NASA’s High-Flying Laser Altimeter Measures Summer Sea Ice

When NASA launches the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, in 2017, it will measure Earth’s elevation by sending out pulses of green laser light and timing how long it takes individual photons to bounce off Earth’s surface and return. The number and patterns of photons that come back depend on the type of ice they bounce off – whether it’s smooth or rough, watery or snow-covered.To get a preview of what summertime will look like to ICESat-2, NASA scientists, engineers, and pilots have traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, to fly an airborne test bed instrument called the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar, or MABEL. MABEL collects data in the same way that ICESat-2’s instrument will – with lasers and photon-detectors. The data from the Alaskan campaign will allow researchers to develop computer programs, or algorithms, to analyze the information from ICESat-2.“We need to give scientists data to enable them to develop algorithms that work during summer,” said Thorsten Markus, ICESat-2’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “All the algorithms need to be tested and in place by the time of launch. And one thing that was missing was ICESat-2-like data on the summer conditions.”Between July 12 and August 1, MABEL will fly aboard NASA’s high-altitude ER-2 aircraft as the Arctic sea ice and glaciers are melting. In its half-dozen flights, the instrument will take measurements of the sea ice and Alaska’s southern glaciers, as well as forests, lakes, open ocean, the atmosphere and more, sending data back to researchers on the ground.SourceAlso: Learn about the Debris & ICE Mapping Analysis Tool (DIMAT).

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Photonics, Lasers & Laser Systems, Environmental Monitoring, Green Design & Manufacturing, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Aerospace, Aviation, RF & Microwave Electronics, Data Acquisition, News


Engineers Use Resin Inks, 3D Printing to Build Lightweight Cellular Composites

Like other manufactured products that use sandwich panel construction to achieve a combination of light weight and strength, turbine blades contain carefully arrayed strips of balsa wood from Ecuador, which provides 95 percent of the world’s supply.As turbine makers produce ever-larger blades—the longest now measure 75 meters, almost matching the wingspan of an Airbus A380 jetliner—they must be engineered to operate virtually maintenance-free for decades. In order to meet more demanding specifications for precision, weight, and quality consistency, manufacturers are searching for new sandwich construction material options.Now, using a cocktail of fiber-reinforced epoxy-based thermosetting resins and 3D extrusion printing techniques, materials scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed lightweight cellular composite materials.The work could have applications in many fields, including the automotive industry where lighter materials hold the key to achieving aggressive government-mandated fuel economy standards. SourceAlso: See more Materials tech briefs.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Materials, Composites, Aerospace, Aviation, News


Will The Popularity Of Drones Carry Major Risks?

New York City police have reported a growing number of incidents involving wayward drones. A crew member of an NYPD helicopter, for example, recently had to change its course after spotting a flying object headed in its direction. Some police are concerned that the increasing popularity of drones in such a tightly packed city could carry significant risks, even becoming a potential tool for terrorists to conduct surveillance or carry out attacks. Drone buffs, however, say the doomsday scenarios are far-fetched, and that most pilots use the drones to take aerial photos.

Posted in: Question of the Week


Nano-Pixels Promise Flexible, High-Res Displays

A new discovery will make it possible to create pixels just a few hundred nanometers across. The "nano-pixels" could pave the way for extremely high-resolution and low-energy thin, flexible displays for applications such as 'smart' glasses, synthetic retinas, and foldable screens.Oxford University scientists explored the link between the electrical and optical properties of phase change materials (materials that can change from an amorphous to a crystalline state). By sandwiching a seven=nanometer-thick layer of a phase change material (GST) between two layers of a transparent electrode, the team found that they could use a tiny current to 'draw' images within the sandwich "stack."Initially still images were created using an atomic force microscope, but the researchers went on to demonstrate that such tiny "stacks" can be turned into prototype pixel-like devices. These 'nano-pixels' – just 300 by 300 nanometers in size – can be electrically switched 'on and off' at will, creating the colored dots that would form the building blocks of an extremely high-resolution display technology.SourceAlso: Learn about Slot-Sampled Optical PPM Demodulation.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Board-Level Electronics, Electronics, Imaging, Displays/Monitors/HMIs, Materials, Semiconductors & ICs, Nanotechnology, News


New Drones Ensure Ideal Photographic Lighting Positions

Researchers at MIT and Cornell University will provide photographers with squadrons of small, light-equipped autonomous robots that automatically assume the right positions for photographic lighting. With the new system, the photographer indicates the direction from which the rim light should come, and the miniature helicopter flies to that side of the subject. The photographer then specifies the width of the rim as a percentage of its initial value, repeating that process until the desired effect is achieved.In the researchers' experiments, the robot helicopter was equipped with a continuous-light source, a photographic flash, and a laser rangefinder.The researchers tested their prototype in a motion-capture studio, which uses a bank of high-speed cameras to measure the position of specially designed light-reflecting tags with millimeter accuracy; several such tags were affixed to the helicopter.SourceAlso: Learn about Small-Object Detection via Fast Discrete Curvelet Transform.

Posted in: Cameras, Imaging, Photonics, Lasers & Laser Systems, Lighting, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Inspired by Nature, Researchers Build a Tougher Metal

Drawing inspiration from the structure of bones and bamboo, researchers have gradually changed the internal structure of metals to make stronger, tougher materials. The new metals can be customized for a wide variety of applications — from body armor to automobile parts. The research team tested the new approach in interstitial free (IF) steel, which is used in some industrial applications.If conventional IF steel is made strong enough to withstand 450 megapascals (MPa) of stress, it has very low ductility – the steel can only be stretched to less than 5 percent of its length without breaking. Low ductility means a material is susceptible to catastrophic failure, such as suddenly snapping in half. Highly ductile materials can stretch, meaning they are more likely to give people time to respond to a problem before total failure.The researchers are also interested in using the gradient structure approach to make materials more resistant to corrosion, wear, and fatigue.SourceAlso: Find more Materials tech briefs.

Posted in: Materials, Metals, Transportation, Automotive, Defense, News


Students Design Robotic Gardeners for Deep Space

Graduate students from the University of Colorado Boulder are designing robots to work in a deep-space habitat, tending gardens and growing food for astronaut explorers.The team's entry in the eXploration HABitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is called "Plants Anywhere: Plants Growing in Free Habitat Spaces." Instead of an area set aside just for vegetation, the approach calls for plants to be distributed in any available space in a deep-space habitat.In their new system, a Remotely Operated Gardening Rover, or ROGR, travels around the habitat tending to a fleet of SmartPots, or SPOTS, which would be distributed throughout the deep-space habitat's living space.The SPOTS facilitate plants growing in a small, custom- designed hydroponic growth chamber with computerized systems to monitor the vegetation's progress. Each has its own sensor run by an embedded computer."We envision dozens of SPOTS on a space habitat," said Dane Larsen who is working on a master's degree on computer science. "Telemetry in each SPOT provides data on plant condition to a computer display."The robots and plants are networked together, and the SPOTS have the ability to monitor their fruits' or vegetables' soil humidity and issue watering requests.As each SPOT monitors and supports its plants, it can determine when ROGR needs to perform plant maintenance tasks. ROGR, a robot on wheels, has a forklift to move SPOTS, a mechanical arm for manipulating the plants, and a fluid delivery system that can provide fresh water or water with nutrients.SourceAlso: Learn about a Dexterous Humanoid Robot.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Monitoring, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News