Designers, test engineers need to speak the same language
The announced theme of this year's International Test Conference in Washington, DC, was how to cut test costs. But the chief concern at many of its gatherings was the poor communications between design and test domains. In fact, one crowded panel session bore the title "Designers Are From Venus; Test Engineers Are From Mars." The prevailing opinion at that meeting was that test engineers should learn "design speak" rather than designers learning "test speak." A key problem is that designers are taking advantage of new technologies faster than testers can devise methods and tools for checking out new products. The continuing convergence of communications and computing, for example, spawns a new class of "intelligent devices." One approach to the problem has been the drafting of new, more-flexible test standards. An aim is to achieve smoother integration with current standards in design and manufacturing. STIL, which stands for Standard Test Interface Language, is one of several efforts showing promise. An official at Motorola, a firm pushing STIL, says he hopes STIL eventually will end the need for electronic translators among CAD, CAM, and test programs.
Uncle Sam launches two projects to make autos 'smarter'
Under its Intelligent Transportation Systems Program, the federal government is funding two new programs. One would help avoid crashes, and the other would help save lives after crashes. The first is the Intelligent Cruise Control project. It will test the ability of an auto equipped with an advanced cruise control and sensors to maintain a safe distance from a vehicle ahead of it. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, in Ann Arbor, MI, will lead a public/private partnership conducting the tests. The other program is the Automatic Collision Notification (ACN) project. It will test an in-vehicle system that detects a crash and automatically alerts emergency medical services. Using global positioning satellites, devices would directly send data on the vehicle's location and the severity of the crash. Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say ACN could significantly reduce rescue response time. Most research on the system will take place at the CALSPAN Advanced Technology Center in Buffalo, NY.
Office of Technology Assessment will live on in cyberspace
Though Congress disbanded its Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), you can still tap into many of the agency's research efforts. OTA's reports--some of which are still unfinished--are being transferred to CD-ROM disks. You can access the studies, too, through a World Wide Web page. About the end of this year, OTA funds run out. After then, the National Academy of Sciences and some universities will maintain the OTA Web page. Meanwhile, Congress is relying on several other organizations, including the Congressional Research Service, for technological knowledge.
Ballistic missile R&D promises to improve medical imaging
Image-detection hardware of the U.S. military is 10 years ahead of that used in civilian medicine. So say experts at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which is striving to transfer its know-how into peaceful fields. High-temperature superconductors (HTS) developed for missile warfare make efficient magnetic detectors, promising to improve the qualityof magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Superconductor Technologies, Inc., of Santa Barbara, CA, has received several defense contracts to develop HTS-based devices. Its SuperSensor Coil can produce images comparable to conventional MRI machines in a fourth of the time. Given the same amount of time, it achieves resolutions that are 1.5 to 2.5 times better. Missile technology also could improve other forms of medical imaging, including magnetic source imaging, x-ray imaging, infrared imaging, positron emission tomography, and single photon emission computer tomography.
Ultrasound, laser techniques studied for metering flows
Managers of plants generating electric power seek more accurate measurements of the flow of turbine feedwater. Power plants now use internal flow meters. Fouling and swirling flows from pipe elbows distort readings. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and theElectric Power Research Institute are studying a promising alternative--ultrasonic flow metering. Technicians place a sound transmitter and receiver at points on the outside of a pipe. They figure out flow rate using the time it takes sound to travel between the two. NIST plans to test ultrasonic meters in ideal flows, such as those in long, straight pipes, and in non-ideal conditions near pipe elbows and reducers. NIST also has been studying the use of laser Doppler velocimetry. The light-based technique detects flow velocities without inserting instruments into the flow.