Special Coverage


Ocean Gliders Measure Melting Polar Ice

The rapidly melting ice sheets on the coast of West Antarctica are a potentially major contributor to rising ocean levels worldwide. Although warm water near the coast is thought to be the main factor causing the ice to melt, the process by which this water ends up near the cold continent is not well understood. Using robotic ocean gliders, Caltech researchers have now found that swirling ocean eddies, similar to atmospheric storms, play an important role in transporting these warm waters to the Antarctic coast—a discovery that will help the scientific community determine how rapidly the ice is melting and, as a result, how quickly ocean levels will rise. "When you have a melting slab of ice, it can either melt from above because the atmosphere is getting warmer or it can melt from below because the ocean is warm," explains lead author Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering. "All of our evidence points to ocean warming as the most important factor affecting these ice shelves, so we wanted to understand the physics of how the heat gets there." Because the gliders are small—only about six feet long—and are very energy efficient, they can sample the ocean for much longer periods than large ships can. When the glider surfaces every few hours, it "calls" the researchers via a mobile phone–like device located on the tail. The communication allows the researchers to almost immediately access the information the glider has collected. Like airborne gliders, the bullet-shaped ocean gliders have no propeller; instead they use batteries to power a pump that changes the glider's buoyancy. When the pump pushes fluid into a compartment inside the glider, the glider becomes denser than seawater and less buoyant, thus causing it to sink. If the fluid is pumped instead into a bladder on the outside of the glider, the glider becomes less dense than seawater—and therefore more buoyant—ultimately rising to the surface. Like airborne gliders, wings convert this vertical lift into horizontal motion. Source Also: Learn about Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets and Snow.

Posted in: Batteries, Electronics & Computers, Environmental Monitoring, Green Design & Manufacturing, Motion Control, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Monitoring, Communications, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Microbot Muscles Self-Assemble and Flex

In a step toward robots smaller than a grain of sand, University of Michigan researchers have shown how chains of self-assembling particles could serve as electrically activated muscles in the tiny machines."We are inspired by ideas of microscopic robots," said Michael Solomon, a professor of chemical engineering. "They could work together and go places that have never been possible before."Solomon and his group demonstrated that some gold plating and an alternating electric field can help oblong particles form chains that extend by roughly 36 percent when the electric field is on.The team started with particles similar to those found in paint, with diameters of about a hundredth the width of a strand of hair. They stretched these particles into football shapes and coated one side of each football with gold. The gilded halves attracted one another in slightly salty water—ideally about half the salt concentration in the sports drink Powerade. The more salt in the water, the stronger the attraction.Left to their own devices, the particles formed short chains of overlapping pairs, averaging around 50 or 60 particles to a chain. When exposed to an alternating electric field, the chains seemed to add new particles indefinitely. But the real excitement was in the way that the chains stretched."We want them to work like little muscles," said Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Professor of Chemical Engineering. "You could imagine many of these fibers lining up with the field and producing locomotion by expanding and contracting."SourceAlso: Learn about Microelectronic Repair Techniques for Wafer-Level Integration.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Materials, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Cockroach Biobots Detect Sound

North Carolina State University researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster.The researchers have also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” to keep the biobots in the disaster area.“In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the work.The biobots are equipped with electronic backpacks that control the cockroach’s movements. Bozkurt’s research team has created two types of customized backpacks using microphones. One type of biobot has a single microphone that can capture relatively high-resolution sound from any direction to be wirelessly transmitted to first responders.The second type of biobot is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of the sound. The research team has also developed algorithms that analyze the sound from the microphone array to localize the source of the sound and steer the biobot in that direction. SourceAlso: Learn about FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response).

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Communications, Wireless, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Technology Enables First Test of Actual Turbine Engine Conditions

Because of the difficulty of monitoring turbine engines in operation, most manufacturers test turbine blades either after flight or rely on simulated tests to give them the data on how the various coatings on the blades are performing. Until now, creating an accurate simulation has been out of reach.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Test & Measurement, Monitoring, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, News


Robots Restore Electricity After Power Outages

A team led by Nina Mahmoudian of Michigan Technological University has developed a tabletop model of a robot team that can bring power to places that need it the most.“If we can regain power in communication towers, then we can find the people we need to rescue,” says Mahmoudian, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering–engineering mechanics. “And the human rescuers can communicate with each other.”Unfortunately, cell towers are often located in hard-to-reach places, she says. “If we could deploy robots there, that would be the first step toward recovery.”The team has programmed robots to restore power in small electrical networks, linking up power cords and batteries to light a little lamp or set a flag to waving with a small electrical motor. The robots operate independently, choosing the shortest path and avoiding obstacles, just as you would want them to if they were hooking up an emergency power source to a cell tower.“Our robots can carry batteries, or possibly a photovoltaic system or a generator,” Mahmoudian said. The team is also working with Wayne Weaver, the Dave House Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, to incorporate a power converter, since different systems and countries have different electrical requirements. SourceAlso: Learn about Locomotion of Amorphous Surface Robots.

Posted in: Batteries, Electronics & Computers, Power Management, Energy Storage, Solar Power, Energy, Communications, Wireless, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Underwater Robot Skims for Port Security

MIT researchers unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans.Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors’ water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. Because of its small size and unique propulsion mechanism — which leaves no visible wake — the robots could, in theory, be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage. Fleets of them could swarm over ships at port without alerting smugglers and giving them the chance to jettison their cargo.Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, built the main structural components of the robot using a 3-D printer. Half of the robot — the half with the flattened panel — is waterproof and houses the electronics. The other half is permeable and houses the propulsion system, which consists of six pumps that expel water through rubber tubes.Two of those tubes vent on the side of the robot opposite the flattened panel, so they can keep it pressed against whatever surface the robot is inspecting. The other four tubes vent in pairs at opposite ends of the robot’s long axis and control its locomotion.SourceAlso: Learn about Underwater Localization for Transit and Reconnaissance Autonomy.

Posted in: Imaging, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Motion Control, Power Transmission, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


3D Printer That Could Build a Home in 24 Hours Wins Global Design Competition

New York, NY – Contour Crafting, a computerized construction method that rapidly 3D prints large-scale structures directly from architectural CAD models, has been awarded the grand prize of $20,000 in the 2014 "Create the Future" Design Contest. Contour Crafting automates the construction of whole structures and radically reduces the time and cost of construction. The large-scale 3D printing technology is revolutionary to the construction industry and could lead to affordable building of high-quality, low-income housing; the rapid construction of emergency shelters; and on-demand housing in response to disasters. NASA is looking at the technology for building moon and Mars bases. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at University of Southern California, who invented Contour Crafting, views this invention as a proven concept. “Bringing 3D printing to construction is bringing a concept to a proven application. For many years, building has been done in layers – concrete foundation blocks, brick laying, structural framing, etc.” “I am very happy to receive this award and find it to be very timely as I am in the process of fund raising and I think this recognition will help me greatly in furthering the project,” said Khoshnevis. Contour Crafting was among the 1,074 new product ideas submitted in the 12th annual design contest, which was established in 2002 to recognize and reward engineering innovations that benefit humanity, the environment, and the economy. This year’s design contest was co-sponsored by COMSOL (www.comsol.com) and Mouser Electronics (www.mouser.com). Analog Devices and Intel were supporting sponsors. In addition to the grand prize of $20,000, first-place winners (of Hewlett-Packard workstations) were named in seven categories: *Aerospace & Defense: The Polariton Interferometer - a Novel Inertial Navigation System Frederick Moxley A stealth navigation system that provides precise course-plotting while operating independently from GPS. *Automotive/Transportation: Continuously Variable Displacement Engine Steve Arnold A continuously variable stroke engine that operates at 30% better fuel efficiency than conventional thick stroke engine designs. *Consumer Products: NanoFab Lab...in a Box! Jonathan Moritz (Team Leader) An educational kit that brings nanomanufacturing out of the cleanroom and into the classroom. *Electronics: A Paradigm Shift for SMT Electronics Jim Hester (Team Leader) Micro-coil springs that provide flexible electrical interconnections for integrated circuit packages, preventing connection breaks due to heat and vibration. *Machinery/Automation/Robotics  – sponsored by Maplesoft: Automatic Eye Finder & Tracking System Rikki Razdan (Team Leader) Real-time point-of-gaze eye tracking system that allows users to control computer input through "Look and Click" applications.  *Medical: HemeChip for Early Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Disease Yunus Alapan (Team Leader) A biochip that can rapidly, easily, and conclusively identify the hemoglobin type in blood to diagnose Sickle Cell Disease in newborns. *Sustainable Technologies: Ecovent Systems - Making Every Room the Right Temperature Dipul Patel (Team Leader) A system of wireless vents and sensors that makes any forced air heating and cooling system smarter by directing conditioned air where it’s needed most. Finalists were selected by senior editors at Tech Briefs Media Group and judged by an independent panel of design engineers. Visitors to the contest Web site could vote on entries, with the 10 most popular designs awarded a Sphero mobile game system by Orbotix. For more information, visit www.createthefuturecontest.com.          

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Green Design & Manufacturing, Software, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Medical, Diagnostics, Machinery & Automation, Semiconductors & ICs, Nanotechnology, News, Automotive


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