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Technology Bulletin

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Technology Bulletin

U.S. robots team bring home the trophy

In case you hadn't heard, the U.S. is number one in world soccer! Not our women's team this time, but our robot soccer team. In the Robot World Cup Initiative, otherwise known as the RoboCup, Cornell University's Big Red beat the FU-Fighters from the Free University of Berlin 15-0 in the finals in Stockholm, Sweden. The Big Red competed in the "small" league, where robots are about 6 inches in diameter and the playing field is the size of a regulation table-tennis table. Each team made up of five robots, communicate with their "mother" computer and each other by radio. A video camera surveying the playing field tells the central computer the position of the players and the ball, in this case a golf ball. Individual robots also have on-board sensors. Once programmed the robotic system is completely on its own, with no remote control by human operators. Driven by a 17-W motor powered by a 9V battery, a robot can reach a speed of 2 meters per second in 0.7 seconds. Unlike many robots in the competition, they have a spring-loaded "kicker" mechanism that can be used in special situations, in addition to bumping the ball. A mix of graduate and undergraduate computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering students helped developed the soccer team. This diversity was one of the reasons for the win says faculty adviser Bart Selman, associate professor of computer science. For live footage from the competition:,1518,31410,00.html.

Nano devices without a cleanroom

Adam Cohen and his coworkers at the University of Southern California (USC) may have produced the world's narrowest metal chain at 290 microns wide. Using EFAB for electrochemical fabrication, engineers built the 14-link chain in a single process. Based on the rapid prototyping technology, EFAB stacks a series of thin solid metal layers. These layers adhere to one another to form a 3D object. Cohen, a project leader at the USC School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute says, "Currently, micromechanical and microelectronic devices are limited in shape and must be manufactured manually in a costly cleanroom often through a custom process that's expensive and difficult to develop." EFAB integrates micro-mechanics with microelectronics better than current technology because the temperature of the manufacturing process is relatively low, about 120F. Currently, the USC team works with layers five to eight microns thick, but Cohen says they can make layers that are less than a micron(human hairs are 50 to 100 microns in diameter). To make each layer, metal is deposited through a prefabricated patterned mask similar to the way a printing plate applies ink to paper. The masks for all of the layers can be produced simultaneously from computer data, and the layers are then deposited one at a time. "With EFAB, tens or even hundreds of thousands of finished products can be made at the same time using a single process,"says Cohen. E-mail: [email protected].

Highly efficient miniature pumps

Little is in. The smaller footprint a device has, the more manufacturers like it. To keep up with fashion, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, WA) developed a heat-actuated heat pump small enough to fit within the walls or floor of a home to provide space heating and cooling. Increased efficiency comes from the fabrication of tiny channels within the heat exchanger, where much of the heat pump's work takes place. Smaller channels result in more effective heat transfer due to the intimate contact between the refrigerant and heat exchanger surfaces. The heat pump uses heat, rather than electricity to provide cooling. Miniaturized versions of the components are ready for prototyping. Researchers expect to have a working system in about two years. FAX: (509) 372-4791

How to charge for PDM: Concurrent vs. registered-user licensing

What's the best deal for project data management users? Is it better to be charged according to the number of registered users at a company's site or have fees based on the number of concurrent users allowed to access the system? According to a recently released PDM Market Pricing Analysis Report from CIMdata (Ann Arbor, MI), both arrangements come out about the same after all costs are considered. "On the surface there appears to be a large disparity, with average registered-user licenses ranging from $600 to $3,100 compared to approximately $6,000 for typical concurrent licensing fees," says Peter Bilello, author of the report. "But there appears to be little difference between these two schemes when all implementation and deployment costs are considered." Users often get caught in the trap of assuming the PDM costs are only in the purchase of the software, he continues. But implementation also requires spending money on evaluation as well as on-going support. The report presents data on 17 vendors with medium to high-end capabilities. Pricing analysis is provided with regard to such costs as software, maintenance, integration with CAD and ERP systems, training, documentation, and implementation. For more information, visit: or call: (734) 668-9922.

Computers from exotic molecules

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Hewlett-Packard Laboratories have developed the first crude components of a computer based not on silicon, but on exotic molecules. Using rotaxanes, a class of complex organic chemicals, UCLA chemistry professor James Heath and postdoctoral students Pat Collier and Eric Wong constructed logic gates the building blocks of all digital computers. In a paper published in the journal Science, dated July 16, Heath said, "We can potentially get the computational power of 100 workstations on the size of a grain of sand." By sandwiching a thin film of rotaxanes between a grid of etched wires, the group was able to configure the molecules at each junction point to perform basic logical functions. Heath's method was successful because of the characteristics of the molecule. Shaped like barbells encircled with a ring, they are easy to manipulate and align into a tightly packed, uniform array. The next step will be to group the logic gates together to form a logic circuit capable of performing basic computing functions such as addition or subtraction. "Once you have that, you can do everything," he said. "I'm hopeful we can do it in about a decade." FAX: (323) 343-6405.

Experiment in space without leaving Earth

Scientists here on Earth will perform "virtual" research aboard the International Space Station using the Telescience Resource Kit, or TReKa new computer software system that enables researchers to remotely operate their Space Station experiments from anywhere on the planet. Michelle Schneider leads the team of NASA engineers who developed TReK at the Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL). The idea behind TReK is to make it easy for science teams working in their own laboratories on Earth to receive information from and transmit commands to their experiments aboard the Space Station 220 miles in space. "TReK is a user-friendly, PC-based system," said Schneider. TReK receives and relays information to the main computer system in the Science Operations Center at Marshall. Earth-bound research teams specify what data they want from their experiments and in what intervals. Once the experiment is under way, the main computer system in the Operations Center retrieves the requested information and routes it to the TReK system, which processes and displays it for the scientists. The first delivery of TReK is expected to be fully operational next summer. FAX: (256) 544-2552.

Tiny bubbles, in my pump, make me feel happy, make me feel fine!

While this may not be a pop song in the near future, tiny bubbles are a big hit with researchers who require micropumps for development of miniature high-tech devices used to treat medical conditions, test new drugs, and monitor pollutants. Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) developed such a pump powered by the repeated growth and collapse of a single bubble. Because the bubble is generated by heat, it is easy to control, the inventors say. And because the bubble-powered pump has no moving mechanical parts, it is unlikely to wear out too quickly. Andrea Prosperetti, the university's Charles A. Miller Jr. Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, worked with two other Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering researchers, Hasan Oguz and He Yuan, to design, build, and test a prototype. Their micropump has two main tubes: one 1.6 mm wide and the second about half this diameter. These are connected by a "throat" measuring 0.5 mm in diameter. The engineers inserted steel needles into each of the larger tubes, connected the needles to a power source, and filled the tubes with a salt solution to complete the circuit. The current was "squeezed" as it passed through the narrow throat, causing the water to boil or vaporize at that location. This led to the formation of a bubble in the narrow passage. As it expanded like a balloon into the wider channel, the bubble pushed fluid ahead of it. When the electrical current is stopped, the bubble shrinks. It eventually collapses in the wider channel. Prosperetti says the system could also work with fluids that do not conduct electricity. For such liquids, tiny heaters embedded in the walls of the tubing could be used to form the bubbles. Prosperetti and his colleagues have applied for a patent. FAX: (410) 516-5251.

CAD for optical MEMS components

Engineers at Microcosm Technologies (Raleigh, NC) are busy expanding the company's CAD software to include modeling of the optical components typically incorporated on optical MEMS devices, as part of the "Micro-Opto-Electro-Mechanical Systems Manufacturing" project, funded by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The project's goal is to develop and demonstrate technology for efficient manufacturing of optical MEMS for telecommunications, imaging, medicine, entertainment, and information technology. MEMS are tiny electro-mechanical devices machined on silicon using photolithographic technology originally developed for the integrated circuit industry. MEMS devices include actuators, electro-mechanical sensors, beams, diaphragms, gear trains and levers. In microdevices, the fabricated structures are often not much larger than the wavelength of the light being manipulated. For more information, visit

Thermoplastic is thermally conductive

Traditionally, thermoplastics have served as insulators or thermal barriers. Not so with Konduit(R) thermally conductive thermoplastic compounds developed by LNP Engineering Plastics. Made from a composite of plastic resins and thermally conductive additives designed to overcome the base resins' natural insulation properties, Konduit compounds provide 10 to 50 times more thermal conductivity than other thermoplastics. One typical application opportunity: metal replacement and part consolidation in IC thermal management. LNP markets two Konduit compound product lines: a low-cost product group that provides up to 2 W/mK thermal conductivity using a ceramic additive, and a second high-performance product group. The latter employs a specialty carbon fiber for a thermal conductivity reaching 10 W/mK. Further information is available from Lia Tabbers at +31 162 587 600.

Floating in thin air

Advertising and marketing people will like the new display medium offered by Magnetic Suspension International (MSI)the MSI Floating System. A magnet attaches to the product on display. A magnetic field, produced by a generator, suspends the product mid-air. Silent in operation, the system can keep objects weighing up to 1.5 kg in suspension. Only 2W of energy are needed to function properly. Used by a number of exhibitors at last April's Hannover Fair, MSI's Floating System is good for stores, showrooms, offices, and trade shows. Call Damien Vailhen, MSI SARL, at +33 2 40 36 65 30, or fax: +33 2 40 36 65 35.

MAGLEV at the launchpad

NASA, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is currently evaluating a proposed launch system that could substantially lower the cost of projecting payloads into space: Magnetic levitation and propulsion. A team in the School of Engineering at the University of Sussex, in southern England, is working on the proposal as part of NASA's Advanced Space Transportation program. Here's the basic idea: A spacecraft would be carried along a track and accelerated to about 965 km/hr; coils in the track create a magnetic traveling field which lifts the vehicle above the track, and guides and propels it along. In this manner, a single rocket engine as opposed to multiple rocket stages would deliver the payload into low Earth orbit. To achieve the high acceleration necessary for launching a spacecraft, the Sussex team has divided the system into separate levitation and propulsion parts. The team plans to build a proof-of-concept system capable of accelerating a 45-kg vehicle to 112 km/hr in 7.5m and bring it back to rest in another 7.5m. A 120m track is planned for the next phase which may lead to the design of a 1,500m track capable of launching a substantial payload. Find out more from Denis Edwards at the University of Sussex, Tel: +44 1273 678 603, Fax: +44 1273 678 399.

Good to the last drop

Radar-based level gauges have no moving parts and do not contact a tank's stored liquid; the only exposed component inside the tank is an antenna. While the next-generation Saab TankRadar REX works the same, software separates it from the rest. Advanced digital signal processing and communication deals with measured values rapidly and reliably. Thanks to a series of state-of-the-art logic and memory functions, the new level gauge eliminates the effect of echoes within the tank. And the tank itself is mapped so thoroughly by FFT algorithms that it is possible to obtain accurate measurements to the tank's absolute bottom. Prepared for fieldbus communication, Saab TankRadar REX requires no separate field computer the tank's strapping table can be programmed directly to the radar level gauge. In addition, pressure gauges can be directly connected via HART communication for input to local calculations of density, volume, and mass. Contact Johan Sandberg, SaabTank Control, Goteborg, Sweden, at Tel: +46 31 337 07 05, Fax: +46 31 25 30 22.

Bumps boost converter performance

EcoCat, a subsidiary of the Swedish Sandvik Steel group, has introduced a new configuration catalytic converter. Tiny 60-degree triangles manufactured from flat and corrugated foils form the channel walls; these lock together in a tongue-and-groove fashion to prevent telescoping. Staggered bumps on the channel walls regenerate turbulence at predetermined intervals. Consequently, the mass transfer of gas toward the channel wall offsets pressure drop over the substrate. EcoCat produces these monoliths on an automatic line in diameters from 50 to 1,000 mm, and in lengths from 50 to 152 mm. A final advantage: the substrate weighs little, yet offers a frontal area substantially larger than competitive ceramic or metal substrates. For information fax EcoCat AB at +46 2626 5252.

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