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Articles from 2014 In August


Top 20 US Undergraduate Engineering Schools

University of California, Berkeley <br> (Source: Berkeley.edu)

Here are the top 20 undergraduate engineering schools in the US, based on a compilation of a number of rankings. We looked at the following listings and created a compilation based on averages:

  • The Times 2013-2014 Higher Education University Rankings for Engineering and Technology
  • US News and World Report's Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs
  • Engineering Monkey's 20 Best Engineering Schools in America
  • Business Insider's World's Best Engineering Schools

We believe the compilation process gives the best overall view of which schools come out on top. Some were obvious. The top three appeared in the top three of all lists. One potential outlier is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. While it only appeared on one of the lists, it was rated so highly on that list, it made it onto our top 20.

Check to see if your school showed up on the list, and tell us in the comments section below. In a future list, we'll look at the top graduate engineering programs.

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ASTM Proposes New Standards for Metal 3D Printing

ASTM Proposes New Standards for Metal 3D Printing

As we've often discussed, making high-quality end-production parts with additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D-printing methods will take some carefully defined standards and guidelines for machines and processes, materials, and printed parts. This is especially true for high-quality metal parts. The standards bodies are not standing still on this: They've already released a few and are working on others.

A new ASTM International working standard, WK46188, addresses powder bed fusion AM methods for metals. Titled "Practice for Metal Powder Bed Fusion to Meet Rigid Quality Requirements," it describes how powder bed fusion machines and processes can be operated, plus what production control methods need to be used, to meet the rigid quality standards of applications such as aerospace and medical. It's geared to developing the critical parameters needed for shifting processes originally developed to make prototypes, to become processes that can make safety-critical components for uses such as patient-specific medical implants and flight-worthy aircraft parts.

Like so many terms in 3D printing and AM, "powder bed fusion" can be defined in more than one way. The widest definition includes methods that use an electron beam or a laser to fuse, or melt, metal powders in a bed. AM types include electron beam melting, selective laser sintering, selective laser melting, and direct metal laser sintering. One of the handiest guides I've seen to 3D-printing/AM-processes can be found here.

The proposed ASTM standard will include requirements for both mechanical test specimens and final production parts, made with powder bed fusion methods that employ both laser and electron beam sources. The main target for WK46188 will be either Tier 1 and 2 suppliers setting up a facility for producing parts using powder bed fusion, or OEM engineers that can use these requirements as a guide for creating their own internal standards.

In July, ASTM released F3049, "Guide for Characterizing Properties of Metal Powders Used for Additive Manufacturing Processes." It's aimed at both users and makers of AM metal powders for high-performance applications like automotive, aerospace, and medical. A companion standard, WK43112, "Guide for Evaluating Mechanical Properties of Materials Made via Additive Manufacturing Processes," is in development.

Last fall, ASTM released the more specific F3001 that governs a version of Ti-6Al-4V: "Specification for Additive Manufacturing Titanium-6 Aluminum-4 Vanadium ELI (Extra Low Interstitial) With Powder Bed Fusion."

Another ASTM standard in development is WK40419, "Test Measurements for Performance Evaluation of Additive Manufacturing Systems Though Measurement of a Manufactured Test Piece." According to ASTM's description, WK40419 aims at developing a test method that describes "a benchmarking test piece along with quantitative and qualitative measurements to be taken on the benchmarking test piece to assess the performance of additive manufacturing (AM) systems. The benchmarking test piece is primarily used to quantitatively assess the geometric performance of an AM system."

Other efforts to standardize AM processes and materials include last fall's agreement between America Makes and ASTM to work together. Since America Makes has been pursuing parallel R&D all on its own, this memorandum of understanding makes a lot of sense. The agreement calls for America Makes to participate in the ASTM standards process for AM, which is currently being conducted by the standards body's Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies.

America Makes has been funding several projects for developing guidelines and knowledgebases for AM and 3D-printing processes and equipment, including qualification and certification. Many of these projects concern metal processes and aerospace applications. Optomec, for example, is involved in several America Makes projects. One of these focuses on developing knowledge bases of deposition parameters for Ti-6Al-4V and IN718 (Inconel) using the company's LENS metal 3D printing process.

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Video: Temporary Tats Harvest Energy from Sweat

Video: Temporary Tats Harvest Energy from Sweat

Temporary tattoos are usually fun entertainment for kids. But researchers in California have used them for quite another purpose -- to create a biobattery that can harvest energy from human sweat.

Engineers at the University of San Diego's (UCSD's) Jacobs School of Engineering have designed biobatteries on commercial tattoo paper, with an anode and cathode screenprinted on and modified to harvest energy from lactate in a person's sweat, Wenzhao Jia, a visiting professor at UCSD and one of the researchers on the project, told Design News.

The tattoos are transferred onto skin the same way as temporary tattoos, using the same kind of adhesive, Jia told us. Researchers developed the technology last year as a noninvasive way to monitor the pH and lactate content in athletes' sweat through a sensor that could be worn on the skin. "We want to develop a power source for biomedical devices including our sensors," he said. "Tattoos are flexible, easily transferred, and compliant to the skin."

Before this sensor was developed, it was complicated to measure a person's lactate. Blood would have to be drawn from someone during various intervals during a workout and then tested for the substance, which naturally occurs and increases when a person engages in cardiovascular activity.

As the UCSD team developed that technology, which required they remove electrons from lactate, they realized they were halfway to developing a battery. They proceeded to do that, and so the technology eventually segued into a biofuel cell. "Since we want to develop a non-invasive device for power generation, sweat lactate was used as the fuel for the tattoo biofuel cell," Jia explained. "The basic principle of the anode of the biofuel cell and the sweat lactate sensors are similar. So we developed a biosensor for sweat lactate monitoring, and a biofuel cell to generate power from sweat lactate."

To allow people to use the energy harvested from their own sweat to power external devices, researchers are developing a system with an integrated device to store the generated power, he told us.

This work, as well as the improvement of the biofuel cell to generate higher power that can provide energy for external devices, is the focus of continued research by the UCSD team to further develop the tattoos, Jia said.

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Medical Combination Pouching System

Medical Combination Pouching System

A medical pouching machine converts premade medical header bags and shaped pouches to exacting industry specifications at a rate of nearly 200 seals per minute using advanced automation controls. Precise control technology and rapid data management offers high precision for effective pouch converting for medical applications.

Key capabilities of the new system include support for real-time changes to sealing temperature, pressure, and dwell time, along with total management of real-time data for accurate adjustments. Recipe-based seal parameters help machine operators control complex variables to achieve better sealer force positioning accuracy and precision, along with enabling faster switchover between jobs.

Converting of medical packaging
For more than 30 years, CMD Corporation has designed and manufactured high-performance converting equipment for products from sturdy trash bags to produce bags. One of its most specialized and impressive systems is the PDI Medical Combination Pouch System, which converts a complete range of premade medical header bags and shaped pouches in a chevron or shaped seal configuration. The machine presses pieces of poly material together at specific temperatures for precisely determined lengths of time (dwell time) and with a downward sealing stroke 3-150 mm in length. Pouch sealing can be done in single or multiple lanes across the width of the machine at high speeds.

Increasingly stringent medical regulatory requirements are demanding not only quality pouches, but also complete specification and sealing data for documenting processes. Each seal has to be virtually perfect. To stay ahead of its competition, CMD needed to offer unique advantages: real-time process monitoring, complete data management, and controlling of all sealing parameters, primarily temperature, pressure, and dwell time. That would produce better weld quality and precision, optimum consistency and compliance with demanding specifications, and tighter control with fewer discrete components to monitor.

Implementing this concept would require basing machine control on actual data points, not just filtered or averaged data. Users would be able to optimize seal parameters whenever needed. Instant analysis of high-volume data was a must, because machine operators needed to know immediately if platen heat was uneven or dwell times a split second too short, requiring processes to be changed or shut down. High levels of accuracy and precision had to be maintained consistently across thousands of seals. CMD customers also needed minimal changeover times between jobs as production demanded.

Meeting these requirements would mean the new generation PDI pouch converting systems would need to be designed with controls to give CMD a performance advantage in this demanding market. Data management improvements required giving the pouch manufacturer more complete control over sealing parameters. CMD worked with the machine components distributor CMA/Flodyne/Hydradyne and the automation controls supplier Bosch Rexroth for drive and control components, engineering support, and machine logic control programming assistance.

Recipe-based programming
Data is interpreted instantly and converted into a set of sealing parameters called a "recipe" for creating the seal. Recipe-based programming at the operator panel ensures precise control of customer-specific converting requirements each time a job is changed. The control and quality assurance of recipe-based operating parameters is required for the demanding medical pouch industry, because the difference between a good seal and a rejected one can be measured in microseconds.

"The operator can flag out-of-spec seals and make adjustments on the spot," Scott Fuller, CMD's intermittent motion product line manager, said in a Bosch Rexroth case study. "That can mean the difference between throwing away a few pouches and losing an entire truckload."

Rexroth software made changeovers between jobs easy. Instead of adjusting mechanical components like cams, the operator can quickly and easily make those changes at an HMI terminal. To transform better data into optimum control, the machine's hardware was upgraded, as well. CMD used Rexroth's IndraDrive Mi integrated servo motor/drive platform and IndraDrive C converters, which blend inverter and power supply in a single unit. These were combined with IndraDyn MSK servomotors, allowing comprehensive and responsive control in a compact space with less cabling.

"The IndraDrive Mi's integrated design allowed us to minimize control cable runs and reduce the overall footprint of the controls system," Brad Brown, CMAFH sales engineer, said in the case study. "We could get complete control in a relatively small package."

Renovo Hypes Electric Supercar

A Silicon Valley company has made the biggest splash yet in the high-performance end of the electric car market by announcing a new EV that zips from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and costs $529,000.

With its new 500-HP Coupe, Renovo Motors plans to target an elite group of consumers who may even be more upscale than those buying Teslas. "This is a great fit for EVs as we know them today," Cosmin Laslau, research analyst for Lux Research, told us. "Designing a high-performance, high-cost product from a clean sheet has worked wonders for Tesla."

Click the Renovo Motors' 500-HP Coupe below to start a slideshow on the new vehicle.

Renovo Motors' Coupe will cost $529,000 and will feature a 0-60 mph time of 3.4 seconds.
(Source: Renovo Motors)

From early appearances, the new coupe seems to be a classic case of no-holds-barred EV engineering. Two permanent magnet DC motors and three separate lithium-ion battery enclosures deliver instantaneous torque of 1,000 lb-ft. The car uses a classic high-tech, high-cost CSX9000 Shelby American Inc. chassis with updated body, frame, suspension, and cabin.

"Our goal is not to replace gas-powered cars, but to offer our customers choice and to champion a very different point of view of what a performance car can be," Renovo co-founder and CEO Chris Heiser said in an email.

Renovo will not discuss the lithium-ion chemistry that it is employing, except to say that it is a patent-pending design, and that the car's three battery modules will offer a total capacity of 30 kWh, giving the car a 100-mile range. The modules can be charged in about 30 minutes using so-called fast-charge technology, or five hours using a 240V level 2 charger.

Many experts say Renovo's high-end market approach is a solid one, given the current cost of electric car technology. "Today's EVs have very expensive battery packs," Laslau said. "You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot if you skimp. You end up with a compromised product."

Other automakers and startups have discussed similar high-end approaches to the electric powertrain. Tesla Motors rolled out its $100,000-plus Roadster six years ago and is now said to be planning a new version of the car with a 400-mile all-electric range and Detroit Electric is still planning a high-performance electric car. Another startup, Bloodshed Motors, has announced plans to roll out vintage muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s with 750-HP electric powertrains and sub-three-second 0-60-mph times, at a cost of more than $200,000 apiece.

"We think Renovo is looking more toward the Tesla Roadster customer -- the guy who wants a sexy-looking, sporty electric car," Mitch Medford, CEO of Bloodshed Motors, told us last week. "Only they're using more sophisticated technology."

Renovo plans to deliver about 100 of the Coupes late next year. "The question is, if they sell 100 of these cars, will it be enough to break even?" Laslau said. "Maybe in a couple of years they could move down-market and expand their customer base."

Renovo told Design News that it welcomes market challengers. "We'd be very excited to see competition in our segment," Heiser said. "It would further validate the market, and as the gas supercar market shows, there is a huge opportunity for different points of view."

Bloodshed Motors does see Renovo as a competitor, if not in the marketplace, at least on the drag strip. "When we get our battery pack fabricated, we will so issue a challenge to these guys," Medford said.

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Renovo Hypes Electric Supercar

Renovo Hypes Electric Supercar

A Silicon Valley company has made the biggest splash yet in the high-performance end of the electric car market by announcing a new EV that zips from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and costs $529,000.

With its new 500-HP Coupe, Renovo Motors plans to target an elite group of consumers who may even be more upscale than those buying Teslas. "This is a great fit for EVs as we know them today," Cosmin Laslau, research analyst for Lux Research, told us. "Designing a high-performance, high-cost product from a clean sheet has worked wonders for Tesla."

Click the Renovo Motors' 500-HP Coupe below to start a slideshow on the new vehicle.

From early appearances, the new coupe seems to be a classic case of no-holds-barred EV engineering. Two permanent magnet DC motors and three separate lithium-ion battery enclosures deliver instantaneous torque of 1,000 lb-ft. The car uses a classic high-tech, high-cost CSX9000 Shelby American Inc. chassis with updated body, frame, suspension, and cabin.

"Our goal is not to replace gas-powered cars, but to offer our customers choice and to champion a very different point of view of what a performance car can be," Renovo co-founder and CEO Chris Heiser said in an email.

Renovo will not discuss the lithium-ion chemistry that it is employing, except to say that it is a patent-pending design, and that the car's three battery modules will offer a total capacity of 30 kWh, giving the car a 100-mile range. The modules can be charged in about 30 minutes using so-called fast-charge technology, or five hours using a 240V level 2 charger.

Many experts say Renovo's high-end market approach is a solid one, given the current cost of electric car technology. "Today's EVs have very expensive battery packs," Laslau said. "You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot if you skimp. You end up with a compromised product."

Other automakers and startups have discussed similar high-end approaches to the electric powertrain. Tesla Motors rolled out its $100,000-plus Roadster six years ago and is now said to be planning a new version of the car with a 400-mile all-electric range and Detroit Electric is still planning a high-performance electric car. Another startup, Bloodshed Motors, has announced plans to roll out vintage muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s with 750-HP electric powertrains and sub-three-second 0-60-mph times, at a cost of more than $200,000 apiece.

"We think Renovo is looking more toward the Tesla Roadster customer -- the guy who wants a sexy-looking, sporty electric car," Mitch Medford, CEO of Bloodshed Motors, told us last week. "Only they're using more sophisticated technology."

Renovo plans to deliver about 100 of the Coupes late next year. "The question is, if they sell 100 of these cars, will it be enough to break even?" Laslau said. "Maybe in a couple of years they could move down-market and expand their customer base."

Renovo told Design News that it welcomes market challengers. "We'd be very excited to see competition in our segment," Heiser said. "It would further validate the market, and as the gas supercar market shows, there is a huge opportunity for different points of view."

Bloodshed Motors does see Renovo as a competitor, if not in the marketplace, at least on the drag strip. "When we get our battery pack fabricated, we will so issue a challenge to these guys," Medford said.

Related posts:

Video: 1,000 Swarming Robots Self-Assemble

To demonstrate their abilities, the Kilobots have been programmed to form different shapes, including a starfish. <br> (Source: Mike Rubenstein, Harvard SEAS/Science)

The same Wyss Institute/Harvard research group that brought us the autonomous termite-like construction robots are back. Their new algorithm lets them program 1,000 swarming robots to self-assemble into various shapes. That's the biggest robot swarm to date.

These swarming robots are name Kilobots. The small, extremely simple, identical machines are spherical bots a few centimeters in diameter that move around on three skinny, rigid legs that resemble toothpicks. Each bot moves via two vibrating motors that let it slide across surfaces. Each one communicates with its immediate neighbors, and with an overhead controller that programs and controls the robots, via infrared. They also use proximity and ambient light sensors.

The open-source hardware and software were developed by a team led by Radhika Nagpal, a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University; and Fred Kavli, professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Nagpal also co-leads Wyss's Bioinspired Robotics Platform and heads the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group.

These self-assembling/self-reconfiguring robots are designed along the lines of a decentralized scheme. Here, every module plans for itself based on information it observes or gathers by communicating with neighbors, in contrast to a centralized architecture where a single agent plans for all the modules. We discussed this in our interview last year with Daniel Pickem, graduate student in robotics at Georgia Tech's GRITS (Georgia Robotics and Intelligent Systems) Laboratory. Generally, he said then, large numbers of robots can be controlled more efficiently with decentralized control schemes.

Wyss Institute Kilobots were designed to make it easier for researchers to test collective algorithms on large numbers of real robots, instead of mere simulations. To demonstrate their abilities, the team has programmed them to form different shapes, including a starfish shape and the letter K. You can watch a video of the little guys showing off their talents below. The researchers describe their research in an article (purchase or subscription) in Science. The lead author is Michael Rubenstein, a research associate at SEAS and the Wyss Institute, and coauthors are Alejandro Cornejo, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and the Wyss Institute, and Nagpal.

The Wyss Institute Kilobots are built to a homogeneous architecture, where modules with the same properties are interchangeable and can be easily replaced, a more robust and lower-cost design than specialized robot modules. A decentralized, homogeneous scheme is common for swarming robots. To date, only a few swarms of robots have contained more than 100 individual modules. That's because there are algorithmic limitations on coordinating such large numbers of individuals, as well as the materials and labor costs required to manufacture that many separate devices. This is yet another reason the Kilobots mechanical design has been kept simple: to keep costs down. For example, they're not particularly bright: they run on a standard microprocessor.

Once they receive instructions, the robots don't require further management or intervention to complete their tasks, such as maintaining a sense of relative location, following the edge of a group, or tracking a certain distance from their point of origin. They're also capable of correcting errors. If one Kilobot moves off-course, or a traffic jam occurs, neighboring robots will coordinate their movements to fix the problem.

If you want to build your own, you can find out how to do that on the project page here.

Related posts:

Video: 1,000 Swarming Robots Self-Assemble

Video: 1,000 Swarming Robots Self-Assemble

The same Wyss Institute/Harvard research group that brought us the autonomous termite-like construction robots are back. Their new algorithm lets them program 1,000 swarming robots to self-assemble into various shapes. That's the biggest robot swarm to date.

These swarming robots are name Kilobots. The small, extremely simple, identical machines are spherical bots a few centimeters in diameter that move around on three skinny, rigid legs that resemble toothpicks. Each bot moves via two vibrating motors that let it slide across surfaces. Each one communicates with its immediate neighbors, and with an overhead controller that programs and controls the robots, via infrared. They also use proximity and ambient light sensors.

The open-source hardware and software were developed by a team led by Radhika Nagpal, a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University; and Fred Kavli, professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Nagpal also co-leads Wyss's Bioinspired Robotics Platform and heads the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group.

These self-assembling/self-reconfiguring robots are designed along the lines of a decentralized scheme. Here, every module plans for itself based on information it observes or gathers by communicating with neighbors, in contrast to a centralized architecture where a single agent plans for all the modules. We discussed this in our interview last year with Daniel Pickem, graduate student in robotics at Georgia Tech's GRITS (Georgia Robotics and Intelligent Systems) Laboratory. Generally, he said then, large numbers of robots can be controlled more efficiently with decentralized control schemes.

Wyss Institute Kilobots were designed to make it easier for researchers to test collective algorithms on large numbers of real robots, instead of mere simulations. To demonstrate their abilities, the team has programmed them to form different shapes, including a starfish shape and the letter K. You can watch a video of the little guys showing off their talents below. The researchers describe their research in an article (purchase or subscription) in Science. The lead author is Michael Rubenstein, a research associate at SEAS and the Wyss Institute, and coauthors are Alejandro Cornejo, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and the Wyss Institute, and Nagpal.

The Wyss Institute Kilobots are built to a homogeneous architecture, where modules with the same properties are interchangeable and can be easily replaced, a more robust and lower-cost design than specialized robot modules. A decentralized, homogeneous scheme is common for swarming robots. To date, only a few swarms of robots have contained more than 100 individual modules. That's because there are algorithmic limitations on coordinating such large numbers of individuals, as well as the materials and labor costs required to manufacture that many separate devices. This is yet another reason the Kilobots mechanical design has been kept simple: to keep costs down. For example, they're not particularly bright: they run on a standard microprocessor.

Once they receive instructions, the robots don't require further management or intervention to complete their tasks, such as maintaining a sense of relative location, following the edge of a group, or tracking a certain distance from their point of origin. They're also capable of correcting errors. If one Kilobot moves off-course, or a traffic jam occurs, neighboring robots will coordinate their movements to fix the problem.

If you want to build your own, you can find out how to do that on the project page here.

Related posts:

Model-Based Design of a Smart Emergency Response System

Model-Based Design of a Smart Emergency Response System

Disaster can strike at any moment. When it does, time becomes critical as seconds can make the difference in saving lives. Environmental and human limitations are key contributors to delays in response. Now, imagine a system that combines cyberspace with the physical world to help emergency personnel operate at near instantaneous speeds by connecting humans with smart technology and automated optimal mission planning.

The Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) capitalizes on the latest advancements in cyber-physical systems (CPS) to connect autonomous aircraft and ground vehicles, rescue dogs, robots, and a high-performance computing mission control center into a realistic vision.

The SERS concept was developed by a team of nine leading organizations from academia and industry in response to the SmartAmerica Challenge, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow project designed to use CPS for meaningful societal impact. The SERS team included BluHaptics, Boeing, MathWorks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Instruments, North Carolina State University, University of North Texas, University of Washington, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In June 2014, the system was presented at the White House and demonstrated at the SmartAmerica Challenge Expo.

How it works
The SERS concept is designed to provide survivors and emergency personnel with information to locate and assist each other during a disaster. The concept allows requests for help to be submitted to the MATLAB-based mission center via regular 911 operators or directly by using an authorized mobile device app. The mission center communicates the mission plan to emergency responders as well as autonomous ground vehicles and aircraft (fixed-wing and rotorcraft). The mission plan includes instructions for pick-up or delivery of rescue aids and supplies, including search-and-rescue dogs equipped with a sensory harness, a six-foot-tall humanoid, mobile robot arms, sensory drones, medication, and defibrillators. The command-and-control center accounts for the available resources to serve the incoming requests and to generate a time-optimal action plan for the mission (Figure 1). The necessary communication infrastructure is provided by an opportunistic network based on an app that relays messages between mobile devices, as well as an ad hoc WiFi network set up by autonomous drones equipped with directional antennas to increase reach.

Model-Based Design has proven to be a successful facilitator in the SERS design and integration process. In particular, the use of a common and reliable design environment has enabled a smooth workflow while adding new components to the core optimization system. SERS algorithms have been continuously refined through multidomain simulation, and the operations of the integrated devices have been tested in a 3D virtual world. Combining the rescue mission optimization with inexpensive hardware testbeds, sensor-equipped animals, humanoid components, cars, planes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has allowed for illustrating how future systems-of-systems can collaborate -- especially if built on the foundations of proper engineering paradigms.

As a specific element, one part of SERS combines Simulink models with the 3D virtual world. Such a combination provides a realistic 3D visualization of simulations that are at the heart of Model-Based Design. Any car, airplane, drone, machine, or robot (of which behavior is designed in Simulink) can now be simulated, projected, and observed in motion on a 3D map of Earth.

As a result, the devices are driving, walking, and flying through specific geolocations that are defined by waypoints. Simulating the autonomous rotorcrafts, fixed-wing aircraft, and ground vehicles with Simulink, and then visualizing them in a 3D environment, enables observing the operations as the mission plan unfolds -- for example, to provide realistic scenarios for sophisticated training approaches (Figure 2).

The SERS concept illustrates how to arrange for a more efficient and effective disaster response. The CPS paradigm unlocks the potential for hardware and software as collaborating modalities. Integrated interoperability between hardware and software components at various levels of abstraction is enabled with Model-Based Design. Also, the rapid prototyping of components and integration into the system under design is supported by simulation technology. Most importantly, a design on an open and trusted platform makes the accessibility, processing of data, and computation meaningful for rescue operations directly in the field, which holds the promise of technology forces dramatically changing the equation in emergency response efforts.

Justyna Zander is representing MathWorks. In 2013-2014, she was the team lead in the SERS project. Her PhD is in computer science and engineering. Pieter J. Mosterman is a senior research scientist at MathWorks. The project on autonomous emergency response system that he led in 2013 provided the foundation for building SERS. His PhD is in electrical and computer engineering.

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Rehab Chair Delivers Right Dose of Tension & Vibration to Patients' Muscles

Rehab Chair Delivers Right Dose of Tension &amp; Vibration to Patients&#039; Muscles

VibeTech Inc., a medical device manufacturer in Sheboygan, Wis., developed a vibration technology to counter muscle atrophy in astronauts who lost strength after long periods of weightlessness. The company found that putting muscles under tension and introducing controlled vibrations helped to restore lost muscle function.

Today, VibeTech is putting this technology to use here on Earth to help patients with severely impaired mobility regain their strength and independence. In bringing the VibeTech One rehabilitation chair to market, two large problems had to be solved: finding an actuator that could handle the vibrations and providing both smooth and silent movement.

The functionality of the chair depends on three components: a footplate that introduces static loading on the patient's lower limbs by pressing against the patient; a vibratory device connected to the footplate that transmits vibrations up through the patient's lower limbs and into his or her hips and lower back; and an electric actuator beneath the footplate that controls the amount of static loading on the patient's lower limbs. This pressure, which ranges from zero to 100 lb, is precisely controlled by an ERD15 electric actuator from Tolomatic Inc.

"It's really the combination of tension and vibration that is helping to rehabilitate the muscles," said Dr. Nadder Sahar, chief operating officer of VibeTech Inc. "The vibrations are tuned to the right frequency so that the cells and muscles respond to stimulation. This can be used to treat neuropathy, weakened muscles, or help people recovering from surgery or injury who can't fully engage in physical activities."

A knee restraint helps keep the patient's legs in a position that multiplies the vibration and transmission up the legs. If the patient is too weak to resist the load that is applied, the knee restraint allows someone who is even permanently disabled to be treated.

The design of the footplate mechanism is such that the electric actuator is directly in line with the vibratory device; therefore, it must be able to transmit the vibrations to the footplate and the patient. Any excessive play or backlash in the actuator's screw would simply absorb the vibrations and prevent them from being transmitted to the footplate. This kind of precision would normally require an expensive custom actuator solution, but the ERD15 electric actuator not only had the precision and force capability required for the application, but was also low in cost. Sahar told us:

We needed an actuator that could resist vibration, because that's what this machine does, it vibrates. Because of that vibration, we needed an actuator that didn't have any backlash in it. That's because our vibration movements are very small -- about 0.5 mm -- so if the actuator has excessive backlash, that vibration would not be delivered to the patient.

We also needed an actuator that could move smoothly and not create undo noise that could disturb patients. The actuator needed to be of substantial quality, but since we're manufacturing these machines for resale, we have to be conscious of the price we pay for components. The actuator was made of stainless steel and was available in various pitches with either a ball screw or plastic nut depending on our application. We got all those things and the precision we needed at an off-the-shelf price.

According to Tolomatic, the ERD15 actuator can accommodate patients of differing sizes and leg lengths. "The force requirements of this application are well within the ERD's capabilities, and with a standard precision of 0.005 inches, it provided the quality that VibeTech required. The only modification we needed to make to the standard ERD to withstand excessive vibration was to mechanically restrain the magnets used for the position switches," the company said.

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