Manufacturing Bits: May 19

Self-steering bullets; quantum microscopes; 3D printer chips.


Self-steering bullets
DARPA has completed the development of a self-steering bullet that increases the hit rate for long-distance shots.

The effort, dubbed the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program, is aimed for military snipers. The technology combines a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track and deliver the projectile to the target, according to DARPA. It allows the bullet to change path during flight to compensate for any unexpected factors.

The program was started to revolutionize rifle accuracy and range by developing the first guided small-caliber bullet. The 50-caliber round and optical sighting technology is superior over current state-of-the-art sniper systems. DARPA has a short video on the technology here.

DARPA's self-steering bullet (Source: DARPA)

DARPA’s self-steering bullet (Source: DARPA)

In February, DARPA demonstrated the technology. An experienced shooter using the technology repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Additionally, a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target. “True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager, on the agency’s Web site. “This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”

Quantum microscopes
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has devised a quantum-gas microscope for use in imaging fermionic atoms.

In fact, researchers have been able to image up to 1,000 individual fermionic atoms. Fermions are a class of sub-atomic particles. They include electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks and others.

Imaging fermionic atoms is a difficult task. With the quantum-gas microscope, researchers from MIT can trap and freeze fermionic atoms. The system makes use of two laser beams, which are fixed on a cloud of fermionic atoms in an optical lattice. The scope combines 3D Raman sideband cooling with optics to cool and image individual atoms at a detection fidelity above 95%.

A quantum-gas microscope images fermionic atoms. (Source: MIT)

A quantum-gas microscope images fermionic atoms. (Source: MIT)

“The Fermi gas microscope, together with the ability to position atoms at will, might be an important step toward the realization of a quantum computer based on fermions,” said Martin Zwierlein, a professor at MIT, on the university’s Web site. “One would thus harness the power of the very same intricate quantum rules that so far hamper our understanding of electronic systems.”

3D printer chips
A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) has devised a new conductive thermoplastic thread for 3D printers.

The thread can be used to create circuits in systems. Researchers have used the material to print a USB connector. The connector can be used in LED bulbs, wearable flexible sensors and other products.

The resistivity of thermoplastic material is in the range of 0.5-1.0 Wcm. This is about 1,000 times more conductive than most commercially available plastic filaments for 3D printing. The filament stays intact throughout the 3D printing process.

The material is safer, faster and cheaper, as compared to conventional etching-and-soldering method, according to IMRE. In addition, such circuits have highly uniform conductivity, with less than a 5% variation. This compares to more than a 100% in commercially available conductive filaments.

“Objects in various colors, shapes and textures complete with functional circuits including wires, resistors and capacitors, could one day be printed in the comfort of one’s home,” said Kwok Sen Wai, a scientist at IMRE. “We believe that our material will encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship as it will empower people to make prototypes more easily and cheaply.”

IMRE is looking for industry partners to commercialize the technology. The new technology is now available for licensing through A*STAR’s commercialization arm, Exploit Technologies Pte. Ltd. (ETPL).

Comparison of the  resistivity between a commercially-available filament and IMRE’s filament. (Source: A*Star)

Comparison of the resistivity between a commercially-available filament and IMRE’s filament. (Source: A*Star)