World automakers launch drive
to unify safety requirements
Leading automakers around the globe have taken the first official step in a fresh effort to harmonize rules for vehicle safety and testing. They have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to let them choose to use either European or American standards when designing five car systems. The five are seat belts, windshield wipers and washing assemblies, windshield defoggers and defrosters, headlamp concealment devices, and head restraints. The automakers hope NHTSA will spearhead a movement that regulators in other countries will follow. Ultimately, automakers hope for a global rule book covering almost all safety systems for cars. The formal petition to NHTSA came from the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, which represents the Big Three, and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, which includes large firms in Europe, Japan, and Korea.
Survey rates value of graduates of Engineering Research Centers
More than 89% of the employers of recent graduates of Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) rate those graduates as better prepared than their peers for their jobs after graduate school. That is the finding of a survey commissioned by the National Science Foundation's Engineering Directorate. Since 1985, the foundation has supported ERCs in hopes of preparing a new generation of engineering leaders for industry. ERCs are places in which students and industry engineers together focus on advances in complex engineered systems in such areas as design, manufacturing, and material processing. Surveyors questioned supervisors of ERC and industry representatives whose firms had hired ERC graduates two to five years previously. Most of those interviewed consider ERC graduates superior to peers in capabilities ranging from working in interdisciplinary teams to using technology from various sources.
Stealth ships, drone aircraft seen for Navy in next decades
How will technological advances in many fields alter the design of warships for the years 2000 to 2035? The National Research Council tackles the question in a new study. The most striking changes, it says, will result from development of new arms and aircraft. The main naval weapons will be relatively cheap guided missiles propelled by rockets. The weapons panel for the study prefers such arms to other missile, gun, and electromagnetic launcher options for surface-to-surface fire. Many Navy ships will become minicarriers bearing fixed-wing warplanes with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. Ships also will launch drones to perform many routine or especially dangerous tasks that piloted aircraft perform today. Stealth demands will further alter the shape of future warships and the materials used to build them. Smart systems, based on sensors and computers, will shrink crew sizes. You can buy the 126-page report, "Technology for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, 2000-2035," from the National Academy Press. Single-copy price is $31, including shipping charges. Phone 1-800-624-6242.
Thrust for shallow-draft crafts could mimic whale tail moves
Researchers see new potential for a method of powering ships that mimics the tail propulsion of a whale. Tests on "trochoidal" propellers were first made in 1963 in a search for a possible replacement for conventional screw and cycloidal propellers in wide, shallow-draft vessels. At that time, engineers tested the system on a vertical axis and found that it lacked the efficiency sought. In a report on a symposium on naval hydrodynamics, however, the National Research Council de-scribes a possible breakthrough. Marine researchers J. van Manen and T. van Terwisga of the Netherlands say computer simulations indicate that the trochoidal propeller would be highly efficient if put on a horizontal axis. They call the result the Whale Tail Wheel. It seeks to combine the benefits of both the paddle wheel and the propeller. Mounted in the hull's afterbody over a large part of its width, the Whale Tail Wheel allows for large aspect ratios of the blades. The report says it promises higher thrust at lower rotation rates with smaller propulsors and less cavitation.
NASA tests turbulence controls for airplane turbine engines
A system for high-stability engine control could significantly increase performance of future turbine engines of both military and commercial planes. That's the opinion of researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who are conducting flight tests. Called Distortion Tolerant Control (DTC), the system incorporates a high-speed processor that senses changes in airflow at the front of the engine. The processor automatically commands trim corrections to the engine to accommodate changing distortions. DTC allows the engines to operate with more stability in turbulence.