News

Researchers Create Acoustic 'Image' of Thunder

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) researchers have imaged the first acoustic signature of thunder, visually capturing the sound waves created by artificially triggered lightning.While the general mechanics of thunder generation are understood, it is not particularly clear which physical processes of the lightning discharge contribute to the thunder we hear. By studying the acoustic power radiated from different portions of the lightning channel, researchers can learn more about the origins of thunder as well as the energetic processes associated with lightning.  Dr. Maher A. Dayeh, a research scientist in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division, designed a large, sophisticated array of microphones to study the acoustic signature of thunder. Fifteen microphones, spaced one meter apart, were lined up 95 meters away from the rocket launch pad where the triggered lightning would strike. To image the vertical profile of the bolt, Dayeh used post-signal processing techniques and directional amplification of the data signals captured by the microphone array. The technique revealed a distinct signature of thunder generated by the lightning strike. Future experiments could allow scientists to study the probable acoustic signatures of current pulses, step leader branches, and discharge channel zigzags independently.SourceLearn about an Accelerometer Sensors Network for Acoustic Diagnostics (MASNAD).

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Will "smart city" lighting efforts pay off?

This week's Question: At this year's Mobile World Congress in Spain, Sierra Wireless and Philips CityTouch demonstrated "smart city" lighting capabilities. The companies' systems connect a city's individual street lights to the Internet via 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. The "smart" technology allows authorities to create customized lighting patterns and adjust the lamps for specific weather conditions or neighborhood needs. With "smart city" designs, users will potentially gain a clearer picture of a city’s lighting infrastructure, access real-time data on energy consumption, and receive automatic failure notifications, ultimately reducing costs in both energy and maintenance. To achieve this type of connected city, however, a common set of standards must enable interoperability so that every application can communicate and share data. Security levels, too, must be maintained. What do you think? Will "smart city" lighting efforts pay off?

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Orion Testing Provides Data for Splashdown Recovery Operations

The first full joint testing between NASA and the U.S. Navy of the Orion spacecraft recovery procedures off the coast of California was suspended after the team experienced issues with handling lines securing a test version of Orion inside the well deck of the USS San Diego. Tests were being conducted to prepare for recovery of Orion after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean at the end of its first spaceflight.

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Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning

Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems.

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Creative New Developments in Solar Energy Research

Scientists are discovering new ways to decrease costs and increase efficiency of solar panels and coming up with creative ways to generate power. According to TechRepublic, a photovoltaic system is installed every four minutes in the US.

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NASA Autonomy Incubator Leads the Push for Intelligent Machines

Search-and-rescue operations, package delivery, and underwater exploration could all be performed soon by intelligent machines. The Autonomy Incubator group at NASA Langley is taking strides to, as group leader Danette Allen puts it, "imbue machines with the kind of intelligence that we expect from human beings."

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Researchers Create 'Cognitive' Underwater Robots

A new programming approach developed by MIT engineers gives underwater robots more “cognitive” capabilities.In March, the team tested the autonomous mission-planning system during a research cruise off the western coast of Australia. The researchers tested their system on an autonomous underwater glider, and demonstrated that the robot was able to operate safely among a number of other autonomous vehicles while receiving higher-level commands. The glider, using the system, was able to adapt its mission plan to avoid interfering with other vehicles.“We wanted to show that these vehicles could plan their own missions, and execute, adapt, and re-plan them alone, without human support,” said Brian Williams, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, and principal developer of the mission-planning system. “With this system, we were showing we could safely zigzag all the way around the reef, like an obstacle course.”By giving robots control of higher-level decision-making, Williams says such a system would free engineers to think about overall strategy, while AUVs determine for themselves a specific mission plan. Such a system could also reduce the size of the operational team needed on research cruises. Additionally, an autonomous planning system could enable robots to explore places that otherwise would not be traversable, such as remote recesses of the sea.SourceAlso: Read other Robotics, Automation & Control tech briefs.

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