• A portable, shoe-box-sized chemical detector

    A chemical sensor prototype will be able to detect “single-fingerprint quantities” of substances from a distance of more than 100 feet away, and its developers are working to shrink it to the size of a shoebox. It could potentially be used to identify traces of drugs and explosives, as well as speeding the analysis of certain medical samples. A portable infrared chemical sensor could be mounted on a drone or carried by users such as doctors, police, border officials and soldiers.

  • DNA has gone digital – what could possibly go wrong?

    Biology is becoming increasingly digitized. Researchers like us use computers to analyze DNA, operate lab equipment and store genetic information. But new capabilities also mean new risks – and biologists remain largely unaware of the potential vulnerabilities that come with digitizing biotechnology. In 2010, a nuclear plant in Iran experienced mysterious equipment failures which paralyzed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Months later, a security firm was called in to troubleshoot an apparently unrelated problem, and found a malicious computer virus called Stuxnet, which was telling uranium-enrichment centrifuges to vibrate. Stuxnet demonstrated that cybersecurity breaches can cause physical damages. What if those damages had biological consequences? Could bioterrorists target government laboratories studying infectious diseases? What about pharmaceutical companies producing lifesaving drugs? As life scientists become more reliant on digital workflows, the chances are likely rising. The emerging field of cyberbiosecurity explores the whole new category of risks that come with the increased use of computers in the life sciences.

  • Using smartphones — instead of body parts — for identification to deter cybercrime

    Not comfortable with Face ID and other biometrics? This cybersecurity advancement may be for you. Researchers have discovered how to identify smartphones by examining just one photo taken by the device. The advancement opens the possibility of using smartphones — instead of body parts — as a form of identification to deter cybercrime.

  • Reusable sponge soaks up oil, revolutionizing oil spill and diesel cleanup

    When the Deepwater Horizon drilling pipe blew out seven years ago, beginning the worst oil spill in U.S. history, those in charge of the recovery discovered a new wrinkle: the millions of gallons of oil bubbling from the sea floor weren’t all collecting on the surface where it could be skimmed or burned. Some of it was forming a plume and drifting through the ocean under the surface. Scientists have invented a new foam, called Oleo Sponge, that addresses this problem.

  • Bolstering cybersecurity in harsh environments

    According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the financial loss from cybercrime in the U.S. was over $1.3 billion in 2016. As this number is only expected to rise in the upcoming years, the military, businesses and individuals are seeking new ways to guard their information. Physical unclonable function (PUF) devices hold promise.

  • Simple tool tells whether websites suffered a data breach

    Computer scientists have built and successfully tested a tool designed to detect when websites are hacked by monitoring the activity of email accounts associated with them. The researchers were surprised to find that almost 1 percent of the websites they tested had suffered a data breach during their 18-month study period, regardless of how big the companies’ reach and audience are. “No one is above this—companies or nation states— it’s going to happen; it’s just a question of when,” said the senior researcher.

  • Bioelectronic “nose” detects food spoilage by sensing the smell of death

    Strong odors are an indicator that food has gone bad, but there could soon be a new way to sniff foul smells earlier on. Researchers have developed a bioelectronic “nose” that can specifically detect a key decay compound at low levels, enabling people to potentially take action before the stink spreads. It can detect rotting food, as well as be used to help find victims of natural disasters or crimes.

  • Better gas mask filters

    In research that could lead to better gas mask filters, scientists have been putting the X-ray spotlight on composite materials in respirators used by the military, police, and first responders, and the results have been encouraging. What they are learning not only provides reassuring news about the effectiveness of current filters in protecting people from lethal compounds such as VX and sarin, but they also provide fundamental information that could lead to more advanced gas masks as well as protective gear for civilian applications.

  • Israeli walk-and-fly Rooster robot aids disaster relief

    RoboTiCan’s Rooster robot can help reach injured victims of natural disasters where it is not safe to send a human rescue worker. Rooster got its name from the fowl’s preference for walking but being able to fly when necessary, Ofir Bustan, RoboTiCan’s COO, said. “Most of the time it walks, but when it runs into an obstacle, it can hover and fly.” That makes Rooster different from most other search-and-rescue robots, which can either walk or fly but not both – meaning they can get stuck or are too high above the ground to search effectively for survivors.

  • Software verifies someone’s identity by their DNA in minutes

    In the science-fiction movie “Gattaca,” visitors only clear security if a blood test and readout of their genetic profile matches the sample on file. Now, cheap DNA sequencers and custom software could make real-time DNA-authentication a reality. Researchers have developed a method to quickly and accurately identify people and cell lines from their DNA. The technology could have multiple applications, from identifying victims in a mass disaster to analyzing crime scenes.

  • Mimicking peregrine falcon attack strategies could help down rogue drones

    Researchers have discovered that peregrine falcons steer their attacks using the same control strategies as guided missiles. The findings, which overturn previous assumptions that peregrines’ aerial hunting follows simple geometric rules, could be applied to the design of small, visually guided drones that can take down other ‘rogue’ drones in settings such as airports or prisons.

  • Smart alarm system detects attempted break-ins

    There is a large selection of glass break detectors on the market. Although these detectors reliably trigger an alarm when window panes break, they do not register all other ways in which burglars can interfere with a pane. To counter this, Fraunhofer researchers have created a new type of alarm system that recognizes any attempt to manipulate the window. It registers temperature changes in real time as well as vibrations caused by external interference with the glass, leaving burglars with no chance.

  • Nanomaterials’ cryptographic potential may be ultimate defense against hackers

    The next generation of electronic hardware security may be at hand as researchers introduce a new class of unclonable cybersecurity security primitives made of a low-cost nanomaterial with the highest possible level of structural randomness. Randomness is highly desirable for constructing the security primitives that encrypt and thereby secure computer hardware and data physically, rather than by programming.

  • Disaster zones could soon be salvaged by teams of smart devices – here’s how

    We will remember 2017 as an appalling year for natural disasters. It comes months after the UN’s head of disaster planning warned that the world is not adequately preparing for disasters. This, he said, risks “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe. In such circumstances, modern technologies like smartphones, sensors and drones could help enormously, particularly if we can get them to act like an intelligent network. We recently outlined how these three strands from political theory, social science, and biology could be brought together to develop a new paradigm for complex device networks. We see encouraging signs that such thinking is starting to catch on among researchers. These ideas should enable us to develop new approaches that will underpin and enhance a wide variety of human activities – not least when the next disaster strikes. It might even mitigate the effects of climate change, making us better at foreseeing catastrophes and taking steps to avert them.

  • Should we fear the rise of drone assassins? Two experts debate

    A new short film from the Campaign Against Killer Robots warns of a future where weaponized flying drones target and assassinate certain members of the public, using facial recognition technology to identify them. Is this a realistic threat that could rightly spur an effective ban on the technology? Or is it an overblown portrayal designed to scare governments into taking simplistic, unnecessary and ultimately futile action? Two academics offer their expert opinions.