• Powering desalination with the sun

    When graduate student Natasha Wright began her Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering, she had no idea how to remove salt from groundwater to make it more palatable, nor had she ever been to India, where this is an ongoing need. Although the available filters made water safe to drink, they did nothing to mitigate its saltiness — so the villagers’ drinking water tasted bad and eroded pots and pans, providing little motivation to use these filters. Almost 60 percent of India has groundwater that’s noticeably salty, so Wright began designing an electrodialysis desalination system, which uses a difference in electric potential to pull salt out of water.

  • Simplifying recycling of rare-earth magnets

    Despite their ubiquity in consumer electronics, rare-earth metals are, as their name suggests, hard to come by. Mining and purifying them is an expensive, labor-intensive and ecologically devastating process. Researchers have now pioneered a process that could enable the efficient recycling of two of these metals, neodymium and dysprosium. These elements comprise the small, powerful magnets that are found in many high-tech devices. In contrast to the massive and energy-intensive industrial process currently used to separate rare earths, the new method works nearly instantaneously at room temperature and uses standard laboratory equipment. Sourcing neodymium and dysprosium from used electronics rather than the ground would increase their supply at a fraction of the financial, human and environment cost.

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  • DHS recognizes innovators

    On Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas recognized DHS employees and other individuals who have been awarded patents by the U.S. Patent Office for their technology advancements and inventions contributing to the homeland security mission. From transportation-related inventions that improve screening and detection capabilities at ports and borders, to inventions that assist the U.S. Coast Guard in air and sea rescue operations, to a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine that received the Secretary’s Exceptional Service Gold Medal in 2014, these inventions have helped to enhance the homeland security mission while adapting to current and evolving threats.

  • Firefighting humanoid robot shows its skills

    In fall 2014 in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Virginia Tech engineering students made history during a five-minute demo that placed an adult-sized humanoid robot with a hose in front of a live fire aboard a U.S. Navy ship. The robot located the fire and sprayed water from the hose. Water blasted the flames. The demo, four years in the making, is part of a new effort by the U.S. Navy to better assist sailors in fighting fires, controlling damage, and carrying out inspections aboard ships via user-controlled unmanned craft or humanoid robots.

     

  • New fog chamber offers testing options which could improve security cameras

    Fog can play a key role in cloaking military invasions and retreats and the actions of intruders. This is why physical security experts seek to overcome fog, but it is difficult to field test security cameras, sensors, or other equipment in fog that is often either too thick or too ephemeral. Until now, collecting field test data in foggy environments was time-consuming and costly. Sandia Lab researchers thought it would be more efficient to develop a controlled-fog environment for sensor testing – and they have developed a fog chamber — one of the world’s largest — that meets the needs of the military, other government agencies, and industry: The chamber is in a tunnel owned by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

  • New foam technology to lead to better protective equipment

    Foam. We wear it. We sit on it. We sleep on it. We even use it to protect ourselves. Whether it is a football helmet, hospital bed, knee pad, or body armor, the foam it contains plays a critical role in making that product both comfortable and safe. Can that foam, however, be transformed into something significantly better, safer and more comfortable? An FSU researcher has developed a brand new, high-performing auxetic foam with a unique ability to get thicker, rather than thinner, when stretched. In practical terms, this counter-intuitive behavior, totally opposite to that of conventional foam, leads to many enhanced materials properties including a better and more comfortable fit that adjusts on the fly.

  • 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.

  • 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.