tags track Army's weapons
The Army wants its inventory of weapons to "be all that it can be." Dave Clark, an electrical engineer and the project manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), is helping the U.S. Army's Logistics Integration Agency keep track of its inventory by developing a new RF tag and reader that help users know which weapons are where. "It's the Army's first attempt at automating inventory control to increase accuracy and reduce labor," says Clark. He wrote the software that enables the tags to inventory up to 50 weapons in a second and tell the operator which weapons are stored and which ones might be in use. Clark's new RF tag is currently mounted inside the grips of M-16 rifles. "The tag is pretty simple. It's basically a solid state circuit," he says. Inventory control personnel use an electronic device called an interrogator to communicate with each tag and read the serial number, relying on passive RF reflection for communication. "It even works in close proximity to metal racks in warehouses," says Clark. He indicated that PNNL has applied for a patent on the technology, which could be adapted to other applications for commercialization. For more information, visit www.pnl.gov/ned/commercial/rftags, call (888) 375-7665, or e-mail email@example.com .
Modern day mythology
Just because the components of a product fit together in your CAD program doesn't mean the same will happen when your company's production department tries to assemble the product on the factory floor. Converting CAD models to an assembly sequence often requires trial-and-error, costing the company money and time to market. The tragedy of multiple reiterations of a product to make it manufacturable is not lost on researchers at Sandia National Labs. They developed a new software program called Archimedes that automatically translates CAD models into assembly plans for use on the factory floor. Archimedes software examines part geometry, explores places where parts come together, and generates possible assembly sequences that avoid assembly difficulties. It also ranks assembly sequences from a list of possibilities. Sandia licensed the software to Ultramax Corp. (Cincinnati, OH). The company's president, Jerry Howard, says Archimedes could reduce assembly-planning time by up to 80%. It also works in conjunction with other assembly planning software. Contact Ultramax at (513) 771-8629.
Coatings research focuses on
In the never-ending quest to make smaller and smaller devices for computing, communicating, and other tasks, scientists are studying nanostructures. That's why Alexander Wei and other researchers at Purdue University are studying materials that measure approximately one-billionth of a meter. They found that at such a small scale, different particles are so fragile and unstable that, if they touch, they fuse together, thereby changing their physical and magnetic properties. "Physical properties of materials are dependent on size," says Wei. "Magnetic properties are the function of a collection of many small particles working together. When you get to the nano level and work with one or two particles, the properties are different," he says. Wei and his colleagues found a way of putting a protective coating around nanoparticles, preventing them from fusing with other particles should they come in contact. "The new coating process allows us to stabilize the particles with magnetic properties, enabling the development of new materials for micro-electronic devices and magnetic sensors. If we can manipulate particles at this level, perhaps we can increase storage capacity in computer memory devices," he says. Wei indicated that potential applications include biomedicine, such as drug delivery systems of probes, and sensors designed to target specific cells or tissues. Nanoparticles are part of a larger scientific effort called nanotechnology aimed at developing new technologies at the molecular level. For more information, contact Wei at (765) 494-5257 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Pictures aid materials research
"If we can understand the physics of a material in the early stages of damage, we can make better materials," says Arun Shukla, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Rhode Island. Shukla is using what is called the world's fastest camera for studying the way things break. The camera takes pictures at a speed of two million frames per second. It's so fast that it makes a bullet fired from a rifle look like it is standing still. Shukla purchased the camera with funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Department of Energy. "We're looking at catastrophic failures that occur very fast, such as explosions," says Shukla. He is studying a variety of materials, including polymers, clay, plastics, ceramics, and rubber. For the U.S. Army, Shukla is studying Kevlar®and its use as body armor. He evaluated how the Kevlar reacted when struck by a bullet, then determined that modifying its geometric shape by adding ridges may make it stronger than current armor that uses ceramic-backed Kevlar. "We wouldn't be able to determine which shape is best without the camera," says Shukla. In addition to learning how to make stronger material, he is also learning how to make material lighter in weight. Shukla is currently investigating the mixing of cenospheres—hollow ceramic microballons that are the by-product of burning coal—with concrete, which could make the concrete lighter without losing its strength. "When we understand how fractures occur and how much force it takes to break them apart, we should be able to improve the materials so they sustain greater force," he says. For more information, contact Shukla at (401) 874-2283 or e-mail email@example.com .
Nadine Sarter is looking for ways to help pilots monitor flight decks and other automated systems. The Ohio State University professor of systems engineering is studying alternative means of delivering crucial flight information to pilots. "We have many senses, and touch is one of the most underutilized," says Sarter. Visual and audible feedback are the common means of providing information to pilots, but Sarter believes that there may be a way to enhance the feedback through vibrations that are tactically sensed. On-board computers present changes in flight data in the form of words and numbers that appear on numerous visual displays. "The pilot has to monitor all the instruments very carefully and combine information from many displays to get an idea of what the automation is doing," she says. "If the automated flight system is preprogrammed to descend from 20,000 to 15,000 feet after a certain length of time, the pilot may not notice it. If the pilot doesn't notice the change, it may create a situation that is difficult to recover from, especially with complex maneuvers," she says. Sarter tested a vibrating device called a "tactor" on 21 certified flight instructors who averaged more than 600 hours of flight time. The pilots took turns in a flight simulator. Pilots wearing tactors also responded to changes faster. Sarter cautions that there are some limitations to her approach: Pilots sometimes didn't notice vibrations when they were busy with some other task. Contact Sarter at (614) 688-5368 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Although other supercomputers such as Beowulf are faster, a new supercomputer called Cplant is unique because its software—written at Sandia National Laboratory—makes the 1,600 computers working on an open network look and function as one. Rolf Riesen is a software developer at Sandia who is networking the 1,600 Compaq Alpha computers into a supercomputer. "Researchers inside and outside the lab can run programs that require high computing cycles," says Riesen. "For example, you could feed in a request for calculating the air flow through an aircraft engine," says Riesen. "It's a little like a plug in the wall where you can get extra CPU cycles," he says. Unlike Beowulf, which runs specific programs for small groups, Cplant is a multipurpose computer. Cplant is also different from other supercomputers because it was "built in a garage" with a variety of parts rather than delivered as a packaged unit with cables, connection boxes, and monitors already in place. "We are hoping to release the software to the general public soon," says Riesen. Sandia is a DOE laboratory operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed-Martin. For more information, call (505) 845-7802 or go to www.cs.sandia.gov/cplant .