News

Bats Inspire Micro Air Vehicles

By exploring how creatures in nature are able to fly by flapping their wings, Virginia Tech researchers hope to design "micro air vehicles.”In Virginia Tech's study of fruit bat wings, the researchers used experimental measurements of the movements of the bats' wings in real flight, and then used analysis software to see the direct relationship between wing motion and airflow around the bat wing.Among the biggest surprises in store for the researchers was how bat wings manipulated the wing motion with correct timing to maximize the forces generated by the wing.The team wants to keep the wing motion as simple as possible, but with the same force production as that of a real bat.Source Also: Learn about Predicting Aircraft Ice Formation with Simulation.

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Carbon Nanotube Fibers Outperform Copper

Carbon nanotube-based fibers have greater capacity to carry electrical current than copper cables of the same mass, according to new research. A series of tests at Rice University showed the wet-spun carbon nanotube fiber still handily beat copper, carrying up to four times as much current as a copper wire of the same mass.The nanotube-based cables are an ideal platform for lightweight power transmission in systems where weight is a significant factor, like aerospace applications.The team plans to further investigate and explore the fiber’s multifunctional aspects, including flexible optoelectronic device applications.Source Also: Learn about Carbon Nanotubes on Titanium Substrates for Stray Light Suppression.

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Robotic Construction Crew Self-Organizes

Inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, a team of computer scientists and engineers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots that cooperate by modifying their environment.Harvard’s TERMES system demonstrates that collective systems of robots can build complex, three-dimensional structures without the need for any central command or prescribed roles. The TERMES robots construct towers, castles, and pyramids out of foam bricks, autonomously building themselves staircases to reach the higher levels and adding bricks wherever they are needed. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars.SourceAlso: Learn about NASA's RASSOR Excavator Robot.

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Will Connected Eyewear Replace Traditional Glasses?

Google recently announced that it will add Google Glass options for prescription glasses. The search giant's wearable computer features an optical head-mounted display that presents information in a smartphone-like format. "We're going to reach some day, hopefully it will be soon, where people will wonder 'why would I want traditional glasses? They don't do X, Y or Z,' " said Google Glass Product Director Steve Lee.

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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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