Recently in the Sensors Category

It started when NASA answered a call for a tool to detect dangerous gases and chemicals with a smartphone. The result became a smartphone-linked device that can do, well, just about anything someone can build a sensor for.

Four men trapped under as much as 10 feet of bricks, mud and other debris have been rescued in Nepal thanks to a new search-and-rescue technology developed in partnership by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

An infrared sensor that could improve NASA's future detecting and tracking of asteroids and comets has passed a critical design test. The test assessed performance of the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) in an environment that mimicked the temperatures and pressures of deep space. NEOCam is the cornerstone instrument for a proposed new space-based asteroid-hunting telescope. Details of the sensor's design and capabilities are published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Optical Engineering. The sensor could be a vital component to inform plans for the agency's recently announced initiative to develop the first-ever mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid closer to Earth for future exploration by astronauts.

"A team of scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed the world's smallest medical implant to monitor critical chemicals in the blood. The 14mm device measures up to five indicators, including proteins like troponin, that show if and when a heart attack has occurred. Using Bluetooth, the device can then transmit the data to a smartphone for tracking. The device can also track levels of glucose, lactate, and ATP, providing valuable data for physiologic monitoring during activity, or in possible disease conditions like diabetes. As far as tricorders go, this device may be the one you have been waiting for, provided you are on board for the implant." more at ExtremeTech

Imagine the potential of such technology to monitor the health of astronauts. No more wires.

"This is a close-up view of the "spectrometer-on-a-chip" technology that could dramatically reduce the size of spectrometers in the future. (Credit: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn) - The Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) is big. It's powerful and it discovered, among other things, that Saturn's mysterious moon Enceladus was one of the very few worlds in the solar system that radiated several gigawatts of heat into space, primarily along prominent fractures dubbed "tiger stripes." If a team of technologists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., succeeds, however, scientists in the future won't observe these far-flung worlds with instruments the size of dishwashers. Rather, they will make their discoveries with dramatically smaller, more efficient models whose critical components fit onto a silicon wafer and do not require moving parts to operate -- unlike the breadbox-size components found inside the Goddard-developed CIRS, which flew on the flagship Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. "The Holy Grail is reducing the number of moving parts, which will allow us to build lighter, smaller instruments," said team member John Allen. "The smaller the device, the better. That's where the power of our effort really begins to take off." More

NASA Solicitation: Scientific Payload for Multipoint Space Physics Measurements: Nansoat Cubesat

"NASA/ARC plans to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a minimum of 14 units, with options for up to 6 additional units, for a maximum of 20, identical flight-qualified payload instrument packages. These packages must be designed to interface with the Government-furnished EtherSat bus for the purpose of demonstrating distributed multipoint space physics measurements hosted by the Ethersat constellation. A provision of 25% spare parts/units (detailed in Delivery section of the draft Statement of Work) is additionally to be provided. One "engineering development unit"(EDU) (for evaluation purposes) is also to be delivered, near mid-term. The period of performance is to be less than 7 months total duration, with delivery required in November 2012 to meet NASA's satellite integration schedule."

NASA Ames RFI: Compact Technology to Detect Health-related Biomarkers or Analytes in Space

"NASA Ames Research Center is exploring the state-of-the-art in technologies to detect health-related biomarkers/analytes in space. For this Request for Information (RFI), NASA is seeking detailed information regarding compact technologies currently available that can analyze health-related biomarkers/analytes in breath, saliva, dermal emanations, blood, and urine using a single compact device. The specific biomarkers/analytes to be detected are currently under evaluation by NASA, but include a broad range of molecules and cells associated with health status, impact of the space environment on individual astronauts, and prediction of future health events. Analyses and analytes of interest include cell profiles, proteins and peptides, and small organic molecules."

Using T-Rays To Make Tricorders

T-rays technology could help develop Star Trek-style hand-held medical scanners

"Scientists have developed a new way to create electromagnetic Terahertz (THz) waves or T-rays - the technology behind full-body security scanners. The researchers behind the study, published recently in the journal Nature Photonics, say their new stronger and more efficient continuous wave T-rays could be used to make better medical scanning gadgets and may one day lead to innovations similar to the 'tricorder' scanner used in Star Trek."

NASA Solicitation: Edison Small Satellite Flight Demonstration Missions

"NASA, through this BAA, plans to seek proposals for low-cost, flight demonstrations for small satellite technology. This procurement will accelerate the development of small spacecraft capabilities for NASA, commercial, and other space sector users. Successful proposals will provide a compelling infusion strategy that ensures that the proposed technology will find active utility after the completion of the flight demonstration mission. The small spacecraft demonstration missions under the Edison Program are intended to flight- validate one or more small spacecraft subsystem technologies or mission capabilities with game-changing and/or crosscutting potential, specifically maturation from NASA Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 5 or 6 to TRL 7."

iPhone Used as a Chemical Sensing Tricorder

NASA Scientist Unveils New Chemical Detection Technology

"This new technology can enhance both personal and public safety by utilizing a common device, such as a cell phone, to detect hazardous chemicals," said Stephen Dennis, technical director of S&T's Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency. "Our goal is to create a lightweight, cost-effective, power-efficient resource for widespread public use."

How to Build a Borg Drone: First Step

Proton-based transistor could let machines communicate with living things, University of Washington

"Human devices, from light bulbs to iPods, send information using electrons. Human bodies and all other living things, on the other hand, send signals and perform work using ions or protons. Materials scientists at the University of Washington have built a novel transistor that uses protons, creating a key piece for devices that can communicate directly with living things. The study is published online this week in the interdisciplinary journal Nature Communications."

Think about this: imagine having this human/machine technology as a sensor system for crew health - this could be a quantum leap beyond the stick-on electrodes that have been used for half a century. It would certainly make it easier for Tricorders and sickbay to check up on the crew. It could also allow a more seamless interface between humans and remotely operated robotic arms, rovers, and other mechanical systems. Add in Wifi and ...

Think about this: imagine having this gene chip technology aboard on long duration spaceflight as a diagnostic tool for crew health, for characterizing environmental microbial contamination, and to assay crop health within life support systems. Add a WiFi, WiMAX, or Bluetooth link and Tricorders could get quick updates.

White House Boosts Translational Medicine, Drug Chip Project, Science Insider

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins's controversial plan to launch a new center for translational biomedical research got a boost today in a White House announcement on science initiatives. NIH also rolled out an early project for the planned center, promising up to $140 million over 5 years to develop a chip for predicting drug toxicity

Tricorders for Astrobiology

Building the Tools for Astrobiology's Future, NAI

"The NASA Astrobiology program has selected eight new projects for funding under the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Instrument Development Program (ASTID). The ASTID program is an essential component in furthering NASA's astrobiology goals, and provides funding for new instruments that can be used in space missions as well as Earth-based research projects. ASTID projects turn novel concepts into laboratory instruments that will open new areas of study and the development of astrobiology mission concepts and payloads for future missions."

Researchers from Louisiana Tech University will be floating high above the Gulf of Mexico this month to conduct zero-gravity testing of an experimental DNA analysis instrument developed at Tech that could benefit future NASA astronauts. Dr. Niel Crews, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Collin Tranter, a graduate student with the Institute for Micromanufacturing (IfM) say the instrument could be used to monitor the health of astronauts exposed to cosmic radiation beyond Earth's protective atmosphere. More

Virtual Swarms within a Sensor Network

Exploration of remote planetary surfaces has been limited to few humans and singular robotic vehicles thus severely limiting the range and duration of expeditions. NASA has proposed an exploratory airplane for MARS that would extend the range but removes the robot from surface contact and still presents a singular view. A sensor network, a distribution of a large number of connected, capable devices distributed over a region, could extend the range of exploration without the requirement for mobility. Conventional sensor network design is limited to a sense and send scenario where individual devices periodically sense the environment and send information through a multi-hop network of others to the central controller. However, a much more complex mission could be accomplished by a "virtual swarm" over the distribution. While the individual devices remain fixed, the application could move around the network as required to complete the mission. To take full advantage of the architecture and achieve maximum success, the application must adapt to unforeseen circumstances presented by the environment. More

Autonomous Robotic Swarms for Planetary Exploration

NASA has proposed an exploratory airplane for MARS that would extend the range but removes the robot from surface contact and still presents a singular view. A flying swarm of a large number of smaller vehicles, operating autonomously yet cooperatively, could extend the exploration range while maintaining direct surface contact as the swarm "hops" from point to point. Such a design has the added benefit that individual failure would not condemn the mission to fail (e.g., 80% of individuals could fail with 100% mission success). A swarm design presents new problems such as how the swarm will effectively fly in formation and how the swarm will determine course of action. Because much the environment is unknown, the swarm must adapt to unforeseen situations. Centralized control and predetermined script execution is likely not practical. Without directions from a central controller, individual members of the swarm are limited to local observations and communication with neighboring members. From these observations, individuals must make autonomous decisions and take individual action. From these actions, a behavior emerges. Thus, the challenge is to design the swarm for desired emergent behavior. NASA seeks a demonstration of true autonomy in formation flying of a swarm and in decisions on actions of the swarm to complete an exploratory mission. More

Image: Astronaut Scott Parazynski in May 2009 using a Jaz spectroradiometer from Ocean Optics at Everest Base Camp to measure solar irradiance [See "Using a Tricorder on Mount Everest"]

"A five-time astronaut, [Scott] Parazynski said he's especially eager to tackle projects in the fields of minimally invasive surgery and nanomedicine, with its potential to use targeted drugs to destroy tumors and plaques in arteries. Some inspiration, he admits, comes from Star Trek. "I'm hoping to leverage my background to create the next generation of minimally invasive surgery and diagnostic tools," Parazynski said. "As a physician growing up and watching Star Trek, we all wanted a medical tricorder. So one of the things I'd love to do is think big and push the envelope on what is possible." For those who don't grok Spock, a "tricorder "is a fictional device that can scan a person and immediately diagnose a disease or injury." More at Ultimate Clear Lake

"The team behind Project HiJack envisions users building low-cost sensing and data acquisition systems for student and laboratory use. So far, it has built an EKG interface, soil moisture sensor, an integrated prototype with temperature/humidity sensors, PIR motion sensor, and potentiometer, and a version with a breadboard for prototyping new sensor applications.

Schematics for the HiJack board, as well as source code to enable communication via the audio port, are available on Google Code so that anyone with some soldering skills and the wherewithal can build a HiJack for his or her own use. Currently, software exists to work on iOS, but the hardware design should work with nearly any mobile device that has a combination headphone/microphone jack. The team plans to build APIs to enable the HiJack to work on Android and Windows Phone 7 in the future." More info and video at ars technica

NASA is seeking proposals from researchers interested in testing new technologies during suborbital flights. The agency also is requesting information from commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicle providers and commercial payload integrators about carrying the technology payloads.

NASA field centers participated in a pilot program recently called NASA@Work to facilitate internal problem solving and communication across the agency. The goal of NASA@Work is to leverage the breadth and depth of NASA technical expertise by offering solutions to challenges that exist in currently funded NASA projects. InnoCentive Co., hosted the pilot program in coordination with NASA Johnson Space Station and the HQs Office of the Chief Technologist's Partnerships, Innovation and Commercial Space Program. Jan Aikins served as the "Center Champion" for NASA Ames Research Center and coordinated NASA Ames' participation in this pilot program with the Center Chief Technologist's Office led by John Hines.

Image: ECG signals wirelessly transmitted to an Android mobile phone via a low-power interface. Click on the picture to download the high-res version.

Imec and Holst Centre, together with TASS software professionals have developed a mobile heart monitoring system that allows to view your electrocardiogram on an Android mobile phone. The innovation is a low-power interface that transmits signals from a wireless ECG (electrocardiogram or heart monitoring)-sensor system to an android mobile phone. With this interface, imec, Holst Centre and TASS are the first to demonstrate a complete Body Area Network (BAN) connected to a mobile phone enabling reliable long-term ambulatory monitoring of various health parameters such as cardiac performance (ECG), brain activity (EEG), muscle activity (EMG), etc. The system will be demonstrated at the Wireless Health Conference in San Diego (US, October 5-7).

More (video) below

Image: CU-Boulder Professor Xinlin Li holds a tiny spacecraft that will carry a CU student-built instrument package into space in 2012 to measure the behavior of so-called "killer electrons" in space that can have negative impacts on spacecraft and astronauts. Image courtesy Emilia Reed, CU-Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

The University of Colorado at Boulder has been awarded $840,000 from the National Science Foundation for students to build a tiny spacecraft to observe energetic particles in space that should give scientists a better understanding of solar flares and their interaction with Earth's atmosphere.

The three-year grant to CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and the aerospace engineering sciences department involves the development of a 5-pound, loaf of bread-sized spacecraft carrying a miniature instrument package to observe energetic particles tied to "space weather" in the near-Earth environment. CU-Boulder graduate students working with CU-Boulder faculty and LASP scientists and engineers will develop, integrate and test the experiment as well as conduct subsequent mission operations and data analysis.

A Hackable, Wrist-mounted Tricorder?

From Texas Instruments (available soon for $49.00): eZ430-Chronos Wireless Watch Development Tool (915 MHz US Version): "The eZ430-Chronos is a highly integrated, wireless development system based for the CC430 in a sports watch. It may be used as a reference platform for watch systems, a personal display for personal area networks, or as a wireless sensor node for remote data collection. Based on the CC430F6137 <1 GHz RF SoC, the eZ430-Chronos is a complete CC430-based development system contained in a watch. This tool features a 96 segment LCD display and provides an integrated pressure sensor and 3-axis accelerometer for motion sensitive control. The integrated wireless feature allows the Chronos to act as a central hub for nearby wireless sensors such as pedometers and heart rate monitors. The eZ430-Chronos offers temperature and battery voltage measurement and is complete with a USB-based CC1111 wireless interface to a PC. The eZ430-Chronos watch may be disassembled to be reprogrammed with a custom application and includes an eZ430 USB programming interface." [More at Ti]

ESA's 'Fly Your Thesis!' programme made its successful debut during ESA's 51st Parabolic Flight Campaign, held 25 October to 5 November. Four student teams from five European countries took advantage of this new educational initiative to conduct microgravity experiments on the Airbus A300 'Zero G' aircraft.

'Fly Your Thesis!' was introduced by ESA's Education Office in close coordination with ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight in 2008. It provides students with a unique opportunity to perform scientific experiments in microgravity as part of their Masters or PhD theses. The first participants were chosen in January 2009, after a rigorous selection process.

Jing Li, a physical scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., along with other researchers working under the Cell-All program in the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, developed a proof of concept of new technology that would bring compact, low-cost, low-power, high-speed nanosensor-based chemical sensing capabilities to cell phones.

The device Li developed is about the size of a postage stamp and is designed to be plugged in to an iPhone to collect, process and transmit sensor data. The new device is able to detect and identify low concentrations of airborne ammonia, chlorine gas and methane. The device senses chemicals in the air using a "sample jet" and a multiple-channel silicon-based sensing chip, which consists of 16 nanosensors, and sends detection data to another phone or a computer via telephone communication network or Wi-Fi.

More information and high resolution photos here.

The Cyborg Astrobiologist

In previous work, two platforms have been developed for testing computer-vision algorithms for robotic planetary exploration (McGuire et al. 2004b,2005; Bartolo et al. 2007). The wearable-computer platform has been tested at geological and astrobiological field sites in Spain (Rivas Vaciamadrid and Riba de Santiuste), and the phone-camera has been tested at a geological field site in Malta.

In this work, we (i) apply a Hopfield neural-network algorithm for novelty detection based upon color, (ii) integrate a field-capable digital microscope on the wearable computer platform, (iii) test this novelty detection with the digital microscope at Rivas Vaciamadrid, (iv) develop a Bluetooth communication mode for the phone-camera platform, in order to allow access to a mobile processing computer at the field sites, and (v) test the novelty detection on the Bluetooth-enabled phone-camera connected to a netbook computer at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

News media are invited to see a demonstration of first-generation laboratory prototypes of new technology that would bring chemical sensing capabilities to cell phones on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009 at San Diego State University Regional Technology Center, San Diego, Calif.

Jing Li, a physical scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., along with other researchers working under the Cell-All program in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, will demonstrate their proofs of concept. Li has developed a device, designed to be plugged in to an iPhone, which collects sensor data and sends it to another phone or a computer via telephone communication network or Wi-Fi.