In a previous column I wrote about Donald Simanek’s WWW page titled “The museum of unworkable machines“. His page included a picture and a reference to a wooden wheel built by Asa Jackson of Tennessee. Asa and his sons built several during the War of Secession era, and hid them in a cave. When they weren’t working on them, they left them partially disassembled so their secret couldn’t be discovered even if the wheels themselves were.
I’m currently vacationing with the family in Tennessee, and a few days ago we decided to visit the Museum of Appalachia. I had forgotten all about Asa Jackson’s wheel, but it all came back when I saw the wheel itself there in the museum. It doesn’t turn, and in fact may not be completely assembled. There are quite a few wooden pieces on the floor of the display, and the accompanying text indicates that no-one is sure if they’re part of this wheel or another, or exactly how the wheel was to be assembled.
Dave Brown has created a WWW page about Asa’s wheel, and has even written a book with an accompanying CD full of pictures. It’s available from the Museum, but unfortunately not online. Proceeds from the book support the museum.
The final showdown is under way in our first-ever Gadget Freak of the Year contest. Who will win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show? It's up to you, dear readers, to tell us.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.