News

What Is Effective Training Preparation? A Checklist

Today, we’re pleased to have a guest blog from Bettina Giemsa, Marketing Program Manager at PTC, which delivers Product Lifecycle Management and design software solutions. Bettina’s blog, “Hello, CAD!”, is part of the PlanetPTC Community. Let Bettina know what other items you would add to her checklist for effective training.

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Bringing Machine Learning to Microscopy

Software called Micropilot may help researchers struggling to pinpoint particular cells in their microscopes. The technology, developed by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) scientists, searches for cells with specific features. After detecting the cells that a researcher is interested in, the software can initiate experiments, automatically recording time-lapse videos, for example, or using lasers to mark fluorescently tagged proteins and record their movement. This looked interesting to me, but what do you think? Will this EMBL software cut down an experienced microscopist's workload and search time?

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Eye, Robot

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a nickel-size, curvilinear camera with a 3.5x optical zoom. Or, to put it simply, an eyeball camera. The lens and photodetectors are on flexible substrates. A hydraulic system then changes the shape of the substrates, allowing the zoom capability. Beneath both the membranes of the detector and the simple lens are water-filled chambers. By extracting water from, or injecting water into, the chambers, the detector surface or thin membrane can become a convex or concave hemisphere. Northwestern Engineering provides the details. According to the research team, the device could have uses in night-vision surveillance, endoscopic imaging, and consumer electronics. And, of course, the development is great news for any near-sighted robots!

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A Self-Repairing Solar Cell

Photoelectrochemical cells convert sunlight into electricity, but their light-absorbing dyes, called chromophores, eventually degrade because of sunlight exposure. For plant cells, the degradation of chromophores isn't a big deal - they simply self-regenerate. Now, Purdue researchers are in the early stages of creating a solar cell that self-repairs in a way that is similar to a plant's natural photosynthetic systems. Single-wall carbon nanotubes, anchored to strands of DNA, act as the "molecular wires" in the light harvesting cells. The DNA is engineered to have specific nucleotides that recognize chromophores and attach to them. Photo-damaged chromophores then may be removed by using chemical processes or by adding new DNA strands with different nucleotide sequences. The work looks very interesting and could ultimately lead to a photoelectrochemical cell that operates at full capacity indefinitely.

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Biologically Inspired = Highly Desired?

Mother Nature is a great innovator. In fact, one might argue that some of today's most efficient technologies were not engineered, but rather, exist in nature as the byproducts of a little process called evolution. As such, it comes as no surprise that scientists sometimes look to nature as a source of inspiration for their next innovations. One example that comes to mind is Rice University's Project Squid Skin. This four-year, $6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research aims to develop "metamaterials" that emulate the camouflage techniques of a class of animals called cephalopods (which includes squid, octopus, and cuttlefish). Researchers plan to use patterns of organized nanostructures to create sheets of materials that can change colors quickly and "see" light in the same way that squid skins do. Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Southampton are developing an underwater sonar device that would be able to detect objects through bubble clouds that normally scatter sound and clutter the sonar image. The inspiration for this research? Dolphins, which have been observed to create bubble nets that outsmart manmade sonar. "It occurred to me that either dolphins were blinding their sonar when making such nets, or else they have a better sonar system," said Professor Timothy Leighton of the University's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR). Not a bad point. Of course, marine life isn't the only sector of the animal kingdom capable of setting exciting new technologies in motion. A German bionics company, Festo, designed a Bionic Handling Assistant (robotic arm) that was inspired by the elephant's trunk. According to the company, the system could be useful for medical technology, rehabilitation, and in industrial environments. Not too shabby for an animal sometimes referred to as "Dumbo."

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Emergency? A robot will be right with you

The emergency room may look a bit different in five years. And when I say "different," I mean that mobile robots will be waiting on you and collecting your blood pressure and pulse rate. Computer engineers at Vanderbilt University have a new idea about improving a hospital's emergency department, proposing a system of cognitive robots that gather medical information and provide basic diagnoses to the human staff. In the new system, the registration clerk is replaced by a kiosk. When patients provide critical information, like chest pain or another emergency condition, the robot alerts the staff so they can provide immediate attention. In less urgent situations, the robot informs the patient of the current wait time and directs him or her to the waiting room (Some things never change.). Meanwhile "smart" waiting-room chairs, equipped with nurse triage assistant robots, could collect basic data including blood pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen saturation, respiration rate, height and weight. The Vanderbilt undergraduate engineering students have begun building a prototype registration robot assistant for their senior design project. Their design includes a touch-screen display, a camera, a blood pressure cuff, an electronic weight scale and a fingertip pulse oximeter that measures pulse rate and blood oxygen levels. What do you think?

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Baby You Can Charge My Car

We’ve been hearing for some time now how emissions-free electric vehicles (EVs) could someday save the planet – or at least our part of it – by replacing cars powered with internal combustion engines. What nobody can seem to tell us is when that day will come. Two companies that hope to answer that question are Nissan and General Motors. Nissan is currently taking reservations for its 100-percent electric car called the LEAF and claims to have 20,000 customers already onboard. GM is also taking orders for its Chevrolet Volt, a car they claim is electric – not a hybrid – even though after traveling 50 miles it depends on a gasoline engine to keep its electric motor running. Sounds to me like GM’s marketing department is way ahead of its engineering department on this one, but what do I know? Their primary competitors, Honda and Toyota, don’t plan to bring electric vehicles to market in the U.S. until at least 2012, while Ford is hedging its bets, claiming its all-electric Ford Focus will initially appear in 2011 but serious production won’t occur until 2012. And then, of course, there’s Tesla, the exotic electric sports car that can go from 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and can be parked in your garage almost as quickly if you happen to have $101,500 burning a hole in your pocket. That’s a lot of green to go green! Although they’re nowhere near as expensive as the Tesla, price could still be an obstacle to widespread adoption of EVs like the LEAF and the Volt. The LEAF carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $32,788, while the Volt’s MSRP is $41,000. The good news is that both qualify for a $7500 tax credit, which should lessen the sting a bit. In my opinion, a much bigger obstacle to widespread adoption of EVs is the technology itself. Until EVs can match the range, convenience, and reliability of the cars American drivers already have, they are not going to embrace them. The Nissan LEAF, for example, will travel up to 100 miles on a single charge. If the only place you can charge it is in your garage, that means you can’t go more than 50 miles from home. The Chevy Volt will only travel 40 – 50 miles on a single charge before the gasoline engine kicks in to power the electric motor for another 300 miles or so. Seriously, is it really an electric vehicle if you have to burn up to 9.3 gallons of gasoline to keep the electric motor running? Not in my book! The Tesla claims to have a range of 245 miles per charge, but for a hundred grand you’d kind of expect that, wouldn’t you? Those mileage figures, incidentally, come with a host of disclaimers and qualifiers. Nissan, for example, warns that battery capacity could be severely diminished by things like driving or storing your car in extreme temperatures, driving up steep hills, or driving at high speed for extended periods of time (something tells me unless you buy a Tesla, that last one isn’t going to be a problem!). Vehicle technology notwithstanding, the other part of the problem is infrastructure. Until you can recharge an EV as conveniently as you can refuel a conventional car, Americans will be reluctant to switch. Fortunately, a company called Coulomb Technologies may have a solution for that problem. Their network of ChargePoint Charging Stations work much like a gas pump at any filling station. You simply pull up to the charging station, touch your ChargePass smart card to the station’s card reader, open the door protecting the outlet, and plug in your vehicle. A display on the charging station lets you monitor progress. When charging is complete, you touch your ChargePass card to the card reader to unlock the outlet door, unplug your car, and off you go. The charging stations, which take up very little space, can be mounted anywhere electrical power is available, meaning any gas station, truck stop, convenience store, etc. can tap into a whole new potential revenue stream with a small up-front investment. Sounds like a no-brainer…except for a little chicken-and-egg scenario we’ve got going here. See, business owners won’t be quick to take the plunge and install charging stations until they’re confident that enough people will use them to make it worth their while, and a lot of people won’t buy EVs until they’re confident they can recharge them someplace other than their garages. Let’s see who blinks first?

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