Technological innovation

  • Smart-gun technology faces many hurdles

    At last Wednesday’s Seattle International Smart Gun Symposium, lawmakers, smart-gun industry representatives, and gun-safety advocates met to discuss the future of “authorized” guns which only discharge in the hands of pre-authorized owners. Representatives from Sentinl, maker of an add-on fingerprint sensor for existing handguns; TriggerSmart, an RFID-enabled system for existing and brand-new guns; and Allied Biometrix, a firm developing fully integrated biometric sensors which unlock a gun once they sense an individual’s “reflexive actions” and “grip style,” attended the event, though these companies do not yet have a ready-for-market product.

  • CODE program would allow UAVs to fly as collaborative teams

    The U.S. military’s investments in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have proven invaluable for missions from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to tactical strike. Most of the current systems, however, require constant control by a dedicated pilot and sensor operator as well as a large number of analysts, all via telemetry. These requirements severely limit the scalability and cost-effectiveness of UAS operations and pose operational challenges in dynamic, long-distance engagements with highly mobile targets in contested electromagnetic environments. DARPA’s CODE program is offering the opportunity to participate in discussions to help develop groundbreaking software enabling unmanned aircraft to work together with minimal supervision.

  • Early warning systems to boost security for critical infrastructures

    Using data mining, data fusion, and what are known as “rule based engines,” the EU-funded ARGOS, which stands for Advanced Protection of Critical Buildings by Overhauling Anticipating Systems, has developed an innovative early warning security system for critical infrastructure facilities, letting site operators know whether there is a potential threat. The rule-based engines allow operators to “teach” the system what alarms are true enabling systems to ‘learn’ and improve over time. The early warning systems extend the sites’ “security zone” and helps vital infrastructure to become more secure against intruders.

  • Invisibility cloak closer to reality: Concealing military airplanes, and even people

    Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have used materials found in nature to improve their lot. Since the turn of this century, scientists have studied metamaterials, artificial materials engineered to bend electromagnetic, acoustic, and other types of waves in ways not possible in nature. Now, Hao Xin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, has made a discovery with these synthetic materials that may take engineers one step closer to building microscopes with superlenses that see molecular-level details, or shields that conceal military airplanes and even people.

  • Engineers develop world’s longest “flat pack” arch bridge

    Civil Engineers at Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with pre-cast concrete specialists Macrete Ireland have developed the world’s longest “flat pack” arch bridge. Based on the FlexiArch system, the bridge is unique in that it will be transported to site in flat-pack form but when lifted, will transform under gravity into an arch. A FlexiArch bridge requires little maintenance and should last 300 years, compared to the projected lifespan of up to 120 years that accompanies a conventional bridge.

  • Revolutionary weapon to be showcased at Future Force EXPO

    The Electromagnetic Railgun program continues to move toward scheduled at-sea testing in 2016. Its revolutionary technology relies on electricity instead of traditional chemical propellants, with magnetic fields created by high electrical currents launching projectiles at distances over 100 nautical miles — and at speeds that exceed Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. The Railgun will play a significant role in the future of the U.S. Navy, and it will be on display to the public for the first time on the East Coast 4-5 February at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology (S&T) EXPO in Washington, D.C.

  • Six-legged Snake Monster is first of new breed of reconfigurable modular robots

    Carnegie Mellon University’s latest robot is called Snake Monster, but with six legs, it looks more like an insect than a snake. It really does not matter, however, what you call it, says its inventor, Howie Choset — the whole point of the project is to make modular robots that can easily be reconfigured to meet a user’s needs.

  • Mobile app helps first responders choose the right biodetection technology

    First responders have downloaded more than 10,000 copies of a guide to commercially available, hand-portable biodetection technologies created to help them determine what they might be up against in the field. Since many first responders do not always have immediate access to a computer, a mobile version of the guide is now available for cell phones and tablets. An updated version of the guide has just been released to help response organizations make informed decisions when procuring the right technology for their particular needs and circumstances.

  • Smart grenade seeks, finds enemy hiding behind barriers, walls

    The Small Arms Grenade Munition (SAGM) round — a 40mm counter-defilade, air-bursting grenade designed for both the M203 and M320 launchers — will undergo evaluation in July 2015. The SAGM allows a soldier to target an enemy who is protected behind a barrier and have the munition explode, in the air, above the target. The SAGM does not require the soldier to conduct any kind of pre-fire programming sequence. The soldier aims the weapon and fires, and the round detects where a wall is and then explodes, in the air, after passing the wall. The SAGM round has been under development since January 2012.

  • Reducing uncertainty in designing complex military systems

    Uncertainty is sometimes unavoidable, but in the world of scientific computing and engineering, at least, what is worse than uncertainty is being uncertain about how uncertain one is. Understanding with confidence the level of uncertainty in computational models used for designing complex military systems can be enormously beneficial, reducing costs and development times. DARPA program seeks novel mathematical research for quantifying and predicting uncertainty in design models as alternative to costly and repetitive testing.

  • Nanomaterial proves to be a better flame retardant than chemical alternative

    In a face-off between two promising flame retardants, the challenger — a nanomaterial that maintains a positive façade while sheltering a negative interior — outperformed its chemical antithesis. This material already is a leading candidate for environmentally friendly fire-resistant coatings on furniture foam.

  • Improved protective suit for Ebola caregivers

    An advanced protective suit for health care workers who treat Ebola patients, devised by a Johns Hopkins University team, is one of the first five awardees in a federal funding contest aimed at quickly devising new tools to combat the deadly disease. The JHU prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler — an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa.

  • Helping first-response robots operate for longer periods

    Through a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Sandia Lab is developing technology which will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios. One of Sandia’s new robots which showcases this technology will be demonstrated at an exposition to be held in conjunction with the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next June.

  • Helicopter steering innovation could herald new era for aerial transport

    For decades, flying cars have featured in our visions of what futuristic cities might look like. Now EU-funded researchers with the MYCOPTER project have developed a steering system that makes helicopters as easy to control as cars. While having your own personal aerial vehicle (PAV) may still be some way off, the success of the project opens up the possibility that one day flying vehicles could indeed be an integral part of the urban transportation network.

  • A first: U.S. Navy shipboard laser operates in Persian Gulf

    The U.S. Navy announced that a laser weapon system (LaWS) — a cutting-edge weapon that brings significant new capabilities to America’s Sailors and Marines — was for the first time successfully deployed and operated aboard a naval vessel in the Persian Gulf. The operational demonstrations, which took place from September to November aboard USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15), were historic not only because they showed a laser weapon working aboard a deployed U.S. Navy ship, but also because LaWS operated seamlessly with existing ship defense systems. During the tests, LaWS hit targets mounted aboard a speeding oncoming small boat, shot a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) out of the sky, and destroyed other moving targets at sea.