Technology Bulletin 489

DN Staff

August 26, 1996

8 Min Read
Technology Bulletin

Micromachines get smarts

A smart micromachine is better than a dumb one--just as a car with a gas indicator, speedometer, and cruise control is easier on a driver than one that merely runs. An intelligent micromachine--tiny motors fabricated along with integrated-circuit "brains" on individual silicon chips--can signal for more power, communicate that it is operating too fast or slow, or even perform actions on an automated basis. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have mass-produced such machines for general-purpose applications. The compact design, made possible by sinking the motors in tiny etched trenches, enables the fabrication of entire electromechanical systems on a single chip. "This will enable a variety of new products to be produced that are small, smart, and cheap," says Paul McWhorter, manager of the effort in Sandia's Microelectronics Development Laboratory. Medical possibilities include tiny drug-delivery devices. Another possible application is tiny, inexpensive, long-lasting gyroscopes for civilian and military uses. Sandia originally developed the process to enhance the safety and security of nuclear weapons by providing smarter, more reliable locks for the devices. E-mail Neal Singer at [email protected], FAX (505) 844-6367.

Company commercializes mixed-waste
processing system

M4 Environmental L.P. is commissioning its first commercial Quantum-CEPTM system, which will service the mixed-waste processing needs of the U.S. Department of Energy as well as commercial customers. Quantum-CEP is a proprietary technology that uses a molten-metal bath to dissolve waste compounds and convert them to their original elements. Radioactive elements are separated from nonradioactive materials and contained in a stable form for recycling or final disposal. Nonradioactive materials can be reused. Molten Metal Technology, one of M4's parent companies in Oak Ridge, TN, designed and builds the systems. For details, FAX (423) 220-4195.

Plasma-display panel stretches to 33 inches

NEC Electronics recently demonstrated a 33-inch-diagonal color plasma-display panel (PDP). It expects to have products commercially available by the end of the year. The company plans to build panels ranging in size from 20 to 60 inches diagonal. PDPs use helium, neon, and xenon gases, which are placed between two sheets of glass. Accelerated electrons activate the gases, causing them to produce ultraviolet rays that stimulate red, green, and blue fluorescent materials at each pixel. The technology enables production of larger, thinner, lighter displays that take up less space than CRTs. Traditionally, LCD technology has best suited applications that require thin (less than 10 mm), low-power (about 2W), and lightweight (approximately 350g) solutions. PDP technology requires higher power, and the units can be used in applications that do not have such stringent weight requirements while also being thin and flat. The displays are targeted for use in business, air traffic control, and entertainment systems that require large, easy-to-read screens. For more information, FAX (800) 729-9288.

Ergonomics software to ease your aching back

Disorders and injuries involving muscle, bone, and connecting tissue are the leading cause of worker disabilities, accounting for 2.7 million compensation claims each year. To increase the use of ergonomics in identifying, evaluating, and preventing work-related injuries, Pacific Northwest Laboratory created a PC-based application called ErgoEASER. Designed for ergonomic specialists and nonspecialists alike, the program illustrates both injury-causing and safe work habits and environments, identifies specific hazards, and offers recommendations to reduce injuries. Analyses of computer workstation configurations and lifting scenarios are emphasized, since associated repetitive stress injuries and lower-back pain constitute the largest share of claims. The program takes into account a user's work environment, body dimensions, and other specifics. For more info, FAX (509) 375-2242 or visit .

Researchers develop new computer engineering method

"Domain decomposition" is the name of a new method for analyzing solids and structures that change shape because of interaction with a fluid. Developed by researchers at the Computational Mechanics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University and Algor Inc., the method is part of the first series of results from a five-year research project at the facility funded by a $1 million Algor grant. "The applications for domain decomposition are staggering," says Michael Bussler, president of Pittsburgh-based Algor. "For example, automotive engineers can predict the strength of a car antenna bending in the wind. Bioengineers can study the flow of blood through flexible vessels. And civil engineers can determine how wind-induced vibration of bridge cables affects the strength of the bridge." Laboratory researchers have also developed new techniques for boundary element analysis (BEA), a relatively new CAE method. These techniques are more accurate and stable BEA methods and are applicable to structures with cracks. For details, visit or FAX Algor at (412) 967-2781.

Program in the works to improve airline inspections

University at Buffalo industrial engineers are developing a computer program that will let airline maintenance workers determine why an error occurred and see how other airlines have solved similar problems. The Proactive Error Reduction System (PERS), funded by the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Aviation Medicine, is based on a human-factors approach to solving errors. Principal investigator is Colin Drury, UB professor of industrial engineering. For several years, he and his coworkers have been analyzing errors by airline workers in detail and applying "best practices" systems from quality programs in manufacturing environments to airline inspections. "The idea behind our work is that you should not just determine the immediate cause of an error, but examine all the things that led up to it," Drury explains. He says that PERS goes beyond current error analysis because it is proactive rather than reactive. "PERS not only tells you what to do if an error occurs, but it also tells you what to do even if what has occurred are not errors, but error-prone situations." For more information, FAX (716) 645-3765.

Upgraded telescope to open new doors to the universe

The Arecibo Observatory, home of the world's largest radio-radar telescope, has gained a new system for focusing incoming radio waves. The upgrade will make it one of the most sensitive and powerful tools ever designed for astronomy. The Puerto Rican observatory is operated by Cornell University's National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. A six-story, 90-ton dome houses the new reflector system, a combination of two radio mirrors and sensitive receiver systems. It is suspended 450 feet above a 1,000-foot-diameter reflector dish. The mirrors focus radio waves coming from distant objects in space, or radar signals that are sent out into space and bounce back from the surfaces of the planets and other bodies in the solar system. The upgrade gives the Arecibo telescope the sensitivity to listen in on a cellular phone call on Venus; the radar could detect a steel golf ball as far away as the Moon. E-mail [email protected] .

Electrically conductive coating tested for space

A diamond-like thin-film coating from Advanced Refractory Technologies, Buffalo, NY, may someday be used on NASA space vehicles. NASA recently awarded ART a contract for evaluation of its DYLYN electrically conductive, flexible coatings. NASA's interest stems from the fact that the material offers a tailorable combination of properties. DYLYN has the potential to provide the required electrical conductivity while simultaneously protecting sensitive underlying materials, including polymers, from the harsh space environment, ART officials say. Materials in space are typically exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations, ultraviolet radiation, and bombardment by a variety of particles. ART will test the coating on such materials as Kapton and Mylar. Commercial applications for DYLYN coating include those that require electrical conductivity as well as hardness, low friction, and IR transparency. FAX (716) 875-0106.

Power without noise or fumes?

Electricity created from hydrogen and air may soon power cars, portable electronic devices, and lawn mowers. The quiet, inexpensive, renewable power could come from fuel cells that use low-cost materials invented and patented by DAIS Corp, a Rensselaer incubator company. DAIS fuel cells will cost about the same to buy and operate as traditional power sources such as small internal combustion engines, but the fuel cells will burn no petroleum and will create no emissions or noise, says Timothy Tangredi, executive vice president of DAIS. A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that generates electricity through a controlled reaction between inexpensive hydrogen and air. A membrane separates the gases and permits only positively charged hydrogen ions to cross to the oxygen side and form water. The resulting chemical reaction releases energy. Until now, the high cost of materials hindered creating affordable fuel cells. The DAIS fuel cell uses a new, low-cost proton-exchange membrane, which was developed with Rensselaer's New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis. E-mail Gary Wnek at [email protected] .

Radar system warns drivers of highway hazards

Low-cost "advanced radar detector" technology developed by researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) could inform drivers of such highway hazards as traffic accidents, approaching emergency vehicles, construction delays, or visibility problems. The system, supported by a consortium of consumer electronics companies, consists of a transmitter and messaging system that can send a range of emergency warnings to motorists using advanced radar detectors. GTRI designed the Safety Warning SystemTM to also provide a general warning to the estimated 20 million drivers using older radar detectors not capable of displaying text messages. Key to developing the system was agreement by four leading radar-detector manufacturers to use a common technique for sending emergency information and a standard set of warning messages compatible with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines. For details, visit , FAX (404) 894-6983.

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