Technological innovation

  • 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.

  • Shot spotting system helps Stockton, Calif. Police reduce gunfire

    ShotSpotter sensors detect gunfire, then immediately transmit a signal to control center where technicians use triangulation to locate the spot of origin of the firing to within five to ten feet. The technician reports the location within thirty to forty seconds to the police to dispatch officers to the scene. Stockton, California police has been using ShotSpotter for nine months now, and the police chief says the system has helped reduce gunfire in the covered area by fifty percent.

  • Cybersecurity isn’t all about doom and gloom

    Much is made in the press of the devastating effects that weak cybersecurity is having on the economy in the United Kingdom and globally. The threat is compounded by a significant skills shortage. The U.K. government thinks the problem is so severe that it has identified cybersecurity as a Tier 1 national security threat and invested 860 million pounds to defend the country’s digital shores. What all this means is that there is money to be made from cybersecurity and small businesses should not fear it but embrace it. The business opportunities are boundless in cybersecurity. One area that is promising in this sense is the move towards smart cities. As the infrastructure around us, such as traffic lights and utilities becomes more regularly controlled via computers, market opportunities emerge

  • Zapping bridges with electricity to test for corrosion

    One out of nine of the nation’s bridges is structurally deficient and that more than 30 percent of bridges have exceeded their 50-year design life; the average age of the nation’s bridges is currently forty-two years. Motorists in the United States make more than 200 million trips across bridges rated structurally deficient or in need of significant maintenance and yearly inspection. Of the more than 17,000 bridges in New York, 12.5 percent are structurally deficient and 27 percent are considered functionally obsolete. One major culprit for bridges’ deterioration: corrosion of reinforcing steel. New testing method could replace expensive, time-consuming visual inspections.

  • New Silicon Valley focus on cybersecurity

    The last time Silicon Valley focused on cybersecurity was in the 1990s. That focus saw the emergence of two giants: McAfee and Symantec. The two companies remain the most recognizable household names, thanks to their traditional firewall and anti-virus products. Now they find the arena which they thought was their own encroached from two sides. On one side there are tech giants like Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, which see new revenue opportunity in cybersecurity. On the other side there is a rush of start-ups backed by large investments of venture capital.

  • Protecting cars from hackers

    A U.S. senator has asked twenty automobile manufacturers how each plans to stave off wireless hacking attempts on the computer systems of the vehicle they manufacture, and also how they protect driver privacy. The questions by Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) indicate that he will demand that carmakers apply computer-industry security processes, including implementation of anti-virus software, incident logging, incident-response planning, software vulnerability patching, and third-party penetration testing — the last of which would stage real hacker attacks on mass-production vehicles.

  • Lawmakers: Old plastic gun law has not kept pace with technology

    The U.S. House of Representativesvoted last Tuesday to renew the 25-year old Undetectable Firearms Actwhich prohibits firearms that can evade metal detectors and X-ray machines. Law enforcement agencies say that developments in 3D printing make the law insufficient, and lawmakers who proposed amending the Act say that the only way to make such guns detectable is to require that at least one component of the firing mechanism in a plastic gun contain enough metal to be detectable in a magnetometer — and that that component be undetachable. The NRA opposes these requirements, saying that they would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of citizens.

  • U.S. Navy demonstrates UAV launch from submerged submarine

    The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) demonstrated the launch of an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS) from a submerged submarine. The successful submerged launch of a remotely deployed UAS offers a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy’s submarine force.

  • Seventeen teams to compete in DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

    Four teams that built full robot hardware and software systems using their own funds qualified to join thirteen other teams to compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. The event will take place 20-21 December at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida, where spectators can observe as the robots are tested on the capabilities that would enable them to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters.

  • Standardized performance tests for emergency response robots

    Seventeen teams will be directing their emergency-response robots to perform eight basic tasks which were drawn from the Fukushima Daiichi response and then converted into standardized tests by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A year later, the capabilities of robots that qualify in this year’s trials will be tested in a more realistic disaster scenario. In the winner-take-all finals, robots will perform all eight challenges consecutively. NIST engineers have been at the forefront of using standardized performance testing for emergency response robots used in bomb-response and for urban search-and-rescue operations. Since 2005, fifteen NIST tests have been adopted as standards by ASTM International, and about forty more are under various stages of development or review.

  • Defending against electromagnetic-pulse attacks

    We are all familiar with the power of electromagnetic attacks from the movies: in “Ocean’s Eleven,” George Clooney’s gang disables Las Vegas’ power grid, and Keanu Reeves’ henchmen hold off the enemy robot fighters from their spaceship in the “Matrix Trilogy.” The heroes in the films succeed by sending out a very strong electromagnetic pulse, which changes the voltage in the vicinity so that regulators, switches, and circuit boards in electronic equipment go crazy. Researchers are now trying to figure out how such attacks can be detected. They have developed a measurement instrument for this purpose that is capable of determining the strength, frequency, and direction of electromagnetic attacks.

  • Deflecting asteroids to avoid Armageddon

    It sounds like the script for a Hollywood film: a giant meteorite from outer space heading straight for the Earth and threatening the destruction of mankind. Yet such a scenario does represent a real threat to our planet, as researchers reckon that we can expect an asteroid to collide with Earth every few hundred years. In real life, though, nobody wants to rely on a rescue plan hastily improvised at the last minute. Scientists with the European-funded research project NEOShield are working to develop concepts designed to help avert these impacts and to alter asteroids’ orbits as they race toward Earth.

  • Testing explosives capability helping armor research

    In modern warfare, military vehicles use enormous armored panels to defend against weapons. Boosting protection by adding more steel, however, eventually makes equipment too heavy to use. There are other ways to defend against a weapon besides trying to stop it with just mass — smarter, more economic ways that are waiting to be discovered.

  • Solar-powered, fabric-woven battery for “wearable electronics”

    Though some people already seem inseparable from their smartphones, even more convenient, wearable, solar-powered electronics could be on the way soon, woven into clothing fibers or incorporated into watchbands. This novel battery development could usher in a new era of “wearable electronics.”

  • Research funding and reward structure contributes to formation “science bubbles”

    Fashions in research funding, reward structures in universities, and streamlining of scientific agendas undermine traditional academic norms and may result in science bubbles. New research shows how the mechanisms that set off the financial crisis might be replicating in the field of science. The prevailing scientific reward structure thus amplifies social phenomena like “pluralistic ignorance” and “lemming effects,” which have been shown to have significant impact on information processing and assessment in populations of interacting persons — including in one of the most rational enterprises of modern social life.