Home | Feed aggregator | Sources |

Design News

Design News
Serving the 21st Century Design Engineer
Updated: 4 days 12 hours ago

3D-Printed Prosthetic Hand Learns Wearer's Movement Patterns

Mon, 2019-08-19 05:00

Researchers have been making great strides in recent years to make artificial limbs as close to the real thing as possible to help make life easier for amputees.

Now a team of researchers has added smart capabilities to a 3D-printed prosthetic hand that allows the device to learn and adapt to a wearer’s movement patters so they can perform daily tasks with more ease.

Different hand positions of a prosthetic hand developed by researchers at Hiroshima University. The prosthetic hand uses signals from electrodes (arrow) and machine learning to copy hand positions. (Image Source: Hiroshima University Biological Systems Engineering Lab)

A team at the Biological Systems Engineering Lab at Hiroshima University Professor Toshio Tsuji in the Graduate School of Engineering developed the hand, which coupled with a computer interface is reactive to motion intent, he said.

The prosthetic is part of research that proves it’s possible to “combine the human body and machine like one living body,” Tsuji said.

“The patient just thinks about the motion of the hand and then robot automatically moves,” he said in a press statement. “The robot is like a part of his body. You can control the robot as you want.”

Mimicking Common Movements

The team achieved this by mimicking how an ECG measures heart rate—putting electrodes in the socket of the prosthetic equipment to measure electrical signals from nerves through the skin. The technology sends the signals to the computer, which can decide how the hand can move in five milliseconds, sending those signals back quickly to the motors in the hand.

Researchers designed a neural network--called the Cybernetic Interface—that can recognize movements from the five fingers to combine them into different patterns. The movements they trained the hand to recognize include how to turn scissors into rock in the “rock, paper, scissors” hand game; pick up a water. However, the device can learn more to adapt to a user.

“This is one of the distinctive features of this project,” Tsuji said in the press statement. “The machine can learn simple basic motions and then combine and then produce complicated motions.”

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Science Robotics. 

Researchers tested the prosthetic with amputee patients in the Robot Rehabilitation Center in the Hyogo Institute of Assistive Technology in Kobe, Japan. Through a collaboration with Japanese company Kinki Gishi, researchers also added a socket to accommodate the arm of patients to fit the device.

In the tests, seven participants performed a variety of tasks with the hand that they would do in their every-day lives, such as picking up small items or clenching their fists.

Researchers report that the hand performed with a high rate of accuracy in its similarity to the real-life movements, with 95 percent for simple motions and 93 percent for more complicated motions that had yet to be learned by the machine.

While the technology is promising, researchers acknowledged that it does have its limitations that they hope to correct in the future. Users reported muscle fatigue when wearing the hand for a long time, among other issues.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Researchers plan to create a training plan to help those wearing it to make best use of it as well as improve the technology itself before it goes to market, they said.

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!

 

10 VR Companies to Watch in 2019

Mon, 2019-08-19 04:00
RELATED ARTICLES:

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

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Drive to Level 5 Podcast - Episode 5: Partnerships Will Be More Important Than Ever for Automated Driving

Fri, 2019-08-16 08:00
The Automated Driving Vehicles Leaderboard from Navigant Research contends that partnerships will be important going forward, given the long-term commitment needed to put self-driving technology on public roads. (Image source: Navigant Research)

The Drive to Level 5 podcast investigates the seismic shift toward the autonomous vehicle and the technical advancements necessary to perfect the connected car, from foundational elements down to the component level.

The exploratory series connects with innovators across automotive electronics and embedded systems industries in preparation for the inaugural Drive World Conference & Expo launching in Silicon Valley August 27-29 with North America's largest embedded systems event, the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC).

Listen below to our fifth interview where host Jack Heslin sits down with Sam Abuelsamid, Principal Research Analyst with Navigant Research to talk about Sam's free-to-attend Drive World Conference session, "Partnerships Will Be More Important Than Ever for Automated Driving." This session will look at the technical, regulatory, and commercial challenges of deploying automation which are increasingly forcing longtime rivals to partner up in hopes of sharing the costs until they can really start to recover their investment.

Click here to learn more about Drive World Conference & Expo and to register for the event.

PREVIOUS EPISODES:

 

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!

 

Nickel May Be Limiting Material

Fri, 2019-08-16 05:00

Supplying raw materials for the increasing volumes of electric vehicles (EVs) produced worldwide is a source of growing concern among battery and vehicle manufacturers.  It should be no surprise that one primary worry is the volatility in availability of the lithium that is used in lithium ion batteries. Although the supply chains for mining and processing the material are somewhat convoluted, the general sense among industry experts is that there is presently an oversupply of lithium, which will act, over the short term, to keep prices stable, if not pushing them into a decline. According to a recent report from Bloomberg, however, the same cannot be said for nickel.

So Many Uses

Nickel is an amazing useful material. The metal is both corrosion resistant and a good electrical conductor, particularly when mixed with copper. Nickel has excellent high temperature resistance which come into play in applications that include jet engines and gas turbines. In lithium ion batteries, nickel metal is often used as the electrical conductor between cells. It is also one of the primary ingredients in a lithium ion battery cathode (positive electrode).

A rechargeable lithium ion battery consists of two electrodes that are immersed in an electrolyte solution and that are separated by a permeable polymer membrane. When the battery is being charged, the lithium ions pass from the positive cathode electrode, through the polymer membrane, to the negative anode electrode. During discharging, the lithium ions travel back from the anode to the cathode, in the process giving up electrons to the anode which travel via an external circuit to power an electronic device before returning via the circuit to the cathode.

Carbon graphite is the most common anode electrode material as it has an ordered layered structure that can accommodate and store the small lithium ions between its layers. Because the working voltage of a battery is determined by the difference in electrochemical potential between the cathode and the anode, the cathode must be another material than graphite, and the choice of this material controls most of the performance characteristics of the lithium ion battery. That’s where nickel, or at least its oxide, comes into the picture.

Lithium ion battery Megafactory projected raw material demand in tonnes. Note the increase in anticipated demand for nickel. (Image source: Benchmark Mineral Intelligence)

Nickel’s Use in Cathodes

The cathode electrode stores the lithium ions through electrochemical intercalation—a process by which the lithium ions are inserted into or removed from lattice sites within the cathode material structure. Compounds chosen for cathodes are commonly oxides made from transition metals such as nickel, cobalt, copper, iron, chromium, zinc, or manganese. The role of the transition metal element in the cathode is to compensate for the charge when the lithium ion arrives or departs.

Nickel is used to create an intercalation structure for the battery cathode. But, if you remove significant amounts of lithium out of a nickel-oxide structure, it will release large amounts of oxygen, which can be a fire hazard. Other oxides must be added to help create stability. Aluminum, which likes to hold onto oxygen, can be added to the structure for example to reduce the hazard. It stabilizes the structure, but it lowers the capacity of the cell by a small amount. Cobalt is also frequently added to the cathode material to help stabilize the structure, but is costly and is sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a region of significant political instability. The cells developed by Panasonic and Tesla for its vehicles have so-called NCA chemistry, Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum. Others use manganese and/or iron to help stabilize the structure, but the central ingredient in current commercial lithium ion battery cathodes is nickel.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Demand Versus Supply

Supply of the high-purity material used in batteries, known as class-one nickel, faces some real concerns—demand is likely to outstrip supply within five years, primarily due to increasing demand in the EV industry, according to Bloomberg (BNEF). Demand from lithium-ion batteries is forecast to increase by a factor of about 16 times to 1.8 million tons of contained metal by 2030, according to a BNEF July report. From the Bloomberg report, “Batteries will account for more than half of demand for class one nickel by that date, shifting a market that’s currently focused on stainless steel.”

Nickel is not a particularly scarce metal and is often found in the same locations as copper deposits. Mining nickel tends to be environmentally concerning as it involves leaching of the metal from ores using strong acids. These environmental concerns have held up the opening of a copper and nickel mine adjacent to the environmentally sensitive Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Northern Minnesota, for example.

Nickel prices in London have increased by more than a third thus far in 2019 and in July reached the highest level in more than a year. It is expected that increasing future battery demand will continue to push prices higher.

Nickel producers are responding with more output. According to Bloomberg, “Perth-based Independence last year increased nickel output from its Nova mine in Western Australia by about a quarter and is spending as much as A$75 million ($51 million) on exploration in an effort to extend the asset’s life and find new deposits.”

In June, Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., said the nickel market faces a deficit of 51,000 tons in 2019, raising an earlier forecast. Bloomberg reports that last month, First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Confirmed that it will reopen its Ravensthorpe mine in Western Australia in the first quarter of 2020 amid the strength of interest from potential nickel and cobalt customers. The mine was closed in a soft market for nickel in 2017.

As with lithium and cobalt, two other materials whose supply seems at times precarious, the increasing demand for nickel from battery makers will depend almost entirely on how quickly the EV market grows. In the US, the demand for EVs is only just starting to register on the automotive market, while in places like China, Canada, and some parts of Europe (Norway), electric vehicles are showing substantial growth. Whether nickel producers can keep up with the growing demand could be just one more stumbling block in the inevitable path to electrification of transportation.

 Raw materials supply will be among the topics at the The Battery Show and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo 2019 conference that will take place in Novi, Michigan on September 10-12, 2019. Four days, eight tracks, and over 80 sessions, curated by industry experts will bring battery and electric vehicle technologies into clear focus.

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!

Friday Funny: Don McMillan Continues the Tradition of Engineers Doing Stand-up Comedy

Fri, 2019-08-16 04:30

 

Don McMillian insists that engineers are not boring just because they like boring things.

RELATED ARTICLES:

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!

 

5 Reasons You’ll Need a 3D Printer on Mars

Thu, 2019-08-15 05:00

 

RELATED ARTICLES:

 

Jack Heslin is the Founder and President of 3DTechTalks, as well as the Head of Business Development for Lazarus3D, a medical 3D printing start-up. 

Researchers Print Smallest Version of “Great Wave” Painting with New Inkless Process

Thu, 2019-08-15 04:00

Printing technology to create a printed drawing or some other type of image typically requires ink. However, an international group of researchers in Japan have succeeded printing one of the most iconic Japanese artworks without the use of traditional pigments in a first of its kind for this type of print production.

A team at Kyoto University not only printed a version of Japanese artist’s Katsushika Hokusai’s “Great Wave” (called "Ukiyo-e" in Japanese) without ink, but researchers also fabricated the smallest version of the artwork to date—just 1 millimeter in width—said Professor Easan Sivaniah, head of the Pureosity Group at iCeMS, Kyoto University.

This would not have been possible without the use of polymers to create the image rather than typical inks, he told Design News.

Researchers in Japan used new inkless technology to produces the world's smallest version of the famous “Great Wave” painting—called "Ukiyo-e" in Japanese—by famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. The team said it could pave the way for new printed displays, sensors, and other technologies. (Image Source: Kyoto University iCeMS)

“Almost any polymer could work, but we tend to focus on non-crystalline, but commodity polymers such as polystyrene, PMMA, polycarbonate etc.,” Sivaniah told Design News. “We could print at a resolution of 14,000 DPI.  This is not possible with any other printing technology, such as laser or ink jet.”

The technology paves the way for printing of images and displays for smaller and smaller devices--which new form factors for technology such as sensors, wearables, anti-counterfeiting images, and other next-generation electronic devices demand, he said.

“It demonstrates that we can print really small features, that exhibit color, that can be introduced into small devices,” Sivaniah told Design News. “It is--with modern science--possible to find other technologies, even ones capable of printing at 100,000 DPI. But those technologies would never translate into a commercial venture, taking perhaps a week to generate a single image.”

The printing that Sivaniah and his team demonstrated fabricates images much faster, speed that can be improved in future versions of the technology, he said. “We can produce our images within minutes, and probably much less with some optimization,” Sivaniah told us.

Creating Color without Pigment

Researchers achieved their result by manipulating polymers, which when exposed to stress form slender fibers known as fibrils—a process called “crazing” that happens when the material stretches at the molecular level, researchers said.

These fibers cause a visual effect, and researchers realized that if they controlled the way they were formed and organized—a process called organized microfibrillation—they also could control this scattering of light to create colors across the whole visible spectra, researchers said. This is how they formed a printing palette without the use of pigment, Sivaniah said.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nature.

Sivaniah told us that the team is looking to develop partnerships not just within Japan but also globally to “make this technology as widely accessible as possible.”

“By finding out what the industry needs might be, we will be able to strategically direct our future research towards specific application areas,” he told Design News.

The research also could inform the scientific community about how to work with what’s seen as material failure—that is, the crazing of the polymer—to create future innovations, Sivaniah said.

RELATED ARTICLES:

“More fundamentally, there is an important principle that this paper exposes,” he told us. “That principle is that failure, or fracture, if controlled, can lead to positive technology benefits.  We want to explore that concept at a fundamental research level.”

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!

 

New Semiconductor Paves Way for Non-Toxic Solar Cells

Wed, 2019-08-14 17:00

Solar panels have been a great benefit to the world’s interest in deriving electricity from alternative energy sources. However, one drawback to the technology is that the panels and cells themselves are created from toxic and non-environmentally friendly materials.

Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis—working with the Department of Energy (DoE)--aim to help solve this problem with a discovery that paves the way for nontoxic perovskite solar cells.

An atomic model of a new semiconductor material (left), the most promising of 30,000 oxides in a potential solar panel. At right is a scanning transmission electron micrograph showing the atomic structure of the material, along with snapshot of the synthesized powder. (Image source: Rohan Mishra)

The team—led by Rohan Mishra, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in the McKelvey School of Engineering--has discovered a new semiconductor comprised of potassium, barium, tellurium, bismuth, and oxygen that could replace lead-based semiconductors used in perovskite solar cells.

Perovskites are compound materials with a crystal structure that long have been viewed as a leading next-generation material in a type of solar cells called thin-film. The material has a number of advantages over silicon, including higher efficiency and less cost in cell production. However, the materials are not yet typically as stable as silicon, which has led researchers to explore new options in both materials and design.

“We knew that the existing perovskites are not stable,” Professor Pratim Biswas, assistant vice chancellor and chair of the university’s Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, acknowledged to Design News. “While our fabrication methodologies were improving the stability, we felt choice of other materials would be better. Also, avoiding toxic metals … are a big boon, as we did not want to solve one energy problem and add another environmental problem.”

Needle in a Haystack?

The lead-free double perovskite oxide semiconductor discovered by researchers was one of an initial 30,000 potential bismuth-based oxides that exist; of those, only about 25 were known compounds, researchers said.

To pinpoint a viable semiconductor from these compounds, researchers used materials informatics and quantum mechanical calculations on one of the fastest supercomputers in the world at the DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The semiconductor the team identified from their calculations appeared to be the most stable and also could be synthesized in a lab, researchers said. Moreover, key to its viability for use in a perovskite cell is that while most oxides tend to have a large band gap, this compound had a lower band gap similar to halide perovskite materials.

The band gap is the energy barrier that electrons must overcome to form free carriers that, in terms of a solar cell, can be extracted to provide power to an electrical device or battery to be stored for later use. The sunlight provides the energy to overcome this barrier; a lower band gap means ultimately more energy efficiency, researchers said.

Proving the Material

Once researchers identified the viable semiconductor, they proceeded to synthesize the material to see if it had the properties expected, which it did, Biswas said. The next step was to fabricate a solar cell using the newly discovered semiconductor.

“We use theory and computation to screen a range of materials, and then use our innovative aerosol synthesis methods to fabricate the solar cells,” he told Design News. “We have been successful in doing this, and are excited about our developments.”

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Chemistry of Materials.

The team’s work shows promise for developing energy-efficient perovskite cells without lead materials, which can extend to other applications that also use semiconductors, Biswas said.

RELATED ARTICLES:

“Eventually, the work will result in stable—as in long-life—high-efficiency, non-toxic, low-cost solar PV devices,” he told Design News.

Researchers plan to continue their work to find other stable, non-toxic materials that can be used to fabricate solar-energy-generating devices with their aerosol methods, Biswas 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!

 

White Paper Explains PLC Data Capture at the Edge for IoT

Wed, 2019-08-14 04:30

Opto 22 has released the white paper, “Meet the Future: Edge Programmable Industrial Controllers,” which discusses how controls engineers can use PLCs to meet the demand for obtaining, using and sharing data. The white paper focuses on three main communication challenges: complexity, security, and expense.

The edge-based PLC was created to include a number of functions needed for network-based data capture, from traditioanl automation through IoT applications. (Image source: Opto 22)

IoT and other data-intensive automation applications usually require many steps and a lot of middleware: hardware, drivers, parsers, and custom software. These steps tend to be time-consuming to set up, difficult to maintain and change, and create major security concerns. This white paper was designed to explain how a new kind of industrial controller—an edge programmable industrial controller, or EPIC—can simplify and secure automation and IoT projects in a manner designed to reduce cost and complexity.

Realtime-Control for Traditional Automation

The edge-based PLC was created to include a number of functions needed for network-based data capture. “With traditional PLCs, many pieces and parts must be stitched together to achieve an objective. Until now it’s been many disparate systems pulled together,” Benson Hougland, VP at Opto 22, told Design News. “Groov EPIC is a dramatic shift to get all of these functions into a single design. It delivers better performance and reduces complexity as well as addresses security. It’s about getting the data where it needs to be simply and securely.”

EPIC devices are also used to provide real-time control for a variety of traditional automation applications. EPIC devices allow users to connect legacy systems and smart systems, get data, transform it into actionable information, visualize it on an HMI., and perform real-time control. “We’re starting to see other vendors take the same approach of combining functions on edge PLCs,” said Hougland. :You almost have to throw out what you thought you knew and think things through from a fresh perspective. These edge devices are innately expandable. We built it on a platform that is well known, using an ARM processor running a Linux operating system with real-time extensions.”

Using ARM and Linux for Compatibility and Expansion

The ARM with Linux combination offers a wide range of compatibility across automation systems. “The reason for ARM is that it’s commercially available and it runs cool. The Linux gives you the capability to expand,” said Hougland. “Off-the-shelf processors with an open source operating system provides many capabilities for future growth on the same hardware system. It’s come full circle from 25 years ago with PC-based control.”

RELATED ARTICLES:

Opto 22 created the white papers to give users a view into the value of a multi-function processor that operates on the machine level. “The purpose of the white paper is to introduce a new type of automation system that addresses the IoT and combines it with control,” said Hougland. “We couldn't just be call it a PLC or a PAC because it's much more than that. It’s a PAC, a database, an edge data processor, and an HMI. Past descriptions don’t work to describe this device. The white paper helps define what the device is and why you would use it.”

The white paper can be downloaded here.

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.

The Drive to Level 5 Podcast - Episode 4: Realizing Autonomy through Sensors, Simulation, and Safety

Tue, 2019-08-13 08:00
High performance compute platforms such as the ones offered by Nvidia are key to the performance of autonomous vehicles. Shown above: An autonomous truck and car being developed by Uber (Image source: Nvidia)

The Drive to Level 5 podcast investigates the seismic shift toward the autonomous vehicle and the technical advancements necessary to perfect the connected car, from foundational elements down to the component level.

The exploratory series connects with innovators across automotive electronics and embedded systems industries in preparation for the inaugural Drive World Conference & Expo launching in Silicon Valley August 27-29 with North America's largest embedded systems event, the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC).

Listen below to our fourth interview where host Jack Heslin sits down with Tim Wong, Technical Marketing for Autonomous Vehicles at NVIDIA. Tim and Jack will break down Tim's Drive World session, "Realizing Autonomy through Sensors, Simulation & Safety," which is set to cover everything from training AI networks for numerous algorithms, to testing and validating autonomous driving technology in the virtual world as well as in the real-world, to processing and compute inside the vehicle with perception, localization and path planning. Discover how AI and high-performance computing are enabling the deployment of safe autonomous vehicles.

Click here to learn more about Drive World Conference & Expo and to register for the event.

 

PREVIOUS EPISODES:

 

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!

 

 

5 Books Every Embedded Systems Engineer Should Read

Tue, 2019-08-13 05:00

Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Contact him at jacob@beningo.com, or his website and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

RELATED ARTICLES:

 

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!

 

 

Understanding the Use of Implicits and Fields in Design

Tue, 2019-08-13 04:30

In traditional CAD environments, geometry can be defined and represented in more ways than one. If you have ever used a 3D modeling program, you’ve most likely worked with meshes, BReps, or both, depending on the task at hand. Although meshes and BReps have their strong points, their weaknesses rear their head as product geometry becomes more complex. Managing the size and performance of complex geometry requires a computationally lighter means of defining and representing geometry. By integrating a field-driven design approach based on the implicit modeling technology, designers can focus on engineering work that matters, and spend less time with non-value-added tasks.

Implicit Geometry

Implicit modeling is a powerful way to define, change and represent 3D geometry. Geometry is defined through equations in such an approach, rather than through a network of vertices, edges, and faces like meshes and BReps. This means that implicits are significantly lighter to compute and maintain their pure form because they are not discretized like meshes and BReps, which don’t always capture continuity perfectly.

For instance, mesh geometry, regardless of its resolution, is a faceted representation of the actual form. At some point in the design-to-manufacturing pipeline, some form of discretization will be required, whether it is through meshes, BReps, or producing slice data for additive manufacturing (AM). By discretizing data from implicit models directly to a manufacturing-ready output, the discretization occurs at the very end of the process instead of at the beginning or throughout. This means that outgoing manufacturing data is more precise. In addition to being orders of magnitude faster to compute, implicit geometry also results in super-lightweight files, as only a minimal amount of information is needed. 

Shown above is a mesh representation compared to an implicit representation of a sphere. In this example, the mesh face count of the sphere is purposely low to exaggerate the discretization. Note, that if the mesh face count was significantly increased to more accurately represent the sphere then file size would also increase, which is problematic for design and analysis. (Image Credit: nTopology)

 

Rather than discretizing implicit geometry, sampling and previewing geometry through “shaders” is a form of rendering that enables users to quickly view geometry at very low or very high resolution, while also leveraging a computer’s graphic processing unit. This improves speed while accurately representing geometry. (Image Credit: nTopology)

Understanding Fields—an analogy taken from the weather

Field-driven design is an empowering concept that builds upon implicit modeling. It has several benefits to end users and organizations, such as increased flexibility and efficiency of design. To better understand the concept of fields, let’s first explain how it works by using weather as an analogy.

Imagine driving along the east coast of the United States from Florida to Maine, with the goal of finding optimal places to camp along the way based on simple weather data. At each mile, using a weather app, you could sample information such as temperature, wind, humidity, visibility and air quality. Each information type, such as temperature, is continuous, meaning it is everywhere. This is a field, and you can sample this temperature field and all other weather fields at every mile, half-mile, yard, foot, inch, etc. The key takeaway is that we can use one type of weather data or combine all of it to inform our decision on where to camp. In a similar way, fields representing different types of data such as distance, force, or velocity values can be used and even combined to enhance implicit geometry for optimal performance.

Although many different types of data can be converted into fields, we’ll only focus on distance fields, since they are the first type of field you’ll encounter in a computational modeling platform. When creating models through a visual programming interface, the output is more than just the representation of implicit geometry. Under the hood of each implicit operation resides an equation that outputs the distance values to the boundary of the geometry.

Like temperature in our environment, distance data is everywhere. It can be sampled at very large or very small increments from any height or depth in any axis. It is everywhere. Why are these distance values relevant to the representation of geometry? Distance values that equal zero define the boundary of geometry. Negative distance values define what is inside, while positive values define what is outside.

An example of distance fields, sampled at the cross-section of a sphere, torus, and cube. Values beyond the boundary of each primitive are positive, while values internal are negative. The radiating white lines represent the resolution at which the distance field is sampled, in this case, every 2 millimeters. (Image Credit: nTopology)

Distance Fields for Modeling Operations

Other than the zero values that define the boundary of our geometry, how can the positive and negative values of a field be utilized? Imagine wanting to offset a sphere. We now know that the boundary of the sphere is composed of zeros. If we wanted to offset the sphere by one millimeter, we would need the zero values to be one millimeter away from where they are currently.

Boolean operations are some of the first commands any designer or engineer learns when introduced to 3D modeling. But as we become more skilled, we notice that these commands become more volatile as geometric complexity increases. When Boolean-unioning one mesh with another, two networks of vertices, edges, and faces are recalculated into one new network.

When Boolean unioning two mesh spheres, a new network of vertices, edges, and faces is formed. This network is composed of network geometry from each original sphere and new geometry in order to connect the two. (Image Credit: nTopology)

Combining two simple mesh geometries is easy, but performing this operation among complex mesh parts such as lattices most certainly results in a failure at some point. However, implicit modeling treats these problems entirely differently and they never fail. Computing the Boolean union of two geometries implicitly is just a matter of extracting the minimum values of two overlapping distance fields. Inverting this condition to extract the maximum values between the two fields will result in a Boolean intersect.

Left: The Boolean union of two fields extracts the minimum values between two fields. Right: The Boolean intersect of two fields extracts the maximum values between two fields. (Image Credit: nTopology)

Innovative Design for Manufacturing

Just as weather data can determine camping conditions, distance fields determine the result of modeling operations such as Booleans, offsets and fillets, to name a few. Engineers and designers using a field-driven approach to driving implicit models are freed from frustrating manual setup, rework and data repair, and have the ability to fine-tune and control their data.

RELATED ARTICLES:

They can focus on creative, breakthrough designs with a smooth pathway to manufacturing. From modeling to simulation to manufacturing, fields are ever-present in core workflows and enable designers to drive geometry with layers of synthesized data. The outcome can be products with highly complex features and characteristics yet with more reliable, robust performance.

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!