Sci-Tech

  • Robot warfare raises ethical question

    Remote-controlled drones could one day give way to automated robot forces. With the increasing use of drones in military operations, it is perhaps only a matter of time before robots replace soldiers. Whether or not fully automated war is on the immediate horizon, researchers say it is not too early to start examining the ethical issues that robot armies raise.

  • Algae biofuel can help meet world energy demand

    Microalgae-based biofuel not only has the potential to quench a sizable chunk of the world’s energy demands, researchers say. Microalgae produces much higher yields of fuel-producing biomass than other traditional fuel feedstocks and it does not compete with food crops. The researchers say that algae yields about 2,500 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. In contrast, soybeans yield approximately forty-eight gallons; corn about eighteen gallons.

  • Dramatic drop in Central Valley wintertime fog threatens California’s agricultural industry

    California’s winter tule fog — hated by drivers, but needed by fruit and nut trees — has declined dramatically over the past three decades, raising a red flag for the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. Many crops go through a necessary winter dormant period brought on and maintained by colder temperatures. Tule fog, a thick ground fog that descends upon the state’s Central Valley between late fall and early spring, helps contribute to this winter chill. The findings have implications for the entire country since many of these California crops account for 95 percent of U.S. production.

  • Power plant emission detection by satellites verified

    Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from two coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners area of northwest New Mexico, the largest point source of pollution in America, were measured remotely by a Los Alamos National Laboratory team. The study is the first to show that space-based techniques can successfully verify international regulations on fossil energy emissions.

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  • DARPA Demo Day 2014: Preserving, expanding U.S. technological superiority

    Information technology (IT) is a key enabler for the Defense Department (DoD) and has been a focus area for DARPA since its founding in 1958. DARPA’s contributions to modern IT are well-known — perhaps most notably, DARPA is generally credited with developing and prototyping the technology for what is now known as the Internet. While the DoD currently enjoys IT superiority, that superiority cannot be taken for granted. On Wednesday, DARPA held the largest-ever Pentagon event to showcases more than 100 projects aiming to be game-changing improvements to U.S. national security.

  • Floating solar power plants offer many benefits

    Water-based solar plants are at least 50 percent more efficient than a land-based solar power system.The water on which the plant floats helps extending the life of the photovoltaic panels, meaning greater efficiency and performance from the solar panel system, and the plant also prevents nearly 90 percent of the evaporation for the surface area that it covers, an important benefit in dry climates.

  • Wireless camera network offers new possibilities for security systems

    Advances in computer technology are opening up new possibilities for surveillance cameras and environmental video monitoring systems. A graduate engineering student used off-the-shelf components to build a prototype device for a solar-powered wireless network of smart cameras with potential applications in security systems and wildlife monitoring.

  • Pumping Central Valley’s ground water increases number of California’s earthquakes

    Scientists have offered a new theory explaining the steady increase in the number of small earthquakes in parts of Central California. They say that the quakes are partly due to the pumping of groundwater. Groundwater is heavy, and depresses the Earth’s upper crust like a weight. Without that weight, the earth springs upward and the change in pressure can trigger more small earthquakes.

  • New technology tests ammo while saving joints

    Firing and testing thousands of rounds of ammunition weekly can challenge the human body — even ones in top physical condition — causing debilitating stress injuries and chronic nerve and joint pain. DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), with the help of agents from ICE Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs (OFTP) Armory Operations Branch (AOB), has taken an important step forward in reducing or eliminating these injuries by developing of the “Virtual Shooter.”

  • Abundant shale gas, by itself, not likely to alter climate projections

    While natural gas can reduce greenhouse emissions when it is substituted for higher-emission energy sources, abundant shale gas is not likely substantially to alter total emissions without policies targeted at greenhouse gas reduction, a new study finds. If natural gas is abundant and less expensive, it will encourage greater natural gas consumption and less of fuels such as coal, renewables and nuclear power. The net effect on the climate will depend on whether the greenhouse emissions from natural gas — including carbon dioxide and methane — are lower or higher than emissions avoided by reducing the use of those other energy sources.

  • UN mulling rules to govern autonomous killer robots

    On Tuesday, delegates from several international organizations and governments around the world began the first of many round of talks dealing with   some call “lethal autonomous weapons systems” (LAWS), and others call “killer robots.” Supporters of LAWS say the technology offers life-saving potential in warfare, as these robots y are able to get closer than troops to assess threats without letting emotions interfere in their decisions. This is precisely what concerns critics of the technology. “If we don’t inject a moral and ethical discussion into this, we won’t control warfare,” said one of them.

  • Research reconfirms that public investment in scientific research promotes growth

    New and independent research has reconfirmed and quantified some of the economic and societal benefits of public investment in scientific research. The report says that for every £1 spent by the U.K. government on R&D, private sector R&D output rises by 20p per year in perpetuity, by raising the level of the U.K. knowledge base.

  • Colorado tries to increase safety of urban development in wildfire-prone areas

    Colorado continues to deal with the challenge of building new urban developments while reducing wildfire risks. There are currently 556,000 houses built in burn zones around the state, and the demand for water to sustain residents and industries continue to rise. A new study predicts that development will occupy 2.1 million acres in wildfire-prone forests by 2030, an increase from one million acres today — just as wildfires continue to burn roughly 900,000 acres a year since 2000, compared with just 200,000 acres a year in the 1990s.

  • Improving gloves to enhance first responders’ safety

    Firefighters wear protective gloves called “structure gloves” to keep their hands safe on the job. The structure gloves currently used by firefighters, however, are not designed for the precision movements first responders must perform. There are many different types of structure gloves available, but none fully satisfies modern firefighters’ needs. Today’s compact tools often have small buttons that require nimble movements. Bulky gloves can make it difficult for firefighters to complete simple tasks without removing their gloves and compromising their safety. As advanced textile technology and materials continue to develop, the science behind firefighter structure gloves has adapted.

  • Limiting methane emissions would more quickly affect climate than limiting CO2

    When discussing climate change, scientists point to “radiative forcing,” a measure of trapped heat in Earth’s atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gases. The current role of methane looms large, they say, contributing over 40 percent of current radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases. The role of methane as a driver of global warming is even more critical than this 40 percent value might indicate, they note, since the climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane than to reducing carbon dioxide. The implication is that while it is true that in order to slow, or even reverse, global warming we must limit emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane, it makes more sense to concentrate now on limiting methane emissions because reducing methane emissions would buy society some critical decades of lower temperatures.