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Detroit Auto Show Video: GM CEO Rick Wagoner Talks V-6 over V-8

Dassault 3D Live Goes MultiCAD

Dassault 3D Live Goes MultiCAD

It looks like Dassault is making good on its promise to make its 3DLive lightweight 3D collaboration tool play nicely with third-party CAD offerings.

At this week’s SolidWorks World, Dassault announced a new version of 3DLive enhanced to take advantage of multi-CAD product information. The Web-based tool employs a unique, turntable “lazy-susan” style interface, allowing users across all functional areas to easily navigate, search for and share 3D models in an intuitive fashion without being familiar with Boolean search parameters or filling in property sheets and without having to own and work in CAD or PLM systems.

This next-generation version of 3DLive can display and navigate product information created in Dassault’s CATIA CAD tool, along with third-party CAD offerings such as SolidWorks, Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire, Siemens/UGS NX and Autodesk Inventor. The new release also includes support for IBM’s Lotus Sametime 7.5 and Microsoft Office Communicator Server 2007.

Development Aid For The Tiniest Motors

Development Aid For The Tiniest Motors

Thanks to its SQUIGGLE line of miniature linear motors, New Scale Technologies already puts together some of the world’s smallest motion systems. Now a technology development partnership with austriamicrosystems, a supplier of analog ICs, promises to make New Scale’s micro motion systems even smaller while improving their resolution and power efficiency.

The two companies plan to integrate New Scale’s ultrasonic motors with custom control and position-sensing ICs from austriamicrosystems. According to David Henderson, New Scale’s chief executive and technology officer, austriamicrosystems has the expertise needed to shrink the electronics that complement the motor in a complete closed-loop motion control system. “This partnership will allow us to produce a new line of disruptively small motion systems,” he says.

How small? Well, the complete closed-loop systems won’t likely be much bigger than the SQUIGGLE motors themselves. The latest of these motors, for example, measures just 1.8 x 1.8 x 6 mm. Yet it still packs a punch. It can push axial loads as high as 30 grams–or nearly 200 times its own 0.16-gram weight. And it travels at speeds up to 7 mm/sec.

Austriamicrosystems, which invested $6 million in New Scale as part of this technology development pact, could help enhance the performance of micro motion systems in other ways too. “Their linear position sensing technology is really quite unique and will help us target resolutions close to one micrometer,” Henderson says. He adds that austriamicrosystems also offers power management technology that could result in more efficient systems, though he says it’s too early in the development process to quantify any efficiency gains.

Applications for jointly developed micro motion systems include the increasingly sophisticated cameras on mobile phones, electronic locks and fasteners, medical devices and a variety of other applications needing truly tiny, low-power actuators. 

Congress to Approve National Tunnel Inspection Program in Wake of Big Dig Ceiling Tunnel Collapse

The Associated Press is reporting the U.S. House of Representatives is set to pass a national highway tunnel inspection program to try to prevent tragedies like Boston’s Big Dig Tunnel Collapse. There are no national standards for tunnel inspections currently on the books.

The legislation was filed in the wake of a July 2006 accident in which a 38-year-old woman was killed when a portion of Boston's Big Dig Interstate-90 connector tunnel ceiling collapsed and crushed the car she was riding in with her husband. Several companies faced indictment in this accident. Last July, National Transportation Safety Board officials agreed the woman’s death could have been avoided if routine inspections had taken place in this portion of Boston's Big Dig Project.

Congressman Michael Capuano, D-MA, 8th, tells the AP he expects the measure to be approved tonight. Capuano filed legislation (H.R. 409) late last year amending the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program to include the mandatory inspection of all highway tunnels. The bill was passed on Aug. 2 by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. His legislation creates a program modeled after the nation-wide bridge inspection program, according to Capuano’s website.

“Currently there are no national standards or requirements for inspecting highway tunnels,” Capuano states on his website. “Instead, this responsibility lies with the tunnel owners, who have complete authority to determine how their tunnels should be inspected. At a minimum, tunnel owners must follow the requirements included in their bonding agreements relating to the structure.”

According to Capuano’s website, “H.R. 409 requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum inspection requirements for tunnels, include the maximum amount of time permitted between inspections and the manner in which inspections will be carried out. The Secretary will also establish the qualifications necessary for those conducting inspections, establish a national certification program for highway tunnel inspectors and implement a program to train inspectors. States will be required to maintain an inventory of all highway tunnel inspection reports, including information detailing any follow up actions relating to inspections.”

The Senate is expected to take up the bill later this year.

GM Says Volt Is Still On Schedule

GM Says Volt Is Still On Schedule

DETROIT – General Motors (GM) engineers said Monday that they are still on track to produce the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid by 2010, but that unforeseen problems with the battery or powertrain could push the introduction back to a later date.

            “Normally, we pre-determine the design of the vehicle powertrain,” noted Frank Weber, global vehicle line executive and chief engineer of e-Flex Systems for GM. “But in the case of the Volt, we’re taking a much riskier path, where we are doing parallel development of the powertrain, battery, and vehicle itself.”

            The highly-publicized Volt has drawn the interest of automotive community because it represents GM’s re-entry into the electric vehicle market. GM’s earlier entrant, known as the EV1, became a symbol of the electric vehicle movement’s failures when it was discontinued eight years ago. The EV1 was even the subject of a documentary movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

            Within the automotive engineering community, however, the Volt is considered vastly different because it uses an on-board internal combustion engine to supply power when its batteries run out of charge. Plans are for the car to have a 40-mile, battery-only driving range. When the batteries’ charge runs out, it will use the internal combustion engine to re-charge them, and gain as much as 600 more miles.

            GM engineers said that this week that the giant automaker still harbors production intent for the vehicle. “It’s the project within GM that has the highest priority,” Weber said. “This is no scientific project and it’s no show car.”

            The company has 500 engineers assigned to the project, Weber said.

            Battery experts have questioned whether GM’s suppliers will be able to deal with some of the technical issues facing the project. Many believe that the battery packs, which will weigh more than 400 pounds, will cost too much to make the Volt profitable.

            “We have always said this will be an expensive battery pack,” Weber said. “But once lithium-ion batteries are produced in higher volume, we expect the cost of those battery packs to go down significantly.”

            Weber said EV batteries have improved tremendously in the past ten years. “In terms of energy and power, we have the same battery pack as the EV1, but it’s only one-third the size,” Weber said. “There is a very high confidence level that we can get it to the 40-mile range.”

            Weber acknowledged, however, that any problems with the development of the battery pack could cause the car’s schedule to be pushed back. In that case, he said, the 2010 target “would be a stretch.”

M'Soft Publishes Kids Book About Home Servers

M'Soft Publishes Kids Book About Home Servers

LAS VEGAS – Microsoft Corp.’s home server marketing reached new levels at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here, as the software giant published a children’s book called, “Mommy, Why Is There a Server in the House?” Copies of the book were distributed at Microsoft’s booth.

The tongue-in-cheek book includes illustrations of commercial servers and explains to children (and adults) that servers can play a role at home.

            “Big people have a server at the office,” the book says. “The office is a boring place where big people do boring things. Offices are why big people get grumpy, and say bad words. But guess what? Some servers aren’t boring. They don’t go in offices…they go in houses! Maybe in your house!”

Microsoft peppered CES with home server advertising posters this year. The company has pushed hard at the home server initiative since last CES, repeating that families can store digital memories, back up home PCs, and recover lost files with its new breed of home server, dubbed Windows Home Server.

            Microsoft executives at the show were unavailable for comment about the book.  




GM Shows Off Autonomous Vehicle At CES

GM Shows Off Autonomous Vehicle At CES

LAS VEGAS — General Motors Corp. this week provided attendees at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) a glimpse of the future, giving them a chance to ride in the robotic driverless vehicle that won the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) 60-mile Urban Challenge race in November.

            Known as “Boss,” the high-tech Chevrolet Tahoe employs LIDAR, radar, GPS and a computing platform that’s essentially a “supercomputer on wheels” to autonomously brake, steer, accelerate and “see” obstacles in the road. CES attendees were allowed to ride in the passenger seat of the vehicle as it navigated a designated path in a parking lot across the street from the show’s main hall.

GM and a team of engineers from Carnegie Mellon University, Continental Automotive Systems, Caterpillar, Inc. and a host of other companies designed the vehicle and dubbed it “Boss,” in honor of GM’s research and development founder, Charles F. Kettering.

GM engineers at the show said that the vehicle is more than a glitzy technical curiosity. “It’s aligned with our vision,” noted Bakhtiar Litkouhi, manager of vehicle control systems for GM’s Electrical and Controls Integration Laboratory. “It’s very important from a customer and safety point of view.”

Litkouhi added 75% of today’s accidents are caused by driver behavior. Meanwhile, roads are getting more crowded and today’s total of 850 million vehicles is expected to grow to more than a billion as China and India begin to buy more cars.

Boss could help solve the problem by taking driver behavior out of the picture. The prototype vehicle incorporates technology from a wide variety of sensor manufacturers and computer companies. A rotating LIDAR system from Velodyne  is mounted atop it. Boss also employs Continental radar systems and planar lasers from Sick Optic, along with three GPS antennae on the roof. Inside, it uses a CompactPCI chassis packed with 10 computing blades, each containing an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 10 GBytes of memory.

“You have the equivalent of about 20 laptop processors working in there,” said Bob Bittner, Tartan Racing test lead for Carnegie Mellon.

The vehicle uses the huge computing platform to run “sensor fusion” software to enable the vehicle to understand what it is “seeing.”

“You’ve got a lot of different sensors seeing the same thing, and they all see the same thing differently,” Bittner said. “So you have to use the sensor fusion to enable the vehicle to make sense of it all.”

In the CES parking lot, the vehicle used a GPS-based map of the course, then did the accelerating, braking and steering by itself. GM engineers placed garbage cans in the roadway and drove other vehicles across its path at stop signs to show that Boss was capable of reacting to the unexpected.

Engineers at the show said that the technology will begin as an adjunct to the driver, but will eventually become completely autonomous. Litkouhi estimated that complete autonomy could arrive as soon as 2020.

“There’s a lot of computing power on board, but from a production (integration) standpoint, we can eliminate a lot of the computing systems and sensors,” Litkouhi said. “We can clearly see an evolutionary path to full autonomous vehicles.”

CES Attendees Find Relief in Theater Chairs

CES Attendees Find Relief in Theater Chairs

LAS VEGAS – Attendees at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show here jammed the booth of a little-known furniture manufacturer yesterday, lining up several bodies deep to sit in audio-enhanced recliners to watch movies on big-screen televisions.

            The company, aptly named Repose, offered badly-needed relief to showgoers by placing 30 of the chairs on the show floor so attendees could watch television while feeling the rumblings of the audio on the TV screens. The company said it was turning away visitors at times and was drawing more than 2,000 visitors a day to its booth, many of whom wanted to stick around for long periods to “test” the chairs.

            “We had to wake up five of them yesterday,” noted Roman Zavala, a sales representative who worked the booth for the company.

            The company’s chairs, which enable customers to experience movies and interactive games through sound and feel, incorporate two audio speakers in their headrests, as well as a sub-woofer and “shaker mechanism” beneath the seat pads. Wireless 2.4-GHz signals from the television deliver audio to the chairs, which is then enhanced by the so-called “shaker boxes.” The shakers enable users to feel loud noises, such as on-screen explosions.

            “If we just had speakers in the chairs, you’d feel a little bit of bass, but these chairs offer much more than that,” said Ermon Rush, East Cost operations manager for Repose.

The chairs, which are said to work with any television audio system, are designed for the “ultimate” home theater experience. Depending upon features, they range in price from $199 to $3,500.      


Crowds Descend On Vegas For CES

Crowds Descend On Vegas For CES

LAS VEGAS — The 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show kicked off here yesterday, setting an upbeat tone for makers of televisions, cell phones, handhelds, displays, semiconductors, software, and multitude of other electronic products.

Billed as the “world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow,” CES featured a Sunday keynote speech from industry giant Bill Gates, who told a standing room crowd of attendees that the future will involve more touch screens and voice commands for devices, as well as a blizzard of new “in the cloud” Internet applications.

The show, which boasts 2,700 exhibitors and 1.7 million square feet of exhibit space, draws attendees from 140 countries. Some 140,000 visitors are expected to attend this year’s show, with 25,000 international attendees.

Exhibitors at CES read like a Who’s Who of the electronics industry, including such names as Microsoft, Intel, Texas Instruments, Motorola, Freescale, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Analog Devices, Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic, among many, many others.

This year’s CES is expected to feature an emphasis on high-definition (HD) television and wireless technology. Texas Instruments will demo 3D TV, Sony will show off a 50-inch TV that’s 3 mm thick, and virtually every cell phone maker will roll out phones with video capabilities.