First response

  • Carbon nanotubes improve flame-resistant coating

    Using an approach akin to assembling a club sandwich at the nanoscale, researchers have succeeded in crafting a uniform, multi-walled carbon-nanotube-based coating that greatly reduces the flammability of foam commonly used in upholstered furniture and other soft furnishings. In tests, the flammability of the nanotube-coated polyurethane foam was reduced 35 percent compared with untreated foam. As important, the coating prevented melting and pooling of the foam, which generates additional flames that are a major contributor to the spread of fires.

  • Robots compete in performing emergency response task

    Sixteen robots participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials last month performed such tasks as opening doors or climbing a ladder, all tasks aimed to speed the development of robots that could one day perform a number of critical, real-world, emergency response tasks at natural and human-made disaster sites. While most of the entries were engineered to resemble humanoids with two legs, JPL’s RoboSimian tackled tasks like climbing over rough terrain on all four of its limbs.

  • U.S. disaster preparedness threatened by funding problems

    The 9/11 attacks in New York City prompted large increases in government funding to help communities respond and recover after man-made and natural disasters. This funding, however, has fallen considerably since the economic crisis in 2008. Furthermore, disaster funding distribution is deeply inefficient: huge cash infusions are disbursed right after a disaster, only to fall abruptly after interest wanes. These issues have exposed significant problems with our nation’s preparedness for public health emergencies. Researchers list seven recommendations to enhance preparedness for public health emergencies in the U.S.

  • Eight teams heading to DARPA Robotics Challenge finals

    Two weeks ago, on 20-21 December 2013, sixteen teams were the main attraction at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials, where they demonstrated their prototype robots’ ability to perform a number of critical real-world disaster-response skills. After two days of competition, the agency selected eight teams to receive up to $1 million in funding to continue their work and prepare for upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals.

  • Elbit Systems’ subsidiary to provide secure broadband mobile solution for first responders

    DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) has selected Elbit Systems of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, to provide a technology demonstrator for a secure broadband services solution for first responders. DHS will use this solution to test the new LTE broadband network with various mission critical secure multimedia services for public safety users. Following the integration and proof of concept phase, DHS will proceed with field tests within selected homeland security components.

  • Measures being offered to reduce mass shootings not likely to succeed

    Criminologists debunk eleven common myths which dominate the discussion about how to put an end to, or at least reduce, the number and scope of mass shooting. They argue that the measures typically offered to deal with the problem — widening the availability of mental-health services, enhanced background checks, having armed guards at schools, censoring violent entertainment, especially video games, and more – would, at best, merely take a nibble out of the risk of mass murder. Even reducing mass shooting marginally would be a worthy goal, but “eliminating the risk of mass murder would involve extreme steps that we are unable or unwilling to take — abolishing the Second Amendment, achieving full employment, restoring our sense of community, and rounding up anyone who looks or acts at all suspicious. Mass murder just may be a price we must pay for living in a society where personal freedom is so highly valued,” they write.

  • Sandia to show Mine Rescue Robot at 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge

    Engineers from Sandia National Laboratories will demonstrate real-world robotics successes at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013 Expo this week (20-21 December) in Florida. The challenge is focused on human-scaled robots that assist in humanitarian aid and disaster response. Sandia engineers will demonstrate the Gemini Scout Mine Rescue Robot, which was designed to overcome dangers lurking in a mining accident: poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors, and unstable walls and roofs. Such potentially deadly conditions and unknown obstacles can slow rescue efforts to a frustrating pace.

  • Lawmakers: Old plastic gun law has not kept pace with technology

    The U.S. House of Representativesvoted last Tuesday to renew the 25-year old Undetectable Firearms Actwhich prohibits firearms that can evade metal detectors and X-ray machines. Law enforcement agencies say that developments in 3D printing make the law insufficient, and lawmakers who proposed amending the Act say that the only way to make such guns detectable is to require that at least one component of the firing mechanism in a plastic gun contain enough metal to be detectable in a magnetometer — and that that component be undetachable. The NRA opposes these requirements, saying that they would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of citizens.

  • Seventeen teams to compete in DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

    Four teams that built full robot hardware and software systems using their own funds qualified to join thirteen other teams to compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. The event will take place 20-21 December at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida, where spectators can observe as the robots are tested on the capabilities that would enable them to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters.

  • Standardized performance tests for emergency response robots

    Seventeen teams will be directing their emergency-response robots to perform eight basic tasks which were drawn from the Fukushima Daiichi response and then converted into standardized tests by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A year later, the capabilities of robots that qualify in this year’s trials will be tested in a more realistic disaster scenario. In the winner-take-all finals, robots will perform all eight challenges consecutively. NIST engineers have been at the forefront of using standardized performance testing for emergency response robots used in bomb-response and for urban search-and-rescue operations. Since 2005, fifteen NIST tests have been adopted as standards by ASTM International, and about forty more are under various stages of development or review.

  • Earthquake early warning? There’s an app for that

    Researchers from the University of California have unveiled a smartphone app designed to provide users an early warning of approaching earthquakes. Based on the proximity of the user to the earthquake’s epicenter, the app will provide alerts of between a few seconds and one minute before a tremor hits.

  • Better earthquake early-warning system

    Geophysicists have developed a new way of calculating the magnitude of an imminent earthquake by making better use of measurements of the compression waves produced early in the event. They say that the technique could be used to create a better early-warning system for earthquakes that could be used worldwide.

  • Solar-powered, fabric-woven battery for “wearable electronics”

    Though some people already seem inseparable from their smartphones, even more convenient, wearable, solar-powered electronics could be on the way soon, woven into clothing fibers or incorporated into watchbands. This novel battery development could usher in a new era of “wearable electronics.”

  • Smart software fighting fire with #fire

    Australia’s key disaster management agencies have joined forces to tackle the problem of how to access and interpret information gathered during bushfires and other natural disasters to help emergency services save lives and property.

  • New drone to monitor radiation following nuclear disasters

    Researchers have unveiled a large semi-autonomous drone called the ARM system which could be used to provide visual and thermal monitoring of radiation after a release of nuclear material. The system was developed in response to requirements for radiation monitoring in event of the release of radioactive materials.