Technological innovation

  • New approach would boost use of geothermal energy

    Existing U.S. geothermal power plants generate up to 3.4 gigawatts of energy, making up about 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy supply. Geothermal power is generated by tapping the heat that exists under the Earth’s surface to extract steam and turn power plant turbines. Conventional geothermal power plants rely on the natural presence of three things: underground water, porous rock, and heat. A new approach to geothermal power, called enhanced geothermal systems, pumps fluids underground, a step which is called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work. It is estimated that enhanced geothermal systems could boost U.S. geothermal energy output 30-fold to more than 100 gigawatts, or enough to power 100 million typical American homes.

  • Water shortage grows, and so does the need for technological solutions

    The value of freshwater is becoming more apparent, as more and more areas around the world are suffering from dwindling supply as a result of climate change. The World Bank estimates that water is $1 trillion privatized commodity. Last week, California imposed mandatory restrictions on water use for the first time in its history. California’s unprecedented move is just one example of the political and social issues which will accompany a growing water shortage moving forward.

  • Big data technology helps identify best river locations for hydro-power generation

    A new technology has the potential to revolutionize the sourcing of renewable energy from rivers. The software app automatically selects appropriate locations in U.K. rivers to site a large range of micro renewable hydro-power turbines in these rivers, and determines the environmental sensitivity of the location.

  • Virtual guard detects real-time leaks in water, oil-, or gas pipes

    Often, water, gas, or oil distribution networks suffer from leaks in storage tanks, pumping failures, or illegal tapping. In order to prevent losses which typically result, researchers designed a virtual guard which immediately detects abnormalities in any type of duct. Through the laws of physics and application of a mathematical model of fluid mechanics, the device calculates when an irregularity occurs on site, and issues an alert.

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  • Structures tougher than bulletproof vests

    Researchers have created new structures that exploit the electromechanical properties of specific nanofibers to stretch to up to seven times their length, while remaining tougher than Kevlar. These structures absorb up to 98 joules per gram. Kevlar, often used to make bulletproof vests, can absorb up to 80 joules per gram. Researchers hope the structures will one day form material that can reinforce itself at points of high stress and could potentially be used in military airplanes or other defense applications.

     

  • Soldiers, astronauts to be protected by tough, flexible new material

    A team of researchers has developed a revolutionary material that has superior anti-penetration properties while remaining flexible. Inspired by the way nature designed fish scales, the material could be used to make bulletproof clothing for the military and space suits that are impervious to micro-meteorites and radiation when astronauts embark on spacewalks. The material emulates the skins of many species of fish — skins which are flexible, but which also protect the fish by hard scales.

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  • A very big concept lifts off

    In 2010, a group of defense contractors led by Northrop Grumman received a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to create a so-called Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) — a super-sized surveillance aircraft that had the capability of spending days in the air on a single mission. The first test flight of the Airlander took place in August 2012. In 2013, however, budget cuts led to the cancellation of the project, and U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which was part of contractors group, bought the Airlander back from the DoD at effectively scrap value. So the Airlander came back to the United Kingdom, where it lives in a giant hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire. It is there because it is the only place in the United Kingdom that can house it, having been built for airship manufacture in 1915. HAH has big plans for it.

  • Fighting fires with low-frequency sound waves

    A thumping bass may do more than light up a party — it could flat out extinguish it, thanks to a new sound-blasting fire extinguisher by George Mason University undergrads. The fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Their sound-wave device is free of toxic chemicals and eliminates collateral damage from sprinkler systems. If mounted on drones, it could improve safety for firefighters confronting large forest fires or urban blazes.

  • Tethered robots to be the “eyes” of firefighters in “blind” conditions

    Researchers have developed revolutionary reins which enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital seconds and find it easier to identify objects and obstacles. The small mobile robot — equipped with tactile sensors — would lead the way, with the firefighter following a meter or so behind holding a rein. The robot would help the firefighter move swiftly in “blind” conditions, while vibrations sent back through the rein would provide data about the size, shape and even the stiffness of any object the robot finds.

  • Using fishing nets to snag derelict satellites

    The European Space Agency (ESA) is testing the feasibility of removing a large item of debris in orbit — either a large derelict satellite or rocket upper stage – to help control the debris levels in busy orbits. The best method of snagging an uncontrolled, tumbling satellite is still being decided. ESA’s Clean Space initiative to reduce the impact of the space industry on the terrestrial and orbital environments is overseeing studies which include a robotic arm, a harpoon, and an ion beam – but one of humanity’s oldest technologies, the humble fishing net, may yet find a new role in space, as it appears to offer the most effective way to bring down dead satellites.

  • New membranes deliver clean water more efficiently

    Researchers have developed new membranes or micro-filters that will result in clean water in a much more energy efficient manner. The new membranes will supply clean water for use in desalination and water purification applications. The novel membrane technology uses layer-by-layer polymer assembly.

  • The Brandeis program: Harnessing technology to ensure online privacy

    In a seminal 1890 article in the Harvard Law Review, Louis Brandeis developed the concept of the “right to privacy.” DARPA the other day announced the Brandeis program – a project aiming to research and develop tools for online privacy, one of the most vexing problems facing the connected world as devices and data proliferate beyond a capacity to be managed responsibly.

  • Latest version of laser weapon system stops truck in field test

    Lockheed Martin’s 30-kilowatt fiber laser weapon system successfully disabled the engine of a small truck during a recent field test, demonstrating the rapidly evolving precision capability to protect military forces and critical infrastructure. The company says that the ground-based prototype system, — called ATHENA, for Advanced Test High Energy Asset — burned through the engine manifold in a matter of seconds from more than a mile away. The demonstration represents highest power ever documented by a laser weapon of its type

  • “Pee-power” to light refugee camps in disaster zones

    A toilet, conveniently situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), is proving pee can generate electricity. The prototype urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at UWE Bristol and Oxfam. It is hoped the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places particularly for women. Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

  • Cutting the costs of night vision, thermal imaging

    Presently, night vision and thermal imagers are costly, in part because they are made with specialty semiconductor devices or need isolation from the environment.. Researchers have created an electronic device with affordable technology that detects electromagnetic waves to create images at nearly ten terahertz, which is the highest frequency for electronic devices. The device could make night vision and heat-based imaging affordable. The device is created using Schottky diodes in Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology.