Engineering articlesDoing what the brain does - How computers learn to listen
We see, hear and feel, and make sense of countless diverse, quickly changing stimuli in our environment seemingly without effort. However, doing what our brains do with ease is often an impossible task for computers.
Walking in circles
It is a common theme in many books and films: when people get lost in a desert or a jungle, they end up walking in circles. No matter how hard they try, at some point they will cross their own tracks and despair, because they realize that they will never make it back to civilization. Surprisingly enough, the belief that people walk in circles when lost is mainly based on anecdotal evidence and has never been studied systematically in a real desert or forest.
Lower-cost solar cells to be printed like newspaper, painted on rooftops
Solar cells could soon be produced more cheaply using nanoparticle "inks" that allow them to be printed like newspaper or painted onto the sides of buildings or rooftops to absorb electricity-producing sunlight.
Ultrathin leds create new classes of lighting and display systems
A new process for creating ultrathin, ultrasmall inorganic light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and assembling them into large arrays offers new classes of lighting and display systems with interesting properties, such as see-through construction and mechanical flexibility, that would be impossible to achieve with existing technologies.
Sandia team developing right-sized reactor
A smaller scale, economically efficient nuclear reactor that could be mass-assembled in factories and supply power for a medium-size city or military base has been designed by Sandia National Laboratories.
Slow-motion earthquake testing probes how buildings collapse in quakes
It takes just seconds for tall buildings to collapse during powerful earthquakes. Knowing precisely what's happening in those seconds can help engineers design buildings that are less prone to sustaining that kind of damage.
Robots swim with the fishes
Borrowing from Mother Nature, a team of MIT researchers has built a school of swimming robo-fish that slip through the water just as gracefully as the real thing, if not quite as fast.
Open-source camera could revolutionize digital photography
Stanford photo scientists are out to reinvent digital photography with the introduction of an open-source digital camera, which will give programmers around the world the chance to create software that will teach cameras new tricks.
Ultra-flat loudspeakers with powerful sound reproduction
Bigger speakers, bigger sound - this is the music lover's creed. Flat panel loudspeakers offer an alternative to those who would rather not or cannot clutter up their homes with speakers. These speakers can be integrated inconspicuously on walls or in furniture. At the Internationale Funkausstellung IFA in Berlin from September 4 to 9, Fraunhofer scientists are presenting a completely new concept for ultra-flat loudspeakers that still deliver full sound reproduction.
Making more efficient fuel cells
Bacteria that generate significant amounts of electricity could be used in microbial fuel cells to provide power in remote environments or to convert waste to electricity. Professor Derek Lovley from the University of Massachusetts, USA isolated bacteria with large numbers of tiny projections called pili which were more efficient at transferring electrons to generate power in fuel cells than bacteria with a smooth surface.
Machines can't replicate human image recognition, yet
While computers can replicate many aspects of human behavior, they do not possess our ability to recognize distorted images, according to a team of Penn State researchers.
Electrical circuit runs entirely off power in trees
You've heard about flower power. What about tree power? It turns out that it's there, in small but measurable quantities. There's enough power in trees for University of Washington researchers to run an electronic circuit, according to results to be published in an upcoming issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Transactions on Nanotechnology.
Lasers generate underwater sound
Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory are developing a new technology for use in underwater acoustics. The new technology uses flashes of laser light to remotely create underwater sound. The new acoustic source has the potential to expand and improve both Naval and commercial underwater acoustic applications, including undersea communications, navigation, and acoustic imaging. Dr. Ted Jones, a physicist in the Plasma Physics Division, is leading a team of researchers from the Plasma Physics, Acoustics, and Marine Geosciences Divisions in developing this acoustic source.
Electronic nose sniffs out toxins
Imagine a polka-dotted postage stamp-sized sensor that can sniff out some known poisonous gases and toxins and show the results simply by changing colors.
Friction differences offer new means for manipulating nanotubes
Nanotubes and nanowires are promising building blocks for future integrated nanoelectronic and photonic circuits, nanosensors, interconnects and electro-mechanical nanodevices. But some fundamental issues remain to be resolved-among them, how to position and manipulate the tiny tubes.
Fabrics that fight germs and detect explosives go to market
Fabrics with embedded nanoparticles to detect counterfeiting devices, explosives and dangerous chemicals or to serve as antibacterials for hospitals, law enforcement or the hospitality industry are just a few of the products that a new company, launched by two Cornell researchers, will produce.
Too scary to be real, research looks to quantify eeriness in virtual characters
Indiana University's Karl MacDorman has been to the valley -- the uncanny valley of virtual humans so lifelike they give us real humans the creeps. What he's found is that things don't look so bad after all.
Radiation-hardened microelectronics could reduce spacecraft weight
Space environments can deliver a beating to spacecraft electronics. For decades, satellites and other spacecraft have used bulky and expensive shielding to protect vital microelectronics-microprocessors and other integrated circuits-from space radiation.
Color sensors for better vision
The car of the future will have lots of smart assistants onboard - helping to park the car, recognize traffic signs and to warn the driver of blind spot hazards. Many driver assistance systems incorporate high-tech cameras which have to meet a wide range of requirements. They must be able to withstand high ambient temperatures and be particularly small, light and robust. What's more, they have to reliably capture all the required images and should cost as little as possible. Nowadays CMOS sensors are used for most in-car systems. These semiconductor chips convert light signals into electrical pulses and are installed in most digital cameras. At present, however, the sensors used for industrial and other special cameras are mostly color blind.
Securing the web
More and more, malicious hackers are exploiting web site security holes to attack their victims' computers. Programmers try to identify those holes in advance and plug them with code that performs security checks; but if they find a hundred holes and miss one, their programs are still insecure. At next week's ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, however, MIT researchers will present a new system called Resin, which automatically calls up security checks whenever they're required, even in unforeseen circumstances.