Star Trek-style force-field armour being developed by military scientists

The new type of armour will use pulses of electrical energy to repel rockets, shrapnel and other ammunition that might damage a vehicle.

Researchers at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), which is the research and development arm of the Ministry of Defence, claim it is possible to incorporate material known as supercapacitors into armour of a vehicle to turn it into a kind of giant battery.

When a threat from incoming fire is detected by the vehicle, the energy stored in the supercapacitor can be rapidly dumped onto the metal plating on the outside of the vehicle, producing a strong electromagnetic field.

Scientists behind the project claim this would produce a momentary “force field” capable of repelling the incoming rounds and projectiles.

via Star Trek-style force-field armour being developed by military scientists – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / March 26, 2010 / SciFi, Star Trek Did It!, Tech / 0 Comments

Learn to Fly a Jetpack. Yes, a Jetpack!

I figured when I wrote about flying cars last year that it would only be a matter of time before I got to write about…jetpacks! OK, I had no idea I was going to be writing about jetpacks because I had long believed they were but a figment of a weak, collective, futuristic imagination. Indeed, while flying cars were inevitable, jetpacks…well, you’d have to be a compete idiot. Unless you’re the Martin Aircraft Company of New Zealand. Which has created a working jetpack.

And is now inviting anyone over 18 with a valid driver’s license to join its “test squadron.” (Catch: You will need to go to New Zealand. And that age-limit seems solid, even though, as the video below attests, the 15-year-old son of Martin Aircraft’s founders has been allowed behind the controls.) Mind you, this isn’t the jetpack of sci-fi yesteryear. It’s not even jet powered. Instead, it features rotor blades driven by a V4 engine, so it’s actually more of a heli-pack. And it’s kinda…large, if your visions of jetpacks are formed by the type of units seen in movies from the Star Wars series.

via Learn to Fly a Jetpack. Yes, a Jetpack! | The Big Money.

The Recent Future / March 9, 2010 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Google leaps language barrier with translator phone

GOOGLE is developing software for the first phone capable of translating foreign languages almost instantly — like the Babel Fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

By building on existing technologies in voice recognition and automatic translation, Google hopes to have a basic system ready within a couple of years. If it works, it could eventually transform communication among speakers of the world’s 6,000-plus languages.

The company has already created an automatic system for translating text on computers, which is being honed by scanning millions of multi-lingual websites and documents. So far it covers 52 languages, adding Haitian Creole last week.

Google also has a voice recognition system that enables phone users to conduct web searches by speaking commands into their phones rather than typing them in.

via Google leaps language barrier with translator phone – Times Online.

The Recent Future / February 8, 2010 / SciFi, Star Trek Did It!, Tech / 0 Comments

Electric Icarus: NASA Designs a One-Man Stealth Plane: Scientific American

A super-quiet, hover-capable aircraft design, NASA’s experimental one-man Puffin could show just how much electric propulsion can transform our ideas of flight. It looks like nothing less than a flying suit or a jet pack with a cockpit.

On the ground, the Puffin is designed to stand on its tail, which splits into four legs to help serve as landing gear. As a pilot prepares to take off, flaps on the wings would tilt to deflect air from the 2.3-meter-wide propeller rotors upward, keeping the plane on the ground until it was ready to fly and preventing errant gusts from tipping it over. The Puffin would rise, hover and then lean over to fly horizontally, with the pilot lying prone as if in a glider. When landing, the extending spring legs would support the 3.7-meter-long, 4.1-meter-wingspan craft, which is designed with carbon-fiber composites to weigh in at 135 kilograms, not including 45 kilograms of rechargeable lithium phosphate batteries.

In principle, the Puffin can cruise at 240 kilometers per hour and dash at more than 480 kph. It has no flight ceiling—it is not air-breathing like gas engines are, and thus is not limited by thin air—so it could go up to about 9,150 meters before its energy runs low enough to drive it to descend. With current state-of-the-art batteries, it has a range of just 80 kilometers if cruising, “but many researchers are proposing a tripling of current battery energy densities in the next five to seven years, so we could see a range of 240 to 320 kilometers by 2017,” says researcher Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. He and his colleagues will officially unveil the Puffin design on January 20 at an American Helicopter Society meeting in San Francisco.

via Electric Icarus: NASA Designs a One-Man Stealth Plane: Scientific American.

The Recent Future / January 21, 2010 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

New Cancer Detector Chip Works in About 30 Minutes

So there’s this period of time during a visit to the doctor’s when you’re left alone in the office. You just saw the nurse or PA, and the doctor is playing golf somewhere, so you have to wait in your little paper dress. I was once stranded in that limbo for an hour. Wouldn’t it be nice if that time could be put to good use? Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a microchip that works with nano-materials to detect biomarkers associated with cancer. Bottom line, in about 30 minutes the new biosensor can determine if you’ve got the ‘Big C’. Having already been proven to work with prostate cancer, the device could one day even be adapted to detect HIV, or H1N1 swine flu. Now that’s a good use of my time.

Development of the cancer biosensor was published in ACS, and more recently in Nature Nanotechnology. Shana Kelley, team leader for the project, says that the cancer detection microchip is the size of a fingertip. It and related electronics could fit into a hand held device the size of a Blackberry™. That means the detection of cancer would not only be much quicker (30 minutes vs. days of lab work) but it could be portable and relatively cheap as well. Hand held detection of major diseases and illnesses would revolutionize medicine, making it more accessible and more informative.

The biosensor works by pairing three components: biological detectors, nanowires, and standard silicon chip technology. The biological detectors are attached to the end of nanowires (typically made of gold) and will bond to the biomarkers that indicate the presence of cancer. These biomarkers are strands of micro RNA or messenger RNA produced by the mutated genetics of cancer cells and so the biodetectors are called nucleic acid probes. When the RNA interacts with the nucleic acid probes, electric currents are induced along the gold nanowire. These currents are detected and decoded by the silicon chip technology to determine if cancer is present in a sample.

via New Cancer Detector Chip Works in About 30 Minutes | Singularity Hub.

The Recent Future / November 23, 2009 / Health, Tech / 0 Comments

Bomb-Proof Wallpaper Could Save You in a Natural Disaster

Imagine: a hurricane is barreling towards your house, but instead of hiding in the basement, you can stay safely and comfortably in your living room, all thanks to your X-Flex Blast Protection System wallpaper. It’s not a fantasy; the wallpaper, invented by Berry Plastics in a partnership with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, actually exists — and a single sheet is strong enough to stop a wrecking ball.

Best Of What’s New 2009: Bombproof Wallpaper Test from PopSci.com on Vimeo.

The X-Flex wallpaper is an adhesive with sticky backing that attaches to the inside of brick and cinder walls. According to its designers, covering an entire room takes less than an hour. The wallpaper is so effective that a single layer can keep a wrecking ball from smashing through a brick wall, and a double layer can stop blunt objects (i.e. a flying 2×4) from knocking down drywall.

So how does it work? The X-Flex system features Kevlar-like material in between two sheets of elastic polymer wrap. Apparently, that’s all it takes to keep a wrecking ball from taking down your house.

The Army is already thinking about using the wallpaper on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Berry Plastics plans to sell a commercial version of X-Flex next year.

via Inhabitat » Bomb-Proof Wallpaper Could Save You in a Natural Disaster.

The Recent Future / November 19, 2009 / Tech / 0 Comments

NASA Develops Tricorder: Adapts iPhone to Detect Dangerous Chemicals

iPhone Tri-CorderA researcher at the NASA Ames Center has developed a proof of concept device which can convert an iPhone into a chemical sensor capable of detecting ammonia, chlorine gas, and methane. The chem sniffing device is a small silicon chip (no bigger than a stamp) that plugs into the phone. Upon detection, the chip uses the phone to alert others. It was developed as part of Homeland Security’s Cell-All program. The US hopes that one day a small, inexpensive, and portable chip such as this one could be used to turn thousands (or millions) of mobile phones into a means of quickly detecting hazardous chemicals in public environments. That detection could save lives and help direct first response units. Of course, for the nerds out there the device’s true importance is easy to see: it’s the next step to developing a tricorder from Star Trek.

For those of you who don’t regularly attend conventions wearing pointy ears, a tricorder is a fictional device from the Star Trek universe. It’s the go-to scientific field instrument that identifies…well pretty much anything – alien life forms, rare minerals, the composition of the air. Your tricorder probes and samples its environment and tells you what’s around you. The NASA device does the same thing, albeit for a much smaller set of substances. Still, it’s the first of many steps to developing a handheld device that can measure the world in a scientific way. Right now, Homeland Security has plans to use the chem sniffer in an anti-terrorist detection program (more below) but one day we could see advanced versions helping us measure air quality, determine UV exposure, or tell us if there’s any dairy, nuts, or gluten in our meals. The tricorder would put scientific examination in the palm of our hands.

Currently, the device is only able to detect a limited range of gases using a 64 nanosensor array (16 on each side of the chip). The range of gases it can identify will likely expand and be refined as nanosensors are developed for new substances. A small “sampling jet” collects air from the environment and directs it onto the array. The multiple channel silicon chip also knows how to use the mobile phone to connect, via WiFi or Telecomm, to other phones or a central hub to alert them in case of detection. That’s a nifty piece of engineering, and something we didn’t really see in Star Trek. The connectivity of detection devices is going to affect the way we use chem sniffers long before they become as complex as tricorders.

via NASA Develops Tricorder: Adapts iPhone to Detect Dangerous Chemicals | Singularity Hub.

The Recent Future / November 19, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

First black hole for light created on Earth

An electromagnetic “black holeMovie Camera” that sucks in surrounding light has been built for the first time.

The device, which works at microwave frequencies, may soon be extended to trap visible light, leading to an entirely new way of harvesting solar energy to generate electricity.

A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

Narimanov and Kildishev reasoned that it should be possible to build a device that makes light curve inwards towards its centre in a similar way. They calculated that this could be done by a cylindrical structure consisting of a central core surrounded by a shell of concentric rings.

There’s no escape

The key to making light curve inwards is to make the shell’s permittivity – which affects the electric component of an electromagnetic wave – increase smoothly from the outer to the inner surface. This is analogous to the curvature of space-time near a black hole. At the point where the shell meets the core, the permittivity of the ring must match that of the core, so that light is absorbed rather than reflected.

Now Tie Jun Cui and Qiang Cheng at the Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have turned Narimanov and Kildishev’s theory into practice, and built a “black hole” for microwave frequencies. It is made of 60 annular strips of so-called “meta-materials”, which have previously been used to make invisibility cloaks.

Each strip takes the form of a circuit board etched with intricate structures whose characteristics change progressively from one strip to the next, so that the permittivity varies smoothly. The outer 40 strips make up the shell and the inner 20 strips make up the absorber.

“When the incident electromagnetic wave hits the device, the wave will be trapped and guided in the shell region towards the core of the black hole, and will then be absorbed by the core,” says Cui. “The wave will not come out from the black hole.” In their device, the core converts the absorbed light into heat.

via First black hole for light created on Earth – physics-math – 14 October 2009 – New Scientist.

The Recent Future / October 15, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days

Last Wednesday, the Ad Astra Rocket Company tested what is currently the most powerful plasma rocket in the world. As the Webster, Texas, company announced, the VASIMR VX-200 engine ran at 201 kilowatts in a vacuum chamber, passing the 200-kilowatt mark for the first time. The test also marks the first time that a small-scale prototype of the company’s VASIMR Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket rocket engine has been demonstrated at full power.

“It’s the most powerful plasma rocket in the world right now,” says Franklin Chang-Diaz, former NASA astronaut and CEO of Ad Astra. The company has signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the (ISS) in 2013. The engine could provide periodic boosts to the ISS, which gradually drops in altitude due to atmospheric drag. ISS boosts are currently provided by spacecraft with conventional , which consume about 7.5 tonnes of propellant per year. By cutting this amount down to 0.3 tonnes, Chang-Diaz estimates that VASIMR could save NASA millions of dollars per year.

But Ad Astra has bigger plans for VASIMR, such as high-speed missions to Mars. A 10- to 20-megawatt VASIMR engine could propel human missions to Mars in just 39 days, whereas conventional rockets would take six months or more. The shorter the trip, the less time astronauts would be exposed to space radiation, which is a significant hurdle for Mars missions. VASIMR could also be adapted to handle the high payloads of robotic missions, though at slower speeds than lighter human missions.

Chang-Diaz has been working on the development of the VASIMR concept since 1979, before founding Ad Astra in 2005 to further develop the project. The technology uses radio waves to heat gases such as hydrogen, argon, and neon, creating hot plasma. Magnetic fields force the charged plasma out the back of the engine, producing thrust in the opposite direction. Due to the high velocity that this method achieves, less fuel is required than in conventional engines. In addition, VASIMR has no physical electrodes in contact with the , prolonging the engine’s lifetime and enabling a higher power density than in other designs.

via Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days.

The Recent Future / October 7, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Revolutionary discovery means world may not run out of crude

A team of scientists based at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden have made a “revolutionary” discovery about how hydrocarbon is formed, learning that animal and plant fossils are not necessary to form crude oil.

The discovery, the scientists say, means that the world will never run out of crude oil. Currently, theory states that crude oil is formed very slowly – over millions of years – from the remains of dead plants and animals. Buried under rock, over time the pressure and temperature of natural earth processes results in the creation of crude oil. But that theory is now old news, as the scientists, led by Vladimir Kutcherov, say they have proven that fossilized plants and animals are not needed to create hydrocarbons.

“Using our research we can even say where oil could be found in Sweden,”

Kutcherov told Science Daily.

via Revolutionary discovery means world may not run out of crude.

The Recent Future / September 16, 2009 / Nature, Tech / 0 Comments