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Gizmorama - July 4, 2016

Good Morning,

Pilot helmets are now being developed with the ability to see through clouds, fog and other hazards. That's huge!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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* Robotic vehicle's soft engine provides torque without bending *

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The only vehicles that can survive falls and keep driving through rough terrain tend to be in movies, but scientists have created a small vehicle that can do just that.

A small vehicle with squishy tires and a soft motor survived falls and kept moving over rocks and under water, suggesting the concept could be useful for everything from disaster rescue to exploration of other planets, according to researchers at Rutgers University.

While squishy tires are helpful to a soft robot, the real leap for the scientists is in their soft motor, which provides torque without bending -- the results of working to eliminate metal from the vehicle so that it would be unaffected by electromagnetic fields in harsh environments.

"If you build a robot or vehicle with hard components, you have to have many sophisticated joints so the whole body can handle complex or rocky terrain," Xiangyu Gong, a doctoral student at Rutgers, said in a press release. "For us, the whole design is very simple, but it works very well because the whole body is soft and can negotiate complex terrain."

The design and construction, detailed in a study published in the journal Advanced Materials, employed elastomerica rotary actuators based on pneumatically-driven peristaltic motion inspired by the way humans and animals move food down the esophagus.

The consolidated wheel and motor rotates without bending, playing into a unique wheel and axle configuration connected to the soft wheels. The parts of the vehicle were 3D printed using silicone rubber, carrying a softness somewhere between a silicone spatula and a relaxed human calf muscle.

The scientists said future development will be focused on vehicles that can work underwater on rugged lakebeds, conduct search and rescue missions in extreme locations, shock-absorbing vehicles used as landers with parachutes and possibly elbow-like systems with limbs.

"The introduction of a wheel and axle assembly in soft robotics should enable vast improvement in the manipulation and mobility of devices," Dr. Aaron Mazzeo, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Rutgers. "We would very much like to continue developing soft motors for future applications, and develop the science to understand the requirements that improve their performance."

* Augmented reality helmet helps pilots see through clouds, fog *

MUNICH, Germany - Pilots must be able to detect hazards as early as possible in order to quickly plot a path around them. In thick fog or clouds, however, this can be difficult.

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich may have a solution for pilots in limited-visibility conditions using an augmented reality system imported to a helmet-mounted display that has been successful in flight simulators.

The system combines terrain information and sensor readings into the display, which can also show speed, altitude and other flight data alongside digitally-generated outlines of the landscape and any obstacles.

For pilots flying rescue helicopters, in addition to mountains or houses, construction equipment, turbines and other structures pose a danger if they cannot be seen and avoided in time. In the augmented reality system, green lines outline mountains and houses, while red outlines show other obstructions, allowing pilots to react.

"The new technology can reduce the risk when helicopters are operated," Franz Viertler, a researcher at the Technical University of Munich, said in a press release. "The main problem is poor visibility caused by clouds or snow, or dust blown up when taking off and landing. Augmented reality can help to overcome this white-out or brown-out phenomenon."

In a presentation at the American Helicopter Society International's 72nd Annual Forum and Technology Display, researchers presented test data gathered in simulators showing the system could be effective.

The researchers recruited 16 professional helicopter pilots to test the system during simulator flights, recording the flights and tracking the pilots' stress during simulation, as well as usability of the system.

Overall, the pilots reported they flew more quickly and felt more safe, in addition to reporting the simulated flights felt less demanding physically and mentally. The greatest benefit of the system, they said, was in visual ranges of 100 to 400 meters.

More testing will be necessary in simulators, but the researchers say the system needs to be tested during actual flights, which may be possible sooner than later as industry has already shown interest.


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