DN Staff

February 19, 1996

4 Min Read
Washington Beat

DOT chief summons technology to fight traffic congestion

Can technology cut urban commuting time by 15 percent? Yes, claims Frederico Pena, U.S. Transportation Secretary. He has launched Operation TimeSaver in hopes of doing so. It's an ambitious plan that could tap the creativity of many design engineers. Pena hopes the project will become a national goal to build an Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure (ITI) in 75 of America's largest cities within a decade. An ITI combines a variety of innovations to help people avoid traffic jams. Pena suggests some possibilities. At problem spots put sensors, radar, and other monitors of traffic flow. They would instantly feed reports to radio and TV stations and to motorists' personal computers. Cities can install better systems for detecting accidents and dispatching emergency vehicles. To divert autos from accident areas, computers change the timing on traffic signals and directions on electronic signs. The federal role in Operation TimeSaver, Pena adds, is to encourage engineers to develop such technologies and local governments to install them. Boston, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Seattle are among cities that already are testing ITI systems.

Agency considers safety marks on products OK'd by some labs

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is pondering whether to require a special safety mark on products passed by its favorite testing laboratories. The labs are those certified under the agency's Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) program. So far there are 14 such "NRTLs." Proposals are to stick special NRTL labels on products next to the NRTL's own name or approval mark. ACIL, an association for independent testing laboratories, urges its NRTL members to use the new safety mark voluntarily. Its use, the group maintains, would allow purchasers to tell at a glance that the labeled products have been tested and certified. The marks also would speed up inspections by customs agents and other officials. International bodies, too, may be more willing to accept test data from labs that are part of a U.S. government sanctioning program.

'Plug 'n' play' controller for machine tools tested

You might be all too familiar with the complaint. Making a small improvement in the design of a part can cause many hours of costly and time-consuming reprogramming of machine tools. It's a problem that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is tackling. The federal agency has developed a prototype, open-architecture controller for machine tools. Called the NIST enhanced machine controller, or EMS, it is designed to simplify the upgrading and customizing of manufacturing equipment. Most controllers today run on proprietary architectures. Programmers must write software to specifications unique to the controller. The goal of the EMC effort is to develop and validate programming interfaces for a variety of machine-tool applications. The desir- ed result: "plug-and-play" compatibility and interoperability. In the first of several factory-floor trials, EMS is undergoing tests at General Motors Powertrain Division in Pontiac, MI. Engineers there replaced a machine tool's controller with the EMC, relying on it exclusively during the plant's two-shift operation. Machinists now are judging the EMC's performance on a four-axis machine used to mill, drill, tap, and cut a variety of parts for automotive transmissions.

Company files for patents on meter-reading device

The U.S. Patent Office has received two applications for a device that would automate and simplify meter reading by utilities. The unit attaches to a standard meter for water, electricity, or gas. It combines digital hardware, radio transmission circuitry, and software to send readings to a central computer in the utility's office. Both patent applications come from Ariel Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Greenland Corp., of San Diego, CA. The applications cover a detection system for radio transmission and digital modulation and demodulation of data.

Exhaust nozzle for jet planes has flaps that direct thrust

A prototype nozzle for jet engines features a cruciform passage with flaps for deflecting exhaust flows in any of several directions. NASA engineers are experimenting with the nozzle at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. It is the forerunner of a nozzle for controlling thrust vectors on future high-performance airplanes. Four sets of hinged flaps at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o'clock on the nozzle converge and diverge exhaust flows. The nozzle could allow creation of large attitude-control forces with little loss in performance. Forces produced by moving the flaps would be independent of aerodynamic control surfaces, enabling pilots to maneuver with sharper pitching and yawing. NASA officials say results of experiments are promising.

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