Monday, 27 January 2014

MIT Research How to tap the sun’s energy through heat as well as light

A new approach to harvesting solar energy, developed by MIT researchers, could improve efficiency by using sunlight to heat a high-temperature material whose infrared radiation would then be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell. This technique could also make it easier to store the energy for later use, the researchers say.

In this case, adding the extra step improves performance, because it makes it possible to take advantage of wavelengths of light that ordinarily go to waste. The process is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology , written by graduate student Andrej Lenert, associate professor of mechanical engineering Evelyn Wang, physics professor Marin Soljačić, principal research scientist Ivan Celanović, and three others.

A conventional silicon-based solar cell “doesn’t take advantage of all the photons,” Wang explains. That’s because converting the energy of a photon into electricity requires that the photon’s energy level match that of a characteristic of the photovoltaic (PV) material called a bandgap. Silicon’s bandgap responds to many wavelengths of light, but misses many others.

To address that limitation, the team inserted a two-layer absorber-emitter device — made of novel materials including carbon nanotubes and photonic crystals — between the sunlight and the PV cell. This intermediate material collects energy from a broad spectrum of sunlight, heating up in the process. When it heats up, as with a piece of iron that glows red hot, it emits light of a particular wavelength, which in this case is tuned to match the bandgap of the PV cell mounted nearby.

• Harnessing the Full Potential of the Sun:

This basic concept has been explored for several years, since in theory such solar thermophotovoltaic (STPV) systems could provide a way to circumvent a theoretical limit on the energy-conversion efficiency of semiconductor-based photovoltaic devices. That limit, called the Shockley-Queisser limit, imposes a cap of 33.7 percent on such efficiency, but Wang says that with TPV systems, “the efficiency would be significantly higher — it could ideally be over 80 percent.” There have been many practical obstacles to realizing that potential; previous experiments have been unable to produce a STPV device with efficiency of greater than 1 percent. But Lenert, Wang, and their team have already produced an initial test device with a measured efficiency of 3.2 percent, and they say with further work they expect to be able to reach 20 percent efficiency — enough, they say, for a commercially viable product.

The design of the two-layer absorber-emitter material is key to this improvement. Its outer layer, facing the sunlight, is an array of multiwalled carbon nanotubes, which very efficiently absorbs the light’s energy and turns it to heat. This layer is bonded tightly to a layer of a photonic crystal, which is precisely engineered so that when it is heated by the attached layer of nanotubes, it “glows” with light whose peak intensity is mostly above the bandgap of the adjacent PV, ensuring that most of the energy collected by the absorber is then turned into electricity.

In their experiments, the researchers used simulated sunlight, and found that its peak efficiency came when its intensity was equivalent to a focusing system that concentrates sunlight by a factor of 750. This light heated the absorber-emitter to a temperature of 962 degrees Celsius. This level of concentration is already much lower than in previous attempts at STPV systems, which concentrated sunlight by a factor of several thousand. But the MIT researchers say that after further optimization, it should be possible to get the same kind of enhancement at even lower sunlight concentrations, making the systems easier to operate. Such a system, the team says, combines the advantages of solar photovoltaic systems, which turn sunlight directly into electricity, and solar thermal systems, which can have an advantage for delayed use because heat can be more easily stored than electricity. The new solar thermophotovoltaic systems, they say, could provide efficiency because of their broadband absorption of sunlight; scalability and compactness, because they are based on existing chip-manufacturing technology; and ease of energy storage, because of their reliance on heat.

Some of the ways to further improve the system are quite straightforward. Since the intermediate stage of the system, the absorber-emitter, relies on high temperatures, its size is crucial: The larger an object, the less surface area it has in relation to its volume, so heat losses decline rapidly with increasing size. The initial tests were done on a 1-centimeter chip, but follow-up tests will be done with a 10-centimeter chip, they say.

Zhuomin Zhang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology who was not involved in this research, says, “This work is a breakthrough in solar thermophotovoltaics, which in principle may achieve higher efficiency than conventional solar cells because STPV can take advantage of the whole solar spectrum. … This achievement paves the way for rapidly boosting the STPV efficiency.”

The research team also included MIT graduate students David Bierman and Walker Chan, former postdoc Youngsuk Nam, and research scientist Ivan Celanović. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through MIT’s Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion (S3TEC) Center, as well as the Martin Family Society, the MIT Energy Initiative, and the National Science Foundation.

E-Bike Sharing Coming Soon To San Francisco.

Members of San Francisco and Berkeley's non-profit car share service City CarShare can now go electric - either in the car or the bike they choose.

Last August City CarShare announced that it was adding an electric bike sharing service to its lineup. The non-profit was waiting for some grant funding (the program is reportedly to cost $2 million for a three-year pilot), and has now gone ahead with what it calls a 'pre-pilot' program.

The two electric-assist bikes in the pre-pilot are small, sturdy and bright orange and white, produced by Juiced Riders of Chula Vista, California, and A2B of London, and have back racks, lithium ion batteries, and heavy duty kickstands.

Riders can reserve the Juice Rider or A2B bike as they would a car, and use their member 'fob' to check them out at the Bike Station . They can be pedaled as a normal bike would be. Alternatively, with the Juiced bike, a rider can throttle to greater speed, hit a 'cruise control' button and then continue to pedal with that higher level of motor assistance. With the A2B bike there is a pedal-assist and a throttle mode.

It was reported that City CarShare plans to deploy 90 of the bright bikes to 25 pick up locations around the city. The bikes have a range of approximately 30- 40 miles. Electric bike sharing is one of the next generations for bike sharing, with Copenhagen pilot testing an e-bike sharing program. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville implemented one of the earliest e-bike sharing programs, pioneered by Dr. Chris Cherry. Though a small program with just 14 e-bikes, CycleUshare's two electric-bike stations are 100% solar powered.

Researchers Develop Sensors Inspired by Cats and Rats Whiskers

Researchers have created tactile sensors from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles that are claimed to be similar to whiskers of cats and rats.

These so-called e-whiskers, developed by researchers at Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, are said to respond to pressure as slight as a single Pascal. Potential applications include giving robots new abilities to manoeuvre within their surrounding environment.

‘Whiskers are hair-like tactile sensors used by certain mammals and insects to monitor wind and navigate around obstacles in tight spaces,’ said the research leader Ali Javey, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of engineering.

‘Our electronic whiskers consist of high-aspect-ratio elastic fibres coated with conductive composite films of nanotubes and nanoparticles. In tests, these whiskers were 10 times more sensitive to pressure than all previously reported capacitive or resistive pressure sensors.’

For this project, Javey and his research group used a carbon nanotube paste to form a bendable electrically conductive network matrix. They then loaded the carbon nanotube matrix with a thin film of silver nanoparticles that endowed the matrix with high sensitivity to mechanical strain.

‘The strain sensitivity and electrical resistivity of our composite film is readily tuned by changing the composition ratio of the carbon nanotubes and the silver nanoparticles,’ Javey said in a statement. ‘The composite can then be painted or printed onto high-aspect-ratio elastic fibres to form e-whiskers that can be integrated with different user-interactive systems.’

Javey noted that the use of elastic fibres with a small spring constant as the structural component of the whiskers provides large deflection and therefore high strain in response to the smallest applied pressures. As proof-of-concept, he and his research group used their e-whiskers to demonstrate 2D and 3D mapping of wind flow. In the future, e-whiskers could be used to mediate tactile sensing for the spatial mapping of nearby objects, and could also lead to wearable sensors for measuring heartbeat and pulse rate.

‘Our e-whiskers represent a new type of highly responsive tactile sensor networks for real time monitoring of environmental effects,’ Javey said. ‘The ease of fabrication, light weight and excellent performance of our e-whiskers should have a wide range of applications for advanced robotics, human-machine user interfaces, and biological applications.’

A paper describing the work - Highly sensitive electronic whiskers based on patterned carbon nanotube and silver nanoparticle composite films - has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This research was supported by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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Saturday, 25 January 2014

De Jong Charts The Course For The Biggest Change In Elevators Since 1853

Johannes de Jong just about went berserk when he heard his company, elevator-maker KONE Corp., had pulled the plug on research into ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber hoisting rope, which de Jong thought could be the biggest advance in elevators since Elisha Otis introduced the safety brake in 1853.

"I could see carbon fiber's business potential, so I decided to try to convince KONE's top management to reinstate the research," says de Jong, KONE's head of technology. Armed with a four-page paper, he presented his case to KONE skeptics and volunteered to sponsor the project. One month later, carbon-fiber research was back on track. "I had put my name on the block," says de Jong, who has been with KONE for 36 years. "It's one thing to invent something and another thing to get the invention out of R&D and into the real world. We then had to find a way to make the rope work," he says. It took nine more years. KONE introduced the patented system, called KONE UltraRope, last June in London. De Jong is more excited about it than ever.

"This is going to change the way elevators are made and the way tall buildings are designed," he predicts. UltraRope replaces heavy steel cables with lightweight carbon-fiber belts and increases the maximum-feasible vertical run to one kilometer from about 600 meters. Among other pluses, the system significantly reduces elevator energy use and operational costs. UltraRope makes sense for buildings 200 m or taller, says KONE. In a 400-m-tall building with 10 elevators, the belts would reduce rope weight by over 90%, to under 12 tons. That reduction would save 130 MW-hours of electricity annually, claims KONE.

"UltraRope is a revolutionary new product," said Jay Popp, executive vice president, international, for vertical transportation consultant Lerch Bates Inc., after the UltraRope launch. The buildings sector has known for decades that weight was the limiting factor for an elevator run, but "no other elevator company had come up with a viable commercial alternative before UltraRope," adds Antony Wood, executive director of the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat. "The bigger impact, beyond the potential for a 1- km run, is that, the minute you reduce rope weight, the whole system becomes more efficient," says Wood.

Robotic device has therapeutic potential for ankles and feet

A soft, wearable device that mimics the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower leg could aid in the rehabilitation of patients with ankle-foot disorders.

This is the claim of Yong-Lae Park, an assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked with collaborators at Harvard University, the University of Southern California, MIT and Massachusetts-based BioSensics to develop an active orthotic (artificial support or brace) device using soft plastics and composite materials instead of a rigid exoskeleton.

The soft materials - combined with pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), lightweight sensors, and advanced control software - made it possible for the robotic device to achieve natural motions in the ankle.

The researchers reported on the development in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. In a statement, Park said the same approach could be used to create rehabilitative devices for other joints of the body or create soft exoskeletons that increase the strength of the wearer.

The robotic device would be suitable for aiding people with neuromuscular disorders of the foot and ankle associated with cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis or stroke. These gait disorders include drop foot, in which the forefoot drops because of weakness or paralysis, and equinus, in which the upward bending motion of the ankle is limited. Conventional passive ankle braces can improve gait, but long-term use can lead to muscle atrophy because of disuse. Active, powered devices can improve function and also help re-educate the neuromuscular system.

‘The limitation of a traditional exoskeleton is that it limits the natural degrees of freedom of the body,’ said Park. The ankle is naturally capable of a complicated three-dimensional motion, but most rigid exoskeletons allow only a single pivot point. The soft orthotic device enabled the researchers to mimic the biological structure of the lower leg. The device’s artificial tendons were attached to four PAMs, which correspond with three muscles in the foreleg and one in the back that control ankle motion. The prototype was capable of generating an ankle range of sagittal motion of 27 degrees, which is sufficient for a normal walking gait.

The soft device, however, is more difficult to control than a rigid exoskeleton. Park said it required more sophisticated sensing to track the position of the ankle and foot, and a more intelligent scheme for controlling foot motion. The device contains sensors made of a touch-sensitive artificial skin, and thin rubber sheets that contain long microchannels filled with a liquid metal alloy. When these rubber sheets are stretched or pressed, the shapes of the microchannels change, which cause changes in the electrical resistance of the alloy. These sensors were positioned on the top and at the side of the ankle.

Park said additional work will be necessary to improve the wearability of the device. This includes artificial muscles that are less bulky than the commercially produced PAMs used in this project.

Son of a Mechanical Engineer.

Engineer Converts Yeast Cells Into 'Sweet Crude' Biofuel

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a new source of renewable energy, a biofuel, from genetically engineered yeast cells and ordinary table sugar. This yeast produces oils and fats, known as lipids, that can be used in place of petroleum-derived products.

Assistant professor Hal Alper, in the Cockrell School's McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, along with his team of students, created the new cell-based platform. Given that the yeast cells grow on sugars, Alper calls the biofuel produced by this process "a renewable version of sweet crude." The researchers' platform produces the highest concentration of oils and fats reported through fermentation, the process of culturing cells to convert sugar into products such as alcohol, gases or acids. This work was published in Nature Communications on Jan. 20. The UT Austin research team was able to rewire yeast cells to enable up to 90 percent of the cell mass to become lipids, which can then be used to produce biodiesel.

"To put this in perspective, this lipid value is approaching the concentration seen in many industrial biochemical processes," Alper said. "You can take the lipids formed and theoretically use it to power a car." Since fatty materials are building blocks for many household products, this process could be used to produce a variety of items made with petroleum or oils -- from nylon to nutrition supplements to fuels. Biofuels and chemicals produced from living organisms represent a promising portion of the renewable energy market. Overall, the global biofuels market is expected to double during the next several years, going from $82.7 billion in 2011 to $185.3 billion in 2021.

"We took a starting yeast strain of Yarrowia lipolytica, and we've been able to convert it into a factory for oil directly from sugar," Alper said. "This work opens up a new platform for a renewable energy and chemical source." The biofuel the researchers formulated is similar in composition to biodiesel made from soybean oil. The advantages of using the yeast cells to produce commercial-grade biodiesel are that yeast cells can be grown anywhere, do not compete with land resources and are easier to genetically alter than other sources of biofuel. "By genetically rewiring Yarrowia lipolytica, Dr. Alper and his research group have created a near-commercial biocatalyst that produces high levels of bio-oils during carbohydrate fermentation," said Lonnie O. Ingram, director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels at the University of Florida. "This is a remarkable demonstration of the power of metabolic engineering." So far, high-level production of biofuels and renewable oils has been an elusive goal, but the researchers believe that industry-scale production is possible with their platform. In a large-scale engineering effort spanning over four years, the researchers genetically modified Yarrowia lipolytica by both removing and overexpressing specific genes that influence lipid production. In addition, the team identified optimum culturing conditions that differ from standard conditions. Traditional methods rely on nitrogen starvation to trick yeast cells into storing fat and materials. Alper's research provides a mechanism for growing lipids without nitrogen starvation. The research has resulted in a technology for which UT Austin has applied for a patent.

"Our cells do not require that starvation," Alper said. "That makes it extremely attractive from an industry production standpoint." The team increased lipid levels by nearly 60-fold from the starting point. At 90 percent lipid levels, the platform produces the highest levels of lipid content created so far using a genetically engineered yeast cell. To compare, other yeast based platforms yield lipid content in the 50 to 80 percent range. However, these alternative platforms do not always produce lipids directly from sugar as the UT Austin technology does. Alper and his team are continuing to find ways to further enhance the lipid production levels and develop new products using this engineered yeast.

This research was funded by the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program, the DuPont Young Professor Grant and the Welch Foundation under grant F-1753.

UT Arlington Research Team Proves Mass Is Important At The Nano-scale, Matters In Calculations And Measurements

Dr. Alan Bowling (In Attached Photo), a University of Texas at Arlington assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has proven that the effect of mass is important, can be measured, and has a significant impact on any calculations and measurements at the sub-micrometer scale. Dr. Bowling’s findings facilitate better understanding of the movement of nano-sized objects in fluid environments that can be characterized by a low Reynolds number, which often occurs in biological systems. The unconventional results are consistent with Newton’s Second Law of Motion, a well-established law of physics, and imply that mass should be included in the dynamic model of these nano-systems. The most widely accepted models omit mass at that scale.

UTA assistant physics professor Samarendra Mohanty, and doctoral students Mahdi Haghshenas-Jaryani, Bryan Black, and Sarvenaz Ghaffari, as well as graduate student James Drake collaborated with Dr. Bowling to make the discovery.

A UT release notes that a key advantage of the new model discovered by the UTA research team is that it can be used to build computer simulations of nano-sized objects that have drastically reduced run times as compared to a conventional model based on Newton’s second law. These conventional models have run times of days, weeks, months and years while the new model requires only seconds or minutes to run. In the past, researchers attempted to address the long run time by omitting the mass terms in the model. This resulted in faster run times but, paradoxically, violated Newton’s second law upon which the conventional model was based. The remedy for this paradox was to argue that mass was unimportant at the nano-scale. However, the new model retains mass, and predicts unexpected motion of nano-sized objects in a fluid that has been experimentally observed. The new model also runs much faster than both the conventional and massless models.

It is expected that this new model will significantly accelerate research involving small-scale phenomena. Research areas Dr. Bowling and his collaborators at UT Arlington are currently investigating include cell migration, protein function, bionic medical devices and nanoparticle suspensions for storing thermal energy. However, the applications for the computer simulation in medicine, biology, and other fields are endless. The UTA research is detailed in a paper entitled: “Dynamics of Microscopic Objects in Optical Tweezers: Experimental Determination of Underdamped Regime and Numerical Simulation using Multiscale Analysis” (Nonlinear Dynamics DOI10.1007/s11071-013-1185-0), published online by the Journal of Non-Linear Dynamics. The paper, which is scheduled for publication in the journal’s print version later this year, presents new experimental observations and numerical simulations to investigate the dynamic behavior of micro–nano-sized objects under the influence of optical tweezers (OTs). OTs are scientific tools that can apply forces and moments to small particles using a focused laser beam. The motions of three polystyrene microspheres of different diameters, 1,950, 990, and 500 nm, are examined.

UTA College of Engineering dean Dr. Khosrow Behbehani observes in the release that the team’s findings may alter ways of thinking throughout the engineering and scientific worlds. “The paper is only the beginning for this research,” Dr. Behbehani says. “I anticipate a high level of interest in the findings. It could transform the way we conduct research in nano-engineering by providing researchers with the ability to study such physical phenomena at such small scale through the model.” The UTA research team used optical tweezers previously developed by Dr. Mohanty to measure oscillations that occur at the nano scale, thus proving that mass and acceleration must be considered at that level as well. “We proved it in the lab,” says Dr. Bowling. “Publication in an accepted journal is the next step in gaining mass acceptance of the idea, which flies in the face of what most people believe now.”

The discovery resulted from a 2012 National Science Foundation grant project in which the UT Arlington team investigated a new model for how motor proteins behave in the body. The NSF award was funded through therapy Concept Grants for Exploratory Research, or EAGER program. The grants support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Smooth Sailing Rough Surfaces Can Also Reduce Drag

Researchers from UCLA have found that bumpiness can sometimes be better. "A properly designed rough surface, contrary to our intuition, can reduce skin-friction drag," said John Kim, a professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at UCLA. Kim and his colleagues modeled the fluid flow between two surfaces covered with tiny ridges. They found that even in turbulent conditions the rough surface reduced the drag created by the friction of flowing water. The. researchers report their findings in the journal Physics of Fluids.

The idea of using a rough surface for reduced drag had been explored before, but resulted in limited success. More recently scientists have begun experimenting with rough surfaces that are also extremely difficult to wet, a property called superhydrophobicity. In theory this means that the surfaces can trap air bubbles, creating a hydrodynamic cushion, but in practice they often lose their air cushions in chaotic flows.

The ULCA team chose to model a superhydrophobic surface design that another group of researchers at UCLA had already observed could keep air pockets entrapped, even in turbulent conditions. The surface was covered with small ridges aligned in the direction of flow. The researchers modeled both laminar and turbulent flows, and unexpectedly found that the drag-reduction was larger in turbulent conditions. The irregular fluctuations and swirling vortices in turbulent flows on smooth surfaces generally increase drag, Kim explained. However, the air cushion created by the superhydrophobic ridges altered the turbulent patterns near the surface, reducing their effect, he said.

The team expects insights gleaned from their numerical simulations to help further refine the design of rough, drag-reducing surfaces. Further down the line, such surfaces might cover the undersides of cargo vessels and passenger ships. "It could lead to significant energy savings and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," Kim said.

Flying car spreads its wings in Slovakia.

Mankind's primordial dream of flight is taking off with a new twist as a Slovak prototype of a flying car spreads its wings. Inspired by the books about flying by French authors Jules Verne and Antoine de Saint Exupery, Slovak designer and engineer Stefan Klein has been honing his flying machine since the early 1990s.

"I got the idea to start working on a vehicle of the future at university, but honestly, who hasn't dreamt of flying while being stuck in the traffic?" Klein told AFP. "Flying's in my blood—my grandfather and my father flew ultra-light aircraft and I got my pilot's license before I was old enough to drive a car," said Klein, who has designed cars for BMW, Volkswagen and Audi and now teaches at the Bratislava-based Academy of Fine Arts and Design.

His elegant blue-and-white vehicle for two is six metres (20 feet) long so it fits neatly in a parking space or a garage and tanks up at any filling station. But once it reaches an airport it can unfold its wings within seconds becoming a plane. Dubbed "the world's prettiest and best-designed airborne automobile so far" by US aviation magazine Flying and Inhabitat(dot)com design, an innovation website, the Aeromobil also has the distinction of originating in Slovakia, the world's largest per-capita car producer.

"So far there have been about twenty attempts to manufacture a flying car around the globe," the president of the Slovak Ultra Light Aviation Federation, Milan Ciba, told AFP. "Among them, Aeromobil appears very viable," he said. Other models include the US-based Terrafugia's "Transition" flying car expected to be launched on the market within a year, while the helicopter-type Dutch PAL-V gyrocopter could go on sale in this year.

Klein's dream took to the skies in September when he piloted the Aeromobil during its first wobbly test flight. Once airborne, the it can reach a top speed of 200km/h (124 mph) and travel as far as 700 km (430 miles), consuming 15 litres (4 gallons) of petrol per hour. "A combination of a car and a plane will always lose against the competition when we start comparing energy consumption," Jan Lesinsky from the Slovak University of Technology told AFP. But would-be users could glide by long lines and security checks at airports, saving time on medium-distance journeys. Klein and his team are currently working on the next generation of Aeromobil that will go into production in a few months and hopefully receive Slovak Ultra Light Aircraft Certification (SFUL). "Would-be users would have to follow the legislation already in place for ultra light aircraft," SFUL president Federation Milan Ciba told AFP. "Pilot/drivers will need to have both a driver's and pilot's licence with at least 25 flying hours," he added.

An enthusiastic pilot himself, Klein remains down to earth when looking to the future. "I don't expect Aeromobil to go into mass production, it will always be an alternative means of transport," Klein said. "It can, however, be very interesting for countries with vast areas lacking infrastructure like Russia, China or Australia," he added. Flying cars will most likely take off among pilots licensed for ultra-light aircraft, says Ciba. "It would make their lives so much easier—they would be able to park their car/aircraft at home, drive to the airport, take off, land and drive to their destination without switching vehicles," he muses.


I salute the guy who made this car.

Ultra-Thin Tool Heating for Injection Molding

In future, thin-film heating will allow plastic parts to be produced with greatly improved surface quality. Researchers have also found a way to make the whole process more energy efficient.

If you have ever tried to make waffles then you are bound to be familiar with the following problem: You only get good waffles if the iron is heated to the correct temperature. The same principle applies to the manufacture of plastics parts, such as displays, facings, covers and instrument panels, using injection molding techniques. A liquid plastic melt is injected into a steel forming tool which is heated just like a waffle iron. The point is to produce a perfect cast of the tool's surface, which may be smooth like a mirror or feature a functional structure. Using injection molding to realize the desired structural and functional surface qualities of plastic parts is intended as a one-step process without the need for any extensive finishing work. The process also has to be economic and energy efficient. To manufacture plastic parts with high-end surfaces, the entire forming tool is heated to around 110 degrees Celsius using a technique known as variothermic tempering. Thermo-plastic materials such as polycarbonate are processed at similar temperatures. In order to get the finished plastic part out without damaging it, the mold must be cooled by around 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. This has to be done for every production cycle before the whole process can begin again, which "eats up a considerable amount of energy," explains Alexander Fromm from the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg. Working to improve the situation, Fromm and his colleagues teamed up with the Kunststoff-Zentrum in Leipzig to develop a new kind of tempering technique that, depending on the product, is up to 90 percent more energy efficient than other techniques used to date. The trick is to avoid having to heat up the entire tool; these can weigh half a ton or even more depending on the plastic part being produced. All that is heated now is the surface of the tool that actually comes into contact with the plastic melt.

• A micrometer-thin layer:
This is possible thanks to thin-film heating. Researchers coat the wall of the forming tool using a vacuum-based coating technique known as sputtering. Imagine a game of pool in which the balls are base-material atoms -- in this case from the thin film. Hitting them with energy-rich ions sends them ricocheting around the vacuum chamber. The sputtered material is deposited onto the surface of the forming tool in layers only a few micrometers thick (1 micrometer equals one thousandth of a millimeter). To put this into perspective, a human hair is approximately 80 micrometers thick. Not only can this extremely thin coating be used to heat the forming tool surface to the desired temperature, but it is also capable of withstanding the thermodynamic stresses that occur during injection molding. Electrical insulation is provided by a ceramic layer that shields the conductive heating layer from the steel tool underneath. The layer that actually gets heated is made of a specially designed conductive hard material. In this case, the challenge of sputtering lies not only in producing a perfect insulating layer so as to avoid any short circuits, but also in integrating a sensor into the thin-film heating layer. A sensor placed here can measure the temperature of the tool wall and be used to regulate the manufacturing process. To achieve this, the researchers set about integrating incredibly fine thermocouples, made from nickel or nickel-chrome alloy and each just a few hundred nanometers thick. Thermo-couples can be produced using thin-film technology and incorporated into the insulation layer. Due to their extremely low mass, thermocouples react incredibly fast to temperature changes and make it possible to directly measure the temperature of the tool wall. Through a series of laboratory experiments, the researchers were able to demonstrate that thin-film heating can be used to achieve the desired tool wall temperature very quickly indeed. The researchers are now looking for industry partners to help prepare the process for use in series manufacture.

Mechanical Beauty.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Don't Fear the Dawn of the Drones; Someday One Might Save Your Life

In the not too distant future, you may hear the hum of a drone's rotors as it descends upon you and be filled with a sense of relief, not panic.

After all, it's coming to save you, not harm you.

Research at the University of Cincinnati could soon enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) -- similar to U.S. military drones patrolling the skies of Afghanistan -- to track down missing persons on search-and-rescue missions, to penetrate curtains of smoke during wildfire suppression or possibly even to navigate urban landscapes on delivery runs for online retailers like Amazon. And it all could be done autonomously with a human acting only as a supervisor.

"Drones have gotten a very bad rap for various reasons," says Kelly Cohen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UC. "But our students see that unmanned systems can have a positive impact on society."

Cohen and a team of researchers have developed an experimental capability to capture the dynamic behavior of the UAV platform, which complements other work they've done with UAVs in disaster management operations. Wei Wei, one of Cohen's students and the lead author of "Frequency-Domain System Identification and Simulation of a Quadrotor Controller," will present the UAV dynamics research Jan. 16 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' SciTech 2014 conference in National Harbor, Md. The event unites international aerospace scholars and professionals to collaborate on advances in research, development and technology. In his research, Wei used special engineering software to develop the dynamic model essential for autopilot design for a wide variety of unmanned aircraft having multiple rotors. He's applied his method to quadrotors -- UAVs with four propellers -- and other types of drones, but it can work with nearly any aircraft.

Technology Uses Micro-Windmills to Recharge Cell Phones

Forget hand-cranked chargers and solar powered cases, the latest way to solve the ever-present problem of a dying phone battery is by using thin air. Researchers from Texas have developed a miniscule ‘micro-windmill’ that is just 1.8mm wide and can transform wind energy into electricity. The team behind the design claim hundreds of the nickel devices could be fitted to a phone case, for example, and users could charge their phone simply by waving it in the air.


The windmills feature tiny blades that are spun in the wind. This in turn spins a shaft connected to a miniature generator that can be connected to a phone’s battery, or other devices that require energy.

Engineers claim that the nickel devices could be built into a sleeve, or case, for a phone, tablet or other portable device. When the device loses power the user could either wave it in the air to generate wind through the windmills, or place it in front of a window or fan.

According to the designers, hundreds of windmills could recharge a phone in 'a few minutes.' The technology was built by micro-engineering experts at the University of Texas Arlington (UTA).

Each windmill is made of flexible nickel alloy components capable of taking strong winds without breaking. They are so small that ten of them can fit onto a single grain of rice. Professor J.C. Chiao from the university said: ‘The micro-windmills work well because the metal alloy is flexible and the design follows minimalism for functionality. ‘Imagine that they can be cheaply made on the surfaces of portable electronics, so you can place them on a sleeve for your smartphone.

'When the phone is out of battery power, all you need to do is to put on the sleeve, wave the phone in the air for a few minutes and you can use the phone again.' Professor Smitha Rao added: ‘The problem most designers have is that materials are too brittle. ‘With the nickel alloy, we don’t have that same issue. They’re very, very durable.’

Taiwanese fabrication foundry WinMEMS Technologies owns exclusive rights to sell the concept. It has already started work on potential applications for the tiny windmills, although it is not known when they could be available to consumers. As well as micro-windmills, the research team has developed gears, inductors, pop-up switches and grippers, which are as small as a fraction of the diameter of a human hair.

A statement from the university said: ‘These inventions are essential to build micro-robots that can be used as surgical tools, sensing machines to explore disaster zones or manufacturing tools to assemble micro- machines.'

CLASSIC BEAUTY OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING Front suspension of typical front wheel drive vehicle.

Toyota to brought hydrogen fuel-cell electric car in market.

After years of on-again, off-again status, hydrogen fuel-cell cars may soon become a reality, though significant hurdles, such as building out fueling infrastructure, still stand in the way. Toyota has brought the hydrogen fuel cell back into the limelight again by rolling out its still-unnamed sedan on Jan. 6 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Intent on repeating the success of its hybrid Prius, Toyota is aiming to produce a reasonably priced hydrogen fuel-cell electric car with a 300-mile range and zero emissions that can be refueled in three to five minutes.

Significant challenges remain, however. "The first is building the vehicle at a reasonable price for many people," acknowledges Bob Carter, Toyota USA's senior vice president. "The second is doing what we can to help kick-start the construction of convenient hydrogen refueling infrastructure. We're doing a good job with both, and we will launch in 2015." International media report that, when the car goes on sale in the U.S., Toyota expects to sell between 5,000 and 10,000 cars at around $50,000 each. With more development and bigger volumes, the price is expected to drop over time.

Is not it awesome?


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The 2015 ‘Vette Z06 Stuns In Detroit

At the Detroit Auto Show General Motors has unveiled its newest speed machine the 2015 Corvette Z06.
Continuing in a line of autos that defines what production speed can be, the 2015 Z06 sports a 6.2L LT4 supercharged V-8. Generating 625HP the new Corvette will also produce over 635 pound feet of torque when pushed to its limits. While no firm numbers have been released regarding the ‘Vette’s top speed or acceleration time I can only imagine they’ll be lightning fast.

Aside from the auto’s impressive mechanical specifications it’s also been given an expertly sculpted body. Shaped to maximize the down force exerted on the speedster, the Corvette’s new frame also helps force cooling air into it’s raging engine while cutting a sleek aerodynamic line. 

Built for those who want to seamlessly switch from track to street racing the Z06 also features two transmission options, a manual for the purist, and an 8-speed automatic for the work-a-day racer.
As of this writing GM has yet to release pricing figures for the Z06, but rest assured that the auto giant will certainly loose more info about the car before it hits showrooms in early 2015.

Beauty of Mechanical Engineering.

New vehicle exhaust compounds discovered that are hundreds of times more mutagenic.

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions – such as those found in vehicle exhaust or grilling meat - that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens. These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily-polluted urban air or dietary exposure. It’s not yet been determined in what level the compounds might be present, and no health standards now exist for them. The findings were published in December in Environmental Science and Technology, a professional journal.

The compounds were identified in laboratory experiments that mimic the type of conditions which might be found from the combustion and exhaust in cars and trucks, or the grilling of meat over a flame. “Some of the compounds that we’ve discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood, and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation,” said Staci Simonich, a professor of chemistry and toxicology in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.

“We don’t know at this point what levels may be present, and will explore that in continued research,” she said. The parent compounds involved in this research are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, formed naturally as the result of almost any type of combustion, from a wood stove to an automobile engine, cigarette or a coal-fired power plant. Many PAHs, such as benzopyrene, are known to be carcinogenic, believed to be more of a health concern that has been appreciated in the past, and are the subject of extensive research at OSU and elsewhere around the world.

The PAHs can become even more of a problem when they chemically interact with nitrogen to become “nitrated,” or NPAHs, scientists say. The newly-discovered compounds are NPAHs that were unknown to this point. This study found that the direct mutagenicity of the NPAHs with one nitrogen group can increase 6 to 432 times more than the parent compound. NPAHs based on two nitrogen groups can be 272 to 467 times more mutagenic. Mutagens are chemicals that can cause DNA damage in cells that in turn can cause cancer.

Gear Shift Mechanism.

BREAKTHROUGH New system for weighing particles at the attogram scale developed

MIT engineers have come up with a novel way to determine the mass of particles with a resolution better than an attogram (one millionth of a trillionth of a gram). Weighing these small particles could help engineers gain a deeper understanding of their composition and function.

MIT engineer reduced the size of a system originally created by Scott Manalis, an MIT professor of biological and mechanical engineering, to determine the mass of bigger particles, like cells. The system is called a suspended microchannel resonator (SMR) and it determines the particles’ mass as they travel through a narrow channel. Shrinking the size of the system, enhanced its resolution to 0.85 attograms.

“Now we can weigh small viruses, extracellular vesicles, and most of the engineered nanoparticles that are being used for nanomedicine,” notes Selim Olcum, a postdoc in Manalis’ lab. Olcum and graduate student Nathan Cermak are lead authors of the paper appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Manalis is the paper’s senior author. Researchers from the labs of MIT professors and Koch Institute members Angela Belcher and Sangeeta Bhatia also helped with this research.

Manalis first constructed the SMR system in 2007 to determine the mass of living cells, as well as particles as tiny as a femtogram. His lab has utilized the device to track cell development over time, determine cell density, and determine other physical properties, life stiffness. The first mass sensor has a fluid-filled microchannel etched in a small silicon cantilever that vibrates inside a vacuum cavity. As cells or particles move through the channel, one at a time, their mass slightly changes the cantilever’s vibration frequency. The mass of the particle can be determined from that alteration in frequency.

The engineers reduced the size of the cantilever to make the device sensitive to smaller masses. “If you’re measuring nanoparticles with a large cantilever, it’s like having a huge diving board with a tiny fly on it. When the fly jumps off, you don’t notice any difference. That’s why we had to make very tiny diving boards,” Olcum explains.

Researchers in Manalis’ lab previously constructed a 50-micron cantilever. The system, called a suspended nanochannel resonator (SNR), was able to measure the mass of particles as light as 77 attograms. The cantilever in the new version of the SNR device is 22.5 microns long. Making the cantilever smaller makes the system more sensitive because it augments the cantilever’s vibration frequency. At greater frequencies, the cantilever is more sensitive to tinier alterations in mass.

The researchers also enhanced the resolution by switching the source for the cantilever’s vibration from an electrostatic to a piezoelectric excitation. The new system allows the researchers to measure almost 30,000 particles in a little more than 90 minutes.

The researchers proved the device’s utility by weighing nanoparticles made of DNA bound to small gold spheres, which allowed them to measure how many gold spheres were bound to each DNA-origami scaffold. This information can be utilized to determine yield, which is crucial for creating accurate nanostructures.

Monday, 13 January 2014

WaterWheel rolls out solution to ease heavy load

For those with running water in their homes, water is light, rolls right through the fingers, easily pours out of the faucet, and gives us hygiene and hydration in minutes so that we go on about our day. For families without such access, water is a different story. Water is heavy. Water collection dominates the time women and their school-age daughters have to spare on any day. They have the role of water-bearers and they walk long distances, hours, back and forth, to rivers and streams, with pails and jugs on their heads. The water they get will be doled out carefully for drinking, cooking and washing that day.

From economists to health experts to educators, there is no argument that the daily burden of getting water is a drain on human productivity, limiting the time women and school-age children could have for other opportunities to work and attend classes. One attempt to resolve this very basic issue has been the WaterWheel, a device from a U.S.-based group called Wello, which describes itself as a social venture. Wello has reinvented the wheel, in that they have used the wheel to rethink water collection in parts of the world such as India and Africa.

Fundamentally, the wheel answers the question, what would be the benefit if you rolled water back to your village home instead of carrying the water on your head? Wello in 2011 worked in close collaboration with village residents in Rajasthan, India, on the concept and Wello later on won a $100,000 Grand Challenges Canada prize to develop the WaterWheel, which was announced by Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the government of Canada, in November. According to the prize project description: "The WaterWheel can be used to ferry clean water from a community tap to the home, used to collect rainwater during the wet season, to collect water from an open source during the dry season, or used to travel longer distances to reach a safe water sources when other options are unavailable."

The designers considered different sizes before deciding on a 50 liters. The result is a plastic wheel that serves as a 50-liter container that enables people to roll ample collections from water sources at once rather than carrying multiple jugs on their heads—between three and five times the amount of water collected by traditional methods—in short, far more water and in less time. The WaterWheel's form was inspired by the shape of the traditional matka (pot). According to the Wello blog, they manufactured their first production run of WaterWheels in Ahmedabad, Gujurat in 2012. The device can also find use in irrigation and tending herds of animals.

Wello also had to devise a sustainable business model. According to the project description for the Canada prize, the Wello team said, "We designed our business model around extreme affordability. While similar products retail in the $75 to $100+ range, the WaterWheel will retail for $25-$30, making it accessible to the people who need it the most." Wello said they had partnerships "with organizations throughout the clean water value chain, local governments businesses and NGOs, that will enable Wello to build on the progress made and leverage local knowledge.'

A report in The Guardian said that Wello plans to sell the WaterWheel in the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat states, as well as explore opportunities for water purification.

New MIT technology allows 3D image interaction

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to allow people in one place to interact with three dimensional versions of people or objects in a different location.

MIT's Tangible Media Group calls the technology inFORM. A person in one location moves or puts an object in front of a depth-sensing camera. That camera sends signals to a motorized pin screen somewhere else and that's where the 3D image pops up. If someone on camera is moving his hands, for example, that movement would show up on the pin screen in another location. They hope the technology can eventually be used by urban planners and architects. It could also be used by doctors and others who need to look at CT scans.

This is a multi-materials tire and wheel for a remote-controlled vehicle which is printed with the new ProJet 5500X 3D Printer.


Designers From Spain Are Ready To Sell Sharp & Vintage Electric Bicycles

Electric bicycles are poised to be the largest electric vehicle segment in the world in just a few short years, which promises for a wide variety of unique variants and designs. One recent entry into the e-bike field is the Otocycle, which combines vintage 1950s styling with light weight and up to 26 miles of pedal-free operation.

Using lightweight steel and a 36-volt NCM battery powering a rear hub motor, Otocycles are available in one of two design flavors, Otok and Otor. A handlebar-mounted LCD screen draws power from the pedals, providing unspecified information while a headlight lights the way at night. It’s the complete package, and unique enough to stand out in an increasingly crowded field.

On its own, the battery has enough life to take you some 26 miles before needing recharging, at speeds up to 15.5 mph. With the rider pedaling along, the Otocycle can go up to 37 miles before being plugged in. Built by a family of designers and engineers based in Barcelona, Spain, the Otocycle has plenty of competition from designers both near and far. Should the predictions of e-bike dominance play out however, the Otocycle could stand to carve a comfortable niche for itself with simple mechanics and a timeless design, though the $3,700 starting price puts it beyond the reach of most. Then again, $3,700 is a lot less than $30,000, the average cost of a new car in the US, or paying monthly parking fees on a beat-up used car.

Is there room in your garage for one of these Otocycles? Let's share your views via comments.

Vertical Ship To Explore Ocean Sky to Floor

A vertical marine research vessel called the SeaOrbiter has been the dream of French architect Jacques Rougerie for 12 years. But a recently launched crowd-funding campaign through KissKissBankBank aims to help make the 190-foot-tall ship a reality.

The ship is designed to drift with ocean currents and will be completely sustainable, getting power from solar, wind and waves. A side project in conjunction with the European defense and space systems conglomerate, EADS, is working to develop a biofuel for the ship. Fifty percent of the ship will move through the water submerged, giving those onboard a constant opportunity to observe life below the surface.

The SeaOrbiter has the space to house 18 marine biologists, oceanographers, climatologists and other scientists, who will live and work onboard for months or perhaps years. Its vertical shape gives it the unique advantage of being able to study ocean life from the top of the ship, where birds fly, to the ocean floor, which will be explored by submersibles.

In between the sky and seafloor, explorers living at atmospheric pressure will be able to investigate the ocean 165 feet below the surface. Saturation divers will be able to go as deep as 325 feet. Beyond that, researchers will use subsea vessels equipped with cameras and other sensors. 

Rougerie and his supporters, including Ifremer, NASA and National Geographic, want to explore all of the oceans and major seas.

The crowd-funding site is hoping to raise $ 436,000, just a fraction of the expected cost of $ 43 million. The money will go toward construction of the upper 60 feet of the vessel, called The Eye.

Construction will begin in the spring of 2014.

Let's know about 3D Printing & some 3D Printers.

IN PHOTO: A 3D printed, full-size, automotive dashboard built with 3D Printer ProX 950 in two days.

What is 3D printing?
Accordint to a wikipedia article, 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes). A 3D printer is a limited type of industrial robot that is capable of carrying out an additive process under computer control. 

The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction (AEC), industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, civil engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields.


Number 1: The large-format ProX 950 is a production printer for aerospace, industrial, automotive, and medical devices. It has a build volume of 59 inch x 30 inch x 22 inch, almost 5 ft (1.5m) wide and big enough to print an entire car dashboard in one piece. It uses the company's Accura 25 and Accura CastPro materials, for parts usually made from polypropylene or ABS. Using 3D Systems' PolyRay print head technology, this machine also prints up to 10 times faster than the competition and prints extremely small parts with accuracy that the company claims rivals CNC processes.

Number 2: Multi-materials printing just got faster and more accurate using 3D Systems' ProJet 5500X . The machine has an industrial-grade print head with a warranty of five years, which is very impressive. It prints in the company's new VisiJet family of rigid white ABS-like, rigid clear PC-like, and flexible black rubber-like pure materials, as well as various intermediate tones and stiffness/flexibility ranges. Designed for rapid prototyping and some end-production parts, the printer can make a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with a net build volume of 21 inch x 15 inch x 11.8 inch.

Number 3: 3D Systems has achieved another real breakthrough with the ProJet 4500, which can print plastic parts with continuous bright colors, based on the company's ColorJet Printing technology. Aimed at engineers and other professionals making functional prototypes and concept models, the printer uses the company's rigid plastic VisiJet C4 Spectrum materials. Net build volume is 8 inch x 10 inch x 8 inch, and resolution is 600 dpi x 600 dpi.

Number 4: Last, but by no means least, is the company's Geomagic Print universal printer driver. It makes files from almost any source, including any CAD system and several 3D application programs, and prints on all ProX and ProJet printers. The ProJet 5500X is the first machine to use it; the rest of these series' printers will be equipped with the driver during the first half of this year.

Friday, 10 January 2014

"SNOWFLAKE" The World's Only Known White Gorilla

Registration for the 2014 Land Art Generator Initiative Design Competition Opens in Copenhagen

The 2014 edition of the Land Art Generator Initiative Design Competition, which will take place in Copenhagen this year, is officially open for submissions. The international design competition seeks to promote sustainable design by incorporating public art works into renewable energy-generating infrastructure in cities eager to implement “utility-scale clean energy generation”.

The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) competition invites international interdisciplinary teams to submit infrastructural art proposals that meet the multi-faceted energy needs of a sustainable city. This year’s competition, partnering with Refshaleøen Holding and the IT University of Copenhagen , challenges sustainability designers, artists, engineers, architects, landscape artists, students and urban planners to design a new sustainable art piece for Copenhagen’s Refshaleøen area, a historic shipyard lot slated for new development.

Copenhagen was the logical choice for the competition this year. Named the European Green Capital of 2014, Denmark’s capital city has pledged to move towards carbon neutral status by 2025. This ambitious plan works hand in hand with the LAGI competition as the objective of both initiatives involves city planning strategies that work towards obtaining zero-carbon emissions in a manner that is also aesthetically pleasing.

The Danish Minister of Climate, Energy, and Building, Martin Lidegaard, describes the benefits of the popular LAGI competition for Copenhagen, “Land Art Generator Initiative provides new and exciting proposals for approaching the green transition. We saw in the previous exhibitions in Dubai in 2010 and New York City in 2012, where creative forces of art, architecture, and engineering together brought forth innovative ideas, concepts, and solutions that can produce green energy while being integrated to beautify the local environment.”

The initial LAGI contest in 2010 was won by Robert Flottemesch, Jen DeNike, Johanna Ballhaus and Adrian P. De Luca for their Lunar Cubit pyramids in Abu Dhabi. The 2012 winner was the Scene-Sensor team who designed an innovative piezoelectric energy-generating art installation for New York’s Freshkills Park.

Israel Parliament Will Be World's Greenest With Roof Solar Field

Israel has launched a two-year program to make its Jerusalem parliament building, known as the Knesset, the world's greenest with a host of new sustainability measures that include the installation of a 4,650-sq-meter rooftop solar-panel array.

Samuel Chayen, a government spokesman, said in a press report that the solar field will be larger than the current record-holder: a 3,600-sq-m array atop Germany's Reichstag building in Berlin that houses its governing Bundestag.

The Knesset's solar field will be able to generate 510,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity and save an estimated 5% of annual power costs, officials said in a Jan. 1 statement. The panels are among more than $2 million in planned energy-and water-saving measures for the building, which dates to the mid-1960s.

These moves include replacing the building's air-conditioning and sprinkler systems with an energy center; desalination and recycling of air-conditioning condensation and other water, to be used for outdoor irrigation; more efficient lighting; automatic, end-of-workday shutdown of computers and other systems; and new water-and energy-use modeling approaches. One published report says use of air-conditioning heat emissions could reduce natural-gas consumption by 50% and that recycling water for irrigation could cut the Knesset's 20,000-cu-m annual water use by 20%. Officials say the steps will save more than $430,000 in annual building water and energy costs after the first five years. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, one of the program's key champions, said the "significant investment would bear fruit." Environment Minister Amir Peretz added, "The symbol of the country must become a leading element in the green revolution." The Reichstag has reportedly cut its carbon emissions by 94% since the late 1990s.

A mechanical engineering student devised faster method of boarding planes

School of Business Professor R. John Milne and undergraduate student Alexander Kelly have devised a method that assigns airline passengers to a specific seat based on the number of bags they carry, causing luggage to be evenly distributed through the plane.

Each row of seats would tend to have a passenger with two bags, a passenger with one bag and a passenger with no bags. "The new method would save at least several seconds in boarding time and prevent any one area of the plane from becoming overloaded with bags," Milne, the Neil '64 and Karen Bonke Assistant Professor in Engineering Management, said. "Airlines could provide a smoother boarding experience for passengers by utilizing the research."

"You add that up over thousands of flights a day over the course of a year; it can really make a difference," Milne explained. "For instance, a large airline like Delta may be able to save about ten million dollars a year." Kelly, a computer science and mechanical engineering dual major from East Greenbush, N.Y., tested the method by running thousands of simulated airplane boardings through a computer model. The experience helped him hone in on a career path. "It was a great connection to see how academic research can solve a real-world problem," Kelly said. "This research helped me find what kind of work I enjoy doing and directed me towards a full time position I accepted with General Electric Intelligent Platforms this year.


There is no one inside the Range Rover (shown in this photo) in a Las Vegas parking lot. But it still guides its way to a parking place, after what looks like some hesitation. The self-parking is directed by an app which controls the vehicle, detects an available space and maneuvers into it.

The "automated parking valet" created by the French equipment maker Valeo is among the technology innovations for the sector on display at this week's Consumer Electronics Show. While the idea of a fully autonomous car is a dream for some, this is a step which promises to alleviate at least some of the tedium facing motorists.

The system allows drivers to leave their car at the entrance of a parking lot and let it find a space to park itself. Drivers activate the feature from their smartphone, and can also use it to summon the car to pick them up. "It's like a brain," said Guillaume Devauchelle, a Valeo vice president presenting the prototype system at the huge electronics expo. "It acts step by step, with a certain latitude, to be able to adapt to the situation," Devauchelle told AFP.

"If it is put in the same position for a second time, it won't react the same way." The system does not require garages or parking lots to have special equipment, the executive said. It relies on the kinds of sensors some cars already use, with some extra electronics.

Devauchelle said the system may require a camera to recognize and avoid spaces designated for the handicapped or unusual features in a garage. He said the system was designed to be as simple as possible so that it would not be only for luxury vehicles. "We would like to make this available to the largest number of people," he said. Even as automakers work on self-driving vehicles, a number of improvements can be made along the way, Devauchelle said, indicating the parking valet is not simply a matter of convenience. It can help avoid the kinds of accidents frequent in parking areas and allow elderly people who find it difficult to make parking maneuvers to use their cars more often.

"As you age, turning your head becomes harder, so parallel parking is very difficult," the Valeo executive said. "Parking maneuvers, in our estimation, are the most difficult for motorists." Valeo said three million cars already have its semi-automatic system, which can perform parallel parking but require the driver to remain at the wheel.

The company said it has also sold a system that uses remote control but requires the driver to remain in view of the car or the smartphone screen as a safety precaution. Devauchelle said the automated parking valet is adapted well for rental car fleets but added that regulations about driver requirements "from the horse and buggy era" need to be reviewed.
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