NASA Cites Winners of CO2 Conversion Challenge

On Earth, plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugars for energy. On Mars, there aren’t plants and oceans but there is an abundance of CO2. A recent NASA challenge awarded teams that demonstrated systems to convert CO2 into sugar, which astronauts could use to make useful products like plastics, adhesives, fuels, food, and medicine.

Learn about the winners here .


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An autonomous robot needs to know more than where to go — it has to balance itself, too. A new algorithm from the University of Michigan finds robots the best path across uneven terrain as well as the best placement for the robot’s arms and feet. This month, we spoke with Dmitry Berenson, a professor and engineer behind the robotic route planner. Send your comments and suggestions to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Next month in tech briefs

The November issue will include a special section on NASA’s Artemis Project , which will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. The initial mission, Artemis I, is an uncrewed mission scheduled for November. It will send the Orion spacecraft around the Moon and back to Earth ahead of future flights with astronauts.


Charging Room System Powers Without Wires

The finished charging room. (Credit: University of Tokyo)

Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Tokyo developed a system to safely deliver electricity over the air, potentially turning entire buildings into wireless charging zones. In addition to untethering phones and laptops, the technology could also power implanted medical devices or mobile robotics. The team is working to implement the system in spaces that are smaller than room-sized; for example, a toolbox that charges power tools placed inside it.

The team demonstrated the technology in a test room where it wirelessly powered lamps, fans, and cellphones that could draw current from anywhere in the room regardless of the placement of people and furniture. It uses a conductive surface on room walls and a conductive pole to generate magnetic fields, delivering at least 50 watts of power.

Learn More


LEDs Detect Spoiled Food and Lethal Gases

The device could enable a refrigerator to tell when food is spoiled.

The University of Melbourne (Australia) has developed a smart device with an infrared lightemitting diode (LED) that is tunable to different wavelengths of light. The device could enable a refrigerator to tell when food is spoiled. The device could identify a suite of gases, potentially including lethal ones, improving the safety of firefighters, the military, miners, and plumbers.

The LED technology could fit inside smartphones and become part of everyday use. For example, the bacteria found in meat release gases as they multiply. The presence of these gases is a good indication that the meat is spoiling. The device, placed inside a refrigerator, could send a notification that the meat is not fit to eat. When pointed at a handbag, for instance, it could also reveal whether the bag is made of real leather or a cheaper substitute material.

Learn More 


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.