Danny Pier wants to send a smartphone into space. An Android smartphone.
Why? Well, because. Also, he is concerned that U.S. space exploration might not be progressing apace. His parents and grandparents got to witness an astronaut land on the moon, while Pier, 25, worries that he will have to wait until 2035 to see a man step on an extraterrestrial surface (Mars, according to plans laid out by President Obama).
So while Piers waits for middle age, he wants to try shipping the first smartphone into the stratosphere as a symbol of his belief in the importance of … Read more
Robots that look like 1950s UFOs could start shimmying along thousands of miles of power lines in North America in the next few years. The high-wire acrobats would check for cable defects and problems like overgrown trees, eliminating the need for some human inspection, according to researchers at the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.
The prototype cable crawler is designed to be 140 pounds and 6 feet long, and moves on rollers at an average speed of about 3 mph. It will be able to navigate around pylons by using special cables.
The crawler will be covered by solar panels, … Read more
Japanese dam builder Hitachi Zosen has developed a seawater barrier that deploys automatically when tsunami waves approach shorelines.
It's based on Hitachi's air-powered flap gates, which lie at the bottom of harbors and close them off in the event of a major change in sea level.
Neo Rise (from "no energy, no operation, rising seawall") is set up on land. It runs on hydraulic power associated with riding tides and closes automatically, protecting … Read more
Bill Gates and other corporate figures say America's current energy strategy is hurting the economy, the environment, and national security and is asking the government to devote more money to fuel alternative energy.
The group, dubbed the American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC), released a detailed report on Thursday highlighting the problem and offering its own recommendations (PDF). Members of the group were due to meet with President Obama in the White House to discuss their concerns and possible remedies.
The group sees the energy challenge as more serious and much worse than most people realize, predicting a burden that will become more costly unless the U.S. can change its current energy policies.
In its findings, the group pointed out that the nation spends $80 billion a year on military research and $30 billion a year on health and medical R&D, but only around $5 billion each year on new energy R&D. With such a small amount of the national budget devoted toward energy research, the group believes the U.S. lags behind other countries in spending on alternative energy.… Read more
I doubt I'll be able to take a cool self-portrait in space like astronaut Garrett Reisman did last month, but NASA is giving me a chance to do the next best thing: put a digital image of my mug on one of the final two Space Shuttle missions scheduled for later this year.
The program's called Face in Space, and it's easy enough to join. You just sign up, pick your mission, upload your photo for free, and you're set.
You'll get a flight confirmation and shuttle updates in your inbox throughout the mission and … Read more
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a...swarm of giant Honeycomb cereal? Swiss researchers are developing a robotic platform consisting of multiple single-propeller machines that autonomously dock with each other and take flight.
The Distributed Flight Array, under development at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control (IDSC), may look like a kid's remote-controlled toy, but it's a neat example of swarm robotics.
Each vehicle is simply designed, with wheels for ground motion, one propeller, a computer, and infrared sensors that measure the flight angle. They join at random through magnetic links and drive around together.
When it's time to take off, the modules hover for a bit and then fly to a predetermined altitude. They exchange information over a network, maintaining level flight for the whole platform by adjusting individual thrust. As seen in the video below, the researchers seem barely able to regain control of their creation once it takes flight.
The IDSC researchers have shown in simulated and experimental tests that the array can work with anywhere from 2 to 20 propeller vehicles. But they've only flown up to 4 joined together so far.
When it's time to return to the ground, the modules come apart. Their sturdy plastic construction can withstand the impact of a fall from more than 6 feet.
The IDSC group has been developing the array since 2008. Last month, their study was named one of the best conference paper finalists at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Anchorage, Alaska.
The researchers don't mention possible applications for the Distributed Flight Array, but a glance at other IDSC projects such as the autonomously balancing cube shows the institute is open-minded enough to pursue whimsical, artistic endeavors when it comes to robots. Building a swarm of intelligent hunter-killer flying bots must be the farthest thing from their minds. … Read more
Last year Ford announced inflatable rear seatbelts, a new safety feature to appear in the 2011 Ford Explorer. Ford brought its demonstration module for the seatbelts to San Francisco, and we gave them a try.
The module included one seat with an undeployed seatbelt airbag and the other seat with the demonstration seatbelt. We sat in that seat and fastened the shoulder harness. Instead of the explosive deployment that would happen in a real crash, the seatbelt airbag gently inflated until it rested like a giant yellow slug across our chest. Deployed, it felt quite comfortable.
The airbag resides inside the seatbelt strap. In an accident, the airbag fills with gas fed through the seatbelt latch, causing the strap to open up.
Ford says the seatbelt airbags are programmed to inflate at a lower impact force than would cause the front airbags to deploy, although the seatbelt airbags are also much less traumatic than the front airbags. After a deployment, getting the seatbelt airbags restored to usable condition involves a trip to the dealer. But Ford pointed out that any time the seatbelt pretensioners activate the dealer also has to restore them to operating condition. … Read more
Japanese construction company Shimizu likes to dream big. Big as in ringing the moon with solar panels and beaming the energy to Earth. But in light of Tokyo's plans to build a $2 billion robot moon base, Shimizu's recent ideas for futuristic engineering projects, including the construction of pyramid cities, seem a little less far-fetched.
Shimizu's "Proposals to Benefit Future Generations" include an offshore pyramid city, home to 750,000 people, that was featured in Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering, seen in the video below. The pyramid would be the largest structure on the planet, … Read more
There were some techies Monday who believed they experienced a sighting of God somewhere in San Francisco.
Those people might care to hark at deeply relevant news. God will be defeated by science. No, not by faltering Wi-Fi systems at a conference. And, no, these are not my words. This is the considered opinion of someone sometimes referred to as the cleverest man in the world, Stephen Hawking.
In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, due to air Monday evening, Hawking expounded upon the largest questions, those that transcend iPhones and androids: Can science and God live happily ever … Read more