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Technology bulletin

Technology bulletin

Who needs to ask directions?

Here comes an in-car navigation and high-end audio entertainment system in a standard DIN mount AM/FM/CD head unit. The VDO Carin 440 Navigation Radio System from Philips Car Systems delivers turn-by-turn spoken directions supported by LCD pictograms. "Setting a destination or planning a route is as simple and easy as selecting your favorite radio station or CD," says Gary Grove, North American sales manager for VDO (Winchester, MA). Using three different inputs to determine the vehicle's location: global positioning system (GPS), an integral gyroscope, and car speed sensor information, the unit not only provides directions, but also knows if you did not take its suggested route. And if you choose to ignore its recommendation that you make a U-turn as soon as possible, the device will replot the route. The 440's big brother, Model 522, comes with a 5 x 3-inch computer screen that offers a scaleable real-time color map. Look for these in upcoming BMW, Land Rover, and Lincoln models. Fax: (800) 663-0913.

Robotic heart surgery a success

Surgeons at the Ohio State University Medical Center (Columbus, OH) are employing a new minimally invasive heart surgery technique. For the first time in North American, physicians used the da Vinci Computer-Enhanced Surgical System. This method uses sensitive remote-controlled surgical instruments guided by a surgeon at a computer keyboard. The physician inserts a tiny camera with multiple lenses into the patient's chest that provides a three-dimensional image of the heart. At a nearby computer workstation, he watches through a viewport to see inside the chest as he manipulates a pair of joysticks that control two precisely-engineered robotic arms. The arms hold specially designed instruments that mimic the movement of the surgeon's hands. Using the robotic technology, only three hole -- seach about the diameter of a pencil -- are needed to complete the procedure. "The new technology will result in less post-operative pain and faster recovery times for patients," said Dr. Randall Wolf, one of three surgical team members. "We could eventually see patients return to work and full activity within two weeks following the procedure." Generally patients must fully recover for several weeks before resuming normal activities. Ohio State surgeons envision the robotic technology becoming the standard for performing many other procedures in nearly all fields of medicine. E-mail: [email protected].

More accurate robotic simulation

It's still in beta, but the robot simulation and off-line programming software, Workspace 5TM from Flow Software Technologies (Windsor, Ontario), hopes to help engineers simulate robot work cells more accurately than present packages. Based on realistic simulation modules, Workspace 5 uses the manufacturers' motion control software to simulate the movement of the machine, reporting cycle times to within one percent of the actual robot's action. Flow representatives claim that the software package will give engineers greater control over the robot's functions, will offer more compatibility with a company's CAD programs, and can be customized for any plant floor application. Fax: (519) 974-0509.

Join computer vision and controls and robotic systems are born

Pennsylvania State University engineers coupled the latest computer vision and control techniques to develop a model robotic system with enhanced ability to track moving targets in real world environments. Octavia Camps and Mario Sznaier, associate professors at Penn State, say their approach may bring active vision technology to real world problems such as Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, robot-assisted surgery, 3D reconstruction, inspection, vision-assisted grasping, MEM microassembly, automated spacecraft docking and surveillance. Using appearance-based object recognition techniques, Camps and Sznaier sped up the computer program recognition rate to one image every 33 milliseconds. "And we've been able to optimize the system using off-the-shelf hardware from a variety of manufacturers," says Sznaier. To fully exploit the capabilities of available hardware, the control and computer vision aspects of the problem must be addressed together, he adds. When they are, vision systems will be capable of moving beyond carefully controlled environments. The researchers presented their findings at the International Workshop on the Control of Uncertain Systems in Hong Kong. E-mail: [email protected].

LEDs hit the streets

An LED light module from LumiLeds Lighting (San Jose, CA) may soon replace traditional streetlights. The module, meeting all International Commission on Illumination requirements, has a similar energy-per-kilometer performance as conventional high- and low-pressure sodium gas-discharge lamps. High-precision optics, developed in a joint program with 3M, gives the LED module a unique light distribution that decreases light pollution. Company officials claim that both the light source and fixture have a 15+-year lifetime. The new technology can be integrated as a component by the illumination OEM industry into fixtures for non-white functional road light applications. The technology will debut in 2000. In addition, engineers at LumiLeds, a joint venture of Hewlett-Packard and Royal Philips Electronics, developed a new light engine using LED materials and optics. Company officials see the device used for signage and architectural applications. They claim the engine can be easily programmed with a PC via a connector, has low power consumption and a long lifetime. E-mail: [email protected].

Software for automotive engineers

I-Logix Inc. (Andover, MA) and Motorola are developing software that will help automotive engineers design applications in graphical languages such as Statecharts, and that will automatically generate OSEK-compliant production-quality C code. OSEK (Open Systems and the Corresponding Interfaces for Automotive Electronics) is a joint project supported by a group of automobile manufacturers and suppliers, including BMW AG, DaimlerChrysler AG, Volkswagen AG, Adam Opel AG, PSA, Renault, Robert Bosch GmbH, and Siemens AG. Its goal: create an industry standard for an open architecture for electronic control units in vehicles. I-Logix will enhance its production code generation technology to support Motorola's Windows NT version of OSEK 2.0. Application code developed for OSEK NT will be the same application code that runs in the target hardware. These enhancements will allow engineers to design software architectures for automotive ECUs, while maintaining a small footprint for the real time operating system. The designer will also be able to design and debug code while sitting at a PC before the target ECU is even available. E-mail: Moshe Cohen at [email protected].

Satellites and remote sensing are the newest fire fighters

As wildfires ravaged through the dry California landscape this summer, researchers at the University of Hawaii developed a tool to help keep tabs on fires and identify a blaze within minutes of the time it ignites. The alarm system, developed by Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology remote sensing scientists Luke Flynn, Andrew Harris, Eric Pilger, and colleagues, uses satellite sensors to pick up heat coming from flames on the ground some 22,000 miles below. Within 15 minutes, the location of a fire shows up in a map on the Internet, and the extent of the blaze is continually updated. The researchers use Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the same satellites that meteorologists use to track weather. GOES' orbit follows the Earth's rotation, continually monitoring the same region. Sensors aboard GOES pick up hot spots from the planet's surface, setting the computer fire alarm off. E-mail: [email protected].

DVD recordable devices coming soon

DVD-RAM (digital versatile disk), DVD-RW, and DVD-camcorders may be available to consumers as early as next year thanks to Motorola's DSP56362. The chip, currently used in a variety of consumer audio products such as audio/video receivers and DVD, digital television and automotive applications, recently received the Dolby(R) Digital Consumer Encoder (DDCE) certification by Dolby Laboratories. The DSP56362 provides multi-channel decoding (Dolby Digital, DTS or MPEG2 Layer 2) and post decoder processing. It also supports DDCE, which is a two-channel encoder technology that enables the digital encoding of stereo analog sound for storage on a digital media. This enables a DVD-RW recorder, for example, to record conventional analog TV programming in addition to the new digital TV broadcasts. "Many customers have indicated that the DDCE has been the missing technology to fully enable recordable DVD products, and Motorola is pleased to provide the industry's first solution to meet these needs," said Valerie Hase, Operations Manager of Motorola's Digital Audio Operations. E-mail: [email protected].

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