TWIE 125: Non-Lethal Missile Knocks Out Electronics

This Week in Engineering - Seismologists convicted of manslaughter; finding damaged nuclear cores; power outage missile; robot tightrope-walker; testing bridges with rain; and bricks from cow blood.

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Seismologists convicted of manslaughter
In 2009, after a series of small earthquakes in the city of L¦Aquila, Italy, scientific experts released a statement that a big quake was improbable but could not be ruled out. Then, after a devastating 6.3 magnitude quake killed 309 people, the scientists were arrested for manslaughter, because, according to prosecutors, they were (just too reassuring÷. Now, despite petitions from the scientific community that such quakes cannot be predicted, the scientists have been sentenced to six years, though in Italy the convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeal. I figure maybe experts in geology might know how to use a smuggled rock hammer and a Raquel Welch poster and tunnel to freedom in Croatia. Here¦s hoping.

Finding damaged nuclear cores
Since the tsunami in March of 2011 devastated the Fukushima nuclear power plant, scientists have been unable to pinpoint locations of damaged nuclear cores due to very high radiation levels. Now, researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory have demonstrated that their scattering method, called muon or cosmic ray radiography, can more effectively find materials with high atomic numbers, like uranium, than the traditional transmission method. The method is similar to x-rays, but uses muons, which are particles resulting from cosmic ray collisions in the Earth¦s upper atmosphere. The muon radiography images will hopefully lead to faster remediation of the Fukushima disaster zone.

Power outage missile
Boeing engineers have successfully tested a non-lethal missile weapons system called CHAMP, or Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project, which flies over buildings firing high-powered radio wave bursts that knock out electronics without injuring people or causing structural damage. The test, which took place in the western Utah Desert, knocked out computers in a two-story building, and eventually even the cameras set up to monitor the event. Really, Boeing, you think a crashed computer scares me? I still use Windows Vista. Do your worst.

Robot tightrope-walker
A Japanese roboticist going by Dr. Guero has built a biped robot called Primer-V4 that can carefully inch along a four-millimeter-thick steel tightrope. The robot adjusts its balance by waving its arms in different directions based on signals from the robot¦s inclination sensor. The Primer-V4 is based on the hobby kit Kondo KHR-3HV, but has modifications, including a groove in the feet for sitting on the wire, and arms with fewer servos for better balance. I say, this is the greatest daredevil robot since my Roomba went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. He made it, I assume. I never saw him again. I miss that Roomba.

Testing bridges with rain
Old concrete bridges will sometimes suffer from delamination, where concrete layers become separated, and engineers often detect the condition by dragging heavy chains over the bridge and listening for spots with a dull, hollow sound, a technique called impact-echo testing. Now, professors Brian Mazzeo and Spencer Guthrie from Brigham Young University are finding delamination based on the sound of drops of water hitting the bridge. While the technique is in the preliminary research phase, it would be more cost-efficient than current techniques, since it is faster and would not require lane closures.

Bricks from cow blood
Worldwide, cattle are raised for their milk, meat, and hides, and in some parts of the world, even their manure is used as a building material, but the blood is generally wasted. Now, Jack Munro from the University of Westminster¦s School of Architecture has found a way to use blood as a primary ingredient to make bricks for building in regions prone to rain damage. First the blood is mixed with a pr