Engineering societies support
doubling Federal R&D budget
The federal government's investment in R&D must double over the next 10 years. That's the core of a joint statement that a coalition of more than 100 engineering, mathematical, and science societies has taken to Washington. The groups, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), got some support on Capitol Hill. Senators Phil Gramm of Texas and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut introduced a bill titled the National Research and Investment Act of 1998. It would double federal funding at several government and civilian research facilities. Prior to 1978, federal money consistently accounted for more than half of all U.S. R&D funding. The share dropped to 33.6% last year, the lowest level since tracking began in 1953. "The Federal government cannot let its contribution to the effort shrink any further," argues ASME President-nominee Winfred M. Phillips. "Investment in research provides the building blocks for our nation's competitive abilities," he adds.
X-33 successfully completes critical design review
The X-33, flagship vehicle in NASA's Space Transportation Technology Enterprise, passed a comprehensive design review with flying colors. The vehicle now has the go ahead for fabrication and assembly of all remaining components. The X-33 is a sub-scale prototype of a commercially developed, reusable launch vehicle planned for development after the turn of the century. During the five-day review by government and industry representatives, program officials announced the resolution of several issues that arose earlier this year. Questions had been raised regarding the vehicle's weight and aerodynamic stability and control. The X-33 team reduced the weight of the vehicle, modified the design of its canted and vertical fins, and decided to use densified propellants to carry additional fuel. The first arrival of a major component at the X-33 assembly facility in Palmdale, CA, is scheduled for January. It will be the aluminum liquid-oxygen tank from Lockheed Martin Michoud in Louisiana. NASA has scheduled as many as 15 test flights for the X-33 beginning in July 1999. Launched vertically, it will fly up to 15 times the speed of sound at altitudes approaching 60 miles.
Standard links microprocessors with multitude of transducers
With the burst of innovation in sensors and actuators, an abundance of different control networks has sprung up. Unfortunately for design engineers, transducer manufacturers, who now number about 3,000, have tended to favor widely different links to microcomputers. Now, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has approved a new interface standard developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The digital guideline (IEEE-1451.2) at last provides a common "smart" link between transducers and microprocessors designed for control networks.
New subs, mines will dominate undersea warfare
Quieter submarines and more sophisticated sea mines will make undersea warfare even more lethal in the future. So predicts the Committee on Technology for Future Naval Forces, a unit of the National Research Council. "The submarine threat will increase significantly--perhaps even dramatically--in the 21st century," the panel reports. This increase is being fueled by the proliferation of advanced submarine quieting, sensors, and processing technologies. However, the experts foresee a 10- to 15-dB improvement in passive antisubmarine sonar "in the near term," with an additional 10 to 20 dB before 2035. Such gains, it says, should more than offset the anticipated quieting of future submarines. Networks of unmanned sensor platforms will be needed under water and in space. Engineers also will be called upon to design small undersea vehicles or bottom-crawling devices that can detect and destroy new breeds of "smart" mines. The panel suggests the launching of smaller, lighter countermeasure ships.
Hybrid computer could simplify design of control systems
A hybrid computer that can "learn" 10 times faster than conventional neural networks promises to make life easier for designers of complex systems, such as real-time controls. Called the Fuzzy Cerebellar Model Arithmetic Computer (CMAC), it is the result of research by Intelligent Automation Inc., Rockville, MD. Working with Lockheed Martin, the firm used CMAC technology to develop a system that cancels machine vibrations, enabling machine tools to cut faster and more accurately. Common neural networks were found to be too slow to adapt to such rapidly changing conditions. Also under development: a scanning-probe microscope that uses Fuzzy CMAC to rapidly learn characteristics of a sample as it scans. The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, seeking quicker means of locking weapons onto targets, funded original research into Fuzzy CMAC.