Technological innovation

  • DetectionNew detection technology to help combat nuclear trafficking

    According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the greatest danger to nuclear security comes from terrorists acquiring sufficient quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to construct a crude nuclear explosive device. The IAEA also notes that most cases of illicit nuclear trafficking have involved gram-level quantities, which can be challenging to detect with most inspection methods. Special algorithm coupled with commercial X-ray scanners allows detection of small amounts of fissile materials in luggage.

  • Anthrax detectorPocket-sized anthrax detector aids global agriculture

    Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is commonly found in soils all over the world and can cause serious, and often fatal, illness in both humans and animals. The bacteria can survive in harsh conditions for decades. In humans, exposure to B. anthracis may occur through skin contact, inhalation of spores or eating contaminated meat. A credit-card-sized anthrax detection cartridge developed at Sandia National Laboratories and recently licensed to a small business makes testing safer, easier, faster, and cheaper.

  • Stealth motorcycleSilent-capable hybrid-electric military motorcycle

    Fairfax, Virginia-based Logos Technologies has received a small business innovation research (SBIR) grant from DARPA to develop a military-use hybrid-electric motorcycle with near-silent capability. The company says that when fully matured, the technology will allow small, dispersed military teams to move long distances quickly and stealthily across harsh enemy terrain.

  • CounterfeitingTiny particles could help verify goods

    By Anne Trafton

    Chemical engineers hope smartphone-readable microparticles could crack down on counterfeiting. Some 2 to 5 percent of all international trade involves counterfeit goods, according to a 2013 United Nations report. These illicit products — which include electronics, automotive and aircraft parts, pharmaceuticals, and food — can pose safety risks and cost governments and private companies hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Researchers have invented a new type of tiny, smartphone-readable particle that they believe could be deployed to help authenticate currency, electronic parts, and luxury goods, among other products. The particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, contain colored stripes of nanocrystals that glow brightly when lit up with near-infrared light.

  • Ray gunsU.S. Navy's laser weapon ready for summer deployment

    Navy engineers are making final adjustments to a laser weapon prototype which will be the first of its kind to deploy aboard a ship late this summer. The prototype, an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), will be installed on USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf. Navy leaders have made directed-energy weapons a top priority to counter what they call asymmetric threats, including unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats that could be used to deny U.S. forces access to certain areas. High-energy lasers offer an affordable and safe way to target these threats at the speed of light with extreme precision and an unlimited magazine.

  • EnergyHigh-altitude wind energy shows promise

    Wind turbines hovering high in the air and tethered to the ground, like kites, have the potential to generate huge amounts of electricity, based on a recent wind availability study. Researchers pinpointed tracts of the atmosphere ideal for locating airborne wind energy (AWE) devices, which convert kinetic energy from wind into electricity. Recently published research shows that there are enough areas usable by airborne turbines to produce several terawatts of electric power annually — more than enough needed to meet worldwide demands. More than twenty companies are developing various versions of the technology, with over 100 related patents filed in the United States alone.

  • EnergyMaking ethanol without corn or other plants

    Ethanol today is produced at high-temperature fermentation facilities that chemically convert corn, sugarcane, and other plants into liquid fuel. Growing crops for biofuel, however, requires thousands of acres of land and vast quantities of fertilizer and water. In some parts of the United States, it takes more than 800 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn, which, in turn, yields about three gallons of ethanol. Stanford scientists have created a copper-based catalyst that produces large quantities of ethanol from carbon monoxide gas at room temperature.

  • In the trenchesUAV-mounted high-speed wireless networks for remotely deployed troops

    Missions in remote, forward operating locations often suffer from a lack of connectivity to tactical operation centers and access to valuable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data. The assets needed for long-range, high-bandwidth communications capabilities are often unavailable to lower echelons due to theater-wide mission priorities. DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots program makes progress toward the goal of providing 1 Gb/s communications backbone to deployed units.

  • Spectrum challengeSpectrum Challenge: more robust, resilient, reliable radio communications

    Reliable wireless communications today requires careful allocation of specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum to individual radio networks. While pre-allocating spectrum is effective in benign environments, radios remain vulnerable to inadvertent interference from other emitters and intentional jamming by adversaries. On 19-20 March 2014, fifteen teams from around the country demonstrated new ways to help overcome these challenges by participating in the final event of the DARPA Spectrum Challenge — a national competition to develop advanced radio techniques capable of communicating in congested and contested electromagnetic environments without direct coordination or spectrum preplanning.

  • Nuclear weaponNew consortium dedicated to developing nuclear arms control verification technologies

    A consortium of thirteen universities and eight national laboratories, led by the University of Michigan and including the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a partner, has been awarded a $25 million grant by the NNSA. The consortium is dedicated to the research and development (R&D) of nuclear arms control verification technologies, including nuclear safeguards effectiveness.

  • DetectionCutting edge, animatronic mannequin to test CB protective suits, equipment

    See video

    The U.K. Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) has taken delivery of a new robotic mannequin which will be used to test chemical and biological (CB) protective suits and equipment for the U.K.’s Armed Forces. The “Porton Man” uses state of the art technology and is able to walk, march, run, sit, kneel and even lift its arms as if to sight a weapon just like an infantry soldier.

  • EnergyScale model WWII-era plane flies with fuel from the sea

    U.S. Navy researchers demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel. Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon — a component of NRL’s novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process which uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock — the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

  • Defense technologyDARPA launches Biological Technologies Office

    DARPA has established a new technology office — the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) — which will merge biology, engineering, and computer science to harness the power of natural systems for national security. With the establishment of the new office last week, biology takes its place among the core sciences that represent the future of defense technology.

  • Nuclear safeguardsNew center will work to improve methods to detect, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons

    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has awarded the University of Michigan $25 million to establish the Center for Verification Technology. A team from thirteen universities will work with eight national labs to analyze nuclear nonproliferation efforts, improve technologies for monitoring weapons-grade materials and detecting secret weapon tests, and train the next generation of nonproliferation experts.

  • Invisibility cloakInvisibility cloaks, stealth technology a step closer

    It may seem easy in Hollywood movies, but is hard to create invisibility cloaks in real life because no material in nature has the properties necessary to bend light in such a way. Scientists have managed to create artificial nanostructures that can do the job, called metamaterials. The challenge, however, has been making enough of the material to turn science fiction into a practical reality.