TERRAIN GUIDANCE SYSTEM FOR WHEELCHAIRS

Many of the greatest civilian innovations can be traced back to military origins. Penicillin, radar, satellites and the Internet, just to name a few. So it is not uncommon for technologies developed for fighting wars to be found to have wider applications. The following idea is an example of this adaptation and is inspired by the important need of disabled veteran soldiers for independence and mobility. By using terrain sensing control systems designed for the guidance of autonomous vehicles on the battlefield, researchers have begun developing a system that will allow wheelchair users to access more areas than ever before.

Certain terrain types that able bodied people take in their stride can be difficult or even impossible for those in a wheelchair to navigate. Steep hills or ramps, mud, snow, and uneven ground can be dangerous obstacles for a disabled person. Researchers at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering are working on technology able to detect hazardous terrain and automatically adjust control settings of an electric-powered wheelchair to allow a safer transit without the need for assistance.

“This technology will provide electric-powered wheelchair users with an increased degree of independence that may significantly increase their ability to participate in recreational and functional activities,” Army Major Kevin Fitzpatrick, director of Walter Reed’s wheelchair clinic, said.

Inspiration for the research began when Professor Emmanuel Collins, director of Florida State University’s Center for Intelligent Systems, Control and Robotics, heard a presentation by Professor Rory Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories and chairman of Pitt’s rehabilitation science and technology department. Cooper has used a wheelchair since receiving a spinal cord injury in 1980 during his service in the Army. In his presentation, Cooper noted the need for terrain sensing electric-powered wheelchair assistance. The two began developing the idea and along with collaborators at the National Science Foundation-sponsored Quality of Life Technology Center, the concept started taking shape.

“I’m inspired by the idea of applying technology originally meant for the battlefield to improve the quality of everyday life for injured soldiers and others,” Collins said.

Automatic terrain-sensing controls for military robotic vehicles, and four-wheel-drive automobiles have now been on the market for almost a decade. Collins adapted a device known as a laser line striper, originally developed for military use for use in the project. The end result is a system that enables electric-powered wheelchairs to detect hazardous terrain and implement safe driving strategies avoiding wheel slip, sinkage or vehicle tipping.

Collins said that, to his knowledge, no one else is working on this type of application. He estimated that if the team obtains commercial backing the technology could come to fruition in about five years.

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center has observed the promise in this research and has provided funding and guidance. The project now forms part of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology sub-portfolio within the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center’s Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance research papers

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Intel Turns to Light

to Transfer Data Inside PCs

// <![CDATA[// Jul 28, 2010 6:40 am

Intel on Tuesday announced it had developed a prototype interconnect that uses light to speed up data transmission inside computers at the speed of 50 gigabits per second.

Intel researchers said that the optical technology could ultimately replace the use of copper wires and electrons to carry data inside or around computers. An entire high-definition movie can be transmitted each second with the prototype, the researchers said.

The technology will also be able to carry data over longer distances than copper wires, Intel researchers said.

Intel’s chief technology officer Justin Rattner characterized the research prototype as a breakthrough in research as copper wires were reaching their limit. There is a wealth of data that needs to be moved, and transferring data at 10G bps or more over copper wires is becoming a challenge. Even if the data could be transferred over copper wires at that speed, there are distance trade-offs.

Optical interconnects solve that problem by allowing data transfers at much faster rates, and over longer distances, Rattner said on a conference call to discuss the technology.

“Photonics gives us the ability to move those mass quantities of data across the room… in a cost-effective matter,” Rattner said.

The photonics technology could potentially speed up data transfers within PCs or devices such as handhelds, where movies could be downloaded at faster rates, Rattner said.

Laser is already used in devices such as DVD players, and also for applications such as long-distance communication. Laser technology can however be expensive, and Intel wants to bring the technology down to a low-cost point where it can be integrated into everyday devices, Rattner said. The company hopes to raise the speed of the optical interconnect to reach up to 1T bps (bits per second) as it increases the number of channels to improve data transfers.

But for now, the company has demonstrated in principle that it can get the pieces together and put it together in a fab. The next step is to implement it in chips and take it to volume manufacturing. The technology could reach the mass market by the middle of the decade, and could go into PCs, servers or mobile devices.

The technology won’t be implemented at the integrated circuit level in the short term, but could replace copper wires that connect CPU to memory, for example, said Mario Paniccia, an Intel fellow. The optical interconnect will reduce latency, which could result in faster data movement and processing.

“We think it’s going to be perfectly at home in data-center applications,” Rattner said. For consumer applications, an optical interconnect would also help users to down movies to handheld devices at faster rates, Rattner said.

“Once we’re confident we have a high-volume manufacturing capability, then we’ll turn to the business question: what market opportunities are attractive to Intel?” Rattner asked.

The research prototype brings together a number of previous Intel research around devices that emit, manipulate, combine, separate and detect light. The interconnect includes a transmitter chip on a PC board that puts four optical channels on to fiber, and a receiver chip that receives the incoming light, splits the optical signals and converts the photons to electrical data.

Intel is already working on a new optical interconnect to link external storage drives, mobile devices and displays to PCs up to 100 meters away. Called Light Peak, the interconnect helps communicate data at up to 10G bps. Intel sees Light Peak as potential technology to replace USB, which is commonly used to connect storage and other devices to PCs.

Many companies, including Sun, which is now part of Oracle, and IBM have been involved in silicon photonics research.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

STAR POWER USING LASERS FOR ENERGY DRIVE

A view inside the National Ignition Facility’s target chamber, a space easily big enough for technicians to stand inside. It is hoped the NIF will eventually be a major source of carbon-free energy.

(Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Lab)

LIVERMORE, Calif.–Think clean energy is a fantasy? What if the power of a star was applied to the problem?

That’s the approach being explored at the National Ignition Facility, a huge-scale experiment in laser fusion based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory here. Scientists are looking at NIF as a potential key to producing large amounts of carbon-free power.

It’s not known if the system will ever bear the kind of fruit the scientists and administrators who run NIF would like. Still, the facility is a scientific wonder that can transform a single laser beam no wider than a human hair into 192 beams–each of which is 18 inches wide. Together, the beams are designed to produce 4 million joules, the amount of power that would produce 4 million watts of power in a single second.

Using star power for a clean-energy future (photos)


The NIF was completed in early 2009 and eventually will be used by the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as technicians from national laboratories, fusion energy researchers, academics, and others. It is “the world’s largest and highest-energy laser, [and] has the goal of achieving nuclear fusion and energy gain in the laboratory for the first time,” according to the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, “in essence, creating a miniature star on Earth.”

This is serious high technology. The NIF employs a series of amplifiers and mirrors known as switchyards to route and split the original hair’s-width laser beam over a total distance of 1,500 meters. After being separated by pre-amplifiers into 48 beams, each beam is then split into four beams, and then all are injected into the 192 main laser amplifier beamlines, according to the NIF.

The hope is that NIF will be online as a power plant within 15 to 20 years. For now, the facility is a proof-of-concept system, albeit one comprising two 10-story buildings and more than $3 billion of investment. Eventually, the 192 laser beams reunite to focus on a target fuel pellet that is just millimeters in size, yet placed inside a target chamber that towers over the technicians who sometimes work inside.

And 192 laser beams of this magnitude create some serious heat. The theoretical maximum, according to LLNL retiree and docent Nick Williams, is 100 million degrees Celsius.

For now, because of the amount of power necessary to produce the beams, and the heat created, scientists are only able to fire the laser system once every two or three hours. Eventually, the idea would be to fire it many times a second.

And by 2030, it is hoped, the NIF will be helping produce commercial power and helping scientists and researchers better understand the nature of the universe. That, it would seem, would be a main benefit of producing what amounts to a small star, right here in the middle of Northern California.

On June 24, Geek Gestalt will kick off Road Trip 2010. After driving more than 18,000 miles in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last four years, I’ll be looking for the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more throughout the American northeast. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. In the meantime, you can follow my preparations for the project on Twitter @GreeterDan and @RoadTrip.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 7th June 2010