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Sci-Fi Technology in the real world

The following articles are clipped from news sources such as CNN, Associated Press, or other tech and science sources. These articles were stored because of their obvious Role-playing uses.


8/19/04 - CNN.com - Now You See Me, Now You Don't
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Professor Susumu Tachi, from Tokyo University, has developed a process called optical camouflage, which turns objects invisible -- or more accurately, translucent.

A camera films a scene, which is happening behind the wearer of the cloak.

The image is then projected on to the cloak -- made up of hundreds of tiny glass beads that reflect the image back.

The viewer, in turn, sees both the cloak and what's happening behind it -- effectively turning the wearer invisible.

He hopes to see his invention used in medicine, which would allow a surgeon to see what's happening inside his patient before ever making a cut.

In Washington, meanwhile, blocks of translucent concrete have gone on show at the National Building Museum.

The wall is made out of a new material called LiTraCon, which stands for Light Transmitting Concrete, and is made by adding glass fibers to normal concrete mix.

Suggested uses for the concrete, created by Hungarian architect Áron Losonczi, include building indoor fire escapes, which would allow light to be transmitted during power cuts in underground transport systems to let natural light in.

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8/13/04 - CNN.com - Kickboxing robots draw crowds in Japan

KAWASAKI, Japan (AP) -- The contenders are robots fighting in a special kickboxing match that's held twice a year in Japan, a leading nation in the robotics world.

It's a contrast to other nations, where robotics are increasingly being used in warfare and robots often considered creepy threats.

Robo-One, begun four years ago to stimulate public interest in robots, is loosely based on K-1, a popular sport that combines elements of kickboxing, karate and taekwondo.

According to Robo-One rules, a robot that gets pulled, pushed or punched down must get up on its feet before the referee counts to 10 to avoid a knockout.

Shining in bright colors, the robots, mostly measuring about 16 inches tall, look like fancy toys and sport comic-book names like Typhoon SP, Dynamizer2 and Majingaa.

They sometimes become entangled and tumble off the ring together onto the cushions on the floor. A fall from the ring counts as two knockdowns, with three knockdowns resulting in a loss just like a knockout.

With robots, the count to 10 also starts when a machine freezes in mid-action on its feet. If it collapses by accident on its own and can't get up before the count to 10, that's a knockout as well.

One move that's a relatively recent addition to the robots' repertoire is turning somersaults and crashing into the opponent to bring it down.

Polished looks, smooth moves and autonomy are key qualities factored into the judging. Sloppily hanging cables are a no-no.

Kits for remote-control robots are on sale in Japan, but most participants designed their own, cutting metal parts and coming up with their own programming. A basic programming for robots is available for free from Robo-One.

"It's fun to see something we made move," said Masayoshi Morishita, a 15-year-old high-school student, who took part in Robo-One with his classmates.

The fight money isn't stingy at Robo-One, which has drawn corporate sponsors, including major Tokyo-based toymaker Bandai Co and 20th Century Fox. Its science-fiction thriller movie "I, Robot," is soon to be released in Japan.

This year's winner, the 11 lb. Humanoid Project from Kyushu University, outmuscled rivals, collecting $9,000. The runner-up was awarded $1,800.

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8/12/04 - CNN.com - Japan Launches Solar Sails
(SPACE.com) -- A piece of science fiction became fact this week as Japanese researchers launched not one, but two large solar sails, successfully deploying the gossamer-thin sheets in space during a brief rocket flight.

It marked the first time any solar sail was successfully deployed in space, despite a number of sail research programs in nations around the world.

Solar sails are designed to be pushed along by light particles and have long-been a target for propulsion researchers hoping to find ways around the need for spacecraft to lug heavy propellant with them on long space voyages.

Scientists with Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, part of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, launched their reflective solar sail duo aboard a small S-310 rocket during an August 9 flight. The launch was staged from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan at 3:15 p.m. local time.

While the space shot lasted just over six minutes, it was long enough to deploy a clover-shaped sail in space about 1.6 minutes into the flight and 75 miles (122 kilometers) above Earth. At 3.8 minutes after launch, the clover sail was jettisoned and a second, fan-shaped sail unfurled at an altitude of 105 miles (169 kilometers). After deploying its two sails, the rocket plunged into the Pacific Ocean.

Both metallic sails measured just 7.5 micrometers thick. One micrometer (or micron) is about the size of an average bacterium.

In addition to ISAS's successful sail deployment, NASA's solar sail propulsion team at Marshall Space Flight Center announced their successful August 9 deployment of two 33-foot (10-meter) sails in ground-based vacuum chambers.


4/21/04 - Military.com - Army Scientists, Engineers Develop Liquid Body Armor
No Photo

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Liquid armor for Kevlar vests is one of the newest technologies being developed at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to save Soldiers' lives.

This type of body armor is light and flexible, which allows soldiers to be more mobile and won't hinder an individual from running or aiming his or her weapon.

The key component of liquid armor is a shear thickening fluid. STF is composed of hard particles suspended in a liquid. The liquid, polyethylene glycol, is non-toxic, and can withstand a wide range of temperatures. Hard, nano-particles of silica are the other components of STF. This combination of flowable and hard components results in a material with unusual properties.

"During normal handling, the STF is very deformable and flows like a liquid. However, once a bullet or frag hits the vest, it transitions to a rigid material, which prevents the projectile from penetrating the Soldier's body," said Dr. Eric Wetzel, a mechanical engineer from the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate who heads the project team.

To make liquid armor, STF is soaked into all layers of the Kevlar vest. The Kevlar fabric holds the STF in place, and also helps to stop the bullet. The saturated fabric can be soaked, draped, and sewn just like any other fabric.

"The sky's the limit," said Wetzel. "We would first like to put this material in a soldier's sleeves and pants, areas that aren't protected by ballistic vests but need to remain flexible. We could also use this material for bomb blankets, to cover suspicious packages or unexploded ordnance. Liquid armor could even be applied to jump boots, so that they would stiffen during impact to support Soldiers' ankles."

"Prison guards and police officers could also benefit from this technology," said Wetzel. "Liquid armor is much more stab resistant than conventional body armor. This capability is especially important for prison guards, who are most often attacked with handmade sharp weapons."

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4/19/04 - Robotic plane makes unmanned bombing run

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- A robotic plane deliberately dropped a bomb near a truck at Edwards Air Force Base on Sunday, marking another step forward for technology the U.S. military hopes will one day replace human pilots on dangerous combat missions.

Under human supervision but without human piloting, a prototype of the Boeing Co.'s X-45 took off from the desert base, opened its bomb bay doors, dropped a 250-pound Small Smart Bomb and then landed.

The inert bomb struck within inches of the truck it was supposed to hit, Boeing said, adding that had the bomb contained explosives, the target would have been destroyed.

The X-45A was preprogrammed with the target coordinates and used the satellite-based Global Positioning System to adjust its course.

Horton, who was sitting 80 miles from the target, authorized the drone to drop the bomb, which was released from 35,000 feet as the plane flew at 442 mph.

The military sees such aircraft taking part in its most dangerous missions, such as bombing enemy radar and surface-to-air missile batteries, in order to clear the path for human pilots.

The Y-shaped, tailless plane has a 34-foot wingspan and weighs 8,000 pounds empty. It is the first drone designed specifically to carry weapons into combat.

Boeing hopes to build hundreds of the X-45 planes, which would cost $10 million to $15 million each.

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3/30/04 - Australian IT - Outback boy has the West's fastest gun
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A hand gun that speaks several languages, broadcasts the conversation to the police, fires lethal and non-lethal bullets and is activated only by the grip of the registered owner.

The Guinness Book of Records has declared the gun, officially known as a Variable lethality enforcement (Vle) weapon, the world's most intelligent firearm.

It has also named the Vle's big brother, which is 36 times its size and has a potential firing rate of one million rounds a minute, as the world's fastest.

The breakthrough uses electronics rather than mechanics; instead of moving parts and heavy magazines, it involves a bullet-stacked cylinder fired by electric impulse.

A solo cylinder can be used as a pistol, while a few dozen can be used together to create a ballistic system capable of firing a hailstorm of bullets — or metal storm.

The weapons are touted as lighter, cheaper and faster than conventional firearms and, because they are electronic more easily linked to computers.

The technology is being developed and commercialized by Metal Storm Ltd, a Brisbane-based public company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and the US NASDAQ.

A standard US mortar platoon has 27 people carrying 120 rounds of 81mm mortar, but this system needed only 13 people to carry 1920 rounds, says Gillespie.

A demonstration will be held in the US mid year to show how Metal Storm can be used with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), that can collect intelligence but have no attacking power.

The law-enforcement gun can tell the police station when an officer has drawn his weapon, where he is and how many rounds are fired.

"It can tell both the user and the bad guy what it's doing — it can say 'I'm on stun' or 'I'm on lethal', and it can speak in different languages," Gillespie says.

"If the officer is in an incident, he can switch the audio on so that the people at the station or the squads on the way to back him up can hear what's going on."

Metal Storm is working with the New Jersey Institute of Technology to team its smart gun with technology that only recognizes the registered user's grip.

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3/29/04 - CNN - NASA Jet Breaks Speed Record

NASA has made aeronautics history by launching an experimental jet that reached a record velocity of just over seven times the speed of sound.

It is the first time a supersonic-combustion ramjet, or scramjet, which burns hydrogen mixed with oxygen from the atmosphere, had traveled so fast, flight engineer Lawrence Huebner told reporters.

Some observers compared Saturday's accomplishment to the Wright brothers' first powered flight.

The 12-foot-long (3.65-meter), X-43A experimental craft rode atop a Pegasus booster rocket that was launched from a converted B-52 bomber about 400 miles (643 kilometers) off the coast of southern California.

As planned, the X-43A plunged into the Pacific Ocean after the test and was not recovered.

Pegasus, which flew to nearly 100,000 feet, reached a speed of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, preliminary data on the test flight showed.

The needle-nosed scramjet then reached a maximum speed of slightly over seven times the speed of sound, or about 5,000 mph (8,000 kilometers).

The first X-43A flight ended in failure June 2, 2001, after the modified Pegasus rocket used to accelerate the plane veered off course and was detonated.

An investigation board found preflight analyses failed to predict how the rocket would perform, leaving its control system unable to maintain stable flight.

NASA built the X-43A under a $250 million program to develop and test these exotic type of engines.

Saturday's flight tested aspects of a design to allow planes to overcome the pull of Earth's gravity by reaching escape velocity. The space agency's dogged pursuit of extreme speed, officials hope, will ultimately make space flight easier to accomplish.

It also could drastically cut the time of commercial flights -- perhaps shortening the trip between New York and London to less than five hours.

After Pegasus released the X-43A, it flew under its own power for six minutes to do maneuvers over the ocean.

The B-52 left California at 3:40 p.m. ET, taking at least an hour to reach the launch site over the ocean. The entire test lasted only about 10 minutes.

NASA said it could test a vehicle at Mach 10 by the end of the year.

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3/25/04 - CNN - 5,000 mph jet ready for test flight

Fifty-seven years after combat pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, NASA will make a second attempt Saturday at flying an aircraft at 5,000 mph -- about seven times Mach 1, the speed of sound.

The space agency's dogged pursuit of extreme speed, officials hope, will ultimately make space flight easier to accomplish.

NASA will roll out the X-43A, capable of reaching speeds more than Mach 7, in a test flight over the Pacific Ocean. The Hyper-X, as it is called, could also give rise to commercial planes that zip passengers between London and New York in less than two hours.

The $250-million Hyper-X program has already attracted the interest of the Air Force and private aerospace companies such as Boeing. But dreams of civilian spin-offs are at least 20 years away, said NASA officials, who are betting the program will first lead to a more durable, cheaper workhorse for the space fleet.

The diminutive, 12-foot-long X-43A test craft will ride atop a Pegasus booster rocket launched from a converted B-52 bomber off southern California. The flight will test aspects of a design to allow planes to overcome the pull of Earth's gravity by reaching 25,000 mph, also known as escape velocity.

During the test, the 49-foot-long booster rocket will propel the X-43A to about 3,700 mph before the experimental plane detaches from the rocket and flies under its own power using a hydrogen-powered "scramjet" engine, the first such test of the technology.

The actual powered-flight is expected to last about 10 seconds and reach Mach 7 before gliding for six minutes and plunging into the Pacific Ocean.

The last attempt in 2001 was aborted after stabilizing fins flew off the plane's booster rocket. Controllers ordered the craft destroyed. Researchers blamed a flight control system failure and unanticipated stresses on the rocket.

Since then, a redesign and test changes have reduced the risks, researchers said, but some aspects of the X-43A's propulsion and aerodynamic design remain unproven. Simulating such high speeds on the ground remains difficult.

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3/24/04 - CNN - New high-tech tools help soldiers pinpoint gunfire in Iraq

The Pentagon is rushing into service in Iraq a pair of technologies developed under its advanced research arm: a Humvee-mounted sensor for pinpointing hostile gunfire and a "command post of the future" designed to cut down on combat leaders' travel and streamline decision-making.

Current DARPA projects include underwater holograms that disguise submarines and artificial human "tissue" for testing vaccines against biological and chemical weapons.

The sniper detector, named "Boomerang" and developed by BBN Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is all about diluting the element of surprise in urban ambushes.

Sensors atop an aluminum pole on the back of a Humvee pick up supersonic shock waves to give an approximate location of gunfire, and sound waves measured from the muzzle blast narrow it some more.

A cigarette box-sized display on the dashboard or windshield then shows the findings. "Incoming, 5 o'clock," says a speaker inside the box.

New computer systems designed to streamline the command bureaucracy -- letting senior officers collaborate in real time with visual tools -- will get tested in the field by the 1st Cavalry Division, which will take 50 such computer banks to Iraq in about a month. Half will go in the division's Baghdad headquarters while the rest are sprinkled at eight command posts in the area. All will be connected by one overarching wireless network.

Each bank of computers has three screens: one for the user's own work, one for 3-D simulated battlefields and a third to peer into what's happening on other systems throughout the city. Commanders will also be able to talk to each other using voice over Internet technology.

The network is designed to sharply reduce the need for commanders to crisscross the city for meetings while hastening the flow of information.

Instead of sending an e-mail request, for example, they can simply drop in on each other's computers for data they need.

Other inventions highlighted by DARPA earlier this month at a conference that coincided with the Grand Challenge desert robotic race were geared toward girding soldiers against the elements, improving their field nutrition and cleansing dirty water.

Special Operations forces recently tried a handheld vacuum chamber that sucks heat from the body, much like a radiator does for an automobile. They hit the treadmill in a 95-degree room at a Stanford University lab, saddled with backpacks. During breaks, they stuck their hands in the bubble-shaped vacuum, developed by Avacore Technologies Inc. of Palo Alto, California.

The Special Operations Command was encouraged enough by the results to ask for more devices, which they will test on their own, said Dr. Brett Giroir, deputy director of DARPA's defense sciences office. DARPA's next step is designing a body cooler small enough to fit inside a soldier's boot.

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3/10/04 - CNN - Robotic legs could lead to super troopers

BLEEX -- the Berkeley Lower Extremities Exoskeleton, with strap-on robotic legs designed to turn an ordinary human into a super strider.

Ultimately intended to help people like soldiers or firefighters carry heavy loads for long distances, these boots are made for marching.

The exoskeleton consists of a pair of mechanical metal leg braces that include a power unit and a backpack-like frame. The braces are attached to a modified pair of Army boots and are also connected, although less rigidly, to the user's legs.

In lab experiments, says Kazerooni, testers have walked around in the 100-pound exoskeleton plus a 70-pound backpack and felt as if they were carrying just five pounds.

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3/10/04 - CNN - Desert derby to find top battlefield bot

Out of 25 teams invited to build unmanned vehicles for this week's race, only 20 made it to a qualifying racetrack in Fontana, California.

The teams will be put through the paces, making sure they meet safety standards before they're allowed to approach the finish line Saturday morning.

That's when the vehicles jam-packed with lasers, sensors, cameras and satellite-guiding systems -- but no drivers -- will try to navigate a 210-mile course between Barstow, California and Primm, Nevada. But the route will only be revealed a few hours before the race.

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6/13/03 - CNN - Could bionic eye end blindness?

(CNN) -- Artificial vision for the blind was once the stuff of science fiction -- Lt. Geordi La Forge's visor on "Star Trek" or the bionic eye of "The Six Million Dollar Man."

But now, a limited form of artificial vision is a reality -- one some say is one of the greatest triumphs in medical history.

(Dr.) Dobelle is using a digital video camera mounted on glasses to capture an image and send it to a small computer on the patient's belt: The images are processed and sent to electrodes implanted in the patient's visual cortex. The electrodes stimulate the brain, producing a pattern of bright spots that form an image.  The black and white image Jens sees is not solid, but resembles a dot matrix pattern. It's like looking at a sport scoreboard with different light patterns illuminated to show different scores.

The miniaturization of equipment and more powerful computers have made this artificial vision possible, but it's not cheap: The operation, equipment and necessary training cost $70,000 per patient.

All eight of the experimental surgeries were performed in Portugal: FDA regulations still prohibit the procedure in the United States.

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9/25/03 - CNN - Brain waves drive man's bionic arm

(CNN) -- A man who lost both of his arms in an accident is getting some high-tech help with an innovative artificial limb that controls movements by thought.

To get the new arm, Sullivan first underwent surgery to graft existing nerve endings from his shoulder onto the pectoral muscle on his chest. Those nerves grew into the muscle after about six months. Electrodes on the graft can now pick up any thought-generated nerve impulses to the now-absent limb and transmit those to the mechanical prosthesis, controlling the movements of the arm.

Sullivan's doctor says this is the first time a nerve-muscle graft has been used to control an artificial limb.

Now, when Sullivan thinks about closing his hand, the nerve that used to make the hand close spurs a little piece of his chest muscle to contract, said Dr. Todd Kuiken, one of Sullivan's doctors at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Sensors over that muscle then tell the hand to close via tiny connecting wires.

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5/13/03 - CNN - Implanting ideas to store medical history
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Members of a Florida family have had electronic chips with medical information implanted under the skin in their upper arms.

The data on the chips can be read -- kind of like a bar code. Pet owners use the same technology to help identify lost dogs and cats.

Some companies have suggested that the next step should include a miniature Global Positioning System transmitter in the chip so that pets -- and perhaps people -- could not only be identified but also located when they're lost.

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