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Articles from 2015 In June


10 US State Engineering Facts You Probably Don’t Know: New Mexico - South Carolina

From California to the New York island -- as the song goes -- here is the fourth installment (New Mexico through South Carolina) of our five-installment 50-state slideshow, which will culminate on July 2.

Click here for the first 10-state installment (Alabama through Georgia).

Click here for the second 10-state installment (Hawaii through Maryland).

Click here for the third 10-state installment (Massachusetts through New Jersey). Check back on Design News as we close in on 50!

Of course, with a limited amount of space, we surely will miss many interesting state engineering facts and tidbits, so if you know any, add them in the comments!

Click the image below to start the slideshow.

When it comes to science, New Mexico is perhaps most famous for the invention of the atomic bomb at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but there was something perhaps just as important developed during nuclear research: the Monte Carlo method of computational algorithms, which is still used widely today in simulations in areas like physics, space, and oil exploration, and business risk calculation. Stanislaw Ulam invented the modern version of the Monte Carlo method in the late 1940s, while he was a scientist at Los Alamos. In 1946, he and other physicists were doing research in radiation shielding and the distance that neutrons would travel through materials. They had the data for the average distance a neutron would travel in a substance before it collided with an atomic nucleus, and how much energy the neutron was likely to give off after a collision. But they still could not figure out their problem with conventional methods of computation and thus had to come up with a different way. The name itself is a reference to the Monte Carlo casino in the French city, where Ulam’s uncle would frequently gamble after borrowing money from relatives.
(Source: www.mathworks.com)

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Open-Source Code Can Be More Dangerous Than Useful

Open-Source Code Can Be More Dangerous Than Useful

Many software companies today, in a hurry to bring new products to market, rely heavily on open-source Java software components. Often, this means downloading open-source code from public repositories, where open-source developers share their components for others to use. One of the largest open-source repositories, the Central Repository, is managed by Sonatype, and that company has a message for software developers: Your open-source components may not be secure.

Last year alone, large software and financial services companies downloaded nearly a quarter-million components. According to Sonatype, about 15,000 of those components, or 7.5%, had known vulnerabilities.

Essentially, the software companies using these repositories without proper control procedures are building security and other flaws right into the solutions they're turning around and selling to customers. Picture that customer purchasing industrial control software (ICS) or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solutions and the scenario becomes a lot scarier.

It gets worse, according to Sonatype: Many of the software companies that have built insecurities right into their products wouldn't be able to tell which of their applications are affected by a known component flaw because of poor inventory practices.

Companies that host open-source repositories like the Central Repository do not quality check the components that are uploaded; they simply host them. It's up to open-source developers to ensure that what they're offering is free from flaws. Failing that, it's up to software developers using the components to ensure they're solid.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Industry Group Pushes for Free Open-Source Ethernet Standard for Machine Communications

According to Liam O'Murchu, senior security response researcher at Symantec, using open-source software is not risk-free, and developers need to take this into consideration when using it.

"There are a wide variety of vulnerabilities, and the exposure to these vulnerabilities depends on how the software is used," O'Murchu told Design News. "A recent high-profile vulnerability in open-source software was the Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL. Heartbleed allowed attackers to take full control of machines where the vulnerable software was deployed. Other vulnerabilities could allow attackers to steal information, take control, or crash machines where the open-source software is deployed."

One solution might be to skip using open-source components altogether, but for many developers, this simply isn't practical. Some open-source elements are quite ubiquitous due to their usefulness, specialization, and the difficultly involved in rewriting them from scratch.

Competition in the software industry often means that delays in products or version updates are simply unacceptable. The onus then falls on software developers using open-source content to ensure that what they're putting into branded products is clean and free of vulnerabilities and that they have created easy and effective ways to notify customers if problems are identified.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Is DIY Big Data the Next Big Thing?

"Developers need to be aware of what open-source software they've implemented and monitor those projects for notifications of vulnerabilities," O'Murchu told us. "They also need to have a plan in place to react to vulnerabilities found in these projects and deploy patches or updates."

Action plans are critical for ICS and SCADA makers in avoiding a repeat of Heartbleed, which affected solutions from high-profile companies that included Siemens and Innominate and led to a number of dangerous cyber attacks aimed at control systems, according to the ICS-CERT agency, part of the US Department of Homeland Security. When high-profile targets such as banks quickly patched the vulnerability, hackers turned to less obvious but equally tempting marks, and industrial systems remained vulnerable for weeks afterward.

Tracey Schelmetic graduated from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. and began her long career as a technology and science writer and editor at Appleton & Lange, the now-defunct medical publishing arm of Simon & Schuster. Later, as the editorial director of telecom trade journal Customer Interaction Solutions (today Customer magazine) she became a well-recognized voice in the contact center industry. Today, she is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing and technology, telecommunications, and enterprise software.

It's a Challenge, but Corporate Venturing Can Internalize New Technologies

It's a Challenge, but Corporate Venturing Can Internalize New Technologies

Large industrial firms are forming corporate venture units to fund and gain access to promising technologies from startup firms. According to research by Boston College management professor Thomas A. Chemmanur, such corporate venture capital (CVC) activity now accounts for 15% of overall venture capital investment.

A CV model gives a company a leg-up against the "not-invented-here" (NIH) syndrome -- the tendency to reject innovations coming from outside the firm. Even so, the transfer of intelligence and knowledge from the startup that's in the organizational fold to the mother enterprise is challenging.

Funded startups are often physically remote from the parent company's R&D and business units. Cultural differences between the startup and parent can be an obstacle to technology transfer. And even a corporate-funded new product can provoke the natural "immune response" against NIH technologies.

The best corporate venture units form organizational structures for engaging the parent company's business and R&D units, educating them about the new technologies and products being developed by their startups.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Corporate Venturing Spurs Innovation, but the Fit Has to Be Right

A management consultant who worked within industrial giant 3M described in an interview how the company used him to build synergies across business units and expedite technology transfer and innovation initiatives:

"3M starts with a culture or a set of principles that says the business units own the market but says the company owns the technology."
"So the company might ask me to determine their overall capabilities in fire-retarding polymers. So I'd travel around the company to find people who are working on this and give the company an assessment of the capabilities."
"But at the same time, I've started building a network across the company around that technology and what the company is doing with it. Then you link these folks up electronically so they can work together on this stuff. If you're really good at that networking, then the technology really follows with the network."

Some organizations have even set up dedicated units and carefully designed organizational processes just to scout new technologies and integrate them into the fold.

The Central Intelligence Agency's venture unit, In-Q-Tel, includes a technology team made up of intelligence executives who understand the agency's workings and can foster technology adoption. For example, the unit has helped the CIA acquire technologies that were originally developed for detecting card-counters at casinos and adapt them to identify terrorists by their behavior.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Speeding Up the Move from Art to Part

The British telecommunications giant BT Group plc has a team of Innovation Scouts who operate globally, meeting with technology companies, venture capital firms, and BT suppliers. Each year, the Innovation Scouts team reviews hundreds of new technologies and narrows its focus down to some 50 of the most promising startups. Then, it makes presentations to BT's R&D and product development units for evaluation.

To test out the most promising technologies, an Advanced Technology Center (ATC) works with internal development groups, prototyping and validating the new technologies and then moving them from "blue-sky" status to commercialization -- or killing them if they do not prove to be viable.

Do corporate venture units at big companies do a better job than traditional independent VCs (IVCs) at bringing new technologies and products to life? Chemmanur says yes, based on his research that found that, before their IPOs, CVC-backed startup firms produced 25% more patents than those backed by IVCs and 45% more post-IPO patents.

Al Bredenberg is a writer, analyst, consultant, and communicator. He writes about technology, design, innovation, management, and sustainable business, and specializes in investigating and explaining complex topics. He holds a master's degree in organization and management from Antioch University New England. He has served as an editor for print and online content and currently serves as senior analyst at the Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations.

Learn to Build Raspberry Pi Controllers Using Python

Learn to Build Raspberry Pi Controllers Using Python

Raspberry Pi has become a popular entry door into the design and construction of electronic gadgets, whether toys or commercial products. Beginning July 6, the Design News Continuing Education Center will present a week-long set of free classes that cover the use of Raspberry Pi for building controllers that use Python. Classes will be held each day of the week beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern.

The Raspberry Pi is a user-friendly, credit-card-size, Linux-based computer that design engineers (and educators and makers) can use as a rapid development platform to design products for the consumer and industrial markets. Building Raspberry Pi Controllers with Python will offer an overview of the Raspberry Pi's architecture. This will be explained, along with a presentation of examples that illustrate the uses of Raspberry Pi, specifically in the context of the Python programming language.

The class will be taught by Don Wilcher -- known to many Design News readers as Dr. Don. He is a frequent speaker at the Design News Continuing Education Center and a passionate teacher of electronics technology. Wilcher has worked as an electrical engineer for 26 years -- on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules and systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 'Kano' DIY Computer to Inspire Girls in Pioneering STEM Program

Part of the attraction of Raspberry Pi is its ease-of-use, low cost, and open-source model. "The Raspberry Pi provides an opportunity to rapidly develop embedded controllers using a low-cost and powerful Linux-based computing platform," said Wilcher. "This course will provide information on how class participants can start to build sophisticated electronic controllers for such vertical markets as industrial, consumer, entertainment, and automotive industries."

Specifics covered in the course will include the use of Linux and Python. "Course content will provide information on how to use Linux commands to organize files and execute applications aided by the Python programming language," said Wilcher. "With the release of Windows 10 around the corner, makers, educators, design engineers, and hardware developers can prepare to use this low-cost computer in anticipation of the new Microsoft operating system."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Choosing the Right Hardware for Electronics Prototyping

Wilcher will also explain how Raspberry Pi can be deployed for a variety of hardware products. "Attendees will learn the Rapsberry Pi architecture as well as hardware applications such as robots, cellphones, or Internet radio," he said. "The users can include makers, educators, and design engineers."

Going further, the course will cover the more detailed aspects of Raspberry Pi and Python, from circuit analysis to RPi GPIO. "Attendees will learn how to program and build a circuit analysis calculator in Python," said Wilcher. "Other subjects will include how to control LEDs and read switch data using the RPi.GPIO (Raspberry Pi General Purpose Input/Output) library."

Registration is free, and each class will run a hour -- Monday, July 6 through Friday, July 10. Register here.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.

Paralyzed IndyCar Driver Uses Sip, Puff, and Yaw to Drive Again

Paralyzed IndyCar Driver Uses Sip, Puff, and Yaw to Drive Again

When IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt lost of the use of his arms and legs after a racing accident 15 years ago, he thought he would never drive again.

Earlier this year, however, Schmidt did the seemingly impossible -- opening the qualifying rounds at Indy by driving a modified Corvette C7 Stingray around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For Schmidt, who raced motorcycles before he even rode a bicycle, it was a triumph of the spirit. "Even more than the loss of the use of my limbs, (the accident) stole my identity as a professional race car driver," Schmidt told an audience of about 1,500 engineers at the recent Freescale Technology Forum (FTF). "So I put it behind me and figured it was something I would never do again."

But after nine months of intense work on the Corvette by a team of engineers, Schmidt hit speeds of more than 100 mph in May. He steered the car by turning his head, accelerated by puffing on an air tube, and braked by sipping on the tube. "The great thing about it is how normal and intuitive it is," Schmidt said.

Click on the image of the modified car below to start the slideshow.

To make that happen, engineers from Arrow Electronics Inc. created an electronic vehicle control system unlike anything that had ever been seen on a race track. The system's signal chain begins with a hat containing nine infrared reflectors. Cameras positioned around the vehicle's cockpit "see" the light bouncing off the hat's reflectors, and send data to a computer that does a point cloud calculation to determine yaw movements of Schmidt's head.

At the same time, the vehicle's computers watch inputs from a "sip-and-puff" tube. When Schmidt blows or sucks on the tube, a Freescale pressure sensor measures the change in pressure. Data from the sensor then travels to a Freescale i.MX 6 processor, which sends commands to actuators that operate the steering wheel, throttle, and brakes.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Slideshow: Sights, Sounds of an IndyCar Race

"The guidance computer takes the data from a GPS system, head-angle system, and sip-and-puff system, and sends output commands to the CAN bus," Arrow engineer William Pickard told Design News. "The commands then go to the servo systems that control the car."

At FTF, attendees were able to "drive" a simulator, complete with hat and sip-and-puff tube, which mimicked the operation of Schmidt's "SAM car." As of late in the show, however, no one was able to come close to matching Schmidt's times.

For Schmidt, who rode in his first Motocross race at age 5, the new control system brings back an important part of his life. Eventually, he even hopes to use the technology to regain his driver's license.

"Watching Sam take this car around the track will give you goosebumps," Arrow Electronics CEO Mike Long said. "He's going so fast, and you know he's reliving his dream."

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. For Design News, he has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos. He wrote his first article about electric cars in 1988.

Paralyzed IndyCar Driver Uses Sip, Puff, and Yaw to Drive Again

Paralyzed IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt steers this modified Corvette C7 Stingray by turning his head. He accelerates by puffing on an air tube and brakes by sipping on the tube. <br> (Source: Design News)

When IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt lost of the use of his arms and legs after a racing accident 15 years ago, he thought he would never drive again.

Earlier this year, however, Schmidt did the seemingly impossible -- opening the qualifying rounds at Indy by driving a modified Corvette C7 Stingray around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For Schmidt, who raced motorcycles before he even rode a bicycle, it was a triumph of the spirit. "Even more than the loss of the use of my limbs, (the accident) stole my identity as a professional race car driver," Schmidt told an audience of about 1,500 engineers at the recent Freescale Technology Forum (FTF). "So I put it behind me and figured it was something I would never do again."

But after nine months of intense work on the Corvette by a team of engineers, Schmidt hit speeds of more than 100 mph in May. He steered the car by turning his head, accelerated by puffing on an air tube, and braked by sipping on the tube. "The great thing about it is how normal and intuitive it is," Schmidt said.

Click on the image of the modified car below to start the slideshow.

To make that happen, engineers from Arrow Electronics Inc. created an electronic vehicle control system unlike anything that had ever been seen on a race track. The system's signal chain begins with a hat containing nine infrared reflectors. Cameras positioned around the vehicle's cockpit "see" the light bouncing off the hat's reflectors, and send data to a computer that does a point cloud calculation to determine yaw movements of Schmidt's head.

At the same time, the vehicle's computers watch inputs from a "sip-and-puff" tube. When Schmidt blows or sucks on the tube, a Freescale pressure sensor measures the change in pressure. Data from the sensor then travels to a Freescale i.MX 6 processor, which sends commands to actuators that operate the steering wheel, throttle, and brakes.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Slideshow: Sights, Sounds of an IndyCar Race

"The guidance computer takes the data from a GPS system, head-angle system, and sip-and-puff system, and sends output commands to the CAN bus," Arrow engineer William Pickard told Design News. "The commands then go to the servo systems that control the car."

At FTF, attendees were able to "drive" a simulator, complete with hat and sip-and-puff tube, which mimicked the operation of Schmidt's "SAM car." As of late in the show, however, no one was able to come close to matching Schmidt's times.

For Schmidt, who rode in his first Motocross race at age 5, the new control system brings back an important part of his life. Eventually, he even hopes to use the technology to regain his driver's license.

"Watching Sam take this car around the track will give you goosebumps," Arrow Electronics CEO Mike Long said. "He's going so fast, and you know he's reliving his dream."

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. For Design News, he has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos. He wrote his first article about electric cars in 1988.

IoT: to DIY or Not to DIY

IoT: to DIY or Not to DIY

While that headline looks like acronym madness, what it really asks is whether you have to do it yourself (DIY) when it comes to the Internet of Things. The pressure is on for manufacturers -- both industrial and consumer -- to make their products connected. Samsung's CEO, BK Yoon, proclaimed that by 2020 all the company's products will be Internet connected.

Last week Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, declared that all tech companies will have to become software companies. The idea is that the ability to manage data from products will make or break manufacturers going forward.

The IoT has arrived with the bluster and sky-high promises of the Dot-com era, and it shares a big question with that rush of new technology. Do you do it yourself or job it out to a service company? For many companies, the first instinct is to build a custom solution from the ground up, just as companies forged into website building early on. That solution requires R&D, testing, data management, and a sound security plan. Immelt suggests that's part of doing business in the Big Data era.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Is DIY Big Data the Next Big Thing?

Other companies are turning to service companies to ramp up IoT quick and dirty. One service company, Arrayent, offers a cloud-based out-of-the-box IoT platform and operating system. These service companies tend to fall into two categories, one for consumer products (such as Arrayent) and one for industry (such as PTC's LiveWorx).

The Arrayent Connect Platform was developed to help consumer product companies such as Whirlpool. "Almost every company making physical things has to think about how connectivity plays in their products," Shane Dyer, CEO of Arrayent, told Design News. "If you're a thermostat manufacturer and you're not making connected thermostats, you're out of business."

Dyer emphasized that the trend toward IoT connectivity came on fast, which left manufacturers scrambling. "Two years ago, IoT was stuck in R&D as a division. That shifted quickly," he said. "Now IoT has become a department in the C suite. Companies are trying to see how they play in this new world. It's like the Internet in 1998. They know they have to do it or be left behind."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: The Internet of Things Isn't Waiting for Standards

The question of whether to DIY on IoT is both philosophical and practical. What is your core business? To make washing machines or run a data connectivity platform? GE's Immelt suggests the answer is both. Yet many companies are not prepared to launch a major data management initiative. "In this environment, there is a question of whether the company's core competency is with the product or with worldwide cloud connectivity," said Dyer. "Is your competency in creating communication software that lets customers know if they've left their stove on -- if you're Whirlpool -- or if the garage door is open -- if you make garage door openers?"

Dyer asks whether companies are prepared to build the infrastructure from scratch. "Are you going to start an R&D group and hire all kinds of engineers who are skilled in running services that connect hundreds of thousands or millions of objects?" he asked. "One of our lighting customers was able to put devices on shelves in 30 markets in five months because they used a platform."

The management of data is implicit in the IoT. Creating the hardware connections may be the easiest part. The difficulty may lie in the ability to use the incoming data in an effective way to bring customers closer and improve products. "The data can help companies make better decisions. That's the number one reason for the IoT," said Dyer. "The stream of data from devices in the field is a fire hose, and you need tools to understand it."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Why Billions of IoT Devices Become Billions of Security Vulnerabilities

Security is another major issue. Whether companies develop their own IoT platform or use service companies with existing platforms, security is a world of dangers. "With almost every connected product you have to think about the security of the devices," said Dyer. "The biggest danger is that early software may overlook security that can damage the brand. We go through five or six security audits to make sure the core system is protected."

The solutions that came out of the Dot-com era were mixed. Some companies jobbed out their web services while others such as Wal-Mart became Internet experts. Relying on the wrong web services company can be trouble -- the disastrous roll-out of the Affordable Care Act is a famous recent example. Yet the DIY route may require a deep investment in technology expertise, and that could make a service platform look attractive.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.

Wearables Get Moody With the GSR Sensor

Wearables Get Moody With the GSR Sensor

Wearables are changing the way we see ourselves. With onboard sensors that have access to our bodies, we are starting to know our physical selves like never before, quantifying our activity, our heart rate, breathing, and even our muscle effort. But we are much more than just a physical machine, driven also by emotion, which is something wearable companies are beginning to measure and give insight into with the use of sensors such as the GSR.

The GSR sensor measures the electrical characteristics or conductance of your skin, looking specifically at your sweat to determine your arousal state. The higher the conductancy, the higher your arousal. This information can then be used to determine things like your stress level or emotional state. The GSR is actually one component of the modern day polygraph or lie detector test and is usually combined with heart rate, respiratory, and blood pressure to produce results.

GSR is beginning to make its way to the masses in some of the latest wearables to hit the market, including Jawbone's UP3 and Microsoft's Microsoft Band. The Microsoft Band measures the conductivity of its wearer's skin to determine stress level. The measurement occurs between the GSR sensor under the clasp and the secondary GSR contact point under the face of the band and the data is sent through to the Microsoft Health app.

The GSR sensor is also giving new life to the mood ring. A Finnish startup called Moodmetric has developed a ring of the same name equipped with the sensor to measure a user's emotional reactions throughout the day. The ring sends real-time information to the Moodmetric smartphone app via Bluetooth, giving users instant feedback on their mood and emotional levels as well as exercise tips to help them calm down if they find themselves overly charged.

But the use of GSR to measure your emotional state doesn't always need to be a private exercise. California wearable startup Sensoree has developed the GER mood sweater, which uses this sensor to allow user's to show how they are feeling by changing the color of the garment -- it gives new meaning to "wearing your heart on your sleeve." The GER (Galvanic Extimacy Responder) sweater uses the information gathered from the GSR sensors worn on the hands to change the color of the LED lights in the sweater's cowl to match the mood of the wearer. The goal of the smart clothing, according to the startup, is to "externalize intimacy" by showing emotion as a color on the garment: green as tranquil, purple as ruffled or aroused, red as nervous, yellow as ecstatic and blissful, and so on.

Just as steps have given us the data to help us make better decisions about our physical activity, the GSR sensor will begin to present data for us to use in order to make better choices to reduce the stress in our lives. Understanding which environmental conditions or actions are making you anxious or unhappy can be a powerful first step in helping to make a change for the better. It is early days for the use of the GSR sensor for the masses but it is definitely one sensor to watch as wearable adoption grows.

Tom Emrich writes about emerging technology including wearable tech, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things for many technology, lifestyle, and news publications. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for Designers of Things, Senior Editor at BetaKit, and the wearables writer for MobileSyrup. Tom's writing covers launch announcements, funding news, hands-on device reviews, industry analysis, and editorial.

Toxic Substances Reform Law: It's a Good Thing, and Maybe Also an Expensive Thing

Toxic Substances Reform Law: It&#039;s a Good Thing, and Maybe Also an Expensive Thing

Last week, the bill for reforming chemical regulation, the "TSCA Modernization Act of 2015," was passed by the US House of Representatives. It's been widely hailed as the most important legislation for the chemical industry since the 1990 Clean Air Act. A similar bill in the Senate, S-697, awaits a vote. If either becomes law, the effects on cost and availability of adhesives and plastics incorporating these substances are not yet clear.

The original Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976, authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to classify and regulate chemicals used in commerce, to ensure that products made with them are safe for their intended use. Why is reform needed? It's complicated, and includes increases in the number of new substances and in trade between states, plus a lack of consistent funding and advances in science and technology.

In a recent report the EPA says managing chemical risks is one of its major management challenges for 2015. The agency's three-part strategy for addressing possible risks from existing chemicals is identifying chemicals for risk assessment and taking action, ongoing programs to increase the industry's move toward using safer chemicals, and increasing public access to data on chemicals. The EPA has been concerned about reforming chemical management legislation for some time. In 2009, it published a list of guiding principles for reform including scientific risk-based assessment for safety standards, getting enough information from chemical manufacturers, being able to identify and act on priority chemicals, and getting a sustained source of funding including fees from manufacturers.

A lack of resources has made it difficult for the EPA to move very quickly through assessments in its existing chemicals program, Dow Chemical's director of product sustainability and compliance, Connie Deford, told Design News. "The reformed TSCA would position EPA to have more resources, which could come from fees," she said. "One impact is that manufacturers and importers would pay fees to EPA for doing these assessments. We believe much of the information the EPA needs to do safety assessments under a reformed TSCA is already largely available, because programs in Europe have generated a lot of data." Europe's REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) has been the foundation of pulling all this data together, Deford told us. However, there may be specialty materials, or materials not sold or made in Europe but only in the US, that would need generation of additional toxicology data.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Multi-Materials Auto Adhesive Cures Faster & Cooler

The House Energy & Commerce Committee's fact sheet on the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 says the existing TSCA has proven to be inadequate in providing protections and in facilitating the manufacturing and use of chemicals in the US. "This is particularly true today, in the face of industry advancements and increased interstate commerce," it says. A summary of why the reform bill is needed made by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) says "... the regulatory landscape and marketplace have become fractured and contradictory in some cases. After decades of implementation, it has become apparent that TSCA needs updating to reflect advances in science and technology, as well as today's public expectations of vigorous government oversight."

In Europe, chemical legislation started earlier and is further along, including positive and negative effects. The first attempts at classifying chemicals in Europe occurred in 1967, Patrick Blanke, chemistry compliance manager for adhesives maker DELO, told us. That legislation was renewed during the 1980s, and the most recent European legislation was REACH in 2006. "Each time, the approach to chemicals legislation has changed a bit" he said. "First, we looked at and classified existing chemicals. Then in the 1980s we found out about new substances that must be registered. REACH doesn't distinguish between old and new substances: now we need more information about all substances, and many are already known."

Although chemicals legislation is needed to protect health and the environment there can be drawbacks, such as limited availability for products made from substances deemed dangerous, as well as additional costs and extended lead times from testing and registration requirements, said Blanke. Alternative methods can sometimes be found to approach an attachment problem, such as using fasteners. "But that doesn't always work, for example with very small parts in consumer electronics or with composites in automotive or aerospace applications," he said. "So sometimes a restricted chemical's performance can't be equaled."

Beats by Dre Teardown: Weak Engineering Meets Strong Marketing

Beats by Dre Teardown: Weak Engineering Meets Strong Marketing

Since first rolling out in 2008, Beats by Dre headphones have become to headphones what the Air Jordan is to shoes.

But here's the thing. While the fashion-conscious public is all over these things, the general consensus among the tech-savvy is that they just aren't that good. Reviews as to the actual sound quality vary, but everyone agrees that the headphones are grossly overpriced given the technology they offer. Depending on the model you want, a pair of the flagship headphones will run you anywhere from $199 to $599.

There's even a sense that people think hip hop producer Andre "Dr. Dre" Young actually created and built the headphones. That honor actually goes to Noel Lee, the CEO of Monster -- a high-end audio cable company, who is currently involved in a lawsuit with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope records, over his share of the $3 billion that Apple paid to acquire the headphones last year.

So how does a pair of not-so-great headphones create a billion-dollar enterprise? A product teardown on Medium.com dug into the guts of the Beats by Dre headphones and revealed the product is even more cheaply made than some originally thought.

Popularity aside, what's really fascinating about the headphones is that they sit at a intersection where clever design and engineering shortcuts meet slick marketing.

Here's the most surprising thing about the teardown: There are parts of Beats by Dre headphones that don't even do anything! Recognizing that consumers associate the weight of an electronic product with quality, the manufacturer has deliberately added four metal parts (two are cast zinc) solely for the purpose of making the headphones heavier. In fact, these four pieces alone contribute to 30% of the headphone's weight, according to the teardown.

As the author writes:

"The brilliant thing here is that the two large metal parts are not mirror images of each other -- they are actually the same part! This means that only one tool would need to be made to produce both parts, which saves money in tool design and number of tools. It also makes the headphones easier to assemble, since there are fewer unique parts."

The manufacturer also cut costs by making nearly every part out of injection-molded plastic and then gluing everything together rather than using screws.

True to the suspicions of audiophiles, the teardown finds that the audio drivers inside of Beats headphones are just generic -- and likely not doing as much for the bass and sound quality as the marketing department would have you believe. The audio components don't even have the highest tooling costs of all the headphone's parts. That distinction goes to the headband.

The author even does a cost of goods sold (COGS) estimate on the headphones. Want to take a guess at how much Beats by Dre are estimated to cost?

$16.89.

That's right, minus labor and shipping, Beats is selling its headphones at an over 1000% markup. Just goes to show you how much weight a celebrity name can carry for a product.

Are you impressed by Beats' engineering tricks? Let us know in the comments section below.

How It’s Made Series: Beats By Dre | Medium.com

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News