Technological innovation

  • Robots compete in performing emergency response task

    Sixteen robots participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials last month performed such tasks as opening doors or climbing a ladder, all tasks aimed to speed the development of robots that could one day perform a number of critical, real-world, emergency response tasks at natural and human-made disaster sites. While most of the entries were engineered to resemble humanoids with two legs, JPL’s RoboSimian tackled tasks like climbing over rough terrain on all four of its limbs.

  • Harnessing solar energy during day for use at night

    In one hour, the sun puts out enough energy to power every vehicle, factory, and device on the planet for an entire year. Solar panels can harness that energy to generate electricity during the day. The problem with the sun, however, is that it goes down at night — and with it the ability to power our homes and cars. If solar energy is going to have a shot at being a clean source of powering the planet, scientists had to figure out how to store it for night-time use. Researchers have built a system that converts the sun’s energy not into electricity but hydrogen fuel and stores it for later use, allowing us to power our devices long after the sun goes down.

  • Using building “belt” cheaply, quickly to repair of earthquake damage

    Four years after the January 2010 earthquake, 145,000 people still remain homeless in Haiti. Researchers developed a cheap and simple technology to repair earthquake damaged buildings to help to reduce these delays by quickly making buildings safe and habitable. The technology involves wrapping metal straps around each floor of the building, which are then tensioned either by hand or using compressed air tools. Unlike other repair methods, it does not require expensive materials or a high level of technical knowledge, making it ideal for use in the developing world.

  • New test for detecting newly emerging strains of drug-resistant superbug

    Molecular assays for MRSA are used in active surveillance programs to identify colonized patients rapidly. Active surveillance is a proven strategy to reduce transmission in healthcare settings and it helps prevent infection in vulnerable patients. BD Diagnostics has received FDA clearance to market the BD MAX MRSA XT Assay for use on the BD MAX System. This is the second assay from BD Diagnostics capable of detecting newly emerging MRSA strains with the novel mecC gene.

  • New phone alerts for extreme weather events may prevent casualties in India

    India has a mobile phone subscriber base exceeding 929 million people and this is expected to touch 1.15 billion by the end of 2014. An alert system developed for mobiles could reach an estimated 97 percent of the population. Computer science undergraduates have created image-based mobile phone alerts, connected to the Weather Research and Forecasting system.

  • The benefits, challenges of self-driving cars

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    Self-driving vehicles offer the promise of significant benefits to society, but raise several policy challenges, including the need to update insurance liability regulations and privacy concerns such as who will control the data generated by this technology, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Researchers suggest that a guiding principle for policymaking is to encourage the technology when the facts indicate clear societal advantages over the capabilities of the average human driver.

  • “Power to gas”: Synthetic natural gas from excess electricity

    Power to gas” is a key concept when it comes to storing alternative energy. This process converts short-term excess electricity from photovoltaic systems and wind turbines into hydrogen. Combined with the greenhouse gas CO2, renewable hydrogen can be used to produce methane, which can be stored and distributed in the natural gas network. Researchers have now succeeded in further optimizing this process.

  • Eight teams heading to DARPA Robotics Challenge finals

    Two weeks ago, on 20-21 December 2013, sixteen teams were the main attraction at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials, where they demonstrated their prototype robots’ ability to perform a number of critical real-world disaster-response skills. After two days of competition, the agency selected eight teams to receive up to $1 million in funding to continue their work and prepare for upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals.

  • New system uses low-power Wi-Fi signal to track moving humans -- even behind walls

    The comic-book hero Superman uses his X-ray vision to spot bad guys lurking behind walls and other objects. Now we could all have X-ray vision, thanks to a new system developed by researchers at MIT. The system, called “Wi-Vi,” is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging. But in contrast to radar and sonar, it transmits a low-power Wi-Fi signal and uses its reflections to track moving humans. It can do so even if the humans are in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall.

  • Small, portable, fast TLC unit for explosives, drugs analysis

    Field Forensics of St. Petersburg, Florida, unveiled its microTLC, a portable and easy to use solution for pre-screening and presumptive identification of drugs and explosive mixtures. Thin layer chromatography (TLC) is an established laboratory procedure which identifies compounds belonging to the same general chemical class. The microTLC makes it possible for both laboratory and field analysis to be performed by first responders and forensics scientists.

  • Dolphin-inspired innovative radar system to detect surveillance, explosive devices

    Inspired by the way dolphins hunt by using bubble nets, scientistshave developed a new kind of radar that can detect hidden surveillance equipment and explosives.The twin inverted pulse radar (TWIPR) is able to distinguish true targets, such as certain types of electronic circuits that may be used in explosive or espionage devices, from clutter (other metallic items like pipes, drinks cans, nails for example) that may be mistaken for a genuine target by traditional radar and metal detectors.

  • How effective are renewable energy subsidies? It depends

    Renewable energy subsidies have led to explosive growth in wind power installations across the United States, especially in the Midwest and Texas. Electricity produced by wind is emission free, so the development of wind-power may reduce aggregate pollution by offsetting production from fossil fuel generated electricity production. Emission rates of fossil fuel generators, however, vary greatly by generator (coal-fired, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower). Thus, the quantity of emissions offset by wind power will depend crucially on which generators reduce their output. In other words, the quantity of pollutants offset by wind power depends crucially on which generators reduce production when wind power comes online.

  • One step closer to nuclear fusion power station

    Researchers have made a technological breakthrough crucial to the success of nuclear fusion reactors, allowing for clean, inexhaustible energy generation based on the workings of the stars in our galaxy. At the heart of the new development is an ingenious and robust superconducting cable system. This makes for a remarkably strong magnetic field that controls the very hot, energy-generating plasma in the reactor core, laying the foundation for nuclear fusion. The new cables are far less susceptible to heating due to a clever way of interweaving, which allows for a significant increase in the possibilities to control the plasma.

  • Asteroid hunter spacecraft returns first images after reactivation

    In 2010 and early 2011, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), a spacecraft that made the most comprehensive survey to date of asteroids and comets, discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout the solar system. It was reactivated in September following thirty-one months in hibernation, to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs).

  • Sandia to show Mine Rescue Robot at 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge

    Engineers from Sandia National Laboratories will demonstrate real-world robotics successes at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013 Expo this week (20-21 December) in Florida. The challenge is focused on human-scaled robots that assist in humanitarian aid and disaster response. Sandia engineers will demonstrate the Gemini Scout Mine Rescue Robot, which was designed to overcome dangers lurking in a mining accident: poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors, and unstable walls and roofs. Such potentially deadly conditions and unknown obstacles can slow rescue efforts to a frustrating pace.