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Updated: 5 hours 42 min ago

HP Opens 3-Acre 3D Print Facility in Barcelona

11 hours 24 min ago

Last week, HP Inc. opened the doors of its 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Barcelona, Spain. According to HP, the campus is one largest and most advanced research and development facilities for 3D printing and additive manufacturing. The new center brings together hundreds of additive manufacturing experts in more than 150,000 square feet of innovation space – about the size of three football fields. The company notes that the goal of the center is to transform the way the world designs and manufactures products.

Here’s HP’s 150,000 sq. ft 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Barcelona, Spain. (Image source: HP)

For years, Barcelona civic leaders have worked to position the city as a technology hub for Europe. The city is home to major technology trade shows, including IoT World Conference and Mobile World Congress. “Barcelona has always played a significant role in our journey to accelerate the future of digital manufacturing,” Ramon Pastor, GM and global head of plastics solutions for 3D printing and digital manufacturing at HP, told Design News. “Barcelona is at the forefront of innovation, helping us reinvent manufacturing and playing a key role in the development of our most impressive and advanced 3D printing technologies like Multi Jet Fusion and Metal Jet.”

Collaboration Space for Partners

HP’s 3+ acre Barcelona facility is dedicated to the development of the company’s industrial 3D printing portfolio, providing a large-scale factory environment to collaborate with partners on digital manufacturing technologies. The center is designed to bring together digital manufacturing experts in systems engineering, data intelligence, software, materials science, design, and applications. “At the new facility, we’re uniting experts across multiple disciplines with the goal to bring new capabilities to our customers and further advance the role of emerging technologies, like 3D printing, within the larger digital manufacturing landscape,” said Pastor.

HP’s three-acre facility in Barcelona focuses on the development of its 3D printing portfolio and provides a large-scale factory environment for customers and partners to collaborate on digital manufacturing technologies. (Image source: HP)

The facility will integrate flexible and interactive layouts, co-development environments, and fleets of the latest HP plastics and metals 3D production systems. Companies such as BASF, GKN Metallurgy, Siemens, Volkswagen, and others across the automotive, industrial, healthcare, and consumer goods sectors will collaborate with HP on new 3D printing and digital manufacturing innovations.

HP sees these collaborations as essential to expanding the capabilities and usefulness of 3D printing. “We believe that the key to wider adoption of industrial 3D printing lies in greater ecosystem collaboration – through the development of 3D technologies, software innovation, materials development, data intelligence, and parts production,” said Pastor. “With the opening of the center, we’re fostering a place to collaborate with our partners and experts to create solutions that enable the growth of digital manufacturing.”

An Eco-Friendly Facility

In a statement, HP noted that the facility was designed to reflect the company’s commitment to the environment by incorporating a photovoltaic canopy to provide 110kW of power, rainwater reuse for irrigation and sanitary purposes, HVAC and natural light optimization, and eco-friendly construction materials with a goal of achieving a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. The goal is to use 100% renewable energy in its global operations over time, with a target of 60% by 2025.

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The Barcelona center was created to expand HP’s global 3D printing and digital manufacturing footprint and enhance existing innovation locations in Oregon, California, and Washington. The company also recently a Singapore location in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF). The collaboration was created to drive 3D printing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, materials and applications, and cybersecurity innovations.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Polymer Composites With Enhanced Electrical, Thermal Properties

12 hours 24 min ago

Researchers are always searching for new, flexible materials for the next generation of soft robots and electronic devices, including novel medical devices.

Now a team of chemists and engineers at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a process to create a new class of stretchable polymer composites with enhanced electrical and thermal properties that they believe will be well-suited for these applications.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new process to create polymer composites with new thermal and electrical capabilities. At left, a single liquid metal nanodroplet grafted with polymer chains. On the right, a schematic of polymer brushes grafted from the oxide layer of a liquid metal droplet. (Image source: Carnegie Mellon University)

Liquid Metal Alloy

The new work—led by Carmel Majidi, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon and director of the Soft Machines Lab—has at its core a metal alloy that is liquid at ambient temperatures, eutectic gallium indium. The research hinges on turning this material into an elastomer to create a soft, highly stretchable, and multi-functional composite with high level of thermal stability and electrical conductivity.

In past work, Majidi already developed rubber composites that used nanoscopic droplets of liquid metal, but with mixed results. While the materials had promise, the mechanical method used to mix the composite’s components created materials with inconsistent properties, he said.

For the new research, Majidi called upon colleague Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, a professor of natural sciences and polymer chemist at Carnegie Mellon, to aid him in polymerizing his composite material.

Matyjaszewski developed a technique called atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) in 1994, allowing scientists to string together monomers piece by piece to form highly-tailored polymers with specific properties.

“New materials are only effective if they are reliable,” he said of the technique. “You need to know that your material will work the same way every time before you can make it into a commercial product.”

Indeed, his is what ATRP can do, resulting in materials that have consistent, reliable structures and unique properties, he said. Working together, Matyjaszewski and Majidi used ATRP to attach monomer brushes to the surface nanodroplets of eutectic gallium indium. These brushes linked together to form strong bonds to the droplets, resulting in dispersing the liquid metal evenly throughout the elastomer, researchers said.

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High Elasticity and Thermal Conductivity

This allowed Majidi to achieve his result with the new composites—a material with properties of high elasticity and high thermal conductivity, he said. Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The team also learned something new through their research that they and other materials scientists can bring to work going forward. Researchers noticed that polymer grafting seemed to suppress the crystallization temperature of the metal alloy from 15 C  to  -80 C, which extended its liquid phase ­and properties down to very low temperatures.

“We can now suspend liquid metal in virtually any polymer or copolymer in order to tailor their material properties and enhance their performance,” Majidi observed. “This has not been done before. It opens the door to future materials discovery.” 

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Together Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion Could Transform How We Interact with Devices

Wed, 2019-06-19 05:00
(Image source: Leap Motion)

Leap Motion's acquisition by Ultrahaptics could be seen as the curtain call of a novel startup. Or it could be the first step toward a new innovation in machine interactivity. Separately, Leap Motion's hand-tracking technology and Ultrahaptics' mid-air haptic feedback technology already offer some novel implications for VR, AR, and device interaction. But combined they could create something right out of science fiction – the ability to feel and manipulate virtual objects without the need for gloves or other wearables.

While Ultrahaptics hasn't laid out any plans for a specific product yet, it's clear from statements from company CEO Steve Cliff that this is their line of thinking.

“Together, Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion products have the opportunity to be at the global epicenter of spatial interaction. Taking a holistic view of this exciting market, not only can we continue to create two hugely significant technologies, but we can max out the potential of combining them,” Cliff said in a press statement regarding the acquisition.

Many will remember Leap Motion as the startup that garnered a lot of attention in recent years due to its innovative sensor and software technology that tracked the hand movements of VR and AR users, down to each finger, without the need of a glove or external controller.

Leap Motion's hand tracking technology lets users use their bare hands as controllers. (Image source: Leap Motion)

Leap Motion shipped its first sensor product The Leap Motion Controller – a peripheral that could be added onto computers or other devices. Despite seeing some product integration, as in the XTAL headset from VRgineers, the product was never able to garner a strong use case. The controller was also criticized for its limited range and inconsistencies with interactions.

In 2018, the company released North Star, an augmented reality headset with hand-tracking capability designed as a development platform for creating AR systems.

The buzz around Leap Motion was so strong that it even attracted the attention of Apple, which moved to acquire the company on at least two separate occasions. Both times Apple's advances were rebuffed by Leap Motion's founders, David Holz and Michael Buckwald, who reportedly did not wish to work with Apple. Sources speaking to Business Insider also speculated that Apple was less interested in Leap Motion's technology than in acquiring the talent behind it to work on other projects.

After the failed acquisitions by Apple, Leap Motion remained relatively quiet, until late May, when the company announced it was being acquired by UK-based Ultrahaptics. According to The Wall Street Journal, Ultrahaptics bought Leap Motion for a song – paying an estimated $30 million, only a fraction of the company's nearly $300 million valuation at its peak.

But Ultrahaptics seems a better match for Leap Motion than Apple. Ultrahaptics also works in the hand-tracking arena, albeit from a different angle than Leap Motion. The company utilizes ultrasonic technology to give users a tactile sensation for virtual objects. A plate-like sensory array emits ultrasound waves onto a user's hand – giving the sensation of touching a virtual object on screen.

Ultrahaptics' Stratos can be attached to devices and uses ultrasound to give the user a tactile sensation while holding their hand in mid-air. (Image source: Ultrahaptics)

While the implications for AR and VR are clear, the company is also expanding its technology into other use cases such as retail and automotive. In 2018 Ultrahaptics released Stratos, a plug-and-play module designed to add haptic feedback to digital signage, touch displays, and other device interfaces. The company is also actively researching and experimenting with automotive applications of its technology and has developed concept cars that use haptic interfaces for touch-free control and reducing driver distraction.

So on one hand (pun intended) we have a company that has developed hand-tracking technology. On the other, you have a company working in mid-air haptics. If the companies were able to marry the two it's not difficult to imagine the implications not only for VR and AR, but for wider control interface applications.

Imagine VR and AR games that let you feel when you're holding an object or getting hit. Or virtual design and training environments that let you feel real weight and feedback from tools and parts. Kiosks and installations in airports and other venues could use mid-air gesture control, but with a degree of feedback to simulate the feel of pressing a real button.

The value for some of these use cases has already been demonstrated. HaptX, a developer of haptic gloves for VR training, design, and simulation recently partnered with London-based Fundamental VR to add haptic feedback to Fundamental VR's training simulations for medical professionals.

The Fundamental VR/ HaptX platform uses gloves to give trainees a realistic sensation of holding a virtual surgical tool or instrument. It is currently deployed in several medical insitutions around the world including Mayo Clinic, UCLA, and University College London Hospitals (UCLH).

The potential of a union of Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion's technologies is scenarios just like this one...only without the gloves.

Whether those ambitions can be realized or if the two technologies will continue as separate products under one company umbrella remains to be seen. However, in his own statement regarding the acquisition, David Holz, co-founder and CTO of Leap Motion, expressed optimism for what the future may hold. “We’ve been the undisputed leaders in our respective spaces from the beginning and this marks an exciting new era of even greater technologies and more physical, intuitive experiences.”

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

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Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Octopus-Inspired Sensor Sticks to Both Wet and Dry Skin

Wed, 2019-06-19 04:00

Nature is often a source of inspiration for researchers developing new materials to solve various scientific problems—particularly in adhesives, which creatures such as mollusks and octopus seem to do much better than human scientists.

In fact, it’s the latter animal that inspired a team in South Korea to develop a graphene-based adhesive bio-sensor that can stick reliably to a person’s skin, an invention that straddles the disciplines of materials science and wearable technology.

A graphene-based adhesive biosensor inspired by octopus “suckers” is flexible and holds up in wet and dry environments. (Image source: Applied Materials Interfaces)

Wet and Dry Skin

Particular to the research is that the team wanted the sensor to stick to wet as well as dry skin. Researchers from several institutions—including Sungkyunkwan University and the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science

and Technology—found inspiration in the suckers on octopus tentacles, which do this effectively in the natural world.

“The property of adhesion to the skin in both dry and wet environments is strongly required for efficient monitoring of various human activities,” researchers wrote in an abstract for a paper they published about the research in the journal Applied Materials Interfaces.

Key to developing adhesives that stick when both dry and bet was the choice of substrate, which is the material upon which the sensing compounds rest. In the past researchers have used woven yarn, but it sometimes doesn’t fully contact the skin, especially if there also is hair on the skin. These yarns also tend to lose their grip underwater, researchers noted.

To overcome these challenges and achieve their desired result, researchers used octopus-like patterns on the side of a graphene-coated fabric (GCF) sensor “that are sensitive and respond fast to applied pressure and strain,” they wrote.

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Full Range of Activities

“Using these characteristics, we demonstrate efficient monitoring of a full range of human activities, including human physiological signals such as wrist pulse and electrocardiography (ECG), as well as body motions and speech vibrations,” researchers reported. Their sensors could take ECG and wrist-bending motion measurements even in wet conditions, they added.

To developed the sensor, the team—which included researchers Changhyun Pang of Sungkyunkwan University and Changsoon Cho of the Daegu Gyeongbuk  institute—coated an elastic polyurethane and polyester fabric with graphene oxide, then soaked it in L-ascorbic acid to aid in conductivity while still retaining its strength and stretch.

They then added a coating of a graphene and poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) film to form a conductive path from the fabric to the skin, after which they etched the octopus-like patterns on the film, researchers said.

The team is eyeing the sensor’s use for not only personal health monitoring but also for potential new and innovative medical applications both externally and internally, researchers said.

“Our approach has opened up a new possibility for wearable and skin-adherent electronic fabric sensors working even in wet environments for health-care monitoring and medical applications in vitro and in vivo,” they wrote.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

8 Popular Products You Didn't Know Were Built with Open Source

Tue, 2019-06-18 13:45

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29),  Drive World Conference & Expo  launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow. 
Will you be there to help engineer this shift?  Register today!

 

Chuck Murray: The Great Voice of Design News

Tue, 2019-06-18 11:01

The strongest magazines and websites have an individual and distinctive voice. The New Yorker’s clever voice originated with founding editor Harold Ross, and it continues on today. Rolling Stone is known for its humor smarts that came from publisher and founder, Jann Wenner. If Design News offers a voice in the engineering community – and we believe it does – that voice lives in the writing of Senior Editor Chuck Murray. Chuck has chalked up more than three decades of compelling stories and editorial perspective for Design News.

Chuck Murray retires this month after more than 30 years of writing and editing and writing for Design News. 

Like many of the editors and writers who have penned for Design News, Chuck began life as an engineer. He brings the cool and probing analysis of an engineer to his coverage. Add to that the warm heart of a writer who has mastered language – in the case of Design News, the language of technology. While his beat focus has primarily been automotive, and electronics & test, his know-how spans all areas of Design News, from automation & control through materials and software.

Chuck sustained the difficult and sometimes magical balance required of a great technology writer. He’s been continually inquisitive, good spirited, able to keep vast amounts knowledge at his mental fingertips, and skeptical. Like all good reporters, he understood at the core of his laptop that skepticism – but not negativity – is an absolute requirement of editorial excellence.

Off to a Busy Retirement

Chuck will be sailing off from the Design News shores at the end of this week. He’ll he turn his focus of inquiry to his family, particularly the growing number or grandkids who eagerly wait for Chuck’s trips to Disney World.

Few editors can reap the praise of editorial boss after editorial boss. Here’s a sampling. “In more than three decades at Design News, Chuck made an incredible contribution to the electronics and design industries, especially automotive,” said Suzanne Deffree, brand director for Intelligent Systems & Design at Informa Markets and a former content director for Design News. “Chuck’s honest and thorough reporting supported engineers and influenced innovation.”

Deffree pointed to the quality of Chuck’s editorial work: “No hype, no siding, just reporting truth and sharing knowledge. That was the job and he did it well,” said Deffree. “Beyond the news desk, he’s one of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. He’s earned every friend and accolade received in life and so many more.”

A Reporter’s Reporter

One of the hallmarks of a strong editor and writer is the ability to track down sources and get the real goods on developments. A great editor should never rise above strong reportage. Just like Jimmy Olsen before him, Chuck could delve into a subject and eek out the truth. “Chuck is more than a writer who can handle any story you assign him,” said David Greenfield, director of content, Automation World and former Editor-in-Chief at Design News. “He’s a writer who’ll turn in an article that provides answers to questions you didn’t think to ask and angles you didn’t think existed.”

Another trademark for an exceptional editor is thoroughness. “Chuck always dug deep into his assignments, often turning up ideas for further articles. He didn’t just perform his job, he was genuinely interested in it,” said Greenfield. “In my time working with him he set a high bar for staff writers and editors that few others I have worked with have been able to meet.”

Always Exceeding Expectations

For all his attention to detail and exhaustive research, Chuck hasn’t been prickly or difficult. “Chuck was likely the easiest employee I ever managed. He knew what he had to do, and he did it, always exceeding expectations,” said Rich Nass, EVP at OpenSystems Media and former content director at Design News. “He’s very laid back and mild mannered. He obviously loves his work but loves his family more than anything.”

Chuck’s love of family was obvious to anyone who spent more than 10 minutes with him. “I can remember countless trips Chuck made to watch his kids compete, traveling literally thousands of miles on a weekend in his minivan with over 250,000 miles,” said Nass. “It’ll be the end of an era when Chuck retires, and while I’m sad to see him leave, he deserves a healthy and joyous retirement.”

The editorial and events staff at Design News warmly and heartily agrees! And Chuck will be sorely, sorely missed.

Mainstream Automakers Embark on the Big Move to Battery-Electrics

Tue, 2019-06-18 05:00
Later this year, Ford is expected to unveil a Mustang-inspired crossover with an all-electric range of 300-plus miles. (Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

After more than a century of rejecting battery-powered cars, mainstream automakers are finally changing their minds.

This year, they’re debuting some of the best battery-electric vehicles (BEV) in their history. The cars are big and visually appealing; feature long-range batteries; and come in popular form factors – crossovers and SUVs. In short, they’re built to sell. And their underlying message is clear: These aren’t your regulator’s electric cars.

Moreover, the new breed of battery-electrics is being developed by some of the global industry’s most established, mainstream names. In the first half of 2019 alone, Audi, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, and Nissan debuted new BEVs with 200-plus-mile ranges. Later this year, Porsche will deliver a 600-HP, all-electric luxury vehicle. And Ford Motor Co. will reveal an electric, Mustang-inspired crossover that Ford chairman William Clay Ford has said will “go like hell.”

And the trend will extend well beyond 2019. General Motors has said it will introduce more than 20 new BEVs over the next few years, including a battery-powered Cadillac. And Fiat Chrysler is planning to offer four new electric Jeeps, while Ford is working on an all-electric version of the F-150 pickup. Meanwhile, Volkswagen is said to be investing $50 billion in electrification technology.

All in all, it amounts to a bonanza of BEVs. “It’s still a small fraction of the market,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Navigant Research. “But it’s definitely growing fast.”

Even as the market grows, however, mainstream manufacturers have a quiet but very real concern – the consumer. “The auto companies want to be committed, and they think what they’re doing is a good idea,” noted Mike Ramsey, senior director and automotive analyst for Gartner, Inc. “But they definitely need to see some market pull.”

Indeed, there’s still reason for concern on that front, despite the rollout of so many products. Last year’s US BEV sales amounted to only about 1.5% of the market, mostly because the vehicle prices are still higher than those of comparable gas-burning cars.

And that’s frightening for automakers who have already poured billions of dollars into development of new BEVs. Many fear they will over-produce. They imagine parking lots full of unsold, deeply-discounted, electric cars – and deep financial losses. 

For mainstream automakers, it’s a risk they take as they dive head-long into the electric fray. And they know it. “There is no demand,” one automotive OEM, who preferred to remain anonymous, lamented to Design News .

Still, it’s the reality. “The customer is in charge of the game,” noted David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research and a 60-year veteran of the auto industry. “And no one knows what the customer will do.”

The Reasons Why

A confluence of factors – including global competition, government regulations, and falling battery prices – have brought mainstream automakers to this juncture.

It’s a juncture that many automakers couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. Most had been more notable for their tepid acceptance of battery-electric vehicles and, in some cases, outright refusal to build or sell them.  

But for almost every mainstream manufacturer today, regulations have become a forcing factor. In the US, California and 14 other states have taken the lead, calling on automakers to hit prescribed percentages of zero emission vehicles (ZEV). If they don’t, there are penalties to be paid in the form of ZEV credits. Such credits can cost tens of millions of dollars, and end up getting paid to competitors, which most manufacturers are loathe to do.

Then there’s the global market. Most observers say the global market is the biggest motivator of all. At least 17 countries have announced plans to ban internal combustion engines in city centers, mostly between 2030 and 2040. And China has made battery-electric vehicles a national priority, even going so far as to require that customers enter a lottery in order to get a license for a new car with an internal combustion engine.

For automakers, the handwriting is on the global wall. “When you’ve got Europe and China and California holding a gun to your head and telling you to sell EVs, then you’re going to sell EVs,” noted Abuelsamid of Navigant Research. “If you want to be part of the global market, then you just have to do this.”

That’s why many of the aforementioned BEVs won’t be sold in the US. GM, for example, has talked about more than 20 BEVs, many of which are ticketed for China, Abuelsamid said. Ford has discussed as many as 14 different BEVs, of which only six will be offered in the US, and FCA’s electric Jeeps are targeted for other countries, he added.

Some automakers are unhappy about the mandates, but have little choice. “This is more of a forced march than a happy migration,” one foreign manufacturer wrote to Design News.

Others, such as GM, have concluded that if they have to build EVs globally, they might as well call for a national EV mandate in the US. That way, they can spread the cost of their massive BEV development efforts.

Either way, they want to be careful not to build too much, for fear US consumers won’t bite. It’s an especially difficult calculation, given the fact that virtually every automaker is losing money on every BEV it sells. “It’s really hard to make a business case for something that you know will lose money for an extended period of time,” Abuelsamid said. “So everybody aside from Tesla is trying to limit their sales to what they need to do in order to meet the mandates.”

Better Batteries

Having been pushed to build EVs, however, automakers in recent years have begun to make a curiously pleasant discovery: There's light at the end of that long, dark, development tunnel. And that light is the lithium-ion battery.

Lithium-ion batteries have come a long way since a decade ago, when the National Academy of Engineering estimated that they were costing OEMs more than $1,000/kWh (at $1,000/kWh, an 85 kWh battery would have cost $85,000). Today, most experts believe that the figure is under $200/kWh, and in many cases, around $150. Moreover, that’s a pack cost, including not only the lithium-ion cells, but the modules, cabling, and cooling systems, as well.

And still, the numbers appear to be dropping. For the first time since the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium set a goal of $100/kWh more than two decades ago, some automakers believe that figure may be in sight, said Cole of the Center for Automotive Research. “There’s at least one company that’s enthusiastic about it,” he told Design News. “In fact, they believe they can go well below that number, which would give them a huge competitive advantage.” If that’s true, then automakers could finally put EV costs on a par with those of internal combustion-based vehicles, Cole added.

Even today, some OEMs are finding that they can get volume discounts from lithium suppliers if they can scale up their production. “We’re seeing that the cost of a battery is about 40% of what it was six years ago,” Mike Duhaime, head of electrification architecture and technology at Fiat Chrysler, told Design News. “We’re almost at a point where battery-electrics are on a par with plug-in hybrids in terms of cost.”

Moreover, energy density is up, which means that automakers can also squeeze more range out of a BEV. “The battery technology of five, six, eight years ago got us 100 or 150 miles of range,” Duhaime said. “Today with the new battery technologies and the new electronics, we’re seeing 300 miles.”

A New Optimism

For some automakers, the battery improvements are translating to real optimism. Ford, for example, now believes that electric vehicles can succeed in their own right. “There’s an opportunity to be margin-positive here – to have profitability on battery-electrics,” Ted Cannis, global director of electrification for Ford Motor Co., told us.

For Ford, such thinking represents a major strategy shift. Only eight years ago, the company rolled out the Ford Focus Electric, a hatchback with a tiny 23 kWh battery and a meager 76-mile driving range. Sales were disappointing, but not unexpected. In retrospect, Cannis said, their approach was understandable, given the cost, the limited capabilities of the time, and the knowledge that they would be losing money. “Part of the thinking was, ‘it’s a compliance play,’” he said.

Now, however, that’s changed. For the as-yet-unnamed BEV that will be unveiled late this year, Ford engineers have taken a different tack. They built atop the Mustang name, added a big battery with a 300-mile range, employed a popular crossover form factor, and trotted out their chairman to let the world know that the new vehicle would “go like hell.” 

The first model on GM’s new EV platform will be a Cadillac. GM says the new platform will allow engineers to quickly respond to customer preferences with a relatively short development time. (Image source: Cadillac)

“We had a couple of key principles,” Cannis said. “We decided we would leverage our iconic vehicles – the ones that brought us to the party. This is the strength of our brand around the world, where we have the greatest loyalty, and where we have the greatest connection to our customers. That’s been key.”

Ford is also tailoring its vehicle design to the manufacturing process, paying special attention to such matters as how the battery is placed in the vehicle. And it’s focusing on the EV “eco-system,” including charging infrastructure and customer experience, all of which is important to tech-savvy EV consumers, Cannis said.

Such consumer focus is key for virtually every mainstream EV maker today. The result is that manufacturers are suddenly getting good grades for their efforts. Jaguar’s new I-Pace won European Car of the Year, the first Jaguar to capture the award in its 50-year history. Also, the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV have received high praise for offering driving ranges of more than 250 miles at relatively low starting prices.

Hyundai’s Kona Electric offers a 258-mile all-electric range for a starting price of $36,850. (Image source: Hyundai

Couple that new breed of vehicles with more fast-charge stations, and the future begins to look even rosier, manufacturers say. “Now, the EV becomes more of a primary-use, rather than a secondary-use, vehicle,” said Duhaime of Fiat Chrysler.  

Inspired by Tesla

Industry analysts credit Tesla with providing part of the inspiration for such changes in mainstream thinking. Tesla, they say, showed there was a willing market for EVs by making an honest effort to appeal to buyers. Their vehicles offered long range and smart styling, along with great safety ratings and stellar acceleration and handling. The result was powerful word-of-mouth and an incredible international media buzz surrounding its vehicles.

“In the past, the theory was that only hard-core environmentalists would want to pay the premium for these vehicles,” Abuelsamid said. “They were just too expensive. But Tesla showed that these cars can appeal on their own merit, and that’s been a huge boon to all EVs.”

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The question now is how big the EV market really is. US sales of BEVs this year aren’t much better than 2018, and Tesla appears unlikely to come close to the goals that it set for itself. The company’s mainstay – the Model 3 EV – posted sales of 25,000 units in December, then dropped to 6,500 in January after a $7,500 government tax credit for buyers was cut in half. Although sales have rebounded slightly, the company’s stock nose dived from $385 a share to less than $180 a share in a space of four months. In June, The New York Times questioned whether Tesla would ever be more than a niche player.

Skeptics worry that it’s taking too long for BEVs to make money. Amazon, they say, went through similarly dark, unprofitable days, when consumers balked at its business model. But the electric car re-boot began years before Amazon was launched, and now Amazon is a giant, whereas electric cars continue to struggle, they say.

To be sure, most studies suggest that BEVs will keep gaining share over time. Bloomberg’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2017 predicted that 54% of new car sales and 33% of the global car fleet would be electric by 2040. The question, however, is whether mainstreamers and startups can keep investing in the technology until the numbers rise.

Industry experts say that the winners in the BEV space may be the companies with the wherewithal to outlast the others. Cole of the Center for Automotive Research believes the OEM market will ultimately be defined along the lines of the “haves” and “have-nots.”  The “haves,” he said, are more likely to be able to make the continued investment that’s necessary for BEVs to compete with gasoline-powered vehicles, especially in the mid- and entry-level markets.

“The ‘haves’ are looking at autonomy, mobility, and electrification, and it’s unclear to them what’s going to happen,” Cole said. “They admit they don’t know. But they’ll have the ability to stay in the game, and maybe even get a competitive advantage, whereas the ‘have-nots’ will have to find a partner – somebody who can help them do it.”

Still, mainstream automakers are more committed than ever, and are likely to keep investing in the technology, as long as governments continue to push and battery costs continue to fall. If the market is ready, they say, then they’re ready.

For that reason, a willing consumer will be the key. “Up to now, economics have been shoved aside in the debate over electrification, at least at the public level,” Cole said. “But consumers will have their say, and economics will ultimately be the deciding factor.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

The HTC Vive Pro Eye Brings Eye Tracking to Engineers in VR

Tue, 2019-06-18 04:00
The Vive Pro Eye is a new version of HTC's Vive Pro enterprise VR headset, with integrated eye tracking technology from Tobii. (Image source: HTC)

With VR headsets already getting more compact and embracing wireless connectivity. The next frontier for VR will be the control scheme. While there are a handful of options available or being developed today – from the standard wireless touch controllers most VR users are now familiar with, to novel applications that use sensors to track hand movements as with the Leap Motion controller – HTC is betting the best option for engineers and enterprise users will be eye tracking.

To that end HTC has released the latest version of its Vive line of headsets - the Vive Pro Eye. The headset carries the same technical specs as the Vive Pro, HTC's flagship headset for enterprise VR, but with the addition of eye tracking technology courtesy of Tobii, a Swedish company that develops eye tracking technologies for virtual and augmented reality.

The Vive Pro Eye uses near-infrared (NIR 850nm) to scan the wearer's eye movements and employs nine IR LEDs and one IR camera per eye (18 LEDs and two cameras total). The sensor array allows the headset to track eye movements with an accuracy of 0.5 to 1.1 degrees across the headset's entire 110-degree field of view. In addition to gaze origin and direction (tracking exactly where a user is looking), the Vive Pro Eye can also collect data on pupil position, pupil size, and eye openness.

The big advantage here is allowing users a hands-free method of accurately controlling and navigating a virtual environment. Anyone that has tried to type on a virtual keyboard using wireless controllers already knows how grueling that process can be. But imagine if you could type simply by looking at the letters on the keyboard instead. Then expand that same type of functionality into other applications such as virtual product design.

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Tobii has already been using eye tracking to gather user experience data when interacting with systems and environments.. But the ability to accurately track eyes can also allow for improved graphics by facilitating foveated rendering. Rather than fully rendering an entire image in as high of a quality as possible (which can be taxing on a processor), foveated rendering mimics the way the human eyes sees the world – by putting things in the center of vision in clearest focus and blurring things in the periphery. Doing this not only puts less workload on a system, it also allows for more parity between the real world and the virtual renderings.

“The Vive Pro Eye takes [eye tracking] technology one step further as the demands for enterprise-grade VR continue to grow and evolve,” said Dan O’Brien, General Manager of HTC Americas, said in a press statement. “From more effective training to more insightful data analytics, it provides professional users with the tools to continue improving the way businesses use VR in an everyday capacity.”

According to HTC, the Vive Pro Eye's tracking capability makes it ideal for a number of use cases beyond being a control scheme - from creating more expressive online avatars that mimic the user's eye movements, to more robust VR training that provides intelligent, real-time performance feedback

For example, ZeroLight, a provider of real-time 3D solutions to the automotive industry, has partnered with BMW to use the Vive Pro Eye for a virtual retail experience that lets customers configure, customize, and explore their virtual BMW. Using eye tracking the company gives users an easy control method to design their car, better image quality via foveated rendering, and the ability to capture analytics to understand how customers interact with the vehicle.

The Vive Pro Eye is currently available in North America.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

NXP, Microsoft Team Up on New Processor for IoT Security

Mon, 2019-06-17 16:50

NXP Semiconductors N.V. last week announced it is teaming with Microsoft Corp. to roll out a processor that promises to beef up the security of IoT applications, ranging from white goods to smart buildings to factory automation systems.

The Microsoft Azure Sphere certified applications processor, due out in the fourth quarter of 2020, will deliver “end-to-end security” to IoT edge devices, starting from the silicon and going all the way to the cloud, the two companies said. “It doesn’t matter what the device is, security is going to be super-important,” Ken Woodberry, deputy managing director of Azure Sphere for Microsoft, told Design News. “So any IoT application will be fair game for this.”

At last week’s NXP Connects 2019 conference, Rodney Clark of Microsoft (left) and Kurt Sievers of NXP Semiconductors announced the two companies are teaming up to develop a new applications processor for IoT security. (Image source: Design News)

The new processor will include the Microsoft Pluton security sub-system and will run the Azure Sphere OS, which is an operating system created by Microsoft for IoT applications. It will also connect to the Azure Sphere Security Service, which renews security and identifies threats to applications.

Built atop NXP’s i.MX 8 family, the processor will be based on the Arm Cortex-A35 architecture and will be available in versions with one or two cores. It will also feature a graphics processor and a DSP core for audio, making it suitable for image and voice recognition applications.

Woodberry said the demand for such a product has been rising in the wake of denial-of-service attacks such as the 2016 Mirai botnet attack, in which millions lost access to Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, and CNN. “We make the argument that even Internet light bulbs, directly connected to the Internet without any proper security, could be taken over and used as a botnet to take down major websites,” he said. “We’ve seen it happen more than once.”

A dedicated applications processor with on-board security is critical to defending against such security breaches, Woodberry said. He cited a technical paper, The Seven Properties of Highly Secure Devices, which calls for a “hardware-based root of trust” to be the first line of defense against such attacks. “You have to have a root of trust that stores the private keys and does the encryption,” he told us. “And it has to be done on the hardware side, so there’s no way a malefactor on the software side can get into it.” The Pluton security sub-system on the new application processor would serve as a such a “root of trust,” he said.

Microsoft foresees the new application processor serving in smart homes, smart commercial buildings, and consumer appliances, such as washers, dryers, ovens, refrigerators, lawn mowers, and vacuum cleaners. “There’s a big push right now for consumer manufacturers to turn their products into IoT devices,” Woodberry said. “And the trend of putting appliances online is where this will play a role.”

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An application processor, rather than a simple MCU, is key for such applications because it typically contains the necessary video and audio processing capabilities, Woodberry added.

The enhanced security that’s inherent in the new processor could also make it well-suited for factory automation applications. Today, many manufacturers isolate their factories from the Internet, for fear of security issues, Woodberry said, but that needn’t always be the case. “If they could connect to the Internet, they could get advantages like predictive maintenance,” he told us. “But they will only do it if can be done very securely.”

The new application processor isn’t the first to feature Azure Sphere certification. Microsoft has previously collaborated with MediaTek on the MT3620, and it plans to team with more silicon vendors in the future. For now, however, the NXP collaboration gives Microsoft broader access to the IoT, and possibly even to the automotive market.

“The total addressable market of products that can use Azure Sphere is now going to go up because of this NXP chip,” Woodberry said.  

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

Opinion: How Toyota’s EVs May Save the Company

Mon, 2019-06-17 06:00

Citing a “sudden surge” in electric vehicle (EV) popularity, Toyota Executive Vice President and head of R&D, Shigeki Terashi, announced the company’s new EV development plans to sell 5.5 million traditional gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2025. This is five years earlier than the 2030 deadline that had been announced in 2017. "Progress has surpassed the target," Terashi said. "We have entered a new age." The R&D chief made his remarks on an hour-long company online broadcast on June 7.

Toyota has suddenly embraced EVs in a big way, showing a range of new vehicle concepts that it says represent the company’s near future product line. (Image source: Toyota)

Late to the Game

Some might say it’s about time. After having introduced the gasoline-electric Prius hybrid in 1997, Toyota has steadfastly placed its bets on hybrid designs, and more recently hydrogen fuel cells. While these technologies use electric motors for propulsion, giving the company engineering experience in part of the EV equation, the electricity to power those motors comes from sources other than batteries. It turns out that building battery packs that are robust, safe, and that can store significant energy is quite a challenge and Toyota has also announced it will work with Chinese battery giant CATL to provide some of its battery systems.

That Toyota is accelerating its EV development plans makes sense—stringent exhaust emission regulations and the prospects of outright bans of fossil fuel vehicles in Europe and China are forcing the company into the move. Unlike most other carmakers who have already gone into production with joint-venture partners to build EVs in China for the Chinese market, Toyota will only begin making battery electrics for that market in 2020. Toyota has partnerships with Chinese companies GAC and FWA to build vehicles in China and each company will produce its own version of the Toyota battery electric. Toyota plans to release at least 10 battery-only electric vehicles worldwide by the early 2020s.

Playing Well With Others

Earlier in the same week, Toyota announced an agreement with Subaru to jointly develop a battery electric platform that would work for both midsize and large vehicles, and that would be used for a jointly developed crossover EV. Each brand will sell that vehicle separately, beginning with the US market as its main target.

"To respond with a sense of speed to the diversifying needs of these markets and to multiple challenges, both Subaru and Toyota believe that it is necessary to pursue a business model that goes beyond convention, crossing over industrial boundaries together with various types of other entities that share their aspirations," Toyota said in a statement. "As a first step in this direction, the two companies will jointly develop a BEV-dedicated platform. The platform will be developed in a way that will make it broadly applicable to multiple vehicle types, including C-segment-class and D-segment-class sedans and SUVs, as well as to efficient development of derivative vehicle models."

Toyota is also working with Suzuki and Daihatsu to develop compact EVs for the Asian and world markets.

To build a range of vehicles, Toyota will use its e-TNGA, an EV version of the company's new-generation Toyota New Global Architecture modular platform. The new platform will provide six vehicle variations in all, including a large SUV, a medium SUV, a medium crossover, a medium minivan, a medium sedan and the compact.

Solid Progress

Despite appearing to arrive late to the EV game, Toyota might just have an ace up its sleeve. Present commercial lithium ion batteries employ a liquid electrolyte that allows the transfer of lithium ions between the positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. This liquid consists of organic solvents that are flammable and also don’t prevent the formation of spikey dendritic crystals of lithium when charged under the wrong conditions.

The Holy Grail of battery technology is the replacement of that liquid electrolyte with a solid ceramic or polymer material. In theory such solid-state batteries will be more powerful and less prone to fires. Toyota has been working on this technology for several years and claims to be nearly ready to unveil a solid-state battery with a polymer electrolyte—perhaps ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. "If possible, by the time we have the Olympic Games next year, we would like to make sure that a solid-state battery can be unveiled to the public," Terashi said.

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Too Little, Or Genius Marketing?

So, is Toyota finally getting serious about building battery-powered electric vehicles? For China, Asia, and parts of Europe, the types of small urban EVs that company has shown will find ready markets that are already filled with established competition. EV sales in the US, already lackluster, have shown a softening throughout the first part of this year. The majority of EVs available in the US are small sedans—exactly the kind of vehicles that US buyers are abandoning.

For the US market, with its emphasis on pickup trucks, SUVs and cross over utilities, the real danger is that the EV venture with Subaru might be insufficient to establish any sort of beachhead for Toyota. This will be particularly true in the next couple years with new electric pickup trucks from Rivian, Ford and GM, along with Tesla’s new electric pickup truck and Roadster sports car sucking up all of the EV media attention. Add in new offerings from Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche, and just about every other carmaker with a pulse, and until and unless the company produces a range of EVs for the US, Toyota’s battle looks to be mostly uphill. At least the first EV from the Toyota/Subaru combo will be a crossover…that should help.

The stakes are high—and not just in building vehicles. Toyota is looking at a future mobility business that includes sales, leasing, ride-sharing, transportation as a service, used car sales, battery reuse, and recycling. "Once those become viable, he BEV business will become viable, even if the battery price remains quite high," Terashi said. "Unless we work on this at a very accelerated manner, we will not be able to ensure our future survival."

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Soft Robotic Actuation Controlled by Water or Humidity Levels

Mon, 2019-06-17 04:00

Researchers have developed a robot using new bacteria-based actuation which is controlled by water or humidity—paving the way for numerous new, autonomously powered applications.

A team at Columbia University led by Ozgur Sahin, associate professor of biological sciences and physics, developed a material made of a combination of spores and adhesives that can be used as an alternative to synthetic polymers for robotic actuators. Spores are units produced by bacteria and are commonly used as food supplements.

Researchers at Columbia University have invented a robot that can be propelled into motion by the water content or humidity in its environment, with its movements controlled by a pattern set into its design. (Image source: Columbia University)

Quicker to Respond

The actuators made with this material are quicker to respond than those made with more traditional polymers, as well as can generate a higher level of force, researchers said. Moreover, they are water-resistant and actually use water and humidity to help determine their movement, whereas traditional polymer actuators usually fail when they come in contact with water, Sahin said.

“There’s a growing trend of making anything we interact with and touch from materials that are dynamic and responsive to the environment,” he said. “We found a way to develop a material that is water-resistant yet, at the same time, equipped to harness water to deliver the force and motion needed to actuate mechanical systems.” 

To develop the material, researchers bound together the tiny spores—which are individually water-resistant—using a photochemical process, they said. That process uses a high-intensity light—via an ultraviolet light akin to the one used in nail salons to dry polish—to glue the spores together into a composite material. Onur Cakmak, a member of the research team, compared the process to making sheets of surfaces from sand because the materials are so granular.

Once hardened, researchers stacked the material in layers to form a microscopic structure that expands or contracts with humidity or moisture. This produces the capability for force and motion of mechanical movements, researchers said.

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Creating Patterned Designs

The material also can be patterned, which allows researchers to create pattern designs that can guide the composite to bend, fold, and unfold in response to humidity or water, Cakmak said. In this way, the soft actuators can adapt to surroundings and move with more agility than traditional hard robots, allowing them to move more similarly to natural creatures, he said.

Indeed, this ability to be patterned is essential to researchers who want to create “useful systems” from the materials, Cakmak added.

Because the new material is so different than the hard polymers that typically comprise robots—which use metallic structures that require a computer to control actuation—soft robots designed with it don’t need a rigid skeleton or electricity to provide mechanical strength, researchers said. This makes them easier and less expensive to fabricate, as well as capable of more complex motions and safer to use around humans, Sahin said.  Researchers published a paper about their work in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

The team sees a number of potential applications for the new material, including applications for smart-energy buildings that include windows that can open when the humidity rises too high, Sahin said. It also could be used to make high-performance fabric for athletic clothing that can help sweat evaporate faster.

“We’re providing material for designers to work with and get their ideas realized quickly,” Sahin said. Researchers plan to continue to work on and test the material to explore the variety of novel uses as well as its inclusion in existing applications, he added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

8 of the Greatest Fathers in Engineering History

Fri, 2019-06-14 06:00

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Simulation in Autonomous Driving – Why Societal Change Is as Necessary as Technical Innovation

Fri, 2019-06-14 05:00

A decade ago, the concept of a fully driverless vehicle remained largely the preserve of academic research institutes. Now, commercial activities, such as Waymo’s operations in Phoenix, have shown that not only are driverless vehicles commercially possible, they have the potential to completely alter our socio-economic perception of personal transportation.

However, according to the findings of a report issued by the Rand Corporation, driverless vehicle prototypes should be driven hundreds of millions of miles, and in some cases hundreds of billions of miles, over the course of several decades to demonstrate their reliability in terms of fatalities and injuries – an outcome the report’s authors deemed inconsistent with the near-term commercial viability of self-driving cars. [1]. Put into perspective, that is about half the distance that the Voyager 2 space probe has travelled in the last 40 years. In order to meet this challenge, the researchers pointed to innovative testing methods such as advanced simulation technologies.

Sophisticated, physics-based simulated driving environments are critical to the near-term driving viability of self-driving cars. (Image source: Siemens AG)

Virtual automotive testing and development software has quickly emerged as one of the truly pivotal technologies for enabling the near-term viability of driverless transportation systems. Such toolsets range from full physical simulators, which model comprehensive scenarios with the capability to generate simulated raw sensor data, through to stochastic models which generate object level data. The commercial models for such tools are extremely diverse, ranging from open-source simulation implementations and hobbyist platforms based on gaming engines, to professional-grade commercial modelling tools and extreme-performance simulation technologies, such as those in the Siemens Simcenter PreScan platform.

In the context of these different toolsets and their distinct technical capabilities, it is difficult to define which tool is “state-of-the-art”, as this can only be defined within the scope of the user’s requirements. For example, the development of low technology readiness-level (TRL) sensor fusion algorithms is often most efficiently achieved with commercial modeling tools. However, raising the TRL level from the concept demonstration phase (TRL 5/6) to a verified commercial product (TRL 8/9) requires testing against a full physical model that simulates the complete processing chain -- from sensor physics through to the end-product. That is, such models will allow the algorithmic methodologies to be probed in both a physically and statistically meaningful way. But what does statistically meaningful mean in the context of assisted, automated and autonomous driving?

Waymo recently announced that the company’s cars had driven over 10 million miles on the road, and 10 million miles each day in virtual environments[1]. To put this in perspective, that is about a third of the way to Mars (at the minimum distance). To understand why these values are so high and whether they are statistically meaningful, consider the number of accidents as a function of the number of miles driven. Using Germany as an example, this equates to about one accident every 300,000 miles. If we consider that these accidents are caused by events which are statistical outliers -- that is, events which are associated with some form of error in the driver function -- then over the course of 10 million miles of driving, we can imply that only around 33 accident-causing events are likely to be observed (see [2] and [3] for more detailed analysis).

For the research engineers who are implementing autonomous driving functionality, including development of the algorithmic techniques and methodologies necessary to develop these capabilities, 10 million miles of driving fails to generate anywhere near a sufficient amount of data. Remember that traditional automotive environments and infrastructure have been built around human drivers who have a fantastic ability to both sense and perceive semantic content. The human driver is able to interpret information which is otherwise incomplete, and extrapolate events which have not yet been experienced. That is to say, the human driver is better than machine-learning algorithms at predicting (or rather extrapolating) events which have not yet been observed in the course of training. Therefore, in order to train an artificially intelligent system, it must be exposed to all likely variations across a vast array of scenarios. There remains an extant challenge in collecting sufficient real-world data to effectively develop, implement and -- most importantly -- verify such algorithms.

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As a result, synthetic environments become critical across the entire design chain process, because full integration into the development and testing pipeline has distinct benefits. In the first instance, it will allow the system to be trained and developed using the same stochastic models and physical processes which form part of the full simulation. Furthermore, it allows stochastic simulations to be injected with disruptive, low likelihood-of-occurrence events. The effective use of a physical simulation model allows the autonomous vehicle designer to probe how these events will affect the entire end-to-end system -- from sensor data capture through to actuator input processing. As increasing scrutiny from both the general public and standards bodies alike seek to understand the safety implications of autonomous vehicles, simulation provides an opportunity to explore different driving situations, ranging from the mundane cases which account for most driving situations, through to those exceptional cases that most drivers are unlikely to ever experience (Russian dash-cam videos anyone?).

In the final analysis, the direction that future simulation software development will take is central to the near-term viability of autonomous vehicles. Level 5 autonomy will only be realized with a societal change in the way that transportation is perceived. As future transportation offerings transition increasingly to a service-based proposition (as opposed to the current product-based approach), it is likely that the supporting software will become increasingly open source. The key component will be the effective development of the core physics engine and supporting elements of both open source software wherever possible, and proprietary software where necessary.  These supporting components will include different physical sensors, sensor modelling algorithms, sensor configurations, map generation technologies and environmental conditions – all of those aspects which allow the autonomous vehicle design engineer to probe the full breadth of scenarios that an autonomous car will experience.

Daniel Clarke is principal engineer, Automotive Business Unit, for Mentor, A Siemens Business

References

1Driving to Safety - How Many Miles of Driving Would It Take to Demonstrate Autonomous Vehicle Reliability? Nidhi Kalra, Susan M. Paddock

2https://medium.com/waymo/where-the-next-10-million-miles-will-take-us-de51bebb67d3

3 Press release No. 289 of 22 August 2017 of the German Statistisches Bundesamt

 4https://www.itf-oecd.org/sites/default/files/docs/irtad-road-safety-annu...

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

 

 

 

Wearable Patch Can Regulate Body Temperature

Fri, 2019-06-14 04:00

Wearable technology already helps people keep track of their fitness goals and vital signs. Now researchers have created a device that paves the way for clothing that can help people regulate their own body temperature despite the air outside or around them.

A team from the University of California San Diego has developed a soft, flexible, wearable patch that can provide a personalized heating or cooling system for people whether they’re at home, at work, or on the go, researchers said.

Prototype of the cooling and heating patch developed by a team at UC San Diego embedded in a mesh armband. The patch can help regulate a person’s body temperature. (Image source: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)

Now It’s Personal

Renkun Chen, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego who led the research, said the team was inspired by their own personal experience but that the patch has specialized medical uses as well.

“Often time we are feeling too cold or too hot even in an air conditioned space, because different people have different thermal comfort zones,” he told Design News. “Beyond thermal comfort, there are also a lot of clinical and occupational needs for personalized thermal regulation—for example, for people with Multiple Sclerosis, outdoor athletes, fire rescuers, and so on. We believe this type of devices would help these people tremendously.”

Researchers designed the patch—which they tested by embedding it in a wearable armband—using thermoelectric alloys, or materials that use electricity to create a temperature difference and vice versa. In this case, researchers used bismuth telluride alloys, designing the patch with these as well as with a rubber material called Ecoflex and aluminum nitride powder, a material with high thermal conductivity, they said.

The team soldered these materials to thin copper electrode strips and sandwiched these materials between stretchy elastomer sheets, enabling the device to physically cool or heat the skin to a wearer’s desired temperature.

“The device uses the so-called ‘thermoelectric effect’ that uses electricity to pump the heat from one side to the other,” Chen explained. “This phenomenon is well known and widely used, for examples, for cooling of laser diodes. However, it is traditionally very rigid and needs a bulky heat sink, such as a fan or a water pack, so it is not quite suitable for wearable applications.”

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Flexible and Not Bulky

To adapt the method for the patch—which is about 5 by 5 centimeters in size and uses up to 0.2 watts worth of power—researchers created a device that is flexible and didn’t need to use these “bulky” heat sinks for cooling, he said.

The patch uses an electric current to move heat from one elastomer sheet to the other, driving heat along with it, researchers explained. This causes one side of the patch to heat up and the other to cool down.

“To do cooling, we have the current pump heat from the skin side to the layer facing outside,” Chen explained. “To do heating, we just reverse the current so heat pumps in the other direction.”

For power, the patch uses a flexible battery pack comprised of a coin-cell array connected by spring-shaped copper wires and embedded in a stretchable material. The system also includes a stretchable circuit board. Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Science Advances.

The team performed tests with a male subject wearing the patch in a temperature-controlled environment. In two minutes, the patch cooled the tester’s skin to a set temperature of 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping it there as the ambient temperature varied between 71.6 and 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers said aside from just making them more comfortable, the device also could help people save energy by making them use less air conditioning in summer or heat in the winter, Chen said. Indeed, the ultimate goal is to use the technology integrated into smart clothing to help control a person’s personal body temperature.

Now that the team has produced a working device, they plan to continue their work to develop different prototypes “with various sizes and other functionalities to meet different applications” on the way to commercialization, he added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!