Navy Deploys Robot Sharks. Yes, Really

Automatonophobia is the technical term for fear of robots. Fear of sharks is selachophobia. Psychiatrists will have to come up with a new term now that the U.S. Navy has deployed, yes, robot sharks.

The Navy’s GhostSwimmer unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) — a five-foot-long, 100-pound robotic shark — has completed testing and will now join the fleet, according to naval researchers.

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The GhostSwimmer is based on biomimetic design principles, in which engineers leverage millions of years of biological evolution to create machines and systems that emulate animals or natural processes.

“It swims just like a fish does by oscillating its tail fin back and forth,” said Michael Rufo, director of Boston Engineering’s Advanced Systems Group, on the GhostSwimmer project page. “The unit is a combination of unmanned systems engineering and unique propulsion and control capabilities.”

The Navy plans to use the GhostSwimmer for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions as well as hull inspections of friendly ships. The robot can operate autonomously for extended periods of time on battery power, or it can be controlled with a 500-foot tether.

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The Navy isn’t disclosing exactly how the GhostSwimmer transmits and receives data, but the press materials state that the robot has to periodically surface to download information it collects.

And here’s some good news for the marine mammal community: Designers are also hoping that the GhostSwimmer could be used to sniff out underwater mines, replacing the bottlenose dolphins and sea lions the Navy currently trains for the task.

Underwater Houses for a Flooded Future

It’s a fact. Sea levels are rising and today’s shores are going to be tomorrow’s ocean floors. If you can’t beat it, why not embrace it?

That’s what the folks at U.S. Submarine Structures seem to be saying with their undersea and semi-submersible residential and commercial buildings. The company is already working on the underwater resort, Poseidon, to be located in Fiji.

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Although the project isn’t finished yet — it was was scheduled to be completed in 2008 — 150,000 people have expressed serious interest in the paying the $14,000 weekly price tag to become guests.

That kind of interest could be what’s underlying plans to build additional structures below sea level.

According to the website, at least one person has committed to owning the residential version know as H2OME. It’s a 3,600-square-foot round house designed to sit in water as deep as 60 feet. Residents access the house via an elevator or circular stairway. Conduits for water, sewage, communications and electricity are connected to the shore.

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One of the big advantages to living underwater is the view. The company says it can create a coral garden that houses numerous fish and a wide assortment of invertebrates. Push a button to feed the fish and at night, flick on the underwater lights to illuminate the dark waters.

If you love the water and always long for your own Atlantis, this house might be for you.

Credit: U.S. Submarine Structures

Compact Fusion Reactor Could Be Online in 10 Years

Lockheed Martin Corp says it has made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, with reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck.

The aerospace and security firm says it expects its first operational reactor to be ready in as little as 10 years.

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And thanks to the reactor’s smaller size, the company based just outside Washington in Bethesda, Maryland, said it can design, build and test the new compact fusion reactor in less than a year. After completing several of these cycles, Lockheed’s team said it plans on being able to produce a prototype in five years.

“Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts,” said Tom McGuire, compact fusion lead for the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ Revolutionary Technology Programs.

The Skunk Works team also plans to search for partners to help further the technology.

Roger Dargaville, a research fellow and leader of the MEI Energy Futures Group at the University of Melbourne, Australia, stressed that nuclear energy will be an important part of power generation in countries where other low carbon alternatives are not viable.

“The potential for the use of fusion reactors over fission is exciting news as the dangerous by-products of fission reactors are a major disadvantage of the technology,” said Dargaville.

But, he added, “The lack of political will to address the general resistance to nuclear power within the population means the option for using nuclear will come too late.”

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Lockheed’s announcement is still a “long way” from a working prototype or commercially viable power generator, said Joel Gilmore of Australia-based ROAM Consulting.

“Fusion requires incredibly high temperatures and pressures, which is challenging, and a lot of people have been working on fusion for a long time. So I won’t get too excited yet,” he said.

“Even if successful, the big question is what will fusion power cost? It will be challenging to compete with the falling costs of conventional renewable energy sources, especially in Australia with our world class wind and solar resources.”

Africa’s Largest Solar Farm Comes Online

Compared with other places around the globe, South Africa ranks among the sunniest. It gets some the highest average number of hours of sunshine per day: 8.5 hours compared with 3.8 in London, 6.4 in Rome and 6.9 in New York. So it makes sense that someone would want to build a giant solar farm there.

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Renewable energy company SolarReserve, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., is one such place. This month they announced they had the Jasper solar farm, located near Kimberley in South Africa, running at full capacity. The 96 MW installation is Africa’s largest solar power project.

About 325,000 photovoltaic modules will deliver 180,000 megawatt-hours of renewable electricity annually to region. That’s enough to power 80,000 homes.

Like other countries around the world, South Africa is trying to reduce carbon emissions as well as increase renewable energy sources. They’ve set a goal of having 18 gigawatts of clean energy online by 2030. The Jasper project is one such installation getting the country closer to its goal.

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The Jasper project is one of a few big solar power plants coming online in Africa. In 2015, the 155-megawatt Nzema project in Ghana will provide that country with electricity. And Morocco aims to build several solar energy plants that will generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity by the year 2020.

Let it shine.

Solar Jackets from Tommy Hilfiger Power Phones

It always seems that when your smartphone is about to die, you’re nowhere near an outlet.

Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger is coming out with a limited-edition, solar-powered jacket that can power up your electronic devices no matter where you are.

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Hilfiger partnered with solar manufacturer Pvilion to create a jacket for both men and women. On both, the water resistant, flexible solar panels located on the upper back snap on and off according to the look you’re going for.

Energy harvested from the solar panels is directed via a cable to two USB ports in the pockets. This allows the wearer to charge two devices at once.

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Each jacket costs a hefty $599, but 50 percent of the proceeds go toward the Fresh Air Fund, a chartible organization sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger that gives 1.7 million New York City children a shot at summer camp.