Police check driver, vehicle details in seconds
Researchers at the Centre for Communication Interface Research (CCIR) at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, have developed a prototype speech-recognition and synthesis system that allows police officers to interrogate the National Police computer directly from their vehicles. The system lets officers obtain the name and other details of a car owner from the vehicle's registration number within seconds, says Dr. Andrew Sutherland, deputy director of the CCIR. They radio directly to a speech-recognition system at the local police station, speaking the car's registration in phonetic form. The system then recognizes the number and forms a query in the correct form for the central police registration database at Hendon. Result: Name and address of the vehicle's owner is returned to the local police station in electronic form. It is then converted into audible form by a speech synthesizer and spoken back to the requesting officer via radio link. The system is designed to free police control-room operators from the mundane task of vehicle checks, explains Sutherland. For more details, FAX Sutherland at +44 131 650 2784.
Researchers develop IC process for quantum-effect chips
Researchers at Toshiba's Cambridge Research Centre in England, working with Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory, have developed a method of wafer scale fabrication of circuits with structures only 10 atoms across. Using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), patterned semiconductor layers are built up instead of the conventional practice of diffusing impurities into the material. This technique overcomes the fundamental limit of the silicon process set by the wavelength of light. Quantum-effect devices hold promise for single-electron optical memories, novel forms of laser, very fast logic, and almost instantaneous switching. For more details, FAX Professor Michael Pepper in the UK at +44 1223 423686.
Rust-resistant steel extends life of reinforced concrete
Materials scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a rust-resistant steel that could save billions of dollars on the repair or replacement of concrete bridges and buildings. Fermarôsteel resists corrosion when used as reinforcing bar-known as re-bar-in concrete. Made from scrap metal, re-bar is among the cheapest steels and is used in virtually every concrete structure in the world. Structures with rusted re-bar are rendered unsafe because their internal skeleton has corroded. The process used to make Fermar differs only slightly from that used by American re-bar manufacturers today, yet produces a steel that has remarkable corrosion resistance and superior fatigue properties compared to standard re-bar, say engineers. They claim it can be made without any major new expense on the part of steel companies. For details, FAX Gareth Thomas at (510) 643-0965.
Non-combustible material reduces ozone levels
Researchers at Hoechst Aktiengesellschaft, Germany, have developed a material that they say acts as an ozone filter. Called noXon, the material is targeted for use with equipment such as air-conditioning systems and air-circulation units in hospitals, schools, workplaces, and the home; road vehicles; airplanes; and even laser printers and copiers. Here's how it works: Air contaminated with ozone passes through a filter fitted with a plastic granulate at room temperature. During this process the ozone is converted into oxygen. Tests show that concentrations of up to 200 grams of ozone per cubic meter can be safely neutralized with no residue, claims the company. For more details, FAX Dr. Andreas Schleicher in Germany: +49 69 35 60 36.
Materials research pursues efficient heat exchangers
A joint materials research project may yield heat exchangers that could increase the efficiency of residential furnaces. Under a two-year contract, engineers at Modine Mfg. Co., Racine, WI, and Diablo Research Corp., Sunnyvale, CA, will explore materials for "natural lift" heat-exchanger technology, a new design for secondary heat exchangers used in high-efficiency furnaces. Unlike the conventional gas-to-gas approach to heat transfer, the technology bubbles hot flue gases from the furnace's primary heat exchanger directly through an accumulated bath of condensate naturally generated from the combustion products. Because of its design and operating characteristics, the heat exchanger shows potential for construction with low-cost materials, versus traditional stainless steel. Engineers will investigate non-metallic materials, coatings, and alternative alloys, says Modine Application Engineering Manager Terry Chap. For details, FAX Chap at (414) 636-1800.
Fuel behavior sheds insight on internal-combustion engines
Using a high-speed video camera, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, have for the first time directly observed how liquid fuel enters the cylinder of a car engine during start-up. The study may shed light on the conditions that create hydrocarbons: key ingredients in the formation of smog. Researchers found that instead of coming in as small droplets that can vaporize and burn, a surprisingly large fraction of the fuel enters as large droplets that form liquid films and coat the inside of the cylinder. Such films may subsequently be swept out as hydrocarbons in the exhaust. Early tests show that little is gained by using an air-assisted fuel injector now being developed by auto makers. For more information, contact the Institute's Energy Laboratory.
Non-destructive testing harnesses power of neutrons
Scientists in the UK have developed a transportable system for detection and non-destructive testing that makes metallic materials such as aluminum virtually transparent. The development uses neurons to capture moving or still pictures of objects that reveal hidden, interior substances and flows of invisible X-rays. The neutron source is based on a cyclotron that incorporates superconducting magnet technology developed by Oxford Instruments in Oxford, say researchers. The superconductor cyclotron produces a stream of protons traveling at about 48,000 km per second, which are directed at a small piece of beryllium that serves as a neutron source. Resulting neutrons, slowed to about 8,000 km per hour, are then channeled towards the object being examined. The imaging technology was developed by Rolls-Royce & Associates, UK. The equipment could be used to detect low levels of corrosion inside components, inspect fibers or adhesives within composite materials, or check the integrity of complex castings. For more information, FAX Nigel Boulding at +44 865 269690.
Funds earmarked for lasers and materials research
Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is boosting technology aid to developing countries in the form of joint research with their national institutes. Beginning next April, earmarked funds will be used to develop technology such as processing with lasers and high-polymer materials, the Ministry says. For instance, engineers will jointly study laser technology with China and South Korea. Officials say that the partners will mainly be Asian countries. For more details, FAX MITI in Japan at +81 3 3501 1337.
Infrared laser detects eye trouble early
Specialists at Emory University's Eye Center in Atlanta, GA, are using a new laser-based system to measure the effects of eye disease more simply and accurately than ever before. A scanning laser ophthalmoscope developed by the Heidelberg Engineering Co. allows doctors to detect changes in the optic nerve caused by the disease glaucoma-before there is damage to vision. During an examination, an infrared laser is directed across the patient's retina. The system measures reflected light as the laser scans 32 minuscule planes of retinal tissue. A computer uses more than one million bits of information gathered to generate telling images of the optic nerve head. Within minutes, color 3-D images are available on a video screen and 2-D images are available on paper. The procedure requires only that patients keep an eye open for one and a half seconds. No dilating eye drops are required. The laser ophthalmoscope is far superior to conventional tests in detecting the subtle clues to glaucoma's presence, say Emory doctors. For details, FAX John Hawley of Heidelberg Engineering in the U.S. at (619) 930-3575.
Polyethylene alternative is biodegradable and strong
A replacement for polyethylene that's six times stronger and biodegradable? That's what researchers at Churchill Technology in the UK say are the characteristics of their new patented material, Vertix. The plastic film combines two layers-one water-resistant, the other water-soluble. According to the company, when water comes in contact with the soluble side it dissolves; The water-resistant side then degrades into tiny pieces that reduce to carbon dioxide and water in a month. Samples of various Vertix film fertilizer sacks, burger boxes, soda bottles, and beakers are being sent to potential licensees in southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The company says Vertix could be ideal for uses where recycling is impractical, such as the medical market where hygiene is important. For more details, FAX Alexander Hamilton in the UK: +44 719 784 141.
Refuelable zinc-air battery powers electric bus
In efforts to develop an advanced battery for electric vehicles, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is testing a prototype zinc-air battery on an electric bus in Santa Barbara, CA. The battery, which combines zinc with air to create electricity, is less expensive than lead-acid batteries and is refuelable in about 10 minutes, says electrochemical engineer John Cooper. This could eventually mean day-long usage of vehicles without refueling, versus four hours of operating time and 4-8 hours of recharging for lead-acid batteries. Zinc-air's high energy density would mean the equivalent of two tons of lead-acid battery weight could be shaved off a 12-ton bus, say engineers. The battery consists of an electrolyte storage area and up to 12 cells into which the electrolyte is fed. A very narrow cell design allows the one-millimeter-wide particles to feed into the cell in uniform fashion to form an open, loosely packed structure that does not cake. For more information, FAX Craig Savoye in California at (510) 424-2780.