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UMD Robot Bird Takes Maneuverability to New Height

April 30, 2013
Contacts: 

Rebecca Copeland 301–405–6602

First independently controllable wings make more realistic flight possible

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In this age of advanced technology, how hard could it be to develop a robotic bird that flies by flapping its wings? Despite the apparent simplicity of the idea, it's very hard—if you want the bird to actually fly. And how hard could it be to make a robot bird whose wings can flap independently of each other? So hard that it's been a breakthrough that's been out of reach for engineers—until now.

University of Maryland professors S. K. Gupta and Hugh Bruck and their students have developed and demonstrated a new robotic bird, "Robo Raven," whose wings flap completely independently of each other, and also can be programmed to perform any desired motion, enabling the bird to perform aerobatic maneuvers. This is the first time a robotic bird with these capabilities has been built and successfully flown.

What makes building robotic birds so difficult? Not only is there a long trial and error process, but every error leads to a crash, often one that is fatal to the robot. This makes design iterations painfully slow.

(L-R) Students Luke Roberts, John Gerdes, and Ariel Perez-Rosado with Robo Raven.Gupta, a professor in Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Systems Research in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, has been working on flapping-wing robotic birds for the better part of a decade. He and his graduate students, along with Mechanical Engineering Professor Hugh Bruck, first successfully demonstrated a flapping-wing bird in 2007. This bird used one motor to flap both wings together in simple motions. By 2010 the design had evolved over four successive models. The final bird in the series was able to carry a tiny video camera, could be launched from a ground robot, and could fly in winds up to 10 mph—important breakthroughs for robotic micro air vehicles that one day could be used for reconnaissance and surveillance. It even fooled a local hawk, which attacked the robot in mid-flight on more than one occasion.

Robo Raven's wings flap completely independent of each other.But the limitation of simultaneous wing flapping restricted how well the robotic bird could fly. So Gupta decided to tackle the much thornier problem of creating a more versatile bird with wings that operated independently, just like real birds. An unsuccessful attempt in 2008 led to the project being shelved for a while. Then, in 2012, Gupta partnered with Bruck and their graduate students to try again.

"Our new robot, Robo Raven, is based on a fundamentally new design concept," Gupta says. "It uses two programmable motors that can be synchronized electronically to coordinate motion between the wings."

The challenge was that the two actuators required a bigger battery and an on-board micro controller, which initially made Robo Raven too heavy to fly.

"How did we get Robo Raven to 'diet' and lose weight?" Gupta asks. "We used advanced manufacturing processes such as 3D printing and laser cutting to create lightweight polymer parts."

But smarter manufacturing and lighter parts were only part of the solution.

Robo Raven in flight. So the team did three more things to get Robo Raven airborne. They programmed motion profiles that ensured wings maintained optimal velocity while flapping to achieve the right balance between lift and thrust. They developed a way to measure aerodynamic forces generated during the flapping cycle, enabling them to evaluate a range of wing designs and quickly select the best one. Finally, the team performed system-level optimization to make sure all components worked well together and provided peak performance as an integrated system.

"We can now program any desired motion patterns for the wings," Gupta says. "This allows us to try new in-flight aerobatics—like diving and rolling—that would have not been possible before, and brings us a big step closer to faithfully reproducing the way real birds fly."

Life-Saving Technology Advances with $500k Fed Grant

April 29, 2013
Contacts: 

Eric Schurr 301-405-3889

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Remedium Technologies, a medical device company founded by University of Maryland engineers has been awarded a $500,000 federal small business innovation research grant to test the company's high-pressure, sprayable foam for rapidly halting bleeding caused by traumatic injuries.

Remedium Technologies, a medical device company founded by University of Maryland engineers has been awarded a $500,000 federal small business innovation research grant to test the company's high-pressure, sprayable foam for rapidly halting bleeding caused by traumatic injuries. In collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Maryland, Remedium will complete pre-clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its Hemogrip™ foam in controlling non-compressible hemorrhaging, bleeding that cannot be slowed or stopped using direct pressure. Hemogrip foam can be sprayed into an injured body cavity, where it expands and adheres to tissue to stop hemorrhaging within minutes. There are currently no hemostatic products available for treatment of non-compressible bleeds, which account for 85 percent of hemorrhage-related deaths.

The grant will also support additional UMD product research by the Complex Fluids and Nanomaterials Group in the Clark School of Engineering, directed by Remedium co-founder Professor Srinivasa Raghavan (Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering).

"Remedium is honored to be recognized for its product development progress with this important Phase II funding from the National Science Foundation," said Matthew Dowling (Ph.D. '10, bioengineering), CEO and co-founder of Remedium. "We are enthusiastic in approaching pre-clinical trials with a product we see as critical in addressing non-compressible hemorrhage, which is one of the biggest unmet needs in trauma medicine today," said Dowling.

Hemogrip's life-saving technology is based on chitosan—a natural biopolymer found in the exoskeleton of shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans. Chitosan is unique as a natural material because it is biocompatible, anti-microbial, and highly durable under a wide range of environmental conditions. When applied to wounds, Hemogrip creates a nano-scale, three-dimensional mesh, rapidly coagulating blood and staunching blood loss.

The Hemogrip Foam is dispensed from a handheld, lightweight canister that is easy to use by surgeons, soldiers and consumers alike. It can be removed quickly and easily without damaging tissue, and since it is based on chitosan—the second most abundant biopolymer on earth—it is also inexpensive.

Both the current $500,000 grant and an earlier $150,000 SBIR Phase I grant were awarded to Remedium by the National Science Foundation.  The company's research has also been supported by two Maryland Industrial Partnerships grants totaling $206,000, a $140,000 Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance grant, a $75,000 Maryland Technology Development Corporation Maryland Technology Transfer Fund grant, and a $200,000 Maryland Biotechnology Center Translational Research Award. In 2009, it received the UMD's Outstanding Invention of the Year Award in the Life Sciences from the Office of Technology and Commercialization.

The young company has been highly successful in business plan competitions, including winning first prize in the Community Resilience and Homeland Security division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 2010 Global Venture Challenge; the "Most Promising Security Idea" award in the 2009 4th Annual Global Security Challenge; and 2nd place in the Faculty and Graduate Student Division of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute's 2007 $50K Business Plan Competition. Most recently, Remedium was a finalist in the Invest Maryland Challenge, a national early-stage business competition offering grants and services to high-tech and life sciences startups located or interested in moving to the State of Maryland.

The company has six patents pending related to the Hemogrip platform. Its products, which also include surgical sprays and bandages, are designed to be used by surgeons, soldiers, EMTs, or even unskilled helpers, in locations ranging from the operating room to the battlefield to emergency situations.

Americans Feel Less Rushed, Less Happy: UMD Research

April 29, 2013
Contacts: 

Andrew Roberts 301-405-2171
Laura Ours 301-405-5722

Fewer Americans describe their lives as "always rushed," according to a new study by a University of Maryland researcher.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Fewer Americans describe their lives as "always rushed," according to a new study by a University of Maryland researcher – this during a period when smart phones and electronic tablets made work and social life more time-intensive and ever- present.  Between 2004 and 2010, significantly fewer (about 8 percent of survey respondents) considered themselves so intensely rushed.

At the same time, that less hectic lifestyle did not translate to increased happiness. While feelings of being rushed have been associated with lower levels of feeling "very happy," during this period, Americans' reports of happiness also declined significantly.

"The result was almost the opposite of what I expected" says University of Maryland sociologist and time-use researcher John P. Robinson, who conducted the study.  "Until this 2010 survey, feelings of being rushed had continually increased or stayed at the same level." Robinson has been tracking responses to time survey questions since 1965, when he directed the first national time survey at the University of Michigan.

Robinson reported the findings in a February 2013 report in Scientific American, and more fully in the January 2013 issue of Social Indicators Research.

 While feelings of being rushed have been associated with lower levels of feeling "very happy," during this period, Americans' reports of happiness also declined significantly.Digging deeper, Robinson also found a decline in how often Americans felt they "had time on their hands they didn't know what to do with." Nearly half of people who reported "almost never" being rushed and "almost never" having excess time on their hands said they were "very happy" in their lives -- compared to only about 25 percent of the rest of the population. 

"This small slice of the population – perhaps less than 10 percent of the public – seems to have found a way to organize their lives in a way to resist the rat race and hurry sickness than afflicts the rest of us," Robinson concludes.

The drop in feeling rushed does not appear connected to increases in joblessness during this period, as more declines were found among those who were employed. Nor were there any age groups that felt less rushed.
 
The data come from the 2010 General Social Survey of the University of Chicago, and various other national surveys by the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan and the University of North Florida.

Cyber Symposium Tackles Policy, Tech, Privacy & More

April 26, 2013
Contacts: 

Eric Chapman 301-405-7136

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – What if cybersecurity were addressed as a public health concern, with strict protocols required comparable to childhood vaccinations? Is it ethically and technically feasible for local governments and corporations to launch preemptive cyberattacks against hackers? Just how safe are those "trusted certificates" we rely upon almost daily for online banking and other important web-based transactions?

Michael Hicks, director of MC2These topics, and more, are up for discussion at a major cybersecurity symposium to be held next month at the University of Maryland. The two-day event, May 14 and 15 at the College Park campus, features keynote speakers from academia, the private sector and the federal government. These experts will offer forward-looking—and possibly provocative—views on the policies, technology and human behaviors needed to combat the ever-evolving threats posed by hackers and cyberthieves.

"These are thought-provoking topics that we fully expect to stimulate interesting dialogue among our symposium participants," says Michael Hicks (pictured right), director of the Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2), which is coordinating the annual event.

Research faculty from MC2, part of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, will also be on hand for a series of tutorials and workshops. They will discuss the latest developments and technology related to privacy in social media, security forensics, protocols for secure cloud computation and communication, supply chain security, reverse engineering and program analysis, and more.

"Anyone wanting to understand the latest trends and solutions in cybersecurity—students, business leaders, policymakers and scientists—will benefit from these sessions," says Eric Chapman, associate director of MC2.

Several corporate partners of MC2, including Tenable Network Security, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, SAIC and Google, are sponsoring the event.

Keynote speakers are:

  • Fred Schneider, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University, who will discuss how past policies for enhancing cybersecurity—prevention, risk management and deterrence through accountability—have all proven ineffective, and that a new doctrine inspired by those used for public health should be considered.
  • Kathleen Fisher, a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who will discuss the need to develop better "high-assurance" systems in critical areas like hospitals and military applications, where hackers' intrusions can have devastating consequences.
  • Randy Sabett, J.D., of counsel at ZwillGen PLLC, who will discuss the current controversy over an "active" cyberdefense—preemptive strikes against hackers—that is an increasingly considered option outside of classified government agencies.
  • Steven Bellovin, chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, who will discuss what he considers to be serious security flaws in a critical infrastructure used to protect web users—trusted certificate authorities—and how their being compromised can have a cascading effect on other online security.

For more information or to register, go to www.cyber.umd.edu/events/symposium.

Why do guppies jump?

April 25, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md - If you've owned a pet guppy, you know they often jump out of their tanks. Many a child has asked why the guppy jumped; many a parent has been stumped for an answer. Now a study by University of Maryland biologist Daphne De Freitas Soares reveals how guppies are able to jump so far, and suggests why they do it.

Soares, an expert in the brain circuitry that controls animal behavior, decided to study jumping guppies while researching unrelated evolutionary changes in the brainstems of Poecilia reticulata, a wild guppy species from the island of Trinidad and the forebear to the familiar pet shop fish. During that 2011 project, a guppy jumped out of a laboratory tank and into Soares' cup of chai.

"Fortunately it was iced chai and it had a lid on, so he stayed alive," Soares said. "That was enough for me. I had to use a high speed camera to film what was going on."

Soares, an assistant professor of biology, and UMD biology lecturer Hilary S. Bierman used high speed videography and digital imaging to analyze the jumping behavior of nine guppies from the wild Trinidadian species.
 
In a research paper published April 16 in the online peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, Soares and Bierman reported the jumping guppies started from a still position, swam backwards slowly, then changed direction and hurtled into the air. By preparing for the jump – a behavior never reported before in fish, according to the two biologists – the guppies were able to jump up to eight times their body length, at speeds of more than four feet per second.

Soares and Bierman concluded that guppies jump on purpose, and apparently not for the reasons other fish do – to escape from predators, to catch prey, or to get past obstacles on seasonal migrations.

The biologists hypothesize that jumping serves an important evolutionary purpose, allowing guppies to reach all the available habitat in Trinidad's mountain streams. By dispersing, they move away from areas of heavy predation, minimize competition with one another, and keep the species' genetic variability high, the researchers believe.

"Evolution is truly amazing," said Soares, who spent her own money on fish food, but otherwise conducted the study at no cost.

The video above captures a guppy's high flying technique.

"Aerial jumping in the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata)," Daphne Soares and Hilary S. Bierman, published April 16, 2013 in PLOS One

UMD Students Honored for Outstanding Journalism

April 25, 2013
Contacts: 

Dave Ottalini 301-405-1321

Members of the UMD chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists who attended the regional conference included (from left to right): Adviser Sue Kopen Katcef, Katie Wilhelm, Brett Hall, Brandon Goldner, Marissa Parra, Emily SchweichCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – Student journalists from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism (pictured right) took home top honors at the recent Society of Professional Journalist's (SPJ) Region 2 Conference. Overall, students from the Merrill College and the UMD student newspaper – The Diamondback – took home 27 awards, including 9 first place awards – more than any other school in the region.

SPJ's Region 2 comprises Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Honorees received award certificates at the Region 2 Spring Conference in Norfolk, Va., and first-place winners will move on to the national MOE competition among category winners from the 12 SPJ regions.

National winners will be notified in the late spring and will be recognized at Excellence in Journalism 2013 in Southern California, Aug. 24 to 26. The awards are judged by professionals with at least three years of journalism experience.

The awards honor the best in student journalism. As such, judges were directed to choose only those entries which they felt were outstanding work worthy of such an honor. If the judges determined that none of the entries rose to the level of excellence, no award was given. Any category not listed has no winner.

School divisions are based on student enrollment, which includes both graduate and undergraduate enrollment: Large schools have more than 10,000 students, medium have 9,999 to 5,001 students, and small have fewer than 5,000 students.

For the full list of UMD awards, visit the Merrill College website here.

Hubble Brings Faraway Comet Into View

April 23, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

This contrast-enhanced image of Comet ISON, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 10, 2013, shows dust particle release on the sunward-facing side of the comet's nucleus, the small, solid body at its core. The image was taken in visible light with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. Blue false color was added to bring out details in the comet structure. Blue false color was added to bring out details.  Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team. COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The NASA Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers their clearest view yet of Comet ISON, a newly-discovered sun grazer comet that may light up the sky later this year, or come so close to the Sun that it disintegrates. A University of Maryland-led research team is closely following ISON, which offers a rare opportunity to witness a comet's evolution as it makes its first-ever journey through the inner solar system.

Like all comets, ISON is a " dirty snowball" – a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust, formed in a distant reach of the solar system, traveling on an orbit influenced by the gravitational pull of the Sun and its planets. ISON's orbit will bring it to a perihelion, or maximum approach to the Sun, of 700,000 miles on November 28, said Maryland assistant research scientist Michael S. Kelley.

This image was made on April 10, when ISON was some 386 million miles from the Sun – slightly closer to the Sun than the planet Jupiter. Comets become more active as they near the inner solar system, where the Sun's heat evaporates their  ices into jets of gases and dust. But even at this great distance ISON is already active, with a strong jet blasting dust particles off its nucleus. As these dust particles shimmer in reflected sunlight, a portion of the comet's tail becomes visible in the Hubble image.

Comet ISON may appear brighter than the full Moon around the time it approaches the Sun Nov. 28, but it is not yet visible to the naked eye. The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image as ISON hurtles toward the sun at about 47,000 miles per hour. The image was taken in visible light, and blue false color was added to bring out details.  Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team. This image was taken in visible light with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. The blue false color was added to bring out details in the comet structure.Next week while the Hubble still has the comet in view, the Maryland team will use the space telescope to gather information about ISON's gases.

"We want to look for the ratio of the three dominant ices, water, frozen carbon monoxide, and frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice," said Maryland astronomy Prof. Michael A'Hearn. "That can tell us the temperature at which the comet formed, and with that temperature, we can then say where in the solar system it formed."

The Maryland team will use both the Hubble Space Telescope and the instruments on the Deep Impact space craft to continue to follow ISON as it travels toward its November close up (perihelion) with the sun.

For earlier images and research by the UMD team, see these links to earlier ISON releases:
Comet Debuting in New Deep Impact Movie Expected to Star this Winter
Astronomers Take a Closer Look at Comet ISON

 

 

Going Green Vertically

April 22, 2013
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

ENST graduate student Scott Tjaden holds plans for the green wall he is installing on the Animal Sciences building.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Inside one of the wings of the Animal Sciences building on the University of Maryland campus, students with the Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST) are constantly researching, testing and analyzing ways to make systems more energy efficient and sustainable. But ENST graduate student Scott Tjaden (pictured right) decided his latest project would be more appropriate for the outside of the building. "What better way to show what we're learning about and what we're researching on a large scale?" says Tjaden.

About a year and a half ago, Tjaden applied for and received a grant from the university's Sustainability Fund to install a green wall on the southern side of the Animal Sciences building. Green walls, or green façade systems, are designed to reduce the sun exposure of buildings in order to cut down on energy needed to condition the interior. They can also help protect a building's exterior, provide cleaner air and promote biodiversity.

Once completed, Tjaden's project will create UMD's very first green wall. "We're hoping this will spur more green walls on campus," he says.

Green Wall DiagramConstruction began early this spring on the wall's trellis system made of tension cable and horizontal rods. Vine-based plants will be installed at the base of the wall that will grow up the trellis system. Tjaden carefully chose plants native to Maryland including passion flowers and jasmine, incorporating school colors into his design. He also plans to create a butterfly garden at the bottom of the structure to make it more aesthetically pleasing. A group of five undergraduate students are assisting Tjaden as part of a capstone project.

Additionally, the green wall and one of the existing brick walls will both be equipped with monitoring devices. This will allow Tjaden to collect and compare data on temperature and energy fluxes between the two surfaces. He also plans to display that data on a TV monitor live inside the building's lobby. "This will extend the passing students' and visitors' knowledge of the system and they can see by the numbers how the system benefits buildings," says Tjaden.

Although Tjaden plans to have the plants installed at the green wall by Maryland Day, April 27, it will be a couple of years before the surface is completely grown in. Tjaden is set to graduate with his master's degree next May but hopes his efforts will inspire other students to take over his green wall project or, create their own.

Mourning the Loss of UMD Alum Jack Kay

April 22, 2013
Contacts: 

Monique Everette, 301-405-6714

From the College of Arts and Humanities

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland is saddened by the death of Jack Kay, a distinguished alumnus and benefactor.  A 1947 Maryland graduate, Mr. Kay lived in Chevy Chase, Md. and Palm Beach, Fla. He was 87 years old.

With his father, Abraham S. Kay, Jack pioneered development of the Maryland suburbs after World War II, including such communities as Kemp Mill Village. In his own right, Jack Kay became a business and community leader and a dedicated philanthropist. His business interests included a real estate management firm, Kay Management.

During his life, Jack Kay was recognized with a number of prestigious community awards. At the University of Maryland, his philanthropic legacy is reflected in the academic programs, scholarships and facilities he made possible.

More than five years ago, he endowed the Abraham S. and Jack Kay Chair in Israel Studies to further an understanding of the cultural, historical and social dynamics of life in Israel, as well as to honor his father’s personal commitment to Jewish education.  He furthered his own educational commitment by funding the Jack Kay Program in Advanced Israel Studies.

For decades, he helped support the Banneker Key Scholars Program, the University’s most prestigious academic award for undergraduates.  Each year, his endowment provides a merit-based scholarship award for an outstanding student in the Banneker Key Program.

His support for the University’s state-of-the-art performance center is recognized in the naming of the proscenium theatre that bears his name, and the name of his late wife, Ina.

 

 

 

Bat and Rat Brain Rhythms Differ When on the Move

April 18, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

A big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus, flying in the University of Maryland’s Auditory Neuroethology laboratory. Photo credit: Jessica Nelson, University of MarylandCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - To get a clear picture of how humans and other mammals form memories and find their way through their surroundings, neuroscientists must pay more attention to a broad range of animals rather than focus on a single model species, say two University of Maryland researchers, Katrina MacLeod and Cynthia Moss. Their new comparative study of bats and rats reports differences between the species that suggest the need to revise models of spatial navigation.

In a paper appearing in the April 19, 2013 issue of Science, the UMD researchers and two colleagues at Boston University reported significant differences between rats’ and bats’ brain rhythms when certain cells were active in a part of the brain used in memory and navigation.

These cells behaved as expected in rats, which mostly move along surfaces. But in bats, which fly, the continuous brain rhythm did not appear, said Moss, a professor in Psychology and Biology and the Institute for Systems Research.

The finding suggests that even though rats, bats, humans and other mammals share a common neural representation of space in a part of the brain that has been linked to spatial information and memory, they may have different cellular mechanisms to create or interpret those maps, said MacLeod, an assistant research scientist in Biology.

“To understand brains, including ours, we really must study neural activity in a variety of animals,” MacLeod said. “Common features across multiple species tell us ‘Aha, this is important,’ but differences can occur because of variances in the animals’ ecology, behavior, or evolutionary history.”

The research team focused on a brain region that contains specialized “grid cells,” so named because they form a hexagonal grid of activity related to the animal’s location as it navigates through space. This brain region, the medial entorhinal cortex, sits next to the hippocampus, the place that, in humans, forms memories of events such as where a car is parked. The medial entorhinal cortex acts as a hub of neural networks for memory and navigation.

Grid cells were first noticed in rats navigating their environment, but recent work by Nachum Ulanovsky (Moss’s former postdoctoral researcher at UMD) and his research team at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, has shown these cells exist in bats as well.

In rats, grid cells fire in a pattern called a theta wave when the animals spatially navigate. Theta waves are fairly low-frequency electrical oscillations that also have been observed at the cellular level in the medial entorhinal cortex. The prominence of theta waves in rats suggested they were important. As a result, neuroscientists, trying to understand the relationship between theta waves and grid cells, have developed models of the brain based on the assumption that theta waves are key to spatial navigation in mammals.

However, Moss said, “recordings from the brains of bats navigating in space contain a surprise, because the expected theta rhythms aren’t continuously present as they are in the rodent.”

The new Science study doubles down on the lack of theta in bats by reporting that theta rhythms also are not present at the cellular level. “The bat neurons don’t ‘ring’ the way the rat neurons do,” says MacLeod. “This raises a lots of questions as to whether theta rhythms are actually doing what the spatial navigation theory proposes in rats or even humans.”

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