TWIE 144: GPS-Free Navigation

This Week in Engineering - GPS-free navigation; laser weapon system; smartphone-controlled hand; 25-minute shelter; 5-micron infrared pixels; and mall of the future.

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GPS-free navigation
GPS navigation systems are ubiquitous, but unfortunately they are also prone to losing satellite reception. Now, a DARPA project has created a new navigation device smaller than a penny that works when GPS doesn¦t. The chip, called the Timing and Inertial Measurement Unit, is equipped with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a clock, and given a known starting coordinate, it can continuously calculate its position without a satellite uplink. For now, the technology will only be for the military, but remember, that¦s how GPS started out.

Laser weapon system
The United States Navy has announced that their Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, will be deployed on a Navy ship sometime in fiscal year 2014. LaWS has a fiber-optic high-energy solid-state laser powerful enough to destroy long range targets, especially UAVs, missiles and small boats. The deployment will help to test and develop the weapon, in such areas as perfecting the mounting, compensating for turbulence, and hardening it for a maritime environment. I say, it's about time we used lasers to shoot things, instead of just highlighting PowerPoint slides.

Smartphone-controlled hand
Prosthetic technology company Touch Bionics has announced the i-limb ultra revolution -- the first bionic upper limb prosthesis to be controlled by a smartphone app. The device features a powered rotating thumb and four individually articulating fingers that can be controlled by either sensing muscle signals or by interacting with biosim, the smartphone app which comes with twenty-four pre-programmed motions that assist with day-to-day activities. I say, use the smartphone to make the bionic hand send a text. Whoa! That¦s called a control loop.

25-minute shelter
Massachusetts-based Visible Good has created the Rapid Deployment Module -- a pop-up emergency shelter designed to be constructed by two people in just half an hour without any tools. The RDM can be packed and shipped in a four by four by seven and a half foot crate, and will expand to create a one hundred thirty square foot shelter for use in a disaster area. The shelter has an insulated floor and walls, and a vented fabric canopy roof, with locks on the windows and doors, and walls that can double as whiteboards. After a successful test, the RDM has received an Army grant for a model designed for harsher environments.

5-micron infrared pixels
Long-wave infrared cameras are great for seeing people at night, but are so large they usually must be mounted on a vehicle. Now, DRS Technologies working on DARPA¦s Advanced Wide FOV Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation, or AWARE (really, DARPA?) have developed a long-wave infrared camera with pixels only five microns across. Those smaller pixels mean smaller, lighter and more portable cameras. Portable infrared cameras v great, we've got technology from Predator. Now, let's create a monster with molecular acid for blood. Step one: figure out what molecular acid is.

Mall of the future
The design firm Bjarke Ingels Group, whom you may remember as the architects of a Danish garbage-burning power plant and ski slope, have teamed up with several other firms to create the winning design for Europa City, to be constructed outside of Paris near Charles De Gaulle Airport. The design, on just about a third of a square mile, will feature retail shops and cultural centers, all under an accessible green roof with hiking paths and urban farming. The mall will also have five regions, themed according to regions of Europe, each of which is powered by a different form of renewable energy. Wow. But does the mall of the future have Dippin Dots? Nah, I¦m pretty sure they¦re just the ice cream of the past.