Archive for October, 2012

SARTRE project

SARTRE project

Movin’ on down the highway

October 31st, 2012 by Gene

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All aboard! Engineers in Europe are putting down tracks for a new kind of train. A road train. Today, on Engineering Works!

Even if you like to drive long distances, it’s a tiring way to travel. Engineers think they’ve come up with a way to combine the best parts of your private vehicle and mass transit. A road train of cars, heading down the highway.

The idea is that the road train’s locomotive, probably a truck driven by a professional driver, would carry a controller that would control the other cars in the train. Most of the technology involved is already available in existing vehicles: automatic speed control, sensors that watch your blind spot, laser range-finders that help you keep your distance from vehicles ahead.

The SARTRE project – Safe Road Trains for the Environment – puts them all together in a package with controllers for steering and brakes. The SARTRE developers have tested it on highways in Europe, and it works. Drivers of cars in the road train can relax and let the driver of the lead vehicle do the work. Read, answer e-mails. Even sleep. It’s safer and less tiring than driving yourself. And because you’d be drafting in the slipstream of vehicles ahead of you in the train like a NASCAR driver, your gas mileage will be better, too.

It’s a cool idea, and legal restrictions are all that’s standing in the way of putting the idea into practice.  We’re ready. 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 has to be one of the neater transportation-related ideas to come along in a while. We’d use it. Would you? Why or why not.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/sartre-autonomous-road-train-completed/24170/

http://www.sartre-project.eu/en/Sidor/default.aspx

See video of the road train on the road:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBTkz_FuFzc&feature=player_embedded

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Microbe World

Microbe World

Low-tech to the rescue

October 24th, 2012 by Gene
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Sometimes low-tech is better than high-tech. We’ll look at one of those times. This week on Engineering Works!

One of the places low-tech works better than high tech is when we try to take medicine to developing countries. Especially for things like testing for tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis – TB – is pretty rare in developed countries, but it’s everywhere in the developing world. Almost nine-million people contracted TB in 2010, and almost one-and-a-half-million died. That’s about four-thousand people every minute. Worldwide, only HIV AIDS kills more people.

Testing for TB is hard to do in places away from good laboratories. You have to collect samples of sputum, or spit, and ship them to a central laboratory. In the lab, the samples had to be cleaned and processed and examined through a microscope to see if the bacterium that causes TB is there. The bacterium is hard to pick out and the tests often give inaccurate results.

Now, researchers have come up with a new test that doesn’t need microscopes. And you don’t have to ship the samples away. You only need a container that’s dark inside – think cardboard box – an LED light source, and some simple filters. The researchers figured out a way to get chemical structures in sputum to fluoresce, or glow, when the T-B bacterium is there. And – only – when it’s there.

It’s quick, easy to use and gives results right there.

We’re done right now, and we’re heading home. 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: We spend so much time looking for high-tech solutions to problems that we often miss low-tech solutions to problems that high technology can’t get to. There must be other low-tech solutions out there. What are some?

Learn more:

http://the-scientist.com/2012/09/05/do-it-yourself-tb-test/

http://phys.org/news/2012-09-simple-cheap-method-tb-patients.html

http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nchem.1435.html

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/

http://skyscrapercenter.com

http://skyscrapercenter.com

How tall is a tall building?

October 10th, 2012 by Gene
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When you think of tall buildings, what do you think of? And what is a tall building, anyway? We’ll take a look, today on Engineering Works!

Skyscrapers have been the symbol of big cities for more than a hundred years. Starting in the 1890s, when the new availability of lots of reasonably priced steel for beams and columns made it possible, big city buildings have pushed into the sky.

If you’re of a certain age, the tall building you think of is probably the Empire State Building in New York City. Or the former Sears Tower, now the Willis Tower, in Chicago. These days, those two buildings barely make it into the top 20 of tall buildings around the world.

This week, the Bourj Khalifa in Dubai holds the record at more than 27-hundred feet tall. But builders in China and Saudi Arabia are talking about going as high as 3,280 feet. That’s well over half-a-mile tall.

According to experts, the limits on how high buildings can go are mostly in everyday things, like designing elevators to go that high. Or simply raising the money to pay for it. If you could get solve those issues, workable designs exist. Look at the Burj Khalifa and think bigger. Or maybe something like a super-duper-sized Eiffel Tower.

Our taste runs more to buildings you can walk to the top of without breathing too hard. 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: We don’t care for tall buildings, ourselves, but in cities, where the cost of land is astronomical, they make sense. What’s your favorite tall building – anywhere?

For more:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2012/08/there-limit-how-tall-buildings-can-get/2963#

http://skyscrapercenter.com/

ssalonzo/flickr.com

The toilet challenge

October 3rd, 2012 by Gene
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Here’s an unexpected combination: Bill Gates and toilets. Today, on Engineering Works!

Toilets are pretty basic things. Most of us take them for granted, unless you can’t find one when you need it. Bill Gates thinks toilets are pretty important, and when you have your own foundation – as he does – you can do something about it.

What makes toilets important to Gates is that about two-and-a-half-billion, with a B, people around the world don’t have them. When you don’t have a toilet, what should go into the toilet can end up in bad places. Places that can make the water you drink and the food you eat downright dangerous. And it – is – dangerous.

About one-and-a-half-million children around the world die each year from diarrheal diseases. Diseases caused mostly by unsanitary conditions. So Gates is putting his foundation’s money where his mouth is. Offering money to people who design and build new kinds of toilets that will work in undeveloped areas of the world.

It’s more complicated than it sounds. The new toilets have to work without running water, electricity or a septic system. They can’t discharge pollutants, and it can’t cost more than five-cents a day to run one. Extra points if the toilet captures energy or other resources.

Lots of people have taken Gates up on his challenge, and several have gotten seed money to see how well their ideas work.

We’re glad our toilet doesn’t need to be re-invented. 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: Sometimes things we take for granted can cause a lot of trouble when folks don’t have them. Toilets are pretty obvious if you stop to think about it. What other everyday things cause problems when people don’t have them? Let us know.

For more:

http://www.sci-tech-today.com/story.xhtml?story_id=84460?page=2

image in temporary images file. Credit [s e l v i n]/flickr.com