Author Archives: Bianca Van der Watt

  1. GM Recalls Trucks Due to Engine Block Heater Cord Fires

    Leave a Comment
    GM Recalls Trucks Due to Engine Block Heater Cord Fires

    Photo by Tina Nord from Pexels

    In December 2018, a quality engineer submitted a report to the company’s Speak Up for Safety program which resulted in an investigation which concluded that there were 19 fire claims caused by a faulty optional engine block cord. The faulty cord is only applicable to diesel engines where it is used to heat up the engine block in extreme cold weather conditions. Preliminary investigations revealed that the cord short circuits where it connects to the engine block, causing a in fire in the engine compartment.

    This led General Motors to recall over 368,000 pickups and other trucks worldwide the Duramax diesel 6.6-liter, eight-cylinder engine and optional engine-block heaters in April 2019.


    Customers may notice the following:

    • Smoke or a burning smell
    • Poor block-heater performance
    • Tripped circuit breakers or blown vehicle fuses
    • Damage to the block heater, the heater cable, or engine components
    • Block-heater coolant pooling under the vehicle

    The Recall Models

    In the US, GM recalled the following trucks:

    • The 2017-2019 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500
    • The 2019 Silverado 4500HD/5500HD/6500HD
    • The 2017-2019 GMC Sierra 2500/3500.

    An additional 40 319 trucks were recalled in Canada while about 61,418 of the recalled trucks are held at dealerships until the cord issue can be fixed.

    In April, Ford Motor Co. was also forced to recall 327,000 medium-duty trucks with engine block heater cable fires.

    Avoid Heater Use

    Both automakers urged customers to avoid using the engine block heater until it is fixed. GM and Ford are disabling the engine block heater cords in unsold vehicles.

    Recall Centers

    GM said it would contact customers via mail letters and that all repairs will be done free of charge. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) recall number is 19V-328.

    GM can also be contacted online on the following URL:

  2. Nasa Uncovers 20-Year Aluminum Scheme That Caused 2 Failed Missions

    Leave a Comment
    Nasa Uncovers 20-Year Aluminum Scheme That Caused 2 Failed Missions

    Credits: NASA

    In a settlement agreement, an Oregon aluminum extrusion manufacturer, Sapa Profiles, Inc., has agreed to pay $46 million to NASA, the Department of Defense, and others to resolve criminal charges and civil claims relating to a 19-year fraud scheme.

    Federal prosecutors concluded that Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc., formerly known as Sapa Profiles Inc. (SPI), and its corporate parent, Hydro Extrusion USA, LLC, formerly known as Sapa Extrusions Inc. (SEI), provided falsified certifications for aluminium extrusions. The falsified certificates showed that the aluminium extrusions provided possessed better tensile strength than the supplied parts.

    According to investigators, inferior quality aluminum products from SPI are directly responsible for the loss of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) and Glory missions. In 2009, the OCO failed to reach orbit when the payload fairing covering the satellite didn’t separate from the rocket. The Glory atmospheric science mission in 2011 also failed because the fairing did not separate causing the overweight rocket to crash into the Pacific Ocean.

    In 2015, SPI was suspended from all government contracts when the lab director, who was proven to be the mastermind behind the scheme, pled guilty and was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment and had to pay a restitution of over $170,000. This is a fraction of the $700 million and years of people’s scientific work lost.

    “For nearly two decades, SPI and its employees covered up substandard manufacturing processes by brazenly falsifying test results,” said U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “They then provided the false test results to hundreds of customers across the country, all to increase corporate profits and obtain production-based bonuses.  This proposed resolution ensures that the victims of this conduct, including the U.S. military, can replace faulty product put into the supply chain and help recover the costs foisted on taxpayers to investigate this scheme.  I want to thank our partners at NASA-OIG, DCIS, and the FBI for their efforts in helping bring much-needed oversight and reform to these companies.”

    The positive outcome led to remedial implementations when companies obtain government contracts:

    • The implementation of state-of-the-art equipment to automate the tensile testing process
    • Company-wide audits at all U.S. tensile labs
    • Increased resources devoted to compliance and revamping internal quality controls
    • Quality audit processes revamping.
  3. The Goodyear AERO – A Concept Tire for Autonomous, Flying Cars

    Leave a Comment
    The Goodyear AERO – A Concept Tire for Autonomous, Flying Cars

    Image courtesy Goodyear

    Technology has come a long way since the first application of the wooden wheel in 4500–3300 BCE i.e. the Neolithic Age.

    Since the first patented pneumatic tire by Scottish inventor Robert William Thomson in 1847, we’ve had everything else in between up until the 21st Century, which included white wall, radial, low profile, off-road, snow, all terrain, run on flats, to mention but a few, tires in circulation.

    Now we have the Goodyear AERO Concept Tire.

    “For over 120 years Goodyear has obsessively pursued innovations and inventions, partnering with the pioneers driving change and discovery in transport,” said Chris Helsel, Chief Technology Officer at Goodyear. “With mobility companies looking to the sky for the answer to the challenges of urban transport and congestion, our work on advanced tire architectures and materials led us to imagine a wheel that could serve both as a traditional tire on the road and as a propulsion system in the sky.”

    On, March 5, 2019, the Goodyear AERO concept was introduced in GENEVA. It was presented as a two-in-one tire designed for autonomous and flying cars of the future.

    Some of the features presented by Goodyear for the AERO concept tire includes several innovative features:

    • Multimodal Design: The AERO tire will function as a tilt-rotor concept for flying cars and traditional road orientated cars, thus enabling the cars to transition seamlessly from the road to the sky.
    • Non-Pneumatic Structure: The concept will utilize the spokes and non-pneumatic tire structure, which will be flexible enough for road usage, as well as aerial maneuverability in the form of rotation and vertical lift requirements.
    • Magnetic Propulsion: With the AERO concept a magnetic force will be used to provide frictionless propulsion. This would enable the desired rotation to provide land and air speeds for propulsion.
    • Optical Sensing: The structural integrity of the tire i.e. road conditions and tire wear, will be monitored by fiber optic sensors.
    • Artificial Intelligence: With the assistance of AI technology, the AERO Concept tire will be able to produce data from vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication enabling the car to alternate between flying or driving modes.

    Keeping in mind that the AERO tire is purely a concept, the Chief Technology Office had this to say: “Goodyear’s concepts are meant to trigger a debate on the tires and transport technologies for a new mobility ecosystem.”

  4. Technology That Monitors the Wiring in Building and Ships

    Leave a Comment

    Image from Pixabay

    Have you ever had a shocking experience (pardon the pun) when you received your energy bill? Weep no more. Thanks to the latest NILM (non-intrusive load monitoring) technology, expensive energy and repair bills will soon be something of the past by monitoring the state of electrical appliances.

    The Concept

    Often referred to as a “recording” of an appliance “singing”, NILM can “learn” and record the different “tunes” each appliance generates when switched on.

    By predetermining the current / resonance / fluctuations / voltage e.g. a kettle draws compared to a stove, a clamp on the phase wire “looks” for these characteristics in an electrical cable. With the assistance of a standalone PC and GUI (graphical user interface), a 70% accuracy can be achieved to identify and monitor electrical appliances in ships or buildings.


    • Limited appliances to be connected due to interfering current fluctuations
    • Similar fluctuating devices is hard to distinguish
    • Variable current fluctuation appliances send different “tunes” leading to wrong appliances being identified
    • LED lights drawing low current is also problematic

    Field Trials

    MIT professor of electrical engineering Steven Leeb and seven others at MIT, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Naval Academy recently tested the NILM on the Coast Guard cutter, USCGC Spencer, based in Boston.

    The test resulted in the detecting of anomalous amount of power being drawn by a component of the ship’s main diesel engines called a jacket water heater. At closer inspection, severe corrosion and broken insulation was found on the heaters.

    “The NILM also detected a serious shock hazard and may have prevented a class Charlie (electrical) fire in our engine room.” Leeb said.

    Leeb pointed out that the NILM can have multiple applications with early detection, energy savings and maintenance procedures as only a few currently being utilized.

    Leeb says, “the system can be physically and electronically isolated and thus highly resistant to any outside tampering or data theft”.

    The Future

    We can expect the NILM technology to become part of our every day experience, just another advancement operating silently in the background ensuring costs savings and the safekeeping of our hard-earned possessions.

  5. Blood Samples Delivered by UPS Drones Across North Carolina

    Leave a Comment
    Blood Samples Delivered by UPS Drones Across North Carolina

    Image by Harald Landsrath from Pixabay

    Medical samples are vital elements in many hospitals. Their transport, however, gets complicated when the amount of blood or tissue samples increases. UPS recently decided to tackle this problem.

    The company started to move medical specimens with unmanned drones. So, the futuristic idea about drone deliveries for various industries just got real. Their drone-delivery scheme will carry samples to hospital systems in the North Carolina area.

    Who’s in Charge of the Deliveries?

    UPS partnered with a drone logistics startup, Matternet, to shuttle blood samples and medical supplies to three hospitals and WakeMed facilities in the North Carolina area. WakeMed is a health services provider in the area. Up until now, they transported the medical items with courier cars.

    According to Fortune’s article, UPS stated that “The addition of drone transport provides an option for on-demand and same-day delivery, the ability to avoid roadway delays, increase medical delivery efficiency, lower costs and improve the patient experience with potentially life-saving benefits.”

    The project is a pilot program of the Federal Aviation Administration. They launched in 2018 to use drones for practical applications and to see if it will reduce costs in deliveries. In addition to Matternet and UPS, drone flights are monitored by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

    How Long It Takes for a Drone to Deliver Blood Samples?

    As stated by Wired, Matternet’s M2 Quadcopter drone “can carry payloads of about 5 pounds for 12.5 miles on each battery charge. It can complete a flight in about three minutes, versus the 30 or so it takes human drivers to make it in average daily traffic”.

    WakeMed employees will load the drones with the samples to send them to WakeMed’s labs. Remote drone pilots will monitor each flight to see if the drone’s mission went well.

    Blood samples delivered by UPS drones should reduce costs and speed up the delivery time to enhance the medical service across the US.

  6. Sustainable Floating Cities Might be the Answer

    Leave a Comment
    Sustainable Floating Cities Might be the Answer to Rising Sea Levels

    Oceanix/BIG -Bjarke Ingels Group

    Global warming is still the most critical thing that humankind should care about, especially in the wake of rising sea levels that can destroy whole coastal cities. While preventing this from happening is the best solution, a company named Oceanix already has plans for towns and urban areas that will be most affected by this phenomenon, in collaboration with MIT Center for Oceanic Engineering, Mobility in Chain, Sherwood Design Engineers, and Center for Zero Waste Design. Their idea seems pretty straightforward – build fully sustainable floating cities near the coast of affected areas.

    To some, this idea may seem like far-fetched, but it was already discussed at a meeting at the UN, who are seriously considering it for the future. The floating cities are built to be flood-proof and to resist even the most powerful storms, with the last resort being towing the whole town to a safer location. These settlements are entirely eco-friendly and will not have an effect on life in the ocean. “It is not a question of one or the other. The technology exists for us to live on water, without killing marine ecosystems.” Said Marc Collins, co-founder of Oceanix.

    The settlement is aptly named Oceanix City and will have a surface of 75-hectare (around 0.3 square miles) at first, with plans for growing it even bigger in the future thanks to the modular hexagonal platforms. Approximately 300 settlers would dwell on one platform, with the whole city serving around 10,000 people.

    The plan is these cities to be fully sustainable, which means that settlers will grow their food and the energy will ultimately be drawn from renewable sources. Building components will be constructed on the nearest shore and then towed to their final site, to make the housing more affordable to people.

    “The sea is our fate — it may also be our future,” said Bjarke Ingels of BIG, who is one of the most prolific architects of our time, adding “the first sustainable and self-sustained floating community, Oceanix City, is designed as a human-made ecosystem channeling circular flows of energy, water, food, and waste. Oceanix City is a blueprint for a modular maritime metropolis anchored in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

  7. Speed Limiters Will Be Installed on Every New Vehicle in Europe from 2022

    Leave a Comment
    Speed Limiters Will Be Installed on Every New Vehicle in Europe from 2022

    Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

    It is no secret that most of the traffic accidents happen due to speeding and through the years, authorities have tried to mitigate them by setting stringent speed limits. However, it turns out that this is not enough. Despite the speed limits, motorists still drive faster than it is appropriate for the road, which is why the EU plans to limit the vehicles themselves from 2022.

    More precisely, the EU plans all new vehicles that will be produced and sold from 2022 to have intelligent speed assistance systems as standard equipment. According to Elżbieta Bieńkowska, a European Commissioner, most of the accidents that happen in Europe are due to human error, with 25,000 people killed annually. She also added that the proposed speed limiting systems “can have the same kind of impact as when the safety belts were first introduced.”

    The intelligent speed assistance system is part of several active systems that support the driver, including automatic emergency braking and electronic data recorders that help for a more detailed investigation into the accident. They will work with the help of cameras and GPS sensors, that will monitor traffic signs and GPS data. The idea is the system first to alert the driver of the speeding and then slow the vehicle to the appropriate speed. That said, the system will let the car accelerate when the accelerator is fully depressed for quick overtaking.

    There are still hurdles to overcome to have fully functional speed assistance and limiting systems. The European Automotive Manufacturers Association has some worries about the implementation of this technology, saying that “many infrastructure-related issues holding back its widespread application.” For example, road signs are still not standardized across European countries, and the maps installed in some vehicles lack the appropriate data. On top of that, people often lose focus when they rely on active systems such as the proposed one.

    That said, if implemented right, these technologies can have a groundbreaking effect on the safety on European roads. “There have only been a handful of moments in the last 50 years which could be described as big leaps forward for road safety in Europe. The mandatory introduction of the seatbelt was one, and the first EU minimum crash safety standards agreed in 1998, was another. If last night’s agreement is given the formal green light, it will represent another of those moments, preventing 25,000 deaths within 15 years of coming into force,” said Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the European Transport Safety Council.

  8. How Can Bacteria Protect Roads from Deicer Deterioration

    Leave a Comment

    Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

    Researchers from Drexel University are looking into new methods to make road infrastructure more robust. The unique mixture of concrete and bacteria could eliminate dangerous road deterioration.

    “Road salts” (chemical compounds such as calcium chloride) have the use in de-icing of the roads throughout the world. The potholes they leave behind, however, can break down concrete and cause severe damages to the road. The Drexel University’s research shows how mixing bacteria and concrete can curtail the compound that destroys the concrete.

    How Bacteria Protects Roads?

    The compound that damages concrete is called CAOXY (calcium oxychloride). Except for causing the surface deterioration, it can wedge out pieces of concrete as it goes below the road surface before freezing.

    The team found out they can use a specific type of bacteria, Sporosarcina pasteurii, to strengthen the cracks in the concrete. The bacteria creates a chemical reaction and makes calcium carbonate, which has led scientists to study it for concrete infrastructure repair.

    Recently, bacteria has become a sustainable option for the production of bricks. Drexel researchers found out that the bacteria might also prove to be useful for preventing the de-icing-induced cracks.

    According to EurekAlert!, Yaghoob Farnam, Assistant Professor at Drexel University’s College of Engineering and the research’s co-author, said “We knew the bacteria require calcium chloride to produce the calcite, which is a harmless compound. So if we could work out a way to have the bacteria present when the calcium chloride road salt hits the concrete it could interact with the bacteria and curtail the reaction that causes road degradation.”

    Is Bacteria-Concrete Mixture the Future of Road Infrastructure?

    Researchers’ method showed that the mixture makes concrete less prone to deterioration after exposure to road salts in winter conditions. As stated by Science Daily, “Because the bacteria occur in nature and are non-pathogenic, they would be an environmentally safe solution to the problem of road deterioration.”

  9. GE Unveils Cypress, World’s Most Powerful Next-Gen Wind Turbine

    Leave a Comment
    GE Unveils Cypress, World’s Most Powerful Next-Gen Wind Turbine

    Image courtesy GE

    Bigger is almost always better in the wind industry which means bigger turbines and turbine blades.

    But one of the big problems that is holding back wind energy is the size of turbine blades. Turbine blades are transported by road and moving long turbine blades is a logistical nightmare which imposes a limit on how big the blades can get. Currently, the largest blades in operation are nearly 300 feet (88.4 meters) long.

    The two-piece blade design will reduce transportation costs and ease maneuvering

    Recently, General Electric switched on its experimental next-generation wind turbine – Cypress. Located north of Amsterdam, the sheer size of Cypress is something to behold.

    The turbine’s tower and its 158-meter rotor diameter could be compared in height to a New York skyscraper. The longer rotor diameter of wind turbine will increase the turbine’s annual energy production (AEP) by an estimated 50 percent since it can catch more wind.

    Cypress turbine blades by General Electric could lead to bigger and more powerful wind turbines

    Cypress turbine blades are made in two separate pieces for easy transportation and assembly at site. Power producers can maximize power generation with Cypress while minimizing the number of turbines

    Just one of the Cypress can generate 5.3 megawatts of electricity, enough electricity to power the equivalent of 5,000 European homes.

    Article from

  10. Boeing Autonomous Flying Car Completes First Test Flight

    Leave a Comment
    Boeing Autonomous Flying Car Completes First Test Flight

    Photo: Boeing

    Several decades ago, it seemed almost sure that in the year 2020 we would’ve lived in cities with flying cars. Sadly, the reality is that we are not as close to this truth as futurists predicted. That said, we can almost certainly predict that flying cars will happen in the near future. Boeing’s subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences already works on one, and it just made its first successful test flight.

    Boeing’s flying car is fully autonomous, and it takes cues from drones for the design and propulsion. Perhaps drones are not how we envisioned flying cars, but it’s the only tech available right now that allows for easy vertical takeoff and landing in congested cities. As expected, electricity is used for propulsion, which makes it an EVTOL aircraft (electric vertical takeoff and landing). With the built-in batteries, Boeing’s vehicle can travel up to 50-miles with one charge and is 30-foot (9.15 meters) long and 28-foot (8.5 meters) wide.

    The test flight only consisted of vertical takeoff, hovering for a few seconds, and landing. According to NeXt, which is the urban air mobility division of Boeing, it’s a great challenge to design a high-speed VTOL aircraft that can transition from vertical takeoff to forward flight. “In one year, we have progressed from conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said Greg Hyslop, a chief technology officer at Boeing, announcing that the next step is to work and test the forward flight of the vehicle

    But, what we want to know is when we will see aircraft like this in the skies, and the answer might be soon. Aurora Flight Sciences already partners with Uber on the same matter, with the latter already announcing that their autonomous flying taxi is on track and should be soon part of the Uber Air network. According to Uber, the first cities to have flying taxies will be Dallas-Fort and Los Angeles, with 2023 predicted as the year when that would happen.

  11. Apple Watch Can Be Used For Detection of Certain Heart Diseases

    Leave a Comment

    Apple Watch can be used for detection of certain heart diseases

    The Apple Watch is an amazing product, especially in terms of how it can monitor your body. Thanks to the plethora of sensors it possesses, it can be a very powerful tool for medicinal purposes, apart from the already excellent fitness use. In order to show its health prowess, a team of Stanford scientists, helped by Apple, made a study with over 419,000 participants that used the Apple Watch. More precisely, they monitored their hearts via the sensors inside the watch in order to find an irregular pulse or some other heart diseases.

    After conducting the study, which lasted around eight months, they founded that 0.5% of the people (around 2,000) have an irregular pulse. Apple and Stanford than used these findings to tell the users about their heart condition via a notification on their watches. In order to prove that the result is positive, a full medical-grade examination using ECG patch was made on one-third of the participants, and it was found that they have atrial fibrillation. Perhaps even more important, 57% of the people notified sought medical attention after they saw the flag.

    This study shows that wearables can be very helpful in detecting certain heart diseases, only with the help of a regular optical heart rate monitor. This sensor is used in the first three generations of Apple Watch, but also many other smartwatches and wearables from companies like Samsung and Huawei. Interestingly, the fourth generation of the Apple Watch already has ECG monitor built-in, which can detect the same pulse irregularities.

    In spite of that, researchers still think that this study is very important – “The results of the Apple Heart Study highlight the potential role that innovative digital technology can play in creating more predictive health care,” said Lloyd Minor of the Stanford School of Medicine, adding “Atrial fibrillation is just the beginning, as this study opens the door to further research into wearable technologies and how they might be used to prevent disease before it strikes”.

  12. Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Propulsion Will Be The Bridge Toward Full-Electric Planes

    Leave a Comment

    Image from Pixabay

    Everyone agrees that electric propulsion is the future in mobility, both in the automotive and aerospace sector, but there are still mountains to climb before it becomes the de facto standard. It will be especially hard to make an electric airplane for passengers and cargo that can fly over long distances because batteries are very heavy when compared to jet fuel with the same energy density.

    Researchers from the University of Illinois think that hybrid-electric powertrain is a viable solution for aircrafts until batteries become dense enough to pack enough electricity in light form factor. The hybrid-electric powertrain that they suggest works similarly to hybrid-electric cars such as the Toyota Prius, where electric motors help the gasoline engine and make it more efficient.

    The team consisted of Assistant Professor Phillip Ansell and doctoral candidate Gabrielle Wroblewski made a flying simulation of the Tecnam P2006T airplane, which is a small twin-engine aircraft manufactured in Italy. First, they made a simulation with the planes existing engines and then with a hybrid-electric propulsion system to see if there will be gains fuel consumption, range, and emissions. More precisely, they used the measurements to simulate how different parts of the hybrid-electric powertrain, such as the batteries and level of electrification, will improve the overall impact on efficiency.

    Hybrid-electric aircraft propulsion will be the bridge toward full-electric planes

    This figure shows the a) parallel and b) series drivetrain models. From University of Illinois

    This is very important, as just adding batteries may increase the weight of the airplane so much that it becomes less efficient. They also simulated both series and parallel architecture hybrid systems. After all of the simulations were finished, they found that parallel hybrid powertrains can substantially improve the fuel efficiency of aircrafts, especially for short-range flights, where the battery energy can be used to its full potential.

    Ansell predicts that with the existing battery technology, this plane can fly around 80 nautical miles and that the electric system can give around 25% of the power. However, his predictions for the future are much brighter – “Fast forward to projections for lighter battery technologies for roughly the year 2030 and the same aircraft could fly two and a half to three times as far. The range increase is nonlinear, so the largest improvements can be seen for the most immediate improvements with battery specific energy density, with gradually diminishing returns for that same proportional increase in specific energy.”

  13. Engineers Fly The First-Ever Aircraft With No Moving Parts

    Leave a Comment

    Engineers fly the first-ever aircraft with no moving parts using “ionic wind”

    Airplanes today are one of the most well-engineered things, and they need to be if we want them to be safe. That said, they have too many moving parts, like turbine blades and propellers, that only add to the complexity and therefore, make them less reliable. Thankfully, there is a new advancement in this field – airplanes with no moving parts that use ionic wind as propulsion.

    The concept plane was built by MIT engineers with Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, at the helm of the team. “This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” says Barrett, adding that his inspiration for this aircraft comes from “Star Trek”, his favorite movie and TV series.

    Even the design of the aircraft was under the influence of the ionic propulsion system in “Star Trek”, or as Barrett puts it “in the long-term future, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines, they should be more like the shuttles in ‘Star Trek,’ that have just a blue glow and silently glide.”

    The “ionic wind” that this concept aircraft uses is known in physics as electro-aerodynamic thrust and it is created when a current passes between a thick and thin electrode, or in this case thick and thin wires that run across. Right now, even at 40,000 volts, this thrust is only capable of lifting a small aircraft. More precisely, the concept airplane has a 5-meter wingspan and weighs only 5 pounds, near to that of camera drones. For electricity, the team uses lithium-polymer batteries, which are the go-to choice for electric vehicles nowadays.

    Compared to any other propulsion systems, “ionic wind” should be much more reliable, but also almost silent. This may make a big difference to passengers in the plane, but also to other flying objects, like drones for example. Right now, if you record video with sound with a drone, the only thing you’ll hear will be the sound of the propellers.

    The ionic aircraft is only a proof of concept right now – it flew only 60 meters in a test flight across the gymnasium in duPont Athletic Center. However, it repeated the same feat 10 times without any issue, which encouraged the MIT engineers to continue to improve the design and increase the efficiency of the aircraft.

  14. Self-Foldable Drones to Assist on Rescue Missions

    Leave a Comment
    Self-Foldable Drones

    Image courtesy University of Zurich

    Rescuers have an extremely hard time getting to the victims of natural disasters. New research from the team at the University of Zurich tackles this very problem. They created a drone that retracts its propellers during a flight to get into tight spaces.

    How Foldable Drones Work

    Although technology and safety practices are improving, there are still instances where people have to send machines to do the work for them. For example, it is almost impossible for humans to inspect the aftermath of earthquakes or fires because of the various safety hazards.

    A team of researchers from the Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich and the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL made a drone that can perfectly pass through narrow cracks in the wall or between bars. The new drone can look for those trapped inside the damaged buildings or under a pile of debris and lead the rescue team towards them.

    During the flight, the flying robot can squeeze its propellers to go through gaps and then return back to its previous shape. Plus, it can hold other objects while flying.

    Davide Falanga, the paper’s author and a researcher at the University of Zurich said in a statement, “Our solution is quite simple from a mechanical point of view, but it is very versatile and very autonomous, with onboard perception and control systems.” The morphing drone can work quite well in small spaces while guaranteeing a stable flight. In case of approaching to tiny passages, it transforms into an “H”, an “O” or a “T” shape.

    The team worked closely to create quadrotor with four propellers with independent rotation. Quadrotor’s propellers are mounted on flexible arms that fold around the main frame.

    Foldable Drones in the Future

    The high autonomy of the new drones makes way for successful rescue missions in the future. However, “the ultimate goal is to give the drone a high-level instruction how to enter that building, inspect every room and come back and let it work out for itself,” says Falanga.

  15. The Avalon 2019 Innovation Award Goes to a Cutting Tool

    Leave a Comment

    Jimmy Toton, a Ph.D. candidate at the RMIT University in Melbourne, has won this year’s “Young Defence Innovator Award” along with the $15000 money prize that accompanies it. The young engineer has presented a novel 3-D printed steel cutting tool that convinced the judges of its performance by cutting through titanium alloys in a manner that is in many cases considered to be better than the conventional tools used in the field right now. This is very important because many industries, the Defence sector, and companies that develop aerospace solutions all use superalloys and tough metals that are extremely resistive to cutting.

    Toton’s 3-D printed milling cutter not only makes the cutting of strong alloys easier and quicker, but it’s also much cheaper to make compared to the cost of conventional tools. In machining, improving productivity while reducing the cost is all one can ask for, so the tool is apparently ready for widespread adoption. This groundbreaking milling cutter is made by using the LMD (Laser Metal Deposition) technology which allows for unprecedented levels of precision in the printing process. Layer by layer, metal powder particles are solidified thanks to the energy of a highly-targeted laser beam, resulting in a strong and reliable cutting tool that can have complex geometry.

    Of course, mill cutting tools are subject to enormous forces, and even the slightest material defects or tiny cracks would end up in the quick failure of the cutter. Toton had to go through a series of optimizations in the printing process, based on meticulous quality assurance methods and exhaustive testing. Winning the award has definitely justified his great efforts, but this is only the beginning of the road. This novel cutting tool opens up new possibilities in manufacturing, and it’s so significant that attendees of the event stated that those who have high manufacturing costs are obliged to use this tool to remain competitive. A Sutton Tools representative has also added that Toton’s project has “industry-level” significance. “This project exemplifies the ethos of capability-building through industrial applied research, rather than just focusing on excellent research for its own sake.”


    The Avalon 2019 Innovation Award Goes to a Cutting Tool

    Jimmy Toton inspects a 3D printed steel milling cutter. Credit: RMIT University


  16. Boeing Awarded $43 Million to Develop an Autonomous Submerging Watercraft

    Leave a Comment
    Boeing to Develop an Autonomous Submerging Watercraft

    Echo Voyager, photo by Boeing

    Weapon systems never seize to evolve into smarter, more effective, and more sophisticated marvels of engineering. In the recent years, the focus has shifted on autonomously flying drones and augmented reality suites, but that’s not all of it. The U.S. Navy is reportedly developing a pioneering watercraft that will be able to get submerged, opening up a whole host of new utilization opportunities that make America’s foes nervous. According to revelations made by Captain Pete Small, who also happens to be the Naval Sea Systems Command program manager for unmanned maritime systems, the U.S. Navy is working in collaboration with Boeing on a $43 million program that aims at the development of a highly versatile, weapon-equipped underwater submerging unmanned vehicle (UUV).

    This new watercraft will be completely autonomous, will feature high-precision navigation, and will be able to endure damage from other weapon systems as well as the environment of course. The program’s first phase will yield four UUVs of this type, and depending on the first operational results; it will get renewed and extended. From the operational value perspective, the new watercrafts will be able to travel afar, deploy sensors in strategic positions, or even deploy other smaller UUVs that are specialized in surveillance and intelligence data collection. The Navy is expected to treat these new UUVs like small submarines, as they will be deployable from a ship’s well deck or the shore. With a diameter of about 7 feet (about two meters), those watercrafts will undoubtedly be very versatile in all kinds of operations.

    Boeing will carry out the hull, propulsion, and instrumentation design, as they know how to make them well-performing while keeping the costs low. They have already materialized quite a few submersible vehicles for the U.S. Navy in the recent past, and the experience that they have gathered from the research and development process is both invaluable and unique at a global scale.

  17. Titanium Aluminides and Their Importance in Efficient Aerospace Engines

    Leave a Comment

    Plane wing by bottlein via

    Electric airplanes really sound exotic and forward-thinking, but we’re far from a commercial airplane with this kind of propulsion. The problem is batteries – they are very, very heavy for an airplane. That’s why focusing on improving the existing technologies for the reduction of the carbon footprint of airplanes has become even more important in the past decade.

    This is specifically true for the engines used in the aerospace industry. In order to extract more power with less fuel, engineers design modern engines to work on a lean mixture, or in other words, with more air and less fuel. The problem is, lean-burn engines work at even higher temperatures, which puts a lot of strain on the materials. Remember – those materials not only need to sustain very high temperatures, but they should also be lighter than before, as heavier materials will negate the improvements made by the lean-burn design.

    Titanium Aluminides are part of the heat-resistant superalloys family and are widely used in modern airplane engines. These materials were first used in the Formula 1 race cars and are now an integral part of the aerospace industry. More precisely, they are used for turbine and compressor blades, where the lower weight is even more important. Compared to the previously used nickel alloys, Titanium Aluminides have the same strength and corrosion resistance, and only half the weight.

    Some of the downsides of Titanium Aluminides are the low ductility, which can be mitigated by careful design with the Design for Manufacturability principles and precise machining. This lengthens the production time of Titanium Aluminide parts, especially given the tight tolerances in the aerospace industry.

    Still, Titanium Aluminide materials are one of the most important parts of the eco-friendly airplanes we’ve seen recently and the higher production costs are counteracted by the lower fuel costs in the long run. The continued improvements made to manufacturing processes will only increase the use of Titanium Aluminides and strengthen their place in the aerospace industry for the years to come.