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March 24, 2006, 0:08 AM CT

European Robotics Under The Spotlight

European Robotics Under The Spotlight
The ExoMars rover will be ESA's field biologist on Mars. Its aim is to further characterise the biological environment on Mars in preparation for robotic missions and then human exploration. This mission calls for the development of a Mars orbiter
The European Robotic Arm (ERA) will be delivered to Russia this summer in preparation for a launch to the ISS in 2007. ESA and Dutch Space have organised the European Robotics Media Day for 5 April to provide the media with the opportunity to become acquainted with ERA and the engineers behind this ambitious project.

After its launch in November 2007, the 11-metre long robotic arm will perform a variety of tasks outside the ISS. With the ability to move up to 8 tonnes of equipment, ERA will play a key role in the continued construction of the ISS and will be used to move experimental equipment to different external locations. In addition, ERA will be used to move astronauts and cosmonauts around during spacewalks and use its video cameras to carry out inspections of external space station surfaces. ERA therefore has an important role to play in the maintenance and scientific utilisation of the ISS.

These uses of ERA highlight the impact that robotics has on human spaceflight missions. Robotic equipment can be used to undertake certain work in the harsh environment of space that is not suitable or possible to be carried out by astronauts, and also assists astronauts in a range of tasks to help reduce the amount of time needed for spacewalk activities.

Along with the European Columbus laboratory and the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), ERA is one of ESA's main contributions to the ISS. With its seven joints and an impressive concentration of tools and electronics, the robotic arm has the flexibility to move hand-over- hand between fixed base points around the Russian segment of the International Space Station in order to perform its tasks. This flexibility is added to by the fact that ERA can be operated from inside or outside the ISS and can be controlled either in real-time or pre-programmed.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source

March 22, 2006, 10:48 PM CT

Airplanes That Morph

Airplanes That Morph
Picture a bird, effortlessly adjusting its wings to catch every current of air. Airplanes that could do the same would have many advantages over today's flying machines, including increased fuel efficiency.

Now MIT engineers report they may have found a way for structures -- and materials -- to move in this way, essentially morphing from one shape into another.

The discovery could lead to an airplane that morphs on demand from the shape that is most energy efficient to another better suited to agility, or to a boat whose hull changes shape to allow more efficient movement in choppy, calm or shallow waters.

This science-fiction outcome, in the works for 20 years, has been unobtainable with such conventional devices as hydraulics, which aren't practical for a variety of reasons -- from cost to weight to ease of movement.

MIT's work involves a new application of a familiar device: the rechargeable battery. Papers describing the team's progress appeared earlier this year in Advanced Functional Materials and Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters.

Batteries expand and contract as they are charged and recharged. "This has generally been thought to be something detrimental to batteries. But I thought we could use this behavior to another end: the actuation, or movement, of large-scale structures," said Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE).........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 22, 2006, 5:46 PM CT

Electrically Heated Undershirts

Electrically Heated Undershirts
Winter chills are unbearable, particularly if have to endure them after a nice warm shower in the morning. I don't know anyone who admits to loving cold weather, eventhough I suspect there is such a person out there. For thin-skinned folks like me that wear three layers of clothing even when the weather is in the 60's, you'd like to know about a German company called WarmX that has introduced a line of electrically heated clothing. Their first product is a unisex undershirt with a silver plated thread of polymide knitted around the waist that contains a mini power-controller that regulates temperature.

These silvered fibres integrated into the jersey are supplied by a small battery with electricity. The jersey warms up itself directly on the skin - completely without heating wires. The temperature has three settings, and it's powered by a rechargable lithium battery that lasts 2 to 5 hours. Now you can peel the layers off during winter without compromising your bodies temperature.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 21, 2006, 9:52 PM CT

Metal Detector To Study Human Disease

Metal Detector To Study Human Disease
Zinc may be a familiar dietary supplement to millions of health-conscious people, but it remains a mystery metal to scientists who study zinc's role in Alzheimer's disease, stroke and other health problems.

They are just beginning to fathom how the body keeps levels of zinc under the precise control that spells the difference between health and disease.

Researchers now have developed a biochemical metal detector to help crack the mystery. It is a biosensor that has yielded the first measurements of the tiny amounts of zinc ordinarily present inside living cells.

The study appears in the current issue of ACS Chemical Biology, the newest of 34 journals published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific organization.

It was conducted by Rebecca A. Bozym and Richard B. Thompson, Ph.D. of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, and Andrea K. Stoddard and Carol A. Fierke, Ph.D. of the Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"The question of how much zinc is available in a cell has emerged at the forefront of chemical biology," Amy R. Barrios, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, wrote in an accompanying Point of View in ACS Chemical Biology.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 20, 2006, 8:06 PM CT

Atomic Clock Uses Ytterbium 'Pancakes'

Atomic Clock Uses Ytterbium 'Pancakes'
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) working with Russian colleagues have significantly improved the design of optical atomic clocks that hold thousands of atoms in a lattice made of intersecting laser beams. The design, in which ytterbium atoms oscillate or "tick" at optical frequencies, has the potential to be more stable and accurate than today's best time standards, which are based on microwaves at much lower frequencies. More accurate time standards could improve communications, enhance navigation systems, and enable new tests of physical theories, among other applications.

Described in two papers in the March 3 issue of Physical Review Letters,* the heart of the clock consists of about 1,000 pancake-shaped wells made of laser light and arranged in a single line, each containing about 10 atoms of the heavy metal ytterbium. The lattice design results in fewer systematic errors than optical atomic clocks using moving balls of cold atoms, and also offers advantages in parallel processing over other approaches using single charged atoms (ions). The optical lattice, created by an intense near-visible laser beam, is loaded by first slowing down the atoms with violet laser light and then using green laser light to further cool the atoms so that they can be captured. Scientists detect the atoms' "ticks" (518 quadrillion per second) by bathing them in yellow light at slightly different frequencies until they find the exact "resonant" frequency (or color) that the atoms absorb best.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 20, 2006, 7:52 PM CT

Using 'Minutiae' to Match Fingerprints

Using 'Minutiae' to Match Fingerprints Fingerprint image with four different minutiae points marked. Minutiae types shown are (from left) a bifurcation, ridge ending, core and delta.
A study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) shows that computerized systems that match fingerprints using interoperable minutiae templates-mathematical representations of a fingerprint image-can be highly accurate as an alternative to the full fingerprint image. NIST conducted the study, called the Minutiae Interoperability Exchange Test (MINEX), to determine whether fingerprint system vendors could successfully use a recently approved standard* for minutiae data rather than images of actual prints as the medium for exchanging data between different fingerprint matching systems.

Minutiae templates are a fraction of the size of fingerprint images, require less storage memory and can be transmitted electronically faster than images. However, the techniques used by vendors to convert fingerprint images to minutiae are generally proprietary and their systems do not work with each other.

For a number of years, law enforcement agencies have used automated fingerprint matching devices. Increasingly, smart cards-which include biometric information such as fingerprints-are being used to improve security at borders and at federal facilities. The increased use and the desire to limit storage space needed on these cards is driving the use of minutiae rather than full images.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 16, 2006, 11:04 PM CT

Helping Manufacturers To Improve the Environment Inside Buildings

Helping Manufacturers To Improve the Environment Inside Buildings Researcher Victor DeJesus adjusts a mannequin in the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s room-sized environmental test chamber.
As researchers learn more about the potentially harmful effects of indoor air pollution, nations around the world are imposing increasingly strict regulations on chemical emissions from furnishings, paints and building materials.

Using a new room-sized environmental test chamber, more than a dozen smaller chambers and a mass spectrometric center able to measure ultra-trace concentrations of airborne chemicals being emitted from products, researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are helping manufacturers meet those international standards to minimize emissions.

"We can help manufacturers address regulatory issues," said Charlene Bayer, principal research scientist in GTRI's Health and Environmental Systems Laboratory. "Because U.S. manufacturers sell their products worldwide, they must meet emission regulations imposed by nations in Europe and Asia. We make the measurements companies need to improve their products".

For example, the testing helps manufacturers of indoor furnishings select components that have lower emissions. It also helps textile and apparel companies choose fabric finishes that both survive cleaning and minimize emissions. And it helps makers of paints and other wall coverings select biocides and other chemical constituents with the least impact on the indoor environment.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 16, 2006, 10:56 PM CT

Optical-Wireless Convergence

Optical-Wireless Convergence
Telecommunications researchers have demonstrated a novel communications network design that would provide both ultra-high-speed wireless and wired access services from the same signals carried on a single optical fiber.

The new hybrid system could allow dual wired/wireless transmission of the same content such as high-definition television, data and voice up to 100 times faster than current networks. The new architecture would reduce the cost of providing dramatically improved service to conference centers, airports, hotels, shopping malls - and ultimately to homes and small offices.

"The same services would be provided to customers who would either plug into the wired connection in the wall or access the same information through a wireless system," explained Gee-Kung Chang, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "In an airport, for instance, a traveler could watch a movie, talk to a friend and work interactively through a wireless system or by plugging into the wall".

Chang described the network architecture and experimental demonstrations of it March 10th at the OFC/NFOEC optical conference in Anaheim, Calif. Chang, who holds the Byers Endowed Chair in Optical Networks at Georgia Tech, is also a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and a researcher at Georgia Tech Broadband Institute in the Georgia Centers for Advanced Telecommunications Technology (GCATT).........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 8, 2006, 9:51 PM CT

Tougher Electronic Components

Tougher Electronic Components
Like modern day alchemists, materials scientists often turn unassuming substances into desirable ones. But instead of working metal into gold, they create strange new compounds that could make the electronic components of the future smaller, faster, and more durable.

Alexander Goncharov of the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory and colleagues* have used extreme temperatures and pressures to make two durable compounds called noble metal nitrides; they are the first to succeed in making one of them, and the first to accurately determine the chemical formula of the other.

Both nitrides possess a diamond-like hardness, and some compositions might have very low, nearly superconductive electrical resistance-a blend that could prove quite valuable to industry.

The two nitrides-one containing iridium and another containing platinum-could eventually replace the titanium nitrides currently valued by the semiconductor industry as surface coatings because of their strength and durability. The researchers believe iridium and platinum nitrides might be even more durable. The group's work is presented in the March 3, 2006, issue of the journal Science.

Like several other metals such as gold, silver, and palladium, platinum and iridium are noble metals. Such metals are resistant to corrosion and oxidation, and do not easily form compounds with other elements unless coaxed to do so under very high temperatures and pressures. Goncharov and his colleagues used a special tool called a diamond anvil cell to compress the samples to nearly half a million times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. Then they used a focused laser to heat the samples to over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit, or roughly the temperature of a steel mill blast furnace. Under such extreme pressure and temperature the rules of chemistry begin to change, and noble metals can be made to form compounds with other elements such as nitrogen, as in the case of iridium and platinum nitrides.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

March 7, 2006, 8:51 PM CT

Electronic tags save millions

Electronic tags save millions
A scheme to electronically tag one of the basic tools of all manufacturers - the metal cages (stillages) used to transport components could save those manufacturers millions of pounds in lost equipment and lost production by ending the widespread stillage "disappearance" problem.

Manufacturers rely on hundreds of thousands of relatively simple but specially constructed cages or stillages to simply transport components from supplier to the right point on an assembly line.

A typical car manufacturing process can have 300 stillages in a loop for each component and 350 components on average per group of cars means that there can be over a 100,000 stillages in circulation servicing the production of just one group of cars in one factory. These huge numbers alone makes the management of that equipment a challenge but that challenge is compounded by the not uncommon problem of the "misplacement" of stillages.

Over 7 years a car manufacturer can expect to lose around 20% of its stillages - thousands of valuable cages to simply disappear. Some are believed to some how end up being sold for scrap metal before the end of their useful life - others seem to find their way into the supply chains of other products. And some are just abandoned in the corner of an unrelated manufacturing plant.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

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