Billy's Blog

On Billy's Blog, Billy Hurley, Digital Editorial Manager, writes stories about new and innovative achievements in design engineering, from industrial robots and autonomous vehicles to 3D printers and see-through solar cells. Along with other Tech Briefs writers and editors, Billy shares his opinions, poses questions to readers, and finds the fun, interesting, and unexpected stories behind today's leading-edge inventions.

Lightning Strikes With PTC's Creo

There was a bit of a crowd lining up near Boston's Park Plaza this morning, and if it wasn't for all the business-casual attire, you may have thought another Apple Store was opening up down the street. The event was actually PTC's unveiling of its new product suite: Creo.

Here's the quick...

NASA Wants You to Help Rock Space

If you're an astronaut, the last thing you need jarring you awake first thing in the morning out in space is a beeping alarm clock. So, since the Apollo days, NASA has chosen to get its astronauts moving with a wakeup song. Now NASA is giving you two chances to help select wakeup songs that will be played during...

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter where you go,

If it’s a million miles away, or just a mile up the road.

Take it in. Take it with you when you go.

Who says you can’t go home?”

So says New Jersey-born rocker Jon Bon Jovi in a hit song he penned several...

Taxi...Take Me to The Moon

In the words of the late, great gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” That’s comforting to know because the future of America’s space exploration program has suddenly gotten weird, and the last thing you need when that happens is amateurs calling the...

Big Ideas for Small Innovations

Another day at MD&M West has come and gone, and I'm continuing to see a lot of focus on miniaturization -- which makes sense, considering the multitude of medical applications that could benefit from compact yet efficient devices.

The SQUIGGLE motor from New Scale Technologies measures 2.8 x 2.8 x 6 mm....

Engineering Design at its Coolest

Day one at the Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West show in Anaheim, CA was bustling with energy. Nearly everyone I spoke with said that they had found themselves happily busy throughout the day.

One nice part about meeting people at trade shows is that you might come across information you...

Movies and Manufacturing

Day two at SolidWorks World, the worldwide event for SolidWorks users, drew a record crowd. And this time it wasn’t because of the sunny Southern California weather. It was because the special guest speaker happened to be James Cameron, who just this morning was nominated for Best Director and Best Picture Academy...

Transforming Design

This week, I’m coming to you live from Anaheim, CA, and SolidWorks World 2010. The SolidWorks user community continues to flock to this annual event, and this year, there are more than 5,000 registrants learning about new features coming up in the next version of SolidWorks, as well as networking with other users,...

Do The Russians Know Something We Don't?

Do the Russians know something we don’t?

In the waning days of 2009, the head of Russia’s federal space agency, Dr. Anatoly Perminov, made huge headlines by telling a Russian radio station that their space agency was contemplating sending a mission to Apophis, an 885-foot (270-meter) asteroid...

Scan My Body - As Long As It Is Safe

I mentioned in my last blog post I will travel to Anaheim in early February to attend several shows, notably the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show and Medical Design & Manufacturing West. That means once again subjecting myself to the rigors of airport security - whipping out my photo ID, emptying my...

Gearing Up For Trade Shows

As the holidays fade and the New Year unfolds, it’s back to business for most of us. For NASA Tech Briefs, that includes a bunch of trade shows and conferences our editors will attend over the next few months.

One show I plan to attend is the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show, taking place at the Anaheim...

A Muddled Crystal Ball

As another decade comes to a rapid close, it seems like just yesterday that the main topic of discussion was how to prepare for the impending Y2K disaster that was supposed to throw computer networks into chaos and create massive disruptions in our lives. Though most level-headed citizens did not buy into the Y2K hype,...

Even Santa Loves High-Tech

One may not normally associate Santa Claus with cutting-edge science and technology, but a story in our recent Tech Briefs INSIDER newsletter shows that notion is outdated.

The story, based on
research by North Carolina State University professor Dr. Larry Silverberg, paints a picture of St. Nick as a...

NASA Challenges Young Rocket Scientists

Have a son or daughter fascinated by space travel? NASA has invited more than 350 student rocketeers from middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities to take part in its 2009-2010 Student Launch Projects. The contest is designed to inspire students to channel their interests in science,...

Blog: Robotics, Automation & Control
A Friendly Backseat Driver

As someone who’s driven a number of years for hundreds of thousands of miles, I normally don't like someone telling me how to drive. I'm guiding the car at a speed I feel comfortable with, see the road obstacles ahead, and (supposedly) know where I’m going. Well, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology...

Auto Slump Impacts Robotics Market

The declining fortunes of the U.S. automotive industry have had a direct impact on the robotics market. The latest data from the industry trade group Robotic Industries Association (RIA) saw robotic sales decline 30% in unit volume and 43% in dollar volume the first nine months of 2009.

Robot sales to...

Technology and Common Sense

With all the technology available to us today – iPods, smartphones, camcorders, portable computers – it is not hard to imagine people fully immersing themselves in their gadgets and various forms of media. But is technology causing people to become too self-absorbed? We asked readers this question in our Question...

Predicting the Weather on Mars

Over the years, I have learned not to place too much trust in weather forecasters. On a number of occasions, the forecasters have either underestimated or overestimated the severity or timing of predicted storms, or failed to predict weather events altogether. So I read with interest a story discussing NASA...

Software Obsolescence

I have never rushed out to purchase the latest version of a software release. As long as my current software is running my programs smoothly and not experiencing constant freeze-ups, I’d rather not bother with the arduous process of backing up my data and hoping the new software does not stall midway through installation...

Blog: Robotics, Automation & Control
Robots as Personal Assistants

The increasing presence of robots in industrial applications has been well documented. But robotic technology advances are also trickling down into the consumer market, creating a similar boom in the demand for personal robots. That is the conclusion of a new study by ABI Research titled “Personal Robotics 2009:...

A Smarter Electric Grid

A stark reminder of our country’s outdated infrastructure is the sight of uniformed utility company personnel canvassing neighborhoods to read electric and gas meters in homes and businesses. For many residents, this means having to arrange access for meter readers. I have circumvented this issue by doing my own...

MEMS Industry Fueled By New Technology

Like other sectors, the market for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) stagnated during the economic downturn. According to a report by market research organization Yole Developpement titled “State of the MEMS Industry 2009 Report,” sales of MEMS-based products are slated to reach $6.9 billion in...

Robots Doing the Dirty Work

The days of human beings sweeping floors, guarding plants, and doing other mundane or hazardous tasks could someday become a thing of the past. Service robots are increasingly being called on to perform these tasks, according to a new study from industry intelligence organization The Robot Report.

According to...

Keep Innovating!

Although this is the last entry for my Design & Manufacturing Midwest show blog, I want to encourage all of you to keep innovating, and to let me know what new products and technologies you’re working on that may be inspiring to someone at next year’s show.

Here are the last couple of products I wanted to let you...

Quality Counts

As my post-show coverage of Design & Manufacturing Midwest winds down, the focus is on quality. A number of products were on display that promise to help engineers make the right design decisions, and then ensure that their products are top-notch.

Autodesk showcased its Digital Prototyping solutions, including Moldflow...

Were You at D&M Midwest?

I met a lot of people at last week’s Design & Manufacturing Midwest show, and I saw a lot of innovative new products. I’ve had the chance to share with you what I saw last week from the show floor, and this week as we do a final wrap-up. What about you? If you were at D&M Midwest – or any of the five...

Streamlining PC Board Production

Given increased time-to-market pressures, design engineers are caught in a never-ending quest to streamline design and production processes. The challenges are formidable: proprietary or incompatible software, poor design tools, incomplete parts documentation, equipment issues - all can slow down prototyping and...

More New D&M Midwest Products

Last week’s Design & Manufacturing Midwest event in Rosemont, IL, was a hotbed for new product introductions to the industrial, medical, automation, assembly, and design areas. Here are more new products you should know about in case you missed the show.

Optical Gaging Products introduced the Focus...

Post-Show Week Begins

As attendees and exhibitors get back to business following last week’s Design & Manufacturing Midwest event, there are still a lot of things to talk about in my post-show blog this week.

After sifting through stacks of new product sheets and press kits, I’ve found that one week was not enough to cover all...