Joanne Pransky was at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions' (IAAPA) annual trade show in Orlando in November, pitching park operators and editors alike on the cool features of Robocoaster, one of the industry's newest and most novel rides. "It kind of reminds me of Faye Wray in King Kong's hand," she said. That was an apt description of the servo motor-controlled ride. Because it relies on no defined path or track, engineers are able to thrill riders with a series of loop-the-loops, double-back somersaults, figure eights, and other unpredictable motions more closely resembling that of a Hollywood animatronic than a conventional amusement park ride. A consultant, humorist, and self-proclaimed "Robo-psychologist," Pransky herself is a well-known personality in the robotics world, partly because of her quirky personality and mostly because of her passionate desire to bring robots to the masses—or rather prepare them for it. "Industrial robots are in wide use, and most engineers understand the underlying technology. But your average person on the street hasn't had much opportunity to interact with robots, outside of what they've seen on TV," says Pransky, who just bought a Rhoomba robotic vacuum cleaner to clean her 1,700 sq-ft house. To get the word out, she does marketing and public relations work for robotics companies, did a stint as a commentator on Comedy Central's Battlebots show, runs a website (www.robot.md) about robotics, and performs the occasional publicity stunt. One of her latest stunts: Entering her AIBO robot in a dog show in Florida. Next up: Getting robots on late-night television, a mission Asimov himself certainly would have appreciated.
A few weeks ago, Ford Motor Co. quietly announced that it was rolling out a new wrinkle to the powerful safety feature called stability control, adding even more lifesaving potential to a technology that has already been very successful.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
People who want to take advantage of solar energy in their homes no longer need to install a bolt-on solar-panel system atop their houses -- they can integrate solar-energy-harvesting shingles directing into an existing or new roof instead.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.