Posts belonging to Category DARPA

How To Clean Nuclear Waste

Cleaning up radioactive waste is a dangerous job for a human. That’s why researchers at the University of  Manchester are developing robots that could do the job for us. Five years ago, in 2011, a major earthquake and tsunami devastated the east coast of Japan, leading to explosions and subsequent radiation release at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The fuel in three of the reactors is believed to have melted, causing a large amount of contaminated water on site.

This is still to be dealt with today – which isn’t too surprising, given that the clean-up of Chernobyl is still underway 30 years after the infamous nuclear accident took place. After the accident at Chernobyl, where an extremely high level of radiation was released, workers had to be sent into areas to which you wouldn’t want to send a human being. For the safety of others, they entered the plant to survey its condition, extinguish fires and manually operate equipment and machinery – all in an environment that endangered their lives. The challenge in dismantling the site at Fukushima is the residual radiation level. In the surrounding areas levels have fallen significantly; in some places (still off limits to former residents) radiation levels actually aren’t very different from natural background levels in certain other parts of the world. But in the reactor itself a person would receive a lethal dose of radiation almost instantly.


At Fukushima, many of the instrumentation systems, such as reactor-water level and reactor pressure, were lost in the incident. This made assessing the integrity of the plant extremely difficult as you couldn’t send people to go and look at it,” explains Professor Barry Lennox, who, alongside Dr Simon Watson at The University of Manchester, is working to find another way of getting access to such dangerous places: by using robots. Professor Lennox and Dr Watson are part of a team working to adapt robots to help clean up Fukushima. They’re developing an underwater remote-operated vehicle – the AVEXIS – to help identify highly radioactive nuclear fuel that is believed to be dispersed underwater in the damaged reactor. The robot is already aiding decommissioning efforts at Sellafield, where it will swim around the ponds storing legacy waste to map and monitor the conditions within them.


Within 10 years Planes Could Move Up To 10 Times The Speed Of Sound

An average flight from Miami to Seattle takes about six hours and 40 minutes, but imagine being able to reduce that time to 50 minutes or less. A recent study by NASA and Binghamton University researchers could lead to a drastic decrease in flight times. The study, funded in part by the U.S. Air Force, is one of the first steps toward the creation of planes able to move at hypersonic speeds, five to 10 times the speed of soundBinghamton University Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Changhong Ke explained that there are currently quite a few obstacles when it comes to building these super planes. The first of which is finding a material that can hold up to hypersonic travel.

Our study used what are called boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs). NASA currently owns one of the few facilities in the world able to produce quality BNNTs.” Typically, carbon nanotubes have been used in planes for their strength — they’re stronger than steel — and their ability to conduct heat. However, BNNTs are the wave of the future when it comes to air travel. “While carbon nanotubes can stay stable at temperatures up to 400 degrees Celsius, our study found that BNNTs can withstand up to 900 degrees Celsius,” said Ke. BNNTs are also able to handle high amounts of stress and are extremely lightweight.

Withstanding high temperatures is an important requirement for any material meant to build the world’s next super planes, however, Ke clarified that the material has to be able to maintain both structural and mechanical properties in an oxygen environment. “We weren’t testing this material in a vacuum like what you would experience in space. Materials can withstand much higher temperatures in space. We wanted to see if BNNTs could hold up in the type of environment an average fighter jet or commercial plane would experience.”

While the study has brought new light to the strength and stability of BNNTs, their use on planes may not be a reality for another five to 10 years. “Right now, BNNTs cost about $1,000 per gram. It would be impractical to use a product that expensive,” added Ke. But, that does not mean it will never happen. Carbon nanotubes were about the same price 20 years ago. As more studies indicated the usefulness of carbon nanotubes, the production rates increased and prices went down to the current rate, between $10 and $20 per gram. Ke sees the same fate coming down the line for BNNTs.


How To Keep Warm In Extreme Cold Weather

Some of the winter weather gear worn by the US Army was designed 30 years ago. It’s heavy and can cause overheating during exertion, while also not doing a very good job of keeping the extremities from going numb.


That’s problematic if soldiers have to operate weapons as soon as they land,” said Paola D’Angelo, a research bioengineer at the US Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. “So we want to pursue this fundamental research to see if we can modify hand wear for that extreme cold weather.”

Scientists are developing smart fabrics that heat up when powered and can capture sweat. The work, which was presented at the 254th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, is based on research from Stanford University in California. A team embedded a network of very fine silver nanowires in cotton, and was able to heat the fabric by applying power to the wires. D’Angelo and her colleagues are working to extend the approach to other fabrics more suitable for military uniforms, including polyester and a cotton/nylon blend. By applying three volts – the output of a typical watch battery – to a one-inch square of fabric, they were able to raise its temperature by almost 40 degrees C. The researchers are also incorporating a layer of hydrogel particles made of polyethylene glycol that will absorb sweat and stop the other layers of the fabric from getting wet.

Once we have optimised the coating, we can start looking at scaling up,” said D’Angelo. The fabric has been tested with up to three washes and still works the same as unwashed fabric for most of the textiles being tested.


Chinese Quantum Satellite Sends ‘Unbreakable’ Code

China has sent an “unbreakablecode from a satellite to the Earth, marking the first time space-to-ground quantum key distribution technology has been realized, state media said. China launched the world’s first quantum satellite last August, to help establish “hack proofcommunications, a development the Pentagon has called a “notable advance“. The official Xinhua news agency said the latest experiment was published in the journal Nature, where reviewers called it a “milestone“.

The satellite sent quantum keys to ground stations in China between 645 km (400 miles) and 1,200 km (745 miles) away at a transmission rate up to 20 orders of magnitude more efficient than an optical fiber, Xinhua cited Pan Jianwei, lead scientist on the experiment from the state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying.

That, for instance, can meet the demand of making an absolute safe phone call or transmitting a large amount of bank data,” Pan said. Any attempt to eavesdrop on the quantum channel would introduce detectable disturbances to the system, Pan said. “Once intercepted or measured, the quantum state of the key will change, and the information being intercepted will self-destruct,” Xinhua said.

The news agency said there were “enormous prospects” for applying this new generation of communications in defense and finance.


Building Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System

IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) today announced they are collaborating on a first-of-a-kind brain-inspired supercomputing system powered by a 64-chip array of the IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System. The scalable platform IBM is building for AFRL will feature an end-to-end software ecosystem designed to enable deep neural-network learning and information discovery. The system’s advanced pattern recognition and sensory processing power will be the equivalent of 64 million neurons and 16 billion synapses, while the processor component will consume the energy equivalent of a dim light bulb – a mere 10 watts to power.
IBM researchers believe the brain-inspired, neural network design of TrueNorth will be far more efficient for pattern recognition and integrated sensory processing than systems powered by conventional chips. AFRL is investigating applications of the system in embedded, mobile, autonomous settings where, today, size, weight and power (SWaP) are key limiting factors. The IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System can efficiently convert data (such as images, video, audio and text) from multiple, distributed sensors into symbols in real time. AFRL will combine this “right-brain perception capability of the system with the “left-brain” symbol processing capabilities of conventional computer systems. The large scale of the system will enable both “data parallelism” where multiple data sources can be run in parallel against the same neural network and “model parallelism” where independent neural networks form an ensemble that can be run in parallel on the same data.


AFRL was the earliest adopter of TrueNorth for converting data into decisions,” said Daniel S. Goddard, director, information directorate, U.S. Air Force Research Lab. “The new neurosynaptic system will be used to enable new computing capabilities important to AFRL’s mission to explore, prototype and demonstrate high-impact, game-changing technologies that enable the Air Force and the nation to maintain its superior technical advantage.”

“The evolution of the IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System is a solid proof point in our quest to lead the industry in AI hardware innovation,” said Dharmendra S. Modha, IBM Fellow, chief scientist, brain-inspired computing, IBM Research – Almaden. “Over the last six years, IBM has expanded the number of neurons per system from 256 to more than 64 million – an 800 percent annual increase over six years.’’


Nanotechnology Spacecraft

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is proposing a nanotechnology spacecraft that can travel at a fifth of the speed of light. At that speed, it could reach the nearest star in 20 years and send back images of a suspected “Second Earth” within 5 years. That means if we launched it today, we would have our first look at an Earth-like planet within 25 years.

Hawking proposed a nano-spacecraft, termed “Star Chip,” at the Starmus Festival IV: Life And The Universe, Trondheim, Norway, June 18 – 23, 2017. Hawking told attendees that every time intelligent life evolves it annihilates itself with “war, disease and weapons of mass destruction.” He asserted this as the primary reason why advanced civilizations from another part of the Universe are not contacting Earth and the primary reason we need to leave the Earth. His advocates we colonize a “Second Earth.”

Scientific evidence appears to support Hawking’s claim. The SETI Institute has been listening for evidence of extraterrestrial radio signals, a sign of advanced extraterrestrial life, since 1984. To date, their efforts have been futile. SETI claims, rightly, that the universe is vast, and they are listening to only small sectors, which is much like finding a needle in a haystack.


Quantum Satellite Secures Communications

A Chinese quantum satellite has dispatched transmissions over a distance of 1,200 km (746 miles), a dozen times further than the previous record, a breakthrough in a technology that could be used to deliver secure messages, state media said on Friday.

China launched the world’s first quantum satellite last August, to help establish “hack proof” communications between space and the ground, state media said at the time.

The feat opens up “bright prospects” for quantum communications, said Pan Jianwei, the lead scientist of the Chinese team, Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The scientists exploited the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, in which a particle can affect a far-off twin instantly, somehow overcoming the long distance separating them, a situation termed “spooky action at a distance” by the Nobel-prize winning physicist Albert Einstein, Xinhua added.

The team had successfully distributed entangled photon pairs over 1,200 km, it said, outstripping the distance of up to 100 km (62 miles) at which entanglement had previously been achieved.

The technology so far is “the only way to establish secure keys between two distant locations on earth without relying on trustful relay,” Pan told Xinhua, referring to encrypted messages.

The new development “illustrates the possibility of a future global quantum communication network” the journal Science, which published the results of the Chinese team, said on its website.


Legally Blind People Can See With A New Kind Of Glasses

A Canadian company based in Toronto has suceeded to build a kind of Google glass that is able to give back full sight to legally blind people.  The eSight is an augmented reality headset that houses a high-speed, high-definition camera that captures everything the user is looking at.


Algorithms enhance the video feed and display it on two, OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes. Full color video images are clearly seen by the eSight user with unprecedented visual clarity and virtually no lag. With eSight’s patented Bioptic Tilt capability, users can adjust the device to the precise position that, for them, presents the best view of the video while maximizing side peripheral vision. This ensures a user’s balance and prevents nausea – common problems with other immersive technologies. A blind individual can use both of their hands while they use eSight to see. It is lightweight, worn comfortably around the eyes and designed for various environments and for use throughout the day.

eSight is a comprehensive customized medical device that can replace all the many single-task assistive devices that are currently available but do not provide actual sight (e.g. white canes, magnifying devices, service animals, Braille machines, CCTV scanners, text-to-speech software). It allows a user to instantly auto-focus between short-range vision (reading a book or text on a smartphone) to mid-range vision (seeing faces or watching TV) to long-range vision (looking down a hallway or outsidea window). It is the only device for the legally blind that enables mobility without causing issues of imbalance or nausea (common with other immersive options). A legally blind individual can use eSight not just to see while sitting down but while being independently mobile (e.g. walking, exercising, commuting, travelling, etc).

According to The Wall Street Journal, the company is taking advantages of recent improvements in technology from VR headsets and smartphones that have trickled down to improve the latest version of the eSight. So far, the company has sold roughly a thousand units, but at $10,000 apiece, they’re not cheap (and most insurances apparently don’t cover the product), although eSight’s chief executive Brian Mech notes to the WSJ that getting devices to users is “a battle we are starting to wage.”


Stephen Hawking Warns: Only 100 Years Left For Humankind Before Extinction

It’s no secret that physicist Stephen Hawking thinks humans are running out of time on planet Earth.

In a new BBC documentary, Hawking will test his theory that humankind must colonize another planet or perish in the next 100 years. The documentary Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth, will air this summer as part of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World season and will showcase that Hawking‘s aspiration “isn’t as fantastical as it sounds,” according to BBC.

For years, Hawking has warned that humankind faces a slew of threats ranging from climate change to destruction from nuclear war and genetically engineered viruses.

While things look bleak, there is some hope, according to Hawking. Humans must set their sights on another planet or perish on Earth.

We must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” Hawking said during a 2016 speech at Britain’s Oxford University Union. In the past, Hawking has suggested that humankind might not survive another 1000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.” The BBC documentary hints at an adjusted timeframe for colonization, which many may see in their lifetime.

How To Detect Nuclear Device

How to keep U.S. ports of entry safe and secure by detecting and interdicting illicit radioactive or nuclear materials? A team led by Northeastern’s Swastik Kar and Yung Joon Jung has developed a technology that could go a long way toward achieving that goal.

nuclear radiation

Our detector could dramatically change the manner and accuracy with which we are able to detect nuclear threats at home or abroad,” says Kar, associate professor in the Department of Physics. It could also help streamline radio-medicine, including radiation therapies and scanning diagnostics, boost the effectiveness of unmanned radiation monitoring vehicles in mapping and monitoring contaminated areas following disasters, and revolutionize radiometric imaging in space exploration. Made of graphene and carbon nanotubes, the researchers’ detector far outpaces any existing one in its ultrasensitivity to charged particles, minuscule size, low-power requirements, and low cost.

All radiation, of course, is not harmful, and even the type that may be depends on dosage and length of exposure. The word “radiation” refers simply to the emission and propagation of energy in the form of waves or particles. It has many sources, including the sun, electronic devices such as microwaves and cellphones, visible light, X-rays, gamma waves, cosmic waves, and nuclear fission, which is what produces power in nuclear reactors. Most of the harmful radiations are “ionizing radiations”—they have sufficient energy to remove electrons from the orbits of surrounding atoms, causing them to become charged, or “ionized.” It is those charged particles, or ions, that the detectors pick up and quantify, revealing the intensity of the radiation. Most current detectors, however, are not only bulky, power hungry, and expensive, they also cannot pick up very low levels of ions. Kar and Yung Joon’s detector, on the other hand, is so sensitive it can pick up just a single charged particle.

Our detectors are many orders of magnitude more sensitive in terms of how small a signal they can detect,” says Yung Joon, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “Ours can detect one ion, the fundamental limit. If you can detect a single ion, then you can detect everything larger than that.”


Your browsing history may be up for sale soon

A US House committee is set to vote on whether to kill privacy rules that would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers. Planned protections, proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have forced ISPs to get people’s consent before hawking their data – are now at risk. Here’s why it matters.

Your web browsing patterns contain a treasure trove of data, including your health concerns, shopping habits and visits to porn sites. ISPs can find out where you bank, your political views and sexual orientation simply based on the websites you visit. The fact that you’re looking at a website at all can also reveal when you’re at home and when you’re not.

spy your dataIf you ask the ISPs, it’s about showing the user more relevant advertising. They argue that web browsing history and app usage should not count as “sensitiveinformation.
Not all ISPs want to abolish the privacy protections. A list of several smaller providers – including, Cruzio Internet and Credo Mobile – have written to representatives to oppose the decision. “One of the cornerstones of our businesses is respecting the privacy of our customers,” they said.
How does this differ from the way Google and Facebook use our data?
It’s much harder to prevent ISPs from tracking your data. You can choose not to use Facebook or Google’s search engine, and there are lots of tools you can use to block their tracking on other parts of the web, for example EFF’s Privacy Badger.

Consumers are generally much more limited for choice of ISP, in some cases only having one option in a given geographical area. This means they can’t choose one of the ISPs pledging to protect user data.


A Brain-computer Interface To Combat The Rise of AI

Elon Musk is attempting to combat the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) with the launch of his latest venture, brain-computer interface company NeuralinkLittle is known about the startup, aside from what has been revealed in a Wall Street Journal report, but says sources have described it as “neural lace” technology that is being engineered by the company to allow humans to seamlessly communicate with technology without the need for an actual, physical interface. The company has also been registered in California as a medical research entity because Neuralink’s initial focus will be on using the described interface to help with the symptoms of chronic conditions, from epilepsy to depression. This is said to be similar to how deep brain stimulation controlled by an implant helps  Matt Eagles, who has Parkinson’s, manage his symptoms effectively. This is far from the first time Musk has shown an interest in merging man and machine. At a Tesla launch in Dubai earlier this year, the billionaire spoke about the need for humans to become cyborgs if we are to survive the rise of artificial intelligence.

cyborg woman

Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence,”CNBC reported him as saying at the time. “It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.” Transhumanism, the enhancement of humanity’s capabilities through science and technology, is already a living reality for many people, to varying degrees. Documentary-maker Rob Spence replaced one of his own eyes with a video camera in 2008; amputees are using prosthetics connected to their own nerves and controlled using electrical signals from the brain; implants are helping tetraplegics regain independence through the BrainGate project.

Former director of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Arati Prabhakar, comments: “From my perspective, which embraces a wide swathe of research disciplines, it seems clear that we humans are on a path to a more symbiotic union with our machines.