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New Actuators and Motors Key to Improved Robot Responders

Sandia National Laboratories is developing technology that will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios. One area of focus is battery life – an important concern in the usefulness of robots for emergency response. The first robot Sandia is developing is a fully functional research platform that allows developers to try different joint-level mechanisms that function like elbows and knees to quantify how much energy is used. The key to the testing is Sandia’s novel, energy-efficient actuators, which move the robots’ joints. The actuation system uses efficient, brushless DC motors with very high torque-to-weight ratios, very efficient low-ratio transmissions, and specially designed passive mechanisms customized for each joint to ensure energy efficiency. Electric motors are particularly inefficient when providing large torques at low to a crouching robot. A simple support element, such as a spring, would provide torque, reducing the load on the motor. Source:

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Launch System Engine Gets a New “Brain”

The engine controller unit on the RS-25 – formerly known as the space shuttle main engine – helped propel all of the space shuttle missions to space. It allows communication between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle. The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel mixture ratio while monitoring the engine's health and status. The engine controller unit needed a "refresh" to provide the capability necessary for four RS-25 engines to power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to deep space. An engineering model RS-25 controller is being tweaked and tested at NASA Marshall. At one of the center's test facilities, engineers are simulating the RS-25 in flight, using real engine actuators, sensors, connectors, and harnesses. A second engineering model controller and RS-25 engine also recently were installed on a test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Pending final preparation and activation work, the engine test series is anticipated to begin this year. Source:

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Robotic Handoff Aids Space Station Installation

On Jan. 22, 2015, robotic flight controllers successfully installed NASA’s Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) aboard the International Space Station through a robotic handoff — the first time one robotic arm on station has worked in concert with a second robotic arm. CATS will collect data about clouds, volcanic ash plumes and tiny airborne particles that can help improve our understanding of aerosol and cloud interactions and improve the accuracy of climate change models.CATS had been mounted inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft’s unpressurized trunk since it docked at the station on Jan. 12. Ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston used one of the space station’s robotic arms, called the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, to extract the instrument from the capsule. The NASA-controlled arm passed the instrument to a second robotic arm — like passing a baton in a relay race. SourceAlso: Learn about an Autonomous Response for Monitoring Volcanic Activity.

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Software Algorithm Finds Risks

At the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) this month, MIT researchers will present algorithms that represent significant steps toward “a better Siri” — the user-assistance application found in Apple products.One aspect of the software that distinguishes it from previous planning systems is that it assesses risk."It’s always hard working directly with probabilities, because they always add complexity to your computations,” said Cheng Fang, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “So we added this idea of risk allocation. We say, ‘What’s your budget of risk for this entire mission? Let’s divide that up and use it as a resource.’”The time it takes to traverse any mile of a bus route, for instance, can be represented by a probability distribution — a bell curve, plotting time against probability. Keeping track of all those probabilities and compounding them for every mile of the route would yield a huge computation. But if the system knows in advance that the planner can tolerate a certain amount of failure, it can, in effect, assign that failure to the lowest-probability outcomes in the distributions, lopping off their tails. That makes them much easier to deal with mathematically.SourceRead more Information Technology & Software tech briefs.

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Metamaterial 'Bends' Acoustic and Elastic Waves

Sound waves passing through the air, objects that break a body of water and cause ripples, or shockwaves from earthquakes all are considered “elastic” waves. These waves travel at the surface or through a material without causing any permanent changes to the substance’s makeup. Now, engineering researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a material that has the ability to control elastic waves, creating possible medical, military and commercial applications.In the past, scientists have used a combination of materials, such as metal and rubber, to effectively ‘bend’ and control waves. Guoliang Huang, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering at MU, and his team designed a material using a single component: steel. The engineered structural material possesses the ability to control the increase of acoustical or elastic waves. Improvements to broadband signals and super-imaging devices also are possibilities.The material was made in a single steel sheet using lasers to engrave “chiral,” or geometric microstructure patterns, which are asymmetrical to their mirror images Huang said there are numerous possibilities for the material to control elastic waves, including super-resolution sensors, acoustic and medical hearing devices, as well as a “superlens” that could significantly advance super-imaging.SourceAlso: See more Materials & Coatings tech briefs.

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Wearable Nanowire Sensors Monitor Electrophysiological Signals

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new, wearable sensor that uses silver nanowires to monitor electrophysiological signals, such as electrocardiography (EKG) or electromyography (EMG). The new sensor is as accurate as the “wet electrode” sensors used in hospitals, but can be used for long-term monitoring and when a patient is moving.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Sensors, Medical, Patient Monitoring, Semiconductors & ICs, Nanotechnology, News

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Aircraft with Hybrid Engine Can Recharge in Flight

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, in association with Boeing, have successfully tested the first aircraft to be powered by a parallel hybrid-electric propulsion system, where an electric motor and gas engine work together to drive the propeller. The demonstrator aircraft uses up to 30% less fuel than a comparable plane with a gas-only engine. The aircraft is also able to recharge its batteries in flight, the first time this has been achieved.

Posted in: Batteries, Electronics & Computers, Power Management, Green Design & Manufacturing, Motion Control, Motors & Drives, Power Transmission, Aerospace, Aviation, News

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