NASA Scientist Converts iPhone into Chemical Sniffer

A new plug-in iPhone device can detect airborne ammonia, chlorine gas and methane

Cell phones have increasingly become mobile labs and tech tools for researchers, and now NASA has gotten in on the act. A postage-stamp-sized chemical sensor allows iPhones to sniff out low airborne concentrations of chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine gas and methane.

A puff from a "sample jet" helps sense any airborne chemicals. That information gets processed by a silicon chip consisting of 16 nanosensors, and then passes on to another phone or computer through any Wi-Fi or telecom network.

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Air Force Seeks Better Space Technology: Are Star Wars Upon Us?

Just last week, the Chinese air force chief officer called military competition in space "inevitable." For those who thought this was just idle saber-rattling, take a look at what the American Air Force is cooking up this morning: a $50 million bid for better interplanetary weather forecasts, "battlespace surveillance" in space environments and inertial sensors for navigation, presumably in situations where the standard compass isn't effective.

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Deploying Household Wireless Sensors Galore to Monitor Health of Elderly

Researchers have begun using low-cost sensors in homes to monitor the elderly for health risks

Elderly Monitors: They don't make sensors like they used to  Julie Keefe for New York Times
Sensor-studded clothes, carpets, and homes could track the gait of grandma or grandpa and ensure that they're not in danger of falling. The U.S. National Institute on Aging has sponsored initial research into how such wireless monitoring could better monitor the health of a growing geriatric population. The European Union has also devoted $1.5 billion to studying technologies and services for the aged.

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Sensors Developed To Detect the Smell Of Human Fear

Security agencies have long used the canine nose to sniff out contraband like explosives, drugs, human traffic and the like by picking up the scent of criminals’ illegal cargo. Now British scientists are developing two sensor systems that sniff out the criminals themselves by zeroing in on a specific pheromone emitted when humans are in stressful, fearful situations.

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Making Alcohol Making Easy

A collection of our favorite automated brewing and winemaking setups

The last time I tried making beer, we were up until 3AM standing in a kitchen that looked like tornado had struck. My last wine-making attempts ended in grape-flavored vinegar. Even PopSci staff photographer John Carnett (or rather, his wife) endured a wort explosion the first time he tested his prototype DIY all-in-one brewing machine. Clearly, adult-beverage-making benefits from precise control and automation. Check out a few of my favorite electronic brewing projects after the jump.

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Coming Soon: An Unblinking "Gorgon Stare" For Air Force Drones

The next-generation surveillance package for the Air Force's MQ-9 Reaper drones, named for Medusa's stony glare, will provide an unprecedentedly broad view of the battlefield spanning time and space

MQ-9 Reaper:  USAF
The military’s unblinking eye in the sky, which keeps watch over operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is about to get even beadier. A new multi-camera sensor the U.S. Air Force is adding to its killer spy drones will exponentially broaden the area troops can monitor, and the technology lets a dozen users simultaneously grab different slices of the image. Called the Gorgon Stare, it represents the next big step in unmanned combat aircraft.

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Sensors Mounted On Commercial Airliners Networked For Most Accurate Weather Forecasts Ever

AirDat's sensors, currently installed on the nosecones of 160 commercial airplanes, beam real-time atmospheric data to forecasters

Storm Seekers: AirDat’s Tamdar sensors, currently installed on the nosecones of 160 commercial airplanes, beam real-time atmospheric data to forecasters.  Courtesy AirDat; Courtesy EMBRAER
Last September, five days before Hurricane Ike pulverized the Texas coast, the National Hurricane Center pegged a point near Corpus Christi as the storm’s most likely landfall. Residents of the low-lying region around Galveston, some 250 miles north, breathed a sigh of relief.

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Metal Oxide Sensors Can Sniff Out When Fruit, Pork Are Ready to Eat

Researchers at the ever-prolific Fraunhofer Institute have developed a system based around metal oxide sensors to detect whether a fruit is ripe, green, or rotten.

The system is meant to be used primarily by food suppliers, so that they can automatically detect the best moment to deliver pieces of fruit to a store. By using the sensor to detect levels of gasses emitted from fruits (in the test case, a pineapple), they know exactly what condition the fruit is in. And the equipment is as sensitive as the stuff used in food laboratories.

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Whiskered Robotic Rat To Innovate Touch Technologies

Researchers turn to the animal kingdom to take robotic sensor systems in a new direction and discover more about the brain

A team of scientists have developed an innovative robot rat which can seek out and identify objects using its whiskers. Far from being some sort of cool toy with which cruel pet owners can torment their cat, the applications for this animal-inspired robot are quite serious and practical. The SCRATCHbot robot was demonstrated this week at an international workshop looking at how robots can help us examine the workings of the brain.

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A Stick-Free Sensor

Scientists develop a biofeedback electrolyte sensor that works well above an athlete's skin

Real time biofeedback from athletes is popping up everywhere. From heart rate monitors to electrolyte sensors, there’s a push to know what’s happening inside the body. For each sensor, a good ‘connection’ to the body is critical for obtaining accurate data but that often requires that something be stuck to the athlete. Now, a new technology developed by ConText, a European research collaboration, hopes to monitor EMG signals without attaching to, or getting under, an athlete’s skin.

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Undersea Intelligence

Robotic jellyfish just like the real thing, but without the sting

All Together Now: AquaJellies are an experiment to create autonomous robots that can work alone or cooperatively.  AP Photo; Kai-Uwe Knoth
Swimming around in their tank, these autonomous robotic jellyfish move alone or in a swarm and communicate with their brethren to avoid underwater collisions. Developed by German industrial-automation company Festo as an attention-grabbing experiment in cooperative robotics, each AquaJelly uses eight bendable “tentacles” to propel itself forward.

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The Newest Performance Booster

A sensor that measures electrolyte levels in real-time could help athletes optimize on the go

The Biotex Sensor:  BioTex
Gatorade goes to great lengths to determine if “It” is in you. Sweat patches slapped on Maria Sharapova and Tiger Woods provide before and after snapshots of electrolyte levels and sweat rate. But, what about during competition? Swiss company Biotex is developing a garment with wireless sensors embedded in the lower back to provide real-time values for similar metrics. Hydrophilic and hydrophobic material draws the sweat into flexible sensors just two millimeters thick and a few square centimeters. Data can be stored for future analysis or transmitted to wireless phones or PDAs so athletes know to hit the water fountain before it’s too late.

“It’s like driving a car around town, if you don’t watch your gas gauge it will be too late and you’ll be empty,” said Project Coordinator Jean Luprano. “You need to know whether to slow down or if you can go faster.”

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MapQuest on the Moon

A new form of LIDAR could give scientists precise maps of the surface of distant moons and planets

Laser radar systems now being developed at Rochester Institute of Technology and MIT's famed Lincoln Lab could eventually generate ultra-detailed, three-dimensional maps of planets, comets, asteroids and moons. The scientists are developing a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology that operates both in the optical and ultraviolet, and could deliver detailed information about atmospheric composition, plus air temperature and pressure, wind speed, and precise topological features of a planet or planetary body.

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One Camera, 12,616 Lenses

Stanford researchers are developing a digital image sensor equipped with 12,616 lenses to generate 3-D images

Multiple Cameras, One Chip: The testing platform for the multi-aperture image sensor.  L.A. Cicero/Stanford University
Last year, we reported on the Adobe light-field camera, a prototype device with 19 lenses which captures 19 versions of the same image at different focal lengths. The associated software then lets the user choose which parts of the resulting photograph should be in focus, which can produce a virtually 3D image. We also briefly mentioned a project at Stanford University which is experimenting with their own multi-lensed device.

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An Artificial Tutor With a Heart

An ultra-analytical computer might smooth the transition between human and machine teaching

Ever feel like your teacher just didnt understand what you were going through? Well, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Arizona State University are busy designing computerized tutors designed to teach and feel. The machines will be outfitted with sensors that pick up whether a student is angry, frustrated or bored. For instance, a computer vision system will study the subjects facial expressions—even something like the tilt of the persons head can be an indicator of his or her level of interest.

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