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Rover Selfie Shows Key Mars Sites

A sweeping view of the "Pahrump Hills" outcrop on Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover has been working for five months, surrounds the rover in Curiosity's latest self-portrait. The selfie is assembled from dozens of images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover's robotic arm. The component images for this self-portrait were taken in late January, while Curiosity was at a drilling site called Mojave 2. Curiosity took previous self-portraits with the MAHLI camera at three sites it explored before reaching the base of Mount Sharp. Source:

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Video Game Technology Helps Navigate Self-Driving Cars

A new software system developed at the University of Michigan uses video game technology to help solve one of the most daunting hurdles facing self-driving and automated cars: the high cost of the laser scanners they use to determine their location. The technology enables the cars to navigate using a single video camera, delivering the same level of accuracy as laser scanners at a fraction of the cost. The system builds on the navigation systems used in other self-driving cars, using 3D laser scanning technology to create a real-time map of the environment, then comparing that real-time map to a pre-drawn map stored in the system. By making thousands of comparisons per second, they're able to determine the vehicle's location within a few centimeters. The software converts the map data into a 3D picture much like a video game. The car's navigation system can then compare these synthetic pictures with the real-world pictures streaming in from a conventional video camera. Source:

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New Technique “Despeckles” Views of Saturn’s Moon

During 10 years of discovery, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has pulled back the smoggy veil that obscures the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Thanks to a recently developed technique for handling noise in Cassini's radar images, these views now have a whole new look. The technique, referred to by its developers as "despeckling," produces images of Titan's surface that are much clearer and easier to look at. Typically, Cassini's radar images have a characteristic grainy appearance. This "speckle noise" can make it difficult for scientists to interpret small-scale features or identify changes in images of the same area taken at different times. Despeckling uses an algorithm to modify the noise, resulting in clearer views that can be easier for researchers to interpret. Despeckling Cassini's radar images has a variety of scientific benefits, including the ability to produce 3D maps, called digital elevation maps, of Titan's surface with greatly improved quality. With clearer views of river channels, lake shorelines, and windswept dunes, researchers are also able to perform more precise analyses of processes shaping Titan's surface. Source:

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Chameleon-Like Material Changes Color on Demand

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have created a thin, chameleon-like material that can be made to change color — on demand — by applying a minute amount of force.The new material offers possibilities for display technologies, color-shifting camouflage, and sensors that can detect otherwise imperceptible defects in buildings, bridges, and aircraft.By etching tiny features — smaller than a wavelength of light — onto a silicon film one thousand times thinner than a human hair, the researchers were able to select the range of colors the material would reflect, depending on how it was flexed and bent.The researchers formed grating bars using a semiconductor layer of silicon approximately 120-nm thick. Silicon bars were then embedded into a flexible layer of silicone. As the silicone was bent or flexed, the period of the grating spacings responded in kind. The semiconductor technology produces materials that reflect up to 83% of the incoming light. The initial design created colors across a 39-nm range of wavelengths. Future designs, the researchers believe, could cover a wider range of colors and reflect light with even greater efficiency.SourceRead other Materials & Coatings tech briefs.

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BeeRotor Robot Equipped with Insect-Like Eye

Biorobotics researchers at the Institut des Sciences du Mouvement (Aix Marseille University) have developed the BeeRotor, a tethered flying robot. The robot adjusts its speed and follows terrain without an accelerometer or the measurement of altitude. Optic flow sensors, inspired by insect vision, allow the BeeRotor to adjust its speed and avoid objects. With a weight of 80 grams and a length of 47 centimeters, the device can independently avoid vertical obstacles in a tunnel with moving walls. To measure optic flow, environmental contrasts, and motion, BeeRotor is equipped with 24 photodiodes, distributed at the top and the bottom of its eye. As in insects, the speed at which scenery feature moves from one pixel to another provides the angular velocity of the flow.BeeRotor has three feedback loops, which act as three different reflexes that directly make use of the optic flow. The first feedback loop changes altitude, the second controls speed, and the final loop stabilizes the eye in relation to the local slope. By eliminating bulky accelerometers and inertial reference systems, the development could enable lighter robots and technologies.SourceAlso: Learn about a Self-Diagnostic Accelerometer FPGA.

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Sensors Detect Icing Conditions to Help Protect Airplanes

When ice accumulates on the surface of an aircraft during flight, it distorts the smooth flow of air necessary to stay aloft. The result is a reduction in lift, which can lead to stalls and crashes. Icing conditions can vary wildly within the same airspace. That’s why scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are advancing the methods, technology, and accuracy of sensor systems to provide better detection of potential icing hazards around the nation’s airports. A ground-based station developed at Glenn includes sophisticated instruments such as a Ka-band cloud radar, which reads particle density distribution; a multi-frequency microwave radiometer that provides vertical temperature and water vapor profiles and a measure of liquid water present aloft; and a ceilometer for refined cloud base measurements. A series of weather balloons is being released to read and calibrate weather data, and validate the ground-based sensors. The balloons are fitted with an instrument package to measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and most importantly, supercooled liquid water content. When an airplane comes into contact with supercooled water, it attaches to the surface as ice. As it builds up, airframes are compromised. Source:

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Breathalyzer Could Identify Lung Cancer

Researchers have developed a fluorescence-based sensor device that can rapidly identify cancer-related volatile organic compounds found exclusively in the exhaled breath of some people with lung cancer. Their work demonstrates the potential of the device to be used as a breathalyzer for early lung cancer detection. Based on a small, circular plate called fluorescent cross-responsive sensor array, a specially designed rotary gas chamber and a data collection and processing system, the device can detect lung cancer-related gases at very low concentration, showing a potential to identify lung cancer at the early stage. Currently, doctors can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages by using methods like CT scans, but there are no simple, safe, and effective methods that can detect lung cancer at the early stage. In experiments, four kinds of lung cancer-related volatile organic compounds were selected and uniformly distributed in a gas chamber to each responsive spot in the sensor array. A light source containing excites the fluorescent spectra of the array, which is later collected and analyzed to produce a unique spectrum for each gas. By extracting the characteristic matrix of spectra and comparing with the existed fluorescent database, researchers can identify and quantify a specific gas. Source:

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