'Smart' gun may save police officer's lives
Imagine a gun that could not be used against its owner-or by a child. That's the goal of engineers at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM. Sandia received a $620,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice to develop a weapon that can be fired under all kinds of conditions-but only by people it recognizes. Sandia electrical engineer and project manager Douglas Weiss likens the "smart" gun to a lock and key. The "smart gun" might use an enabling code programmed into a ring worn by a police officer or a remote control that sends a signal to a receiver in the gun's grip. Sandia engineers and particpating officers are evaluating 14 existing technologies that could be adapted to a smart gun, such as bar- or voice codes and fingerprint recognition. "Some technologies are not realistic today but may be in the future," says Weiss. The technology may someday discourage criminals from stealing guns by making it too difficult for them to make the weapons work. Engineers are currently working with three demonstration models; Weiss expects a prototype will be ready in January. For technical details, FAX Weiss at (505) 844-2925, for information on the licensing agreement, FAX Craig Sheward at (505) 271-4202.
Polyester from bottles lives on as fabric
Yesterday's beverage bottle may be tomorrow's backpack. NatureTex 100™ polyester fabric, made from 100% recycled resin, is being used to make athletic shoes, wallets, caps, boots, and bags. Engineers at Starensier, Newburyport, MA, take advantage of the performance qualities of the polyester used to make beverage bottles. Because the bottle resin is a higher grade than that used to make virgin polyester fabric, the recycled material meets or exceeds ASTM tests for abrasion resistance, stitch tear, and other standard material tests. To make the fabric, discarded bottles are cleaned, extruded, cut, spun, and woven into cloth. The material can be custom-engineered to meet specifications, and is available in a variety of colors. Each square yard keeps eight two-liter beverage bottles out of landfills, claim engineers. For details, FAX (508) 465-6223.
Reusable space booster to reduce mission costs
NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA, are jointly developing a small, reusable space booster that will be a test-bed for reusable launch vehicles. The "X-34'' is expected to significantly reduce mission costs for 1,000 to 2,000-pound payloads into low-Earth orbit and may become a commercial booster. The goal of the Reusable Launch Vehicle technology program is to significantly cut the cost of space access and to promote activities that will improve U.S. economic competitiveness. Flight tests are planned for late 1997, with launch expected by mid-1998. NASA plans to provide $70 million to Orbital through 1999 for the project; Orbital will invest at least an equal amount. For details, FAX Orbital at (703) 406-5572, or see the Marshall Space Flight Center home page at http://rlv. msfc.nasa.gov/rlv_htmls/rlv1.asp.
Wear-resistant materials promise to cut tool costs
Using a patented process originally developed for Army tank armor, engineers are creating high-temperature, wear-resistant materials for cutting tools, dies and electrodes. The self-propagating high-temperature process yields improved high-performance titanium diboride materials. The materials offer electrical conductivity, wear resistance, and high compressive and mechanical strengths. They also resist chemical reactions, molten metals, and thermal shock, and withstand high temperatures-thanks to their 3,000C melting point. The process was developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Georgia Tech Research Corp., which has licensed it to Advanced Engineered Materials, Woodstock, GA. AEM engineers hope that the materials will reduce parts costs for companies that now use dies and cutting tools made from hardened steel, tungsten carbide, or diamond. AEM is developing other uses for the materials. For details, FAX Tim Smith at (404) 592-1301.
Metal-ceramic tape: a superconductivity milestone?
Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico say they've developed a metal-ceramic tape that superconducts electricity at inexpensive temperatures, offering a major advance in electromagnetics. The new tape should significantly improve electric motors, medical imaging equipment used in hospitals, and electrical transmission lines, say engineers. It could also provide for magnetically levitated rail transit systems and systems to remove contaminants from polluted soil. "We have hit a new milestone in superconductivity, and I think we're on our way to a product that has great commercial value," says Dean Peterson, head of the lab's Superconductivity Technology Center. The flexible three-layered tape offers an electrical current density of more than one million amps per square centimeter at the relatively high temperature-for superconductors-of -320F: the temperature of liquid nitrogen. "Liquid nitrogen is cheaper than cola," said team member Xin Di Wu. Winding the tape around itself creates a tiny but powerful electromagnet. The tape's current density is nearly 100 times greater than other flexible, high-temperature superconductors, say team members. For more information, FAX the Superconductivity Technology Center at (505) 665-3164.
Experimental electronics may prevent chaos in the heart
Harmful electrical rhythms can create an erratic heartbeat and lead to big trouble. To treat the condition, called atrial fibrillation, doctors and engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University are developing an experimental therapy. The technique aims to alter chaotic patterns in the electrical signals controlling the heart. If successful, it could lead to a new type of implantable device that would be smaller and apply less electrical energy than the defibrillators now used. Where existing defibrillators use large electrical shocks, the new technique will apply small electrical signals to the heart at selected points in the heartbeat cycle. Researchers hope that these signals will allow the heart itself to correct the irregularities. Human tests are scheduled to begin this spring. The method also shows promise in altering chaotic brain patterns associated with certain types of epilepsy. For details, FAX Dr. William Ditto at (404) 853-9958 or e-mail him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming to an automotive mirror near you: Fresnel prisms
Automotive side-view mirrors may soon use prismatic mirrors to boost aerodynamics. UT Automotive, Dearborn, MI, has licensed technology from de Montfort Management Ltd. in England to create a low-profile side-view mirror that allows the driver to see alongside and behind the vehicle. The mirror takes advantage of Fresnel prisms to protrude 60% less than conventional mirrors, greatly reducing drag in wind-tunnel tests, say engineers. Its low profile also reduces the hazard to pedestrians or cyclists and the risk of damage in city driving or car washes. Because the reflective surface of the mirror is inside the vehicle, it may also be easier to use in bad weather. For more information, FAX Dick Berg at (313) 596-3159.
Biochemical computers of the future speed data storage
Researchers concerned with the limitations of silicon-based computers are turning their attention to computers based on protein molecules. Such "machines" promise compact size and faster data storage, says Syracuse University professor Robert R. Birge. He envisions future computers as hybrids of semiconductor- and protein-based chips capable of storing vast amounts of information in a very small space. A hybrid computer could be designed to function as a neural associative computer capable of learning and analyzing data in much the same way as the human brain, says Birge. For an abstract of Birge's recent Scientific American report, FAX Cybernautics Digest at (206) 547-5355 and request the April 1995 issue.
Sharpen your pencils for innovators design contest
The Firestone Industrial Products Co., Carmel, IN, is looking for designs that use Airstroke® actuators or Airmount® isolators creatively in practical applications. The Innovators Design Contest is open to professional design engineers and students. The grand prize is $2,000; first- and second-place winners in the professional and student categories will receive $1,000 and $500, respectively. Past winners include a Saturn design engineer's quick-disconnect coupling, which uses an airspring in a robot arm to allow rapid tool changes, and a polishing tool for ball-valve seats that uses an airspring to provide angular and lateral motion. Entries are due December 31, 1995. For details and an entry form, write to Carolyn Goodall, 701 Congressional Blvd., Carmel, IN 46032, or call (800) 888-0650 and ask for applications engineering.
Packaging partnership to boost electronics applications
A new partnership between industrial enclosure supplier Hoffman Engineering and European electronics packager The Schroff Group may help OEMs who use electronics packaging. "The move supports a trend in the control industry to move electronics into sophisticated industrial applications," says John Abbott, Hoffman's vice president of engineering. Officials hope that the partnership also will benefit the information technology field, where Schroff has worked with electronic OEMs to develop application-specific products for interfaces and structured wiring enclosure systems. "The partnership offers design and mechanical engineers-including OEMs-the opportunity to concentrate on their core competencies," says Richard Ingman, president of Hoffman. For more information, call (800) 355-3560 x100.
Concept vehicle travels at Mach 10 on microwaves
Engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, are using microwave energy to explore aerospacecraft propulsion. The "Air Spike" concept uses focused microwave beams to create shock waves ahead of the vehicle to drive air out of the its path. The shock waves act as an efficient hypersonic inlet for the vehicle's air-breathing magnetohydrodynamic fanjet engine, says engineering professor Leik Myrabo. In tests last month, engineers brought the vehicle to Mach 10 in RPI's hypersonic shock tunnel. Project leaders Myrabo and veteran spacecraft designer Henry Nagamatsu emphasize that the vehicle does not need heavy tanks of on-board chemical fuel. For details, FAX Myrabo at (518) 276-2623.