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Articles from 2007 In June


Freescale Rolls Out World’s First ‘Intelligent Basketball’

Freescale Rolls Out World’s First ‘Intelligent Basketball’

At this week's Freescale Technology Forum, Freescale Semiconductor literally rolled the world's first "intelligent basketball," the latest in a growing array of everyday products incorporating electronic smarts.

The basketball, demonstrated in a keynote speech at the forum here, provides information to prospective basketball players about the nature of their shooting - specifically, the velocity and angle of each shot.

"According to a study by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, there are two factors that determine the probability of making a free throw: the player's height, and the player's control over the ball's release angle and velocity," said Michelle Kelsey, a Freescale engineer who worked with sporting good manufacturer Spalding on development of the ball. "By understanding how (an) accelerometer is oriented inside the basketball, we can determine the initial release angle. Using software to extract the acceleration due to motion, we can integrate the acceleration values to approximate velocity."

Kelsey said that the ball achieves that by incorporating three Freescale components: a three-axis accelerometer, a Zigbee transceiver and an eight-bit microcontroller. During operation, the ball's accelerometer senses acceleration and then uses the microcontroller to integrate the area under the acceleration curve. It therefore calculates velocity and then employs the transceiver to send the output to a nearby laptop computer to display the results.

Kelsey said that the project was launched by some engineering students and a professor at Indiana University, who originally called Freescale to obtain the necessary electronic components. As the project evolved, Freescale engineers worked with engineers at Spalding to seamlessly incorporate the technology in a production-grade basketball. Freescale engineers said they did not know yet whether Spalding plans to market the smart ball and manufacture it in production volumes.

At the conference's keynote speech, Freescale CEO Michel Mayer called upon an engineer from the keynote audience of 2,000 to come on stage and shoot a free throw, with the added incentive of a free trip and pit pass to the Monterey Sports Car Championship later this year if he connected on the shot. The engineer, who was chosen arbitrarily from the audience, hit the shot on his first try.

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Resource Center E-Alert: Free Motion Control Information, Made Easy

Resource Center E-Alert: Free Motion Control Information, Made Easy

June 29 , 2007
Design News Resource Center e-Alert provides design engineers fast and convenient access to the latest information - data sheets, design guides, CAD files, application notes, instruction manuals, reference designs and white papers - on technologies and products available on manufacturer sites.
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Freescale Rolls Out World’s First ‘Intelligent Basketball’

Sensors, RF technology combine to make ball smart

Rolls-Royce's Engine for the More Electric 787 Dreamliner Takes Flight

Rolls-Royce's Engine for the More Electric 787 Dreamliner Takes Flight

Visit Design News' 787 Dreamliner coverage page for more stories, podcasts and videos on Boeing's newest aircraft!

With the Boeing 787 rollout just days away, one of its engine designs has started to soar - literally.

The Trent 1000, Rolls-Royce's engine for the 787, took its first test flight two weeks ago, turning in a performance that its chief engineer, Andy Geer, describes as "flawless." This test bed flight put the engine through its paces on a Boeing 747-200 and helped validate the engine's interfaces with the airframe and intake.

The first set of Trent 1000 engines has already been delivered to Boeing, and this test bed flight brings Rolls Royce that much closer to the conclusion of its testing program. Geer points out that the engine has already passed a battery of ground tests - including high altitude simulations as well as fan-blade-release and bird-ingestion tests. "This is a really exciting time for us," he says, adding that the Trent 1000 has only a few weeks of testing left in its certification program.

Geer isn't surprised that the engine has sailed through its tests. He explains that two of Boeing's key design goals for the 787 - its 'more electric' architecture with bleedless engines and a mandate to reduce total cost of ownership - resulted in technology decisions that brought engine efficiency and robustness to new highs.

As an example of the interplay between these two design goals, Geer points to the evolution of the Trent 1000's IP Power Offtake. This unique system extracts power for the 787's starter-generators from the three-spool engine's intermediate pressure shaft. Geer argues that this arrangement improves the engine's fuel burn by about 6 percent compared to designs whose power extraction comes from the high-pressure shaft. His argument comes down to the fact that the IP shaft's speed better matches the demands demands of the 787's starter generators, particularly during descents. "The main benefit is at low power conditions," Geer notes.

GE, which takes power from the high-pressure compressor of its two-spool GEnx engine for the 787, would no doubt disagree.

But what's interesting for engineers not versed in the intricacies jet engine design is how Rolls Royce has over the past months simplified the design of its power offtake system. The system at first included a relatively complex coupling between the high- and intermediate-pressure spools. It would lock the HP and IP spools together during start-ups. Yet as Rolls engineers optimized the engine, they found they could meet all of Boeings start-up requirements without the coupling. So they got rid of it. "We just hook the generator to the IP now," Geer says. He estimates that eliminating the coupling saved about 100 lb of weight and more than 100 components.

Numerous other design decisions on the Trent 1000 also support the low-cost-of-ownership goals. "We picked the technological solutions for the engine with total cost of ownership in mind," Geer says.

Some of these picks obviously relate to fuel economy. To take one example, the Trent 1000 features a titanium containment case for the sake of weight savings - and corrosion resistance too. The engine's 20-blade fan system also features a swept blade design with a lower hub-to-tip ratio than previous models. Geer says the fan design helps create a "big aerodynamic area in as small a volume as possible," which in turn leads to reductions in drag. He adds that the design also contributes to a flat fuel burn profile, or consistent efficiency across different power levels.

Rolls engineers also made some technical choices that go beyond improving aerodynamics while reducing weight and mechanical complexity. "Not all the improvements involve bits of metal and springy things," Geer says. For example, Geer points out that Trent 1000 will go into service with more engine monitoring functionality than the company's previous engines. Engine management is nothing new, and the Trent 1000 has the usual complement of electronics and sensors related to this task. But the Trent 1000 also has about ten additional sensors - for pressures, temperatures, speeds and vibration - that provide diagnostic and predictive maintenance data. "We'll be able to monitor engine health in addition to managing its performance on wing," Geer says.

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Mayer Describes Embedded Future at Freescale Technology Forum

Mayer Describes Embedded Future at Freescale Technology Forum

Describing his company's 2006 acquisition in a leveraged buyout as an advantage, Freescale Semiconductor CEO Michel Mayer kicked off the third annual Freescale Technology Forum this week.

Speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 engineers at the forum's keynote speech, Mayer said that the company's $17.6 billion acquisition by a private equity consortium last year will provide the semiconductor giant with greater long-term focus, which is particularly important as the industry reaches maturity.

"Private equity investors are generally in it for the long term and succeed only when their companies succeed," Mayer told the audience. "Such clear ownership and 'skin in the game' facilitates faster decision making."

Mayer said that the leveraged buyout, believed to be the largest technology LBO in history, will free Freescale from the short-term demands of Wall Street, which are typically faced by publicly held companies.

Mayer added that the company sees its future being formed by three key market trends: the global movement toward "green" engineering; the needs of aging an aging population and the impact of broadband.

"As these powerful trends are converging around us, there is another form of convergence taking place," he said. "Embedded intelligence, networking, and wireless technologies are merging in everything from transportation to consumer electronics."

At the keynote, Freescale showed its commitment to embedded technologies by demonstrating and discussing emerging products, such as a low-cost myoelectric prosthetic hand and a small autonomous vehicle.

At one point, Mayer and Freescale engineer Michelle Kelsey even demonstrated what is believed to be the world's first "intelligent basketball." The ball, which incorporates a three-axis accelerometer, Zigbee transceiver and eight-bit Freescale microcontroller, represented a cooperative product development effort between Freescale and sporting goods manufacturer Spalding. Mayer demonstrated the ball by calling an engineer from the audience to shoot it at an on-stage basketball rim. The electronics in the ball then displayed the velocity and shot angle on a laptop computer wired to an on-stage screen.

Also at the show, Freescale rolled out numerous technologies for embedded applications, including: a radio frequency control platform for entertainment devices such as TV remotes and a 0.13-mum chip that combines power, analog and digital electronics.

Mayer: "Clear ownership ... facilitates faster decision-making."
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Where is Polycarbonate Heading?

Where is Polycarbonate Heading?

Look for tough market conditions in polycarbonate at least through the rest of this year. Longer term, however, the transparent engineering plastic could become a much better economic bargain. Short-term: PC prices are getting slammed by high costs for feedstocks such as phenol. Prices for products such as phenol used to have a very close correlation to prices of hydrocarbons such as natural gas. More recently, the lack of capacity to make the feedstock has created a new market dynamic—one that’s working against users. Bayer for example raised prices about 7 percent very recently.

 

Longer term, however, new capacity and slower growth rates could create a buyers’ market. Major capacity expansions in China are already being slowed by market worries. Also on the horizon is the SABIC acquisition of GE Plastics,. Bayer and GE Plastics are the market leaders in PC. SABIC’s interest in building PC capacity in the Al Jubail area of Saudi Arabia is well known. I visited the area 17 years ago when major new plastics plants were first coming on stream, and benefiting from deeply discounted hydrocarbon prices. Gas from the region previously had been flared.

 

The original Saudi plan for the newest project was to bring on line annual production capacity exceeding 4 million metric tons of petrochemical and chemical products by 2009 under the banner of a public company called Saudi Kayan, which is 35 percent owned by SABIC. Spain’s Tecnicas Reunidas was selected to build a 240,000 metric ton bisphenol-A facility and Daelim Industrial of Korea received a contract to build a 260,000 tons-per-year polycarbonate plant based on Asahi Kasei technology. It seems very unlikely that plan will proceed, even though contracts were awarded in February. Reason: GE Plastics has its own proprietary technology to make polycarbonate.

 

What impact will a new Saudi Arabian plant have on polycarbonate markets? Well, when I visited Al-Jubail Industrial City the Saudis promised they would not disrupt markets. And they did not. But there will be a major new player, bringing on significant capacity that is vertically integrated into the well. That will certainly have a major impact on the landscape.

Rolls-Royce's Engine for the More Electric 787 Dreamliner Takes Flight

Apple Releases iPhone

Perhaps one of the most sought after Gadgets today would be the Apple iPhone. On sale today, people actually slept outside stores to be the first to own one. Have any of you got your hands on one of these babies yet?

 

A model with 4 gigabytes of storage will cost you $499, while 8 gigabytes will set you back $599. And while that is pricey, the service plans AT&T are announcing don’t seem so bad – between $59.99 and $99.99 a month.

 

The iPhone is expected to combine the functions of a cell phone, an iPod and also allow you to surf the Web with a unique touch-screen display and intuitive software allowing for easy access to voice mail messages and the Internet, as well as video and music libraries. Customers will also be able to activate their wireless service from home through Apple’s iTunes software, according to the company.

 

There are criticisms to this new technology. Tech-guru Walt Mossberg says the phone is missing a few key details, such as the lack of song/ring integration, meaning you can play all your favorite songs, but can’t set any of them to your ringtone.

 

A Business Week article, says this all-in-one device doesn’t work with many office e-mail servers, so if you have a Blackberry, you may need to stick with that for now. 

For more pluses and minuses to Apple’s iPhone, read this article on our site.

 

I was all set to go out and buy one, but now I think I’m going to take a step back and wait this one out. Who knows, maybe once all the hype passes, the price will come down, the glitches will be fixed and I can buy one with no hesitation whatsoever.

Apple iPhone: Welcome to the Mobile Applications Party

Apple iPhone: Welcome to the Mobile Applications Party

As the head of a company that's pioneered the mobile application and on-device portal space for the past seven years, I'd like to welcome the Apple iPhone to the party. Sure, it arrived late, but the iPhone arrived in style.

One look at the mobile data features of the iPhone reveals Apple took many of its usability cues from the On-Device Portal (ODP) companies that have been optimizing mobile application usability for years. The first thing users see when they turn on an iPhone is an ODP into a handful of widgets, the mobile applications that deliver pre-packaged rich content. Widgets set the iPhone apart, and they will be key to the iPhone user experience.

Let's first take a look at some of the advantages of Apple's ODP approach:

iPhone Advantages

Brand Elevation: The iPhone home page establishes one central on-device portal for accessing all of Apple's rich content and standalone widgets. By establishing a consistent look and feel across all of the iPhone widgets, Apple elevates its brand. No matter which widget they use, users get the same user experience, navigation and look and feel. The on-device portal approach enables Apple to "own" the end-to-end user experience on the phone.

Fewer Keystrokes: By letting users drag and drop and touch, Apple eliminated as many keystrokes as possible to discover and access rich content. This, I believe, is a smart move, considering a simple music download from a carrier portal can take 18 to 39 clicks to execute. That's a huge usability hindrance, as most people abandon such activities after six clicks.

To further ease data entry, iPhone widgets also connect with the Personal Information Manager (PIM) software on the phone. This enables users to quickly e-mail or text content to a friend. They can grab addresses from their contacts and use them inside widgets to reduce data entry - a key feature of any on-device portal application.

Requests Remembered: The iPhone also remembers recent requests. Search for stocks using the stock widget and the requests will be stored, eliminating the need to reenter the same information later. Similarly, by offering personalization features in the widgets, Apple prevents repeat data entry.

Encourage Action: When the iPhone displays content, an "action bar" at the bottom of the screen provides further options for using the content (e.g., find an address for a restaurant, then map door-to-door directions to the restaurant, then get current traffic conditions). Okay, maybe it's not called an "action bar" - that's what we call ours - but it's cool. Nice job Apple!

Multimedia Content: iPhone will offer music, streaming video, podcasts, movies, YouTube and more. Nobody does multimedia better than Apple, and dedicated applications are the best way to deliver these services.

Despite its engineering and design capabilities, Apple still needs to address a number of key issues:

iPhone Mobile Gotcha's

Cellular Internet Trap: Sure, the Safari mobile browser may be the best mobile browser ever. But unless users are near a WiFi hotspot, Safari doesn't solve the fundamental problem facing Apple - and everyone else - namely, every click is a connection over the cellular Internet. Worse, the iPhone uses AT&T's slower EDGE network rather than a 3G network. While the slow speeds are not Apple's fault, they reflect poorly on Apple's brand - making the quick-click widgets an even more important part of the iPhone experience.

Keypad Data Entry: Apple's gone out of its way to simplify data entry, but users browsing the Web on an iPhone will still wind up tapping in URLs on the touch screen keypad. Related concerns are the screen's user-friendliness and scratch resistance. Touch screens have, historically, proved to be good in concept but often flawed in execution.

Limited Widget Integration: Beyond its PIM integration, widget integration on the iPhone is limited. For example, after looking up a city's weather in the weather widget, that city should appear for mapping in the map widget. It should, but it doesn't. Similarly, the widgets could be beefed up with more offline content options, letting consumers narrow down their search criteria offline rather than connecting to the network every step of the way.

Third-Party Apathy? Apple may limit third-party developers to building browser-based applications. Why not offer a Software Development Kit (SDK) and encourage third parties to contribute to the users' experience? Obviously, Apple has been paying attention to third-party developers to see what was and wasn't working in mobile. Shutting them out now is clearly a mistake.

iPhone's Future

More than a product, the iPhone is an event in the mobile applications industry. In that capacity, the success of the iPhone means success for the market. The industry is holding its collective breath, waiting for feedback from iPhone users who immerse themselves in the Apple-branded experience. When the product reviews come in, expect to see all the major brands looking for ways to replicate Apple's on-device mobile applications experience. While Apple may be late to the mobile application party, there is no question they came to the party with a credible offering.

Widgets set the iPhone apart, and they will be key to the iPhone user experience.
Dassault Pushes 3D Into the Mainstream

Dassault Pushes 3D Into the Mainstream

3D as a universally-accepted communications tool? That’s been the stated goal of CAD and PLM vendor Dassault Systems and one it’s been hammering away on the last few months.

Along with its usual work providing tools for the high-end engineering sandbox, Dassault has been launching a steady stream of products and forging partnerships to make 3D an accessible and understandable way for the mainstream to communicate, cultivate product ideas as well as trade IP assets. The latest in Dassault’s efforts is 3DVIA, a destination site where companies will be able to create and initiate 3D online experiences to “improve our living spaces and the products we use daily,” explained Dassault CEO Bernard Charles, in a press release.

The first 3DVIA services, which will be made available later this year, will empower both the professional and consumer communities to invent and create objects in 3D, share them and facilitate a host of interactive experiences in the medium. As one of its first forays, Dassault is touting SupplierSource, a professional online community that connects designers and suppliers, helping suppliers generate leads and promote products, while allowing engineers to find new suppliers and streamline the RFQ process.

Dassault also announced several partnerships related to 3DVIA. It’s teamed up with REALVIZ and Allegorithmic which will integrate their respective 3D image-based modeling software and texturing capabilities into the environment to facilitate the creation of lifelike environments and experiences. The company also expanded its partnership with Microsoft to integrate its exact 3D modeling capabilities with Microsoft’s Virtual Earth integrated 3D imagery and mapping services for professionals.

Finally, Dassault also took steps to push its vision of 3D beyond engineering to the marketing world. The company teamed up with the France-based Publicis Groupe advertising and media conglomerate to create 3dswym, a joint venture company that will offer a collaborative Web-based platform that leverages 3D to allow marketers to engage customers in an interactive experience at the earliest stages of the product creation process.