Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Geckos with friggin' LASER BEAMS!

I and several other BKA folk are working on some SBIR proposals to try to fund some research and development in our little shop, and I found some interesting proposals that were already awarded.

DARPA, which has a reputation for funding some freaky stuff, awarded one to a company with some interesting wording in their abstract: "The ability to efficiently utilize the large surface area of entities such as buildings, tanks, and ships as active, intelligent skins will allow these assets to become part of a larger, highly-responsive, complex nervous system in mission critical scenarios."

This title won the funding award despite breaking trademark: "Printed Electronics Processing for Structural Integrity (PEPSI)".

And CES would have been a much more interesting consumer electronics conference with items such as the "Highly Scalable Low Loss Fast Tuned True Time Delay Module Based on Dispersion Enhanced Photonic Crystal Fibers".

Science fiction? "Distributed Collaborative Planning and Control for Undersea Surveillance using Swarms of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles." Big Brother goes swimming!

And who would have thought the humble gecko could inspire the next generation of robots? "An essentially new research thrust on studying the climbing capability of the gecko has been of major interest. The ability to not only climb walls but also hang upside down from the ceiling has postulated many research questions. In addition to this, the gecko has the added advantage of having dry, self-cleaning, dynamically modulated adhesive feet. These advantages give unlimited life in sticking ability, unlike modern adhesive materials (i.e. tapes, glues, etc.). Recent studies indicate that this is actually achieved by small intermolecular forces known as van der Waals forces. This force, which occurs when unbalanced electrical charges around molecules attract each other, is individually miniscule, but the effect of several million collectively produces a powerful adhesion. An effective adhesive material would probably have to utilize a multi-level micro structure design that would engage the surface so the naturally occurring van der Waals forces could be maximized. The development of this new material would incorporate understanding at the nanoscopic scale of the fibers and/or microstructure of both the gecko feet and the proposed adhesion material. The major technical risks will be in the development, fabrication, and adhesive efficiency of this type of material."
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