Archive: Sep 2009

  1. Soccer Robots

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    Photo: Relaxing Robots, MoonSoleilIt’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.

    Looking for more robotics-themed articles? Visit www.GraduatingEngineer.com.
    Photo: Relaxing Robots, MoonSoleil

  2. Flying Cars

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    Photograph of the Transition Flying Car by opponent

    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.

    Read more about advances in automotive technology; visit www.GraduatingEngineer.com.

    Photograph of the Transition Flying Car by opponent.

  3. Smart Grid Technology

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    Photo title: Electric Road, Photographer: Eran FinkleComputers. Big screen TVs. Air conditioners. The modern-day conveniences that many take for granted are starting to take a toll on our current energy grid. Demand has skyrocketed for the past few years and the grid is struggling to keep up. Blackouts and brownouts have started to occur with more and more frequency.

    That’s where the smart grid steps in.

    Smart grid technology is the new way of thinking. The concept has been around for years, but recently, smart grids have been touted as the environmentally friendly alternative when receiving your electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the current grid were just 5% more efficient, then the energy we’d save would equal eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions of 53 million cars. With the federal stimulus package specifically setting aside funds for green technologies, smart grids have gotten a giant helping hand in the form of political support. Already, cities like Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, have begun testing out the benefits of smart grid technology.

    One aspect of smart grids is the automatic monitoring of systems. Instead of waiting for a customer call about a blackout, utility companies will be able to pinpoint and respond to problems faster. Smart grids also track energy consumption and mark periods of high and low usage. Companies will then charge variable rates on electricity consumption: more for higher demand periods and less when energy usage is at a low. Homeowners and businesses would have a “smart meter” to track when and how much energy they are using. Smart meters can also provide consumers with efficiency advice, real-time price information, and even coordinate household appliances so they automatically take advantage of non-peak hours, saving you money. Experts expect this to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability in service.

    The smart grid is a two-way communication. Not only will it provide energy to consumers, but it will allow energy to be put back into the system. So the solar panels on your roof could be helping the neighbor down the street. This will allow greener energy producers, such as wind turbines, to be integrated into the system with greater ease.

    While the smart grid system reality is still years away, companies and higher institutions of learning have begun to do their part to speed up the process.

    Whirlpool announced that they plan to make all their electronically controlled appliances smart grid compatible by 2015, while working to create an open, global standard for appliances to transmit and receive signals by 2010.

    The Illinois Institute of Technology is partnering up with the Galvin Electricity Initiative to bring a smart grid—called Perfect Power—to power the campus. IIT will be working on the grid through 2013 and predicts that it will pay for itself in savings within five years.

    Even Google is jumping on the smart grid wagon. Currently in development, the Google PowerMeter will act as a liaison to smart meters, relaying users’ information about electricity consumption and what appliances are using it. Google employees have been testing out this new software, and Google hopes that they will be able to roll out the application to the public in the near future.

    Read more about Electrical Engineering and Smart Grid Technology;  visit www.GraduatingEngineer.com.

    Photo title: Electric Road, Photographer: Eran Finkle

  4. College Freshman Shaken by Economy

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    Women are trained as engine mechanics in thorough Douglas training methods, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress. Photo by Alfred T. PalmerGiven the current economic environment, it’s fair to speculate that a majority of the nation’s 2.9 million college freshman feel anxious when faced with declaring a major or choosing a career path. Although, according to data collected by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, students considering a career in Computer Science/Information Technology and Engineering may have a little less reason to stress.

    With a projected growth rate of 22% from 2006 to 2016, a future career in Computer and Information Science sounds pretty bright and Network Systems and Data Communications Analysis even brighter, with an expected growth of 53% for the same period. While Engineering is forecast to grow by a rate of 11%, trend areas like biomedical, environmental, and industrial engineering are expected to exceed 20% growth by 2016…

    Read the BloggingStocks article and learn more about what this year’s college freshmen can expect following graduation: http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2009/08/31/2-9-million-college-kids-unsure-of-career-plans/

    Looking for that first job out of college? Get career advice at www.GraduatingEngineer.com.

    Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress. Photo credit: Alfred T. Palmer