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Measuring Carbon Dioxide With Lasers

Measuring Carbon Dioxide With Lasers

The Plane with the systemA-SCOPE (Advanced Space Carbon and climate Observation of Planet Earth) has just ended its first study. This tool is one of six that are being investigated by the ESA (European Space Agency) in order to measure the current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The mission concept, along with the other five, will be presented to the science community at a User Consultation Meeting in January 2009. Up to three missions will subsequently be selected for the next step of the implementation cycle (feasibility study), leading to the selection of ESA’s seventh Earth Explorer mission – envisaged to launch in the 2016 timeframe.

How does it work?

The Laser system The A-SCOPE mission would employ an innovative method of measuring total atmospheric column carbon dioxide from space to improve our understanding of the carbon cycle. The proposed measuring technique involves two short laser pulses being emitted at two adjacent wavelengths. This results in carbon dioxide being absorbed at one of the wavelengths but not by the other, which serves as a reference. The comparison of the reflected signals from both wavelengths yields the total column concentration of carbon dioxide. This novel approach implies that the return signal depends on the reflectance properties of the area of ground illuminated by the laser. However, current knowledge about how much ground reflectance varies is insufficient to accurately assess margins of error.

Two major exercises were carried out; one over northern Europe and another over southern Europe. In total more than 5000 km were flown and about 500,000 readings were acquired. Laser reflectivity measurements were taken over a wide range of terrains, including forest, agricultural land, olive groves, mountains, dry land, lakes as well over the open sea. Unexpectedly, the flights over the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas retrieved particularly strong signals. This is very encouraging since it demonstrates that the required precision of the measurements could even be met above the ocean, which was thought to be the most problematic of areas.

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That Robot Pulled Me Out Of My Collapsed House

That Robot Pulled Me Out Of My Collapsed House

OK, so no one has gotten to say it yet, but they might get to in the near future. A new breed of robot rescuers is being tested in order to take some of the strain and risk off of the shoulders of human first responders, and get to trapped people in places where humans would never be able to go, or find potentially dangerous chemicals.

Theses prototype bots were recently put to the test.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held a rescue robot exercise in Texas last week in which about three dozen robots were tested by developers and first responders in order to develop a standard suite of performance tests to help evaluate candidate mechanical rescuers. This exercise was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate to develop performance standards for robots for use in urban search and rescue missions.

Robot in a simulated forest This also represents a new level of equality in robotics research, where data can be compares in an apples to apples and not an apples to oranges situation. “It is challenging to develop the test standards as the robots are still evolving,” explained Elena Messina, acting chief of the Intelligent Systems Division, “because standards are usually set for products already in use. But it is critical for developers to be able to compare results, which is not possible without reproducible test environments. So, we have reproducible rough terrain that everyone can build in their labs, whereas you can’t reproduce a rubble pile. This way, developers in Japan can run tests, and people in Chicago can understand what the robot achieved.”

Exercises included testing battery capacity by having robots perform figure eights on an undulating terrain and mobility tests in which robots ran through increasingly challenging exercises beginning with climbing steps and escalating to climbing ramps and then making it up steps with unequal gaps. A new mapping challenge introduced at this event tests how accurate a robot-generated map can be—the robot must traverse a simulated “wooded area” that has uneven terrain and PVC pipes for trees, and create a map using its sensors.

If you happen to be wondering what that looks like you can see the video at the Disaster City TEEX Web site: I strongly recomend checking it out.

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Now Faster Than Ever, Thanks to… Electricity

Now Faster Than Ever, Thanks to… Electricity

a drillWhen we think about mind blowing speed, lets be honest, we tend not to think about electricity. Maybe because of all of the propaganda out there about electric cars, or maybe because electricity conjures up so many other images first, like the lights that go on at home or giant bolts of lightning, which by the way are actually pretty fast. So, it probably should not be a shocker (OK I promise no more puns) that electricity just helped to break a new world speed record.

In order to drive these rotary applications directly, efficiently and in a controlled fashion, there must be electrical drive systems with the appropriate rpm and engine power. Up to now, industrially-deployed motors have normally reached 250,000 revolutions per minute. Now, however, researchers from ETH Zurich’s Department of Power Electronics have developed a drive system in cooperation with its industrial partners that can achieve over 1,000,000 rpm.

Of course, this speed record was set in a lab, not on a track and it’s more to do with revoltions than it is with MPH, but still, you may at some point find it driving down the street next to you, or even in the sky above you. In future it can be expected that the drill used in material processing will become even faster and the compressor used for vehicles and airplanes even more compact.

Of course, you may end us seeing it used to make the technology in the palm of your hand too. Based upon the results of this research, Christof Zwyssig and Martin Bartholet, also a post-graduate in the same department, founded the spin-off company, Celeroton, in August 2008. It will make the lab partners industrially viable with a view to providing ultra-high revolution electrical drive systems for different branches of industry and areas of application. Celeroton is set to become a supplier for manufacturers of, for example, fast-spinning drill or milling machines.

The trend towards increasingly smaller cell phones and other electrical appliances means that increasingly smaller holes have to be drilled for the elec-tronics. This is only possible using a drive system that boasts a high rotational speed. “In my view, a spin-off company is the most direct way of transferring research results to industry. Our findings will rapidly be converted into concrete applications and products,” explains Johann Kolar, Head of the Department of Power Electronics.

Now you are wondering how big this thing that it can drill tiny holes in the cell phones of the future. The new drive system, which generates an output of 100 watts, is barely bigger than a matchbox.

As for construction, the recipie goes a little something like this, The rotor construction has a titanium shell that is able to withstand extreme centrifugal forces and the ball bearings are optimized for extremely high speeds. Ultra-thin copper wire is used for the windings which are inserted in a cylinder made of special iron previously unused for machines. In addition, the machine is fed by electronics specifically designed for such engine speeds.

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Near Perfect Solar Panels in Development

Near Perfect Solar Panels in Development

A current solar array which could benefit from the coating. Solar power could be the savior in our energy crisis. When you consider its many benefits:

1. It is completely clean power with no carbon production.

2. Unlike fossil fuels we will have a really hard time running out of it. If we ever do, I promise that you will have much bigger problems than why your car that won’t run.

3. It won’t give us radiation sickness.

Now that you know why the solar cells are a good idea here is the information about the new and more perfect solar cells.

Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered and demonstrated a new method for overcoming two major hurdles facing solar energy. They have developed a new antireflective coating that boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allows those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle.

The untreated silicon solar cell which are currently on the market, only absorb on average about 67.4 percent of sunlight shone upon it — meaning that nearly one-third of that sunlight is reflected away and thus unharvestable. From an economic and efficiency perspective this is just a waste of potential energy. In these new cells the coated materials were able to absorb 96.21 percent of sunlight shone upon it — meaning that only 3.79 percent of the sunlight was reflected and unharvested. A significantly reduced waste.

Lin’s new coating also successfully tackles the tricky challenge of angles.

Most surfaces and coatings are designed to absorb light — i.e., be antireflective — and transmit light — i.e., allow the light to pass through it — from a specific range of angles. Eyeglass lenses, for example, will absorb and transmit quite a bit of light from a light source directly in front of them, but those same lenses would absorb and transmit considerably less light if the light source were off to the side or on the wearer’s periphery. This same is true of conventional solar panels, which is why some industrial solar arrays are mechanized to slowly move throughout the day so their panels are perfectly aligned with the sun’s position in the sky. This was a waste of power, but a needed one to keep things moving.

What do the researchers have to say about the new panel technology?

“To get maximum efficiency when converting solar power into electricity, you want a solar panel that can absorb nearly every single photon of light, regardless of the sun’s position in the sky,” said Shawn-Yu Lin, professor of physics at Rensselaer and a member of the university’s Future Chips Constellation, who led the research project.  “Our new antireflective coating makes this possible.”

If you want to know more about the project, the research behind it and some future applications you can check out the results of the year-long project  in the paper “Realization of a Near Perfect Antireflection Coating for Silicon Solar Energy,” published this week by the journal Optics Letters.

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A New Worlds Fastest Car

A New Worlds Fastest Car

A prototype image of the car.

The head of the Design Team and former world record holder Richard Noble (Project Director of The BLOODHOUND Project) are working to develop the first land speed vehicle that breaks the 1,000 mph barrier and will have its design underpinned through world-class research from some of the UK’s top laboratories.

The team worked with the scientists at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and Fluid Gravity Engineering (FGE) to advise the world-record bid team on two of the most high-risk aspects of the world record attempt.

Many materials were considered for the wheels including a choice of metals and composites that could be used in the design, providing reports on titanium and aluminium alloys, and metal composites.

Those two aspects are the wheel and rocket designs. To reach 1,000 mph they need to be able to rotate at 10,500 rpm without being damaged by the road surface or any stones that may be in the road. In addition they need to be able to need to be as light as possible to minimise steering and suspension forces, absorb all of the weight, down force loads and stresses and distribute this pressure without causing damage to the vehicle or the surface.

The vehicle will have the first ever mixed powerplant of a hybrid rocket motor and a jet engine that is currently used on the Eurofighter Typhoon. It uses cutting edge jet technology to provide the initial thrust and the novel rocket impulse to achieve the 1,000 mph target. The hybrid engine is being tested by a scale model that is only 6 inches long.

What do they think of the progress so far?

Well Brian Chapman, who is the Project Leader for NPL, said:

“When you’re travelling at 1,000 mph you don’t want to be worrying about your motor holding out or whether your tyres are up to it. That’s why NPL – with FGE and AWE – have spent the last year looking at every eventuality for both the wheel and the rocket motor designs. We have been closely examining the effect that materials properties will have on the rocket performance, the size and weight the wheels need to be to sustain the speed, and environmental effects such as a high speed impact with a small piece of debris could have. We’re confident that our work will help to ensure that Richard and Andy are able to safely oversee another successful world record attempt for the UK, and go faster than ever before.”

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Robot Wheelchairs May Soon Be Wheeling Down a Hallway Near You

Robot Wheelchairs May Soon Be Wheeling Down a Hallway Near You

MIT WheelchairMIT based researchers are developing an intelligent robot wheelchair that can learn the locations a user wants to go to and automatically take the user there with a simple verbal command. For example you could say “Bathroom” or “Family Room” and the wheelchair would bring you there without needing to be pushed by a either a second person or the wheelchairs user.

Currently, the prototype relies on a WiFi system to make its maps and then navigate, which requires a retrofit for the facility is question. The system would match places with names by being given a 1 time guided tour of the facility in which the user states the name of each room as they enter it. This allows for the customization of the system to user as it sets to their voice and name for the room.

Outdoors, the system would use a combination of GPS and laser range finders to help the chair to navigate from place to place. As the research progresses a collision-avoidance system may be added to the chair in order to avoid accidents.

The project is a collaboration between MIT’s AgeLab, The Robotics, Vision, and Sensor Networks (RVSN) group and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). It is being funded by both the Nokia and the Microsoft corporations.

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Cyberdyne Exoskeleton Suit Available To Public Soon

Cyberdyne Exoskeleton Suit Available To Public Soon

HAL SuitNo, no, not that Cyberdyne that creates SkyNet and terminates the human race into near extinction. It’s a Japanese company that invented the HAL, or Hybrid Assistive Limb, a computerized robot suit with sensors that read brain signals directing limb movement through the skin.

A 22 pound battery operated computer system is equipped on the waist which powers the advanced exoskeleton’s mechanical limbs. Sensors capture brain signals and relay them to robotic parts such as leg braces attached to the thighs and knees. These parts then provide assistance to people as they perform actions such as walking or lifting.

The initial version will be for the legs only — a demo video showed a partially paralyzed person getting up from a chair and slowly walking in the HAL suit. Other videos have shown versions in which wearers of the suit can lift heavy objects.

Yoshiyuki Sankai, designer of HAL and chief executive of Cyberdyne, said a full device that covers the entire body will also be available, although there is no clear release date to the public yet. Sankai has refused requests from military entities to use the HAL and states that the technology is devoted to social welfare purposes only.

HAL is available in three sizes and will cost $2,200 per month to rent starting Friday. A one leg version is also available for $1,500 per month. There is no word when the suit will be available for ownership purchase.

The only thing we’re concerned about here at FutureNerd is if someone is carrying some ridiculously heavy object and then the HAL’s battery dies on him or her. Ouch. Better implement a battery warning signal.

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