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Miniature Blimps for Surveillance and Collection of Samples

These robots could follow complex three-dimensional trajectories through buildings. Miniature blimps are under development as robots for use in exploring the thick, cold, nitrogen atmosphere of Saturn's moon, Titan. Similar blimps can also be used for surveillance and collection of biochemical samples in buildings, caves, subways, and other, similar structures on Earth. The widely perceived need for means to thwart attacks on buildings and to mitigate the effects of such attacks has prompted consideration of the use of robots. Relative to "rover"-type (wheeled) robots that have been considered for such uses, miniature blimps offer the advantage of ability to move through the air in any direction and, hence, to perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for wheeled robots, including climbing stairs and looking through windows. In addition, miniature blimps are expected to have greater range and to cost less, relative to wheeled robots.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Forty-Year-Old Foam Springs Back With New Benefits

The most recognized and widely used NASA spinoff is at it again. Temper foam, whose origins date back to 1966 when it was developed to absorb shock and, thus, offer improved protection and comfort in NASA's airplane seats, has paid its dividends to Earth repeatedly, and in many different ways. It has padded the helmets of the Dallas Cowboys throughout the 1970s and 1980s, protected bedridden patients from bedsores, and comforted the feet of thousands wearing stylish shoes that incorporate the cushioning material in their insoles.

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Bringing Thunder and Lightning Indoors

Piezoelectric materials convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and electrical energy into mechanical energy. They generate electrical charges in response to mechanical stress and generate mechanical displacement and/or force when subjected to an electric current.

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Miniature Ring-Shaped Perisaltic Pump

Piezoelectrically excited fluid-transport volumes travel around a ring. An experimental miniature peristaltic pump exploits piezoelectrically excited flexural waves that travel around a ring: A fluid is carried in the containers formed in the valleys between the peaks of the flexural waves (see Figure 1). The basic action of this pump is similar to that described in "Piezoelectric Flexural- Traveling- Wave Pumps" (NPO-19737), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 21, No. 4 (April 1997), page 66.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Miniature Robotic Spacecraft for Inspecting Other Spacecraft

A report discusses the Miniature Autonomous Extravehicular Robotic Camera (Mini AERCam) — a compact robotic spacecraft intended to be released from a larger spacecraft for exterior visual inspection of the larger spacecraft. The Mini AERCam is a successor to the AERCam Sprint — a prior miniature robotic inspection spacecraft that was demonstrated in a space-shuttle flight experiment in 1997. The prototype of the Mini AERCam is a demonstration unit having approximately the form and function of a flight system. The Mini AERCam is approximately spherical with a diameter of about 7.5 in. (»19 cm) and a weight of about 10 lb (»4.5 kg), yet it has significant additional capabilities, relative to the 14-in. (36-cm), 35-lb (16-kg) AERCam Sprint. The Mini AERCam includes miniaturized avionics, instrumentation, communications, navigation, imaging, power, and propulsion subsystems, including two digital video cameras and a high-resolution still camera. The Mini AERCam is designed for either remote piloting or supervised autonomous operations, including station keeping and point-to-point maneuvering. The prototype has been tested on an air-bearing table and in a hardware-in-the-loop orbital simulation of the dynamics of maneuvering in proximity to the International Space Station.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Solar Array Panels With Dust-Removal Capability

Inexpensive, low-power piezoelectric buzzers would be built in. It has been proposed to incorporate piezoelectric vibrational actuators into the structural supports of solar photovoltaic panels, for the purpose of occasionally inducing vibrations in the panels in order to loosen accumulated dust. Provided that the panels were tilted, the loosened dust would slide off under its own weight. Originally aimed at preventing obscuration of photovoltaic cells by dust accumulating in the Martian environment, the proposal may also offer an option for the design of solar photovoltaic panels for unattended operation at remote locations on Earth.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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NASA's Growing Commitment: The Space Garden

Astronauts cannot live on dehydrated ice cream alone. Like everyone else, they need their vegetables. Enter VEGGIE, the Deployable Vegetable System, currently under development by Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC). VEGGIE is the latest in a long line of vegetable production units ORBITEC is currently working on, with NASA assistance, to grow salad crops to supplement prepackaged foods during long stays in space.

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