the surgeons; instead of many hours on their feet, bending awkwardly, the surgeon sits comfortably at the console.

This kind of machine was born from technology developed for two similar, yet different, purposes: the need for astronauts to repair satellites from within the safety of a space shuttle, and an idea to operate on wounded soldiers in the battlefield without placing surgeons on the front line. Both applications require instruments that can be minutely controlled from a distance, and excellent images of the procedure sent back to the operator. These space-age developments are now benefitting Earth-bound civilian people too, and one day a robot might help to keep you healthy.

Links:

Think Ahead at Scienceworks

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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