Washington Beat

By: 
January 09, 1995

Reviewers urge changes in 'Supercar'
project

Swift changes must come in the national effort to create an affordable family
car that's high in mileage, low in pollution. So says a committee of the
National Research Council charged with overseeing the project. Called the
Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), the program is a joint
venture of the federal government and Detroit's Big Three automakers. To reduce
"program disunity," the committee says the government should appoint a central
program manager. PNGV activities are now scattered among seven federal
departments and various agencies and national laboratories. The committee's
first report also calls for a better strategy for selecting R&D ventures. It
suggests that PNGV coordinators divide technologies related to building a
production prototype by 2004 into two classes. The first would be technologies
with a strong chance of proving PNGV's aptness by 1997. These include
super-light-weight materials, computerized control systems, and high-speed
diesel engines. The second group would embrace more-radical technologies likely
to meet PNGV goals--but not within the program's 'short' time frame. The
committee's next report will review technologies for new power plants and
materials.


Tech transfers spawn aircar, self monitors

Results of know-how transfers shown at the Technology 2004 exposition ranged from the very large to the small. At one extreme was the Aircar. You can drive it like a coupe at nearly 65 mph or fly it at nearly 300 mph. Developed by Sky Technology Vehicle Design and Development Co., Hurst, TX, Aircar sports "stub" wings. The design makes the vehicle narrow enough for highways while still in flight mode. At another booth, Individual Monitoring Systems, Inc., Baltimore, MD, exhibited its pocket-size devices. They keep day-long records of body movements in all directions. Potential users are exercisers and patients with afflictions such as Parkinson's disease.


Freckled 'Skin' gives keener senses to robots

SensorSkin is a flexible material that enables a robot to simultaneously sense known and unknown matter around it, much as living skin does. It was among hundreds of creations shown at the recent Technology 2400 conference in Washington, DC. The annual event spotlights products resulting from research swapping between government and industry. Merritt Systems Inc. (MSI), of Merritt Island, FL, has been testing its SensorSkin at the Kennedy Space Center. The electronic skin helps robotic arms for space craft handle delicate tasks without colliding with surrounding objects. Technicians can connect the panels to each other and cut and fold them to almost any contour. Such fittings do not interfere with a continuous bus system for power and communications. SensorSkin operates on 7 to 15V dc. Only six wires extend from the skin to provide graphical feedback. Each panel is 1 x 2 inches and holds up to 32 sensing elements. A single skin can contain up to 1,022 sensor modules. "It looks like freckles on the outside of the robot," MSI president Daniel G. Wegerif told Design News. Infrared sensors on the skin have a range of more than 50 cm, ultrasonic sensors more than 70 cm. The Department of Energy is considering covering a long-reach manipulator with SensorSkin.


FDA panel backs device for laser eye surgery

The government is moving close to approving a laser device for correcting nearsightedness. A panel of experts formed by the Food and Drug Administration recommend acceptance of the device, called OmniMed, if it meets safety guidelines. The panel wants more evidence that surgery with OmniMed, called photorefractive keratectomy, can improve vision to at least 20-25 for 75% of patients. OmniMed's producer, Summit Technology Inc., Waltham, MA, also must prove that fewer than 5% of patients had worse vision because of the surgery. OmniMed uses an ultraviolet excimer laser to flatten the cornea so light focuses correctly on the retina.


Theseus drone cleared for full development

June 1996 is the target for the first flight of a remotely-piloted, twin-engine plane called Theseus. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has given the okay for full development of the scientific craft. The agency will use it in its Planet Earth Initiative. Aurora Flight Sciences, headquartered in Manassas, VA, is designing Theseus. The firm is using much of the technology it developed for its higher-flying but much smaller Perseus drone. The new plane will test some innovations: fault-tolerant controls, satellite data relay, and an advanced super-turbocharged propulsion system. Theseus will have a wing span of 119.5 ft and reach a top altitude of 88,500 ft. Designers expect it will stay aloft for periods of 24 to 50 hours.

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