Tech News Digest : February 2014

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The following is a roundup of technology-related news and notable developments with a focus on electrical engineering, computing and information technology and allied fields reported during January 2014. Items are excerpted from news releases generated by universities, government agencies and other research institutions.

New Public-Private Manufacturing Innovation Institute To Focus on Wide Bandgap Semiconductor Technology

On 14 Jan., President Obama announced selection of a North Carolina headquartered consortium of businesses and universities, led by North Carolina State University, to lead a manufacturing innovation institute for next generation power electronics.  The new institute will focus on making wide bandgap semiconductor technologies cost-competitive with current silicon-based power electronics in the next five years.  These improvements will make power electronic devices like motors, consumer electronics, and devices that would make the power grid faster, smaller, and more efficient.   The Department of Energy is awarding $70 million over five years, matched by at least $70 million in non-federal commitments by the winning team of businesses and universities, along with the state of North Carolina.

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New Patent Mapping System Helps Find Innovation Pathways

A new patent mapping system that considers how patents cite one another may help researchers better understand the relationships between technologies — and how they may come together to spur disruptive new areas of innovation.

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White  House Holds Second Annual Safety Datapaloza

On 14 Jan., more than 300 public safety stakeholders from the private, nonprofit, and academic sectors participated in the Second Annual White House Safety Datapalooza. The event showcased innovators who have utilized freely available government data to build products, services, and apps aimed at empowering Americans with information to make smarter, safer choices.

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E-Whiskers Offer Highly Sensitive Tactile Sensors for Robotics and Other Applications

Researchers with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley have created e-whiskers — highly sensitive tactile sensors made from carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles that should have a wide range of applications including advanced robotics, human-machine interfaces, and biological and environmental sensors.

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‘Space Cops’ to Help Control Traffic in Space

A team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have demonstrated the potential for mini-satellites to work as "space cops" to help control traffic in space by refining the orbits of other satellites in low earth orbit relative to other satellites and space debris.   The envisioned Space Surveillance Network would make it possible to provide satellite operators with collision warnings much more accurate than currently possible

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UH Researchers Create New Flexible, Transparent Conductor

University of Houston researchers have developed a new stretchable and transparent electrical conductor, bringing the potential for a fully foldable cell phone or a flat-screen television that can be folded and carried under your arm closer to reality.

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Quantum Physics Could Make Secure, Single-Use Computer Memories Possible

Computer security systems may one day get a boost from quantum physics, as a result of recent research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) into a "one-shot" memory unit, whose contents can be read only a single time, serving as the functional equivalent of a physical key for computer security applications.  A one-shot memory might contain two authorization codes: one that credits the recipient’s bank account and one that credits the sender’s bank account, in case the transfer is canceled. Crucially, the memory could only be read once, so only one of the codes can be retrieved, and hence, only one of the two actions can be performed�not both.

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Cooling Microprocessors With Nanotubes

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a �process friendly� technique that would enable the cooling of microprocessor chips through carbon nanotubes.  Organic molecules were used to form strong covalent bonds between carbon nanotubes and metal surfaces. This improved by six-fold the flow of heat from the metal to the carbon nanotubes, paving the way for faster, more efficient cooling of computer chips.

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Staying Cool in the Nanoelectric Universe by Getting Hot

As smartphones, tablets and other gadgets become smaller and more sophisticated, the heat they generate while in use increases. This is a growing problem because it can cause the electronics inside the gadgets to fail. Conventional wisdom suggests the solution is to keep the guts of these gadgets cool. But a new University at Buffalo research paper hints at the opposite.

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Helping the Judicial System Understand Laser Strikes on Aircraft

The Quantum Electronics and Photonics Division of NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory has developed a simple, accurate measurement system that can help law enforcement and the judicial system in prosecutions involving laser attacks on civil aviation. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of reported incidents in which miscreants have aimed hand-held laser pointers at aircraft � with potentially dangerous effects on pilots’ visual fields � has risen from 384 in 2006 to 3482 in 2012, the year in which it became a federal crime to do so. The trend shows no sign of abating, with preliminary totals for 2013 topping 4,000.

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Active Power Control of Wind Turbines Can Improve Power Grid Reliability

The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, along with partners from the Electric Power Research Institute and the University of Colorado have completed a comprehensive study to understand how wind power technology can assist the power grid by controlling the active power output being placed onto the system. The rest of the power system’s resources have traditionally been adjusted around wind to support a reliable and efficient system. The research that led to this report challenges that concept, concluding that active power control helps balance load with generation at various times, avoiding erroneous power flows, involuntary load shedding, machine damage, and the risk of potential blackouts.

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Electric Drive Vehicles Have Little Impact on US Pollutant Emissions

A new study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University indicates that even a sharp increase in the use of electric drive passenger vehicles by 2050 would not significantly reduce emissions of high-profile air pollutants carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides.

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Bio-inspired Robotic Device Could Aid Ankle-Foot Rehabilitation

A soft, wearable device that mimics the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower leg could aid in the rehabilitation of patients with ankle-foot disorders such as drop foot, according to a multi-university research team lead.  The use of soft materials, combined with pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), lightweight sensors and advanced control software, made it possible for the robotic device to achieve natural motions in the ankle.

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Human Arm Sensors Make Robot Smarter

Using arm sensors that can "read" a person’s muscle movements, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have created a control system that makes robots more intelligent. The sensors send information to the robot, allowing it to anticipate a human’s movements and correct its own. The system is intended to improve time, safety and efficiency in manufacturing plants.

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Silver Nanowire Sensors Hold Promise for Prosthetics, Robotics

North Carolina State University researchers have used silver nanowires to develop wearable, multifunctional sensors that could be used in biomedical, military or athletic applications, including new prosthetics, robotic systems and flexible touch panels. The sensors can measure strain, pressure, human touch and bioelectronic signals such as electrocardiograms.

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