In what’s being called “a developmental shift for Ford,” the motor company has given their Millennial audience a challenge. More specifically, Ford’s challenging computer and electrical engineering students from the University of Michigan to grow it’s in-car connectivity and communications-and-entertainment system, Sync.
Ford hopes that the same twenty-something audience they are reaching out to via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, will bring cloud computing and social networking “to the dashboard.”
Maple tree seeds (or samara fruit) and the spiraling pattern in which they glide to the ground have delighted children for ages and perplexed engineers for decades. Now aerospace engineering graduate students at the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering have learned how to apply the seeds’ unique design to devices that can hover and perform surveillance in defense and emergency situations.
That’s right: concrete used as the building material for boats. It all happened in June when the American Society of Civil Engineers hosted its 22nd Annual National Concrete Canoe Competition. Though rain, thunder, and lightening were present, the competition went on at Lake Nicol in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Twenty-two top engineering colleges and universities entered the event, but the University of California, Berkeley pulled off the win.
The competition is for civil engineering students and provides them with a real-world application of the engineering principles they learn in the classroom. The competition also builds teamwork and project management skills and challenges the students’ knowledge, creativity, and stamina. Finally, the star of the show, the concrete itself, is proven as a useful and versatile building material.
In order to go to the competition, teams must qualify in one of the 18 conference competitions held around the country. Qualifying teams gain academic scholarships totaling $9,000. The winners of the national competitions are holders of the America’s Cup of Civil Engineering. This year, the competition changed a bit when organizers told teams they could only build hulls to the specifications and dimensions in the rule book. Working within limitations challenged students to think creatively on ways they could gain an advantage over other schools.
In their fifth win in the competition’s 22-year history, UC Berkeley took home the cup for the Bear Area, a 230-pound, 20-foot-long canoe. It was Berkeley’s first championship since 1992. The canoes that came the closest to overtaking the Bear Area were built by École de Technologie Supérieure in Montréal, Canada, and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. ETS’s Vintage, weighing in at 190 pounds and 20 feet in length, came in second place. Following in third was Cal Poly’s 246-pound, 20-foot-long canoe, also christened the Vintage.
Photo: UC Berkeley’s entry in ASCE’s 21st Annual National Concrete Canoe Competition, Vocal, Photographer: Paul A. Hernandez
Recently, Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity Corp., revealed the technology his company is developing that will make the use of power cables and cords virtually nonexistent. Or so he hopes.
In July, Giler presented at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, England. He showed off an Apple iPhone and Google G1 phone that were able to charge wirelessly, as well as a commercially available television that operated sans power cables. Imagine it: a world where wires aren’t getting tangled at your feet or ugly cords aren’t draped across rooms. It’s possible, and Giler believes it can be used for technology ranging from phones to electric cars. You could drive your car into the garage and it would automatically start charging!
The technology is based on work by physicist Marin Soljačić at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and uses resonance to accomplish its goals. When two objects have the same magnetic resonance, they can exchange energy through their fields, which can then be turned into electrical power.
To accomplish energy transfer, the company uses coils that have the same resonant frequency. One coil is embedded in the wall/ceiling/floor and plugged into an electric source. The other coil is built into your device, whether it be a laptop, phone, television, etc. When the device is within range of the main coil, energy would begin to flow between the two devices automatically, and a voltage would begin to build up in the device, charging it up, no plugs or cords needed!
The technology is perfectly safe because it uses magnetic fields. Depending on the device, anywhere from milliwatts to kilowatts of power can be transferred between coils. And, it can be transferred over a range of centimeters to several meters. The energy is also transferable through most building materials (yes, it will go through the wall or ceiling) and can bend around metal objects that would otherwise block the magnetic waves.
While the idea of wireless transfer of energy has been around for a while (Nikola Tesla, an electrical and mechanical engineer who lived from 1856 to 1943, hypothesized we would one day be working electronics wirelessly), this demonstration of practical use is a huge step in the process, and this is the first time a company has unveiled plans to commercialize the technology. One day in the near future (WiTricity is saying possibly within a year and a half), we won’t have to fumble around with our power cords or desperately search for our phone chargers!
To learn more about the science behind WiTricity’s wireless powering, visit their website at www.witricity.com.
It’s the ultimate man versus machine. Soccer-playing robots are being designed to beat their human counterparts. But don’t worry, this technology is far from perfected.
Robot soccer competitions have been occurring since the mid-1990s, and organizations such as the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) and the RoboCup Federation are promoting advances in artificial intelligence and robot design through these competitions. The hope is to achieve a robot team that can defeat the FIFA World Cup champions by the year 2050.
The RoboCup competition and the FIRA RoboWorld Cup are both international competitions held every year between teams from different countries, many hailing from colleges and universities. Each team designs a robot to compete in a league, like the simulation league, small-sized robot league, and the humanoid league. So far, the robots have advanced from wheeled participants to bipedal players that fight for the ball and score goals. The next step, researchers say, is to get the robots running like humans, though the rough terrain of grass fields proves to be a difficult challenge.
The U.S. RoboCup 2009 was held in May at Harvard University, with the University of Texas at Austin taking top honors and the University of Pennsylvania coming in second. The 2009 international competition took place in Graz, Austria, in July, where 3,000 participants from 40 different countries competed.
Soccer is the perfect testing ground for robots because it involves a variety of functions, such as movement, vision, and strategy. Although the robots are designed for the soccer field, the research put into the competitions can have a larger impact. Robot technologies could be used for simple tasks around the house (think the Roomba, but more advanced) or in scenarios, like rescues, where robots can be used instead of risking human injury or death.
Ever think the Jetson’s car was the perfect car for you? Well, that’s not so far-fetched anymore. A private company, Terrafugia, has developed what they call a “roadable aircraft,” the Terrafugia Transition. The Transition works like a car at first glance. Its body is compact enough to fit inside a normal garage and uses a gas engine to power its front wheels.
The magic happens when the Transition goes from an almost-normal car to a small aircraft in under 30 seconds. According to Terrafugia, the Transition can fly up to 450 miles at over 115 mph. It is considered a Light Sport Aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, so anyone wanting to fly one of these needs a Sport Pilot License.
Based in Woburn, Massachusetts, Terrafugia was started in 2006 by aeronautical engineers and MBAs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The five graduates are enthusiastic private pilots and wanted to address the issues private pilots face of uncertain weather, rising costs, and ground transportation hassles.
The Transition completed its first stage, the Proof of Concept stage, on June 3, 2009. The first flight of the Transition took place on March 5, 2009, at Plattsburgh International Airport in Plattsburgh, New York, with success. The Proof of Concept vehicle demonstrated the safety of the Transition and showed where modifications could be incorporated. Now that stage one is completed, the team plans to build their Beta Prototype to test in stage two. Terrafugia hopes to get the Transition to market by 2011. Laws are already in place in Woburn, Terrafugia’s base, to allow the roadable aircraft on its streets.
People looking to buy the Transition can put down a deposit now. The anticipated cost of the Transition will be $194,000—a little more than your average car. But, admittedly, the Transition isn’t your typical car.