Aluminum bonding technology keeps chassis
Lotus Engineering has developed a bonding technology that almost eliminates all welds from the Elise sports car. The Elise chassis was always planned to be made from aluminum extrusions to keep weight down, but engineers were unsure whether the parts could be bonded. If not, they would have had to stay with tried-and-tested welding technology even though aluminum does not weld well. The metal suffers distortion, and the heat of the welding degrades the material's properties, which necessitates a greater thickness of aluminum thereby adding weight. The bonding technique that avoids these problems is based on a single-part, heat-cured epoxy paste, XB 5315, from Swiss company Ciba Polymers. The adhesive is normally used for bonding oily steels. The extrusions are first anodized and then transferred to a clean room, where the adhesive is applied and the components assembled. The chassis is then loaded to an oven where curing takes place at 200C. Complete chassis assembly is performed by Hydro Aluminum, Lotus' Danish partner on aluminum extrusions, which delivers them to the Elise assembly line in Norwich. FAX Lotus at +44 1953 608104.
Knowledge-based system speeds car design
The next generation of motor cars may not only be manufactured automatically but also designed with automation systems. Concentra, in partnership with Lotus Engineering and Tata Technologies, has developed a knowledge-based software package called Integrated Car Engineer (ICE), which the company claims reduces new vehicle design from months to minutes. Based on Concentra's generative system design methodology and incorporating Lotus' vehicle design know-how, ICE drives designs from the top down, constantly cross-checking each element against every other. The opening screen asks the user to select a basic body type, the geographical territory for which the vehicle is intended, and an infinitely variable wire frame template. The software then leads the user into more and more detailed choices until the desired specification is achieved. Set up to handle a variety of vehicle design elements, ranging from vehicle layout to transmission design and interior ergonomics, ICE should enable designers to evaluate many more configurations and alternatives than was previously possible in a given period of time. FAX Concentra at +44 1203 419875.
Smart cards gain 32-bit power
A group of European companies has developed smart-card technology based on a 32-bit reduced-instruction-set-computer (RISC) chip that it claims is 100 times more powerful than existing 8-bit smart cards. The Cascade project, led by French smart-card maker Gemplus, plans to test prototypes this fall and start commercial production in 1997. As well as the 32-bit processor, which performs 17 million instructions per second, other key features of the Cascade design are on-chip public key cryptography and a multi-application operating system. The first products will be smart cards for portable devices such as cellular phones. Users will benefit from much higher levels of security thanks to the RISC chip's ability to handle 32-bit data words. Today's 8-bit smart-card technology cannot handle the complex calculations required by advanced cryptographic algorithms, including the new generation of public key algorithms. Cascade's support for biometrics functions will allow applications such as voice profile recognition, thus eliminating the need for personal identification numbers. U.K.-based Advanced RISC Machines developed the RISC processor architecture; other Cascade members include the Finnish telecom company Nokia and French electronics group Dassault, which is developing a terminal to read the Cascade cards. FAX Gemplus at +33 42 32 5090.
Longer life for nuclear power plants?
Aging takes its toll on people, cars, and nuclear reactors. In a nuclear power plant, the steel pressure vessel surrounding the fuel rods tends to become more brittle over time. This becomes an issue in deciding whether to build a new plant or seeking to extend the reactor's operating license. In Russia, embrittled pressure vessels have been treated through thermal annealing, a process in which the vessel is heated and cooled in a specific, controlled way. Now U.S. nuclear energy industry officials, a Russian consortium, and Sandia National Laboratories are evaluating whether it is economically possible to do this with U.S. commercial reactors. For details, e-mail Julie Clausen at email@example.com .
How astronauts affect spacecraft
An MIT experiment aboard the Russian space station Mir involves collecting data on how crew members physically affect their environment. That data could save millions of dollars in the design of future space structures. Currently, there is very little data on the forces astronauts exert on spaceships, so engineers must over-design the racks housing sensitive experiments that could be disturbed by astronauts' movements. Key to this experiment are Enhanced Dynamic Load Sensors (EDLS): instrumented footloops, a handhold, and a push-off pad. Data are collected on the forces applied as the crew use the sensors to get around oranchor themselves. Professor Dava Newman of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics leads the experiment. Collaborators are from NASA, which funded the work, and Payload Systems Inc. For more information, e-mail Elizabeth Thomson at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Neural-network chip works like artificial eye
Hungarian and U.S. scientists say they have developed a single-chip supercomputer that could be used to make artificial eyes and other visual devices. Capable of one trillion operations per second, the chip could be the brain of an autopilot able to drive a car in fast-moving urban traffic, says Leon Chua, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California at Berkeley. The chip is made up of 500 analog processors working in parallel, mimicking the human eye and part of the brain. The architecture, called a cellular neural network, has been around for several years, but the real breakthrough came when the research team developed the ability to reprogram the chips, say the inventors. "First trials conducted in Hungary show that the chip can significantly improve cancer diagnostics," says Tamas Roska of the Hungarian Computer and Automation Institute, "by recognizing images of incipient tumors even the best radiologists can barely see." FAX Chua at (510) 642-2739.
Military pilots 'strike gold' over Bosnian targets
Even though peacekeeping is America's primary intent in Bosnia, a new Air Force technology will soon help military pilots flying warfighting missions there "strike gold" as they seek ground targets from the sky. The Rapid Targeting System (RTS)--nicknamed "Gold Strike"--was deployed to Operation Decisive Endeavor this summer to help pilots "see" and confirm potential ground targets via reconnaissance imagery transmitted in near-real time to the cockpit, before they deploy their weapons. "RTS imagery will reduce chances of American aircrews attacking the wrong targets," says Major Bill Sargent, program manager in the Reconnaissance Aircraft Systems Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's Aeronautical Systems Center. "It will also reduce the need for multiple attacks--they will have a higher confidence that they are hitting the right target the first time." The Gold Strike van carries Sun SPARC-20 workstations, a Waterfall+ display, URC-200 and ARC-201 radios, and commercial networking hardware to get images to the aircrew. The aircrew uses the imagery to recognize the target area and confirm the target before releasing weapons.
Fire-fighting robots to compete
Trinity College, Hartford, CT, will hold the fourth annual International Robotics Contest on Sunday, April 20, 1997, and is actively seeking both professional and amateur participants to build the fastest fire-fighting robot. The entrants' challenge is to build a computerized (not radio-controlled) robot that can move through a model of a single floor of a house, detect fire (a lit candle), and then extinguish it. "I envision this type of technology--devices that not only detect but also extinguish smoke or fire--to be fully realized in the not-too-distant future," says contest coordinator Jake Mendelssohn. "Our contest could generate working solutions for this practical problem." For more information about the event, e-mail Mendelssohn at JMendell41@aol.com .
Flash-memory suppliers support common interface
Four leading flash-memory suppliers say they will support a common flash-memory interface (CFI) specification--a significant step towards eliminating consumer concerns about incompatible flash-memory software interfaces. Intel, AMD, Fujitsu, and Sharp agreed to the CFI to let users develop a common suite of software drivers for long-term compatibility. The CFI will also enable forward and backward compatibility between individual suppliers' flash products, which will ease migration to higher-density memories. The spec outlines a device and host system software interrogation handshake to allow vendor-specified software algorithms to be used for entire families of flash devices. Adoption of the spec will be especially valuable for the small, transportable memory medium called Miniature Cards, which let OEMs provide higher-density card upgrades for existing digital cameras, audio systems, cellular phones, and hand-held computers. FAX (916) 356-6227.
Researchers 'FAX' 3-D objects
Researchers at Stanford University's Computer Graphics Laboratory have demonstrated the capability to make and FAX three-dimensional computer models of objects so detailed that they can be used to make accurate physical facsimiles of the originals. As a test, they scanned a 6-inch-high plastic sculpture of a "happy Buddha" and converted it into a 3-D computer model--a process that took six hours. The researchers then transmitted the model electronically to 3-D Systems, Valencia, CA, a company that uses stereolithography to create plastic models. Over a weekend, the company spent 12 to 15 hours creating a facsimile, then mailed it to Stanford. While the result was not an exact duplicate, it was a fairly detailed copy. The key step in the 3-D FAX process is producing high-quality, 3-D computer models of physical objects, which is the area Stanford researchers are concentrating on. Potential applications for the technology include computer graphics for movies and video games, home shopping, and the duplication of rare artifacts or engineering prototypes. For details, e-mail email@example.com .