Design News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Sitemap


Articles from 2014 In July


Great Film & TV Robots of the Early 1990s

Great Film & TV Robots of the Early 1990s

Robots were so plentiful on the big screen during the 1990s, we had to break the decade into two slideshows. The first runs through 1994 and includes classics such as Terminator 2, Alien 3, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

With this collection, the debate intensifies on just what is considered a robot. How about an android? Is a part-human, part-machine concoction a robot? How about Edward Scissorhands, a creature cobbled together a la Frankenstein's monster? We took the wide view, giving you the whole range and letting you decide whether the movie depicts a robot or some other kind of manmade contraption.

Click the image below to see some of our favorite 90s robots.

Related posts:

Solar-Powered Smart Bench Charges Phones, Connects to WiFi

Solar-Powered Smart Bench Charges Phones, Connects to WiFi

People have come to depend more and more on their smartphones, using them heavily throughout the day to stay in touch and browse the Web. But smartphone batteries haven't necessarily lived up to this demand and often lose battery life throughout the day, sometimes in places without access to a power source.

Three entrepreneurial women -- two out of the MIT Media Lab -- have come up with an answer to this problem in the form of Soofa, a solar-powered, smart bench that offers mobile device charging, among other services.

Soofa is the brainchild of MIT's Nan Zhao and Sandra Richter, as well as Jutta Friedrichs of Harvard University, who formed Changing Environments to create the bench and other types of urban furniture to create smarter cities.

"There is a lot of talk about smart cities, but most 'smartness' is developed for the home or for personal devices," co-founder Friedrichs told Design News in an interview. "We wanted to upgrade the urban environment. New functions and more performance are added to smart phones everyday so that we can become more mobile with all information at our hands at all times. But this also means that we are constantly running out of battery. Soofa provides an urban charging hub where people can charge their devices while resting and meeting new people."

Soofa is a solar-powered bench with a several services for the busy urbanite, and is the first product from Changing Environments. In addition to offering charging stations for mobile devices, the bench also provides location-based information like air quality and noise levels through sensors that take readings and then upload data to Soofa website.

This latter recording of environmental data looks to be becoming a bit of a trend in cities. Chicago, for example, is testing the installation of sensors in streetlamps that take similar data and even log how many people pass through certain areas of the city based on mobile phone traffic.

Soofa uses Verizon's 4G LTE network for its wireless connection and to send data through a Verizon Innovation Program partnership Changing Environments has with the wireless carrier.

The Soofa bench looks fairly standard except for a solar-panel stand with two ports for charging devices. A video on YouTube gives a brief demonstration of how the bench works.

There are a few Soofas that have currently been deployed, and the company is taking orders for new ones. The primary installation is in the Boston area, both in the city itself in the Boston Common and in nearby Cambridge on the MIT campus.

"The Soofas have been very successful from the first day of installation, with an average of 17 people charging for 12 hours per bench per day," Friedrichs said.

A Soofa even made it to the White House for the White House Maker Faire in June, and President Obama used the bench to charge his phone.

The company is currently looking at placing Soofas in two new Boston locations from 400 suggestions received by the public, she said, and is also talking with other cities, which should have Soofas by early next year. After that, Changing Environments plans to send Soofas overseas.

Related posts:

Video: Sciaky to Sell Its Huge Metals 3D Printers

Video: Sciaky to Sell Its Huge Metals 3D Printers

Sciaky, providers of electron-beam additive manufacturing (EBAM) services, says it will start selling these machines commercially in September. The company has used its EBAM 3D printing technology for making very large, high-value, metal prototypes and production parts for aerospace and defense OEMs.

Until recently, Sciaky had kept the EBAM process, which it dubbed "direct manufacturing," in-house and operated its machines as a service to the military and Tier 1 contractors, including DARPA, the US Air Force, Lockheed, and Boeing, among others. The term "direct manufacturing" is often used to describe an additive manufacturing (AM) process that makes net or near-net metal production-worthy parts.

As we told you last year, Sciaky's AM metals technology combines an electron beam welding gun with wirefeed additive layering. This method can make parts as large as 19 x 4 x 4 ft, such as an entire wing box for a jet fighter plane. It's used for making parts from high-value metals such as tantalum, titanium, Inconel, and stainless steel. To ensure consistency and repeatability, an adaptive, closed-loop control system automatically maintains key process variables throughout a part's build process.

In Sciaky's EBAM system, a fully articulated, movable electron-beam wirefeed welding gun deposits metal layers on a substrate plate. Depending on the part, deposition rates are from 7 to 20 lbs per hour, or up to 40 lbs per hour depending on the material, according to a data sheet you can download here. Deposition rates are faster than deposition of the very fine layers in powder metal beds commonly used in selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing methods. The process makes near-net shapes, which require only a small amount of post-production machining.

Sciaky promotes the use of EBAM systems for making high-value prototypes and production parts, as well as for repairing parts and making replacement parts in the field. The company also provides electron beam welding services, as well as arc welding and resistance welding.

Related posts:

The Power of CFD Simulation Early in Product Design

The Power of CFD Simulation Early in Product Design

The pressure is continuously on for today's manufacturers to design innovative products with less cost of development and quicker time to market; this pace of product innovation is a primary contributor to overall profits and marketshare. At the same time, product designers and engineers are challenged with increasing product complexity, in addition to the demand from management to reduce costs and to create products in less time with fewer physical prototypes.

Engineering analysis specialists historically have been responsible for validation during the design phase. However, as the pressure for faster product development increases, designers and product engineers cannot wait for the specialist's analysis because they need to know that their designs are progressing in a valid direction much earlier in the design phase, with iterations throughout the process.

CFD earlier in the product design phase
Complex mechanical and electro-mechanical products increasingly require an understanding of cooling, hydraulics, and other fluid-flow issues. Performing comprehensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyses is crucial to ensuring that complex mechanical and electro-mechanical products perform as required.

CFD analysis historically has been complex, requiring CFD expertise to set up and run valid analyses. Many computer-based solutions that support CFD were created for the experts and were not easy to use for product designers and engineers. But today, CFD setup and analysis needs to be guided and automated so that product developers also can perform CFD analyses.

Such a CFD solution was developed for designers of mechanical systems as well as electro-mechanical products with the aim that it should be easily accessible to non-specialist engineers within their familiar mechanical CAD (MCAD) environment. The Mentor Graphics FloEFD software is integrated within several MCAD programs and provides guidance so that engineers who are not CFD specialists can perform fluid flow, cooling, and other analyses as part of their design process and, most importantly, within their product design tool.

The tool automates the most onerous and complex CFD preprocessing steps that used to require a trained specialist. Some of these complex steps include preparing the geometry for analysis and defining the fluid volume or creating a mesh. Meshing takes minutes rather than hours of iterating back and forth. This automation also means that product designers can run a succession of ideas on a design without risking the project deadline, typically reducing simulation time by as much as 65% to 75% compared to traditional CFD tools.

The CFD software also makes it relatively easy to conduct "what-if" tests. Product designers can create multiple variations by modifying a solid model, which can then be analyzed without having to reapply loads, boundary conditions, and material properties, for example. The results can then be compared among the many design options to choose the best possible one.

This type of tool enables product designers to accelerate key decisions at their workstations as they experiment with design scenarios and as they hone in on the best, most efficient, reliable, and cost-effective design. This intuitive "virtual prototyping" process allows designers to optimize a product during the design stages, with that first physical prototype often being the design that goes into final manufacturing, delivering the best design at lower cost (because of fewer physical prototypes), and getting it to market faster than ever before.

The Power of CFD Simulation Early in Product Design

Figure 1. Custom valves created at Bucher Hydraulics. <br> (Source: Bucher Hydraulics)

The pressure is continuously on for today's manufacturers to design innovative products with less cost of development and quicker time to market; this pace of product innovation is a primary contributor to overall profits and marketshare. At the same time, product designers and engineers are challenged with increasing product complexity, in addition to the demand from management to reduce costs and to create products in less time with fewer physical prototypes.

Engineering analysis specialists historically have been responsible for validation during the design phase. However, as the pressure for faster product development increases, designers and product engineers cannot wait for the specialist's analysis because they need to know that their designs are progressing in a valid direction much earlier in the design phase, with iterations throughout the process.

CFD earlier in the product design phase
Complex mechanical and electro-mechanical products increasingly require an understanding of cooling, hydraulics, and other fluid-flow issues. Performing comprehensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyses is crucial to ensuring that complex mechanical and electro-mechanical products perform as required.

CFD analysis historically has been complex, requiring CFD expertise to set up and run valid analyses. Many computer-based solutions that support CFD were created for the experts and were not easy to use for product designers and engineers. But today, CFD setup and analysis needs to be guided and automated so that product developers also can perform CFD analyses.

Such a CFD solution was developed for designers of mechanical systems as well as electro-mechanical products with the aim that it should be easily accessible to non-specialist engineers within their familiar mechanical CAD (MCAD) environment. The Mentor Graphics FloEFD software is integrated within several MCAD programs and provides guidance so that engineers who are not CFD specialists can perform fluid flow, cooling, and other analyses as part of their design process and, most importantly, within their product design tool.

The tool automates the most onerous and complex CFD preprocessing steps that used to require a trained specialist. Some of these complex steps include preparing the geometry for analysis and defining the fluid volume or creating a mesh. Meshing takes minutes rather than hours of iterating back and forth. This automation also means that product designers can run a succession of ideas on a design without risking the project deadline, typically reducing simulation time by as much as 65% to 75% compared to traditional CFD tools.

The CFD software also makes it relatively easy to conduct "what-if" tests. Product designers can create multiple variations by modifying a solid model, which can then be analyzed without having to reapply loads, boundary conditions, and material properties, for example. The results can then be compared among the many design options to choose the best possible one.

This type of tool enables product designers to accelerate key decisions at their workstations as they experiment with design scenarios and as they hone in on the best, most efficient, reliable, and cost-effective design. This intuitive "virtual prototyping" process allows designers to optimize a product during the design stages, with that first physical prototype often being the design that goes into final manufacturing, delivering the best design at lower cost (because of fewer physical prototypes), and getting it to market faster than ever before.

Made w/Code Initiative Trains Female Techies for Google's Ranks

Made w/Code Initiative Trains Female Techies for Google&#039;s Ranks

At this year's Google I/O, the spotlight was pointed on gender inequality in the high-tech industry. Google has established a new initiative -- Made w/Code -- that it hopes will level the playing field. Part of this initiative will fund online courses in basic coding. This funding will allow thousands of women to take three months of online coding courses for free at the Code School.

Google's Made w/Code initiative is attempting to inspire women, and even young girls, to enter the IT industry via courses and extra-curricula activities.

For those of you who don't know the stats on the number of females in the tech industry: it's about 25% in the IT field and 18% of computer science grads. Now, this is a marked improvement on previous decades where women were barely represented at all within the technology industry.

It is uncertain what difference this initiative will make as many women may opt to go into other tech-related fields, like graphic design, instead of IT. But whatever happens, at least everyone is being given a fair shot at these jobs.

Related posts:

Study: Autonomous Cars Headed for Massive Sales by 2035

Study: Autonomous Cars Headed for Massive Sales by 2035

Self-driving vehicle technology could grow rapidly over the next two decades, with nearly 95 million "autonomous-capable" cars being sold annually around the world by 2035, a new study predicts.

The study contends that the cars will still have steering wheels and pedals, but will be equipped with auto-pilot buttons that will allow them to take over at the driver's request. "You may have to pull your car out of your driveway and onto the main road," David Alexander, author and senior research analyst for Navigant Research, told Design News. "But once you're on the main road, you'll be able to push the button and have the car take you wherever you want to go."

The study, titled "Self-Driving Vehicles, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, and Autonomous Driving Features: Global Market Analysis and Forecasts," predicts that the first wave of autonomous-capable production vehicles will hit the streets in 2025. At that point, full autonomy will be reserved for luxury cars, largely because the feature may cost as much as $10,000.

"When you put it in a $90,000 car, it's not a big percentage of the overall cost," Alexander told us. "But as volume grows, cost will drop, and it will start to appear in other vehicles."

Alexander predicts that the autonomous vehicle market will grow rapidly after 2025. From 2025 to 2030, the worldwide number of such vehicles will rise from about 5 million to more than 45 million. Five years after that, it will hit 95 million. The biggest adopter of the technology will be the Asia/Pacific region, followed distantly by North America and Western Europe.

In the meantime, various "sub-levels" of autonomy will appear on roads around the world. Google has said it will begin testing a fleet of more than a hundred driverless cars later this year, but those cars will top out at just 25 mph and will likely see use in gated communities. Induct's Navia automated transport vehicles reached the market earlier in 2014, but are targeted mainly at airports and theme parks. Other limited forms of autonomy -- such as piloted modes -- will be rolled out by GM, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, among others, by 2020.

The remaining technical obstacles include weather, electronic malfunction, and unexpected road scenarios. In all cases, software will have to replace driver experience, says Alexander. "You can't pre-define every possible situation that could happen on the road. So you have to build in some intelligence that enables the vehicle to make good decisions."

For societies, autonomy could yield benefits. In the US, where annual traffic fatalities remain around the 30,000 per year, self-driving cars could significantly boost safety.

Still, liability looms as a potential game-breaker. Navigant's study concludes that for the market to grow, legislators will need to find ways to put limits on damages caused by autonomous vehicles. "They'll have to make sure there is extensive labeling, telling you that once you push the button, you take on some of the responsibility. Otherwise, if you leave all the responsibility to the OEM, it's unlikely that anyone will want to produce an autonomous vehicle."

Technologically, however, the vehicles are rapidly closing in on the goal. Even today, self-driving systems are capable of performing 80% to 90% of the necessary chores, Alexander told us. "The cost of sensors is dropping rapidly. It's getting to the point where it's reasonable to start fitting some of the sensors on today's vehicles."

Related posts:

Video: MIT Keeps You Warm While You Walk

Video: MIT Keeps You Warm While You Walk

Chicago winters are cold, very cold. I spend countless hours in my machine shop during that time, with no heat. When MIT released the news that heat could be "shot" at me directly, I was intrigued.

MIT's Senseable City Lab has concocted some pretty wild ideas this year, and it isn't slowing down. The lab's director, Carlo Ratti, recently announced the program's next big project: "Local Warming." The concept involves saving on energy by heating the occupants within a room, not the room itself.

The idea for the project began when Senseable City Lab researchers decided to find a way for large cities to decrease their ecological footprints. Heating a home is an energy-consuming process in itself, not to mention heating a huge office building. In fact, US office buildings account for roughly 20% of the nation's energy consumption. So what should we do?

Ratti said in a press release that a large office building can save big-time if it turns off its heat and turns on its Local Warming system, a network of Infrared heat lamps, mirrors, and motors that "shoots" heat at the occupants within a room. The result is a corporate lobby full of warm (and fascinated) prospects at a fraction of the heating cost.

The system is built upon a WiFi-based technology developed by the MIT's Center for Wireless Network and Mobile Computing. It allows the infrared bulbs to track the occupants of a room and blast them with warm light, in real-time. It works best in large rooms with a handful of occupants.

The City Lab hopes the concept greatly reduces energy-consumption nationwide. It may also be a game-changer for outdoor activities during the winter months. Since the system is based on infrared heat lamps, the installation can be mounted just about anywhere (yes, even inside Soldier Field during the pre-season).

Local Warming is definitely just a concept at this point, but it made its debut at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale. It will stay on display until November and serve as the Lab's first prototype. Visitors can stand at specific points in a room to initiate the lamps. From that point on, the lamps will follow them around the room, keeping them warm.

Ratti is debating whether to launch Local Warming within the consumer market, using smaller LED bulbs, or to keep the innovation as a concept. There's no word yet, but a little birdie tells us the MIT City Lab crew is also working on using a similar concept to keep room occupants cool. Good luck. Too bad there aren't cold lamps. What were you thinking, Edison?

Related posts:

Why Use Linux for Device Drivers?

Why Use Linux for Device Drivers?

The fun factor continues to draw developers to Linux. This open-source system continues to succeed in the market and in the hearts and minds of developers. The success of Linux is clearly a testament to its technical quality and to the numerous benefits of free software in general. But for many, the true key to its success lies in the fact that it has brought the fun back to computing.

One of the authors of the book Linux Device Drivers is quite clear about the fun aspects of playing with Linux. In the introduction to the book, Jonathan Corbet noted that, "The true key to the Linux success lies in the fact that it has brought the fun back to computing." Corbet insists that Linux is a system where technical excellence is king. "With Linux, anybody can get their hands into the system and play in a sandbox where contributions from any direction are welcome, but where technical excellence is valued above all else."

He also noted that Linux not only provides a top-quality operating system. It gives us the opportunity to be part of its future development and to have fun while we're at it.

Design News will delve into this territory with a Continuing Education Class beginning August 4 and running for an hour each day starting at 2:00 p.m. "Introduction to Linux Device Drivers" will cover Linux character device drivers, serial drivers using Linux, input device drivers with Linux OS, and Linux and block device drivers. Registration is free by clicking here.

The class will cover the basic aspects of the Linux kernel programming, and will differentiate between the kernel and user space. Instructor Khem Raj notes, "It's a well-known fact that there are certain norms to communicate between the kernel and user space." Hence, he'll cover the APIs needed to enable this communication. In addition, he will look at how to load and unload device drivers on running systems.

Khem Raj is an embedded Linux architect at Juniper Networks, a leading network equipment maker. His has hands-on product development experience in R&D and open-source software development. Khem is a member of the Advisory Board for Yocto Project, as well as the Technical Steering Committee for the OpenEmbedded project. He also maintains angstrom distribution and default distribution for the beagleboard.org family of devices.

Related posts:

Design Considerations for Maximizing Backplane Data Speeds

Design Considerations for Maximizing Backplane Data Speeds

Global data consumption has been increasing rapidly and is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. As the traditional Internet and the Internet of Things evolve and grow, the need for high-speed, high-density connectors grows with them. For example, new, flexible backplane solutions are needed to meet speed demands. Currently, users are demanding data rates from 25 Gbps to 40 Gbps, and 56 Gbps is on the horizon.

Not all backplanes are made alike, and they offer varied capabilities. System designers/architects that create networking, data center, storage, and other devices and systems need to understand key features -- such as required density, data-rate, slot pitch, and bandwidth -- that are used in individual chassis designs.

The most common design, a conventional backplane, uses a right-angle daughter card (RA DC) mated to vertical backplane headers. While this architecture is familiar to designers, compared to newer alternatives it requires longer routed channels and thicker substrates to meet signal density requirements and routing capabilities.

Longer routed channels have some benefits but also liabilities. They attenuate crosstalk (noise from adjacent channels) but cause greater insertion loss of the signals. The thicker substrates associated with conventional backplanes also present technical and commercial problems.

Thicker substrates require appropriate aspect ratios to control drill-hole locations with precision. Depending on the total substrate thickness and manufacturing process capabilities, a larger compliant pin may also be required to facilitate PCB fabrication. A larger compliant pin and its associated via diameter can cause a larger capacitive effect in the via structure, which can increase reflective loss in the channel. Back drilling (removing unused or unwanted PCB via stubs) may also be required to improve signal-integrity performance in the respective channel, and back drilling adds cost to PCB fabrication.

Backplane alternatives
All of these issues limit the ability of conventional backplanes to accommodate higher data speeds. As a result system designers are using several innovative solutions to resolve that issue, including the following.

The quad-route backplane is one solution. Some quad-route backplane connector solutions provide more column-to-column space than conventional designs. They enable the user to route four traces between the columns of vias by leveraging a 3-mm column-to-column pitch vs. the traditional, denser 1.9-mm pitch. This reduces the number of signal layers required to route the connector. Quad-route backplane solutions with 3-mm pitch provide lower crosstalk with a footprint that can produce robust signal-integrity performance. However, the increased pitch, which produces more spacing between wafers, means that fewer wafers can fit on a given card edge, reducing the connector linear density.

Another alternative, the coplanar backplane (right-angle male mating to right-angle daughtercard) supports various I/O protocols, enabling the use of pluggable modules. A coplanar backplane is essentially a bridge card; it provides a common interconnect for various blades, or line cards, that plug into the backplane. For example, some users may need to plug RJ45 blades into the backplane but other users, such as high-end data centers, may need faster data rates requiring a zQSFP type of I/O. On a coplanar backplane the user can change an Ethernet RJ45 connection to a SFP connection without unplugging anything from the backplane. This allows system designers to use existing backplane architectures while scaling to various I/O protocols, such as InfiniBand, Fibre Channel, and Ethernet.