Top-Secret Air Force Spacecraft Lands on California Coast
Oct21

Top-Secret Air Force Spacecraft Lands on California Coast

It stands 9.5 feet tall and 29 feet long. Its wings measure 15 feet from tip to tip. It is not dinosaur, not a leviathan, but the top-secret X-37B. The Boeing X-37B is a homegrown UFO, an unmanned and reusable spacecraft, the smallest of its kind. For the past two years the fun-sized space shuttle has been exploring earth orbits on a classified mission. On October 25, 2012, it launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its travels through time and space ended 9:24 a.m., October 17, 2014, when it safely touched down at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, breaking the record for longest orbital duration of a reusable spacecraft. “The 30th Space Wing and our mission partners, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, Boeing, and our base support contractors, have put countless hours of hard work into preparing for this landing,” said base commander Colonel Keith Balts, “and today we were able to see the culmination of that dedication.” Such marked the end of the X-37B’s third space mission. The United States Air Force has only revealed that the spacecraft was conducting “on-orbit experiments,” a generic proclamation of which any politician would be proud. Its mission remains a mystery, but theories run rampant. Some suspect the X-37B was an espionage plane, a spycraft sent to seek out the satellites of other nations. The Pentagon has formerly denied allegations that the spacecraft was being used to research development for space-based weapons. A U.S. Air Force orbital analyst also denied claims that the mini-shuttle was used to spy on China’s Tiangong-1 space station module. A fourth mission is planned for the X-37B in 2015. It will again launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Where – and why – it will go, nobody...

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Could a Real-life Iron Man Suit be Far Behind?
Sep17

Could a Real-life Iron Man Suit be Far Behind?

For our military to remain combat ready at all times, every vehicle, from helicopters to aircraft carriers, must be diligently maintained. This job requires sophisticated, heavy duty tools which quickly tax the energy of those using them. According to Adam Miller, director of new initiatives for Lockheed Martin, skilled works can only operate these tools for a few minutes before needing to rest. In a bid to remedy the high physical toll of using such equipment, Miller and a team of engineers have designed an industrial-use exoskeleton dubbed FORTIS. The suit, made from aluminum and carbon fiber, weighs about 30 pounds, and follows the contours of the user’s body. It includes fully-articulated joints to allow unhindered movement of the operator, allowing the wearer to move about normally while in the exoskeleton. To help mitigate the physical wear of industrial work, tools are mounted directly onto FORTIS, which redirects their weight through the joints in the exoskeleton and down to the ground. This alleviates stress on the entire body, allowing workers to wield their tools more efficiently. Initial tests report that the exoskeleton is capable of increasing productivity from between two to 27 times, depending on the tools being used and the task performed. One assessment of FORTIS’s abilities measured the time a worker could use a 16 pound grinder overhead without having to rest. The operator’s performance increased from three minutes of work without the exoskeleton to thirty when FORTIS-equipped – a ten-fold improvement. The initial process for developing FORTIS was simply observing how humans moved. According to Miller, “You have to look at the biomechanics of the person because it’s not just a stand; it’s really something they can move around in…”. By keeping this fundamental premise in mind, and by studying flaws in other exoskeletons, Miller and his team were able to design an ergonomic piece of equipment for relieving muscle fatigue. Recently the US Navy purchased two of these exoskeletons, and plans to test their utility further in the coming months. Take a look at the video below for an overview of this remarkable machine.  While you’re watching, ask yourself the question: “Is this the first primitive prototype of the Iron Man...

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Student Wins Awards for Bluetooth-controlled Prosthetic Hand

The world is full of stories about young people changing the world for the better, but here’s one that shows how one young man’s innovation and dedication is about to make a huge impact on many people’s lives. Shiva Nathan, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Westford, MA who is currently taking pre-college courses at MIT to improve his electrical engineering skills, has gained international attention for his design of an artificial arm that can be controlled by signals from a person’s brain that are transmitted over a wireless Bluetooth device. When Nathan was asked what inspired him to build such a breakthrough device, he recounts the story of a family member in India who lost both her arms in an accident saying, “I decided to take matters into my own hands and design a prosthetic.” While his prototype is currently limited to a simple side-to-side motion while fingers flex and the responses to the controls are sometimes a bit uneven, the potential is staggering and could signal a true breakthrough in empowering amputees and other disabled persons to live a more productive and self-sufficient life. Jay Schnitzer, director of biomedical science at Mitre Corp. in Bedford, a defense contractor, called Nathan’s prototype “pretty remarkable.”  He added, “It’s definitely going in the right direction, it’s addressing a real problem, and it’s a solution that’s really exciting.” The Mobile World Congress met in Barcelona, Spain last month and awarded Nathan $5,000 for “innovative use of Bluetooth technology.”  Last year, he also entered his prototype for a bluetooth-controlled prosthetic hand in a health care technology contest sponsored by the U.S. Army and Carnegie Melon University and walked away with a prize consisting of $5,000 worth of electronics gear. He hopes to someday work on robots at Google Inc. or iRobot Corp. in Bedford, or perhaps launch a prosthetics business. Until then, he plans to use the equipment he won in the Army contest to set up a science, engineering, and math education center in Westford. Nathan is now working on an upgraded arm with fingers that he will be able to control with a glance. Using Pupil, an eye-tracking technology developed at MIT, he hopes to figure out how to move individual fingers simply by looking at them. As for the $5,000 cash prize, Nathan is going to give some of the money to charity. But because he is worried about his grades, most of the remaining money is going into a college fund “for those scholarships I don’t get.” The future looks very bright for this young inventor.  ...

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