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2014 Create the Future Design Contest

The 2014 Create the Future Design Contest – sponsored by COMSOL, Inc., Mouser Electronics, and Tech Briefs Media Group (publishers of NASA Tech Briefs) – recognized innovation in product design in seven categories: Aerospace & Defense, Automotive/Transportation, Consumer Products, Electronics, Machinery/Automation/Robotics, Medical, and Sustainable Technologies. In this special section, you’ll meet the Grand Prize Winner, as well as the winners and Honorable Mentions in all seven categories, chosen from more than 1,000 new product ideas submitted from 61 countries. To view all of the entries online, visit www.createthefuturecontest.com.

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Engineers Harvest and Print Parts for New Breed of Aircraft

Student interns and engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center rapidly prototyped and redesigned aircraft using 3D-printed parts. The aircraft was custom-built by repurposing surplus Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). By lengthening the wings, the team was able to improve aerodynamic efficiency and help extend the flight time of small, lightweight electric aircraft. The prototype aircraft are constructed using components from Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye UAVs that NASA acquired from the United States Marine Corps via the General Services Administration's San Francisco office. Unmodified, these small electric aircraft weigh 5.9 pounds, have a 3.75-foot wingspan and twin electric motors, and can carry a one-pound instrument payload for up to an hour. After finalizing designs that featured longer and more slender wings and dual fuselages, the teams printed new parts including wing sections, nose cones, winglets, control surfaces, wing ribs and even propellers using the NASA Ames SpaceShop. The 3-D printed wing sections were reinforced using carbon fiber tubing or aluminum rods to give them extra strength without adding significant weight.Flying as high as 12,500 feet above sea level, multiple small converted Dragon Eye UAVs, including the specialized and highly modified “FrankenEye” platform, will study the chemistry of the eruption plume emissions from Turrialba volcano, near San Jose, Costa Rica. The goal of the activity is to improve satellite data research products, such as computer models of the concentration and distribution of volcanic gases, and transport-pathway models of volcanic plumes. Some volcanic plumes can reach miles above a summit vent, and drift hundreds to thousands of miles from an eruption site and can pose a severe public heath risk, as well as a potent threat to aircraft.SourceAlso: Learn about Real-Time Minimization of Tracking Error for Aircraft Systems.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Motion Control, Motors & Drives, Aerospace, Aviation, News

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Solar Material Converts 90 Percent of Captured Light into Heat

A multidisciplinary engineering team at the University of California, San Diego developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors in spite of exposure to air and humidity. “We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Jin, along with professor Zhaowei Liu of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering professor Renkun Chen, developed the Silicon boride-coated nanoshell material. The novel material features a “multiscale” surface created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. The multiscale structures can trap and absorb light which contributes to the material’s high efficiency when operated at higher temperatures.SourceAlso: Read more Materials tech briefs.

Posted in: Materials, Solar Power, Energy Efficiency, Energy, Nanotechnology, News

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Harness-Mounted Computer Improves Communication Between Dogs and Humans

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a suite of technologies that can be used to enhance communication between dogs and humans. The communication tool enables applications in search-and-rescue operations and pet training. “We’ve developed a platform for computer-mediated communication between humans and dogs that opens the door to new avenues for interpreting dogs’ behavioral signals and sending them clear and unambiguous cues in return,” says Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. “We have a fully functional prototype, but we’ll be refining the design as we explore more and more applications for the platform.”The platform itself is a harness that fits comfortably onto the dog, and which is equipped with a variety of technologies.“Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and one of our challenges was to develop sensors that tell us about their behavior by observing their posture remotely,” Roberts says. “So we can determine when they’re sitting, standing, running, etc., even when they’re out of sight." A harness-mounted computer transmits data wirelessly. The technology also includes physiological sensors that monitor things like heart rate and body temperature. The sensors not only track a dog’s physical well-being, but can offer information on a dog’s emotional state, such as whether it is excited or stressed.SourceAlso: Learn about a Communication Monitoring System for Enhanced Situational Awareness.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Monitoring, Communications, Wireless, News

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Thirsty? There’s an App for That

Clean, potable water is one thing the world universally cannot live without. It hydrates. It cleans. It keeps us alive and well. That makes water very valuable to soldiers. However, as many mission planners know, water planning can be a nightmare. Too much water can strain already heavy combat loads, perhaps forcing some soldiers to pack too little in favor of a lighter pack. When soldiers don't have enough water, dehydration could set in, decreasing performance and increasing the risk of serious heat illnesses. To help solve this logistical problem, researchers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s (USARIEM) Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory worked to develop an app that will help unit leaders accurately predict water needs with the goal of minimizing the burden of water transport and sustaining hydration. The app is designed to satisfy the military’s desire for paperless guidance that is simple, accurate, mission-specific and available in real time.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, PCs/Portable Computers, Software, Defense, News

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Project Could Detect Damaged Aircraft Parts Earlier and Easier

UT Arlington engineering professors have received a $451,781 Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant to examine the material surface at the micro- and nano-scale level to provide clues for predicting fatigue in aircraft parts. Haiying Huang, professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the new technology and process would be better and more efficient than taking X-rays of an aircraft’s wing.

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University Opens New Ballistics and Impact Dynamics Lab

Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research recently opened a new ballistics and impact dynamics research lab in the former Britt Brown Arena at the Kansas Coliseum. The new ballistics lab, part of NIAR’s environmental Test Labs, uses a custom built ballistic firing device to propel 22-50 caliber rounds into components inside a concrete containment building. The test is designed to simulate the impact of a structural failure on the aircraft.

Posted in: Cameras, Imaging, Test & Measurement, Monitoring, Aerospace, Aviation, Data Acquisition, Defense, News

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