TOKYO--Robots and remote-controlled heavy machinery finally got to work at the crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in an effort to minimize human exposure to radiation as Japan raised the severity of the disaster from 5 to 7, putting it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.
A month after the 9.0-magnitude March 11 earthquake, operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) deployed three remote-controlled excavators equipped with cameras to clear radioactive debris around the unit 3 reactor, according to a Tepco spokeswoman.
The excavators were donated by two Japanese construction companies. Remote-operated power loaders sent to Japan by Qinetiq North America … Read more
"Fire the laser!" may sound like something straight out of "Star Wars," but that phrase could one day be common on U.S. Navy ships.
Northrop Grumman and the Office of Naval Research recently concluded a series of successful solid-state laser defense firing tests aboard the decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer USS Paul F. Foster (a remotely driven self-defense test ship). The Maritime Laser Demonstrator zapped away at an assortment of objectives at the Pacific Ocean Test Range off the central California coast, including land-based targets and remotely driven small boats that traveled at various speeds.
It was the first time a laser of such strength had been fired from a moving ship at sea. This is also the first system to be integrated with a Navy ship's radar and navigation system, ensuring a much higher level of accuracy. The U.S. Navy collaborated with the Office of the Secretary of Defense's High Energy Joint Technology Office and the Army's Joint High Powered Solid State Laser program to bring this once-imagined weapon to life. … Read more
NEW HAVEN, Conn.--In an ambitious attempt to replicate nature, various researchers are seeking to create fuels from water and sunlight, much the way plants do.
California Institute of Technology professor Nate Lewis on Saturday gave a snapshot of the "swing for the fences" research his lab is pursuing to make fuels directly from water and sunlight. Caltech last year was picked as the lead for a newly created Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) to run the Department of Energy's Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub.
During a talk at the Yale Climate & Energy Institute's annual conference, Lewis described the concepts driving his research and what form a solar fuel generator could take.
The sun is the largest source of energy, but storing solar energy with conventional means, such as batteries, is very expensive, he said. The notion behind his research is to store solar energy in the chemical bonds of fuels. Light-duty transportation will move toward electric vehicles because they are more efficient than internal combustion engines, but there is still a need for liquid fuels in other forms of transportation or to generate power when there is no sun.
"It's inevitable that we will find a way to efficiently take the biggest energy source we have in the sun and store it in chemical fuels, thereby obviating the storage problem, thereby having a drop-in replacement fuel, and thereby solving the (fuel) infrastructure problem," he said. "We are going to do this. The question is how fast and how soon." … Read more
For conspiracy theorists, it sounded like a giant step closer to their "Eureka" moment.
Earlier, the British publication The Sun set the ticker hopping with a report that "real-life FBI X-Files have emerged sensationally claiming flying saucers piloted by aliens did crash on Earth." The Telegraph published a similar piece and the Internet did the rest. It wasn't long before their lead was followed by dozens of other publications around the world.
A call to the FBI may have helped, where the only news at the agency's Washington headquarters was that traffic to its … Read more
Sure, Bobby Boy Scout can tie a square knot and start a fire using flint and steel, but can he build a robot? If so, he'll now be able to sew a robotics merit badge to his sash.
The badge is part of the Boy Scouts of America's new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum. One of 31 STEM-related merit badges, it's a nod to robots' increasingly wide-reaching impact and part of the BSA's ongoing attempt to teach its ranks relevant skills.
"While the guiding principles of scouting--service to others, leadership, personal achievement, and respect for the outdoors--will never change, we continue to adapt programs to prepare young people for success in all areas of life," BSA Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca said in a statement.
Earning the bot badge will mean a scout not only has a handle on actuators, sensors, and programming, but on the myriad ways robots are tightening their metallic grip. … Read more
In this week's episode of Crave, Eric and Donald break out of the podcast studio and follow the trail of vodka and servos to BarBot 2011, an expo of cocktail robotics. Based on Vienna's annual Roboexotica festival (a government-funded exercise in motor-controlled hedonism that runs four days), San Francisco's BarBot is equal parts science fair and nerd cocktail party. Highlights included the White Russian Hippie Maker, the Drink Making Unit 2.0, iLush 2, and the gravity-defying Cosmobot 2.0.
Usually, when someone says "this is the coolest thing I've ever seen," you know that no matter what they're looking at, they're resorting to a little hyperbole.
But today, when I saw two videos taken from the window seat of a Virgin America flight that show Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo flying alongside in tandem (give the video about 35 seconds before the spaceship appears), my reaction was, well, "this is the coolest thing I've ever seen."
And that was before hearing the audio of the person shooting the video saying … Read more
The three-year wait for a recreational jetpack may be almost over--assuming regulators give their approval.
New Zealand's Martin Aircraft said that its Martin Jetpack--which has a 200-horsepower piston gasoline engine that powers a couple of ducted fans--remained aloft for more than seven minutes in its latest test. That may not be enough time to get you to the store and back, but it represents a record.
A man on the ground flew the Martin Jetpack by radio control; a weighted dummy, "Jetson," served as the pilot. No mention yet on an updated timetable for putting a human through a rigorous series of test runs, though the company has previously said that it's on track to do just that sometime in the current quarter.
The jetpack itself is 5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide and made of a carbon fiber composite with a pinch of Kevlar for the rotor. It uses regular gasoline and will travel a grand distance of 31.5 miles at a maximum speed of 63 mph, which should comfortably take you from home to office (and back) in a jiffy, and with a lot of noise. … Read more
Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, plans to build a commercial heavy-lift rocket that will carry more than twice the payload of existing large rockets at one-third the cost. That would lower the price of delivering cargo to low-Earth orbit to the long-sought, and so far mythical, $1,000-per-pound range, the company's founder and chief designer announced today.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the Falcon Heavy--made up of three Falcon 9 core stages powered by 27 upgraded Merlin engines and generating a combined 3.8 million pounds of thrust--will be ready for its initial test flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., late next year or early 2013.
It will be the most powerful U.S. launcher since NASA's Saturn 5 moon rocket. NASA is exploring options for an even more powerful, congressionally mandated "super heavy-lift rocket" for use in deep space exploration, but it's not yet clear when that vehicle will fly or what its mission will be.
Musk said he expects initial demand to reach 10 Falcon Heavy launches a year if the test flight and subsequent launches go well. Potential customers include commercial satellite operators, NASA, and the military. Musk added that the military currently plans to spend some $1.74 billion on four Air Force launches in 2012 at an average cost of $435 million per flight.
SpaceX's single-core Falcon 9 rocket is available commercially for between $50 million and $60 million, the company said in a statement, while the new Falcon Heavy will cost between $80 million and $125 million, depending on requirements.
"Falcon Heavy represents a huge economic advantage," Musk said. "Falcon Heavy costs about a third as much per flight as a Delta 4 Heavy, but carries twice as much payload to orbit. So it's effectively a six-fold improvement in the cost per pound to orbit. In fact, Falcon Heavy sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit of around about $1,000. That's a pretty huge leap in capability."… Read more
The space shuttle program may be drawing to a close, but a little bit to the south of the Kennedy Space Center, some young Puerto Ricans could represent our greatest hope for the future of the space program.
Teams from the island territory swept the top honors in NASA's 18th annual Great Moonbuggy Race held over the weekend. Teams representing Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, took the top two places in the high school division, and the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao won its second straight title in the college division.
NASA describes the competition as challenging "students around the world to build and race lightweight, human-powered buggies--demonstrating the same innovation and can-do spirit that put the first Apollo-era lunar rover on the moon four decades ago." Check out this footage:… Read more