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Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Pilots need better equipment for weather information

Design engineers need to invent better devices and systems for getting weather data to pilots. So says the National Research Council in a report on aviation weather services. From 1988 through 1992, 28% of aircraft accidents and 36% of fatal aircraft accidents were weather-related. A passenger with a laptop computer and a modem, the Council claims, often can get better weather data than pilots can get in the cockpit. The report suggests that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) foster advances in graphic weather products, compatible ground-to-air communications and cockpit display systems. Weather observations and forecasts, it adds, should be specific for time, location, and altitude. The committee also called for more advances in automated systems that observe atmospheric conditions at or near airports. A lack of cooperation among government agencies, private weather services, researchers, and users often impedes improvements, the committee charges. Ahead of the report, the FAA in October set up an Aviation Weather Division to enhance gathering and dispersion of weather information to aircraft.

Free pamphlet helps engineers form partnerships with schools

How can engineers improve math, science, and technical skills of pre-college students? The American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES), headquartered in Washington, DC, has some answers. It has packed them in a free pamphlet, "Volunteer Guide for Engineers in Support of Educators." This quick reference outlines materials and activities developed by several engineering societies. It also gives suggestions for setting up different types of precollege partnerships and lists resources needed to make them successful. To get a copy, contact Tish Agos at AAES by phone at (202) 296-2237 or by fax at (202) 296-1151. "Engineers have a moral obligation to improve society as a whole," comments Daniel Koenig, president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers," and since we are one of the major users of math and science on an everyday basis, who better than us to assist in math and science education?"

Council urges U.S. Army to use more off-the-shelf electronic gear

Industry often develops multimedia technologies faster than the U.S. Army can, another study by the National Research Council finds. It recommends that the Army take advantage of many commercial off-the-shelf products. However, such equipment can't meet all the Army's multimedia needs, the Council stresses. Some Army requirements are unique. Secret development of a particular technology, the report says, may give the Army a "competitive advantage" over potential enemies. Technologies still requiring Army-supported R&D include those that allow troops to: communicate on the move, capture information through sensors, and filter and interpret information. Also needing military support are new products for battlefield simulations and data sharing and protection. The committee expects that multimedia technologies will begin to transform the battlefield by the year 2000. A buzz-acronym in the Pentagon these days is IW, standing for information warfare. It involves disruption of an enemy's data network while protecting one's own.

Low-temperature studies promise more-precise voltage standard

A voltage standard based on alternating current may eventually replace the standard based on direct current. That is what researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) predict following their successful work with low-temperature superconductors. The programmable standard they envision could apply to ac metrology, precision waveform synthesis, and characterization of high-precision digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters. NIST scientists based their research on the Josephson effect, produced when a known frequency crosses a thin insulator separating superconducting materials.

New Mathcad software offers link to World Wide Web

MathCAD Plus 6.0, the latest version of a mathematics software popular with engineers, has built-in connections to the Internet. Demonstrated in Arlington, VA, the program can share both calculation processes and results through printed documents, e-mail, Lotus Notes(R) groupware, and the World Wide Web. It can form a global framework for collaborating on technical information. Another new feature appeals to long-time MathCAD user Eldon Gordon, a design engineer working on military antennas at Texas Instruments. He tells Design News he expects to get much use from programming operators that now will let him integrate "live" functional programs into his MathCAD worksheets. MathCAD Plus 6.0 runs under all Windows platforms including Windows 95. Its creator, MathSoft, Inc., of Cambridge, MA, intends to release a similar upgrade to its Macintosh version of MathCAD early in 1996.

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