• Disaster relief robots compete at DARPA Robotics Challenge

    Twenty four teams from around the world have just competed in Pomona, California for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, which runs various rescue robot platforms through a vigorous series of tests to learn and develop better systems. DARPA has made the competition even harder for competing teams. The robots could not operate with power chords, meaning that heavy batteries had to be on the board. Also, there could not be safety pumpers or tools for bipedal robots, which still struggled with balance issues. “In a real disaster, there are no ropes to hold you up. The robots have to drive a car to the door, but the hardest part of the ride is getting out of the vehicle without falling,” said Gill Pratt, program manager of the challenge.

  • Winners of DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals announced

    “May the best robot win” has been a frequently uttered phrase throughout the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, held this Friday and Saturday at the Fairplex in Pomona, California. After years of research and development, several intense days of preparation at the competition site, a day of rehearsal and two full days of head-to-head competition in front of thousands of spectators, the verdict is in, and three winners were announced Saturday. The Robotics Challenge was launched in response to a humanitarian need that became glaringly clear during the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. The DARPA Robotics Challenge consisted of three increasingly demanding competitions over two years. The goal was to accelerate progress in robotics and hasten the day when robots have sufficient dexterity and robustness to enter areas too dangerous for humans and mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters.

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  • NOAA’s new National Water Center will bolster U.S. ability to manage threats to water security

    The National Water Center, a new facility located at the University of Alabama, aims to become an incubator for innovative breakthroughs in water prediction products and services. As the country becomes more vulnerable to water-related events, from drought to flooding, the predictive science and services developed by NOAA and its partners at the National Water Center will bolster the U.S. ability to manage threats to its finite water resources and mitigate impacts to communities. Bringing experts together in this new collaborative center provides an unprecedented opportunity to improve federal coordination in the water sector to address twenty-first century water resource challenges, such as water security, and analysis and prediction of hydrologic extremes, like droughts and floods.

  • Nanosensor bandage measures wound oxygenation

    There is nothing new in the understanding that with combat come injuries, sometimes extreme injuries. In treating and healing wounds, however, physicians must overcome one obstacle which always challenges the healing of wounds: lack of oxygen. Thus, it is necessary to make certain that sufficient oxygen is reaching the healing wound. Chemists have developed a nanosensor bandage which measures the level of oxygen in wounds – a bandage which uses a changing color scheme to inform doctors of the level of oxygen supply in the treated wound.

  • Exciting time ahead for power industry: Energy expert

    New developments in the field of power electronics could lead to greater flexibility for the U.S. electrical power grid, says an expert in power engineering. The key, she says, will be advancements in power electronics — instruments that control and convert electric power, such as semiconductor switching devices. “Power electronics are going to make the power system more flexible, allowing us to really control how the power flows in the system much like you might consider traffic lights controlling traffic flow,” the expert says.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.