Technological innovation

  • Inexpensive, home-made quake early-warning system can be a life saver

    UC Berkeley astrophysics professor Josh Bloom has developed an earthquake early-warning (EEW) device meant for the home or office. Resembling a home fire alarm or carbon monoxide sensor, the device was built using a Raspberry Pi single-board computer, an SD card, wired power speaker, and mini Wi-Fi adapter — costing roughly $110 in parts.

  • Sun-powered desalination for villages in India

    Around the world, there is more salty groundwater than fresh, drinkable groundwater. For example, 60 percent of India is underlain by salty water — and much of that area is not served by an electric grid that could run conventional reverse-osmosis desalination plants. MIT researchers show that a different desalination technology called electrodialysis, powered by solar panels, could provide enough clean, palatable drinking water to supply the needs of a typical village.

  • New device improves radiation detection

    In a move that could have important implications for national security, researchers have created a very sensitive and tiny detector that is capable of detecting radiation from various sources at room temperature. The detector is eight to nine orders of magnitude —100 million to as high as 1 billion — times faster than the existing technology. The researchers sought to utilize the exceptional electronic carrier properties of graphene to create the photo detector device. Graphene is made of carbon atoms that are arranged in a honeycomb-like geometrical structure (the diameter of a human hair is 300,000 times thicker than a two-dimensional sheet of graphene).

  • Officials increasingly worried about 3-D-printed gun technology

    State and local government officials are debating how to address the growing accessibility of 3-D-printed gun technology. Recent actions by government agencies have signaled that officials are concerned about the increasing availability of printed guns. In December of last year, the U.S. Senate extended the Undetectable Firearms Act for an additional ten years. Additionally, municipalities such as Philadelphia have also moved to ban 3-D-printed guns on the local level. Yet, despite these measures, the technology continues to proliferate.

  • New 3D technology helps in identifying long-distance threats

    At present, surveillance systems have difficulty capturing even 2D images at long range under normal sunlight conditions. The ability to extract high-resolution 3D video information up to hundreds of meters away, particularly in bright sunshine, would be a major advance. It would have immediate applications in the security and defense industries, for example for long-distance face-recognition, improved identification of left luggage, or the detection of concealed weapons.

  • U.S. military seeks to break the “more armor” paradigm for protection

    For the past 100 years of mechanized warfare, protection for ground-based armored fighting vehicles and their occupants has boiled down almost exclusively to a simple equation: More armor equals more protection. The trend of increasingly heavy, less mobile, and more expensive combat platforms has limited soldiers’ ability rapidly to deploy and maneuver in theater and accomplish their missions in varied and evolving threat environments. The U.S. military is now at a point where — considering tactical mobility, strategic mobility, survivability, and cost — innovative and disruptive solutions are necessary to ensure the operational viability of the next generation of armored fighting vehicles.

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  • Smart-gun design met with suspicion by gun rights advocates

    Ernst Mauch, a mainstay of the weapons industry and a long-term gunmaker at Heckler & Koch, has recently upset gun rights advocates, who used to praise his work, with his new computer-assisted smart gun design. The new gun incorporates twenty-first century computing and intelligence features to eliminate the potential for danger in the wrong hands: it will only operate if the owner is wearing a special wrist watch.

  • Electric bugs harnessed to detect water pollution

    Scientists have developed a low-cost device that could be used in developing countries to monitor the quality of drinking water in real time without costly lab equipment. The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable electric current as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.

  • Wi-Fi-equipped robots to see through solid walls

    Wi-Fi makes all kinds of things possible. We can send and receive messages, make phone calls, browse the Internet, even play games with people who are miles away, all without the cords and wires to tie us down. Researchers are now using this versatile, everyday signal to do something different and powerful: looking through solid walls and seeing every square inch of what is on the other side. Built into robots, the technology has far-reaching possibilities.

  • Tech firm creates software pairing response systems with open data

    A new application, called Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard (DAAD), harnesses emergency response data in real-time and across multiple departments and agencies. DAAD will function as a central hub for information in the event of a disaster — using more than 100 different interfaces that upload data. Additionally, the hub will work in accordance with all manner of local government organizations such as fire stations, police stations and hospitals to further create a larger picture during the actual moments of an emergency.

  • Encouraging innovation for better preparedness, recovery, and resilience tools

    Last week the White House hosted innovators in technology and emergency management to discuss new tools that can improve preparedness, recovery, and resilience in the wake of a disaster. The White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Dayshowcased innovations from the private sector and government agencies aimed at aiding survivors of large-scale emergencies. The key goal was to “find the most efficient and effective ways to empower survivors to help themselves,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

  • Tiny laser sensor increases bomb detection sensitivity

    New technology under development could soon give bomb-sniffing dogs some serious competition. A team of researchers has found a way dramatically to increase the sensitivity of a light-based plasmon sensor to detect incredibly minute concentrations of explosives. The researchers noted that the sensor could potentially be used to sniff out a hard-to-detect explosive popular among terrorists. The sensor also could be developed into an alarm for unexploded land mines that otherwise are difficult to detect, the researchers said.

  • FBI: driverless cars could be used as bombs-on-wheels

    Whether or not a driverless car, from Google or any other company, ever makes it to market, the FBI thinks it may be a “game changing” vehicle which could dramatically change high-speed car chases so that the pursued vehicle would have an advantage over the pursuing car. An agency report also warned that such cars may be used as “lethal weapons.”

  • A drone finds natural disaster survivors through their cell-phones

    During his semester project in Computer Science at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Jonathan Cheseaux developed a system for locating a person via his or her mobile phone with a drone. This device could be used to find victims in natural disasters.

  • “Smart” rocks detect bridge damage

    It is hard to gauge how structurally sound a bridge is when its foundation is buried in a riverbed deep below the water’s surface. New “smart” rocks which are being developed by researchers will give engineers an accurate, easy and cost-effective tool to monitor a bridge’s foundation, in real time. The leading cause of bridge collapse in the United States is scour, an erosion process where water flow carries away river bed deposits and creates scour holes around the bridge pier or abutment. Smart rocks placed at the base of bridge foundations are designed to roll to the deepest point of a scour hole and act as field agents to relay scour depths.