Companies Sharing Engineering Resources Across the Globe

Posted on December 2, 2011  Comments (1)

Swapping batteries for diesel engines

Car companies, like aircraft manufacturers, are sharing engineering skills across borders to speed up and cut the costs of technological development. It happened with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The American aircraft maker outsourced some of the engineering to Japanese suppliers, admitting that it does not have all the necessary expertise. Likewise, Toyota has agreed to work on hybrid trucks with Ford, and electric vehicles with Tesla, the Silicon Valley sports-car maker. BMW is working on improving the current generation of lithium-ion batteries with France’s Peugeot Citroën. Nissan, as well as joining forces with Renault, has joint projects with Daimler.

There are many reasons to pursue such efforts (as well as drawbacks). My belief is companies would rather not take on the complications of such partnerships but the advantages overcome those desires. The high cost of research into these efforts is a big part of what pushes such collaboration. Also once a company has success they often can build up quite an advantage. The costs of trying to engineer a different solution (that doesn’t violate someone’s patents) often makes buying that technology or partnering attractive.

I really like this webcast, from 2008, on Toyota’s engineering development program.

Related: Wave Disk Engine Could Increase Efficiency 5 Times59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in Europe (2008)Toyota Cultivating Engineering Talent

Stand with Science – Late is Better than Never

Posted on December 1, 2011  Comments (1)

The USA public has made very bad decisions in who to send to Washington DC to spend our money (and the money of our children and grandchildren). We have wasted hundreds of billions that could have been spent more wisely. I happen to think investing in science and engineering is important for a societies economic health. The problem the USA has is we have chosen to waste lots of money for decades, at some point you run out of money (yes the USA government doesn’t really, as they can print it, but essentially they do – in practical terms).

I would certainly eliminate tax breaks for trust fund babies and trust fund grandchildren (while your grandchildren are going to be left holding the bag for the spending those elected by us, the grandchildren of the rich often get huge trust funds with no taxes being paid at all). But most of the people we have elected want to give trust fund babies huge payoffs. I would cut much spending in government – spending 5% less in 2020 than we did this year would be fine with me. But we don’t elect people that support that. I would support not adding new extensions to tax cuts sold with false claims and again supported by those we continue to elect. I wouldn’t allow the financial industry subverting of markets. But again we elect people that do allow that. And when the bill comes due for letting them take tens and hundreds of millions in individual profits in the good years, we can either let the economy go into a depression (maybe) or spend hundreds of billions to trillions bailing out those institutions our politicians let threaten the economy.

It might not seem fair, but there are consequences to allowing our political system to waste huge amounts of money paying of special interests for decades. And investing in science and engineering has been a casualty and will likely continue to be. Eventually you run out of money, even for the stuff that matters. Trying to fight for politicians that will put the interests of the country ahead of their donors is not something you can do effectively only when your interests are directly threatened. At that point things may already be too bad to be saved.

I have been writing about the failed political system for quite awhile now. I wrote awhile back that Hillary Clinton’s idea to tripple the number of GRFP awards was something I thought was very smart economically. But even then I questioned if we could afford it, if we refused to do anything else different (just adding new spending isn’t what the country needed).

Even in the state the politicians we continue to elect (we elect the same people election after election – there is no confusion about what they will do) we can debate what to cut and for something we spend so little on as investing science and engineering we can even easily increase that spending and not have any real impact on cutting overall spending. But those we have elected don’t show much interest in investing in science and engineering overall.

The USA continues to invest a good deal in science and engineering. But the difference in focus today versus the 1960’s is dramatic. The USA will continue to do well in the realm of science. The advantages gained over decades leave us in a hugely beneficial position – and one that takes other countries decades to catch up to. Now some countries have been working on that for decades now, and are doing very well. China, hasn’t been at it quite as long but has been making amazingly fast progress (similar to the amazing economic story).

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Robot Prison Guards in South Korea

Posted on November 29, 2011  Comments (2)

photo of robot prison guard

Robotic prison wardens to patrol South Korean prison

The one-month trial will cost 1bn won (£554,000) and is being sponsored by the South Korean government. It is the latest in a series of investments made by the state to develop its robotics industry.

The country’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in January that it had spent the equivalent of £415m on research in the sector between 2002 and 2010. It said the aim was to compete with other countries, such as Japan, which are also exploring the industry’s potential.

In October the ministry said the Korean robot market had recorded 75% growth over the past two years and was now worth about £1 billion…

The potential market for robotics is huge. Smart countries are investing in becoming the centers for excellence in that area. Japan and South Korea may well be in the lead. The USA, Germany and China also have strong communities.

Related: Robot Finds Lost Shoppers and Provides DirectionsThe Robotic Dog (2008 post)Soft Morphing Robot FutureHonda’s Robolegs Help People WalkRoachbot: Cockroach Controlled Robot

Friday Fun: Octopus Walks on Land

Posted on November 25, 2011  Comments (2)

Just a fun video for your Friday. Octopuses are really very cool. Not quite as cool as cats but way up there in the realm of cool animals. Octopuses, octopi and octopodes are all acceptable words for plural of octopus?

A few year ago (2008) I posted about another very cool octopus, who liked to juggling fellow aquarium occupants.

I think I will devote more time to learning about octopuses and posting more about them.

Related: Hydromedusae, Siphonophora, Cnidarians, CtenophoresCritter Cam: Sea Lion versus OctopusRed octopus at a brine lake beneath the sea

YouTube SpaceLab Experiment Competition

Posted on November 24, 2011  Comments (0)

YouTube SpaceLab is an open competition inviting 14 – 18 year olds (anywhere in the world) to create an idea for a science experiment in space. You don’t have to actually do the experiment, you just have to record yourself explaining it.

Entries must have be submitted on YouTube by 07:59 GMT on December 8th.

The winning experiments will be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) and beamed live on YouTube for the whole planet to see.

Winners get the choice to either watch the rocket blast off with your idea on it in Japan or take a specially tailored astronaut training course in Russia when you turn 18. There are other amazing prizes for the runners-up too.

Here is an example entry from 3 students in UK on an experiment to learn about quorum sensing by bacteria in the micro gravity of space.

Related: Google Science Fair 2011 ProjectsBacteria Communicate Using a Chemical Language (quorum sensing)11 Year Old Using Design of ExperimentsResearch by group of 8 to 10 Year Olds Published in Royal Society Journal

Nature Uses Stem Cells from Fetus to Repair Health of Mother

Posted on November 23, 2011  Comments (0)

Science shows us so many amazing things. Scientists have learned mice use stem cells from the fetus to repair damage to the mother in the event of things like heart attacks. And there is evidence people do the same thing. Very cool. Nature beat us to the idea of using stem cells to treat health problems.

Helpful Mouse Fetuses Naturally Send Stem Cells to Mom to Fix Her Damaged Heart

When the scientists examined the female mice’s heart tissue two weeks after the heart attacks, they found lots of glowing green tissue—cells that came from the fetus—in the mom’s heart. Mice who had heart attacks had eight times as many cells from the fetus in their hearts as mice who hadn’t had a heart attack did, meaning the high volume of fetal cells was a response to the heart attack.

What’s more, the embryo’s stem cells had differentiated into various types of heart tissue, including cardiomyocytes, the rhythmically contracting muscle cells that produce a heartbeat.

The hearts of two women who suffered from severe heart weakness were later found to contain cells derived from the cells of a male fetus years after they gave birth to their sons.

The same thing seems to hold true for other organs. When pregnant women have damage in other organs, including the brain, lung, and liver, earlier studies have shown, fetal cells show up there, too.

It makes sense for a fetus to try and aid the mother but it is amazing the evolution found such solutions. Given how many challenges the fetus creates for the mother giving some benefits can help increase the odds of a health birth.

Related: Researchers Explain How Rotifers Thrive Despite Forgoing SexMaking Embryonic Stem CellsStructure and Function of RibosomeWhy People Often Get Sicker When They’re Stressed

I was Interviewed About Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering

Posted on November 21, 2011  Comments (4)

Amanda Moreno interviewed me about Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering over on the Knovel Blog.

What can parents do to cultivate an interest in science in their kids early on?

John Hunter: Ask questions. Answer questions. Explain how things work. Explain why things are done the way they are. Kids want the attention of their parents, and when they are younger they are constantly trying to get it (dad look, mom look, watch me!). They have similar feelings when they are older, but are not as forthright about saying what they want. If you take a sincere interest in their questions, you’ll motivate them to continue pondering how the world works. Make it fun to learn. Kids have an intrinsic motivation to learn. Keeping their curiosity alive is the first step.

So, on the university level, professors generally aren’t student-centric enough. What other factors are discouraging students in the classroom?

JH: I have one belief that is close to heresy. I don’t see why publication has to be so important for professors (if what we are after is good teachers, not authors). …

Read the rest of the interview.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Sharpshinned HawkQubits Construction ToyWhat Kids can Learn By PlayingEncouraging Curiosity in Kids

Grauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla)

Posted on November 18, 2011  Comments (0)

The Grauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla) is closely related to the endangered mountain gorilla and is found in the Congo. The eastern lowland gorilla is actually the largest gorilla; males can weigh over 500 pounds. As you can guess from the name, these gorilla’s prefer lowlands to the mountains.

Sadly the eastern lowland gorilla wild population is estimated to have fallen below 8,000 due to warfare (intruding on their territory), agriculture, mining, logging and hunting gorilla’s for meat. The Wildlife Conservation Society is helping preserve habitat for these wonderful creatures.

Related: Massive Western Lowland Gorilla Population in Northern Republic of CongoSavanna Chimpanzees Hunt with ToolsOrangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant

Schematics of Electronic Circuits

Posted on November 17, 2011  Comments (0)

Reading circuit diagrams

Schematic diagrams are made up of two things: symbols that represent the components in the circuit, and lines that represent the connections between them.

If a line runs between components, it means that they are connected, period, and it tells you nothing else. The connection can be a wire, a copper trace, a plug-socket connection, a metal chassis, or anything else that electricity will run through without much resistance. Messy details like wire or cable specifications and routing, if they are important for a project, belong elsewhere in its documentation. The length of a line also has nothing to do with the connection’s actual distance in real life. Schematics are drawn (ideally) to be clear and simple, with components and connections arranged on the page to minimize clutter, not to represent how they might be placed on a circuit board.

The video and the article give you a good start on understanding schematics. There are 2 ways to show wires crossing in a schematic (the video shows one, the article shows both). Learning how to read a schematic gives you the ability to go many different directions with your home engineering efforts. Have fun.

Related: Arduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareEZ-Builder Robot Control SoftwareBuilding a Windmill to Generate Electricity by Reading and ExperimentingTeaching Through Tinkering

Apply to be an Astronaut

Posted on November 15, 2011  Comments (3)

Are you looking to change jobs? NASA is seeking outstanding scientists, engineers, and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. Curiosity. That’s what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.

photo of astronaut's faceplate reflecting earth

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a need for Astronaut Candidates to support the International Space Station Program and future deep space exploration activities.

In 1959 NASA selected its first group of 7 astronaut candidates. Since then 20 additional classes have been selected; bringing the total number of astronaut candidates to 330.

The astronauts of the 21st century will continue to work aboard the International Space Station in cooperation with our international partners; help to build and fly a new NASA vehicle, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) designed for human deep space exploration; and further NASA’s efforts to partner with industry to provide a commercial capability for space transportation to the space station.

NASA is in the process of identifying possible near-Earth asteroids to explore with the goal of visiting an asteroid in 2025. With that goal, and keeping in mind that the plan is to send a robotic precursor mission to the asteroid approximately five years before humans arrive, NASA will need to select the first set of targets to explore within the next decade.

Requirement include: Applicants for the Astronaut Candidate Program must meet the basic education requirements for NASA engineering and scientific positions, specifically: successful completion of standard professional curriculum in an accredited college or university leading to at least a bachelor’s degree with major study in an appropriate field of engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.

Related: NASA Robotics AcademyNASA’s Mars Curiosity RoverAstronaut Drops a Hammer and Feather on the Moon

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Russia Launches Mars Moon Probe

Posted on November 8, 2011  Comments (0)

Russians launch Mars moon probe

Russia has launched an audacious bid to scoop up rock and dust samples from the Martian moon Phobos and bring them back to Earth for study.

Moscow has despatched a total of 16 missions to the Red Planet since the 1960s. None has successfully completed its goals, with the most recent endeavour – the sophisticated Mars-96 spacecraft – being destroyed in a failed launch.

Once on the surface, a robotic arm will pick up samples of the regolith (“soil”). Some of this material will be analysed there and then, but a portion of it – about 200g – will be transferred to a canister for return to Earth.

This canister and its departure stage should be sent home within a few days of Phobos-Grunt’s arrival on the moon. All being well, the canister should fall to Earth in the Kazakh desert in August 2014.

Potato-shaped Phobos is a fascinating target. Although it has been studied extensively by passing satellites, it still holds many secrets – not just about itself, but also the planet below.

The mission also is carrying a Chinese satellite that will be launched into orbit around Mars. This mission shows the future of space exploration. The USA continues to reduce the funding for space exploration while countries such as China are greatly increasing their funding.

I expect the leading space exploration will become much more global and the USA will take a less prominent role as the USA decides to spend funds elsewhere instead of scientific missions in space. Politicians in the USA have also stopped NASA from collaborating internationally which further reduces the USA role in the future of scientific research in space.

Russia seems to be making a new push to invest in space after a period of reduced funding. Russia’s economy still has many weaknesses, but in the last decade the oil wealth has provided some wealth and Russia is interested in using some of those funds for space exploration.

Update: This attempt failed also, making Russia 0 for 17 on Mars attempts. In the last few years Russia has shown a renewed interest in investing in space exploration. But their struggles show that it isn’t easy to in effect restart a program. Space exploration requires a great deal of very complex work. I hope they can get back on track and efforts in other countries also do well: China, Japan…

Related: NASA’s Mars Curiosity RoverMagnetic Portals Connect Sun and EarthGreat Astronaut Self Portrait