Aluminum soldering techniques help build anti-piracy robot

Thanks in part to highly effective aluminum soldering techniques, a state-of-the-art robot could help save the lives of Naval officers boarding vessels that are suspected of smuggling, embargo violations or piracy, according to Popular Mechanics.

The Stingray weighs about three pounds and can be used by U.S. Navy Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams to avoid potentially deadly booby traps or assaults by a ship’s crew. It is made of a carbon-fiber and aluminum chassis and can be tossed down the “ladder of death” into the depths of a vessel before sailors themselves make the descent.

Made to be extremely durable and waterproof, the Stingray can be tossed from one compartment to the next without being damaged, so its video camera can alert the VBSS team of any obstacles or hostiles in the area. It is even equipped with a strobing light that can be used to simulate the visual disorientation one would feel with a flashbang grenade.Then, the team would have a tactical advantage over any adversaries planning to engage them in combat.

“It functions similarly to flashbang grenades, without the audio portion, but is reusable,” Hoa Nguyen, one of the Stingray’s developers from the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, told the news source. “It is meant to temporarily blind the hostile personnel in a confined, dark space.”

By understanding advanced techniques of how to bond aluminum to other materials, researchers were able to build a robotic system that will help save American military lives and make international waters safer from pirates, smugglers and their ilk.

As we continue to innovate new ways of joining dissimilar metals and various other substances, the potential for saving lives will grow exponentially.

New satellite initiative hinges on thermal management technologies

Cutting-edge thermal management technologies are being sought by the research and development arm of the Pentagon in an effort to salvage usable components from decommissioned satellites currently orbiting the Earth.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is spearheading the program known as Phoenix.

“The goal of the Phoenix program is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively harvest and reuse valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in [geosynchronous orbit] and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost,” the agency said in a press statement. “Phoenix seeks to demonstrate around-the-clock, globally persistent communication capability for warfighters more economically, by robotically removing and re-using GEO-based space apertures and antennas from decommissioned satellites in the graveyard or disposal orbit.”

According to DARPA’s official outline of the Phoenix program, there are a number of areas in which they are looking for innovative technologies that can help the project succeed. This includes a wide range of extremely powerful micro-electronic components and memory storage systems. These must be able to withstand the various forms of radiation commonly found in space.

Between the radiation and the heat generated by the components themselves, DARPA is placing significant emphasis on the need for thermal management of electronics technologies that are up to the challenge. Then – equipped with a series of sensors, diagnostic and robotic tools – very small satellites, dubbed “satlets,” can assess parts of decommissioned satellites and recover them for use in other active ones.

If successful, we could see myriad benefits, from improved connectivity for military personnel in the field to drastically reduced costs associated with global satellite communications.

Qualcomm head talks future of wireless and mobile technologies

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs recently sat down with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Charlie Rose to discuss the past, present and future of mobile computing. According to Jacobs, 5 billion smartphones will be sold worldwide between now and 2016 – and none of that would be possible without innovative thermal management technologies.

Jacobs reminisced about the early days of mobile computing and how Steve Jobs, the late co-founder, CEO and visionary that built the Apple empire, served as its catalyst. Now, the future potential of such personal electronic devices is staggering.

“Then I look out even farther into the future and I say, boy, this wireless technology is going to be an enabling technology for a lot of other industries,” he told the news source. “And one of the areas that we’re really focused on is [healthcare]. The idea is that the phone is going to sit at the center of a web of sensors that you’ll have on your body. You may actually even have them inside your body.”

Jacobs went on to offer some hints at a new technology being worked on that would actually place sensors inside a human being’s blood stream and provide early warnings of possible health complications like heart attacks.

Whatever the future holds, Jacobs is right about at least one thing. Wireless technology is indeed an enabling technology. The paradigm-shifting innovations that have been made in the development of semiconductors and the soldering solutions that allow them to be pack a powerful punch into such small devices affects virtually every industry today.

Cutting-edge thermal management of electronics allows them to deliver unparalleled computing power in the palm of one’s hand. As leading minds in the industrial sciences continue to make breakthroughs, wireless and mobile technology will not only continue to enable advancements in existing markets, but likely lead to the creation of entirely new industries.

Naval researchers use new sensors to detect explosives, dangerous chemicals

In the modern combat arena, United States military personnel are under constant threat from an enemy lying in wait. IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, are strategically placed along roadsides and in buildings where they can cause the most destruction and take as many lives as possible. But, thanks to the development of new state-of-the-art sensors, scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are hoping to help the armed forces defeat this menacing foe.

As Dr. Chris Field explains in a video for Tech Briefs TV, the SiN-VAPOR sensor is about the size of a quarter and could be attached to mobile devices, like smartphones, and carried onto the battlefield. SiN-VAPOR stands for silicon nanowire vertical array with a porous electrode. While sensors of a decade ago struggled to detect certain chemical vapors in the parts per million range, the SiN-VAPOR routinely picks up chemicals in the parts per billion range.

“If every soldier has one of these sensors, and they are on some sort of communication network such as a cell phone, they can all talk to each other,” Field says. “All the sensors can communicate with each other and you can begin to map the area from a chemical [perspective]. We do a lot of work in doing topography and mapping of landscapes and such. We’d like to do the same thing with chemical vapors.”

Silicon bonding techniques make such sensors possible in the size and form factor that allow them to be affixed to mobile devices. Then, an individual can walk into a room and immediately detect explosives present, potentially saving the lives of everyone in the area.

As sensor technology continues to improve and is coupled with advancements in thermal management of electronics, U.S. military personnel around the world – and even law enforcement officials at home – will be able to use mobile devices as critical field operational tools.

The right thermal management technologies could correct the course of Boeing’s Dreamliner

As this blog discussed last week, the woes that have beset Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners appear to be related to problems with thermal management technologies used in lithium ion batteries onboard the craft.

Several airlines operating Dreamliners have reported swollen and leaking batteries and subsequent fires. Such incidents have prompted emergency landings, flight cancellations and aviation regulatory bodies in several countries issuing orders grounding the jets until their investigations can be completed.

These are the latest in a series of technical difficulties Boeing’s newest 787s have encountered since they were first used in late 2011, not to mention numerous production delays prior to that. So, is the 787 Dreamliner the aviation industry equivalent of a lemon? A recent article in The Verge says that it is not, and makes a compelling argument as to why.

“Government regulators, manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer, airlines, and pilots operate out of an abundance of caution because the stakes are so high with every flight that leaves the ground, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single model of airliner that hasn’t been beset with numerous upgrades and retroactive fixes designed to make them safer,” the article says.

The news source goes on to cite a bevy of difficulties other manufacturers and commercial aircraft have faced throughout the years. In the case of the Dreamliner, there doesn’t seem to be a particularly vexing problem that has Boeing engineers scratching their heads. Dealing with thermally conductive materials and innovating the appropriate battery and active solder technologies is something that companies like S-Bond have been doing for years.

Does Boeing have some adjustments to make? Sure. But, thanks to industry leaders that are never caught resting on their laurels, they are far from having to scrap the more than $30 billion The Verge reports Boeing spent on research and development for the Dreamliner.

DARPA underwater capsule would store sensors on ocean’s floor

In the middle of the vast ocean, an unmanned craft lays on the surface of the seabed, prepared to deploy non-lethal weapons against enemy watercraft and sensors with the ability to communicate certain conditions to recipients in faraway locations. These don’t exist, but they could, if the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) proceeds on its Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program.

This project, details of which DARPA will announce in a January 25 briefing, would allow the U.S. Navy to send capsules to strategic positions across the ocean’s floor. These craft would rest at the bottom of the sea for months or even years, ready to burst from the depths whenever called upon. Ultimately, the objective would be to surprise enemy naval forces with non-lethal attacks – such as lasers or strobe lights – while communicating key information to friendly combatants via sensors.

It’s not an easy project to consider. Constructing a cache that would be able to withstand years of steady ocean pressure and resist corrosive deterioration is a significant challenge. It could be an expensive endeavor, though the benefits are important. With unmanned craft providing reconnaissance and critical resources, the U.S. Navy might be better prepared for the unexpected.

A report from Gizmag notes that DARPA has the benefit of years of deep sea work conducted by the telecommunications and the oil and gas exploration industries, which for years have had to engineer underwater infrastructure. However, the undersea capsules – and the sensors stored within – would need to find a way to communicate across significant expanses of ocean, with the high risk of interference, in unusual conditions. Those challenges are a steep mountain to climb for DARPA’s researchers, and it will be interesting to see if they deliver on these efforts.

Battery thermal management problems plague Boeing Dreamliners, force emergency landing in Japan

In recent weeks, the newest Boeing 787 passenger jets have encountered several problems that have prompted aviation officials across the globe to ground them until these issues can be resolved. Paramount among the concerns seems to be thermal management technologies used in the lithium ion batteries onboard the aircraft.

One such jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Japan Thursday due to a swollen and overheated battery beneath the cockpit, according to the Associated Press. Crew members detected a burning smell, which was later traced to an electrical room where there were visible burn marks and electrolyte fluids that had leaked from the battery.

GS Yuasa Corp., which manufacturers the batteries for Boeing, told the AP that it has not been officially determined if the problem lies with the battery, the power source or the electrical system. In the meantime, nearly all of the 50 Boeing 787s, dubbed Dreamliners, have been taken out of commission around the world. Authorities in the United States, Japan and several European nations have mandated that the jets be grounded until their investigations are completed.

We often talk about thermal management of electronics when it comes to smartphones and computers. In those devices, overheating is an inconvenience. But, in a passenger jet, hundreds of lives may literally hang in the balance if the most efficient technologies are not employed.

Francesco Ciucci, a mechanical engineering professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, expressed his surprise to the news source that such “thermal mismanagement” could happen on board a Boeing jet in this day and age – especially considering the advancements that have been made in recent years.

S-Bond Technologies has developed active solder technology to bond many advanced thermal management materials that have application for cooling batteries, electronics and LEDs, which are all being used more and more in aircraft like the Boeing Dreamliner.

With thermal management technologies, fuel-efficient “urban” SUV possible

The recent Consumer Electrics Show (CES), a highly attended trade show for the electronics industry held this year in Las Vegas, introduced a number of new devices and gadgets that could revolutionize the way consumers interact with media. These electronics are being designed in smaller sizes for increased mobility, a reality that requires the application of sophisticated thermal management technologies to prevent device overheating.

However, small electronics are not the only innovative devices that rely on thermal management for improved efficiency. Another trade show – the ongoing North American International Auto Show, held in Detroit – was the site of the unveiling of an automobile concept that applies thermal management in a way that mitigates excessive fuel consumption.

According to a report from FleetOwner, automobile manufacturer Honda revealed its new Urban SUV Concept at the auto show this week. The vehicle is shorter than most standard SUVs, and Honda designed it that way specifically to serve potential motorists in urban environments.

SUVs are notoriously difficult to navigate in the city, but Honda hopes its new concept – expected to be launched in Japan by the end of this year and in the U.S. in 2014 – will catch on as an option for city dwellers. The manufacturer reengineered its fuel tank layout to ensure it did not need to sacrifice interior seating to accommodate the vehicle's smaller size, and the report notes Honda has deployed a number of technologies – including thermal management – to ensure maximum fuel efficiency.

That could appeal to the better instincts of urban commuters, many of whom might be initially hesitant to drive an SUV in an environment in which many opt to take public transportation to save on gas. Though thermal management technologies helped make this achievement possible, it remains to be seen if Honda can carve a niche in this discerning market.

NASA planning rover missions to Martian moon

Over the course of the last few months, we have discussed the various technologies aboard the Mars rover Curiosity and the progress made in exploring the Red Planet’s surface. An array of sensors and robotic tools have allowed NASA to gather data that we have never been able to access before. Now, in a similar effort, researchers have developed a robotic platform that could push the boundaries of space exploration even further.

According to NASA Tech Briefs, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, along with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hope to use a specially designed spacecraft as a launching point for multiple rovers. Their goal would be to traverse the surface of the Martian moon known as Phobos and relay information back to Earth.

The state-of-the-art sensors will be used to map the surface and successfully deploy the rovers in strategic locations to analyze atmospheric and geologic conditions. The data would then be transmitted back to the “mothership” and then on to Earth. Once measurements have been taken in an area, the next rover, also known as a hedgehog, would be launched to a new section of the moon.

“Measuring about half a meter wide, each rover would hop, tumble and bound across the cratered, lopsided moon, relaying information about its origins, as well as its soil and other surface materials,” the news source said.

As with Curiosity, which cost an estimated $2.5 billion, these systems will rely heavily on material bonding technologies that enable them to operate efficiently under the harsh conditions found on the Red Planet’s surface. As we move forward with our exploration of space, innovative ways of bonding dissimilar metals that reduce overall equipment weight but do not sacrifice strength or structural integrity will be critical.

Reducing weight will subsequently cut back on the amount of fuel needed to launch shuttles and make long journeys deep into space. And simultaneously improving durability and mobility will allow robotic arms to support the sensors needed to gather the information scientists seek.

LEDs bring high-efficiency lighting to Kansas City streets

Late last month, we wrote about the potential safety implications of a new LED lighting system being planned by NASA that would make it easier for astronauts in space to sleep, reducing the possibility of life-threatening sleep deprivation. Closer to home, urban planners are also leveraging LED technology to promote safety on city streets.

KCTV-5 News in Kansas City reports that the city has installed 5,000 new street lights that rely on cost-efficient light-emitting diodes in an effort to curb municipal expenses and improve outdoor lighting. LED street lights can last up to three times longer and consume between 40 to 60 percent less energy than their traditional counterparts, the report says. Best of all, bright white lights replace the murky orange hue most pedestrians would expect to see while walking down a dark city street, promoting safer avenues for the city’s residents.

And for local residents who find the lights too bright, an easy fix is available.

“We’ve put up over 5,000 lights and have only had about 15 complaints, and we’ve been able to take care of 13 out of 15 just by readjusting the lights or putting a shield on them,” Roger Kroh, lead project manager, told the news source.

Of course, the energy-efficient nature of LED lighting is possible largely because of state-of-the-art thermal management technologies that mitigate risks such as overheating. Much of the electricity produced by LEDs results in heat rather than light, so it is critical that a heat sink or other type of thermal management technology is applied to lower the unit’s temperature.

When properly managed and deployed, LEDs produce more light,reduce the burden on energy producers and require less maintenance. Whether you’re in space or have both feet firmly planted on the ground, those are significant benefits.