All-in-one devices merge computing, communications
Newton, MA--Mergers aren't only hot on Wall Street.
Whether it's computers and telephones or PCs and TV, a combination of high-tech advances and market demand are driving a push to merge the once-separate technologies of computing, television, and telecommunications.
Cable television modems promise to bring high-bandwidth computing via coax into the home. Zenith, among others, has developed cards that transmit data up to 4 Mbits/sec.
Why the sudden merger mania? One driving force is the demand to transmit ever-larger and varied amounts of information faster and more efficiently. And, computer circuitry has become powerful and affordable enough to handle excess demands of communicating along with principal number-crunching chores.
"Two or three years ago, you couldn't afford enough PC on your desk to do that," notes Carl Strathmeyer at Dialogic, chairman of the Alliance of Computer-Based Telephony Application Suppliers. "But if your computer system and your telephone could work together, you could do all kinds of things." For example, you might be able to click on a few address-book listings to arrange a multiple conference call, instead of remembering a lengthy series of commands.
Advances in digital signal processors are allowing engineers to design more sophisticated call-answering and message-storing functions into PCs. "DSPs will enable a plethora of things you can do on a personal computer," says Chris Principi, an engineer with Diamond Multimedia Systems, San Jose, CA.
Diamond's TelCommander 2500XL, for example, combines audio, fax, modem, voice mail, and Internet telephony on a $250 board. One handy feature: You can place a voice call, switch to data transfer to transmit a computer file, and then go back to voice when the file has been sent--all without hanging up. In the future data and voice will be transmitted simultaneously, he says.
For $499, Multi-Tech Systems offers a simultaneous voice, video, and data modem over conventional phone lines--eliminating the need for high-speed serial ports to conduct computer video conferencing. For another $199, MultiExpressPCS software turns the device into a multi-mode answering machine, automatically determining if an incoming call is fax, data, or voice and receiving the messages accordingly.
Sophisticated voice/data/fax modems are even available for laptop computers. Data Race, San Antonio, TX, for example, announced an internal modem for notebook PCs that includes a speakerphone and digital phone answering--using the computer's disk drive to store incoming phone messages. The Data Race modem is already available on IBM's latest ThinkPad, the 701C.
Facing severe audio-feedback problems because a laptop PC's speaker and microphone are so close together, Data Race engineers used DSPs from AT&T to perform echo cancellation, explains Pete Crabb, manager of modem development. They also turned to microcontroller firmware to perform audio compression, allowing voice messages to be stored quickly and on less disk space.
The next step: DSVD, or digital simultaneous voice and data protocols, allowing a speaker phone to function as data is being transmitted. Semiconductor firms are designing solutions for the DSVD standard, such as AT&T Microelectronics' Catamaran--a 28.8-kbit/sec implementation.
Computer telephony. The combination of computers and telecommunications--"computer telephony" in tech speak--promises the power of computing with the easy- to-use communications of your household phone, proponents say. "This stuff is going to take off," predicts Rob Hudson at AT&T Global Information Systems. "It's really, really hot."
The move will "bridge the unnatural gap between PCs and telephones," he says. Consider the current state of faxing: A document created on a PC word processor (digital) is printed out (analog), and sent by fax over analog phone lines, often into a PC-fax board which turns the document back into digital bits. AT&T's 360TPC incorporates speakerphone, voice mail, and fax capabilities as well as a computer.
This spring, five major computer and telecommunication companies formed the Enterprise Computer Telephony Forum to work towards developing standards in the two industries.
Two-way TV? We've been hearing for years that cable television will bring us interactive TV, dial-up movies on demand, and the like; yet the vast majority of us are still getting conventional TV through our coax, just more so.
However, some in the industry believe cable's true potential isn't delivering the ultimate in interactive television, but the bandwidth that now goes largely unused--and that could be utilized to move bits around the information superhighway.
While a phone line might be able to deliver data at 500 kbits/sec, a cable modem can transmit data at 4 Mbits/sec, says Jim Turano at Zenith. "It's just a matter of realizing that cable does have this larger bandwidth. It's a more rugged way to send data." Potential applications: transmitting bandwidth-hogging files such as X-rays, or video-conferencing for small businesses. Engineers could also easily send and receive files from home or on the road; and look at CAD files with colleagues elsewhere to do collaborative design.
PC TV. Add-in cards, meanwhile, bring television to the PC screen. "Now, it's possible to work on the PC and watch stock reports, news, and other programs simultaneously," says Allen Gharapetian with Logicode Technology, Camarillo, CA, a maker of one such card.
In Washington, legislators are addressing the merger trend with proposals to radically overhaul federal communications law. This spring, the Senate resoundingly endorsed a bill that would allow cable and local-phone companies to enter each other's businesses, as well as allow electric utilities to offer telecommunications services. If ultimately adopted, the new law is expected to spur advances in technological merging.
A crucial factor to better delivery of computing and communications services, many believe, is for engineers to work on merging them in new devices from the outset. "Let's not treat it as one technology separate from another technology," says Hudson at AT&T. "Let's design it that way, not try to kludge something."
What this means to you
Opportunities to design new devices that merge computers, phones, and TV
More convenient ways to share technical information with colleagues
Greater possibilities to quickly and easily transmit data
Plastic endures demanding drug tests
Hopkinton, MA--The MultiDose™ Dissolution Testing Workstation from Zymark Corp. offers pharmaceutical labs automated quality-control testing for batch releases, drug stability, and formulation.
Most labor-intensive steps now occur in dissolution heads that automatically fill the vessels, dispense tablets, measure vessel temperature, and then sample results. After sampling, the heads empty and clean vessels for the next run.
To ensure rapid and accurate performance, Zymark designed four dissolution-head parts in Ertalyte® PET-P supplied by the Polymer Corp., Redding, PA. They include: tablet carousel and locating disk, locating ring, black base plate, and filter track.
Each dissolution head loads and dispenses tablets through the table carousel and locating disk beneath it. As the carousel rotates, a hole through the locating disk passes tablets to a polycarbonate tube and then to the vessel. The application requires smooth movement and consistent part dimensions.
Ertalyte PET-P proved the best material for both the carousel and locating disk because of its low wear, lubricity, and dimensional stability, according to Zymark designers. In a series of tests, Ertalyte had twice the wear resistance of ultra-high-molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), and one-third the linear thermal expansion of UHMWPE.
A locating ring, also made of Ertalyte PET-P, holds the vessel in position and orients the dissolution head over the vessel. A PET-P black base plate supports the dissolution head and covers the locating ring.
Zymark needed a rigid material for the base plate that wouldn't warp. The stiffness of Ertalyte, indicated by its flexural modulus, measures five times that of UHMWPE--and the PET has virtually no internal stresses to cause warpage. In addition, the material resists the hydrochloric acid used in the dissolution pocess.
Zymark says the PET parts will not affect the pharmaceutical samples they contact, while complying with all government regulations.
The PET's non-porous surface resists staining, even with prolonged use. With PET-P, Zymark also got the added benefit of the material's glossy, bright appearance.
Structural foam cuts chromatography workstation costs
Cambridge, MA--As its commercial success grew, producing only one seven-piece housing per day for its new family of BioCAD chromatography workstations wasn't fast enough for Perseptive Biosystems, Inc. So, the company turned to reaction injection molding (RIM) and a polyurethane structural foam to cost-effectively produce in five minutes what formerly took a day.
The BioCAD™/Sprint™ system for perfusion chromatography, for example, brings the latest in biomolecule separation technology and advanced software control to the basic research laboratory. The system is designed specifically to execute biomolecule purification and analysis experiments. It can perform laboratory-scale purifications of proteins, peptides, and nucleic acids in 30 seconds.
To speed processing, Perspective Biosystems turned to the RIM system and used soft tooling to keep costs manageable. The combination gave the company improved component consistency over resin casting.
The switch to the structural foam, Baydur® 726 IBS from Bayer (formerly Miles) Polymers Div., Pittsburgh, had other benefits. It reduced total part weight by about 30 lbs, while cutting component costs more than 25%.
Molding in O-rings and gaskets, rather than adding them as a secondary finishing operation, saved added assembly time and costs.
"The O-rings were the easy part," says Ron Danehy, senior manufacturing engineer. "The challenge was putting in hexagonal and square flat seals." The molded-in seals keep any liquids or chemicals from leaking inside the machine.
BioCAD/Sprint, one of the three BioCAD models, uses only six parts in its housing, five of which are identical to those in the other models. Rather than produce a separate mold for the new part, Perseptive Biosystems and the molder used a mold insert to produce the sixth part in the existing mold. As a result, housings for all three units can be produced with the same set of molds.
Server brings Windows to UNIX workstations
Chelmsford, MA--If you use a UNIX workstation for CAD and analysis work, but also want to use software written for PCs, what do you do?
Typically, engineers have either loaded a Windows emulation package onto their workstations, or purchased a personal computer along with a workstation. But now, Hewlett-Packard says it has developed a server that lets UNIX workstation users tap into PC software over a network.
The HP 500 Windows Application Server is a Pentium-based system designed to join a network of engineering workstations. Once connected, the server allows an engineer working at almost any type of UNIX workstation to call up Windows on screen, as another window running on the conventional UNIX desktop. Users can then run any Windows software at their desk--as long as it has first been loaded onto the server.
"They have a very elegant solution for providing Windows-application access to X terminals and workstations," says Greg Blatnick, an industry analyst with Zona Research, Redwood City, CA. A Zona survey reported that 80% of UNIX users also want access to Windows applications, he says.
HP claims that its solution is substantially faster than WABI, a technology that allows individual workstations to run Windows as well as DOS. Using WinTach, a benchmark developed by Texas Instruments to measure PC performance, an HP Envizex X terminal performed a suite of Windows tasks in 29 seconds. That compared to 47 seconds for WABI running on an HP 712/80 workstation. WABI has the advantage of allowing individual users to load software onto their own machines, instead of needing a network administrator to put the software onto the HP server.
HP says that a competing product from Tektronix, WinDD, runs the benchmark suite in 202 seconds, vs. the 29 for HP. However, Tektronix spokesman Lee Rainey notes that HP compared its new, top-of-the-line X terminal with a Tek "entry-level 117C X-terminal that was obsoleted over a year ago." In addition, the WinTach benchmark measures graphics display performance, which is "one of the least important" components of application performance for such a system, he says. A big advantage for Tek's design is that its compression scheme, which sits on top of TCP/IP, only puts one-third the load on a network of the conventional "X" operations used by HP, Rainey says. However, Hewlett-Packard touts the use of X because it is open and non-proprietary, making it easy to merge any workstation or terminal onto the network regardless of the manufacturer.
The hardware and software HP 500 Windows Application Server package for a 15-user network costs $16,495, or $5,495 for software alone for users who have their own Pentium PC server. A 30-user configuration costs $24,995 with hardware, and $7,995 for software only. The Pentium PC-based server runs the SCO UNIX operating system.
Simulation boosts helicopter design
Leovil, England--Engineers at Westland Helicopters Ltd. are using computer analysis of flight-test data to improve designs, develop performance specs, and produce flight-manual information. In addition, the company's Aerodynamics Performance Group (APG) creates helicopter flight simulations for test pilots, allowing them to develop effective emergency flying maneuvers--before trying them out on riskier, expensive test craft.
"It is truly an outstanding tool helping pilots generate effective flight techniques," says Grant Matthews, APG principal engineer.
Westland's simulation system presents a high-resolution reproduction of a cockpit instrumentation panel, as well as a control box and message window, and a real-world outside view while "flying."
"Using the display, the pilots can input parameters to test new maneuvers and see how the simulation reacts," Matthews explains. In one case, pilots simulated take-offs and landings on an off-shore oil rig if an engine failed.
After actual test flights, information captured by the aircraft's on-board tape system is converted into thousands of small data files and stored in a mainframe computer. Westland engineers then transfer selected files to their workstation network, and have the option of placing up to 12 separate traces on screen.
"Once the data is analyzed, we produce a data set that tells us the power required to fly a particular aircraft model at any given weight, air speed, and ambient condition," Matthews says.
A new network of powerful workstations has cut the time required to display graphics simulation data from 30 minutes to 30 seconds, the company says. The company is using a network of Sun Microsystems SPARCserver 2, SPARCstation IPXs, SPARCstation IPs, SPARCstation ELCs, and SPARCstation 10s, as well as an Evans & Sutherland graphics workstation and Digital VAX computer.
For the future, the company is working on an enhanced simulation program with more 3-D graphics. "Rather than simply creating a rotor program to analyze bending in blades, or a structural package to calculate loads on the fuselage," Matthews explains, "we are developing a pilot model that will actually fly the Coupled Rotor-Fuselage Program through various maneuvers to determine how the rotor interacts with the fuselage."
Thermoelectrics, sensors restore feeling for amputees
Oklahoma City, OK--Prototype prostheses equipped with thermoelectric modules and pressure transducers allow amputees to sense whether a cup of coffee is hot or to feel the clutch of a car.
The prostheses are under development at the Sabolich Prosthetic & Research Center, a division of NovaCare Inc., Valley Forge, PA.
The hot-and-cold sensory system uses a temperature sensor embedded in the finger of a false arm. A battery-powered microprocessor in the prosthesis interprets signals from the temperature sensor. Circuitry in the prosthesis sends those signals to a thermoelectric module designed by Tellurex Corp., Traverse City, MI. The thermoelectric module generates the appropriate temperatures on hot and cold electrodes on the skin of the amputee's remaining limb. The electrode feedback lets the wearer experience hot and cold sensations.
Unlike conventional sliced and diced thermoelectric elements, Tellurex modules are formed with press-and-sintered technology that eliminates cleavage planes. The result is a ten-fold boost in compression strength, a 30% improvement in tensile strength, and twice the shear strength of crystalline-grown elements, say Tellurex engineers.
For Chuck Tiemann, who lost his arm below the elbow and his leg below the knee in an electrical accident, the new prosthesis is a welcome improvement. "The first time I could touch my wife's hand and feel the warmth after more than a decade--that was a very emotional moment," says Tiemann.
Pressure feedback. Using a similar design, the "Sense-of-Feel" prosthesis uses pressure transducers embedded in the sole of an artificial foot. When the wearer takes a step, a battery-powered electronic interface receives signals from the transducers, then transmits corresponding signals to electrodes touching the end of the amputee's limb.
The stimulation feels like the tingling you get when your foot's asleep, says inventor John Sabolich. The more pressure the wearer exerts on the artificial foot, the greater the magnitude of sensation on the amputee's limb. Sabolich is National Prosthetic Director at NovaCare.
Pressure feedback helps refine the wearer's balance for walking and running, as well as maneuvering on grass or carpeting. With the additional feedback, some amputees experience a phenomenon where the brain projects the missing foot back in the patient's mind, allowing them to feel as if the foot is actually reconnected to the body.
Using some $500,000 in grants from the National Institutes of Health, Sabolich and his colleagues plan to eventually test the design on 120 amputees nationwide. Sabolich predicts that the products may be commercially available as early as '96.
HOT & COLD SENSORY SYSTEM
A temperature sensor embedded in the prosthetic finger reacts to the environment, such as ice or a hot drink
A microprocessor and battery pack interpret the temperature signals
Hot and cold elements and a thermoelectric module on the skin of the remaining limb send temperature sensation to the wearer's brain
High-tech 'needle' targets tumors
Waltham, MA--Researchers at Photoelectron Corp. have developed a cancer-fighting system that targets brain tumors with a precise dose of X-rays.
The Photon Radiosurgery System uses a 3-mm-thick, 10-cm-long needle inserted in a tumor to irradiate malignant tissue. Unlike external devices such as a linear accelerator or gamma knife, high-energy beams are not passed through a patient's body; instead, they are beamed directly inside the tumor. The tumor itself shields healthy tissue from damage, the company says.
Designers faced several challenges in making a small, high-powered, high-precision device safe enough to insert into a human brain, according to Peter Oettinger, chief operating officer at Photoelectron. "First, how can I get a 40- or 50-kV power supply into a small 'cannister' attached to this needle?" he says. The outside control box runs on 12V. The answer: integrated circuits, which allowed engineers to construct a "miniature power supply," and multiply voltage through a system of transformers and voltage multiplier chains, he says.
Developers also had to shield the electron beam inside the needle, because even the pull of the earth's gravity could be enough to bend the electron beam and cause it to miss its target. And, the needle must be rigid so it won't bend and misdirect the beam; it is made of refractory metal with a diamond-like coating shown not to irritate surrounding tissue.
The Photon Radiosurgery System is being tested at several U.S. and overseas hospitals, including Massachusetts General and Brigham & Women's in Boston, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, for a type of tumor called cerebral metastases. Tests are expected within a year on solid tumors elsewhere in the body.
Fetal monitor leverages PC technology
Peabody, MA--Using PC technology let Analogic Corp. design the FETALGARD 3000™ family of expandable fetal and maternal monitors in a year and a half. "It's an easy way to get to market quickly with enhanced capabilities," says Chief Engineer Larry Goff. These capabilities include monitoring single fetuses, twins, or triplets; as well as the IP2 unit's ability to also keep tabs on the mother.
The latter feature is a first in the fetal-monitoring industry, the company claims. "The main advantage is that hospitals or doctors can buy one monitor instead of two for tracking high-risk, preterm labor," says Peter Pulsifer, director of sales and marketing for the company's Life Care Products Div.
The unit's 80186-class host processor controls user-interface functions, such as graphics, printer, and keyboard. A high-end digital signal processor from Texas Instruments does all the signal processing and analysis. Other PC features include: a printer, 6 to 12 hours of memory, optional floppy-disk drive for record keeping, 6- x 8-in. LCD screen with VGA controller, and optional RS-232C interfaces to a central nursing station, archiving systems, and non-invasive blood-pressure and pulse-oximetry systems.
To make the 4-member monitor family flexible and expandable, the engineering team used small-form-factor PC/104 boards. "If a PC/104 board comes out from any vendor and performs a function we like," notes Goff, "all we have to do is plug it into a spare slot. We could go to Ampro to get a higher-end PC/104 CPU board and slap that in our machine to get more power. That's the kind of thing that you can do now not only with the form factor but by sticking with PC technology."
Engineers admit that the strategy added complexity to the design, but the result is an upgradeable platform to which they can add a hard-disk drive or modem down the road. The modem would let women use the monitors at home. The design also lets users buy a lower-end monitor now and then add features as they can afford to and as new ones become available.
The FDA recently approved the FETALGARD 3000 family for marketing in the U.S. It is already being used in European hospitals.
'Jupiter' provides CAD flexibility
Atlanta--Recently created with engineers and inventors in mind, Imagineer Technical™is a low-cost 2-D drawing and concept design tool for Windows® 95 and Windows NT™.
Built on Intergraph Software Solutions' (ISS), Huntsville, AL, new "Jupiter" architecture, Imagineer Technical enters the market as an alternative to expensive, traditional CAD programs or simple drawing packages.
Jupiter technology offers users support for advanced graphics applications in Windows. The new generation of technical applications ISS is creating, including Imagineer Technical, functions independently of traditional CAD programs. However, files created in Microstation or Autodesk can still be used to create in Jupiter-based applications.
Imagineer Technical is native Windows software for 2-D precision drawing and concept design. ISS says it boosts drawing productivity with Smart Sketch capabilities, which anticipate the steps users take to make drawing more spontaneous and natural. For example, when placing a line, if the user brushes across an existing line with the cursor, Imagineer Technical will show the user the relationship between the two. If the new line is perpendicular to the existing line, a 90-degree angle symbol appears; if parallel, a parallel line symbol appears.
"The system allows users to design applications using Microstation's own object model--so there's no CAD system--reducing the amount of software to buy," says Mike Hamman, senior manager, Intergraph. This makes precision drawing more affordable, and could expand access to users who have not been able to cost-justify automation.
After beta testing Imagineer this summer, shipping is targeted for the end of the year at a price point under $500, according to Hamman.
Racing airplanes get a lift
Locust Grove, OK--When Clark Ayers, plant manager of Induction Systems, Locust Grove, OK, was asked by both his brother and a friend to develop an engine for their remote-controlled racing airplanes, he turned to his DesignCAD 2D software. The result of his efforts: The A3 8.8-cubic-inch Performance engine.
The engine is designed for racing airplanes that have a 100-in wing span and measure about seven feet long. Traveling at speeds upwards of 200 mph, the planes fly about 10 feet above the ground around a course of pylons.
A key consideration in the design process: clearance between components. "With DesignCAD 2D, I had a completely accurate representation of how things fit together," Ayers explains. "In the end, I was able to manufacture my design without having to remachine a single part."
After drawing the original concept, Ayers made several modifications before arriving at the final product design. He credits the parallel drawing capability in DesignCAD 2D with making that process easier. "Parallel drawing let me create the basic shape I wanted and then go from there. It saved me a lot of time," he adds. "The software's layering system was also very helpful for keeping track of different parts."
Ayers claims DesignCAD 2D enabled him to experiment more when creating the engine design. "Each time I made a drawing change, I could see exactly how the engine would be affected," he says. "I didn't need to build a model to get the feedback I wanted."
The result was a successful design. The engine has been used in several racing planes in two major aircraft races. In the 1994 Galveston competition, the top two airplanes featured the A3 engine. Four of the top six racing planes at the 1994 Modera competition also used the engine--not bad for an engine that competes against units twice it size.
The A3 8.8-cubic-inch engine is currently available. Development of a 4.4-cubic-inch version is in progress.
Plastics cut parts, cost in medical devices
New York--At the recent Medical Design show, several medical device designers demonstrated products that replace metal with plastic to reduce parts count and cost.
As one show-goer commented, design engineers aren't sacrificing performance or quality in the name of plastic. For example, in the design of their mobility aid, engineers at Amigo Mobility International, Inc., Bridgeport, MI, reduced parts count by 97%.
By using MAGNUM™ ABS resin from Dow Plastics, Midland, MI, instead of metal, engineers reduced the weight of the vehicle. The lightweight version supports a 250-lb user, offers longer battery life, and is easier to disassemble for storage and transport, say Amigo engineers. They estimate that the material switch also reduced overall cost by 15-20%.
Cost-control also added to plastic's appeal in the redesign of the Proximate Access 55 medical stapler from Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc., Cincinnati. Ethicon engineers chose Dow's glass-filled ISOPLAST™ thermoplastic resin in place of metal for the stapler's internal support plates.
"Engineering thermoplastics provide greater design options and allow us to create highly functional instruments that meet the specific requirements of surgical procedures," says Senior Ethicon Engineer Tom Huitema.
For the design of a surgical retractor that assists doctors during abdominal surgery, engineers chose 40% glass-filled ISOPLAST resin because it improves the product's efficiency and safety, says surgeon Dr. Josue Villalta.
Villalta worked with engineers at Advanced Surgical Instruments Corp., Indianapolis, to improve the metal-retractor design. The resin eliminates sharp edges that could catch on sutures or gloves, and withstands gamma-radiation sterilization without losing strength, say engineers. The new design is easier to insert, and reduces the length of surgical procedures, says Villalta.
Tracking system helps control diabetes
Milpitas, CA--For diabetics, managing their disease on a daily basis is a requirement. Maintaining blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible can reduce their risk of certain complications by as much as 60%. To make controlling the disease as easy as possible, LifeScan, Inc., Milpitas, CA, has developed the ONE TOUCH® Profile™ Diabetes Tracking System.
The challenge for LifeScan engineers was to create a system with advanced features that was also user friendly. The solution: A large display that presents simple on-screen prompts in one of 20 languages. The display alerts users to conditions that may require action. For example, a low blood-sugar-test result will cause the system to ask "Do you need a snack?" This warning can help users detect and prevent hypoglycemia, which can lead to disorientation and unconsciousness if not treated.
The display also guides users through the test procedure, and lets them know when a blood sample is too small for an accurate test, and when the system needs to be cleaned. The display plays such a key role, says Steve Brugler, principal electrical engineer at LifeScan, that the meter was actually built around it. In fact, the display takes up about 40% of the final product.
Another important issue for engineers was how to offer expanded capabilities yet restrict system operation to use of three buttons. The answer was to utilize a scrolling technique to access the system's features. Holding down any of the three buttons causes the system to automatically scroll through various functions and options.
Among the advanced features available in the palm-sized, portable unit: the ability to automatically store 250 test results with date and time. Users can also record information such as insulin types and dosages, as well as activities that affect blood glucose levels such as meals and exercise. The system, which weighs less than five oz, also generates several test averages that enable users to quickly spot trends in their blood-glucose test results.
Canadians capture design honors
Granville, OH--A team of engineering students from the University of Guelph, Ontario, recently won first prize in Owens-Corning's Global Design Challenge.
The contest asked students to create designs featuring the company's new Aura™ insulation product.
Using Aura as the primary material, the Canadian students designed a solar distillation unit, which they believe could boost the average rate of fresh-water production by more than 20% over existing technologies.
"The winning team did a phenomenal job from an engineering standpoint," says contest judge Michael Moore, Chrysler's chief designer for Jeep exterior and interior. "And they supported their design with strong engineering data illustrating that the unit has commercial potential."
Second prize in the event went to a team from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which designed easy-to-carry, stackable thermal containers for food.
The judges agreed that the most imaginative design came from Domus Academy in Milan, Italy, for an Instant Cooler that chills cans and bottles. Shoppers at a convenience store, for example, would place the soft drink container into this tube-shaped device, lined with Aura and featuring a cooling agent, such as liquid nitrogen. The design took third place.
First-, second-, and third-place teams, along with their universities, received prizes of $5,000, $4,000, and $3,000 respectively. A fourth team, also from Hong Kong Polytechnic, won honorable mention for a portable heater.
The Design Challenge contest was conceived to encourage fresh application ideas for Aura, which consists of a vacuum panel of thermally tailored glass fibers encapsulated in stainless steel foil, hermetically sealed and evacuated.
Appliance makers have adopted the new material as an energy-efficient, environmentally safe alternative to conventional insulation.
On a typical refrigerator, Aura can reduce wall thickness by as much as an inch, which increases internal capacity by 25 percent, says Aura business manager Barry Archer. The material also cuts energy use by about 40% over the 1993 standards set by the DOE.
Refrigerator makers face tough government regulations to cut total energy consumption in refrigerators by 25 to 50% by 1998. Archer expects that several hundred thousand refrigerators sold worldwide this year will feature Aura panels.
NASA and Owens-Corning also are developing a prototype thermoelectric refrigerator using Aura. Other potential applications for the new material include: water-heater lids, refrigerated shipping containers, and biomedical containers.