Immobilizer system helps curb auto theft and reduce insurance costs
Ignition immobilizers have been around since 1995, becoming standard for all vehicles sold in Europe. As a result, thefts of autos equipped with the electronic devices have decreased by 90%. That success figure may go even higher with the introduction of a next-generation immobilizer developed by Texas Instruments. A typical immobilizer system consists of the engine control unit, a reader unit, and an antenna. The reader provides an energizing signal to the batteryless transponder embedded in the vehicle's ignition key, generates and transmits a random code to the transponder, verifies the response received from the transponder, and reports the results to the engine control unit, which approves or denies engine ignition. TI's new TIRISTM system adds the flexibility of Remote Keyless Entry (RKE) to its family of immobilizers. Called Cryptographic Entry Trans-ponders (CET), the system combines two previously separate elements (immobilizer and RKE) into one compact package. With the RKE, the controller in the key generates a new UHF "Rolling Code" security code each time the push button is used to gain access to the vehicle. The result of this "Challenge-Response" encryption is then transmitted to the engine control unit for added evaluation. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inexpensive CO monitor out-performs costly competition
Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Quantum Group Inc. (QGI, San Diego) have developed a lightweight, inexpensive carbon monoxide (CO) sensor and monitoring system that they claim operates more accurately than personal CO monitors currently on the market. Some of the current CO measurement systems require expensive, heavy equipment or unwieldy airbag samplers, explains Michael Apte, a scientist at Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Div. Others, he says, are relatively inexpensive, but are not accurate or sensitive enough to provide credible results for a large number of sites. To overcome these drawbacks, the Berkeley/QGI team developed a CO sensor that clips onto a person's clothing. It can serve as an occupational dosimeter, which measures a worker's time-weighted average exposure to CO over an eight-hour period, or as a residential passive sampler that measures time-weighted average exposure in a home or office over a one-week period. The dosimeter consists of a square polystyrene vial less than two inches long. It contains a CO sensor made of palladium and molybdenum, a diffusion tube to control the rate at which CO is sampled, and a cap to seal the system. In a test involving workers who operate propane-powered forklifts inside San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center, the Berkeley/QGI sensors measured average workshift CO exposure accurately to within 1 ppm; commercially available diffusion tubes under-reported CO exposures by an average of about 3 ppm. QGI plans to develop and manufacture the devices and is looking for private-sector partners to distribute them. E-mail MGApte@lbl.gov.
Noninvasive test aims to prevent sudden cardiac death
Some people may develop a dangerous and irregular rhythm that could make the heart beat wildly out of control and lead to sudden death. Identifying people with this electrical glitch would allow them to receive implantable defibrillators, possibly saving thousands of lives each year. A researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis) has designed a noninvasive test that identifies this glitch in advance of a patient's first rhythm problem. Joseph M. Smith, associate professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at the school, and colleagues determined how the electrical abnormality, called T-wave alternans, changes as the heart rate changes. Getting the alternans test resembles getting the standard stress test for detecting heart problems, except that a patient is hooked up to a few extra leads. These added leads help pick up subtle beat-by-beat abnormalities that are detected through computer analysis, much like a microscope picks up details that can't be seen by the naked eye. By examining the relationship between the presence of these tiny signals and a patient's heart rate, doctors can identify people at risk of developing the life-threatening rhythms. The cost of the test, according to Smith, is similar to that of a regular stress test. E-mail email@example.com.
Technology solves misfires in lean-burn, natural-gas engines
A patent issued to engineers in Southwest Research Institute's Engine and Vehicle Research Div. (San Antonio, TX) should help makers of lean-burn, natural gas engines solve misfire problems that can effect engine performance where high-humidity (dewpoint temperatures above 15C) conditions exist. Most natural-gas engines operate close to their "lean" limit to maximize engine efficiency and reduce emissions. However, higher humidity levels reduce the rate of combustion and increase the likelihood of misfire. This, in turn, raises emission levels of unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. The patent describes an algorithm that dictates a series of adjustments to the oxygen sensor calibration and the engine's fueling, spark time, and boost pressure setpoint tables based on the specific humidity of the ambient air. E-mail JKubesh@swri.org.
Virtual Designer cuts months from printed circuit board designs
In this age of worldwide competition, a day saved in getting a product to market could mean the difference between record sales and red ink. Nowhere does first-to-market mean more than in fast-changing electronics arena. That's why researchers at the Rensselaer Institute's (Troy, NY) Electronics Agile Manufacturing Research Institute (EAMRI) developed the patent-pending Virtual Designer Environment. The system bases critical design and manufacturing decisions on agile intelligent autonomous agents that gather up-to-date information from locations in a distributed network. The system then integrates disparate databases on different computer systems, creating a model that supports the fastest possible throughput cycle at the lowest cost. The program, according to EAMRI Director Robert Graves, has demonstrated its ability In this age of worldwide competition, a day saved in getting a product to market could mean the difference between record sales and red ink. Nowhere does first-to-market mean more to cut the design and manufacturing cycle from months to days for printed circuit board assemblies. It also enhances quality and reliability, he adds. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forecasting technology detects tornadoes earlier
Remember those tornadoes that cut devastating swathes through several mid-western states early this year? The tragic deaths that resulted from the twisters may have been fewer, if the residents had access to a next-generation tornado forecasting technology now undergoing tests at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. The program involves optimizing the National Severe Storms Laboratory's warning decision support system. The tests will take place during the 1999 and 2000 tornado season, with the test area focusing on north Georgia. Researchers will collect storm data and determine if changing parameters in the system's algorithms will make it work better. The system includes advanced image processing, artificial intelligence, neural network, and other algorithms that use Doppler radar data. The data is integrated with other weather sensor data to guide forecasters in making storm predictions. The test program also will evaluate how the system displays and presents this information to the forecasters. E-mail email@example.com.
Nanocrystals hold key to lower-cost superplasticity parts
Some metals, such as certain aluminum alloys, reach superplasticity when heated to temperatures as high as 1,800F. At that point, the metal stretches like plastic, enabling it to be molded into a strong, detailed part. Although the technology has won acceptance in the aerospace industry, it remains relatively unused by producers of autos and consumer goods. The problem: superplasticity requires a long time to fabricate a part, and the temperatures are too high to form some components. Researchers at the University of California believe they have overcome these drawbacks by achieving superplasticity at temperatures as low as 450F. And they claim their technology works with a wide range of materials, including nickel and ceramics. The key, says Amiya Mukherjee, professor of materials science, was switching from materials made of microcrystals to those made of nanocrystals. (Microcrystals range from one to about 20 microns in diameter; nanocrystals are about 1,000 times smaller.) The finished nanostructured materials also were much stronger than microstructured ones, Mukherjee reports. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wind farm turbines harvest energy for Iowa utilities
An Iowa cornfield was the setting as Department of Energy officials and representatives from EPRI, the collaborative science and technology development organization for the power industry, recently participated in the dedication of a 2.25 megawatt wind farm. Known as the Iowa Distributed Wind Generation Project (IDWGP), the farm is owned by seven Iowa municipal utilities. It is said to be the first utility wind-power consortium in the U.S. The project includes three 750 kW Zond wind turbines. Each turbine spins three 78-ft rotor blades at a variable speed and pitch to optimize current wind conditions. Mounted 165 ft above ground level, the turbines rise as tall as a 13-story building. Power from the project will be transported over existing transmission lines for the joint owners. Algona Municipal Utilities personnel will operate and maintain the system. Wind speed of more than 9 mph are required to generate electricity; the Algona site averages 16.5 mph. In its first four months, the farm generated 2.65 kWh, enough electricity to power about 830 households. E-mail email@example.com.