No more lost keys
Using the digital representation of specific fingertip characteristics, Siemens Automotive plans to make ignition keys relics of the past. Instead, a computer identification system would authorize and complete engine ignition with the touch of a finger. The engine start identification process utilizes 65,000 electrodes to measure within one hundredth of a millimeter the distance between sensor and skin surface. Lightly touching the capacitive sensor creates a digitized fingerprint image with a resolution of 20 dots per mm (513 dpi). Image processing software then searches and stores as many as 24 telltale fingerprint characteristics. A digital signal processor compares the stored fingerprint with the live fingerprint. If they match, a silicon chip activates authorization and engine start. The size of a small coin, the chip contains a sensing field, analog-to-digital converter, sequencing control, clock generator, and parallel interface. Siemens Automotive engineers expect fingerprint recognition for engine ignition to reach the production-ready stage within two years. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.siemensauto.com .
The Fédération of Internationale Automobile (FIA) recently granted FT5 certification to French company Pronal, allowing it to produce flexible fuel tanks for Formula 1 racing cars. Lightweight, crack resistant, and deformable in the event of impact, the tanks are made from an elastomer-coated fabric frame. Manufacturing involves the high-temperature process of vacuum vulcanization in an autoclave. Developed in partnership with each customer, the flexible fuel tanks are also filled with explosion-proof and fire-proof foam to imprison gases for high-safety operation. Pronal also offers a range of standard tanks with capacities between 10 and 80 liters. Contact Bruno Slembrouck, Pronal, Tel: +33 3 20 99 75 00; Fax: +33 3 20 99 75 20; or visit www.pronal.com .
In Bavaria, Germany, Evans & Sutherland Computer (Salt Lake City, Utah) has built what it claims is "the world's largest Air Traffic Control simulator." Designed to train the German air force, it requires high-resolution displays to depict complex training scenarios. The simulator itself is integrated with an enormous display, measuring 40m in circumference and 3.8m high. Some 32 projectors create a single image 152 sq m in size, with a view span of 360 degrees horizontal by 45 degrees vertical. Built by ComView Visual System (Ra'anana, Israel), the display incorporates the company's PerfectPixels™technology to combine input from 32 channels of image generation into a uniform interactive image. The PerfectPixels algorithm takes into account the viewer's position within the tower to correct distortions, allowing it to show aircraft as far as ten nautical miles away. Off-the-shelf LCD projectors achieve a high-fidelity immersion effect. Go to www.comview-vs.com and www.es.com for additional details.
Tale of the
Remember when IT departments used to store computer data on spools of spinning magnetic tape? That technology soon advanced to spinning magnetic floppy disks, and then to today's CDs and DVDs. Now tape is back. A team of German and American researchers in Berlin has found a way to store as much as 10 Gbytes of data on a roll of ordinary adhesive tape. The technique, called t-rom, uses a low-power laser (less than 1 mW) to change the refractive index of very small areas on the tape. Data, therefore, can be stored onto successive layers of tape without unwinding the roll. In addition, t-rom retrieves data faster than a CD, since the laser spins around the tape at much higher speeds than standard CDs rotate. The only drawback so far is that the method is write-once, compared to computer hard drives which can store new information after erasing the old. Because the data is stored at different depths, it can be read simultaneously, allowing researchers to store holographic images on the tape rolls. Another application is a single-layer, data-storage sticker, which would hold 250 times more information than a barcode of the same size. The discovery was made at a private German company called European Media Laboratory GmbH (EML, www.eml.org/), using generic adhesive tape of the brand name "tesa Multi-Film, kristallklar," made by Beiersdorf AG (www.beiersdorf.de/). EML announced this week it would begin working with Stanford University in the U.S. to bring the project—called OptiMem—to maturity. For further information, see www.eml.org/english/research/optimem/optimem.html .
Diagnosing small cracks is a big deal when you are looking at jet engine turbine blades. Using either x-ray or neutrons in radiographic procedures, conventional analysis methods detect absorption of radiation as it passes through materials. However, if two of the materials have similar absorption characteristics, then radiographs show very little. Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) believe they have a better way of examining materials with similar absorption rates. How? It works a little like the way light diffracts when passing through a glass of water. Using low levels of radiation, the phase of the wave shifts at the boundary between the two materials with different densities. "Phase-sensitive imaging" as NIST researchers Muhammad Arif and David Jacobson call it, yields images with greater detail, especially at the boundaries and edges. "With most radiography, a lack of absorption translates into a lack of sensitivity needed when detecting small cracks," says Arif. "Phase-sensitive imaging shows these small cracks as alternating black and white lines," he says. In addition to turbine blades, applications for the technology include checking for cracks and defects in precision welding, fuel cells, and pressure vessels in nuclear reactors. NIST worked with the University of Melbourne and the University of Missouri at Columbia to demonstrate the new radiographic imaging. Want to know more? Arif is available at (301) 975-6303. Or, visit the NIST website at www.nist.gov .
factory for auto engines
Announced by Nihon ESI, ESI Group's Japanese subsidiary, and NEC: A strategic cooperation agreement to construct a "Virtual Engine Factory." Designed for the NEC SX-5 supercomputer using ESI Group's MCAE technology, the system will simulate the entire process of building an automotive engine. "The Virtual Engine Factory will shorten time for design and manufacturing by carrying out the simulation on a supercomputer, instead of real experiments and prototyping," explains Vincent Chaillon, CEO of ESI Group's Software Division. The ability to analyze cast engine parts, combustion, and dynamic stress, he predicts, will result in lighter-weight engines, better performance, and improved durability. The joint project is to be conducted with an automotive company in Japan. After the validation stage, the Virtual Engine Factory will be released within one year. For more information about ESI Group, visit www.esi-group.com; for NEC, visit www.nec-global.com .
OnStar, a subsidiary of General Motors Corp., with help from Sun Microsystems Inc., plans to bring new personalized services to OnStar subscribers using Java technology. Under an agreement announced last October, the two companies will build an open software layer based on Java 2 Platform Micro Edition technology. OnStar is a provider of in-vehicle safety, security, and information services. Using the Global Positioning System Satellite network and wireless technology, OnStar links the driver and vehicle to the OnStar Center where advisors offer real-time service 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. "What we're doing, in effect, is expanding the market for mobile devices for the 2.5 million Java technology developers worldwide," says Patricia Sueltz, executive vice president, Software Systems Group, Sun Microsystems. On-Star President Chet Huber adds: "OnStar is presently on a million vehicles; that number will quadruple by 2003." For more information about OnStar, visit www.onstar.com .