By next fall, NASA plans to launch its biggest Red Planet rover yet, the $1.8-billion, SUV-size Mars Research Laboratory. Even though the MRL will be able to haul five times as much equipment as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that are already on Mars, a group of Swedish researchers say that they could accomplish far more if accompanied by a squad of helper ’bots. Fredrik Bruhn, the CEO of Ångström Aerospace Corporation, and his colleagues have designed the small inflatable scouts to assist bigger, less mobile rovers in their hunt for signs of microbial life on Mars.
Big problem, small budget? Tap the affordable talents of brainy undergrads
By Patrick DiJusto
Posted 09.15.2008 at 4:23 pm 3 Comments
Big-money competitions—like the $25-million Virgin Earth Challenge to suck carbon from the atmosphere and the $10-million Progressive Automotive X Prize to build a 100mpg car—are a great way to inspire life-changing technologies. Winning strokes the ego, of course, and eight-figure prize money is also a good lure. But what if you need some innovative ideas, only you don’t have a lot of prize money to throw around? Hand out course credit instead.
GPS devices are cheap, reliable and easy-to-use, but they’ve long been missing a dead-obvious feature: the ability to import a route or list of stops created on a computer. It’s far easier to plan a drive on Google Maps or MapQuest, where you can visualize the whole route and browse for cool pitstops, than it is to do so on a device’s small screen.
In 2003, a program funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) known as MONTAGE asked universities to find ways to squeeze unprecedented levels of magnification and resolution from small, super-thin lenses—technology that could be used in future imaging devices for finding, tracking, and identifying military targets. With some advice from his adviser Joseph Ford, UCSD graduate student Eric Tremblay decided to use an old idea—“folding” light, or reflecting it over and over—to solve the problem.
American soldiers have a bevy of hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicles to choose from these days, but nothing quite as nimble, lightweight and cheap as the Stevens Institute of Technology’s unmanned helicopter. The chopper would allow soldiers to check tall buildings for enemies by flying the camera-equipped, remote-controlled helicopter up staircases and into hidden corners before they go in. The four-pound prototype is made of a doughnut-shaped fiberglass shell 18 inches in diameter; inside, two counter-rotating 14-inch rotors create lift.
Agriculture is broken. Traditional techniques use too much energy and produce too little food for our growing planet. One fix: skyscrapers filled with robotically tended hydroponic crops and lab-grown meat
When MIT professor Hal Abelson heard that Google was about to release the software-development kit for its free, open-source Android mobile-phone operating system, he immediately decided to teach a class that would design programs for it. “Android is about to change people’s experience of what they can do with computers,” he says, because the computers in our cellphones will soon be the ones we use the most. These seven applications, developed by students in Abelson’s class, show what Android-equipped phones will be able to do.
About 230 years ago, molten lead that rained from the sky—historically something to avoid at all costs—became a clever new way to manufacture an important commodity: shotgun ammo.
Precisely round pellets fly straighter, but casting each in its own 1/8-inch mold isn’t exactly mass production. In space, making them would be easy. In zero gravity, surface tension pulls any liquid into a sphere, the shape with the least surface area for a given volume.
On May 4, 2007, a two-mile-wide F5 tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, Kansas, leaving two thirds of the town’s 1,500 inhabitants homeless. Many thought the town was finished. But in fact, the townspeople decided to rebuild using the greenest, most forward-thinking materials and construction methods possible.
Want a new cellphone? Just press a button. What looks like painted artwork on the Hitachi W61H phone is actually a new E-Ink screen. Unlike LCDs that add bulk to a device, manufacturers can add these screens—just twice the thickness of a hair—as if they were stickers.
“Design for extreme environments” sounds like a new cable show, but it’s actually a class at RISD that focuses on building habitats for truly challenging locations—like the moon. Last fall, NASA asked the students to design a mobile dwelling for its next manned mission to the moon, scheduled for 2020. “NASA wanted a rover that could house four people for two weeks in 24-hour sunlight,” says student Zack Kamen.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has a lot to learn about concussions. The National Football League can empathize. For decades the NFL has faced similar questions on prevention, diagnosis, treatment and long term effects. With a concussion occurring approximately every other game, research efforts benefit from an ample and growing population. Recognizing the value in such uniquely willing lab rats, the DOD hopes to steal a few ideas from the league’s playbook.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.