New Navigation Software Cuts Self-Driving Car Costs

A new software system developed at the University of Michigan uses video game technology to help solve one of the most daunting hurdles facing self-driving and automated cars: the high cost of the laser scanners they use to determine their location.Ryan Wolcott, a U-M doctoral candidate in computer science and engineering, estimates that the new concept could shave thousands of dollars from the cost of these vehicles. The technology enables them to navigate using a single video camera, delivering the same level of accuracy as laser scanners at a fraction of the cost."The laser scanners used by most self-driving cars in development today cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I thought there must be a cheaper sensor that could do the same job," he said. "Cameras only cost a few dollars each and they're already in a lot of cars. So they were an obvious choice."Wolcott's system builds on the navigation systems used in other self-driving cars that are currently in development, including Google's vehicle. The navigation systems use three-dimensional laser scanning technology to create a real-time map of their environment, then compare that real-time map to a pre-drawn map stored in the system. By making thousands of comparisons per second, they are able to determine the vehicle's location within a few centimeters.The software converts the map data into a three-dimensional picture much like a video game. The car's navigation system can then compare these synthetic pictures with the real-world pictures streaming in from a conventional video camera.SourceAlso: See more Software tech briefs.

Posted in: News, Cameras, Lasers & Laser Systems, Photonics


NASA Computer Model Reveals Carbon Dioxide Levels

An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres, and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.Scientists have made ground-based measurements of carbon dioxide for decades and in July NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite to make global, space-based carbon observations. But the simulation — the product of a new computer model that is among the highest-resolution ever created — is the first to show in such fine detail how carbon dioxide actually moves through the atmosphere.In addition to providing a striking visual description of the movements of an invisible gas like carbon dioxide, as it is blown by the winds, this kind of high-resolution simulation will help scientists better project future climate. Engineers can also use this model to test new satellite instrument concepts to gauge their usefulness. The model allows engineers to build and operate a “virtual” instrument inside a computer.SourceAlso: Learn about the NASA Data Acquisition System (NDAS).

Posted in: News, Environmental Monitoring, Greenhouse Gases, Measuring Instruments


Thirsty? There’s an App for That

Clean, potable water is one thing the world universally cannot live without. It hydrates. It cleans. It keeps us alive and well. That makes water very valuable to soldiers. However, as many mission planners know, water planning can be a nightmare. Too much water can strain already heavy combat loads, perhaps forcing some soldiers to pack too little in favor of a lighter pack. When soldiers don't have enough water, dehydration could set in, decreasing performance and increasing the risk of serious heat illnesses. To help solve this logistical problem, researchers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s (USARIEM) Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory worked to develop an app that will help unit leaders accurately predict water needs with the goal of minimizing the burden of water transport and sustaining hydration. The app is designed to satisfy the military’s desire for paperless guidance that is simple, accurate, mission-specific and available in real time.

Posted in: News, PCs/Portable Computers


New Computer Codes Enable Design of Greener, Leaner Aircraft

A computer model that accurately predicts how composite materials behave when damaged will make it easier to design lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Innovative computer codes form the basis of a computer model that shows in unprecedented detail how an aircraft's composite wing, for instance, would behave if it suffered small-scale damage, such as a bird strike. Any tiny cracks that spread through the composite material can be predicted using this model. 

Posted in: News, Aviation, Greenhouse Gases, Composites


NASA Tool Helps Airlines Minimize Weather Delays

A NASA-developed tool, Dynamic Weather Routes (DWR), is designed to alleviate weather-induced air traffic interruptions. The computer software tool is programmed to constantly analyze air traffic throughout the National Airspace System, along with the ever-shifting movements of weather severe enough to require an airliner to make a course change.

Posted in: News, Aviation


Automated Imaging System Analyzes Underground Root Systems

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Penn State University have developed an automated imaging technique for measuring and analyzing the root systems of mature plants. The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, uses advanced computer technology to analyze photographs taken of root systems in the field. The imaging and software are designed to give scientists the statistical information they need to evaluate crop improvement efforts.“We’ve produced an imaging system to evaluate the root systems of plants in field conditions,” said Alexander Bucksch, a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia Tech School of Biology and School of Interactive Computing. “We can measure entire root systems for thousands of plants to give geneticists the information they need to search for genes with the best characteristics.”Imaging of root systems has, until now, largely been done in the laboratory, using seedlings grown in small pots and containers. Such studies provide information on the early stages of development, and do not directly quantify the effects of realistic growing conditions or field variations in water, soil, or nutrient levels.The technique developed by Georgia Tech and Penn State researchers uses digital photography to provide a detailed image of roots from mature plants in the field. Individual plants to be studied are dug up and their root systems washed clean of soil. The roots are then photographed against a black background using a standard digital camera pointed down from a tripod. A white fabric tent surrounding the camera system provides consistent lighting.The resulting images are then uploaded to a server running software that analyzes the root systems for more than 30 different parameters, including the diameter of tap roots, root density, the angles of brace roots, and detailed measures of lateral roots.SourceAlso: Learn about Strobing to Enhance Display Legibility.

Posted in: News, Cameras, Measuring Instruments


3D Printer That Could Build a Home in 24 Hours Wins Global Design Competition

New York, NY – Contour Crafting, a computerized construction method that rapidly 3D prints large-scale structures directly from architectural CAD models, has been awarded the grand prize of $20,000 in the 2014 "Create the Future" Design Contest. Contour Crafting automates the construction of whole structures and radically reduces the time and cost of construction. The large-scale 3D printing technology is revolutionary to the construction industry and could lead to affordable building of high-quality, low-income housing; the rapid construction of emergency shelters; and on-demand housing in response to disasters. NASA is looking at the technology for building moon and Mars bases. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at University of Southern California, who invented Contour Crafting, views this invention as a proven concept. “Bringing 3D printing to construction is bringing a concept to a proven application. For many years, building has been done in layers – concrete foundation blocks, brick laying, structural framing, etc.” “I am very happy to receive this award and find it to be very timely as I am in the process of fund raising and I think this recognition will help me greatly in furthering the project,” said Khoshnevis. Contour Crafting was among the 1,074 new product ideas submitted in the 12th annual design contest, which was established in 2002 to recognize and reward engineering innovations that benefit humanity, the environment, and the economy. This year’s design contest was co-sponsored by COMSOL (www.comsol.com) and Mouser Electronics (www.mouser.com). Analog Devices and Intel were supporting sponsors. In addition to the grand prize of $20,000, first-place winners (of Hewlett-Packard workstations) were named in seven categories: *Aerospace & Defense: The Polariton Interferometer - a Novel Inertial Navigation System Frederick Moxley A stealth navigation system that provides precise course-plotting while operating independently from GPS. *Automotive/Transportation: Continuously Variable Displacement Engine Steve Arnold A continuously variable stroke engine that operates at 30% better fuel efficiency than conventional thick stroke engine designs. *Consumer Products: NanoFab Lab...in a Box! Jonathan Moritz (Team Leader) An educational kit that brings nanomanufacturing out of the cleanroom and into the classroom. *Electronics: A Paradigm Shift for SMT Electronics Jim Hester (Team Leader) Micro-coil springs that provide flexible electrical interconnections for integrated circuit packages, preventing connection breaks due to heat and vibration. *Machinery/Automation/Robotics  – sponsored by Maplesoft: Automatic Eye Finder & Tracking System Rikki Razdan (Team Leader) Real-time point-of-gaze eye tracking system that allows users to control computer input through "Look and Click" applications.  *Medical: HemeChip for Early Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Disease Yunus Alapan (Team Leader) A biochip that can rapidly, easily, and conclusively identify the hemoglobin type in blood to diagnose Sickle Cell Disease in newborns. *Sustainable Technologies: Ecovent Systems - Making Every Room the Right Temperature Dipul Patel (Team Leader) A system of wireless vents and sensors that makes any forced air heating and cooling system smarter by directing conditioned air where it’s needed most. Finalists were selected by senior editors at Tech Briefs Media Group and judged by an independent panel of design engineers. Visitors to the contest Web site could vote on entries, with the 10 most popular designs awarded a Sphero mobile game system by Orbotix. For more information, visit www.createthefuturecontest.com.          

Posted in: News, Electronic Components, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Diagnostics, Machinery & Automation, Computer-Aided Design (CAD)