One of the reasons we don’t yet have self-driving cars and miniature helicopters delivering online purchases is that autonomous vehicles tend not to perform well under pressure. A system that can flawlessly parallel park at 5 mph may have trouble avoiding obstacles at 35 mph. Part of the problem is the time it takes to produce and interpret camera data.
The SuperDraco thruster, an engine that will power SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to orbit, has completed a test regimen held over the last month at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in Texas. This qualification test involves a variety of conditions conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures.
Solar panels made in China have a higher overall carbon footprint and are likely to use substantially more energy during manufacturing than those made in Europe, said a new study from Northwestern Univ. and Argonne National Laboratory. The report compared energy and greenhouse gas emissions that go into the manufacturing process of solar panels in Europe and China.
At this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, a research team introduced a new wrinkle on the idea of printable robots: bakable robots. In two new papers, the researchers demonstrate the promise of printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into prescribed 3-D configurations.
A new twist on 3-D imaging technology could one day enable your self-driving car to spot a child in the street half a block away or play “virtual tennis” on your driveway. The new system, developed by researchers at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, can remotely sense objects across distances as long as 30 feet, 10 times farther than what could be done with comparable current low-power laser systems.
Saudi Arabian-based petrochemical company SABIC and Cima NanoTech have announced the joint development of a new transparent conductive polycarbonate film. The collaboration leverages both Cima NanoTech’s proprietary SANTE nanoparticle technology and SABIC’s LEXAN film to produce a film that outperforms indium tin oxide by a factor of ten.
With a growing number of consumers demanding more earth-friendly practices from the fashion world, scientists are developing new ways to produce textiles that could help meet rising expectations. They report in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research one such method that can dramatically reduce the amount of energy it takes to bleach cotton while improving the quality of the popular material.
Although the potential uses for graphene seem limitless, there has been no easy way to scale up from microscopic to large-scale applications without introducing defects. Researchers in Chicago and Korea have recently developed a supersonic spray system that produces very small droplets of graphene which disperse evenly, evaporate rapidly, and reduce aggregation tendencies. And, to the researchers’ surprise, it also eliminates defects.
Using a doped-graphene matrix to slow down and then trap atoms of the precious metal osmium, researchers in the U.K. have shown the ability to control and quantify the growth of metal-crystals. When the trapped atoms come into contact with further osmium atoms they bind together, eventually growing into 3-D metal-crystals. They have called this new technique nanocrystallometry.
Researchers at NIST have developed a laser-based instrument that generates artificial sunlight to help test solar cell properties and find ways to boost their efficiency. The novel NIST system simulates sunlight well across a broad spectrum of visible to infrared light. More flexible than conventional solar simulators, the laser instrument can be focused down to a small beam spot and shaped to match any desired spectral profile.
According to new research from Sweden, two aircraft engine concepts, a geared turbofan and an open rotor, can enable a significant reduction to aircraft fuel consumption. With an open rotor, the potential reduction is 15%. An open rotor engine generates most of the thrust from two counter-rotating propellers instead of a ducted fan. This enables a larger engine diameter and a higher propulsive efficiency.
Fancy Erector Set? Nope. The elaborate fractal structure shown at left is many, many times smaller than that and is certainly not child's play. It’s the latest example of a fractal nanotruss—nano because the structures are made up of members that are as thin as 5 nm; truss because they are carefully architected structures that might one day be used in structural engineering materials.
In response to requests from the semiconductor industry, a team of researchers at the Physical Measurement Laboratory has demonstrated that atomic force microscope probe tips made from its near-perfect gallium nitride nanowires are superior in many respects to standard silicon or platinum tips. They also found a way to use the tips as LEDs to illuminate sample regions while scanning.
Graphene’s promise as a material for new kinds of electronic devices, among other uses, has led researchers around the world to study the material in search of new applications. But one of the biggest limitations to wider use of the strong, lightweight, highly conductive material has been the hurdle of fabrication on an industrial scale.
Automated guided vehicles—or AGVs—are robotic versions of draft animals, hauling heavy loads and navigating their way in factories, distribution centers, ports and other facilities. These modern beasts of burden are evolving so rapidly in capabilities and electronic intelligence that the need for the equivalent of standardized performance testing has become apriority for the fast-growing AGV industry and its customers.
Scientists from the Biorobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) at EPFL in Switzerland have developed small robotic modules that can change their shape to create reconfigurable furniture. Like Lego bricks, these robotic pieces, or Roombots, can be stacked upon each other to create various structures. Each piece has three motors that allow the module to pivot with three degrees of freedom, and each also has a battery and wireless connection.
Although lubricants for machinery are widely used, almost no fundamental innovations for this type of product has been made in the last 20 years, according researchers in Germany who have been working on a new class of lubricating substance. Their new liquid crystalline lubricant enable nearly frictionless sliding because although it is a liquid, the molecules display directional properties like crystals do.
Now researchers have developed a new way to measure the thickness of paint layers and the size of particles embedded inside. A technique called terahertz reflectometry is used to characterize coats of paint without damaging them. No other current methods can do this successfully, and the technique could be useful for a variety of applications from cars to cancer detection.
A team in Texas has built the smallest, fastest and longest-running tiny synthetic motor to date. The reliable, 18,000-rpm device can convert electrical energy into mechanical motion on a scale 500 times smaller than a grain of salt. Made from three parts, the nanomotor can rapidly mix and pump biochemicals and move through liquids.
Modern supercapacitors store ten times less energy than a lithium-ion battery but can last a thousand times longer. The main drawback of supercapacitors, however, is the inability to cope with stresses such as pressure and vibration. Researchers have developed a new supercapacitor that operates flawlessly in storing and releasing electrical charge while subject to stresses or pressures up to 44 psi and vibrational accelerations over 80 g.
Scientists at IBM Research have used a new “computational chemistry” hybrid approach to accelerate the materials discovery process that couples laboratory experimentation with the use of high-performance computing. The new polymers are the first to demonstrate resistance to cracking, strength higher than bone, the ability to reform to their original shape (self-heal), and the ability to be completely recycled back to the starting material.
When making cellulosic ethanol from plants, one problem is what to do with a woody agricultural waste product called lignin. The old adage in the pulp industry has been that one can make anything from lignin except money. A new review article in Science points the way toward a future where lignin is transformed from a waste product into valuable materials such as low-cost carbon fiber for cars or bio-based plastics.
Scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have increased the energy efficiency of a piezoelectric nanogenerator by almost 40 times, moving it closer to commercial flexible energy harvesters that can supply power infinitely to wearable, implantable electronic devices. The technique used to make this improvement, laser lift-off, allows the placement of a high-quality piezoelectric film on a sapphire substrate.
A new approach to integrated circuits, combining atoms of semiconductor materials into nanowires and structures on top of silicon surfaces, shows promise for a new generation of fast, robust electronic and photonic devices. Engineers in California have recently demonstrated 3-D nanowire transistors using this approach that open exciting opportunities for integrating other semiconductors, such as gallium nitride, on silicon substrates.
Scientists at NASA Langley Research Center have developed a new material technology that alters a surface’s topography and chemistry to promote or mitigate adhesion. LaRC is holding a workshop and meeting on May 22 that explains how these newly available materials work to enhance or remove adhesion. Manufacturers and developers are welcome to attend.