Technological innovation

  • Testing wave energy generation in rough sea conditions

    Oceans, which cover some 71 percent of the earth’s surface, represent an untapped source of clean, renewable energy. Early demonstrations have already shown that the energy stored in waves can be captured by floating energy converters. Now scientists want to rigorously test this technology on a much larger scale, to see whether the concept is truly viable and whether hardware is capable of surviving rough sea conditions over a period of several years. EU-funded researchers with the CEFOW project are about to put cutting edge wave power technology to the test in real ocean conditions.

  • Researchers use seismic signals to track above-ground explosions

    Seismology has long been used to determine the source characteristics of underground explosions, such as yield and depth, and plays a prominent role in nuclear explosion monitoring. Now, however, some of the same techniques have been modified to determine the strength and source of near and above-ground blasts. Thus, researchers have determined that a tunnel bomb explosion by Syrian rebels was less than sixty tons as claimed by sources. Using seismic stations in Turkey, the researchers created a method to determine source characteristics of near-earth surface explosions. They found the above-ground tunnel bomb blast under the Wadi al-Deif Army Base near Aleppo last spring was likely not as large as originally estimated and was closer to forty tons.

  • Robots to the rescue in disaster situations

    Real-life disaster scenarios have awakened the robotics community to the limitations of existing emergency-response robots. EU-funded researchers are redoubling efforts to ensure that disaster response robots can better support rescue workers in future emergencies. Research in the lab and on-site simulations have helped in improving the capabilities of emergency-response robots in recent years. When real disaster strikes unexpected, however, complications lay bare the limitations of test scenarios. In light of the lessons learned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers are following a range of different pathways to advance emergency-response robotics.

  • Compact orbital debris sensor detects space refuse

    The number of man-made debris objects orbiting the Earth continues to increase at an alarming rate — with objects smaller than one centimeter (cm) exceeding 100 million. The effects of collisions occurring at orbital velocities, approaching several kilometers per second, can range from minor to catastrophic. In Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where many space-based assets reside, small debris objects are of concern not only due to their abundance, but because they are often difficult to track or even detect on a routine basis. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has received a U.S. patent for the Optical Orbital Debris Spotter, a compact, low power, low cost, local space debris detection concept that can be integrated into larger satellite designs, or flown independently on-board nano-satellite platforms.

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  • Non-traditional roboticists to help bolster national security

    The past ten years have seen an explosion of robotics advances from small businesses and individuals, thanks in part to lower manufacturing costs and the global rise of community workshops such as makerspaces and hackerspaces, which serve as incubators for rapid, low-cost collaboration and innovation. Unfortunately, the small-scale robotics community has tended to fly under the radar of traditional federal agencies and commercial technology providers, which generally rely on multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts for technology development. DARPA’s Robotics Fast Track foresees cost-effective development of new capabilities by engaging cutting-edge groups and individuals who traditionally have not worked with the federal government.

  • Sandia Lab helps small security company thwart thieves

    Sandia has a long history, dating back to the 1970s, of testing sensor and video technologies for physical security systems, so in response to the security needs of a New Mexico security company, Sandia and Los Alamos labs researchers worked together to configure and test a reliable, affordable outdoor security system that helped the company more than triple its staff and clientele over five years.

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  • Inventing a stronger radiological waste bag for extra protection

    Researchers at the Savannah River National Laboratory found out that a radiological waste bag was not lasting as long as he would like, so they set about inventing a new one, creating a “double-ply” waste containment bag capable of better containing nuclear waste. Much like a household garbage bag is used to protect waste from leaking into a garbage can, special radiological waste bags are used to keep radiation from leaking into a storage container.

  • Lawmakers pledge to continue supporting Center of Excellence for drone research

    Lawmakers pledge to continue support for FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

  • Invisible inks to help foil counterfeiters

    Counterfeiting is very big business worldwide, with $650 billion per year lost globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

  • Using UV light to separate rare earth metals

    Europium and yttrium are two rare earth metals that are commonly used in sustainable technology and high-tech applications. As these rare earth metals are difficult to mine, there is a great interest in recycling them. Researchers have discovered a method to separate europium and yttrium with UV light instead of with traditional solvents. Their findings offer new opportunities for the recycling of fluorescent lamps and low-energy light bulbs.

  • New airport security technologies raise privacy concerns

    Researchers are developing surveillance technologies better to help airport security officials scan passengers and luggage for contraband and suspicious behavior. Privacy advocates say these expensive and ambitious projects, meant to increase public safety and ease air travel delays, risk intruding on passengers’ privacy.“What starts in the airport doesn’t stay there,” says a technology expert at the ACLU.

  • Final prototype of tool for spotting buried victims now commercially available

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, last week announced the transition of the final prototype of the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) technology to the commercial market. The technology proved successful during its first real-world operational use when it was deployed to Nepal following the 25 April earthquake to support international search and rescue efforts in the country.

  • Four African innovators selected for engineering innovation prize

    Following an open, competitive, application process which saw entries from fifteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, twelve African entrepreneurs were chosen to receive a package of six months of business training and mentoring from the U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering. The four finalists showing the greatest promise have now been chosen, and are in with a chance to become the overall winner. Each will receive at least £10,000 with the grand prize of £25,000 to be awarded at a ceremony in Cape Town on 1 June. A low-cost sustainable water filter system to provide clean and safe drinking water, and a service that allows African mobile phone users to switch easily between multiple mobile networks are among the four African innovations selected by the Academy.

  • Nano-coated mesh captures oil but lets water through

    The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh does not look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups. Water passes through the mesh but oil does not, thanks to a nearly invisible oil-repelling coating on its surface. In tests, researchers mixed water with oil and poured the mixture onto the mesh. The water filtered through the mesh to land in a beaker below. The oil collected on top of the mesh, and rolled off easily into a separate beaker when the mesh was tilted. The nano-coated mesh could clean oil spills for less than $1 per square foot.

  • New MIT report details benefits of investment in basic research

    In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle which sheds light on the origins of the universe; the European Space Agency successfully landed the first spacecraft on a comet; and Chinese researchers developed the world’s fastest supercomputer. As these competitors increase their investment in basic research, the percentage of the U.S. federal budget devoted to research and development has fallen from around 10 percent in 1968 to less than 4 percent in 2015. A new report by MIT researchers examines how funding cutbacks will affect the future of scientific studies in the United States. The report also highlights opportunities in basic research which could help shape and maintain U.S. economic power, and benefit society.