News

Aircraft with Hybrid Engine Can Recharge in Flight

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, in association with Boeing, have successfully tested the first aircraft to be powered by a parallel hybrid-electric propulsion system, where an electric motor and gas engine work together to drive the propeller. The demonstrator aircraft uses up to 30% less fuel than a comparable plane with a gas-only engine. The aircraft is also able to recharge its batteries in flight, the first time this has been achieved.

Posted in: News, Aviation, Batteries, Power Management, Motors & Drives, Power Transmission

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Energy Harvesting Could Help Power Spacecraft of the Future

A consortium is working on a project to maximize energy harvesting on a spacecraft of the future. The initiative seeks to find energy-saving and -maximizing solutions to enable eco-friendly aircraft to stay in space for long periods of time without the need to return to Earth to re-fuel, or to avoid carrying vast amounts of heavy fuel on long-stay journeys.

Posted in: News, Aviation, Energy Efficiency, Energy Harvesting

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Mini Solar Observatory Can Be Used on Manned Spacecraft

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) developed a miniature portable solar observatory for use onboard a commercial, manned, suborbital spacecraft. The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP) uses a classic, two-stage pointing system similar to larger spacecraft, but in this case, the first stage is a pilot who initially steers the instrument toward the Sun. SSIPP does the rest, locking onto the Sun to allow observations. The first SSIPP spaceflight will search for “solar ultrasound,” a phenomenon first observed in the early 2000s by the Transitional Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) spacecraft. The ultrasound is sound waves with a 10-second period, some 18 octaves deeper than ultrasound on Earth, and forms visible ripples in the Sun’s surface layers. The waves are difficult to detect without space instrumentation because the tiny, rapid fluctuations cannot be separated from the confounding influence of Earth’s turbulent atmosphere. Although at first SSIPP will be operated from inside the cockpit, a full system eventually will be mounted outside the host vehicle to enable UV and X-ray observations that are inaccessible from the ground. Source:

Posted in: News, Sensors

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Will we deliver electricity from space?

This Week's Question: Scientists are exploring the possibility of utilizing space solar power for Earth-bound purposes. The United States, China, India and Japan all have projects at various stages of development that would see robots assemble solar arrays that could provide the Earth with clean, renewable energy, delivered wirelessly via microwaves and laser beams. According to experts, space is the ideal location for a solar power station as it would have access to uninterrupted power from sunlight. The final cost of the entire system, however, could easily reach $20 billion. What do you think? Will we deliver electricity from space?

Posted in: Question of the Week

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New Navigation Software Cuts Self-Driving Car Costs

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.Ryan Wolcott, a U-M doctoral candidate in computer science and engineering, estimates that the new concept could shave thousands of dollars from the cost of these vehicles. The technology enables them to navigate using a single video camera, delivering the same level of accuracy as laser scanners at a fraction of the cost."The laser scanners used by most self-driving cars in development today cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I thought there must be a cheaper sensor that could do the same job," he said. "Cameras only cost a few dollars each and they're already in a lot of cars. So they were an obvious choice."Wolcott's system builds on the navigation systems used in other self-driving cars that are currently in development, including Google's vehicle. The navigation systems use three-dimensional laser scanning technology to create a real-time map of their environment, then compare that real-time map to a pre-drawn map stored in the system. By making thousands of comparisons per second, they are able to determine the vehicle's location within a few centimeters.The software converts the map data into a three-dimensional 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.SourceAlso: See more Software tech briefs.

Posted in: News, Cameras, Lasers & Laser Systems, Photonics

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NASA Robot Explores Volcanoes

Carolyn Parcheta, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and JPL robotics researcher Aaron Parness are developing robots that can explore volcanic fissures."We don't know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic," Parcheta said.Parcheta, Parness, and JPL co-advisor Karl Mitchell first explored this idea last year using a two-wheeled robot they call VolcanoBot 1, with a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels.VolcanoBot 2, smaller and lighter than its predecessor, will explore Hawaii's Kilauea volcano in March 2015. Parcheta's research endeavors were recently honored in National Geographic’s Expedition Granted campaign. SourceAlso: Learn about Autonomous Response for Targeting and Monitoring of Volcanic Activity.

Posted in: News, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, Measuring Instruments, Monitoring

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New Vision Algorithm Enables Household Robots

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory believe that household robots should take advantage of their mobility and their relatively static environments to make object recognition easier, by imaging objects from multiple perspectives before making judgments about their identity.Matching up the objects depicted in the different images, however, poses its own computational challenges.In a paper appearing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research, the MIT researchers show that a system using an off-the-shelf algorithm to aggregate different perspectives can recognize four times as many objects as one that uses a single perspective, while reducing the number of misidentifications.The team's new algorithm is 10 times as fast, making it much more practical for real-time deployment with household robots.SourceAlso: See other Software tech briefs.

Posted in: News

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