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Articles from 2014 In November


What Innovations Lay Hidden Inside the Nexus 6?

Motorola Nexus 6 Repairability Score: 7 out of 10 (10 is easiest to repair). Let's see how we got here, shall we?

The phablet wars continue. Today we welcome the Nexus 6. A joint collaboration between Google and Motorola, the Nexus 6 is being hailed as the the iPhone 6 Plus's brother from an Android mother.

What innovations lay hidden inside the Nexus 6? Join us as we find out.

Click on the Nexus 6 below to see the teardown.

What Innovations Lay Hidden Inside the Nexus 6?

What Innovations Lay Hidden Inside the Nexus 6?

The phablet wars continue. Today we welcome the Nexus 6. A joint collaboration between Google and Motorola, the Nexus 6 is being hailed as the the iPhone 6 Plus's brother from an Android mother.

What innovations lay hidden inside the Nexus 6? Join us as we find out.

Click on the Nexus 6 below to see the teardown.

Fire-Resistant Steel Made to Order Using Thermodynamic Simulation

Fire-Resistant Steel Made to Order Using Thermodynamic Simulation

On November 3, One World Trade Center opened for business. At 104 stories, it's the tallest building in New York City, and the third tallest in the US. (If the height of the antenna on top is counted, it could actually be considered the tallest). Under construction since 2006 at a cost of $3.9 billion, the building's completion has helped to bring closure to New Yorkers after the destruction of the original World Trade Center in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

According to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), one of the factors in the collapse of the original World Trade Center towers was the reduction in the yield strength of the steel reinforcement as a result of the high temperatures of the fire and the loss of thermal insulation. According to most US building codes, steel used in construction must maintain at least 50% of its room-temperature yield strength at 1,000F. For example, if the room-temperature yield strength is 36,000 psi, then the yield strength at 1,000F must be at least 18,000 psi. Based on the NIST study, the steel used in the original World Trade Center met this requirement, but did not greatly exceed it.

Although the reduction in the yield strength of the steel was only one of several factors leading to the buildings' collapse, in the aftermath of the attacks, NIST and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) began to discuss a higher standard for fire-resistant steels. Could a cost-effective steel, with a room-temperature yield strength of at least 50,000 psi, be developed that would be able to maintain two-thirds of that strength for a minimum of 20 minutes at 1,100F?

Researchers at Northwestern University have been working on this topic. Dr. Yip-Wah Chung presented the team's latest findings at the October 31 meeting of Northwestern's Center for Surface Engineering and Technology.

Heat-resistant steels are nothing new. For example, some austenitic stainless steels can withstand continuous use temperatures as high as 1,650F. However, these highly alloyed steels are far too expensive to use as a structural material in building construction. The group decided from the outset of the project that, in order to keep the new fire-resistant steel affordable, the level of costly alloying elements such as chromium, niobium, and vanadium needed to be kept below 0.55%. Furthermore, in order to ensure that the new material would be weldable, they decided to keep the carbon content below 0.1%. In addition, they decided that the material must not require heat treatment (such as quenching and tempering) in order to achieve its properties.

In the old days, developing a new steel would require producing sample runs of a large number of candidate chemistries, then testing them, and refining the formula based on the results. Instead, the Northwestern team used Thermo-Calc software to predict the phase diagrams of possible steel compositions. They knew that the high-temperature strength would depend on microscopic alloy carbides with crystal structures closely resembling that of iron. In order to achieve this, they needed the alloying elements (chromium, molybdenum, niobium, and vanadium) to combine with the carbon in the proper way to form these carbides. At the same time, they needed to prevent the formation of other carbides with crystal structures that don't match iron very well, which could reduce the strength of the steel.

Using Thermo-Calc, the researchers identified a composition that would maximize the formation of desirable carbides, while eliminating the undesirable carbides. They then asked specialty alloy manufacturer Sophisticated Alloys to produce a sample. The new alloy, called FR-8, exceeded the project's original goal. Not only was it able to maintain 70% of its room-temperature yield strength after 20 minutes at 1,100F, but longer exposure actually made it stronger. After two hours at 1,100F, the yield strength increased to 80% of the room-temperature value.

The Northwestern University group is continuing to work to further develop this alloy. They also hope to use the same approach to develop improved high-temperature steels for turbine blades. If turbines could operate at higher temperatures, they would be more efficient. This could reduce emissions and save energy resources on a global scale.

This work is just one example of integrated computational materials engineering (ICME), an approach in which computational tools that operate at different length scales are used to design better materials. Earlier this year, NIST provided a $25 million grant to establish the new Center for Hierarchical Materials Design. This center -- a partnership between Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Fayetteville State University, Argonne National Laboratory, ASM International, and QuesTek Innovations -- will combine the latest computational methods with high-tech experimental techniques. It is part of President Obama's ambitious Materials Genome Initiative, which seeks to dramatically increase the pace of materials innovation. New materials have the potential to improve our quality of life, whether by preventing buildings from collapsing or by increasing the efficiency of our power plants. Here's hoping that NIST's $25 million investment will lead to many such material advances.

Get Your 15 Minutes of DIY Fame

Get Your 15 Minutes of DIY Fame

Calling all backyard, basement, and garage tinkerers!

You all know by now that our annual Gadget Freak of the Year contest is underway, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start thinking about next year.

All projects submitted to Design News for Gadget Freak from now through October 2015 will be eligible for next year's contest. And, you will also receive an additional $500 from Allied Electronics. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

If you have something cool, our readers want to see it and they want to build it. Here's what you need to do:

  • Provide a detailed description of the gadget

  • Provide extensive, detailed build instructions

  • Provide at least two high-resolution photos of the gadget, including a photo of yourself with the gadget

  • Provide one bill of materials for parts spec'd from Allied Electronics and another BOM for the other parts

  • Provide a short, clear, high-resolution video of the gadget in action

Please send your submissions and/or questions to Jennifer Campbell.

Deep Learning is the Future of Automation and Robotics

Deep Learning is the Future of Automation and Robotics

Robots are getting more agile and automation systems are becoming more complex. Yet the most impressive development in robotics and automation is increased intelligence. Machines in automation are increasingly able to analyze huge amounts of data. They are often able to see, speak, even imitate patterns of human thinking. Researchers at the automation company, European Automation, call this deep learning.

European Automation sees deep learning as a set of algorithms that machines use to model high level abstractions in data. This allows computers to see objects and understand what they are. These calculation are similar to the processes used by the human brain. Deep learning refers to the intelligence that allows machines to independently analyze the data they come across and to extract patterns from this data -- whether it's images, videos, human speech, different languages, or codes -- and then respond to the results of the analysis.

As an example, Darren Halford, a group sales manager at European Automation, points to a video that shows a six-axis robot "seeing" boxes stacked in an irregular fashion. The robot analyzes the shape of each box and chooses which one to pull out while also calculating the unusual angle of the box and figuring out how to adjust for the angle.

Interestingly, the robot in the video is not moving at its full capability. The process could actually be speeded up for greater efficiency. "The video shows the robot working at 60% speed, probably about the same pace as a human," said Halford. "The added benefit of the machine is that it can't hurt itself moving boxes, it doesn't require breaks, and even at 75% speed, it is faster than a human."

Halford noted that the original 3D vision technology deployed in the robot was developed by Industrial Perceptions Inc. Intelligent technology such as the robot's ability to understand a stack of boxes is showing up in more and more applications. "The idea of computers seeing and recognizing objects is being used by Amazon in its Flow app. Flow recognizes items via their shape, size, color, box text, and general appearance," he said. "In a shop, home, or even out and about, if you hold your smartphone up to an item with the Flow app open, within seconds of the camera seeing it (if the item is recognizable), Flow will identify the item and add it to your Amazon cart."

Beyond recognizing boxes

Halford uses the term deep learning to describe any machine intelligence technology that mimics the human brain in its ability to gather data and sort the data into distinguishable forms. This can be the vision data needed to recognize and respond to shapes, or it can be the ability of a computer to recognize cats in YouTube videos. European Automation uses deep learning to analyze customer information. "Our system is able to use extensive customer data to predict what type of equipment our customers need to purchase and when," said Halford. "It most definitely helps us anticipate our client's needs."

As well as using deep learning to anticipate customer needs, European Automation is interested in deep learning because of its potential in the automation sector. "At the moment, there is an emphasis on archiving and analyzing as much data as possible to predict future trends. This is called big data," said Halford. "If a customer's plant could perform self-analysis and self-diagnosis, it could predict parts that need replacing, order the correct part automatically, and thus reduce costly downtime. That's super efficiency."

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Hack Thanksgiving (Don’t Be a Tech Turkey)!

Hack Thanksgiving (Don’t Be a Tech Turkey)!

Thanksgiving is a time for family. A time for togetherness. A time for... tech?

Yep! Turns out Turkey Day is going digital in all kinds of wonderful ways.

For example, why cook a turkey for hours and hours in an oven when you could just infrared it to crispy perfection in half the time with a turkey fryer radiating the bird with thermal energy to reach interior temperatures of 500 degrees. I mean, who knows what that would do to any stuffing you tried to cram in there, but hey, we hear it's second only to Dr. Evil's method of using "fricking lasers" to cook the big bird.

For those who prefer deep-fat frying to infrared waves to get that delicious crispy outside and moist inside, this Waring Pro Turkey Fryer looks pretty slick, and is apparently safer than the home made methods that are known to bring the house down ... in flames.

The all-electric rotating system can apparently handle a bird up to 18 lb, which it lowers into a hot oil-filled stainless-steel reservoir (sounds like a James Bond movie). Built-in safety features include a magnetic breakaway cord, a basket that stays cool to the touch, and lid vents that release steam to prevent boil-overs. And the best part? It only takes an hour!

Want to cook your turkey in more of a traditional way, but with a little help from your smartphone? Try the iGrill probe, or any number of other smart probes on the market. Simply stick one of these bad boys into your turkey, and get notifications and updates about your turkey's internal temperature, allowing you to adjust on the fly. It also notifies you when it's done and ready to be eaten.

Of course, turkey isn't the only thing that could do with a little electronic enhancement for Thanksgiving. How about a bit of engineering love for good old spuds?

Tired of mashing them by hand? Try the Better Potato Masher on for size. It works much in the same way as a mechanized ricer, using a rotating motor to pulverize and press chunks of chopped, boiled potatoes through a sieve while "preserving their starch granules, breaking up any lumps, and yielding a smooth, fluffy batch of this beloved comfort food," according to the marketing blurb.

See it in action:

And if you're already too lazy to mash your own potatoes, you may as well get yourself an automated gravy stirrer. The Uutensil Stirr automatic pan stirrer seems like an option... then again, it also got, er, panned in online reviews, so maybe just strengthen that whisking hand after all!

See it in action:

But who am I to tell you to quit whining? Or should that be, wine-ing? Especially when you can uncork your favorite vintage at the tap of a button!

The Metrokane Rabbit Automatic Electric Corkscrew, automatically removes corks from bottles upon contact and then automatically ejects them from the corkscrew. Preferably in the direction of your most hated relative.

See it in action:

Speaking of most hated relatives, if, despite all the tech awesomeness discussed above, your Thanksgiving still manages to go sideways and family dinner turns into family drama, leaving you wanting to get the hell out of dodge, there's an app for that too. It's called Hotel Tonight. In advance, you're welcome!

The IoT Comes to Your Backyard

The winner of the Internet of Backyard Design Challenge by the element14 online engineering community is the Tomato Greenhouse. Designed by Janis Alnis of Latvia, the gadget includes a solar-powered garden lamp for tomato plants with IoT connectivity that

The promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is that devices, gadgets, and appliances we use every day will be able to communicate with one another. This potential is not limited to household items or smartphones, but also things we find in our yard and garden, as evidenced by a recent challenge from the element14 design community.

The Internet of Backyard Design Challenge asked members of the online engineering community to equip garden or yard implements and tools with IoT capabilities, armed with the Simplelink WiFi CC3200 Launchpad from Texas Instruments.

The winner of the challenge is Janis Alnis of Latvia. Alnis designed the Tomato Greenhouse, comprised of a solar-powered garden lamp for tomato plants with IoT connectivity that uses a passive infrared sensor (PIR) motion detector to switch on the LEDs when someone is nearby. It also includes a wireless temperature measurement system of hot water pipes and an automatic watering system.

There also were two runners-up in the contest. Colin Gerrish of Ireland received an honorable mention for the Grass Growing Monitoring System (GGMS), which uses light sensors to capture and send data via the cloud to alert owners when the grass in their yard needs cutting.

Lukasz Krysiewicz of Poland also received an honorable mention for the IoT umbrella. The device automatically closes during strong winds and storms, changes its position based on the location of the sun, and can relay forecast warnings to its user.

Element14 is a community of electronics engineers that often sponsors contests like this to push the envelope of device design using some of the latest tools available. Previous competitions focused on wearable technology, the smart home, and Halloween.

Click on the image below to see the Tomato Greenhouse, Grass Growing Monitoring System, and IoT umbrella.

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The IoT Comes to Your Backyard

The IoT Comes to Your Backyard

The promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is that devices, gadgets, and appliances we use every day will be able to communicate with one another. This potential is not limited to household items or smartphones, but also things we find in our yard and garden, as evidenced by a recent challenge from the element14 design community.

The Internet of Backyard Design Challenge asked members of the online engineering community to equip garden or yard implements and tools with IoT capabilities, armed with the Simplelink WiFi CC3200 Launchpad from Texas Instruments.

The winner of the challenge is Janis Alnis of Latvia. Alnis designed the Tomato Greenhouse, comprised of a solar-powered garden lamp for tomato plants with IoT connectivity that uses a passive infrared sensor (PIR) motion detector to switch on the LEDs when someone is nearby. It also includes a wireless temperature measurement system of hot water pipes and an automatic watering system.

There also were two runners-up in the contest. Colin Gerrish of Ireland received an honorable mention for the Grass Growing Monitoring System (GGMS), which uses light sensors to capture and send data via the cloud to alert owners when the grass in their yard needs cutting.

Lukasz Krysiewicz of Poland also received an honorable mention for the IoT umbrella. The device automatically closes during strong winds and storms, changes its position based on the location of the sun, and can relay forecast warnings to its user.

Element14 is a community of electronics engineers that often sponsors contests like this to push the envelope of device design using some of the latest tools available. Previous competitions focused on wearable technology, the smart home, and Halloween.

Click on the image below to see the Tomato Greenhouse, Grass Growing Monitoring System, and IoT umbrella.

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Robo-Fabric Brings New Dimension to Wearable Tech

Robo-Fabric Brings New Dimension to Wearable Tech

Researchers have developed a new flexible fabric that integrates both movement and sensors, introducing new potential for technology-embedded clothing and soft robots.

Whereas other materials developed for wearable technology and flexible robots focus on either flexible actuation or allowing for embedded sensors and electronics, Purdue engineers have developed a material that allows for both, said Rebecca Kramer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue who developed the material, in article on the Purdue website.

The material is made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a shape-memory alloy that return to a coiled shape when heated, causing the fabric to move. Kramer and her team used standard sewing techniques to introduce the actuators and sensors into the fabric, she said in the article, "so they could conceivably be integrated into the existing textile manufacturing infrastructure."

The team -- which also included a group of doctoral students -- co-authored a paper on research they presented recently during the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Chicago.

Another advantage to the fabric is that it's "devoid of rigid components," allowing for unprecedented flexibility when integrated with electronics, Michelle Yuen, a PhD student who co-authored the paper and co-developed the fabric, told Design News. "By integrating this technology into existing clothing, the wearer's natural motion and sensation is more free than in other wearable systems that incorporate hard components," she said.

Potential applications for the fabric include soft robots that have sensory skin that can "feel," or flexible robot clothing that people can wear to provide more strength and endurance.

The flexible fabric also has potential uses for space technology, such as so-called "g-suits" for astronauts that counteract the effects of acceleration, or lightweight robots that can explore extraterrestrial landscapes during space missions.

To create a soft robot, the fabric can be wrapped around a block of foam or an inflated balloon, according to researchers. Moving the fabric in one direction causes the robot to bend, while moving it in a different direction causes it to compress.

The benefit of using the fabric to create such a robot is that all the functional elements of the system are embedded in the skin, researchers said. The skin itself, then, can include flexible electronics that are rugged enough for space missions, allowing for the transport of lightweight, easy-to-store sheets of robotic skin that can be assembled once they reach their destination.

"We will be able to design robots on the fly," Kramer said in the article. "Anything can be a robot because all of the robotic technology is in the fabric or skin."

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Writers Are Getting 3D Printing Wrong

Writers Are Getting 3D Printing Wrong

Yes, 3D printing is cool. I'm probably in the 90th percentile when it comes to 3D printing, having printed hundreds of parts throughout my career. 3D printing is certainly going to change the future in many ways, yet there have been multiple articles on 3D printing recently that have been written by monkeys. These articles are bound to confuse the uninitiated.

Printing every auto repair part

I read an article recently that went into detailed discussion of how the supply chain for automotive parts would drastically change in the near future due to 3D printing. I read it without my usual critical discernment, and it wasn't until later that I realized how completely ridiculous the idea is.

The gist of the article was that a part could be ordered through a local supplier who would have a license to print the part. The OEM would get a fee for the 3D data. This would provide a significant paradigm shift for aftermarket replacement parts. It sounded plausible.

Then it hit me, what a foolish idea it truly was. Think about it for a second. What was the last part you purchased for your car? Perhaps a battery? Maybe an alternator? How in the heck are you going to print either of those? I have a car with a broken mirror. Is that printable? How about a light bulb? A tire?

There is very little on a car that could actually be printed. Perhaps a knob on the stereo. Maybe an air conditioning vent. Most of the parts on a vehicle that eventually need to be replaced are complex assemblies that may never be printable, certainly not in the foreseeable future.

Who needs engineers when there's 3D printing?

Another article that was extremely disturbing claimed that due to the availability of 3D printing, "It's easy to imagine a world that needs only one engineer for every 10 engineers currently employed."

This was due to the availability of online apps that allow neophytes to draw in 3D. The author actually claimed that because a lot of people online can now make rings (I'm assuming she was talking about jewelry), there would be no more need for engineers to design rings. I didn't know that engineers designed rings! Well, all you plastic-designing-ring-engineers better freshen up your resumes.

At first I thought this article was written by just a normal magazine editor, but I was shocked to see that the writer had graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cleveland State University (hey CSU, check yourselves).

How does a mechanical engineer not have the slightest understanding of what goes into engineering a product? It's insulting that this editor thinks that all of the math, physics, materials, strength of materials, statics, dynamics, thermal, fluids, and other courses required to graduate as a mechanical engineer are not necessary to design products. In that case, every university around the world that provides degrees in engineering is ripping off its students.

Currently I design drilling rigs. There's not a single part I can think of on a drilling rig that I would have any interest in printing. I've worked in aerospace, hydrogen fuel cells, heavy off-road equipment, underwater machinery, and I've had hundreds of clients with thousands of diverse products, and I rarely leverage 3D printing. Almost never for a final product. I've found it a useful tool to prototype injection-molded parts and other simple trinkets. Let's be honest; if 3D printing disappeared altogether, I wouldn't lose much sleep.

Just because you can go online, design a cell phone cover or a plastic wrench with a simplistic app and have it printed, that doesn't mean we'll see 90% of all engineering jobs vanish. These writers are not only showing their abysmal understanding of engineering and the limited capabilities of 3D printing, they are truly monkeys among monkeys.

Tell us your experiences with monkey-designed products. Send stories to Jennifer Campbell for Made by Monkeys.

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