News

NASA Tests New Technologies for Refueling

Multiple NASA centers are currently conducting a remotely controlled test of new technologies that would empower future space robots to transfer satellite oxidizer into the propellant tanks of spacecraft in space today.Building on the success of the International Space Station's landmark Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) demonstration, the ground-based Remote Robotic Oxidizer Transfer Test (RROxiTT) is taking another step forward in NASA's ongoing campaign to develop satellite-servicing capabilities for space architectures and human exploration.  On Earth, RROxiTT technologies could one day be applied to robotically replenish satellites before they launch, keeping humans at a safe distance during an extremely hazardous operation.SourceAlso: Watch a test of NASA's robotic refueling mission.

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New Control System Enables Robot Collaboration

A new system combines simple control programs to enable fleets of robots — or other “multiagent systems” — to collaborate in unprecedented ways.The technology factors in uncertainty — the odds, for instance, that a communication link will drop, or that a particular algorithm will inadvertently steer a robot into a dead end — and automatically plans around it.Working together with Jon How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, and his student Chris Maynor, the researchers are currently testing their system in a simulation of a warehousing application, where teams of robots would be required to retrieve arbitrary objects from indeterminate locations, collaborating as needed to transport heavy loads. The simulations involve small groups of iRobot Creates, programmable robots that have the same chassis as the Roomba vacuum cleaner.SourceAlso: Watch a NASA Q&A about 3D Robotic Vision.

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Off-the-Shelf Materials Lead to Self-Healing Polymers

Look out, super glue and paint thinner. Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the University of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products. The researchers use commercially available ingredients to create their polymer. By slightly tweaking the structure of the molecules that join up to make the polymer, they can make the bonds between the molecules longer so that they can more easily pull apart and stick back together – the key for healing.   “The key advantage of using this material is that it’s catalyst-free and low-temperature, and can be healed multiple times,” said U. of I. materials science and engineering professor Jianjun Cheng.   Source Also: Learn about High-Temperature Shape Memory Polymers.    

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Fire Ants Inspire New Energy Storage Process

U.S. Army-sponsored researchers at Georgia Tech have discovered a process for simultaneously storing and dissipating energy within structures that could lead to design rules for new types of active, reconfigurable materials for structural morphing, vibration attenuation and dynamic load mitigation. In particular, researchers examined how a species of South American fire ants collectively entangle themselves to form an active structure capable of changing state from a liquid to a solid when subject to applied loads. An ant's swarm intelligence leading to continual construction could also be applied to modular robotics research or possibly inspire new methods for actively reconfiguring interconnections in complex networks. The collective dynamics of the fire ants reveal a number of novel cohesive properties beyond energy dissipation. Source Also: Learn about a Wireless Inductive Power Device.  

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Researchers Discover Bio-Inspired Way to Grow Graphene for Electronic Devices

Graphene, a form of two-dimensional carbon, has many desirable properties that make it a promising material in many applications. However, its production, especially for high-end electronics such as touch screens, faces many challenges. This may soon change with a fresh approach developed by NUS (National University of Singapore) researchers that mimics nature.

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Computers Can Be Hacked Using High-Frequency Sound

Using the microphones and speakers that come standard in many of today's laptop computers and mobile devices, hackers can secretly transmit and receive data using high-frequency audio signals that are mostly inaudible to human ears. Two researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics, Michael Hanspach and Michael Goetz, recently performed a proof-of-concept experiment that showed that "covert acoustical networking," a technique that had been hypothesized but considered improbable by most experts, is indeed possible. Their findings could have major implications for electronic security. In particular, it means "air-gapped" computers — that is, computers that are not connected to the Internet — are vulnerable to malicious software designed to steal or corrupt data.

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Harnessing the Sun’s Energy for Use at Night

Solar energy has long been used as a clean alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil, but it could only be harnessed during the day when the sun’s rays were strongest. Researchers have built a system that converts the Sun’s energy not into electricity but hydrogen fuel and stores it for later use, allowing us to power our devices long after the Sun goes down.

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