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Researchers Equip Robot with Novel Tactile Sensor

Researchers at MIT and Northeastern University have equipped a robot with a novel tactile sensor that lets it grasp a USB cable draped freely over a hook and insert it into a USB port.The sensor is an adaptation of a technology called GelSight, which was developed by the lab of Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT, and first described in 2009. The new sensor isn’t as sensitive as the original GelSight sensor, which could resolve details on the micrometer scale. But it’s smaller — small enough to fit on a robot’s gripper — and its processing algorithm is faster, so it can give the robot feedback in real time.A GelSight sensor — both the original and the new, robot-mounted version — consists of a slab of transparent, synthetic rubber coated on one side with a metallic paint. The rubber conforms to any object it’s pressed against, and the metallic paint evens out the light-reflective properties of diverse materials, making it much easier to make precise optical measurements.In the new device, the gel is mounted in a cubic plastic housing, with just the paint-covered face exposed. The four walls of the cube adjacent to the sensor face are translucent, and each conducts a different color of light — red, green, blue, or white — emitted by light-emitting diodes at the opposite end of the cube. When the gel is deformed, light bounces off of the metallic paint and is captured by a camera mounted on the same cube face as the diodes.From the different intensities of the different-colored light, the algorithms developed by Adelson’s team can infer the three-dimensional structure of ridges or depressions of the surface against which the sensor is pressed. Source Read other Sensors tech briefs.

Posted in: Photonics, Optics, Materials, Motion Control, Sensors, Lighting, LEDs, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News

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New Laser Technology to Make 2020 Mission to Mars

NASA announced recently that laser technology originally developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory has been selected for its new Mars mission in 2020. SuperCam, which builds upon the successful capabilities demonstrated aboard the Curiosity Rover during NASA’s current Mars Mission, will allow researchers to sample rocks and other targets from a distance using a laser.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronics, Imaging, Photonics, Lasers & Laser Systems, Sensors, Detectors, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Aerospace, Machinery & Automation, News

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Secret of Eumelanin’s Ability to Absorb Broad Spectrum of Light Uncovered

Melanin — and specifically, the form called eumelanin — is the primary pigment that gives humans the coloring of their skin, hair, and eyes. It protects the body from the hazards of ultraviolet and other radiation that can damage cells and lead to skin cancer. But the exact reason why the compound is so effective at blocking such a broad spectrum of sunlight has remained something of a mystery. Now, however, researchers at MIT and other institutions have solved that mystery, potentially opening the way for the development of synthetic materials that could have similar light-blocking properties.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Photonics, Optics, Materials, Composites, Medical, Solar Power, Energy, News

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NASA Engineer Set to Complete First 3D-Printed Space Cameras

By the end of September, NASA aerospace engineer Jason Budinoff is expected to complete the first imaging telescopes ever assembled almost exclusively from 3D-manufactured components.Under his multi-pronged project, funded by Goddard’s Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program, Budinoff is building a fully functional, 50-millimeter (2-inch) camera whose outer tube, baffles and optical mounts are all printed as a single structure. The instrument is appropriately sized for a CubeSat, a tiny satellite comprised of individual units each about four inches on a side. The instrument will be equipped with conventionally fabricated mirrors and glass lenses and will undergo vibration and thermal-vacuum testing next year.Budinoff also is assembling a 350-millimeter (14-inch) dual-channel telescope whose size is more representative of a typical space telescope.Should he prove the approach, Budinoff said NASA scientists would benefit enormously — particularly those interested in building infrared-sensing instruments, which typically operate at super-cold temperatures to gather the infrared light that can be easily overwhelmed by instrument-generated heat. Often, these instruments are made of different materials. However, if all the instrument’s components, including the mirrors, were made of aluminum, then many of the separate parts could be 3D printed as single structures, reducing the parts count and material mismatch. This would decrease the number of interfaces and increase the instrument’s stability.SourceAlso: Learn about an Image Processing Method To Determine Dust Optical Density.

Posted in: Cameras, Imaging, Photonics, Optics, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Aerospace, RF & Microwave Electronics, News

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Researchers Build 'Invisible' Materials with Light

Metamaterials have a wide range of potential applications, including sensing and improving military stealth technology. Before cloaking devices can become reality on a larger scale, however, researchers must determine how to make the right materials at the nanoscale. Using light is now shown to be an enormous help in such nano-construction. A new technique uses light like a needle to thread long chains of particles. The development could help bring sci-fi concepts, such as cloaking devices, one step closer to reality.The technique developed by the University of Cambridge team involves using unfocused laser light as billions of needles, stitching gold nanoparticles together into long strings, directly in water for the first time. The strings can then be stacked into layers one on top of the other, similar to Lego bricks. The method makes it possible to produce materials in much higher quantities than can be made through current techniques. SourceAlso: See other Sensors tech briefs.

Posted in: Photonics, Lasers & Laser Systems, Materials, Sensors, Nanotechnology, Defense, News

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New Study Uses Blizzard to Measure Wind Turbine Airflow

A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota using snow during a Minnesota blizzard is giving researchers new insight into the airflow around large wind turbines. This research is essential to improving wind energy efficiency, especially in wind farms where airflows from many large wind turbines interact with each other. As wind turbines have grown to more than 100 meters tall, field research in real-world settings has become more difficult.

Posted in: Video, Visualization Software, Imaging, Photonics, Optics, Wind Power, Energy Efficiency, Energy, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, News

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Gas Flow Measurement Technology Packs Hundreds of Sensors Into One Optical Fiber

By fusing together the concepts of active fiber sensors and high-temperature fiber sensors, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has created an all-optical high-temperature sensor for gas flow measurements that operates at record-setting temperatures above 800 °C. This technology is expected to find industrial sensing applications in harsh environments ranging from deep geothermal drill cores to the interiors of nuclear reactors to the cold vacuum of space missions, and it may eventually be extended to many others.

Posted in: Photonics, Fiber Optics, Optics, Sensors, Detectors, Geothermal Power, Energy, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Aerospace, News

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