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Guy Comes Up With Clever Way to Flip Car On Its Side for Repair Work

Core 77 - Thu, 2020-06-04 16:41

A particularly ingenious Redditor called Pyroblock is restoring a 1975 Camaro. Having removed most of the mechanicals, he now needs to strip some paint from the underside and weld new suspension mounts on--both tasks that would be far easier if the car were on its side, as opposed to up on a lift, with the work above you.

Well, here's how he solved that problem, using some dimensional lumber and plywood:

Video by Pyroblock


Watch the original video with sound here (we're having problems embedding it).

Origami-Obsessed Mechanical Engineer Turned Furniture Designer Develops Crazy Unfolding Chess Board

Core 77 - Thu, 2020-06-04 16:41

Mechanical engineer Brian Ignaut is the guy who designed SpaceX's unfolding solar arrays, then branched out into designing and building origami-like unfolding furniture under his own company, Degrees of Freedom. While prototyping a new design for an expanding table, he discovered a new way to make multiple surfaces fold relative to one another, which he then adapted into a chessboard:

Ignaut's brief development story is below:

"In the design, four wood panels are connected by six stainless steel links, four of which are used in pairs while the last two are used alone.

"The link pairs keep the joined panels parallel during all movement, while the single links permit rotation between boards which is used when pivoting the board into its playing orientation.

"I originally tried using this mechanism for an expanding table concept, and only came across the secondary crossing functionality after I started playing with the first prototype. I've been dreaming about this design for well over a year so it was fun to finally see it take shape!"

Check out more of Ignaut's work on the Degrees of Freedom Instagram.

Arcimoto FUV Gets Light-Weighted Using Generative Design

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-04 03:18

Tech investment firm, XponentialWorks, used its generative design company, ParaMatters, to create light-weighted parts for Arcimoto’s fun utility vehicle (FUV). The goal was to reduce cost and improve performance while making the vehicle even more environmentally friendly.

Light-weighted parts took the place of heavier, traditionally manufactured parts while enabling Arcimoto’s FUVs to drive farther distances on a single charge. The light-weighting also improved acceleration and handling. (Image source: XponentialWorks)

The newly designed parts are designed to take the place of heavier, regularly manufactured parts, allowing Arcimoto’s electric vehicles to drive farther distances on a single charge. The light-weighting also improved acceleration and delivered better handling. The cost of the parts was also reduced during production. The light-weighted designs were made using artificial intelligence and computer-generated design by ParaMatters, an XpoentialWorks company.

A Test Drive Becomes a Project

XpotentialWorks CEO, Avi Reichental met Mark Frohnmayer, CEO of Arcimoto, at an event where the FUV was on display. “I had an opportunity to test drive the vehicle,” Reichental told Design News. “I was blown away with his utility fun vehicle. I asked if he was interested in light-weighting. Mark said it was 1400 pounds and he wanted to bring it down, so we partnered in taking it all the way to production with lighter parts. We ran it through Paramatters, which is one of our portfolio companies. It’s does optimization and light-weighting.”

The generative design algorithms from ParaMatters offered a number of design choices that offered lighter weight without sacrificing the structural integrity of the part. “We uploaded the CAD and set the light-weighting objectives and we just clicked the button and our algorithms did the resolutions – and out comes the files with that are ready to print,” said Reichental.

In order to ensure that lighter parts meet the structural requirements, simulation was part of the design process. “When we get the design, we also get all of the results of the simulation, so we can go forward knowing we met the loading condition, including vibration and we can 3D print,” said Reichental. “It took about a day and a half from the time we received the CAD files. Then we looked at the parts by size and functionality. With the small parts, we went direct and printed them.”

The Technology Behind the Light-Weighting

ParaMatters’s CogniCAD software uses AI to create designs. Engineers enter design goals and materials parameters. The AI explores design permutations based on the design concept and provides an optimal solution to light-weight parts. CogniCAD automatically combines all the different parts into one homogeneous assembly instead of creating multiple parts that need to be manufactured. Arcimoto FUV’s light weighted parts can then be 3D printed to produce the final product.

Using a combination of AI-generated designs and ultra-fast 3D printing processes, the team was able to create complex geometric structures that reduced the weight of the vehicles. The result was improved performance, lower production costs, and savings on battery power. “In this new age of industry 4.0 manufacturing, no one company can do it all alone,” said Reichental. “This project demonstrates the power of curating relationships and building joint innovation programs that pool together resources and expertise from complementary organizations to create practical tractable products in record time.”


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.

Cheap, Fast Fabrication of Insect-Like Robots

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-04 03:13

Developing soft robots is of great interest to scientists because they can be useful for many tasks that rigid robots or humans find challenging to perform. These include surgeries, working alongside humans in factory settings, and navigating disaster or war zones.

Now engineers at the University of California San Diego have used 3D printing to create soft and flexible robots called “flexoskeletons” that they said can be applied to make it easy for anyone to fabricate soft robots.

Ph.D. student James Jiang at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) the shows one of the flexoskeletons developed with a 3D printing method he and other researchers developed to create insect-like robots(Image source: UCSD)

A team led by Nick Gravish, a mechanical engineering professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, reimagined how to create soft robots to engineer the new design from the inside out, he said.

Instead of adding soft components to a rigid infrastructure, Gravish’s team used inspiration from insect exoskeletons--which have both soft and rigid parts—allowing them to construct soft components for robots in a relatively short time and for a much lower cost than current fabrication strategies, he said.

“We hope that these flexoskeletons will lead to the creation of a new class of soft, bioinspired robots,” Gravish said in a press statement.

From the Inside Out

To create the robots, Gravish’s team used rigid material printed on a thin sheet of flexible polycarbonate to act as a base for the soft robots, he said. They added rigid features to this base in specific areas depending on the movement and support needs of the robot.

Researchers then used a 3D-printing process to create one flexoskeleton without any need for building or placing parts by hand.

Gravish was inspired to create a simple, affordable process for fabricating robots from a paper published by iRobot cofounder Rodney Brooks, then at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, he said. Co-authored with Anita Flynn, the paper--“Fast, cheap and out of control: a robot invasion of the solar system”—envisioned the mass production of simple, autonomous robots for space missions.

Gravish aims to take this idea and apply it to the robotics field in general, not just for space exploration, he said. “We want to make soft robots easier to build for researchers all over the world,” Gravish said in a press statement.

The method developed by the UCSD team shows how it might be possible. Researchers were able to print one flexoskeleton component in 10 minutes for the cost of less than $1 using commercially available 3D printers. Moreover, an entire robot takes less than two hours to print.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Soft Robotics.

Ultimately, the team wants to create an assembly line that can be used to print entire flexoskeleton robots automatically that, in swarm form, could do the same or more work than one large robotic device, Gravish 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.

What’s the Difference Between Today’s US Space Force and the Reagan Era Star Wars?

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-04 03:11

The U.S. Space Force is being brought to life with federal funding and contractor rockets and electronics. This might be a good time to remember the lesson’s learned from the earlier Reagon era Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program.

Seal of the U. S. Space Force. (Image Source: United States Space Force) 

First, let’s check out what’s behind the Space Force. A few years back, President Trump floated the idea of a space force as a new branch of the military. The Pentagon was quick to remind the president that a space force already existed in the armed services, mainly under the purview of the Air Force. No matter, the White House believed a new initiative was needed especially in light of the tensions and trade war with China. Dominance in space was the rallying call.

For those of us working in the defense industry in the 1980s and 90s, this all seemed eerily reminiscent of the famous “Star Wars” program initiated by former US President Ronald Reagan during the Cold War era. Officially known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the program focused mainly around a space-based anti-missile system aimed at protecting US from potential preemptive military strikes from the former Soviet Union.

At the time, the main components of the SDI were considered technologically impossible – i.e., anti-ballistic missiles including lasers and electromagnetic weapons. While there were some successes, the program failed to meet its loftier technical goals.

Now let’s fast forward to today. While many dangers persist in the world, it’s not clear that the most imminent threat is from space. For example, it would be far easier and less costly to launch a cyberattack against an enemy’s infrastructures, steal technology IP, rig an election process or upset financial markets than to dominate in space.  Regardless, the race to create a space force has been awakened and – more importantly – funded.

The proposed 2021 budget for the U. S. Space Force – established under the Department of the Air Force - would transfer over $15 billion from its parent military branch. Additionally, the Department of Defense Budget requests $1.6 billion for three National Security Space Launch vehicles, the AFSPC-36, AFSPC-87 and AFSPC-112. From congressional committee reports, it appears that the bulk of the Space Force budget will go to the procurement of space systems and not for additional personnel, although recent advertisements encourage enlistment into the Space Force.

It’s worth noting that the Space Force has been organized as a military service branch within the Department of the Air Force. It is the smallest U.S. armed service within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). As a point of reference, the Space Force is the first new military branch since the Air Force spun off from the Army in 1947.

Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) early warning satellite. (Image Source: SBIRS courtesy of Lockheed) 

On the contractor side of Space Force funding, Northrop Grumman has received a $2.37 billion contract to develop two satellites that will be part of a future constellation that provides the U.S. military early warning of incoming missiles. The contract will be part of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning satellites, which will be deployed in polar orbits.

Even Elon Musk’s SpaceX is getting into the act, which is hardly surprising consider the numerous successful launches of the Falcon rockets to the ISS. The recent award of an $8.9 million "fleet surveillance" contract gives the Space Force a closeup view of the inner workings of SpaceX commercial and civil space launches.

Not to be outdone by reality, Netflix has created its own Space Force TV series. According to Netflix, the series focuses on a four-star general’s begrudging efforts to team up with an eccentric scientist to get the U.S. military's newest agency ready for lift-off.


Steve Carell stars in the Netflix comedy Space Force. (Image Source: Netflix Space Force series)


As we stand at the beginning of the Space Force effort, what lessons can we learn from its predecessor, the Strategic defense initiative? The goal of the SDI was to, “defend the United States from incoming nuclear missiles by a combination of land and space-based weapons. Sensors at battle stations placed on land or in space would detect Soviet missiles when launched.”

In contrast, the mission of the Space Force is to, "organize, train, and equip space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.” Additionally, the Space Force is a new branch of the military and not a R&D and new technology creation program like the SDI.

One of the main challenges faced by the SDI was that the vision far exceeded the maturity of the technology. In the late 1980s, the American Physical Society concluded that the technologies required were decades away from being ready for use, and at least another decade of research was needed to know whether such a system was even possible.

By contrast, the mission of the Space Force is one of watching and occasionally helping the commercial sector’s progress in space, e.g., participating in SpaceX launches including the broadband satellite constellation projects. True, some funding has been awarded to aerospace contractors for early missile warning system technologies in a manner similar to the SDI. Perhaps it is just too early to tell the ultimate goal and resulting legacy of the Space Force.

Space Laser Satellite (Image Source: U.S. Air Force) 


John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Lasers for Cobots, AGVs vs AMRs, RISC-V Partnerships, and Contactless Touch

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-04 01:00



John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Auto Interior Is the New Exterior

Design News - Wed, 2020-06-03 23:37

The evolution in the automotive industry is ongoing. A changing mobility behavior and the growing autonomy of cars will profoundly impact the user’s driving experience. Automotive interior features are on their way to become the main differentiating element influencing buying decisions – and within the interior the need towards premium, hygienic and sound-absorbing surfaces is on the rise.

The ongoing CASE (Connected – Autonomous – Shared – Electric) megatrends are currently disrupting the automotive industry. Because not only the vehicle itself, but also the driving experience is about to change. Due to the increasing autonomy of the car the passengers will have to focus less on the traffic – and will have more time to spend on work, in-car entertainment or just relaxation. As a result of this development, the focus of attention will shift from the for many decades dominating exterior towards the automotive interior. In the recent years, car manufacturers and suppliers have presented a great number of automotive interior concepts - like Asahi Kasei with its AKXY concept car. But where are the customer’s needs actually heading to? What is the car user expecting from future automotive interior?

New car buyers are increasingly focusing in interior attributes. Copyright® by Asahi Kasei.

In October 2019, Asahi Kasei Europe conducted a representative survey together with Cologne-based market research institute SKOPOS, interviewing a total of 1,200 car users in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom regarding their preferences relative to mobility and especially to the future automotive interior.

A key result of the survey shows: When buying the next car, 18.3% of all respondents in the four main European automotive markets will not buy the same brand as the current car, while 34.9% are still undecided. This means that half of the car users need to be persuaded again when purchasing the next car. But what are the main differentiating factors?

“Love at first sight”: For many decades the exterior design used to be the decisive, emotional factor in the car purchase. While this is still valid, this “emotionalization” is now also taking place in the inside of the vehicle. Partially supported by new emerging drivetrain technologies and mobility models, the passenger compartment is becoming an increasingly important factor next to exterior, drivetrain, driving performance and fuel economy. 

When purchasing the current car, the interior design (e.g. seats, surfaces, etc.) was important to 54.8%, compared to 57.2% who paid more attention to the exterior design. Looking ahead to the purchase of the next car, the interior is rising by 5 percent points (59.8%) in its importance, the exterior by 4 percent points (61.4%). 

Commenting on the increasing importance of the automotive interior, Heiko Rother, General Manager Business Development Automotive at Asahi Kasei Europe, says: “Customer expectations are not changing overnight, but gradually and much faster than we have seen in the past. More than half of the car buyers in Europe are ready to change the brand. A great chance for OEMs to win new customers by implementing convincing technologies which are touching all senses, addressing human emotions and needs.”

Automotive interior surfaces need to be attractive to the eye and smooth to the skin. They are the interface between the user and the vehicle. Furthermore, it is the defining aspect for how he/she perceives the interior of the automotive – and even more important: The driving experience. One out of ten respondents (10.3%) sees the poor processing quality of interior surface materials as the most annoying factor in the current car. 44.8% of all respondents see a benefit in surfaces that look and feel especially high quality – for example for seats, dashboards or headliners – compared to just 11.4% who do not. A third of all participants (32.5%) would be willing to pay a reasonable price for these surfaces as an extra equipment. While the word “reasonable” is of course strictly subjective, it shows the growing importance of interior surfaces. Asked about the surface material itself, 57% of the respondents think that sustainable materials for seat covers and surfaces will be becoming increasingly important in the next 5 to 10 years, while the need for real leather equipment will fall drastically.

Next to look and feel, the results of the survey show an increasing need towards interior surfaces with further functions, adding to the overall driving experience. Asked about additional functions of the seat covers and surfaces, 49% of all respondents see a benefit in antibacterial properties. Taking a closer look at the age structure, it turns out that car users from 18–39 years are seeing a stronger benefit of antibacterial surfaces, especially compared to the participants over 59 years. The same trend can be seen in regard to seat covers and surfaces with odor-inhibiting properties. 49.3% see a benefit in these surfaces, which are again highly valued by the car users from 18–39 years. While there is an overall need for hygienic surfaces, stronger demand can be observed within the younger age groups, who are also more willing to accept additional costs for these surfaces. 

With the changing in-car driving experience, the perception of sound and noise is evenly about to change. Already today 16.1% of the car users consider the driving noise as the most annoying factor of their current car. Looking ahead to the future automotive, the suppression of road and engine noise – now a challenge to many car users – will become even more urgent. While different materials and technologies inside the car can tackle this problem, visible interior surfaces can also play their part. 51.8% would see a benefit in noise-absorbing seat covers and surfaces, 35.9% are even inclined to book these surfaces for additional costs.

Rother concludes by saying: “With the passenger compartment moving more into focus and becoming a key decision factor, we see significant potential for differentiating technologies, addressing the passengers’ senses and meeting highest demand.”

Space-Saving Solutions for Tiny Houses

Core 77 - Wed, 2020-06-03 15:41

New-Zealand-based Variant Spaces is a design-build firm specializing in kitting out tiny houses--and thus, they're specialists in space-saving solutions. While some of their stuff are things we've seen before, like a pulley-based laundry rack, fold-out tables and a magnetic wall-mounted spice rack…


…I hadn't seen a DIY cable storage solution as simple as this:

What most caught my eye was this shot of a washing machine in a tiny house that they did for a client. Absent any free space, they tucked it behind the stairs to the loft.

If I was doing laundry every day, sure, flipping the steps up each time would grow tiresome. But the procedure doesn't look so bad if you're doing laundry once a week:

Alternatively, perhaps these Kiwis could get together with Aussie designer Zev Bianchi and his glorious disappearing staircase solution.

Reader Submitted: Laser Cut Wooden Sheet Bends to Create an Integrated Lamp Shade

Core 77 - Wed, 2020-06-03 15:41

Lynx represents the research in the simplicity of form through the use of a few elements. A single panel of mdf wood, finished with a particular laser technique, and a single fixing element to maintain the shape. Few components to create an attractive, elegant and modern object.

View the full project here

In the 2020 Mazda3 the Angel is in the Details

Design News - Wed, 2020-06-03 02:38

As a member of the bad back club, Mazda’s inclusion of a power lumbar adjuster for the Mazda3’s driver’s seat is about all I need to give the car a positive review. But this detail does more than serve to sway me by appealing to my narrow self-interest: it is an example of the $32,065 2020 Mazda3’s surprisingly comprehensive feature list for a compact hatchback that might have once been dismissed as an “econobox.”

A look at the car’s specifications is startling. Consider the 186-horsepower, 186-lb. ft. Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder combustion engine, which has a stake on the claim of most sophisticated engine in production today. Skyactiv-G involves a fabulously complex piston crown that shapes combustion and relentlessly precise fuel injection that controls the timing of the combustion process.

The Skyactive combustion chamber. Image source: Mazda

This lets the Activ-G engine run at an eye-popping 13:1 compression ratio for optimum power and efficiency, contributing to the car’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 24 mpg in city driving, 32 mpg highway and a combined estimate of 27 mpg.

It combines with a 6-speed automatic transmission and the i-Active all-wheel drive system, with torque vectoring that uses engine power to help steer the car through the curves. There’s a forward radar that not only supports the automatic collision mitigation braking, but also controls the adaptive cruise control that has the brains to handle stop-and-go traffic by itself.

A head-up display keeps the driver informed of vital information and makes it easier to keep an eye on the car’s speed on the inside of the windshield, while the adaptive LED headlights ensure the driver can also see what’s ahead on the outside of the windshield.

If this impressive hardware roster isn’t appealing enough to technophiles, Mazda also appeals to our baser instincts by applying the amazing Soul Red Crystal paint finish. Competitors expressed amazement that it was production paint at its auto show debut, and not the expensive custom paint job it looks like. 

The incredible depth of color and shine wouldn’t have been possible at any price not long ago, and now Soul Red Crystal is a $595 option on an imported economy hatchback! Owners should go ahead and sign up for a weekly car wash service now to avoid the distress of every seeing the Mazda3 look less than its best in this finish.

Inside, Mazda offers an alternative to drab all-black cabins or the dullness of gray or beige upholstery. The unlikely-seeming solution is to blend gray and beige into a vinyl the company dubs “Greige.” It is a taupe shade that brightens the cockpit with a fresh look that is similar to the hue that PC manufacturers adopted as they moved away from their own “beige boxes.”

Behind the wheel, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob lend a premium tactile impression to match the sophisticated appearance.

There’s a 6.8-inch infotainment display, and the car’s 12-speaker Bose audio system includes Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Alas, when not using those mobile device-based interfaces, Mazda’s own interface continues to be a case study in what not to do. This is different from previous bad Mazda infotainment interfaces, but still manages to set the standard as the industry’s most frustrating to use system.

Image source: Mazda

Maybe, as the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ company, Mazda really wants us to ignore the electronic gadgets and focus on driving, which is a good philosophy. Driving the Mazda3 is exciting, thanks to the car’s advanced all-weather power distribution and characteristically excellent steering feel and feedback.

The 2020 Mazda3 appeals to the driver at many levels, with its impressive paint, opulent cabin appointments and advanced safety technologies serving as bonuses in addition to the fundamentally sound and fun-to-drive car underneath. Mazda’s pragmatic approach to wringing out all the remaining efficiency from combustion engines before investing in the costly change to electric drive demonstrates why combustion vehicles will continue to be viable and attractive for years to come.

And you don't need to appreciate power lumbar support to see thet appeal of that.


Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

COVID-19 Giving Touchless Interfaces a Chance to Make an Impression

Design News - Wed, 2020-06-03 02:07
(Image source: ESI Design)

If we start seeing more touchless interface options in businesses and public spaces, we’ll probably have the novel coronavirus to thank.

By now most of us have used some sort of touchless control. It was most likely voice control whether its Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant. Savvy engineers who use VR/AR in their workflows might even have tried using eye tracking to control virtual interfaces and environments. Yet all we have to do is look in our pockets to realize that touch is still the king of interfaces.

But several months living in a world where touch can be hazardous to your health might change that. For many people COVID-19 pandemic has transformed ATMs, self-checkouts, payment terminals, fast food kiosks, and other shared, touch-based interfaces from a wonderful convenience into a reason to have an anxiety attack.

In a piece for The Guardian physician Gavin Francis summed up the experience nicely:

“Flying out of Newark, I found myself in a departure terminal where every table was festooned with tablet computers on stalks. They flashed like gambling machines, entertainment as well as shopping opportunities. To speak to a companion it was necessary to peer over these screens. All food and all payment was to be ordered by touching the tablets. Maybe they wipe them clean regularly, I thought, as I watched a kid pick his nose then start playing with the screen.”

While it’s certainly possible that we’ll revert back to our old touchy ways once the coronavirus pandemic blows over, concerns over the cleanliness and safety of public touchscreens existed long before COVID-19.

“It’s hard not to think that the business impact of this will be huge. At the most fundamental level, if people are reluctant to touch public screens, that’s going to make them less likely to interact or make a purchase,” Saurabh Gupta, Director of Product at Ultraleap, wrote in a recent blog post.

“...We can’t go back to a world where the only option is a staffed cash register or check-in desk...Finding ways for consumers to use self-serve options without coming into contact with them is likely to be one of the features determining which businesses successfully navigate their way out of the Covid-19 crisis – and which fall by the wayside,” he said.

Ultraleap has a particular vested interest in touchless technology. The company is actively developing technology that uses a combination of ultrasonic waves and sophisticated, infrared hand-tracking technology to create touchless interfaces that can be controlled by bare-handed gesture control as well as provide haptic feedback to users.

The company has already unveiled several concepts such as the one below from CES 2018 which uses holographic projections to create a touchless ATM experience:

Gupta is not alone in his assertion that touchless will see a boom in the post-COVID-19 world.

Andrew Lazarow is a Senior Designer and A/V Technologist at ESI Design, a firm that creates large-scale interactive experiences for museums, offices, schools, sports venues, and other businesses. Lazarow told Design News that what’s particularly exciting right now is the range of touchless technologies available to developers. “At ESI Design we always start with who a design is for, and what the audiences experiences should be. When we zoom out to that level almost anything can be an input – or sensor – and just about anything can be an output,” he said. “For depth-sensing cameras with API’s for gesture recognition time of flight (i.e. Azure Kinect) and active stereo (i.e. Intel Realsense) are leading the way. Both have their own pros and cons depending on where they might be installed.”

At a larger scale he said technologies like solid-state LiDAR have been tested for years and show promise. Even voice has its advantages over touch. “One clear strength of voice interactivity is that it does not require a steep learning curve. For many languages and dialects, development and API’s for voice are constantly becoming more reliable and conversational,” Lazarow said. “The biggest concern I see with voice interactivity used in public spaces is privacy. How would our conversations change if we knew every word could be recorded? Would brands, property owners or building managers seek to monetize that data? Thankfully, I think we have a few years to sort out those ethics.”

Touchless Can Also Mean Personal

There’s no denying however that a big shift to touchless would also mean a big investment in infrastructure changes for businesses and offices. Even simply augmenting touch interfaces with touchless capability could come with a significant time and cost investment.

But the key to a move to touchless could already be sitting in our pockets. What if instead of creating new, touchless interfaces we started moving away from shared devices and more toward our own personal devices? We already do this with smart home features like Bluetooth locks and other features like Apple Pay. Why not extend this further?

In a blog post, Lee Billington, the director of the Digital Experience Design practice at the architectural firm Gensler, said that while this approach may not be as “cutting edge” as others it still reduces virus spread and also lowers the learning curve for people, since they are already familiar with their own mobile devices.

“Widespread adoption of workplace experience apps may not seem revolutionary, but rather as simply the next evolutionary step, and that’s by design,” Billington wrote. “For years, smart companies have been slowly building digital infrastructures to support user technology layers that control the environment around the worker. The current landscape gives you and your company a chance to step back and assess if you’re on the right track for supporting the use of employees’ mobile devices in the workplace.”

ESI’s Lazarow agreed with this assessment. “Using personal devices such as smartphones is a great way to maintain, and even bring in new, capabilities for interactivity,” he told Design News. “For interactions or spaces that require higher degrees of security NFC can be utilized for new purposes. We can also distribute cards or objects with RFID tags embedded, as a low-cost option for a personal interactive or triggering device.”

Smartphone apps and in-store Wi-Fi offer a much more cost-friendly solution for businesses like retailers that might be unwilling to take on the cost of upgrading to touchless hardware in their brick and mortar locations. “I can see the more innovative retailers, and those with strong analytics, doing more with RFID tags,” Lazarow said. “Burberry, for example, has already been using RFID has already been using RFID embedded in their clothing to drive customer-specific media experiences for customers after they make a purchase. I can imagine retailers using this opportunity to track shoppers movements and behaviors more closely than ever.”


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

Threadless Polyamide Nut Proves No Loose Link

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-02 20:22

Indian inventors Veena Agarwal and Rajendra Pal Agarwal have developed a polyamide-based bolt and nut combination in which the bolt is threaded, whereas the nut is threadless. The V Nut brings with it numerous advantages over traditional Nyloc (Nylon insert) lock nuts. Both nut types consist of a steel nut encircling a polyamide (PA) insert.

“According to David Fussell, president of VenturSource Consulting (Flagler Beach, FL), who has exclusive rights to market the V Nut in North America, “As no machined threads are made in the V Nut, it significantly reduces the cost of production and the production rate of the injection-molded nuts also increases.”

The V Nut’s polyamide insert is threadless, yet delivers much higher tightening torque. Image courtesy of VenturSource Consulting.

Further, a V Nut of a particular internal diameter can be used for all bolts of that size for fine as well as coarse threads. “This means that the usage of V Nuts will amount to great reduction in the inventory costs in comparison to conventional or Nyloc nuts.

Varying the height of the V Nut increases the tightening and loosening torque required. This property can be used to design nuts to cater to specific torque requirements. For a given size, in general if a plain steel nut requires a tightening torque of less than 1 Nm, the corresponding Nyloc nut requires about 4.5 Nm, while a V Nut of 8 mm height requires about 17 Nm. A V Nut with height of 12 mm requires about 25 Nm of tightening torque.

In conventional Nyloc nut and bolt arrangements, the length of the nut has no real effect on the torque. In this sense, the V Nut allows for potential weight reduction as the height can be configured to deliver the desired torque. This is especially important in the aerospace sector.

In addition, for V Nuts, the tightening and opening up torques required for fine threaded bolts are about 125% of the similar required values for the coarse threaded bolts.

Further, if the V Nut is tightened and untightened ten times, it still retains around 200% of the tightening torque requirement compared to that of a Nyloc nut tightened for the first time.

Mechanical fasteners play a vital role in daily life. They are used in a variety of applications, right from holding together a piece of furniture, to hi-tech automobiles. Mechanical fasteners are broadly divided into permanent and non-permanent fasteners. Threaded bolts and nuts are one such type of nonpermanent mechanical fasteners.

Generally plain nut and bolt assembly require minimal little torque to tighten. This also means that the plain nut will easily loosen with the application of external load or by small vibrations.

In conventional Nyloc nuts, a small washer made of a polyamide material is used within the threaded nut. These nuts require significantly more torque to tighten and accordingly more torque to loosen than a plain nut. The V Nut requires even more tightening torque, thereby further decreasing the likelihood of loosening.

Engel, Hack Formenbau Develop High-Volume System to Mold COVID-19 Test Swabs

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-02 11:00

COVID-19 will be with us for some time, and so will the need for test swabs. Injection molding equipment manufacturer Engel and its longtime collaborator, mold maker Hack Formenbau, have developed an integrated system that allows plastics processors to produce two-component test swabs in high volumes and with short lead times.

The integrated test swab production cell includes an Engel victory injection molding machine and Engel viper linear robot.

The nasal and throat test swabs are composed of a rigid thermoplastic handle and thermoplastic elastomer tip to reduce patient discomfort. Hack Formenbau developed the two-component design, initially with three different tip designs.

"We adapt the handle length and shape, the design of the swab head, and the materials individually to suit customer requirements," said Gunnar Hack, CEO and owner of Hack Formenbau. The development objective is to combine high product quality with cost-efficient high-volume output. With a 32-cavity mold and six- to eight-second cycle times, processors can produce up to 320 test swabs per minute — 460,000 test swabs per day — with a single production unit, said Engel.

The production process is based on a tie-bar-less, hydraulic, two-component Engel victory injection molding machine and an integrated Engel viper linear robot that removes and deposits the swabs. The victory machine is equipped with iQ weight control for process consistency. The smart assistance system, part of Engel’s inject 4.0 program, detects fluctuations in the raw material and ambient conditions and automatically compensates for them shot by shot.

Engel and Hack Formenbau have collaborated on many projects through the years, with a focus on high-precision applications for medical technology. “Our customers benefit from this,” noted Christoph Lhota, Vice President, Engel Medical, in a prepared statement. "Our customers receive a complete system that is precisely tailored to their individual requirements and can get started with series production in the shortest possible time.”

The technology developed for the production of COVID-19 test swabs ultimately will lend itself to the development of efficient systems for the production of swabs for influenza tests or gynecological examinations, added Engel in the news release.

Earlier this year, Engel engineered injection molding machines that are compatible with a technology developed by another mold maker and partner, Haidlmair, for the production of re-usable face masks. Plastics processing companies around the world are using Haidlmair’s solution to mold the thermoplastic elastomer–based two-piece masks, according to Engel.

What Would a Well-Managed Pre-Industrial City Look Like? Check Out This Flythrough of Ancient Rome

Core 77 - Tue, 2020-06-02 10:42

The New Historia YouTube channel edited together an animated flythrough of ancient Rome, and it's stunning. It gives you a look at what a well-managed, pre-industrial urban environment would look like: Orderly public spaces, no vehicle pollution, no factory smokestacks belching smoke, no buildings blocking the sun, no billboards, no advertisements, no electricity.

Here's the video:

What's amusing is the provenance of the footage--it was apparently extracted from Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series of videogames. So it is accurate? I have no idea; while the company famously consulted with Egyptologists to recreate Egypt for their Assassin's Creed: Origins game, I couldn't find any mention of them working with historians on Rome. But I'd like to believe it looked like this.

via BoingBoing

Open Source IP is Best Not Forgotten

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-02 04:45

Without the creation, discovery, licensing and sharing of intellectual property (IP), the modern world of electronics would look very different. In the semiconductor chip space, IP has enabled the creation of highly complex system on chips (SoCs) and acompanying software systems, which are the cornerstones of today’s consumer electronic markets such a smartphone and other mobile devices.

Given the importance of IP to electronic and mechatronic design and manufacturing, you’d think it would be a highly prized and well-managed asset. Such is not the case, according to a recent 2020 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis (OSSRA) report. One of the key findings of the report, which was produced by the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center (CyRC) and focused solely on open source software components, was that 91% of commercial applications contain outdated or abandoned open-source components —a potentially serious security threat and legal concern.

Further, the report revealed that 99% of the 1,250 commercial codebases audited contained open-source code, with open source comprising 70% of the code overall. According to a press release, what was, “more notable is the continued widespread use of aging or abandoned open source components, with 91% of the codebases containing components that either were more than four years out of date or had seen no development activity in the last two years.

The four main findings were:

  • Open-source adoption continues to soar. (36%).
  • Outdated and “abandoned” open-source components are pervasive.
  • The use of vulnerable open-source components is trending upward again.
  • Open-source license conflicts continue to put intellectual property at risk.

Open source software is no different from any other software in that its use is governed by a license that describes the rights conveyed to users and the obligations those users must meet.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI), a nonprofit corporation that promotes the use of open source software in the commercial world, defines open source with 10 criteria and lists 82 OSI-approved licenses, with nine being “popular, widely used, or having strong communities.”

(Image Source: Open Source License, Synopsys 2020 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis (OSSRA) report)

Analyses from the OSSRA report indicates that the 20 most popular licenses cover approximately 98% of the open source in use. One application that uses a lot of open source licenses is blockchain project. The report notes that one such project used a GNU Affero General Public License (AGPLv3) that generally states, “if you use a licensed component (or a derivative) in your software, you must make your source code available under the same conditions as the original component.” Many companies are reluctant to open their own source code to general use and are wary of any ensuring compliance issues.  

 (Image Source: Synopsys 2020 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis (OSSRA) report)

Engineers reading the OSSRA report might be tempted to say, “OK, so what? Do I really need to worry about open source software (or hardware) compliance and IP management issues in addition to all the critical design, verification or manufacturing work that I have to do?”

The question is particularly troublesome for chip hardware engineers. Warren Savage, Visiting Researcher at the University of Maryland and former CEO of IPextreme, acknowledges the problem: “Open source hardware (i.e. IP) has been something that has intrigued the semiconductor community for a long time.  However, unlike its cousin, open source software, it has failed to materially impact the semiconductor IP market. There are technical and legal issues at play. Given the multi-million-dollar cost of wafers, few engineering managers are willing to bet their job if the IP would turn out to have latent bugs and or worse—patent infringement issues.”

Michael Munsey, while working at Dassault Systems, once answered the question this way: “Most designers and verification engineers understand the need for IP reuse in system-on-chip (SoC) design. But few seem aware of the management and governance that such IP will require. For example, as companies reuse more internal IP and acquire more external IP, they’ll need to create a cataloging system. This catalog will lead to a grading of IP based upon its usage and known defects. Just as with internal IP, the third-party IP must be tracked not only for bug issues but also for royalty and licensing payments. For large companies, all of these management activities will need to happen across a multiple of projects.”

The last point has become more critical for consumer electronics and other mass markets. Handling multiple projects often within a product family – like a smart phone – requires the management of slightly variant designs. Olivier De Percin, VP, Digital and Industry, at Dassault Systemes, noted that mass customizations in the design will also mean having many variants in the field. Keeping track of both the design, manufactured and field variations requires the capability to manage all resources but especially all of the IP.

Another reason to maintain a database of all hardware and software IP used in a design is to safeguard against infringements. The big problem facing most companies is that they don’t know what IP they have. One reason for this is the poor internal governance within corporate databases. Often, companies simply lose track of where the IP is used. There should be a managed pedigree or record of IP heritage.

Like it or not, the governance and management of IP is the primary way to deal with outdated and abandoned bits of design and even manufacturing code. The question is, who’s going to do it?

Failure to comply with open source IP has legal ramifications. (Image Source: IP Management Compliance, Adobe)



John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

40 Years of Pac-Man Fever!

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-02 03:30

Image source: Bandai Namco

Toru Iwatani. Image source: Critical Path YouTube Image source: Bandai Namco $399 40th Anniversary Pac-Man Game. Image source: Tastemakers, LLC

The world recently observed the 40th anniversary of the arcade debut of the game that became a cultural phenomenon: Pac-Man. It has been four decades since Namco game designer Toru Iwatani’s maze eating game was released to Tokyo arcades. It came to the U.S. in 1981 and within 15 months Pac-Man had gobbled four billion quarters, or $1 billion.

Iwatani had noticed that game parlors were almost exclusively patronized by men and boys, so he set out to develop a game that would appeal to the whole population rather than half of it.

Eating is a universal activity, so he hit upon the idea of making it an eating game. The game’s power pills, which let Pac-Man eat the antagonizing ghosts, were inspired by Popeye’s spinach, Iwatani said in an interview with CNN. And the idea for the ghosts as opponents came from the Caspar the Friendly Ghost cartoon.

Those ghosts don’t just have different colors; they have different personalities written into their algorithms, he said. “Our programmer, Funaki-san, devised a

system where the four ghosts will position themselves around Pac-Man. He assigned each ghost a different kind of algorithm so that they run after Pac-Man in different ways.”

The game’s name drew on Japanese culture, he continued. “In Japanese, we have an onomatopoeia called ‘paku-paku,’ as in ‘paku paku taberu’ (gobble down). That’s where the name of Pac-Man came from.” 

Intentionally creating a game with broad appeal instead of the teen boy-centric shoot ‘em ups that were industry mainstays sounds like a winning strategy, but Pac-Man’s blockbuster success came as a surprise. “I never thought it would be loved and played so widely throughout the world,” Iwatani admitted.

The world was reminded of Pac-Man’s entrancing power in 2010, when Google posted a playable version of the game on its home page as the Google Doodle logo in honor of Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary. Google subsequently reported 4.8 million hours of worker productivity were lost to playing the game.

The original arcade Pac-Man saw sequels such as Ms. Pac-Man and spin-offs that included an ABC-TV cartoon show. The song “Pac-Man Fever” reached the top ten on the pop music charts for commercial jingle writers Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia. “We'd put our names on the song and get some local play and that would help usget some commercials,” Buckner told Songfacts.com. “That was the original intention. We never dreamed that this thing could be a national hit like it was."

Pac-Man has staying power that has seen it propel the success of new home arcade machines from Arcade 1Up. “The game is easy to pick up and play – they are easy to learn yet hard to master,” observed David McIntosh, director of marketing and communications for Tastemakers, LLC, the parent company of Arcade 1Up. “This is the foundation to most arcade games and that play pattern is appreciated in a time and day where modern games are extremely sophisticated.”

A licensing agreement with Bandai Namco ensures that these new three-quarter scale home machines look and play exactly like those maddeningly addictive classic machines, with none of the buyer’s remorse that struck Atari 2600 players when they discovered that their home console version of the arcade game was almost unplayable.

Bandai Namco has kept the title current with releases on new platforms such as Nintendo Switch that apply glossy modern graphics to the original game’s concept, so players have the option of classic or contemporary iterations of the game. Perhaps we can look forward to a holographic iteration for Pac-Man’s 50th anniversary.


Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

What Engineers Need to Know About Contact Tracing

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-02 03:19

Have you ever thought of becoming a disease detective tracking down COVID-19 infections? What’s involved and what are the benefits? What part does technology play? Before answering these questions, let’s start with the basics.

The main task of the disease gumshoe is contact tracing, i.e., identifying all persons who may have come into contact with an infected person. By tracing the contacts of infected individuals, testing them for infection, treating the infected and tracing their contacts in turn, public tracers aim to significantly reduce infections in a population.

Contact tracing is nothing new. It has been a vitally important part of communicable disease control for decades. The eradication of smallpox, for example, was achieved not by universal immunization but by exhaustive contact tracing to find all infected persons. More recently, contact tracing has been credited with helping stop the SARS epidemic in 2004.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough COVID-19 trackers. According to a recent bipartisan estimate, over 180,000 contact tracers are needed around the country. Other estimates place the need between 100,000 to 300,000.

How does one get trained as a disease tracker? Not surprisingly, it helps to have experience in the public health and care markets. Fluency in multiple languages is also a plus. Regardless of one’s background, training exists to become a contact tracer. The CDC provides a list of educational training plus a list of paid part-time and full-time job postings.

Contact tracing basics. (Image Source: Contact Tracing Wikimedia CFCF)

Technology Plays Major Monitoring Role

Several major universities have partnered with the government and industry to create contact tracing technologies. One such partnership is called PACT: Private Automated Contact Tracing. The mission of PACT is to develop technology that enhances the reach and effectiveness of existing contact tracing strategies through the use of personal digital communication devices while preserving privacy concerns.

As a part of PACT, MIT has developed a system for identifying people at risk of infecting COVID-19 by using the Bluetooth signals from cell phones. This technology utilizes an open, privacy-preserving protocol to notify individuals of potential contacts without revealing any private information to other individuals, the government, health care providers, or telecommunication carriers.

Electronic companies are also helping with tracing technology. For example, Apple and Google are working together to develop new contact tracing technology using smartphones and Bluetooth technologies. Last month, the tech giants jointly announced they are collaborating on an API and a platform that will work across both iOS and Android smartphones to help track COVID-19 exposures and warn people who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus behind the disease.

“Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet announcing the new development. “We’re working with @sundarpichai [and] @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency [and] consent.”

The new API will be followed by a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform. The API will facilitate interoperability between various public health apps on iOS and Android. The Bluetooth tracing platform will be opt-in and will provide a more robust solution that allows people to be notified if they’ve been potentially exposed to COVID-19.

But there are limitations to the new technology. Users would have to opt-in and people without smartphones would not get notified.

Not all contact tracing tech relies on Bluetooth. For example, IoT specialist Kerlink has partnered with the data management company Microshare to create a system that traces contacts proximity in the workplace to help fight the spread of Covid-19. The two companies have jointly used their experience in indoor asset tracking within facilities and around ring-fenced properties to deliver a contact-tracing solution based on LoRaWAN gateways. The LoRaWAN specification is a Low Power, Wide Area Network (LPWAN) wireless telecommunication protocol design. Compared to WiFi and Bluetooth, an LPWAN is known for its ability to transmit small data packets over incredible, long-range distances using the unlicensed spectrum.

In the end, contact tracing has proven highly successful in greatly mitigating the disastrous effects of past diseases. It can work equally well with COVID-19, but only if the public is willing to participate. Unfortunately, some American’s have a negative attitude toward the government’s preventative measures, which will pose serious challenges for efforts to track and contain coronavirus cases.

Google Bluetooth platform. (Image source: Google, Apple)



John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Engineering Fun at Home

Design News - Mon, 2020-06-01 21:15



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.