News

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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Implantable Device Lets Doctors Test Cancer Drugs in Patients

More than 100 drugs have been approved to treat cancer, but predicting which ones will help a particular patient is an inexact science. A new implantable device, about the size of a grain of rice, can carry small doses of up to 30 different drugs. After implanting it in a tumor and letting the drugs diffuse into the tissue, researchers can measure how effectively each one kills the patient’s cancer cells. Such a device could eliminate much of the guesswork now involved in choosing cancer treatments.

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NASA Tests Shape-Changing Wing for Next-Generation Aviation

NASA researchers, working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and FlexSys of Ann Arbor, MI, successfully completed initial flight tests of a new morphing wing technology that has the potential to save millions of dollars annually in fuel costs, reduce airframe weight, and decrease aircraft noise during takeoffs and landings. The experimental Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight control surfaces offer significant improvements over conventional flaps used on existing aircraft.

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Will NASA achieve “warp drive?”

This week’s Question: According to a NASASpaceflight.com forum, NASA has successfully tested its electromagnetic (EM) drive in a vacuum. The form of space flight could eventually enable trips at speeds approaching that of light. The drive works by propelling objects through space by using magnets to create microwaves, which are then sent through a device to create thrust. If the mission is successful, it could overcome the need to carry fuel for propulsion. The EM drive, however, is controversial in that it appears to violate conventional physics and the law of conservation of momentum. The technology will still require more verification tests. What do you think? Will NASA achieve “warp drive?”

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