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Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Draper prize for engineering rises to $450,000

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) seeks nominations for the 1997 Charles Stark Draper Prize for engineering achievement. The award this year will carry a $450,000 honorarium, its largest ever. The prize goes for a specific achievement or for a body of work extending over years. The winner can be an individual or a group of people who contributed to the same feat. The work must demonstrate "reduction to practice"--a proven innovation that contributes to human welfare and freedom. Engineers from all nations are eligible. Nominations must be postmarked by Feb. 21, 1997. You may obtain nomination forms by phoning Charles Blue of NAE at (202) 334-1237. Picking the victor will be a committee chaired by Paul C. Jennings, professor of civil engineering and applied mechanics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. The winner will be announced during NAE's annual meeting in October. The first Draper Prize went in 1989 to Jack S. Kilby and Robert N. Noyce for their invention of the integrated circuit. Since then, recipients of the biennial prize have included the inventors of the turbojet engine, the developer of the FORTRAN computer language, and pioneers in satellite communication technology.

Government starts first series of auto side-impact tests

After years of debating, studying, and planning, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has started side crash tests of autos. In all, 26 model-year-1997 passenger cars will undergo the agency's first round of the new tests. NHTSA has added the tests to its yearly New Car Assessment Program, which up to now has consisted only of straight, front-end crashes into an immovable barrier. In the new test, a moving, deformable barrier slams into the side of a vehicle at an angle. Instruments measure forces on two dummies--one in the driver's seat and one in a rear seat behind the driver.


Patent Office ponders impact of reducing its paper files

Are automated patent image and text search acceptable substitutes for paper files? Should users of computerized patent search systems continue to pay fees if paper alternatives are removed from public search facilities? Those are two of many questions the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) will tackle at a public meeting this month. PTO is wondering how far it should go in getting rid of its bulging storehouses of paper records. The agency wants more input from people who use patent files. The meeting will be February 11 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Suite 819 of Crystal Park 1, located at 2011 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA. If you can't make the meeting, you may submit written comments or suggestions before February 28 to the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Attention: Wesley H. Gewehr, Administrator for Information Dissemination, Crystal Park 3, Suite 451, Washington, DC 20231, or fax (703) 306-2737. For further information, phone Cheryl E. Kazenske, at (703) 308-3040.


Are proposed helmet displays too high-tech for soldiers?

In its enthusiasm for fresh technology, the U.S. Army might hamper its troops' ability to fight. That warning comes in a report from a National Research Council panel. The committee studied a display unit proposed for helmets of soldiers in battle. The unit is part of the Army's 21st Century Land Warrior System, an ensemble of protective garments, armaments, and information-processing tools. The system is supposed to give soldiers almost instantaneous data on troop movements, target location, and other observations. The helmet display transmits through a small screen that flips down over one eye. "However, the benefits will be achieved only if the soldier can successfully absorb, interpret, and act upon the various kinds of information being presented," comments panel chairman William Blackwood. He is vice president with Hay Management Consultants, Arlington, VA. The black-and-white, low-resolution display may result in eyestrain, fatigue, poor visual perception, and loss of equilibrium, the study notes. It says the Army should test the unit more with soldiers in the field. It also suggests examining other technologies, such as hand-held and helmet-mounted binocular displays.


National Engineering Week adds billboards, WWW site

Participation in National Engineers Week, February 16-22, will hit a new record, its sponsor says. A total of 108 organizations will contribute to the event, according to the National Engineers Week Committee, headquartered in Alexandria, VA. The group's goal is to educate the public "about the critical role engineers play in society." To aid the effort, the committee has launched an Internet page located at http://www.eweek.org. It describes ways companies, associations, and schools can participate during the week. Also new this year are billboard displays proclaiming, "Engineers Make a World of Difference."

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