Special Coverage

Soft Robot “Walks” on Any Terrain
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Using Microwaves to Produce High-Quality Graphene
Transducer-Actuator Systems for On-Machine Measurements and Automatic Part Alignment
Wide-Area Surveillance Using HD LWIR Uncooled Sensors
Heavy Lift Wing in Ground (WIG) Cargo Flying Boat
Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems
Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems
NASA Tests Lasers’ Ability to Transmit Data from Space
Converting from Hydraulic Cylinders to Electric Actuators
Automating Optimization and Design Tasks Across Disciplines

Will "Antipodes" take off?

This week's Question: Canadian industrial designer Charles Bombardier has developed an aircraft concept that, in theory, could send passengers from London to New York in 11 minutes. The "Antipode" would have a scramjet engine and wings fitted with rocket boosters, propelling the aircraft to 40,000 feet and enabling the aircraft to reach Mach 5. To bring the concept to reality, engineers are challenged with addressing sonic booms as well as the materials' resistance to high heat. A proposed aerodynamic technique called long penetration mode (LPM), however, would use a nozzle on the aircraft's nose to blow out air and cool down the surface temperature, while also muffling the noise made from breaking the sound barrier. The design is decades away, according to the researchers. What do you think? Will "Antipodes" take off?

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Will a brain modem become a reality?

This week's Question: The U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) unveiled plans last week to develop a "brain modem." The implantable neural interface allows wearers to transmit data from their brains to external digital devices. DARPA's goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size. Applications of the neural interface technology include boosting a soldier’s hearing or vision by providing additional digital auditory or visual information into the brain. What do you think? Will a brain modem become a reality? 

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Would you prefer to fly in a hybrid aircraft?

This week's Question: Researchers at the NASA Glenn Research Center are developing a hybrid plane that will, like a hybrid car, rely on both fossil fuels and electricity to power itself through the sky. The NASA engineers are looking at power systems that generate electricity in place of, or in addition to, thrust at the turbine engine, and then convert that electricity into thrust using fans at other places on the aircraft. The Glenn team says the advances could make flying up to 30 percent more fuel efficient.

What do you think? Would you prefer to fly in a hybrid aircraft? 

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Will virtual reality help astronauts?

This week's Question: Former astronaut and current Dartmouth University physician Jay Buckey and his team have sent Oculus Rift headsets to Canadian Force Station Alert, a military station in Canada located 500 miles from the North Pole. The researchers will ultimately test whether exposure to nature through virtual reality can help to improve mood and stress levels. Buckey hypothesizes that the VR tools may someday benefit astronauts on deep-space missions. What do you think? Will virtual reality help astronauts?   

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Will the growing number of drones cause too many headaches for aviation officials?

This week's Question: Hundreds of thousands of the unmanned aircraft are expected to be sold between Black Friday and the end of the year, providing both a boon for the emerging industry and a potential headache for aviation safety officials. Parrot's Bebop Drones, for example, were featured prominently in Target's Black Friday ads, and the drone maker generated $42 million in its third quarter this year, a 60% increase from the same period a year ago. Some aviation experts are concerned, however, that the new drone owners will take the skies without knowledge of airspace rules or best practices for staying safe. The FAA is currently racing to implement new rules that would require hobbyists to register their drones before taking to the skies.  

What do you think? Will the growing number of drones cause too many headaches for aviation officials? 

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Will Li-Fi catch on?

This week's Question: A technology called ìLi-Fiî uses light waves from ordinary LED light bulbs to deliver internet connectivity that, according to its creators, is cheaper, more secure, and 100 times faster that broadband internet. Velmini ó a tech company in Tallinn, Estonia ó is the first to test visible light communication technology in a real-world scenario, using Li-Fi-equipped LED lights. According to the International Business Times, the technology transmits data at 1 gigabit per second (Gbps); Li-Fi lab simulations recorded speeds up to 224 Gbps. Li-Fi will not entirely replace Wi-Fi entirely since light waves, unlike radio waves, cannot travel through walls. In addition, the tool does not work outdoors with direct sunlight. The company's co-founder estimates that the technology will be ready for public use within the next two to three years. What do you think? Will Li-Fi catch on? 

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Is it possible to empathize with robots as we do with humans?

This week's Question: According to a recent study by researchers in Japan, our brain's empathetic reaction toward humanoid robots in perceived pain is similar to that toward humans in the same situation. The researchers hooked up 15 healthy adults to electroencephalography (EEG) monitors and then showed them dozens of color pictures of either a human or robotic hand in painful and non-painful situations. Event-related brain potentials for empathy toward humanoid robots in perceived pain were similar to those for empathy toward humans in pain. With humans and robots collaborating more closely and more often than ever before, what do you think? Is it possible to empathize with robots as we do with humans?  

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Will jetpacks ever become a viable means of transport?

This week's Question: Dubai's civil defence force has agreed to a deal with Martin Aircraft, the New Zealand-based creator of a single-person jetpacks. Dubai has announced an initial order for up to 20 Martin jetpacks, plus simulators and a training package, for delivery next year. Lt Col Ali Hassan Almutawa, director of the Dubai Civil Defence Operations Department, told the BBC that the packs would be used for first-responder roles, including reconnaissance and rescue. Some critics, however, say it will be a long time before jetpacks are quiet enough, and fuel-efficient enough, to make them practical for general use. What do you think?

Will jetpacks ever become a viable means of transport?

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Will Robot Taxis Take the Streets by 2020?

This week's Question: Japan’s cabinet office and the Tokyo-based Robot Taxi Inc. said they will start experimenting with an unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The transportation will be offered for approximately 50 people in Southern Tokyo, with the autonomous car bringing users from their homes to local grocery stores. Robot Taxi aims to commercialize its driverless service by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics. The main challenges facing the robotic taxis will be getting autonomous driving to work on local roads (and not just highways), acquiring precise maps, and receiving regulatory permission for the fleet.  

What do you think? Will Robot Taxis Take the Streets by 2020?

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Will virtual air-traffic control replace traditional towers?

This week’s Question: On Oct. 1, Colorado’s Fort Collins-Loveland airport was approved as the first testing ground for the Federal Aviation Administration’s own virtual air-traffic control tower system. Through a system of computers, cameras, and recording devices, human controllers would be able to sit in front of a wall of liquid-crystal displays and guide flights from many miles away.

The concept, some experts say, will add efficiency and safety at sprawling urban airports where increasing air traffic places ever-greater demands on human controllers. The remote systems also allow airports without towers to avoid the time and expense of building them, yet still attract airlines that want federally approved air control. “I do think one day it could replace traditional visual control towers almost completely,” said Paul Jones, operations manager at the U.K.’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which provides air navigation at Heathrow and a dozen other British airports.

What do you think? Will virtual air-traffic control replace traditional towers?

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