Archive for August, 2010

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Flying in the sunshine

August 25th, 2010 by Gene
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No matter how you look at it, flying around the world is a big deal. Especially in an electric airplane. We’ll check it out. Today, on Engineering Works!

Engineers in Switzerland are getting ready for the first flight around the world in an electric-powered airplane. It’s pretty much the last word in high technology.

The plane looks like a sailplane on steroids. Its wingspan is wider than a Boeing 777, but it weighs about as much as an average car. It’s powered by four electric motors that run on electricity from big lithium-ion batteries that make up about a-quarter of the plane’s weight.

Those batteries are charged by almost 12,000 solar cells on the plane’s wings and tail surfaces. Really efficient. The electricity they produce is only enough to light about 200 small light bulbs. Picture that: flying around the world on the electricity it takes to light up a big Christmas tree.

The airplane’s skin is made from carbon fiber based on material used in the hull of the America’s Cup yacht, Alinghi . In some places it’s only a hundredth of a millimeter thick. That’s not much.

They plan to fly at altitudes between 26,000 and 30,000 feet. At night, when the sun isn’t shining, the motors will run on battery power and the plane will glide on thermal currents. They figure the trip will take about 36 hours in the air.

We’re not flying, but it’s still time for us to take off. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Things like this airplane, that push technology to the limit are fun. There must be other things like this that push technology. What are they? Let us know if you know.

Learn more:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,699885,00.html

http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-55783.html

http://www.wired.co.uk/wired-magazine/archive/2010/04/features/the-solar-powered-flight-around-the-globe.aspx

http://www.solarimpulse.com/

Flickr.com/SpecialKRB

Flickr.com/SpecialKRB

Printing in three dimensions

August 18th, 2010 by Gene
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Some of the gadgets engineers come up with are just cool. We’re going to check out one of them. Printing in three-dimensions. Today, on Engineering Works!

Most of us have home computers these days, and they’re all connected to desktop printers. Hit the print key and out comes that report you needed for work or a barbecue sauce recipe from the web. Easy.

That was then. Now, a new kind of printer is taking printing into three-dimensions, not just flat on a piece of paper. These printers print out solid objects, usually in plastic. There aren’t many of the printers around yet. Technology geeks and hobbyists own most of them. They use them to make stuff like jewelry, toys, tools or kitchen appliances.

Tonight Show host and classic car collector Jay Leno even has one. His mechanics use it to print out car parts that they can’t buy any longer. They send the plastic models to machine shops to get real metal parts made, cheaper and faster than custom-designed parts.

The 3-D printers are starting to catch on. You can buy them in some electronics stores or directly from the manufacturers. Prices run from $750 for a desktop kit model to $27,000 for Leno’s refrigerator-sized unit. So far, it’s definitely a niche device, but enthusiasts are sure that someday we’ll be printing out things we need, not just fun stuff.

We can’t print out a ride home, but we’re still done. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: These 3-D printers sound like they’d be a lot of fun, but can they really be useful? We’re not so sure. Let us know what you think.

Learn more:

http://www.statesman.com/business/technology/3-d-printers-go-beyond-paper-and-ink-729557.html?page=2&viewAsSinglePage=true

http://www.techshout.com/hardware/2007/09/3d-printers-that-can-create-objects-soon-to-be-available-for-use-at-home/

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/jay-leno/technology/4320759

avhell/Flickr.com

avhell/Flickr.com

Seeing in the dark … with your cell phone?

August 11th, 2010 by Gene
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It seems like nifty new apps for your smart phone appear every day. How about one that helps you see in the dark? Today, on Engineering Works!

If you like war movies or just keep track of the news from Iraq and Afghanistan, you know something about night vision devices. They’re goggles, mated to a set of lenses and electronic gear that allow soldiers to see in the dark. They work pretty well, but they’re bulky, heavy and expensive.

Now, materials engineers have come up with something that could replace current night vision technology. And it’s everything the current technology isn’t. Small, light and cheap.

Most standard night vision devices work by converting photons, the subatomic particles that make up light, into electrons that hit a phosphorous screen and produce an image you can see. Making this work requires lots of electric power and heavy glass components.

The new idea uses a detector made up of layers of an organic semiconductor connected to an LED array. The LED gives you an image you can see.

The best part is that the device is about the size of a nickel. And it can be made of plastic instead of glass. The researchers say adding it to a cell phone should be really inexpensive. It also could be added to eyeglasses or automobile windshields.

We can’t see in the dark yet, so we’re going to leave for home before the sun goes down. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: This seems like a nifty idea. How would you use a cell phone app that lets you see in the dark? Let us know.

Learn more:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100504113123.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_vision

giladotan/flickr.com

giladotan/flickr.com

A dark side of high tech

August 4th, 2010 by Gene
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Most of us like most of the things engineers do. Maybe we need to be careful, too. A dark side of high tech. Today, on Engineering Works!

Most of the time, the digital world seems like a good place to be. You can talk on your cell phone, text-message to friends and surf the web. All at the same time. While you’re walking down the street.

Do it sitting at your desk and we call it multi-tasking. You can write a report, write and answer e-mails, chat online, talk on the telephone.

Everybody’s multi-tasking, it seems. A college professor once described a student in a class he visited. She was listening to the lecturer, taking notes on her laptop, Googling words she didn’t know, and IM-ing with a friend. Taking good notes, too, he said. As you walk down the street, at least half the people you meet are talking on their cell phones as they walk.

Sometimes the sheer volume of data we get can overwhelm us. Have you ever overlooked an important e-mail because you were busy doing other things? We’ll bet you have. And researchers say that while we think it’s cool to multi-task, nobody actually does it very well. Even worse, behavioral scientists say living in the middle of all this data can be addictive. And it can actually get in the way of creativity and sound thinking.

We’re just single-tasking and we’re quitting for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Just because we can do more, should we? And what’s so great about being connected all the time? What do you think?

Learn more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?ref=science

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112334449

http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2007/03/study-says-leave-the-multitasking-to-your-computer.ars