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New Sensor Platform Gives Cities Quick Access to Data

As urban populations increase, so too does the complexity involved in maintaining basic services like clean water and emergency services. But one of the biggest barriers to making cities “smarter” is quick and easy access to data. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have developed the Waggle platform that outfits researchers with a next-generation data collection experience. Featuring the same type of circuit board and real-time processing speeds as a smartphone, users can add their own mix of sensors, specific to what they’re researching, and install programs onto a single, low-power “system on a chip” computer board, complete with a Linux-based operating system to control them.

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Human Brain Inspires Wearable Microsensors

Wei Tang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at New Mexico State University, is taking a cue from nature to devise the next generation of integrated, low-power, wearable micro-devices. The human brain inspired his approach in the novel design of a system of state-of-the-art miniaturized sensors that can detect, transmit, and reliably process valuable data.

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Robotic Vehicle Explores Depths of Antarctica

A robotic vehicle developed by Georgia Institute of Technology scientists and engineers recently dove to depths never before visited under Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf.The team deployed (and retrieved) the vehicle through a 12-inch diameter hole. The "IceFin" searched through 20 meters of ice and another 500 meters of water to the sea floor.Icefin was deployed as a part of the Sub Ice Marine and Planetary–analog Ecosystem (SIMPLE) program, funded by NASA and supported by NSF. The robotic vehicle carried a scientific payload capable of measuring ocean conditions under the ice. Icefin’s readings, and video of the life that thrives in the harsh conditions, will help researchers understand how Antarctica’s ice shelves are changing under warming conditions. Scientists will also be able to examine how organisms thrive in cold and light-free environments. The technologies developed for Icefin will also assist in the search for life on other planets, namely Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Antarctica’s icy oceans are remarkably similar to Europa’s ice-capped oceans.SourceAlso: Learn how a NASA robot will explore volcanoes.

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Explosive Destruction System Begins Eliminating Chemical Weapons

The Explosive Destruction System (EDS), designed by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Army, has begun safely destroying stockpile chemical munitions.

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Researchers Develop Hybrid Supercapacitors

UCLA researchers have successfully combined two nanomaterials to create a new energy storage medium that combines the best qualities of batteries and supercapacitors.The new hybrid supercapacitor stores large amounts of energy, recharges quickly, and can last for more than 10,000 recharge cycles. The UCLA scientists also created a microsupercapacitor that is small enough to fit in wearable or implantable devices. Just one-fifth the thickness of a sheet of paper, it is capable of holding more than twice as much charge as a typical thin-film lithium battery.The new components combine laser-scribed graphene, or LSG — a material that can hold an electrical charge, is very conductive, and charges and recharges very quickly — with manganese dioxide, which is currently used in alkaline batteries. The nanomaterials can be fabricated without the need for extreme temperatures or the expensive “dry rooms” required to produce today’s supercapacitors.“Let’s say you wanted to put a small amount of electrical current into an adhesive bandage for drug release or healing assistance technology,” said professor Richard Kaner. “The microsupercapacitor is so thin you could put it inside the bandage to supply the current. You could also recharge it quickly and use it for a very long time.”The researchers found that the supercapacitor could quickly store electrical charge generated by a solar cell during the day, hold the charge until evening, and then power an LED overnight, showing promise for off-grid street lighting.SourceAlso: Read more Electronics & Computers tech briefs.

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New Materials Enable Flapping Robotic Wings

Dielectric elastomers, popular materials in robotic hands, soft robots, tunable lenses, and pneumatic valves, may now be used to create flapping robotic wings.Researchers from the Harbin Institute of Technology in Weihai, China and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have discovered a new resonance phenomenon in a dielectric elastomer rotary joint. By applying alternating voltages to the electro-active polymer, the joint continuously bends at different angles. When the rotational inertia of the joint or the applied voltage is large enough, the joint deforms beyond 90 degrees to 180 degrees.The new phenomenon makes the dielectric elastomer joint a good candidate for creating a soft and lightweight flapping wing for robotic birds. The development would be more efficient than bird wings based on electrical motors due to the higher energy conversion efficiency (60 to 90 percent) of the dielectric elastomer. Made by sandwiching a soft insulating elastomer film between two compliant electrodes, dielectric elastomers can be squeezed and expanded in a plane when a voltage is applied between electrodes. In contrast to actuators based on rigid materials such as silicon, dielectric elastomers reach a very large extent of stretch, enabling new possibilities in many fields, including soft robotics, tunable optics, and cell manipulation. SourceAlso: Read Aeronautics tech briefs.

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NASA Demonstrates Aircraft Electric Propulsion

NASA’s Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech) project will test the premise that tighter propulsion-airframe integration, made possible with electric power, will deliver improved efficiency and safety, as well as environmental and economic benefits. NASA researchers will perform ground testing of a 31-foot-span, carbon composite wing section with 18 electric motors powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. The experimental wing, called the Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST), is mounted on a specially modified truck. Testing on the mobile ground rig assembly will provide valuable data and risk reduction applicable to future flight research. Researchers hope to fly a piloted X-plane within the next couple years after removing the wings and engines and replacing them with an improved version of the LEAPTech wing and motors. Each motor can be operated independently at different speeds for optimized performance. Key potential benefits of LEAPTech include decreased reliance on fossil fuels, improved aircraft performance and ride quality, and aircraft noise reduction. Source:

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