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Articles from 2014 In January


Gadget Freak Review: Smart Contact Lens, Precise Nutrition Facts & Mini Solar Powered Greenhouse

Gadget Freak Review: Smart Contact Lens, Precise Nutrition Facts & Mini Solar Powered Greenhouse

This Gadget Freak review looks at a smart contact lens that measures glucose levels, a gadget that can scan any food item to deliver precise nutrition facts and a list of ingredients, and a homemade, 24-hour solar-powered greenhouse. We will also look at a vintage gadget freak that is a wearable computer for your pet so you can record data on how it is being treated while it is boarded.

Smart Contact Lens Measures Glucose Levels

Google is currently testing a new smart contact lens that can measure the glucose levels in tears. In a blog post, Google notes that diabetes is a growing problem, and monitoring glucose levels can be a lot of work given how frequently the levels can change. The lens uses a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor embedded between the contact lens material. One prototype being tested takes a reading once per second. Another idea they are working on is integrating tiny LEDs that could light up to alert you when your glucose levels fluctuate. Google states this technology still requires more work and testing and they are still in discussions with the FDA.

Beaming Your Nutrition Facts

TellSpec is a handheld device that scans and analyzes food to alert you of the exact ingredients it contains. Using laser spectroscopy and a unique mathematical algorithm, TellSpec can analyze the chemical composition of any food. When the low-powered laser in the TellSpec scanner is beamed at a food product, it measures the reflected light with a spectrometer and sends you the data -- all under 20 seconds. The data can be sent to your smartphone, computer, or tablet. The information TellSpec collects about the food includes the allergens, chemicals, nutrients, calories, and ingredients. It also allows you to precisely track your calories, vitamins, and minerals, and can also alert you to food sensitivities. The TellSpec starts shipping in August and costs $320 with a year of unlimited analysis.

Mini 24-Hour Solar-Powered Greenhouse

User JoshuaZimmerman on Instructables showed off a double solar-powered greenhouse he created for the cold winter months. He needed a lighting system for his plants that would go on at night, so he created, "an acrylic little plant incubator that runs night-time lights powered by solar energy." He houses his electronics (transistor, diode, Ohm resistor, LEDs, rechargeable batteries, and solar cell) in an acrylic cut case, but says a two-liter soda bottle cut in half will also do the trick. The way the greenhouse works is that during the day the solar cell will recharge the batteries and at night the batteries turn on the LEDs to increase plant growth. He explains that this is a great for geminating seedlings or nurturing plants that need some extra love.

Vintage Gadget Freak: Wearable Computer Keeps Tabs on Fido & Kitty

Did ever wonder how your cat or dog is being treated when you board it? Pete Cross decided to answer that question with technology. He created the PetInspect gadget, which records data on how a pet is being treated while it is boarded. The data-logger and wireless communications device lets you track your pet's environment -- hot or cold -- and whether the pet is getting exercise. This gadget consists of a 16-bit microcontroller with 256K of Flash memory and sensors for pressure, temperature, activity, light, and proximity.

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LED Lamp Electronics: Past, Present & Future

LED Lamp Electronics: Past, Present & Future

For the last hundred years, the incandescent light bulb has been part of our daily lives. We don't think much about it. Flip a switch and dark becomes light. Today this humble invention is facing obsolescence due to global government regulations mandating increased energy efficiency for lighting. In an incandescent lamp, less than 10 percent of the input power is actually converted to visible light. The rest is non-visible infrared and heat.

In the US, traditional 100W and 75W incandescent lamps are scarce and, this year, sales of 60W and 40W incandescent lamps will be phased out, as well. Technologies vying to replace incandescent include halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), and LED. Of these, halogen and CFL have been in use for some time, while LED lighting has become practical only in the last five years because of dramatic efficacy improvements in the technology. Luminous efficacy is defined as the ratio of luminous flux (lumens or lm) to input power (Watts or W), or lm/W. Similar to fuel economy on an automobile, it is a measure of the efficiency of a light source. A comparison of common 60W equivalent light sources is shown in Table 1.

CFL and LED are the obvious choices for very efficient light sources with CFL seemingly the most economical at today's market prices. CFLs have environmental concerns, though, as they contain trace amounts of mercury and require special disposal methods. Additionally, they generally don't dim well, or at all, with standard TRIAC-based dimmers. To be fair, early LED lamps were not perfect. Some products did not produce pleasing light, last as long as advertised, or dim particularly well either. This has largely been corrected as lamp manufacturers and electronics suppliers have addressed a number of these issues in response to meeting EnergyStar criteria.

So, why are LED lamps still so expensive? As with any new technology the initial costs tend to be high, but rapidly improve as commercialization increases. Incandescent lamps have been around for more than 100 years. Lighting class LEDs, less than 10. While incandescent and LED lamps may look similar on the outside, they are vastly different on the inside. Incandescent lamps produce light by applying electricity to a filament. The filament is a resistive load that glows white hot, making visible light. As P = I2R, raising or lowering the RMS current to the filament increases or decreases the brightness, making for a very simple light source whose brightness is easily controlled by simple phase-cut techniques such as those employed in TRIAC dimmers.

On the other hand, an LED lamp is a complex group of electronic and mechanical parts: LEDs, optical diffusers, heat sinks, and a switched-mode power supply (SMPS) to turn the 50 Hz to 60 Hz alternating current (AC) into constant direct current (DC) that is LED-friendly. It doesn't require much thought to imagine this is probably more expensive to make than an incandescent lamp -- a lot more.

Combining Self- & Mutual-Capacitive Sensing for Distinct User Advantages

Combining Self- & Mutual-Capacitive Sensing for Distinct User Advantages

Capacitive touch systems are clearly superior to resistive touch systems. Resistive touch systems break down and wear out due to their moving parts. The majority of resistive touch systems also can't effectively distinguish multi-touch interaction with a user. Legacy capacitive touch systems used self-capacitance sensing (Figure 1). They don't wear out, and they can support multi-touch gestures as long as you don't rotate your touch points or get them too close together.

After the iPhone popularized pinch and rotate gestures in 2005, system designers have used mutual capacitive sensing to determine multiple touch points and gestures (Figure 2). The drawback of mutual capacitive sensing is that it takes longer to do the measurement and, hence, uses more power. If you use a dual-architecture chip that can do both schemes, you can provide both lower power and good multi-touch accuracy. While self-capacitive systems are less affected when there's a drop of water on the screen, mutual systems can be significantly affected by moisture. To get the best touch screen, you benefit from both sensing schemes.

Legacy capacitive touch screens rely on self-capacitance sensing. Any wire in space will have a capacitive coupling to earth ground. In one instantiation a self-capacitance touch IC will dump a fixed charge on all the wires that run in the X-direction. That charge reacts against the capacitance to earth and creates a voltage. The touch chip will then measure that voltage. If your finger is touching the display, those wires will have an additional capacitive path to earth ground. Now the effective capacitance of that wire is increased, and the resultant voltage for the fixed charge injection on the wire will be less (Figure 3).

ACS ServoBoost Algorithm Boosts Servo Performance

ACS ServoBoost Algorithm Boosts Servo Performance

ACS Motion Control has developed an algorithm -- ServoBoost -- designed to provide significant throughput enhancement for motion-control products. The company noted that ServoBoost also minimizes settling time and stand-still jitter. According to ACS, the algorithm provides automatic adaptation to large load changes and automatic compensation for disturbances, resonances, axes interaction, and cogging -- all in real-time.

The ServoBoost algorithm was designed to identify disturbances in real-time while also analyzing the root cause, compensating for it, and attenuating its impact. This results in decreased move and settle time, the ability to handle significant changes in load, and the elimination of cogging and similar issues.

ACS noted that field results have shown measurable performance improvements over current motion-control products. "ServoBoost offers a significant improvement in servo performance and stability when compared with even the most advanced types of PID feedback control," Jason Goerges, general manager at ACS Motion Control, told Design News. "ServoBoost provides a significant reduction in motion following error, which increases machine process accuracy and precision. It also minimizes the time it takes to move and settle into position, which results in better machine throughput."

ACS developed the algorithm to deliver improvements on several fronts. The degree of improvement over existing motion control varies by deployment. "The standard ACS servo algorithm is an advanced PID with cascaded loops, filters, feed forwards, and several other features for improving performance," Goerges told us. "ServoBoost will always yield better performance than such an algorithm. How much better is dependent on the application."

ACS noted that the ServoBoost algorithm has been field-proven in various applications. In one example -- a three-axis machine designed to manufacture and test ultra-precision optical components -- ServoBoost helped increase performance significantly.

To develop the new algorithm, ACS used both theory and real-world experience. "The ServoBoost algorithm is the result of advanced control theory combined with several years of in-the-field experience and corresponding tweaks and adjustments," said Goerges. "Implementing the ServoBoost algorithm on the entire SPiiPlus product family has only become possible with the latest generation of products that employ the latest generation of ACS servo processors, since the algorithm requires a large amount of processing power."

ServoBoost algorithm is available as a plug-in feature. It can be ordered with ACS motion-control products or as an upgrade at a later date.

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Slideshow: Automakers, Start Your Engines!

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Automakers know they'll never reach super-high corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) ratings without lighter, smarter, more efficient engines. That's why virtually every auto show is now packed with new engines sporting fuel economy schemes such as direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and variable camshaft timing.

We were at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this month, and saw everything from racy Corvettes and Mustangs to shiny new aluminum trucks.

Click on the photo of the new Lexus RC F Performance Coupe below to check out the engines we found.

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Video: Arduino & Raspberry Pi Drink-Mixing Robot

Video: Arduino &amp; Raspberry Pi Drink-Mixing Robot

For convenience or pageantry, a drink-bot is a great addition to the next big get-together. That is why I built the Drinkmotizer, an Arduino and Raspberry Pi packed party-fueler.

The version I built is four feet long. It can hold up to 16 bottles and has a chaser station at the end. The cup platform movement is derived from my experience with industrial CNC lathes. In the video below, you can see that I have a 2-start 4-TPI leadscrew doing all the movement. The stepper motor I used was in the 90-oz/inch range. If I changed the stepper motor out with something more powerful, I could move it much faster. The little stepper I used tried really hard, but at higher speeds it had a tendency to slip due to friction of the coupler nut.

I was asked, "Why not use pressure for all the bottles?" and "There are other bar-bots that spray drinks out to a single spot, so why do I want Drinkmotizer?"

It's simple, bottles are classy. Ask yourself, would James Bond get a drink from a glorified self-serve soda machine? I wanted to keep the liquors in their original bottles. I also wanted to see the liquid pour out and the bubbles rise.

Aesthetically speaking, it's fun to watch the drink move down the line gathering its components. With a little Raspberry Pi and Arduino know-how, and a few power tools, anyone can build a Drinkmotizer of his or her own. At least that was my supreme goal behind it all. If you have trouble or need parts, let us know in the comments section below.

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Magnetic Sensor ICs Offer Integrated Diagnostics for ASIL Compliance

Magnetic Sensor ICs Offer Integrated Diagnostics for ASIL Compliance

The current revolution in intelligent vehicle control systems relies substantially on the rapidly developing physical detection technology called magnetic sensor integrated circuits. The complexity, reliability, flexibility, and functionality of these non-contacting, magnetic sensor ICs have all but dispelled the need for electromechanical switches in just about every application in latest-generation automobiles.

Yet, accompanying this increase in usage of complex electronic devices, is a heightened concern over difficult-to-detect, system-level risks. This, in turn, has led the automotive industry to focus on automotive functional safety. The ISO 26262 functional safety standard outlines a development process including predictive analysis to minimize risk. This process, in turn, requires advanced diagnostics capabilities integrated directly into magnetic sensor IC systems. An examination is made of a new type of magnetic sensor IC that implements integrated diagnostics, using an innovative embedded solid-state coil for end-to-end system test.

Open the door of any recent-model automobile, and you are immediately surrounded by an invisible network of electronic sensors. They detect seat belt buckling, window or sunroof pinching, gear shifter position, engine transmission rotational speed and direction, and camshaft position, to name only a few applications. The penetration of real-time sensing into these applications has been made practical by developments in various types of non-contacting magnetic detectors -- e.g., Hall effect, giant magnetoresistive (GMR), anisotropic resistive (AMR), etc.

In addition to having very small form factors, these state-of-the-art, solid-state, semiconductor ICs are: cost-effective, power-efficient, non-contacting, and gather a pervasive data stream in the harshest environment of vehicle engines with the subtlety to respond to the slightest of changes in vehicle conditions.

These detection systems provide an advanced level of computing sophistication, providing a high degree of output permutations. This has presented a challenge in achieving functional safety per ISO 26262, because the combination of device state complexity and the almost infinite variety of vehicle operating conditions makes it unlikely that all usage scenarios and failure modes can be anticipated by design or discovered in testing programs. Given that almost instantaneous response may be required to protect passengers and preserve the vehicle, these ingenious detection systems must be able to self-diagnose, and often even correct themselves, when they are functioning improperly.

Traditional solutions use electromechanical switches with limited operational states (operating or not), so failure detection is straightforward. Welded reed switch contacts prevent a short. Broken switch springs prevent output state change. System-level failures are difficult to anticipate. Preventive maintenance is often based on generic mean time to failure (MTTF) data, with switches over-designed to accommodate all reasonable circumstances without adjustment.

ICs can provide suboptimal outputs, so automotive use requires additional safety measures to avoid unreasonable residual risk according to Automotive Safety Integrity Levels (ASIL), ISO 26262. ASIL assigns safety goals, rather than characterizing entire systems or components. The rigorous ASIL level D requires manufacturers to follow strict development guidelines, including Failure Modes Effects and Diagnostics Analysis (FMEDA) to quantify even very low risks of failures. These complexities require comprehensive diagnostics to ensure detection of system-level failures and enable safe (limp home) modes.

Magnetic Sensor ICs Offer Integrated Diagnostics for ASIL Compliance

Figure 1. Magnetic Hall-effect-based sensor ICs provide compact data gathering in restricted locations such as gear shifters and seat belt buckles.

The current revolution in intelligent vehicle control systems relies substantially on the rapidly developing physical detection technology called magnetic sensor integrated circuits. The complexity, reliability, flexibility, and functionality of these non-contacting, magnetic sensor ICs have all but dispelled the need for electromechanical switches in just about every application in latest-generation automobiles.

Yet, accompanying this increase in usage of complex electronic devices, is a heightened concern over difficult-to-detect, system-level risks. This, in turn, has led the automotive industry to focus on automotive functional safety. The ISO 26262 functional safety standard outlines a development process including predictive analysis to minimize risk. This process, in turn, requires advanced diagnostics capabilities integrated directly into magnetic sensor IC systems. An examination is made of a new type of magnetic sensor IC that implements integrated diagnostics, using an innovative embedded solid-state coil for end-to-end system test.

Open the door of any recent-model automobile, and you are immediately surrounded by an invisible network of electronic sensors. They detect seat belt buckling, window or sunroof pinching, gear shifter position, engine transmission rotational speed and direction, and camshaft position, to name only a few applications. The penetration of real-time sensing into these applications has been made practical by developments in various types of non-contacting magnetic detectors -- e.g., Hall effect, giant magnetoresistive (GMR), anisotropic resistive (AMR), etc.

In addition to having very small form factors, these state-of-the-art, solid-state, semiconductor ICs are: cost-effective, power-efficient, non-contacting, and gather a pervasive data stream in the harshest environment of vehicle engines with the subtlety to respond to the slightest of changes in vehicle conditions.

These detection systems provide an advanced level of computing sophistication, providing a high degree of output permutations. This has presented a challenge in achieving functional safety per ISO 26262, because the combination of device state complexity and the almost infinite variety of vehicle operating conditions makes it unlikely that all usage scenarios and failure modes can be anticipated by design or discovered in testing programs. Given that almost instantaneous response may be required to protect passengers and preserve the vehicle, these ingenious detection systems must be able to self-diagnose, and often even correct themselves, when they are functioning improperly.

Traditional solutions use electromechanical switches with limited operational states (operating or not), so failure detection is straightforward. Welded reed switch contacts prevent a short. Broken switch springs prevent output state change. System-level failures are difficult to anticipate. Preventive maintenance is often based on generic mean time to failure (MTTF) data, with switches over-designed to accommodate all reasonable circumstances without adjustment.

ICs can provide suboptimal outputs, so automotive use requires additional safety measures to avoid unreasonable residual risk according to Automotive Safety Integrity Levels (ASIL), ISO 26262. ASIL assigns safety goals, rather than characterizing entire systems or components. The rigorous ASIL level D requires manufacturers to follow strict development guidelines, including Failure Modes Effects and Diagnostics Analysis (FMEDA) to quantify even very low risks of failures. These complexities require comprehensive diagnostics to ensure detection of system-level failures and enable safe (limp home) modes.

Learning Labs Focus on Robotics & Manufacturing

Learning Labs Focus on Robotics &amp; Manufacturing

At the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show next month in Anaheim, Calif., UBM Canon is introducing Learning Labs. These two-hour sessions will be aimed at attendees of that show, as well as those attending co-located events: MD&M West, ATX West, PLASTEC West, AeroCon, Electronics West, and WestPack.

The 30 Learning Labs include a variety of subjects during the show's three days. You can download the detailed schedule here. In an earlier blog, I described sessions on materials and 3D printing. Today I'm going to tell you a bit about the labs focusing on manufacturing and robotics.

On Tuesday, February 11, there's an afternoon session on Injection Molding: Waste & Cost Reduction, with three different speakers. Plastics manufacturing and engineering specialist, Timothy E. Worthington, will talk about a method for troubleshooting injection molded defects, including separating tooling and process issues. Steve Erickson, a manufacturing engineer with Edwards Lifesciences, will give an overview of what to expect from the OEM regarding medical molding. Technoject Machinery's owner, Paul Boettger, will conclude the session with a discussion of energy savings that can be produced with hot runner systems.

On Wednesday, February 12, a Learning Lab on Design for Manufacturability begins with a talk by Jim Howes, director of engineering for Kaleidoscope, on how to develop strategies for scaling up from R&D to manufacturing. This includes overcoming design transfer challenges and identifying new approaches to driving manufacturing capacity, speed, and reproducibility. The other presentation in this session will be given by Tom Kramer, president of Kablooe. He will discuss implementing improved reliability and consistency in the process from design through manufacturing.

Another Wednesday Learning Lab focuses on An Unconventional Approach to Design: Challenging Your Creativity With Biomimicry. This isn't about robotics or manufacturing, but it's a subject we've discussed frequently in Design News, often in the context of how new materials and robots are designed. In this session, biomimicry professor Karen Frasier-Scott of the University of Houston gives an overview of scientists, designers, and business professionals that mimic nature's survival strategies for solving routine problems. They then apply those strategies to come up with novel solutions to human problems. The session includes a one-hour introduction to biomimicry, followed by a one-hour interactive exercise.

A Wednesday workshop session on The Robot & Human Workforce is designed to help attendees plan their future workforces using new robotic applications, while considering all the changes this will imply, from clean rooms to heavy-material handling. Joey Forrest, senior manager of plant engineering for Volkswagen, will team up with Jacob Rosen, director of the bionics lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They will cover topics such as reviewing where robots can replace humans in the production line for productivity; exploring opportunities in cleanrooms, dangerous situations, and heavy material handling; understanding how humans can enable robots to undertake tasks in dangerous or compromising situations; how to balance costs, safety, and efficiency; and real-life examples of how robotics have changed and increased productivity.

On the last day of the Learning Labs, Thursday, February 13, there's a session on Practical Applications of Lightweight Robotics. Matt Bolton, director of production for SparkFun, will examine what's enabling lightweight robotics and how they are transforming the future of manufacturing. This talk will include an exploration of flexibility and productivity benefits, reducing short-term and long-term costs of robot installation, and battling common maintenance and safety concerns. Scott Melton, Fanuc America West's regional sales manager, will then moderate a panel discussion that covers robotic technology developments that will impact manufacturing, how to make more informed buying decisions when purchasing robotics equipment, strategies for reducing time to market during the implementation phase, and which global manufacturing industries are seeing the greatest success. Panelists will include Melton and Frank Langro, director of marketing & product management for Festo.

You can register for any of these Learning Labs, or others on the schedule, here.

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Slideshow: 25 Greatest Engineering Quotes

“The path to the CEO's office should not be through the CFO's office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.” <br>-- <a href="http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/elon_musk.html""target

To the world at large, engineering is a bit of a mystery. Its practice is complex, and the people who ply the trade aren't anxious to explain it to those who don't.

Still, the outside world occasionally provides insight, perhaps in ways that engineers might not. Engineers sometimes step outside their stoic circles to supply a greater understanding of their profession.

Here, for the second time, we've collected a few of those insights. From engineers and business executives to actors and cartoonists, we present thoughts on engineering, from inside and out.

Click on the photo of Tesla CEO Elon Musk below to start the slideshow.

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