Engineering jobs, bonuses rise,
but inflation outpaces base pay
"The unemployment crisis for the profession seems to have ended." So says R.A. Ellis, director of research for the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) in Washington, DC. AAES surveys find the number of unemployed engineers has dropped "to more normal levels." Engineers with jobs rose to pre-recession levels during three quarters in a row through the first half of 1995. In manufacturing, 43.2% of engineers got bonuses last year, compared with 13.2% in 1993. The median base salary for engineers in industry this year is $56,800, up $200 from last year. That, however, is a loss when you figure in the 2.86% rise in living costs over the period. Typical salaries for new hires rose from $34,900 to $35,350. The median pay for engineers with 10 years experience stayed at $52,900. For engineers with 25 years experience, the median salary climbed from $68,200 to $68,650. Pay levels in the Pacific area improved markedly, while those in the South Atlantic region fell.
'Electronic nose' among tools for checking auto emissions
A new research program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will help manufacturers design and test low-emission cars and trucks. Among tools to be used in developing emission standards is an "electronic nose." It is an array of microsensors, detectors and a microprocessor on a device the size of a credit card. A new facility at NIST for calibrating primary flow meters will analyze auto exhaust using infrared light and microwaves.
Designers advance protection against whiplash injuries
With safety agencies showing renewed concern over whiplash injuries, auto engineers are designing new head restraints. General Motors has invented a pivoting restraint that attaches to a plate in the seat back. In a rear-end collision the restraint arcs forward and upward toward the back of the occupant's head. Swiss designers are developing a different type of restraint. An electronic sensor detects the occupant's position and signals an electric motor to adjust the restraint to a position that gives the best neck protection. In only a few cars can head restraints be positioned correctly for an average-size male, according to a study of 164 new car models. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, headquartered in Arlington, VA, made the study using a device that measures a restraint's height below and distance behind the head. It judged restraints in only five cars "good" and rated 117 models "poor." Makers of test dummies also are redesigning their products to show potential harm to the neck.
Panel opposes Discovery funds for advanced spacecraft design
Don't use funds from Discovery--a program of small planetary missions--to pay for advanced spacecraft design. It's "inappropriate," states a report from the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration of the National Research Council. Strap- ped for resources, Discovery should rely mainly on current technology, the report adds. Space scientists should tap proven military technology as it becomes available. The use of new technology, the committee warns, could heighten the risk of failure. "In an environment of declining status and budgets for space exploration," it explains, "the failure of any given mission is no longer tolerable." The result: "engineering conservatism." Engineers must seek the "perfect" design. Suppose an advanced design is needed? Then, the report says, support should come from NASA's Office of Space Access and Technology, which is performing such services for earth-observation satellites. NASA, however, should avoid imposing "arbitrary constraints" on principal investigators of Discovery missions. For example, the report declares, NASA should not preselect the launch vehicle, the spacecraft bus, the payload, or the data rate.
Military motion sensors moving into civilian transportation
Motion detectors used to guide missile interceptors travelling up to 20,000 mph can help navigate cars travelling at 65 mph. So concludes a report by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Many of the detectors use magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) technology developed in the organization's Wideband Angular Vibration Experiment. The MHD principle describes how conductive fluids and magnetic fields interact. ATA Sensors of Albuquerque, NM, has developed the MHD Effect Rate Gyroscope. A low-cost angular rate sensor, it measures vibrations from mdeg/sec to kdeg/sec in the frequency band from dc to more than 100 Hz. For 1997-model autos, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., of Cambridge, MA, is marketing a Silicon Micromachined Angular Rate Sensor. Originally, the sensor was part of an inertial guidance system for miniature interceptors. The report sees promise for both sensors in antilock braking and inertial navigation systems, airbag deployment, and control of steering, traction, and power.