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7 Great NASA Technologies You Don't Know About

21 hours 26 min ago

ARM Technology Drives the Future. Join 4,000+ embedded systems specialists for three days of ARM® ecosystem immersion you can’t find anywhere else. ARM TechCon . Oct. 24-26, 2017 in Santa Clara, CA. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News ’ parent company UBM.

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.

Inkjet Additive Manufacturing Process for Memory Devices Opens Doors to Mass Production of Printed Electronics

21 hours 55 min ago

Researchers have made a breakthrough in the fabrication of memory devices using inkjet additive manufacturing (AM) that paves the way for mass production of printable electronics.

A group of researchers at Munich University of Applied Sciences in Germany and INRS-EMT in Canada have demonstrated an additive-manufacturing process using inkjet printing to fabricate resistive memory (ReRAM).

The work is significant because it shows that a complete additive printing process is possible for electronic devices, facilitating the future mass production of flexible electronics through cost-effective printing processes, said Christina Schindler, one of the lead researchers on the project.

"The biggest technological appeal is the mechanical flexibility of our memory tiles, and the fact that all materials required for processing are commercially available," she said.

"Print-on-demand electronics are another large field of possible applications," added Schindler’s co-leader in the research, Andreas Ruediger of INRS-EMT. "At present, the main source of versatile electronics is field-programmable gate arrays that provide a reconfigurable circuitry that can be adopted for different purposes with predefined limitations."

 

Christina Schindler of the Munich University of Applied Scientists and Bernhard Huber of INRS-EMT in Quebec in front of their inkjet printer. The two are lead researchers on work to develop an inkjet additive-manufacturing process to fabricate memory, paving the way for mass production of printed electronics. (Source: Munich University of Applied Sciences/INRS-EMT)


 
While memory devices are becoming progressively more flexible, their ease of fabrication and integration in low-performance applications have not been the main focus of their research until the group’s work, a paper about which has been published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

Additive manufacturing—mainly associated with 3D printing—eliminates lithography and material-removal steps at the detriment of feature size, allowing for a streamlined process flow. Inkjet printing is a common office technology that offers the benefit of a straightforward transfer from inkjet to roll-to-roll printing.

The group used a simple principle behind the ReRAM with which it worked, explained Bernhard Huber, a doctoral student at INRS-EMT and working in the Laboratory for Microsystems Technology at Munich University of Applied Sciences.

“In any kind of memory, the basic memory unit must be switchable between two states that represent one bit, or '0' or '1,’” he said. “For ReRAM devices, these two states are defined by the resistance of the memory cell.”

For the conductive-bridge random access memory (CB-RAM) used by the group, "0" is "a high-resistance state represented by the high resistance of an insulating spin-on glass, which separates a conducting polymer electrode from a silver electrode," Huber said. "The '1' is a low-resistance state, which is given by a metallic filament that grows into the spin-on glass and provides a reversible short-circuit between the two electrodes."

The group eschewed printing colors in favor of using functional inks to deposit a capacitor structure comprised of conductor-insulator-conductor with materials already deployed in clean-room processes, he said. "This process is identical to that of an office inkjet printer, with an additional option of fine-tuning the droplet size and heating the target material,” Huber said.

The group plans to continue its work to improve the process and envisions the enablement of print-on-demand electronics that show potential for small and inherently flexible lines of production and end-user products, Schindler said.

"From our proof of concept, we're paving a road toward optimization," she said. "Just imagine supermarkets printing their own smart tags or public transport providers customizing multifunctional tickets on demand. Wearables that explicitly require flexible electronics may also benefit.”

Once the work is optimized, the costs for such a printer to develop electronics could drop to within the range of current inkjet printers, Schindler added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

The Search for the Next Super Material

Wed, 2017-06-21 05:15

If you turn over a rock and find a gold nugget, you’re going to start turning over more rocks. Back in 2004, a gold nugget known as graphene was discovered in a lab where a sheet of carbon, one atom thick was produced. Graphene, hailed as a super material, was considered important enough that its inventors, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
 
Materials this thin have since come to be known as 2D materials. While it has taken awhile, as scientists learn to make and use this material, for commercial applications to hit the market, there can be little doubt that graphene is going to become big business. Consider the range of basic properties that include extreme light weight, exceptional strength and electrical conductivity at potentially low cost. Add to this, biocompatibility, optical transparency, and selective permeability and you have a material juggernaut.

No wonder the search is on for other 2D wonder materials. These two-dimensional workhorses could become so important in the future, that the primary question one might ask of any new material is, “2D or not 2D?”

Mitch Jacoby is a PhD chemist who has studied 2D materials, written about them, and come up with a classification that divides them into five different groups. None of them are as far along in their development as graphene, so it’s difficult to say which one might be the next wonder material. In fact, some of these are so early-stage that they can’t yet be separated from the substrate upon which they are produced. Many though, have achieved freestanding status and considerably more. Let’s take a look at the groups.

 

The structure of graphene is a flat hexagonal grid of carbon atoms. Image source: UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Flickr

 

The first are MXenes. These were discovered by Drexel scientists while developing improved anodes for Li-ion batteries. In simplified terms, they are electrically conducting carbides and nitrides. Jacoby describes them as, “electrically conductive, strong, flexible, and durable—ideal properties for electrodes in energy storage and wearable technology.” The Drexel team has demonstrated that MXenes can also serve as lightweight, inexpensive shielding materials to protect cell phones and other devices from electromagnetic interference. Until recently, MXenes could only be produced as powders. Now they can be made into thin, flexible films.

Next are the Xenes.  These are elements other than carbon, that can potentially be made into a single layer.  These include Boron, Silicon, Phosphorus, Germanium, and Tin (B, Si, P, Ge, and Sn). In 2D form they get “-ene” appended as a suffix.  According to Jacoby, “These materials, which include borophene, silicene, phosphorene, germanene, and stanene, all share a buckled or corrugated shape—unlike graphene’s flat sheets—and sport atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Silicene, phosphorene, and borophene are the most studied of the family.” Silicene, unlike graphene, has a band gap and is most studied for fast electronics. Phosphorene has excellent electrical characteristics too, but it degrades in air unless protected. Several of these, including borophene have potential for energy storage.

Organic 2D materials are differentiated from graphene in that they are made from carbon compounds. These are generally derived from covalent organic frameworks, or metal-organic frameworks. This category will include tremendous diversity by virtue of the universe of incorporated polymers. Promising applications include nanoporous filters and membranes, as well as biosensors and optoelectronic devices.

The next group are transition metal dichalcogenides. Examples such as molybdenum disulfide and tungsten disulfide have been shown to be useful in producing fast transistors, and have been incorporated into complex integrated circuits. However, producing these is laborious and slow. Recently, a three-atom thick version has been produced more efficiently using chemical vapor deposition.

Finally, there is the group that Jacoby calls Nitrides. These are distinct from the nitrides that are included in the MXenes because instead of being made from transition metals, they are made from calcium, gallium, or boron. While calcium nitride’s high conductivity is being explored for battery applications, boron nitride shows promise as an insulator for transparent, high-speed, flexible electronics.

So, the search continues. While there is no clear frontrunner, a number of promising candidates are being studied. The biggest opportunity is likely to lie not in surpassing graphene, but to complement it in applications such as semi-conductors or insulators, as a number of these appear to be innately better suited due to their band gaps. All, or mostly all of these candidates, are made from abundant materials, so cost won’t necessarily be a concern.

 

 

The Benefits of Hiring from Outside Your Industry

Wed, 2017-06-21 02:05

Here is some sage advice which is just as appropriate in a tight labor market (the fortunate situation for those of us who are engineers) or in a weak labor market. The advice to those of you who are hiring managers (and HR recruiters, too, for that matter) is: Don’t be afraid to seek out and hire engineers not from your specific niche industry. 

This is not to imply that you should lower your standards for key staffing criteria, such as technical competence, depth of experience, niche technical expertise, self-motivation, and communication skills. Au contraire. The point here is to focus on hiring engineers with strong skill sets and cut back on the laser focus on finding someone who has created your exact product. Here’s why:

1.    Adjacent product design experience brings new design insights
Bringing in engineers from other industries or product categories can bring new ideas on how to solve problems in your product category. It will likely be a pleasant surprise to find out how the solution to technical problems in another product category can morph into solutions for your product designs. Bringing in outside engineers brings new perspectives.

2.    Other industry experience adds new ideas around testing and quality
Quality and testing standards for medical devices, DoD systems, commercial electronics and consumer products can have very different standards for quality and testing. Consider the value of engineers coming out of the DoD world joining a company trying to create rugged, commercial products. Such products can often benefit from the experience and know-how around the highly structured and tightly specified DoD product categories.

3.    Engineers from other industries can accelerate your process
Sometimes long-established companies with mature product lines can evolve into tight but artificial “rules bound” processes. In such industries, having engineers on the team that come from fast-paced and demanding consumer product development companies can help accelerate your processes. Such engineers, if they come with self-confidence, can challenge pre-conceived notions of what “must” be done and help break the mold of “we have always done it this way.” Of course, managers (and peers for that matter) have to be open to new ways of thinking and supportive of new possibilities.

4.    Great engineers can readily pick up your nuances
Every product category, especially those that are mature, has tribal knowledge based on past experiences. Good engineers coming from “other” industries will know how to ask the right questions. As a manager, help get the new engineer to network and connect with your internal domain experts to provide a channel for a new “outside” engineer to learn the nuances of your company’s communal past experiences. Of course, this all demands that the current workforce is willing and open to sharing experiences. Building a diverse team will be a challenge if everyone is trying to protect their knowledge and is unwilling to share.

5.    Outsiders can learn and assimilate new regulatory and industry standards
This is a common complaint. An engineer coming from “Industry A” will not know the specifications, test standards or regulatory processes of “Industry B.” While this may be true, a great engineer can quickly read and assimilate new standards. These just boil down to process definitions and design inputs. However, just because an engineer comes in knowing the regulatory processes or standards for your industry does not mean they will be a good engineer. Unless you are specifically recruiting someone to be a pure regulatory engineer, any good engineer can learn the standards of a new industry. It is not rocket science.

These are not academic arguments for building a team with “outsiders.” It is a practice I have used at multiple companies, including at IPS. These are lessons learned out of necessity. Because our local economy was heavily defense-oriented at one time, experienced engineers often came with a heavy DoD background.

Personal experience has shown that these high-performance engineers coming to our company from DoD backgrounds brought new insights into medical, consumer, and industrial products. Contrary to the perceptions of some, great engineers also readily pickup and enjoy the fast-paced and dynamic environment of the commercial product world. Past experience has also shown that staff with lots of commercial product experience can move into the DoD world, and accelerate those product development processes. Building a team with high-powered engineers from diverse industries not only opens up the potential resource pool, it also creates a more powerful team. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

 

Mitch is the President and Cofounder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a leading product design and development firm.  He honed his deep knowledge of product design on the strength of a 30-year career with companies that manufacture commercially successful products for the consumer, industrial, and DoD markets. Prior to launching IPS, Mitch was VP of Engineering at Symbol Technologies. Always espousing a hands-on approach to design, he holds a portfolio of numerous United States and international patents.  Mitch holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Hofstra University, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.  He can be reached at mitchm@ips-yes.com.

 

Self-Driving Vehicles Inch Toward Mass Production

Tue, 2017-06-20 03:01

The autonomous vehicle took a small step toward viability last week as General Motors announced that it used mass production techniques to finish a batch of 130 Chevy Bolt EVs containing self-driving technology.

The mass production technique involved the addition of cameras, Lidar and other sensors in an automated assembly plant in Orion Township, MI. It may or may not be a first for an autonomous car, but either way, industry observers expect the batch of Bolts to be followed by many more such efforts, from GM and its competitors. “This is what we’re going to be seeing during the next few years – finished vehicles coming off assembly lines with all the automated driving hardware built in already,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research, told Design News.

 

GM said last week it used mass production techniques to finish construction of 130 autonomous Chevy Bolt EVs. (Source: General Motors)

 

The 130 new Bolts will join 50 self-driving Bolts released last year to such locales as San Francisco, metro-Detroit and Scottsdale, AZ. Industry experts also expect GM to produce as many as 1,000 more autonomous Bolts later this year or early next. Similarly, Waymo LLC (formerly known as the Google self-driving car project) said in April that it is adding 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleets.

“We’re going to be seeing the same kinds of numbers – from dozens to hundreds to thousands over the next few years,” Abuelsamid said.

The introductions are part of a grand industry plan to roll out vehicles in the next few years that can pilot themselves without the need for on-board “safety drivers.” Today, all autonomous vehicles deployed in various regions of the country still have drivers on board who monitor the vehicle’s ability to handle given situations.

Most automakers plan to enable their vehicles to reach SAE Level 4 capability in the next five years or so. SAE Level 4 calls for full automation, which means a driver could doze off or even leave the front seat, but only in limited domains. Drivers would have to be able to intervene in certain situations, such heavy snowfall or rain, as specified by the manufacturer.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. stated that it plans to remove the driver controls from some of its cars by 2021. “That means there’s going to be no steering wheel,” former Ford CEO Mark Fields said last August. There’s not going to be a brake pedal and, of course, a driver is not going to be required.”

Abuelsamid predicted this week that other manufacturers may reach the “no controls” point before Ford. “Going forward, as we get to 2019 and 2020, we’re going to see some of the first vehicles built without driver controls,” he told us. Full Level 5 automation – in which the autonomous car can operate in any situation – may not come until 2030, however.

Abuelsamid said the announcements are a reflection of the auto industry’s growing confidence in self-driving technology. But he added that the technology’s ultimate success will depend on the industry’s ability to get that confidence to spread. “They also need consumers and regulators have confidence in those vehicles,” he said. “Studies have shown that there are a lot of people who still don’t trust the technology.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

Could the Future of Metal 3D Printing Be Print Farms?

Tue, 2017-06-20 02:07

Discussions of additive manufacturing invariably turn to prototyping for a good reason: economics. While it may make sense from a cost perspective to 3D print functional new parts with plastic or metal during the design process, additive manufacturing (AM) techniques cease where mass production begins.

Few manufacturers are discussing replacing traditional production methods for parts with AM techniques, as it would simply be too expensive. For plastics 3D printing will probably never beat the speed and volume capacity of injection molding. (However, using AM to create the molds will lead to more rapid product innovation with plastics by eliminating the single biggest bottleneck in the injection molding process.)

There are companies today working to change the economic equation and bring down the costs of additive manufacturing so AM techniques could be feasibly pushed out to more applications and higher volumes, and this is particularly exciting for metal parts manufacturing. The rise of lower-cost metal printers offers manufacturers excellent part quality that minimizes expensive post-processing to keep a check on costs.

In 2014, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Markforged shook up the additive manufacturing industry with the introduction of the world’s first carbon-fiber composite 3D printer. Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), company CEO and MIT aerospace engineer Greg Mark unveiled the company’s Metal X desktop printer, which, once it becomes available in September, will print in a variety of metals including 17-4 stainless steel, 303 stainless steel, 6061 aluminum, 7075 aluminum, A-2 tool steel, D-2 tool steel, IN alloy (Inconel) 625 and titanium Ti-6Al-4V. The printer speeds up production with rapid sintering using a microwave furnace, a process that becomes highly reliable when the printer is following consistent instructions. Designs are printed in metal powder surrounded by plastic, the plastic is dissolved and the metal is sintered, leaving behind a strong metal part.

The driving technology behind the Metal X printer is a process Markforged calls “Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM).” ADAM, according to VP of Marketing Cynthia Gumbert, is at the intersection of 3D printing and metal injection molding and blends high part quality with complex available geometries and high density.
 
“ADAM is in fact very similar to the chopped carbon fiber (Onyx) printing process Markforged introduced, with bound powdered metal rather than bound tiny pieces of carbon,” Gumbert told Design News. “We call the Metal X our fourth-generation printer because so much is already used in our carbon fiber printers.  The focus on excellent surface finish and dimensional accuracy has carried over from our plastics printers to make this unique in the metal additive industry.”

 

Image of a 3D-printed brake lever. Photo credit: Markforged. 

 

The company predicts that its ADAM print technology will evolve over the next months and years into a product lineup of even more affordable and scalable printers, with the “blade server” concept for volume manufacturing where printers on a rack will scale up or down to meet customers’ needs, as they do in current server farms.

The company’s printers operate on its proprietary Eiger printer software, and Gumbert noted that the company invites regular feedback and input from its installed user base and adds capabilities to meet their needs, particularly at the design level.

“We’ve most recently added part weight, materials usage, time to print as well as cost of materials so users will get all those parameters before printing and with the ability still to make changes to the design,” she said.

Interestingly, the Eiger printer software is designed to manage printer fleets, which it already does with the company’s composites printers.  Earlier this year, CEO Greg Mark told the audience at CES that the future of metal 3D printing is in print farms. The Metal X printer was created as an affordable ($99,500 is the current price tag) standalone shop printer, but the company sees a vision of fleets of these printers operating in tandem.

“Our Metal X printer is the first step in this direction,” Gumbert told Design News. “It’s not in the same category of the large-format metal printers that form a high-end, expensive niche that only larger manufacturers can afford. Parallelization is the key to scaling volume, rather than a different, faster type of print process.  We’ve always been about getting a near-final or finished piece right off the printer that can be sintered with very little post-processing, and ADAM is generating extremely high-quality parts.”

To serve the needs of smaller manufacturers, the company envisions “print farms” as small as just a handful of printers, or a single Metal X. Distributed companies or service shops could have a version of a “print farm” with no two printers at the same location but the ability to access distributed machines through the Eiger software to create a coordinated global array of printer instances.
 
Going forward, further automation of print farms is likely to involve robotics. There are already companies using robotics in AM either to control the print heads that deposit materials or even as a way to facilitate an automated end-to-end additive manufacturing solution.

“Scaling anything for production goes hand in hand with automating as much as possible to bring speed and efficiency,” said Gumbert. “Right now, parts are removed by hand from our printers, but don’t expect that to be the case forever.”

Mobile Robotics Kit Teaches Coding and Electronics Skills

Mon, 2017-06-19 15:39

Robotics is making a major impact on how we work, play, and learn. Al, automation, and robots are hot trending topics discussed in trade publications and online news feeds. According to IDC (International Data Corporation) the robotics industry and associated partners will reach $135.4 billion by 2019. IDC’s research also showed international robotics spending was $71 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow at rate of 17%.

The global educational robotics industry is forecasted to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 21% by 2020, according to Technavio’s market research. Educators are incorporating robotics into their STEM and CTE (Career-Technical Education) curriculum to train the new skilled workforce of engineers and technicians. This skilled workforce will be responsible for designing and maintaining advanced robotic systems. Key vendors in the educational robotics market are exploring mobile technologies to enable classrooms to experience a rich learning environment. Some of these key vendors include but not limited to are:

  • Fischertechnik
  • Lego
  • Modular Robotics
  • Roboshop
  • Tetrix Robotics

Another educational robotics vendor that provides a low cost kit for K-12 classrooms, colleges, and universities, and individuals is Parallax Inc. Parallax provides a mobile-based robotics platform called the BOE (Board of Education) bot that allows a variety of coding and electronics technology skills to be acquire with this kit. The BOE bot shield provides the electrical interface between the mobile base servo motors, breadboard sensors, and electronics to an Arduino microcontroller development platform.

 

The Parallax BOE bot kit allows coding and electronics technology skills to be acquired in an education-friendly environment. (Source: Parallax Inc.)

 

The Parallax BOE bot Architecture

Developing mobile robotic applications using the Parallax BOE bot is based on the Arduino shield design. A small pcb (printed circuit board), dual inline header connectors, a 5V DC regulator, and mini solderless breadboard allows a variety of electronic circuits and sensors to be attached to the Arduino shield. There are two additional connectors for attaching continuous rotation servo motors on the pcb, as well. The flexibility of the shield allows for exploring robotics concepts such as navigation using tactile switches or “whiskers” or alarm status indication with a piezo-buzzer for alerting completion of a robot task. IR (infrared) detectors allow ordinary TV remotes to operate the BOE bot. This IR control feature can be accomplish using the prototyping shield, as well. With Arduino platforms as the YUN and 101, WiFi and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) applications can easily be prototyped using this flexible interfacing architecture design.

 

The Parallax BOE Bot’s architecture is based on a robotics prototyping shield that allows a variety of sensors, digital switches, and IR handheld remotes to interface with the Arduino. (Source: Don Wilcher)

                         

The Parallax BOE Bot robotics shield is placed on top of an Arduino. Sensors, digital switches, and specialized circuits can be developed using the mini solderless breadboard. (Source: Parallax Inc.)

 

Building the BOE Bot

Parallax has provided a low-cost development kit consisting of an aluminum chassis, wheels, a rear caster, robotics shield, servo motors, battery pack holder, and electronic parts for the BOE Bot. A detail assembly guide is available on their website to assist in building the bot. To assure the servo motors work properly, there is a calibration step and code provided on their website, as well. The instructions are user friendly and the Arduino code is explained thoroughly using commented statements.

 

Parallax provides a complete kit of parts to build the BOE bot. (Source: Parallax Inc.)

 

Detail steps allow calibrating the BOE Bot servo motors. (Source: Parallax Inc.)


I was able to build my BOE bot within an hour using Parallax’s assembly instructions. With my servo motors calibrated, I performed a basic navigation test on my bot.

BOE Bot Navigation Test

With my BOE bot built, I was able to test the servo motors, the robotics shield electrical interface, and the Arduino as one system. In the Robotics BOE Shield Bot manual, I used the basic navigation test code to validate the mobile robot’s servo motor control circuit. The Arduino code allows the right servo motor to turn clockwise for three seconds, stop one second, and rotate three seconds counterclockwise. To test the left servo motor, the code is easily modified by changing the servoRight object instruction to servoLeft.

The Parallax BOE bot assembled and ready for testing. (Source: Don Wilcher)

 

The Arduino code for testing the right servo motor. The left servo motor can be tested by using the servoLeft object instruction. (Source: Don Wilcher)

 

Beside testing servo motors, the shield bot manual has projects for light detection using phototransistors and robot control with distance measurements. Additional resources on code downloads, shield bot manuals, and pricing may be obtained from the Parallax website.

 

Don Wilcher is a passionate teacher of electronics technology and an electrical engineer with 26 years of industrial experience. He’s worked on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules/systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances. He’s also a book author, writing DIY project books on electronics and robotics technologies. Besides being an Electrical Engineer, he’s a Certified Electronics Technician with ETA International and Alabama State Certified Electronics Instructor.

Stretchy Silver Nanowires Key to Next Generation of Flexible Devices

Mon, 2017-06-19 03:59

A new use of silver at the nanoscale could be the key to developing stretchable electronics such as smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices.

Researchers at the University of Vermont have discovered that working with silver at the nanoscale allows them to create nanowires that have significant strength and the ability to stretch.

Frederic Sansoz, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university, said he and his research team have been working with gold nanowires for several years, when they became interested in working with other metals with a similar structure and mechanical behavior to expand their work.

When the team focused on silver, they realized that nanowires made from this material reacted differently than those made of platinum, another metal with which they were experimenting. “Silver nanowires were superplastic without breaking, while platinum nanowires were quasi-brittle during elongation at room temperature,” he told Design News in an interview.

Researchers realized that silver nanowires had a number of benefits in addition to their noted flexibility, Sansoz said. They had both thermal and electrical conductive properties, allowing them to be used as conductive electrode materials, he said. They also showed other characteristics that made them suitable for the next generation of flexible electronics.

 

University of Vermont Professor of Mechanical Engineering Frederic Sansoz shows how atoms of silver are arranged. He’s part of a team of scientists that has discovered that silver wires between about 10 and 40 nanometers wide have an unique combination of super-strength and stretchiness. The new research has applications for a number of technologies. (Photo: Joshua Brown/University of Vermont)

 

“Their tensile strength during deformation is extremely high, too, more than 50 times higher than that of their bulk counterpart, because of the classic ‘smaller is stronger’ trend,” Sansoz said. “Furthermore, silver nanowire network films have proved to be transparent and very flexible, which is of particular interest for new flexible, stretchable, and organic electronics applications.”

Indeed, this kind of silver wire could be fashioned into a mesh that conducts current, allows light to shine through, and can bend extremely easily, making it well-suited as the material for electrodes in next-generation electronics, he said.

“Silver nanowire network films … 10 nanometers to 50 nanometers in diameter, should possess ultra-high strength, while being conductive, flexible, and transparent,” Sansoz explained. “This enables replacing the current conductive material that make the electrode in smartphone and touchscreen displays -- brittle ITO (indium tin oxide) ceramic materials -- by flexible transparent metallic films with ultra-high resistance to breaking during deformation.”

Researchers published a paper about their work in the journal Nature Materials. In the article, they show also that silver nanowires can have self-healing capability through a coupling mechanism between crystal slip and surface diffusion that can heal surface defects created by deformation, he said. “This self-healing mechanism is totally new and unique to silver nanowires in the 10-nanometer to 50-nanometer diameter range,” Sansoz said.

With silver-nanowire synthesis already well-established, a number of companies already are selling them online in bulk amount, he added, making their use in commercial applications an imminent reality.

“The touchscreen display industry has already picked up these materials for the next-generation flexible displays, such as e-paper, and large-area touchscreens up to 85 inches in size,” Sansoz said. “There are also new promising industrial applications enabled by this technology for flexible solar cells in energy harvesting, and room-temperature welding of microelectronics components.”

Further down the line, the nanowires -- which are anti-bacterial -- could be used in applications for integrated bio-sensors binding to biological tissue in medicine, he added.

Researchers plan to continue their work to study the mechanical behavior of networks of silver nanowires with the same diameter, as well as how the conclusions of their study can be applicable to different types of metals, Sansoz said.

“It also would be interesting to study the effect of nanowire size on other physical properties, such as electrical or thermal conductivity,” he said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

3D Printing, Robotics, Woz, and More Take Spotlight at Atlantic Design & Manufacturing

Mon, 2017-06-19 03:00

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

 

SoftBank Acquires Boston Dynamics and Schaft from Google

Fri, 2017-06-16 12:34
Cool? Distrubing? Both? Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot is coordinated enough to navigate stairs. (Image source: Boston Dynamics)

Four years after it was purchased by Google, pioneering advanced robotics company, Boston Dynamics, is getting a new owner in the form of Japan's SoftBank.

The Tokyo-based telecom company announced last week that it has entered into a deal with Google's parent company, Alphabet, for one of its subsidiaries to purchase Boston Dynamics from Alphabet for an undisclosed amount, pending regulatory approval and closing conditions.

“Today, there are many issues we still cannot solve by ourselves with human capabilities,” Masayoshi Son, Chairman and CEO of SoftBank, said in a statement. “Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution, and [CEO Marc Reibert] and his team at Boston Dynamics are the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots.”

Founded in 1992 as a spin off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston Dynamics has made waves in the robotics industry in recent years because of its advanced robots capable of human- and animal-like movements. Videos of Boston Dynamics' robots often go viral, both for their technological achievement and because people seem to find the robots outright terrifying at times.

One of the company's offerings, Atlas, is a bipedal robot capable of climbing stairs, navigating obstacles, and performing unheard of feats of balance for a robot.

The company's latest offering, Handle (see video below) is a 6.5-foot-tall robot that uses a combination of wheels and legs. It has a top speed of up to 9 miles per hour and is capable of jumping 4 feet vertically to leap over and traverse obstacles.

 

 

In 2013 Alphabet acquired Boston Dynamics to add to its portfolio at Google X, as part of a new robotics division formed at the time with the goal of developing a consumer robot technology. However, shortly after it was established rumors began to stir that Google's robotics division, comprised of a total of about 10 robotics companies acquired by Google, was struggling. Reports began coming in of leadership issues, as well as saying that Boston Dynamics engineers and Google's own robotics engineers were having difficulty integrating and working together. It seems that the Boston Dynamics team did not completely agree with Google's ambitions to make a humanoid robot for consumer use. In 2016 Google announced it was putting Boston Dynamics up for sale, saying that it did not believe the company would generate revenue in a time frame acceptable for Google.

Word of the sale attracted high-profile potential buyers including Toyota and Amazon, but in the end SoftBank won out. As part of its transaction with Alphabet, SoftBank also announced it is also acquiring another company from Google's robotics division – Schaft, a Japanese company, specializing in bipedal robots, notable for winning the trials of the inaugural DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2013.

 

 

Traditionally a telecom and Internet company, SoftBank has been making big plays into the emerging technology space in recent years. In September 2016 SoftBank created a big stir in the technology industry when it finalize its acquisition of UK-based semiconductor giant ARM.

SoftBank established its own robotics division in 2014, after acquiring French robotics company Aldebaran, makers of Pepper, an open-source, humanoid robot designed to interact with humans by recognizing voice and emotions.

 

ARM Technology Drives the Future. Join 4,000+ embedded systems specialists for three days of ARM® ecosystem immersion you can’t find anywhere else. ARM TechCon . Oct. 24-26, 2017 in Santa Clara, CA. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News ’ parent company UBM. 

 

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.  

Mobile Robotics Kit Teaches Coding and Electronics Skills

Fri, 2017-06-16 04:40

Robotics is making a major impact on how we work, play, and learn. Al, automation, and robots are hot trending topics discussed in trade publications and online news feeds. According to IDC (International Data Corporation) the robotics industry and associated partners will reach $135.4 billion by 2019. IDC’s research also showed international robotics spending was $71 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow at rate of 17%.

The global educational robotics industry is forecasted to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 21% by 2020, according to Technavio’s market research. Educators are incorporating robotics into their STEM and CTE (Career-Technical Education) curriculum to train the new skilled workforce of engineers and technicians. This skilled workforce will be responsible for designing and maintaining advanced robotic systems. Key vendors in the educational robotics market are exploring mobile technologies to enable classrooms to experience a rich learning environment. Some of these key vendors include but not limited to are:

  • Fischertechnik
  • Lego
  • Modular Robotics
  • Roboshop
  • Tetrix Robotics

Another educational robotics vendor that provides a low cost kit for K-12 classrooms, colleges, and universities, and individuals is Parallax Inc. Parallax provides a mobile-based robotics platform called the BOE (Board of Education) bot that allows a variety of coding and electronics technology skills to be acquire with this kit. The BOE bot shield provides the electrical interface between the mobile base servo motors, breadboard sensors, and electronics to an Arduino microcontroller development platform.

 

The Parallax BOE bot kit allows coding and electronics technology skills to be acquired in an education-friendly environment. (Source: Parallax Inc.)

 

The Parallax BOE bot Architecture

Developing mobile robotic applications using the Parallax BOE bot is based on the Arduino shield design. A small pcb (printed circuit board), dual inline header connectors, a 5V DC regulator, and mini solderless breadboard allows a variety of electronic circuits and sensors to be attached to the Arduino shield. There are two additional connectors for attaching continuous rotation servo motors on the pcb, as well. The flexibility of the shield allows for exploring robotics concepts such as navigation using tactile switches or “whiskers” or alarm status indication with a piezo-buzzer for alerting completion of a robot task. IR (infrared) detectors allow ordinary TV remotes to operate the BOE bot. This IR control feature can be accomplish using the prototyping shield, as well. With Arduino platforms as the YUN and 101, WiFi and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) applications can easily be prototyped using this flexible interfacing architecture design.

 

The Parallax BOE Bot’s architecture is based on a robotics prototyping shield that allows a variety of sensors, digital switches, and IR handheld remotes to interface with the Arduino. (Source: Don Wilcher)

                         

The Parallax BOE Bot robotics shield is placed on top of an Arduino. Sensors, digital switches, and specialized circuits can be developed using the mini solderless breadboard. (Source: Parallax Inc.)

 

Building the BOE Bot

Parallax has provided a low-cost development kit consisting of an aluminum chassis, wheels, a rear caster, robotics shield, servo motors, battery pack holder, and electronic parts for the BOE Bot. A detail assembly guide is available on their website to assist in building the bot. To assure the servo motors work properly, there is a calibration step and code provided on their website, as well. The instructions are user friendly and the Arduino code is explained thoroughly using commented statements.

 

Parallax provides a complete kit of parts to build the BOE bot. (Source: Parallax Inc.)

 

Detail steps allow calibrating the BOE Bot servo motors. (Source: Parallax Inc.)


I was able to build my BOE bot within an hour using Parallax’s assembly instructions. With my servo motors calibrated, I performed a basic navigation test on my bot.

BOE Bot Navigation Test

With my BOE bot built, I was able to test the servo motors, the robotics shield electrical interface, and the Arduino as one system. In the Robotics BOE Shield Bot manual, I used the basic navigation test code to validate the mobile robot’s servo motor control circuit. The Arduino code allows the right servo motor to turn clockwise for three seconds, stop one second, and rotate three seconds counterclockwise. To test the left servo motor, the code is easily modified by changing the servoRight object instruction to servoLeft.

The Parallax BOE bot assembled and ready for testing. (Source: Don Wilcher)

 

The Arduino code for testing the right servo motor. The left servo motor can be tested by using the servoLeft object instruction. (Source: Don Wilcher)

 

Beside testing servo motors, the shield bot manual has projects for light detection using phototransistors and robot control with distance measurements. Additional resources on code downloads, shield bot manuals, and pricing may be obtained from the Parallax website.

 

Don Wilcher is a passionate teacher of electronics technology and an electrical engineer with 26 years of industrial experience. He’s worked on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules/systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances. He’s also a book author, writing DIY project books on electronics and robotics technologies. Besides being an Electrical Engineer, he’s a Certified Electronics Technician with ETA International and Alabama State Certified Electronics Instructor.

Siemens Creates Global 3D Print Marketplace

Fri, 2017-06-16 03:49

Siemens PLM is developing an online collaborative platform to bring together on-demand product designers and 3D printing production vendors in a global marketplace. The platform is designed to provide a community capable of connecting all members of the 3D manufacturing community – from design to production – to “maximize resource utilization and access additive manufacturing expertise,” according to Siemens.

By linking part-buyers to micro-factories, the platform would let members find on-demand 3D part production where-needed across the world. The platform will also include collaborative capabilities to help streamline the co-innovation process and accelerate the adoption of 3D printing as a mainstream production method for industrial parts.

The platform will provide an online ecosystem made up of members – qualified by Siemens – that come from a variety of disciplines, including product designers, job shops, part buyers, 3D printer OEMs, material suppliers, expert services providers, and micro-factories. Members will be able to connect with other members to initiate co-innovation of products using the software tools for additive manufacturing.

A Three-Legged Market

Siemens envisions three aspects of the marketplace: additive manufacturing design, part production, and consulting. “There are three legs to the additive manufacturing platform. One leg is additive manufacturing end-to-end, so we can take a design and bring it to the world of additive manufacturing by reimagining or reshaping the design so it can be put together in a more manageable way. That’s the software,” Zvi Feuer, senior Vice President, manufacturing engineering software at Siemens PLM, told Design News.

Feuer emphasized that the marketplace will connect industrial buyers with industrial providers. “The second leg is the platform shares the knowledge we have at Siemens with those who need printed parts and those who make printed parts – real parts, not toys,” said Feuer. “Parts that can be mounted in real products. One of the parts might constrain the landing gear of an aircraft, or it could be spare parts.

As well as connecting buyers and producers, the market will be a place where companies can get consulting support for design, materials, or production solutions. “Third leg is consulting. We want to help companies to onboard digital printing into their operations,” said Feurer.

A Vision of Market Optimization

Feuer noted that these connections are already occurring, though informally. Siemens intends to formalize the process. “We’re having discussions with companies who are talking about how to find the best machine for this type of a part. They want to find out whether their part is printable,” said Feuer. “On the other side, we have people who are only using their machines 10% of the time. They have experience with printing and they would like to do more business.”

Siemens is going to vet the participants in the marketplace – more than a thousand of them. “Part of the platform we are building is going to be a certification of the participants. The consulting services will also be an integral part of the platform, and we’ll be working with companies all over the world,” said Feuer. “We would like to achieve a thousand-plus suppliers in the next five years, including OEM suppliers. We have relationship with large machine OEMs, and we expect that they will be part of this.”

The Marketplace Work in Progress

The details of the platform are still in the planning stages. Much of the function of the marketplace will be to solve problems as they’re identified. “This is something we’re still figuring out,” Aaron Frankel, senior marketing director, manufacturing engineering software at Siemens PLM, told Design News. “We talking with the potential participants and looking at where the friction is, and we’re going to adjust our plans and build prototypes to figure out the appropriate business model that will work for everyone.”

The germ of the idea for a global marketplace came from comments Siemens kept hearing about the scarcity of providers for those who need 3D printed parts, and the lack of sufficient customers for producers. “On the part-buying side, there’s a feeling there are too few suppliers,” said Frankel. “Then we’re hearing from manufacturing service providers they’re looking for new business opportunities, looking for designs of parts that lend themselves to additive manufacturing.”

Siemens also hopes the marketplace the drive additive-manufacturing design. The company wants to encourage the development of 3D print design. “It begins with the design. We need more designs that lend themselves to additive manufacturing. We need more designers thinking in terms of parts that lend themselves to additive manufacturing, and they need tools to create these designs,” said Frankel. “We’re going to take steps toward taking the friction out of the communication and elevate the overall knowledge of additive manufacturing so more companies can take advantage of it.”

 

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“On the part buying side, there’s a desire for more visibility into certified manufacturers,” said Frankel. “We’re hearing from the service providers that there is too much time from delivery to payment. We’re trying to solve these issues.”

The digital platform is expected to launch in mid-2018. Interested participants are invited to contact Siemens PLM about early access.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 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.