Technological innovation

  • LandminesNew 3-D camera technology to uncover hidden landmines

    It is estimated there are 110 million landmines buried across the world, with the potential to kill and maim innocent men, women, and children for decades to come. Yet landmine detection techniques have barely changed since the Second World War. The UN estimates that, using current technology, it would take more than 1,100 years to clear the estimated 110 million landmines situated in seventy countries. Researchers are exploring new landmine detection technologies.

  • Earthquake-proofingSafer structures to withstand earthquakes, windstorms

    A new cyberinfrastructure effort funded by a $13.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help engineers build safer structures that can better withstand natural hazards such as earthquakes and windstorms. Researchers aim to build a software platform, data repository, and tools that will help the United States design more resilient buildings, levees, and other public infrastructure that could protect lives, property and communities.

  • AviationBomb-proof lining contains explosion in aircraft’s luggage hold

    A bomb-proof lining developed by an international team of scientists has successfully contained blasts in a series of controlled explosions in the luggage hold of a Boeing 747 and an Airbus 321. The Fly-Bag, which lines an aircraft’s luggage hold with multiple layers of novel fabrics and composites, was tested last week under increasing explosive charges on disused planes. The tests, using this technology, have demonstrated that a plane’s luggage hold may be able to contain the force of an explosion should a device concealed within a passenger’s luggage be detonated during a flight.

  • Food securityAccelerometers embedded in ear tags detect disease in beef cattle

    A smartphone switches its orientation from portrait to landscape depending on how it’s tilted. A car’s airbags inflate when it senses collision forces. By detecting earth’s vibrations, a computer can measure the magnitude and aftershocks of an earthquake. These technologies are made possible by accelerometers — small, electromechanical devices that measure acceleration. The devices are able to detect the most sensitive of motions, from the number of steps taken during a morning walk to the number of jaw movements during a heifer’s morning meal. In fact, some dairy producers use these devices to measure feed intake, detect heat and notably, identify sick animals.

  • Law enforcement technologyDetecting illegal, designer drugs from a single fingerprint

    An innovative technology can detect the presence of a range of illegal and designer drugs from a single fingerprint, which could be a valuable new tool in bringing drug dealers and other criminals to justice. The technology, known as Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Mass Spectrometry Imaging (MALDI-MSI), can detect the presence of cocaine, THC (the chemical present in marijuana), heroin, amphetamine and other designer drugs from a fingerprint.

  • RoboticsRoboBoats compete for water supremacy

    In a race for points, honor and cash, sixteen teams — from the United States and as far away as Indonesia, Taiwan, and South Korea — hit the water with custom-built autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) at the eighth annual RoboBoat Competition, held 7-12 July in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The competition is an autonomous robotics contest where teams put their student-built ASVs through a series of challenges.

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  • EnergySuccessful test for open-sea pilot connecting power generated from waves, tides, and currents to the grid

    Marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies, which generate power from waves, tides, or currents, are at an early but promising stage of development. Many coastal areas in the United States have strong wave and tidal resources, and more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within fifty miles of a coastline, making transmission from these resources more economical. With further progress toward commercialization, MHK technologies could make substantial contributions to our nation’s electricity needs.

  • DetectionUsing microwave technology to detect concealed weapons

    A team of researchers in Canada and the Ukraine funded by NATO which will be exploring ways to equip soldiers and law enforcement with gear that could detect concealed threats, such as guns and explosive devices, used by terrorists and security threats. The three-year project, which launched 1 July, will study how microwave radar signals sent from either rigged vests or tripods could detect trouble as far as fifteen meters away and send early warning signals of pending danger. These devices could be used anywhere from borders to airports to crowded public events to bars and hotels.

  • DetectionTerahertz sensor detects hidden objects faster

    A new type of sensor, which is much faster than competing technologies used to detect and identify hidden objects. Called “Q-Eye,” the invention senses radiation across the spectrum between microwaves and infra-red, known as the Terahertz (THz) region of the spectrum — a goal that has challenged scientists for over thirty years. It works by detecting the rise in temperature produced when electromagnetic radiation emitted by an object is absorbed by the Q-Eye sensor, even down to the level of very small packets of quantum energy (a single photon).

  • In the trenchesU.S. military looking for ways to lighten the load infantrymen carry on missions

    Typically, an infantryman on a three-day mission will carry 80 to 100 pounds and often more, when the weight of the weapon, night vision equipment, extra batteries to power the advanced equipment, and body armor are added to the burden. When it comes to a one day combat patrol, the weight carried drops to a “mere” sixty-five pounds.The effects of such a burden not only slow the warfighters down, they reduce agility and my result in log-term harm. The military is looking for ways to lighten the load.

  • Nuclear powerA new look for nuclear power

    By Nancy W. Stauffer

    Many experts cite nuclear power as a critical component of a low-carbon energy future. Nuclear plants are steady, reliable sources of large amounts of power; they run on inexpensive and abundant fuel; and they emit no carbon dioxide (CO2). A novel nuclear power plant that will float eight or more miles out to sea promises to be safer, cheaper, and easier to deploy than today’s land-based plants.

  • First response gearAlumnus’s throwable tactical camera gets commercial release

    By Rob Matheson

    Unseen areas are troublesome for police and first responders: Rooms can harbor dangerous gunmen, while collapsed buildings can conceal survivors. Now Bounce Imaging, founded by an MIT alumnus, is giving officers and rescuers a safe glimpse into the unknown. In July, the Boston-based startup will release its first line of tactical spheres, equipped with cameras and sensors, which can be tossed into potentially hazardous areas to instantly transmit panoramic images of those areas back to a smartphone.

  • Food securityPrecision agriculture: Sensors and drones as farmers’ best friends

    The precision agriculture sector is expected to grow at a high rate over the coming years. This new way of farming is already a reality in northwest Italy, where technologies are being used to keep plants in a good state of health but also to avert the loss of quality yield. Sensors and drones can be among the farmers’ best friends, helping them to use less fertilizers and water, and to control the general condition of their crops.

  • WaterPowering desalination with the sun

    By Julia Sklar

    When graduate student Natasha Wright began her Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering, she had no idea how to remove salt from groundwater to make it more palatable, nor had she ever been to India, where this is an ongoing need. Although the available filters made water safe to drink, they did nothing to mitigate its saltiness — so the villagers’ drinking water tasted bad and eroded pots and pans, providing little motivation to use these filters. Almost 60 percent of India has groundwater that’s noticeably salty, so Wright began designing an electrodialysis desalination system, which uses a difference in electric potential to pull salt out of water.

  • Rare earth materialsSimplifying recycling of rare-earth magnets

    Despite their ubiquity in consumer electronics, rare-earth metals are, as their name suggests, hard to come by. Mining and purifying them is an expensive, labor-intensive and ecologically devastating process. Researchers have now pioneered a process that could enable the efficient recycling of two of these metals, neodymium and dysprosium. These elements comprise the small, powerful magnets that are found in many high-tech devices. In contrast to the massive and energy-intensive industrial process currently used to separate rare earths, the new method works nearly instantaneously at room temperature and uses standard laboratory equipment. Sourcing neodymium and dysprosium from used electronics rather than the ground would increase their supply at a fraction of the financial, human and environment cost.