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Growing concern of emotional toll facing U.S. drone operators

Over a decade of conflict has left thousands of U.S. personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and why President Barack Obama is relying heavily on drone and fighter jet airstrikes to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. However, drone operators responsible for monitoring targets and launching strikes also can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - and the PTSD, depression and anxiety levels of drone operators can match traditional pilots.

 

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"I would go to sleep and dream about work, the mission, and continuously see the people I'd watch on the screen earlier now in my own head repeatedly being killed," said Brandon Bryant, who spent five years operating drone cameras in New Mexico and Nevada. Bryant witnessed at least 13 direct killings, while his squad tallied more than 1,626 combatants.

 

As medical researchers struggle to address PTSD among ground troops returning home, there is growing concern that drone operators - which continue to be relied upon for reconnaissance and precision strikes - could also face the same type of mental health problems. A frightening thought as drones have also been used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with strikes expected to continue against suspected terrorists.

Boston University preparing to develop cloud-based smart-city grid

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has given the Boston University Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering funding to help design a cloud-based "smart-city" platform. The so-called Smart-city Cloud-based Open Platform & Ecosystem (SCOPE) could one day help improve social services, transportation, energy, public safety, and other infrastructure for Boston residents.

 

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The state of Massachusetts has a large number of colleges and universities, along with a booming tech sector, which helps spur innovation. If successful, similar programs could be launched in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States, as cities, counties, and states try to operate on mismanaged - and sometimes out of control - budgets that only balloon further.

 

"The SCOPE project highlights the collaborative efforts between the state, industry and academia that help make Massachusetts the leading innovation state," said Governor Deval Patrick. "Through our Massachusetts Big Data Initiative, we've made open government a priority, opening data sets across multiple state agencies, improving access by researchers and the public."

After years of problems, F-22 Raptor finally flying combat missions

As the United States continues another complicated military and political battle in the Middle East, the problem-plagued F-22 Raptor is seeing its first tour of combat. The radar-evading F-22 Raptor didn't conduct attack missions in Iraq or Afghanistan, but is now being used to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Syria.

 

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The Lockheed Martin-developed aircraft is a single-seat fighter jet able to evade radar - but at a $190 million cost per aircraft, it's rather expensive - with almost 200 fighter jets manufactured. After years of budget problems and delays, including an oxygen-related issue in which pilots reported in-flight oxygen deprivation, the U.S. Air Force looks ahead to using the aircraft for future strikes.

 

"The flight of the F-22s delivered GPS-guided munitions, precision munitions targeting only the right side of the building," said Lt. Gen William Mayville, during a recent presentation how the aircraft is being used to fight ISIS terrorists in Syria. "And you can see that the control - the command and control center where it was located in the building was destroyed."

Continue reading 'After years of problems, F-22 Raptor finally flying combat missions' (full post)

Skeletonics exoskeleton suit shows promise of future breakthroughs

Japanese researchers from the Okinawa National College of Technology have developed a Skeletonics exoskeleton suit that measures more than eight feet in height. Wearers climb into the giant suit and use it operating their own arms and legs, with no power to assist in movement. It has mainly become popular for public entertainment, as it can be used at events, parades, and to grab attention.

 

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"We didn't think about creating anything useful," said Reyes Tatsuru Shiroku, Skeletonics researcher. "That's probably why we were able to develop a unique thing."

 

There has been an increase in exoskeleton research, with the military and private sector interested in using them to help reduce physical labor loads.

NASA chooses Boeing and SpaceX to send Americans to the ISS

NASA has announced that astronauts will once again travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS) from the US on American spacecraft, thanks to new contracts announced just hours ago. The US space agency announced its partnerships with Boeing and SpaceX to transfer US crews to and from the ISS using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, ending its reliance on Russia by 2017.

 

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NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden, said at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida: "From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space. Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation's sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission - sending humans to Mars".

 

This deal has seen Boeing end up with $4.2 billion, while SpaceX receives a cheque from NASA for $2.6 billion. These new contracts include at least one rewed flight test per company, with NASA having one astronaut aboard to "verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected".

Army creating next-generation grenade to explode behind barriers

The U.S. military is developing new technologies that allow bullets, grenades and other munitions to explode after they pass over defilades and other obstacles. The Small Arms Grenade Munitions (SAGM) platform is being tested by the U.S. Army as a way to engage enemies, even if an enemy is hiding. The SAGM is twice as lethal as a traditional 40 mm grenade if being used against better protected targets.

 

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The new weapon has three modes of firing: Airburst has the ability to detect a defilade first, and then explode. Point detonation occurs when the grenade strikes a target, or a self-destruct feature that helps limit collateral damage and ensures there a smaller number of unexploded ordnances on the battlefield.

 

"The technology demonstration was conducted at Redstone Arsenal and it was shown that the sensor correctly detected defilade and air-bursted the round behind the defilade," said Steven Gilbert, U.S. Army Armament Research Project Officer. "This capability will inflict maximum lethality to any enemy personnel seeking cover behind defilade."

Continue reading 'Army creating next-generation grenade to explode behind barriers' (full post)

Small 2014 RC asteroid will fly by Earth in close-up on Sunday, Sept 7

The 2014 RC asteroid will pass by Earth on Sunday, September 7, with closest approach estimated to take place at 2:18 p.m. EDT, as it flies over New Zealand. Astronomers believe it measures around 60 feet in size, and was initially spotted in late August by the Catalina Sky Survey located close to Tucson, Arizona.

 

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The asteroid won't be detectable by the naked eye, but amateur astronomers using telescopes should be able to see it sail by, assuming there is clear weather, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 

At its closest, 2014 RC will be around 25,000 miles away from Earth, and should bypass the geosynchronous ring of communications and weather satellites that orbit our planet. 2014 RC shouldn't pose a threat to Earth or satellites in orbit, but will give researchers a great opportunity to learn about asteroids.

U.S. Air Force testing X-37B space plane, surpasses 600 days in orbit

The secretive U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane recently moved beyond 600 days in orbit as part of a classified test mission that doesn't have a scheduled end date in the near future. The space plane launched on Dec. 11, 2012 onboard an Atlas 5 rocket, and has spent almost one year and nine months in orbit.

 

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Details about the X-37B's exact specifications - and what it is doing in space - remain unknown, but the aircraft is 29 feet in length and stands 9.5 feet tall, with a wingspan of almost 15 feet. Using solar panels, the aircraft is able to stay in space for longer durations, but is still nowhere near the longevity of many U.S. satellites currently in orbit.

 

"The Air Force continues to push the envelope of the solar-powered X-37B capabilities," said Joan Johnson-Freese, National Security Affairs professor at the U.S. Navy War College.

Continue reading 'U.S. Air Force testing X-37B space plane, surpasses 600 days in orbit' (full post)

Space robot arm technology pushing boundaries of surgery on Earth

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) manufactures the Canadarm and Canadarm2 robotic arms for space research, but has joined the KidsArm project to help bring a mini-arm to pediatric surgery. Testing indicates the technology could be used to operate on blood vessels without actually damaging them, along with connecting vessels to other parts of the body.

 

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The KidsArm system utilizes vision-based technology that helps direct a surgical arm to precise locations to carry out medical procedures. The tool tip is guided to a specific location using a "3D point cloud" to help determine where to suture.

 

"The goal of the robotic arm is to help doctors perform certain procedures many times faster than if they were only using their hands, and with increased accuracy," said Thomas Looi, director of the Center for Image-Guided Innovation and Therapeutic Intervention at the Hospital for Sick Kids (SickKids), noted in a statement. "Some of this would be done autonomously. While we are not quite there yet, KidsArm is able to perform three to five suture points autonomously."

NASA is developing a traffic management system for drones

With more and more people using drones, mixed with companies like Amazon using it for delivering retail goods, the skies will soon be filled up with automated, unmanned drones. Things could get busy up there, and with no management of traffic, it could lead to disaster.

 

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NASA is now leading the pack, by developing a traffic management system designed specifically for drones, with the team at NASA's Moffett Field aiming to construct an air traffic control system for low-flying aircraft. Drones usually fly at between 400-500 feet. The system would be similar to existing traffic control system, where the drone system would monitor weather conditions, as well as keeping an eye out for other drones in the sky.

 

Buildings and other low-flying news helicopters would have to also be kept in check, with drones easily smashing into them if wind was to funnel up and veer it off course. This is something that traditional planes don't need to worry about, as they're cruising at above 30,000 feet.

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