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Army Envisions Smarter Robots In Its Future

Unmanned robots have already proven their worth on the battlefield, neutralizing improvised explosive devices, and more capable ones are coming in the future, according to the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. While robots and unmanned platforms will continue to provide valuable assistance to soldiers on the battlefield, there may even come a day when they can begin replacing soldiers, Gen. Robert W. Cone told reporters at the recent Association of the United States Army's Aviation Symposium. Cone's remarks sparked further discussion at a Jan. 22 media roundtable, co-hosted by the College of William & Mary and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, known as TRADOC, held on the campus of W&M.

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Laser Scientists Create Portable Sensor For Nitrous Oxide, Methane

Rice University scientists have created a highly sensitive portable sensor to test the air for the most damaging greenhouse gases. The device, created by Rice engineer and laser pioneer Frank Tittel and his group, uses a thumbnail- sized quantum cascade laser (QCL) as well as tuning forks that cost no more than a dime to detect very small amounts of nitrous oxide and methane.

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Biological Phenomenon Could Boost Electricity Generation In Solar Cells

Sunlight drives nearly all life on Earth, and scientists want to develop ways for it to power civilization as well. Now researchers suggest that a relatively simple, biologically inspired technique for harvesting sunlight could in principle convert the sun's rays to electricity very efficiently.

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New Heat-Resistant Materials Could Improve Solar Cell Efficiency

Scientists have created a heat-resistant thermal emitter, an element used in specialized solar cells, that could significantly improve the efficiency of the cells. The novel component is designed to convert heat from the sun into infrared light, which can then be absorbed by solar cells to make electricity. It’s a technology known as thermophotovoltaics. Unlike earlier prototypes that fell apart before temperatures reached 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit (1,200 degrees Celsius), the new thermal emitter remains stable at temperatures as high as 2,500°F (1,400°C).

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Plasmonic Crystal Alters To Match Light-Frequency Source

Gems are known for the beauty of the light that passes through them. But it is the fixed atomic arrangements of these crystals that determine which light frequencies are permitted passage. Now a Sandia-led team has created a plasmonic, or plasma-containing, crystal that is tunable. The effect is achieved by adjusting a voltage applied to the plasma, making the crystal agile in transmitting terahertz light at varying frequencies. This could increase the bandwidth of high-speed communication networks and generally enhance high-speed electronics.

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Electrical Current Sensors Harvest Wasted Electromagnetic Energy

New smart sensors produce large and clear output voltage signals, which are 2,000 times higher than the traditional current sensors.Measuring about 1 mm in thickness, the chip can be placed on any sensing point of interest such as electrical cables, conductors, junctions, and bus bars to detect electrical currents. Made from rare earth multiferroics with giant magnetoelectric properties, the chip enables a direct detection of magnetic fields generated by electricity and a linear conversion of these magnetic fields into electrical voltage signals. The smart wireless sensors, which do not have power cords and electronic active components, can now reach hard-to-access locations such as rails where conventional sensors are either impossible or not cost effective.SourceAlso: Learn about a Miniature Fine Sun Sensor for Nanosatellites.

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NASA Laser Technology Tracks Earth's Ice Sheets

A photon-counting technique will allow NASA researchers to track the melt or growth of Earth’s frozen regions. CESat-2 is tasked with measuring elevation across Earth's entire surface, including vegetation and oceans, but with a focus on change in the frozen areas of the planet, where scientists have observed dramatic impacts from climate change. There, two types of ice – ice sheets and sea ice – reflect light photons in different patterns. Ice sheets and glaciers are found on land, like Greenland and Antarctica, and are formed as frozen snow and rain accumulates. Sea ice, on the other hand, is frozen seawater, found floating in the Arctic Ocean and offshore of Antarctica."Using the individual photons to measure surface elevation is a really new thing," said Ron Kwok, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's never been done from orbiting satellites, and it hasn't really been done much with airborne instruments, either."SourceAlso: Read a "Who's Who" Q&A with glaciologist Lora Koenig.

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