News

Single-Layer Material Mimics Photosynthesis

A Florida State University researcher has discovered an artificial material that mimics photosynthesis and potentially creates a sustainable energy source. The new material efficiently captures sunlight; then, the energy can be used to break down water into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2).

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NASA Completes Heat Shield Test for Future Mars Vehicles

As NASA missions to Mars progress, spacecraft will require larger heat shields to protect against the extreme heat of entering a planet's atmosphere and decelerating at a safe altitude in the thin Martian atmosphere. NASA’s Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) is a mechanically deployable heat shield concept using carbon fabric: a flexible heat shield that expands to open like an umbrella.

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Mobile Eye-Test Device Could Lead to Prescription Virtual-Reality Screens

MIT’s Netra, a plastic, binocular-like headset attaches in the front to a smartphone. Users peer through the headset at the phone’s display. Patterns, such as separate red and green lines or circles, appear on the screen. The user turns a dial to align the patterns and pushes a button to lock them in place. After eight interactions, the app calculates the difference between what the user sees as “aligned” and the actual alignment of the patterns. This signals any refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. The app then displays the refractive powers, axis of astigmatism, and pupillary distance required for eyeglasses prescriptions.

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Will virtual air-traffic control replace traditional towers?

This week’s Question: On Oct. 1, Colorado’s Fort Collins-Loveland airport was approved as the first testing ground for the Federal Aviation Administration’s own virtual air-traffic control tower system. Through a system of computers, cameras, and recording devices, human controllers would be able to sit in front of a wall of liquid-crystal displays and guide flights from many miles away. The concept, some experts say, will add efficiency and safety at sprawling urban airports where increasing air traffic places ever-greater demands on human controllers. The remote systems also allow airports without towers to avoid the time and expense of building them, yet still attract airlines that want federally approved air control. “I do think one day it could replace traditional visual control towers almost completely,” said Paul Jones, operations manager at the U.K.’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which provides air navigation at Heathrow and a dozen other British airports. What do you think? Will virtual air-traffic control replace traditional towers?

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Researchers Weld the Un-Weldable

Despite recent advances in materials design, alternative metals still pose a challenge to manufacturers in practice. Many are considered un-weldable by traditional means, in part because high heat and re-solidification weaken the metals. Engineers at The Ohio State University have developed a new welding technique that consumes 80 percent less energy than a common welding technique, yet creates a stronger bond.

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Engineers Put 'Spring' in Robots' Step

The ATRIAS robot model developed at Oregon State University uses a "spring-mass" walking approach. The natural-gait method gives human-sized bipedal robots the ability to blindly react to rough terrain, maintain balance, retain an efficiency of motion, and walk like humans.

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Do the benefits of drone registration outweigh the drawbacks?

This week's Question: Last week, the U.S. Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration announced that drone hobbyists will have to register their aircraft or face unspecified penalties. The move is an attempt to prevent the unmanned aircraft from compromising air safety, as the number of complaints about errant flyers has grown in recent months. Challenges remain, however, including which drones will require registration, how users will register the devices, and whether the policy will apply to devices that have already been sold or have been 3D-printed. What do you think? Do the benefits of drone registration outweigh the drawbacks?  

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