Special Coverage


Supersonic Laser-Propelled Rockets Could Help Aircraft Exceed Mach 10

A new method for improving the thrust generated by laser-propulsion systems may bring them one step closer to practical use. The method, developed by physicists Yuri Rezunkov of the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering, Russia, and Alexander Schmidt of the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia, integrates a laser‑ablation propulsion system with the gas‑blasting nozzles of a spacecraft. Combining the two systems can increase the speed of the gas flow out of the system to supersonic speeds, while reducing the amount of burned fuel.

Posted in: Photonics, Lasers & Laser Systems, Motion Control, Power Transmission, Aerospace, Aviation, News


Will comet missions yield valuable information about the origin of the solar system?

This week's Question: The Philae spacecraft successfully landed on a moving comet last week. Scientists hope to be able to study the material beneath the surface of the solar body, which is traveling through space at 41,000 mph, hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth. Probing the comet’s dust could help researchers determine the origins of life on Earth, and whether comets provided the water that exists in oceans today. Since the material has remained almost unchanged for 4.5 billion years, it is considered by some researchers to be a "cosmic time capsule" that may contain the building blocks of life. What do you think? Will comet missions yield valuable information about the origin of the solar system?

Posted in: Question of the Week


Moving Cameras Track Objects Automatically

University of Washington electrical engineers have developed a way to automatically track people across moving and still cameras by using an algorithm that trains the networked cameras to learn one another’s differences. The cameras first identify a person in a video frame, then follow that same person across multiple camera views.“Tracking humans automatically across cameras in a three-dimensional space is new,” said lead researcher Jenq-Neng Hwang, a UW professor of electrical engineering. “As the cameras talk to each other, we are able to describe the real world in a more dynamic sense.”Imagine a typical GPS display that maps the streets, buildings and signs in a neighborhood as your car moves forward, then add humans to the picture. With the new technology, a car with a mounted camera could take video of the scene, then identify and track humans and overlay them into the virtual 3-D map on your GPS screen. The UW researchers are developing this to work in real time, which could help pick out people crossing in busy intersections, or track a specific person who is dodging the police.“Our idea is to enable the dynamic visualization of the realistic situation of humans walking on the road and sidewalks, so eventually people can see the animated version of the real-time dynamics of city streets on a platform like Google Earth,” Hwang said.SourceAlso: Learn about Machine Vision for High-Precision Volume Measurement.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Cameras, Video, Visualization Software, Imaging, News


Virtual Prototyping: Visualizing the Next Generation of Products

The Department of Defense defines a virtual prototype as “A computer-based simulation of a system or subsystem with a degree of functional realism comparable to a physical prototype.” A virtual prototype is built from CAD drawings of separate assemblies that are gradually placed into the whole. Since the drawings of each subassembly are detailed and accurate, you can accurately assess their form (overall shape), fit (ease of as- sembly), and function (making sure it performs as specified). In addition to these traditional three Fs, the virtual prototype can be used for motion studies and studying interactions be- tween the machine and the humans who will use it. Once the design is complete, you can use the digital model to see whether parts interfere as you move them through their com- plete range of motion. In the past, design and analysis have been separate tasks, performed by different teams. With virtual prototyping, these functions are completely entwined.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, White Papers


Conformal Coatings Improve Reliability for Innovative Technologies

For decades, the medical, electronics, military, automotive and aerospace industries have used conformal coatings for a variety of reasons, including to protect components from their environment, enhance lubricity, provide thermal and electrical insulation, stabilize delicate structures, and function as an interface that is biocompatible. As advances in technology demand devices and components become smaller in size, more complex in nature and face increasingly harsh environments, newer designs present challenges for many conformal coatings. Poly(para-xylylene), known as Parylene, is an ultra-thin, pinhole-free, inert, transparent conformal coating that meets these challenges. With a successful track record spanning more than 40 years, Parylene coatings have enhanced the reliability of numerous devices and components such as circuit boards, MEMS, LEDs, stents, pacemakers, electrosurgical tools, sensors, and elastomeric components, to name only a few.

Posted in: On-Demand Webinars


Ocean Gliders Measure Melting Polar Ice

The rapidly melting ice sheets on the coast of West Antarctica are a potentially major contributor to rising ocean levels worldwide. Although warm water near the coast is thought to be the main factor causing the ice to melt, the process by which this water ends up near the cold continent is not well understood. Using robotic ocean gliders, Caltech researchers have now found that swirling ocean eddies, similar to atmospheric storms, play an important role in transporting these warm waters to the Antarctic coast—a discovery that will help the scientific community determine how rapidly the ice is melting and, as a result, how quickly ocean levels will rise. "When you have a melting slab of ice, it can either melt from above because the atmosphere is getting warmer or it can melt from below because the ocean is warm," explains lead author Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering. "All of our evidence points to ocean warming as the most important factor affecting these ice shelves, so we wanted to understand the physics of how the heat gets there." Because the gliders are small—only about six feet long—and are very energy efficient, they can sample the ocean for much longer periods than large ships can. When the glider surfaces every few hours, it "calls" the researchers via a mobile phone–like device located on the tail. The communication allows the researchers to almost immediately access the information the glider has collected. Like airborne gliders, the bullet-shaped ocean gliders have no propeller; instead they use batteries to power a pump that changes the glider's buoyancy. When the pump pushes fluid into a compartment inside the glider, the glider becomes denser than seawater and less buoyant, thus causing it to sink. If the fluid is pumped instead into a bladder on the outside of the glider, the glider becomes less dense than seawater—and therefore more buoyant—ultimately rising to the surface. Like airborne gliders, wings convert this vertical lift into horizontal motion. Source Also: Learn about Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets and Snow.

Posted in: Batteries, Electronics & Computers, Environmental Monitoring, Green Design & Manufacturing, Motion Control, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Monitoring, Communications, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Microbot Muscles Self-Assemble and Flex

In a step toward robots smaller than a grain of sand, University of Michigan researchers have shown how chains of self-assembling particles could serve as electrically activated muscles in the tiny machines."We are inspired by ideas of microscopic robots," said Michael Solomon, a professor of chemical engineering. "They could work together and go places that have never been possible before."Solomon and his group demonstrated that some gold plating and an alternating electric field can help oblong particles form chains that extend by roughly 36 percent when the electric field is on.The team started with particles similar to those found in paint, with diameters of about a hundredth the width of a strand of hair. They stretched these particles into football shapes and coated one side of each football with gold. The gilded halves attracted one another in slightly salty water—ideally about half the salt concentration in the sports drink Powerade. The more salt in the water, the stronger the attraction.Left to their own devices, the particles formed short chains of overlapping pairs, averaging around 50 or 60 particles to a chain. When exposed to an alternating electric field, the chains seemed to add new particles indefinitely. But the real excitement was in the way that the chains stretched."We want them to work like little muscles," said Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Professor of Chemical Engineering. "You could imagine many of these fibers lining up with the field and producing locomotion by expanding and contracting."SourceAlso: Learn about Microelectronic Repair Techniques for Wafer-Level Integration.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Materials, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News