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Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning

Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems.

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Creative New Developments in Solar Energy Research

Scientists are discovering new ways to decrease costs and increase efficiency of solar panels and coming up with creative ways to generate power. According to TechRepublic, a photovoltaic system is installed every four minutes in the US.

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NASA Autonomy Incubator Leads the Push for Intelligent Machines

Search-and-rescue operations, package delivery, and underwater exploration could all be performed soon by intelligent machines. The Autonomy Incubator group at NASA Langley is taking strides to, as group leader Danette Allen puts it, "imbue machines with the kind of intelligence that we expect from human beings."

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Researchers Create 'Cognitive' Underwater Robots

A new programming approach developed by MIT engineers gives underwater robots more “cognitive” capabilities.In March, the team tested the autonomous mission-planning system during a research cruise off the western coast of Australia. The researchers tested their system on an autonomous underwater glider, and demonstrated that the robot was able to operate safely among a number of other autonomous vehicles while receiving higher-level commands. The glider, using the system, was able to adapt its mission plan to avoid interfering with other vehicles.“We wanted to show that these vehicles could plan their own missions, and execute, adapt, and re-plan them alone, without human support,” said Brian Williams, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, and principal developer of the mission-planning system. “With this system, we were showing we could safely zigzag all the way around the reef, like an obstacle course.”By giving robots control of higher-level decision-making, Williams says such a system would free engineers to think about overall strategy, while AUVs determine for themselves a specific mission plan. Such a system could also reduce the size of the operational team needed on research cruises. Additionally, an autonomous planning system could enable robots to explore places that otherwise would not be traversable, such as remote recesses of the sea.SourceAlso: Read other Robotics, Automation & Control tech briefs.

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Implantable Device Lets Doctors Test Cancer Drugs in Patients

More than 100 drugs have been approved to treat cancer, but predicting which ones will help a particular patient is an inexact science. A new implantable device, about the size of a grain of rice, can carry small doses of up to 30 different drugs. After implanting it in a tumor and letting the drugs diffuse into the tissue, researchers can measure how effectively each one kills the patient’s cancer cells. Such a device could eliminate much of the guesswork now involved in choosing cancer treatments.

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NASA Tests Shape-Changing Wing for Next-Generation Aviation

NASA researchers, working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and FlexSys of Ann Arbor, MI, successfully completed initial flight tests of a new morphing wing technology that has the potential to save millions of dollars annually in fuel costs, reduce airframe weight, and decrease aircraft noise during takeoffs and landings. The experimental Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight control surfaces offer significant improvements over conventional flaps used on existing aircraft.

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Trillion-Frame-Per-Second Camera Captures Ultrafast Phenomena

Researchers from Japan have developed a new high-speed camera that can record events at a rate of more than 1-trillion-frames-per-second. The STAMP (Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography) technology holds promise for the study of complex, ultrafast phenomena.Keiichi Nakagawa, a research fellow at the University of Tokyo, experienced the need for a camera while studying how acoustic shock waves changed living cells. Scientists believe mechanical stress, like that caused by acoustic waves, may increase bone and blood vessel growth, but they had no tools for capturing the dynamics of such a fast, transient event as a shock wave passing through a cell.STAMP relies on a property of light called dispersion. The technology splits an ultrashort pulse of light into a barrage of different colored flashes that hit the imaged object in rapid-fire succession. Each separate color flash can then be analyzed to string together a moving picture of what the object looked like over the time it took the dispersed light pulse to travel through the device. Currently, the team is constructing an improved STAMP system that acquires 25 sequential images. Nakagawa believes the number of frames could eventually be increased to 100 with current technology.The camera could be used to explore a wide range of ultrafast phenomena for the first time, including image electronic motion, the laser ignition of fusion, the phase transition of materials, and the dynamics of a Coulomb explosion, an event in which intense electromagnetic fields can force a small amount of solid material to explode into a hot plasma of ionized atomic particles. SourceAlso: Read other Imaging Tech Briefs.

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