Betty Lise Anderson wasn't looking for the Holy Grail of optical interconnections, but she thinks she may have helped find it. The associate professor of electrical engineering at Ohio State University (OSU) worked with Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Collins Jr. in the ElectroScience Laboratory developing an optical true-time delay for phased-array radar. And then one day, the idea for the optical interconnect hit them. "We reasoned that with a few modifications the device could help eliminate data-transfer bottlenecks," says Anderson. She says the new device transfers data faster than other devices, in electronic hubs that transfer light pulses to electrical signals and then back into light pulses, when downloading information over the Internet. The interconnect uses mirrors for reflecting the light, instead of transferring the light into electrons and then back into light again. "We joked that if we could find a way to make this work, we could rule the universe," says Anderson. The new patented device is a silicon computer chip covered with hundreds of thousands of tiny mirrors. Each mirror measures only a few tens of millionths of a meter across. The mirrors catch individual beams of light from fiber optic cable and reflect them to their destination, bypassing the traditional electronics that slow optic transmission. Andersen explains that the OSU design is tolerant of vibrations and has a built-in redundancy. "If one micromirror fails, another will take its place," she says. The OptiConnect Company is developing and will eventually commercialize the technology. For more information, call (614) 675-4100 or go to www.osu.edu.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.