Flying transplant kidneys by drone

Photo by Dr. J. Scalea, via University of Maryland Medical Center
Photo by Dr. J. Scalea, via University of Maryland Medical Center

When kidneys are harvested for transplant, they need to be immediately transported under strict temperature control to another hospital for implantation. Common issues like traffic jams or accidents can keep those kidneys from being used. Now a team led by Dr. Joseph Scalea of the University of Maryland Medical Center has done a trial flight of a kidney on a DJI M600 Pro drone to see if drones could be used to quickly fly kidneys and other organs between hospitals. Continue reading “Flying transplant kidneys by drone”

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The flying surveyor: Civdrone speeds construction surveying

I started out my career as a civil engineer, and at the time I graduated (late 1970s), students had to take two semesters of surveying classes. For civil engineering projects, it’s often necessary to track how earth is being moved, and up until this time that’s required the labor-intensive work of land surveyors to measure elevations above or below a baseline (usually sea level) at precise points on the ground. An Israeli startup, Civdrone, wants to automate that process with a device that can be attached to commercially-available drones.

Civdrone’s device and software allow a drone to survey the land using its GPS system, then land and drive survey stakes into the soil without needing to send out a survey team. The survey stakes are marked with a QR code that can be read by the construction team, giving them data and instructions. (Video embedded below: if it doesn’t appear, reload the web page)

Civdrone co-founder Tom Yeshurun says that “A single drone and its operator can replace up to four teams a day,” and he added that drones can also work at night without good lighting. Many human land surveyors are sitting in bars by that point…

The fine art of hacking RFID tags for the Internet of Things

An RFID tag is modified by cutting out a small part its antenna (silver ribbon) and placing a small light-sensing phototransistor or temperature-responsive resistor (thermistor) on it. Credit: University of Waterloo
An RFID tag is modified by cutting out a small part its antenna (silver ribbon) and placing a small light-sensing phototransistor or temperature-responsive resistor (thermistor) on it. Credit: University of Waterloo

A team of researchers at the University of Waterloo (Canada) have come up with an inexpensive and novel way to create smart devices that don’t require charging or batteries. What they did is to take standard RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and hacked them to be sensors that can sense temperature and light levels. Continue reading “The fine art of hacking RFID tags for the Internet of Things”

Parker Solar Probe reaches first perihelion in speedy flyby of the Sun

Parker Solar Probe’s speed, position and round-trip light time as of Oct. 31. Image via NASA
Parker Solar Probe’s speed, position and round-trip light time as of Oct. 31. Image via NASA

At 1:04 PM ET last night, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reached its first perihelion — the closest approach to the Sun in its orbit — of the mission at a distance of about 15 million miles from the Sun’s surface. That beats the old record set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976 when it passed about 26.55 million miles from the Sun. Parker also broke the speed record as the fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the Sun last week when it hit a speed estimated at 213,200 miles per hour.  Continue reading “Parker Solar Probe reaches first perihelion in speedy flyby of the Sun”

Astronomers wonder if ‘Oumuamua might be an extraterrestrial solar sail

Artist’s impression of the first interstellar asteroid/comet, “Oumuamua”. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser  Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-11-oumuamua-extraterrestrial-solar.html#jCp
Artist’s impression of the first interstellar asteroid/comet, “Oumuamua”. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Remember ‘Oumuamua? It was the object that was detected by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System-1 (Pan-STARRS-1) that appeared to be the first interstellar asteroid humanity has seen. A study by two astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Shmuel Bialy and Prof. Abraham Loeb) now suggests that ‘Oumuamua might be a light sail of extra-terrestrial origin.

The object was first spotted about 40 days after it made its closest approach to the Sun, which indicates that it hadn’t outgassed prior to closest approach — something that a comet would do. However, as it started leaving the solar system, it increased in velocity instead of slowing down as it should have. While most modern theories would see that increase as a side effect of comet outgassing, it would have also affected the spin of ‘Oumuamua — something that was not observed.

So what could have caused ‘Oumuamua to accelerate on its way out of the solar system? Bialy and Loeb postulate that a light sail just 0.3 to 0.9 mm in thickness could survive a journey through the entire galaxy, making it possible that it’s a probe from interstellar space. Since no radio transmissions emanated from ‘Oumuamua, it could be that it’s a defunct solar sail that’s just cruising the galaxy and being blown about by gravity and stellar radiation. In an interview with Universe Today, Loeb said that:

The alternative is to imagine that `Oumuamua was on a reconnaissance mission. The reason I contemplate the reconnaissance possibility is that the assumption that `Oumumua followed a random orbit requires the production of ~10^{15} such objects per star in our galaxy. This abundance is up to a hundred million times more than expected from the solar system, based on a calculation that we did back in 2009. A surprisingly high overabundance, unless `Oumuamua is a targeted probe on a reconnaissance mission and not a member of a random population of objects.

Loeb might be excused for his enthusiasm with the extraterrestrial origin theory; he’s the head chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee, a group that wants to send thousands of small light sails on an accelerated journey to nearby stars.

You can read the paper by Bialy and Loeb here.

 

Kepler spacecraft signs off

The Kepler Space Telescope
The Kepler Space Telescope

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been a hard worker since it was launched in 2009, having discovered 70 percent of all of the extrasolar planets to date — those are planets that are orbiting stars other than our Sun. Today, October 30, 2018, Kepler’s mission was officially ended after the spacecraft ran out of fuel about two weeks ago. Continue reading “Kepler spacecraft signs off”

Growing bricks from…pee

The world’s first bio-brick made using human urine was unveiled at UCT this week. In picture are (from left) the Department of Civil Engineering’s Dr Dyllon Randall and his students,Vukheta Mukhari and Suzanne Lambert. Credit: University of Cape Town
The world’s first bio-brick made using human urine was unveiled at UCT this week. In picture are (from left) the Department of Civil Engineering’s Dr Dyllon Randall and his students,Vukheta Mukhari and Suzanne Lambert. Credit: University of Cape Town

Being a civil engineer (BSCE ’78) myself, it’s always fun to find out about new building materials. Would you believe that a master’s candidate from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Susan Lambert, has figured out a way to “grow” bricks from human urine? Continue reading “Growing bricks from…pee”

Rebooting the Hubble Space Telescope

Artist's rendition of the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Credit: CC0 Public Domain
Artist’s rendition of the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Hey, you’ve gotta hand it to the folks at NASA, who used a time-honored trick to get the 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope back in operation. Earlier in October, a gyroscope used to point HST at observing targets failed and a backup didn’t start up properly. The fix? Basically turning various systems on and off as well as making some maneuvers. Think of this as the spacecraft equivalent of rebooting your computer or whacking it on the side… Continue reading “Rebooting the Hubble Space Telescope”