what-does-every-engineer-want-for-the-holidays?

During the holiday season, one tends to think of presents. But today’s designers, manufacturers and sellers tell us the product is but a commodity and what we really want is the experience.

Engineers and scientists are really like most ordinary consumers except in their interest in experiences that deal with great technical achievements, failures and the future – technologies that are yet to be. So, rather than a set of catchy products, this list will focus on unique experiences with particular appeal to engineers and scientists. 

I. Books 

Reading is an experience unlike no other in that it can be done by any literate person at almost any time and in any place. Here is a very short list of science and engineering related books released in 2019:

> Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus – The Language of the Universe, by Steven Strogatz (Atlantic Books) 

This is the story of mathematics’ greatest ever idea: calculus. Without it, there would be no computers, no microwave ovens, no GPS, and no space travel. But before it gave modern man almost infinite powers, calculus was behind centuries of controversy, competition, and even death.

Professor Steven Strogatz charts the development of this seminal achievement from the days of Archimedes to today’s breakthroughs in chaos theory and artificial intelligence. Filled with idiosyncratic characters from Pythagoras to Fourier, Infinite Powers is a compelling human drama that reveals the legacy of calculus on nearly every aspect of modern civilization, including science, politics, medicine, philosophy, and much besides.

> Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World, by John Gribbin (Icon Books Ltd.) 

Quantum physics is strange. It tells us that a particle can be in two places at once. Indeed, that particle is also a wave, and everything in the quantum world can be described entirely in terms of waves, or entirely in terms of particles, whichever you prefer.

All of this was clear by the end of the 1920s. But to the great distress of many physicists, let alone ordinary mortals, nobody has ever been able to come up with a common sense explanation of what is going on. Physicists have sought ‘quanta of solace’ in a variety of more or less convincing interpretations. Popular science master John Gribbin takes us on a tour through the ‘big six’, from the Copenhagen interpretation via the pilot wave and many worlds approaches.

> Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity by Jamie Metzl (Sourcebooks) 

At the dawn of the genetics revolution, our DNA is becoming as readable, writable, and hackable as our information technology. But as humanity starts retooling our own genetic code, the choices we make today will be the difference between realizing breathtaking advances in human well-being and descending into a dangerous and potentially deadly genetic arms race.

Enter the laboratories where scientists are turning science fiction into reality. Look towards a future where our deepest beliefs, morals, religions, and politics are challenged like never before and the very essence of what it means to be human is at play. When we can engineer our future children, massively extend our lifespans, build life from scratch, and recreate the plant and animal world, should we?

Image Source: Sourcebooks

Now that the holiday season is upon us, 3D printers, both personal and commercial, are busy churning out festive decorations. But did you know that this technology can also create food, from desserts and simple side dishes to (in the near future) more complex, layered foods like mashed potatoes. Still, you don’t need a 3D printer to have a high-tech Thanksgiving with your friends and family. There are plenty of commercial IoT devices to aid the traditional cook – and even the sous chef of the future.

3D Printing 

First, let’s consider the decorations. A wide variety of colorful 3D printed Thanksgiving-themed prints are available to enliven the holiday table. If a nice centerpiece is needed, then download the CAD file for a simple turkey puzzle from Maker’s open 3D printing community known as Thingiverse, load up the appropriate filaments, print and assemble.

Image Source: Simple Turkey Puzzle, Thingiverse, by corben33  

If you’re a bit more adventuresome, you might try downloading and printing a slightly more complex Thanksgiving turkey light box. Be careful though to use tealight LED candles, otherwise the 3D printed lightbox will probably melt. That would be a nailed-it failed-it!

Now let’s consider the Thanksgiving meal. The same technology that can create almost anything – from an entire car to a tiny microchip – can also be used to produce edible food. In fact, the global 3D food printing market is a growth industry according to a recent Research and Markets report: Global $525 Million 3D Food Printing Market Analysis & Forecast 2018-2023.

3D food printing uses different pastes and materials to recreate food by relying on technology similar to fused deposition modeling (FDM) but with a dough instead of a plastic filament. This dough may consist of chocolate, sugar, chewing gum, tomato sauce and more.

While you can’t yet 3D print an entire Thanksgiving size edible turkey, you may soon be able to reproduce many of the side dishes like mash potatoes. The challenge for mash potatoes is that current food printers use only one printhead to extrude a single or a mixture of materials. Such a printhead cannot control the materials distribution on a plate whereas a multi-extruder printer could create a more visually appealing layering and texturing of foods such as mash potatoes. While still in the prototyping stages, a team of Chinese researchers at Jiangnan University have recently applied for a US patent on the 3D printing of mashed potatoes.

Holiday desserts are a bit easier to make as they typically require a single print head. Check out the aesthetically pleasing shape of a chocolate dome from 3DByFlow. I haven’t yet sampled their wares, but the chocolate sure looks good. ByFlow, founded in the Netherlands as a family business in 2015, is one of the companies in the growing market of 3D food printing.

IoT Eases Traditional Cooking Chores

Don’t yet have a 3D printer but still want to have a high-tech Thanksgiving? The IoT is here to help. Consider June, a connected oven that lets you control your baking and view your food from a smartphone. Or how about cooking that turkey (or Tofurky for your vegetarian friends and family members) in the “Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker.” It comes with a companion application for your smartphone to adjust time, temperature, and other factors.

When it comes to cooking, one of the more futuristic gadgets will soon be the solid-state RF cooker. The advantage of RF technology over the traditional magnetron-based microwave ovens are significant. The magnetron oven generates one power level at a time. In contrast, the solid-state cooker based on RF technology uses both power level control and frequency tuning to adjust the cooking conditions throughout the oven. In other words, you can cook a variety of different foods at the same time, e.g., turkey slices, potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and the like. Such precise cooking temperatures and locations on the plate are made possible by a number of solid state power amplifiers and antennas with closed-loop control to RF systems.’

While this technology has been available for a decade or so, it’s only recently been ready for prime time. Foremost in this effort has been Goji Food Solutions, an Israeli company that had developed an oven using solid-state power chips, RF energy devices and proprietary software. Together, these technologies and software allow the Goji-based oven to cook a variety of foods on a single plate even in the presence of utensils and metal cups.

For now, the first consumer RF cooking appliance that uses Goji’s technology will be in the industrial market. But competition in the commercial areas are already emerging. For example, Chinese appliance manufacturer Midea, in partnership with NXP Semiconductors, is developing the Semiconductor Heating Magic Cube. The Magic Cube combines NXP’s LDMOS RF power transistors that support the RF cooking module.

Image Source: IEEE IMS Show 2015 (Freescale-NXP demonstration, JB)

Whether you have access to a futuristic RF cooker, an IoT-enabled traditional oven or crock-pot, or a 3D food printer, technology can make this year a high-tech cooking adventure. Just be sure to include a few festive decorations and you will have nailed it.

10-robot-companies-you-should-know-use-ros

From industrial, research, and even consumer robots, here are 10 companies whose robots can use the Robot Operating System (ROS).

  • The Robot Operating System (ROS) has a deeper foothold in the robotics industry than you might think. Since it was first developed in 2007, the open-source framework for developing robotics software has found its way into various research projects, and even been embraced by major robotics companies. In 2012 the ROS-Industrial Open Source project was established by Yaskawa Motoman Robotics, Southwest Research Institute, and Willow Garage to extend ROS into manufacturing automation.

    A number of major companies have embraced ROS and many offer ROS tutorials and resources to engineers and developers looking to work with their machines.

    Here are 10 major robotics companies that use ROS. For a comprehensive list of robots that are compatible with ROS we recommend taking a looking at the wiki on ROS.org.

    You can also find further tutorials and software packages for using ROS with various robots on the ROS Github repository.

  • ABB, YuMi, robot, robotics, Mechatronics

    ABB Robotics

    ABB manufacturers YuMi (shown above), along with other lines of collaborative and industrial robots. What’s most notable about YuMi in this case however is that the robot can be controlled using ROS.

    (Image source: ABB Robotics)

  • Clearpath Robotics

    Clearpath Robotics manufactures material loader robots for factories and warehouses (shown above) through its subsidiary, Otto Motors. Clearpath also offers autonomous robot development platforms for ground- and sea-based applications. All of the company’s robots are supported by ROS and Clearpath also offers its own ROS tutorials.

    (Image source: Clearpath Robotics)

  • Doosan Robotics

    Doosan Robotics manufacturers collaborative robots (or cobots) for assembly, quality inspection, packing, and pick and place, among other applications. Several of the company’s robots support ROS.

    (Image source: Doosan Robotics)

  • Fanuc

    Fanuc’s industrial robots serve the manufacturing needs of industries ranging from automotive and aerospace, to medical and food and beverage. Several of the company’s collaborative robots such as the CR7IAL (shown above) are compatible with ROS.

    (Image source: Fanuc)

  • Fetch Robotics

    Fetch manufactures autonomous mobile robots for research and materials transport. The company’s Mobile Manipulator and Freight Mobile Robot Base are ROS-based platforms for developing robots for research, warehouse, and factory applications.

    (Image source: Fetch Robotics)

  • iRobot

    Your Roomba can do more than clean up after you. iRobot has made the Roomba compatible with ROS so curious engineers and makers can experiment with the robot’s functionality. For those outside of the US, iRobot also offers a robot called Create, a stripped down version of the Roomba dedicated to functioning as a development platform.

    (Image source: iRobot)

  • ABI Research, robots, mobile robots, adoption, smart technology, manufacturing, warehouses, Locus Robotics

    Locus Robotics

    Locus creates mobile autonomous robots for pick and place and other warehouse applications. The company uses its own distribution of ROS – called ROS Hotdog – which uses packages from the ROS library along with custom additions made by Locus.

    (Image source: Locus)

  • TurtleBot

    TurtleBot is an open-source, DIY robotics kit based on ROS. The single board computer-based robot can be customized for a variety of research and maker applications.

    (Image source: TurtleBot)

  • Universal Robots

    Cobot manufacturer Universal Robots has not traditionally supported ROS, but third-parties have collaborated with the company to create ROS-compatible drivers for several of Universal Robots’ machines. The company’s UR3, UR5, and UR10 (shown above) can all function with ROS.

    (Image source: Universal Robots)

  • Yasakawa Motoman

    Yasakawa Motoman manufactures collaborative and industrial robots for assembly, logistics, pick and place, and material handling, among other applications. Yasakawa was among the first industrial robotics companies to adopt ROS. Today, all of its robots are compatible with ROS. Shown above: Yasakawa Motoman’s HC10DT industrial collaborative robot.

    (Image source: Yasakawa Motoman)

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

ros-101:-monitoring-a-push-button-switch-with-the-robot-operating-system

We can investigate the fundamentals and basic concepts of the Robot Operating System (ROS) using only an Arduino, a Raspberry Pi, and a tactile push button switch. With these electronic components, we can easily demonstrate the ROS concept of publishing a topic when the tactile push button switch is pressed.

This hands-on tutorial, adapted from the ROS.org wiki, takes several minutes to setup and will display a True or False boolean message on a Linux terminal.

The ROS model for publishing the Boolean message is illustrated below:

The push button ROS circuit is quite simple in terms of its component count. The circuit consists of a tactile push button switch wired to the digital pin 3 of an Arduino Uno. The tactile push button switch provides a digital logic low signal enabled by a software pullup resistor of the Arduino code.

Here’s a circuit schematic diagram:

Here as well is an equivalent breadboard electrical wiring diagram showing the attachment of the tactile push button switch to an Arduino Uno:

The Arduino software code (sketch) for enabling the pullup resistor for the tactile switch is provided next:

With the electrical wiring of the tactile push button switch to the Arduino Uno completed, the electronics prototyping platform can be attached to the Raspberry Pi 3 B using a USB cable. The B connector mates with the Arduino. The A connector attaches to the Raspberry Pi 3 B USB port.

Here is the actual prototype of the ROS push button tutorial:

The next phase is to upload the push button code to the Arduino. With the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) opened, go to Rosserial Arduino Library. With the mouse, select Button_ example.

To activate the ROS Master to monitor the topic (pushed) is initiated by pressing a tactile push button switch. Opening a Linux terminal and typing the ROS command roscore after the prompt ($) will start the ROS Master code for push button monitoring.

To allow the data communication between the ROS Master and the topic pushed to be established, the rosserial command is typed next.

Opening a new Linux terminal window and typing the command rosrun rosserial_python serial_node.py /dev/ttyACM0 will establish a serial communication link between the ROS Master and the pushed topic.

The baud rate for this communication link is set at 56700 baud. The publisher node will transmit the Boolean message of True or False based on the tactile push button’s event or triggered status.

An example session of the ROS button displaying the Boolean value as the tactile push button switch is being activated is illustrated in the following figure:

​​​​​​

To view the published topic pushed boolean data, another Linux terminal window is open. After the prompt, type the ROS command rostopic echo pushed to view the Boolean data on the opened Linux terminal window.

For further experimentation with this ROS monitoring application we could replace the tactile push button switch with another electrical or electronic switching device such as an electromechanical relay’s normally open (N.O.) or normally closed (N.C)] contacts, or a transistor based digital switch. You can also create a pulldown resistor by modifying the push button code previously shown and observe the software behavior of the triggered switch.

For reference material on how to get started with ROS, read the introductory Design News article here.

[All images courtesy Don Wilcher]

Don Wilcher is a passionate teacher of electronics technology and an electrical engineer with 26 years of industrial experience. He’s worked on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules/systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances. He’s also a book author, writing DIY project books on electronics and robotics technologies

op-ed:-phone-based-vr-is-dead,-long-live-vr
The Gear VR was the face of smartphone-based VR. (Image source: Samsung)

It’s the end of an era for virtual reality enthusiasts.

Google has officially announced that it is ending its support of Daydream – its Android-based platform for mobile VR. Google’s newest flagship phone, the Pixel 4, won’t be compatible with Daydream and Google is also discontinuing its Daydream View headset. This news from Google comes only weeks after Samsung announced it would be discontinuing its Samsung Gear VR headset for phone-based VR. Facebook-owned Oculus will also be ceasing support for the Gear VR.

With the loss of its two major products, the days of smartphone-based VR are essentially over. But let’s face it, it’s no big loss. Smartphones are great for a lot of things, but what they’ve never been great at is acting as both the screens and processors for VR. While phone-based VR was an interesting idea to bring awareness to casual consumers, it didn’t deliver on a lot of fronts. With issues including battery drain, poor resolution, a lack of compelling content – not to mention some far less than ideal form factors (looking at you Google Cardboard), phone-based VR presented a user experience that left a lot to the imagination.

Google echoed these issues in an official statement released to Engadget. The company cited poor consumer and developer adoption as well as issues with the overall user experience.

“We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR,” a Google spokesperson said. “…But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution. Most notably, asking people to put their phone in a headset and lose access to the apps they use throughout the day causes immense friction.”

Google has said going forward it will invest more in augmented reality technologies such as AR functionality in Google Maps. On the enterprise end this suggests the company also still has faith in its Google Glass Enterprise Edition AR headset.

Google has also said it will keep the Daydream app and corresponding app store alive for current users. However, this doesn’t bode well for the longevity of headsets like Lenovo’s Mirage Solo – one of the first truly standalone VR headets, but one that was build around Daydream.

The Samsung Gear VR faced similar criticisms. Last month at the Oculus Connect Developer Conference, Oculus CTO John Carmack delivered what he called a “eulogy” for the Gear VR during a keynote speech. Citing issues with battery life and a lack of use cases and content that kept users coming back, Carmack called the Gear VR a “missed opportunity.” He did however praise the headset for laying the groundwork for future mobile headsets – despite its design issues.

In reality the phone-based VR era may have done more harm to VR adoption than good. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who said they were truly blown away by any phone-based VR experience. Casual consumers and even enterprises whose first entry into VR was via a smartphone headset might have dismissed the technology entirely after having a poor experience.

The good news is that the death of phone-based VR is coming just as both desktop-based and standalone VR headsets are entering a new era with lighter, more comfortable designs, resolutions up to and exceeding 4K, and inside-out tracking. Oculus has already released the Oculus Quest, a standalone headset that makes an excellent upgrade from phone-based VR or as an entry point to new VR users. HTC also offers a consumer standalone headset in the form of its Vive Focus Plus.

The enterprise VR space is seeing more activity than ever. HTC’s Vive Pro Eye is an enterprise-focused VR headset that also includes eye tracking functionality. HP has recently made bit investments into the enterprise VR space, most notably with its Reverb headset.

Pico Interactive even has a standalone enterprise headset – the Pico G2 4K, that is capable of 4K video resolution. And VRgineers has a powerhouse of a headset in its XTAL, a 5K headset targeted strictly at enterprise applications.

Factor in as well that many of the VR headsets available today are still leveraging a good amount of last generation’s tech under the hood. Qualcomm has been releasing versions of its Snapdragon chip that are optimized for standalone VR. And while the Snapdragon 835 has featured in several headsets, we’ve yet to see a headset with the latest Snapdragon 845 running it.

While some of may look back fondly on the days of phone-based VR, the road ahead looks much more exciting for the VR space. Products like the Gear VR and Daydream View were nice stepping stones to what we have today, but it won’t be long until we look back and wonder why we bothered with phone-based VR at all.

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

10-technologies-that-can-make-you-into-a-superhero

There are technologies that exist today that aren’t far off from what you’ve seen in superhero movies and comic books.

  • The Avengers may have had their endgame. But the superhero craze isn’t slowing down. As implausible as a lot of superhero technologies and abilities are, you might be surprised to know that a lot of the gadgets seen in comic books and movies aren’t dissimilar to real technologies being developed today. While it’s definitely not a good idea to don a mask and fight crime, there are innovations around today that could make your life as a crime fighter easier (or at least much cooler).

    Check out the slideshow to see some of today’s most promising superhero-related technologies.

    (Image source:  Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay )

  • Body Armor

    Every hero needs protection. Black Panther has a special armor that absorbs and redistributes kinetic energy. And while nothing on par with that actually exists today, the real world isn’t far off from it. Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed an armor made of composite metal foam that weighs half as much as metal armor but can stop armor-piercing .50-caliber rounds just as effectively.

    (Image source: North Carolina State University)

  • Exoskeleton

    If your dream is to become the next Iron Man you’ll be happy to know the US military as well as several private groups are developing exosuits capable of augmenting human strength and physical performance. Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is looking to improve on the typically bulky design of exosuits by using soft textiles to create an exoskeleton comfortable enough to be worn like clothing (shown above). Harvard recently released a study on the effectiveness of its exosuits in making walking and running less taxing.

    But exosuits are already out there in the real world as well. In 2018 Ford Motor Company launched a project with Ekso Bionics to outfit its plant workers with exosuits to help them with heavy lifting and repetitive assembly tasks.

    (Image source: Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)

  • Flying Car

    Every superhero needs a cool ride. So why not have a flying car? There’s a small, but growing, ecosystem of companies getting into the “urban aerial mobility” market and bringing flying cars to consumers. One of the most notable companies is Kitty Hawk, founded by serial entrepreneur and former Google researcher, Sebastian Thrun. The company is actively testing its flying vehicles and has made partnerships with major aerospace companies like Boeing to further develop them as personal vehicles and as autonomous flying taxis for the general public.

    (Image source: Kitty Hawk)

  • Gecko Gloves

    Want to scale walls like Spider-Man? DARPA’s Z-Man project has you covered. Inspired by geckos’ ability to cling to walls, researchers from the University of Massachusetts have developed Geckskin, a synthetic adhesive that allows for climbing of smooth surfaces like glass walls. During initial testing, an operator climbed 25 feet vertically on a glass surface using no climbing equipment except a pair of handheld paddles covered with the material.

    It’ll be up to you to figure out how to handle the swinging and jumping after you climb that high though.

    (Image source: DARPA)

  • Giant Robot

    If you prefer Japanese anime and manga over American comics, you may want to look into a giant robot. Japan’s Suidobashi Heavy Industry manufacturers a 13-foot, 4-ton robot called Kuratas that a single person can pilot via the cockpit or a smartphone interface. In 2017 Kuratas went head to head in a live-streamed battle against MegaBot – a two-pilot giant robot manufactured by US startup MegaBots Inc.

    (Image source: Suidobashi Heavy Industry)

  • Homing Bullets

    If you ask antiheroes like the Punisher they’ll tell you that sometimes justice calls for a more extreme approach. In 2015 DARPA started a project to give snipers an extra leg up with its Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO), a modified .50 caliber round that can be directed toward a target after firing – like a miniature guided missile. Computer simulations done on a similar guided bullet technology by Sandia National Laboratories showed much greater accuracy for self-guided bullets over their standard counterparts.

    (Image source: DARPA)

  • Mind-Controlled Electronics

    Why use your hands when you can use your mind? More and more advances in brain-computer interfaces are taking thought-controlled devices outside of the realm of science fiction. In 2015 DARPA researchers were able give a quadriplegic woman neural implants that allowed her to control a flight simulator with her mind.

    Companies like Neurable and CTRL Labs (shown) have been developing novel technologies to allow consumers to interact with and control electronic devices using external sensors – eliminating the need for the type of surgery that would lead to a great superhero origin story.

    And if you think no one is serious about this technology, consider that CTRL Labs was purchased by Facebook to the tune $1 billion.

    (Image source: CTRL Labs)

  • Patrol Robot

    A hero can’t be everywhere at once. Or maybe you’re just the type of crimefighter who prefers not to get their hands dirty. Robotics company Knightscope is giving law enforcement a hand with the K5. The robot is equipped with various sensors that allow it to patrol areas and report crimes in progress and even instances where it suspects a crime may be about to happen. The robot is already deployed in a few major cities. Knightscope recently announced it is developing new sensor technology for the K5 that will allow it to detect weapons.

    (Image source: Knightscope)

  • bionic eye

    Restored Vision for the Blind

    Blind superhero Daredevil can “see” thanks to years of martial arts training and a special radar sense (mostly the radar sense). But thanks to the latest advances in medical science we won’t need freak accidents to restore sight to the blind.

    In 2018 University of Minnesota researchers created a fully 3D-printed array of light receptors on a hemispherical surface – the first step toward what they say could be a bionic eye (shown). Researchers led by Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University in Sweden are also currently developing artificial retinas made from photoactive films that use organic pigments that could successfully repair certain types of blindness.

    There’s no word on anyone developing an easier way to train martial arts and gymnastics however.

    (Image source: University of Minnesota, McAlpine Group)

  • e-bandage

    Super Healing Technologies

    While human beings can’t heal as fast as Wolverine or Deadpool, there are medical technologies out there that can speed up the process. Engineers at the University of Wisconsin (UW)–Madison have developed a wound dressing that uses electrical pulses to speed up healing (shown above). For more serious injuries, Wake Forest University’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine has created a mobile skin bioprinting system that can print skin directly onto a wound. Combine this with innovations such as work done by Rice University and the University of Maryland to 3D-print materials that mimic bone and cartilage and you could be in for a quick and effective patch up from some very serious injuries someday.

    (Image source: UW/Sam Million-Weaver)

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

12-ways-technology-has-transformed-halloween
  • Introduction

    Halloween used to be a neighborhood celebration, with homemade costumes and a flickering candle inside a carved out pumpkin on the front porch. Now it has evolved into a holiday of flying drones, 3D printing, and microcomputer animation.

    Today, Americans shell out more than $8.4 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, and decorations. The market has grown more than 70% in the past 10 years and continues to grow.

    As consumers purchase more and more of their Halloween needs ready-made, the technology to support the celebration has kept pace. Growing enough pumpkins to supply demand requires agriculture on an industrial scale. Silicon and latex rubber masks are designed by CAD engineers. The animatronics of home displays and commercial haunted houses requires the skills of mechanical engineers. 

    Here then, are a few of the ways that technology and engineering have become part of trick or treat.

    (Image source: Alic-e.me)

  • Pumpkins

    Pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) are a member of the squash family and are native to North America. About 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced in the US every year—the majority used for animal feed and human food products. An acre of land can produce about 1,000 pumpkins. According to Purdue University Cooperative Extension, pumpkins need low nitrogen, high potassium, and high phosphorus soils to be most successful. Soil pH should be in the 5.6-6.6 range. Pumpkins grow on vines that can be surprisingly long, sometimes reaching several dozen feet. Farmers plant their pumpkins on small hills of dirt, with about 5-6 feet apart in rows that are 10 feet apart. They require a constant supply of moisture when they are growing, so drip irrigation is popular.

    Pumpkin plants have very little insect resistance so insecticides are used during growing. Because pumpkins are pollinated by honey bees, the insecticides must be managed to avoid killing the bees. Plastic mulches that block certain wavelengths of light are often used for weed control in industrial pumpkin patches.

    The most common pumpkin used for Halloween decoration is the “Connecticut Field Pumpkin” which also happens to be one of the oldest cultivars of the pumpkin. Fortunately, pumpkins are fairly hardy (although they don’t handle frost and cold weather very well) and are a favorite of both hobby farmers and industrial agricultural giants.

    (Image source: abbeyfarms.org)

  • Carving Jack-o-Lanterns

    In Irish and Scottish folklore, people carved scary faces into potatoes, turnips, and beets and placed them in windows or doorways to frighten away wandering evil spirits. Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition to the US in the mid-1800s and found that the pumpkin was softer and much easier to carve than turnips and potatoes.

    Although traditionally, triangle eyes and nose and a jagged smile are all that’s required to make a jack-o-lantern face from a pumpkin, more recently much more complicated faces and imagery have found their way onto the orange vegetable. NASA even holds a competition at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to find the most intricate and complex carved pumpkin. There are a variety of pumpkin carving tools and accessories available online, along with templates to carve scenes and even famous faces into the side of a pumpkin. Some tech-savvy people are even foregoing the pulpy flesh of the pumpkin and are using 3D printers and LED lighting to create their Halloween decorations.

    (Image source: pumpkinpatchesandmore.org)

  • Rubber Masks

    Masks today have gotten far more sophisticated than the hard plastic shells, held on by an elastic band that kids in the 1960s and 1970s used. Made mostly in China and Mexico, silicon rubber masks of ghouls, goblins, aliens, and political figures are the product of computer aided design (CAD) and precision molding. It’s also possible to make your own silicon or latex rubber mask, using art supplies and instructions from the Internet. Freelance mask makers will also create that special one-of-a-kind look for prices ranging between $60 and $400.

    (Image source: halloweencostumes.com)

  • Fake Spider Webs

    Spraying fake cobwebs inside and out has become a popular quick and easy Halloween decoration. Although they can be made from household items such as cotton balls, the silly string in a can web has become increasingly popular. But, there is a downside and it comes when the fake spider web act too much like real ones. Insects, bats, and even birds can become trapped in outdoor web displays, resulting in their injury or death. The spray-on webs should only be used inside the home, away from vulnerable wildlife.

    (Image source: thegreenhead.com)

  • Halloween Drones

    If you are a fan of drones you might consider dressing your flying machine up as a ghost, goblin, or witch on a broomstick. Drones are typically lightweight and have limited payload capacity, so the use of foam and paper to dress up the flying machine makes an aerial Halloween possible. Flying a drone near a crowd of people can be dangerous and flying at night could be a real problem, so make sure you know what you are doing if you decide your trick or treating needs to go vertical.

    (Image source: Mark Cawley)

  • Glow Sticks

    Glow sticks and glow necklaces have become popular kid’s Halloween costume accessories, but they have an important practical aspect. Adding light to a child’s ensemble allows them to be seen more easily by motorists who might be otherwise distracted by trick or treating activities. Children are more than twice as likely to be killed by a car while walking on Halloween night as at any other time of the year, according to a study by Safe Kids USA.

    The original “Cyalume” was invented in 1969 and became popular among police, fire, EMS, and military forces, and for recreation. The glow stick can be stored for long periods of time, is single use, and produces almost no heat. It works by the mixing of two chemicals inside a plastic tube. One of the chemicals is held in a thin glass vial that is broken when the glow stick is bent. This allows the chemicals to mix, creating a luminescence that can last several hours. Although glow sticks are permanently sealed, should one be cut open, the chemicals inside have a low level of toxicity and may cause irritation, particularly to the eyes.

    (Image source: British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre)

  • 3D-Printed Decorations

    Making things that go bump in the night with your 3D printer is as easy as downloading a file and pressing start. Home hobbyists have been using their own 3D printers for several years now and prices for a hobby-level machine have dropped to less than people are paying for video game consoles. Making scary pieces from various color plastic filaments means that you can get what you want and not have to settle for “store-bought” decorations.

    (Image source: Thingiverse.com)

  • Candy Corn

    Candy corn is a three-color confectionary that is popular in the US and Canada around Halloween. It is made from sugar, corn syrup, carnauba wax, and coloring and binders. It was first developed in the 1880s and by 2016, more than 35 million pounds (almost 9 billion pieces of candy) were produced in the US. Each candy corn is about 7 calories.

    The National Confectioners Association celebrates National Candy Corn Day on October 30. Although they used to be made by hand, the three colors, yellow for the broad end, orange for the tapered section, and white for the tip, are applied in separate steps, today using specially designed machinery and molds.

    As romantic as making candy sounds, it is actually a straightforward industrial process. Sugar and corn syrup are blended, and gelatin and sugar are whipped with air, and a fondant is added, along with yellow and orange coloring. A fondant is highly-crystalized sugar syrup that is used to create a candy that breaks off easily in the mouth and doesn’t have the chewy texture that comes from the sugar crystals. Corn starch is placed into hundreds of individual molds that move along a conveyer belt and triangle-shaped air nozzles inject layers of white, orange, and yellow candy corn mixture into the molds. The candy corn pieces are cooled, polished, and shipped.

    The result is the candy treat that best represents Halloween.

    (Image source: candywarehouse.com)

  • Haunted Houses

    Haunted houses exist to scare people. As early as the 19th Century, they were designed to shock, surprise and frighten their visitors, often using the latest technology of the day. In 1802, it was wax figures of the decapitated King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In 1969, Disney opened the Disneyland Haunted Mansion and used visual effects to create a cultural icon. Today, it’s more likely to be zombies, vampires, and loud explosions, but the special effects are up to date and what some people believe a good Halloween experience should be all about.

    (Image source: Corbis/Smithsonian)

  • Safer Lighting

    People used to put candles in their jack-o-lanterns—the flickering light would add to the spooky effect. Open flames can be dangerous and burns are one of the leading types of Halloween injuries. Instead, small LED lights are available that can be placed inside the pumpkin and provide a realistic flickering effect. Outdoor lighting, once the mainstay of Christmas decorations has become more popular for homeowners who want to decorate their home for Halloween. Flashing lights, glow-in-the-dark skeletons, and all manner of eerie effects are available on-line and at retailers in every part of the country. It has become a big business. Just be sure that you don’t overload electrical outlets, or run extension cords across lawns or paths where they could become a tripping or shock hazard.

    (Image source: houselogic.com)

  • A Raspberry Pi Treat

    Learning coding with a Raspberry Pi microcomputer has become popular, so there is no reason not to use one to create a variety of animated Halloween effects. Everything from spooky doorways to projected eyes that follow you as you walk around a room are not only possible, but relatively easy to accomplish. All it takes is some ingenuity and a handful of sensors. Best of all, the coding skills that you pick up can be useful in other parts of your life.

    (Image source: Adafruit)

  • Candy X-Rays

    One of a parent’s biggest Halloween fears is that the treats that their children bring home might have include a potentially deadly trick. In spite of stories of razor blades in apples and pins in candy bars, most of the fears seem to be based on urban legend than actual cases of candy tampering. It all seems to have started with a brief story in the New York Times in 1971 that reported on a broken razor blade found in an apple after trick or treating. It set off a nationwide scare and, despite very few instances, it is a fear that remains strong today.

    To assuage parent’s fears, some hospital’s radiology departments apply their technology and will x-ray candies for free on Halloween night to look for foreign objects. In any case, parents should carefully examine the haul of candy and treats that their children bring home, discarding any candy that has been opened of whose packaging appears to have been tampered with.

    (Image source: creativeelectron.com)

iphone-11-and-11-pro-max-teardowns:-more-cameras-and-an-unusual-battery
There’s more to the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s battery than its unique L shape. (Image source: iFixit)

Apple’s latest iPhones, the 11 and 11 Pro Max, are all about camera upgrades. But while consumers were eagerly waiting to snap high-quality pics for their Instagram, the rest of us wanted to see what was going on under the hood.

Thankfully iFixit has delivered, with new teardowns of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max respectively. While other smartphone companies are focusing more on software to improve image quality in their cameras, Apple made a big investment in camera hardware this year. The new cameras have also had an impact on the design engineering choices behind the phones’ logic boards and batteries as well.

But that’s not all that’s going on with the 11 Pro Max’s battery.

iPhone 11: Not Quite Pro

The iPhone 11 has some camera upgrades over the iPhone X, albiet not as significant as the Pro. The 11 has new wide and ultra-wide lenses and sensors – essentially meaning better night photos and a faster shutter speed. To make room for those new sensors Apple opted to use a double-decker logic board in the 11, a first for a phone of its size.

The battery is your expected rectangular shape, but it boasts more capacity over previous models. At 40.81 x 96.93 x 3.97 mm, and weighing in at 44.1 g, the 11’s battery is slightly smaller than the iPhone XR’s but it has a capacity of 3110 mAh, a 7% increase over the XR.

The iFixit team noted that the iPhone 11’s battery only has one connector, which doesn’t seem that significant until you consider an interesting quirk found in the Pro Max.


iPhone 11 Pro Max: What’s that Connector For?

The Pro Max’s battery is actually thicker, larger, and heavier than the XS Max’s battery, but it packs significantly more punch. iFixit rated the battery at 3969 mAh at 3.79 V, for a total of 15.04 Wh, putting it at 2.96 Wh more than the XS Max’s battery. Yes, this thicker battery means the phone itself is thicker as well, but Apple has said that extra bit of thickness goes a long way – touting the Pro Max as having five hours more battery life than previous models.

The Pro Max battery also takes on the single-cell, L-shaped designed that Apple first introduced in the iPhone XS. It’s a clever design trick that allows Apple engineers to save even more space inside the device (more on this in a bit).

What’s of particular note with the Pro Max’s battery is that it has a second connector. While the purpose of this connector isn’t immediately clear, the iFixit team speculates this could be meant to facilitate two-way wireless charging, a rumored feature of the phone.

Two-way, or bilateral, wireless charging essentially means the phone can not only be wirelessly charged, but can also wirelessly charge other devices. Two-way charging turns a smartphone into a wireless charging pad in a way similar to how enabling hotspot can turn a phone into a Wi-Fi hub. The teardown seems to confirm that at least Pro Max can do this (perhaps it was abandoned on the 11, hence the single connector), but Apple seems to have disabled the function via software.

Whether Apple plans to unveil the feature at a later date or whether the iPhone’s hardware is just giving a glimpse at what could have been is still uncertain.

The most notable upgrade to the 11 Pro Max is its camera array. The Pro Max has the same new ultra-wide sensor and lens as the 11, but with the addition of a standard wide-angle and telephoto lens as well. Accommodating this new hardware is likely where the L-shaped battery comes in handy again.

Apple has also trimmed down the logic board to make room for the new camera hardware. All that hardware must generate a good amount of heat because a notable new bit of engineering to the 11 Pro Max’s board its new thermal design. There are several layers of graphite thermal transfer material backing the phone’s RF board. Heat from the logic board goes through the graphite layers and dissipates into the rear case. This is how Apple was able to achieve what it calls the “best sustained performance ever in an iPhone.”

Overall, iFixit gave both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max repairability scores of 6 out of 10. Both have made the display and battery easy to access and replace for savvy users, but the glass front and back on both models present some major issues and require a full case replacement if cracked or damaged.

Visit iFixit to see the full iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max teardowns.

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

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9-books-for-budding-engineers

If you have a budding young engineer at home and are searching for a good read with a strong message, the books on this list fit that bill.

  • If you have a budding young engineer at home and are searching for a good read with a strong message, the books on this list fit that bill. Many of them feature female protagonists, but all of them will leave an impact on your burgeoning engineer – male or female.

  • Dear Girl

    by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal

    This is the book I needed to read in my childhood. If I could write letters to my younger self and compile them into a book, this would be the result. In this #1 New York Times Bestseller, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and her daughter, Paris, deliver a powerful message about confidence in a world that is increasingly jagged, unforgiving, and unstable. Sub-themes include resiliency and self-acceptance while staying curious and adaptable.

    (Image source: HarperCollins)

  • Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site

    by Sherri Duskey Rinker

    The story of a group of construction vehicles winding down from their day and getting ready for bed is a book you buy – not borrow or check out. It deserves a permanent spot on any personal bookshelf for its treatment of work-life balance and the underlying message: There’s a time to play/work and a time to rest – and we need them both to be successful.

    (Image source: Chronicle Books)

  • How to Code A Sandcastle

    by Josh Funk

    A “Girls Who Code” book, this read is a fun and effective way to introduce coding to kids. Pearl is determined to make a sandcastle but keeps running into obstacles. She and her robot friend, Pascal, decide they’ll code their way through the obstacles, breaking down a big problem into small steps, while learning about sequences, loops, and more. If you’re wondering how coding can possibly intersect with the world of sand, get your hands on this book and see how author Josh Funk brings coding to life. It might even inspire a trip to the beach.

    (Image source: Viking / Penguin)

  • I am Amelia Earhart

    by Brad Meltzer

    This book is a part of the Ordinary People Change the World series, and once you read this one, you’ll want to read them all. These books are biographies tailored for kids (omitting details related to tragedy or sadness) in a picture book format, and all of them are highly-rated. The story begins with a 7-year-old Amelia portrayed as an ordinary, curious child and unfolds into bigger adventures. Amelia is just a regular relatable person, determined and confident in doing the impossible.

    (Image source: Penguin Young Readers Group)

  • Interstellar Cinderella

    by Deborah Underwood

    Unlike the traditional Cinderella, this book is less about what to wear to the ball and more about problem solving. You might call it a Cinderella remix. Delve into these pages and find a Cinderella story you didn’t know existed – one peppered with themes of space, robots, and rockets. Even breaking from tradition, author Deborah Underwood does a good job of staying true to a Cinderella-like storyline while delivering an ending with a surprising twist.

    (Image source: Chronicle Books)

  • The Most Magnificent Thing

    by Ashley Spires

    The book’s protagonist, who is highly focused and works independently (well, mostly, except for her dog), has an idea and she’s ready to bring it to life. While the book delivers a strong impact for kids, it will also remind adults of the excitement of innovation and the frustration and disappointment of failure. The message is one that every engineer can relate to: Success isn’t possible without failure.

    (Image source: Kids Can Press)

  • Tool School

    by Joan Holub

    This whimsical story of some basic tools and their functions is upbeat and purposeful. Each tool has its own personality and personal project. Soon, however, they each realize that they could be much more effective working as a team than individually. Read this book to your youngster and teach them that teamwork really can get the job done faster and more efficiently.

    (Image source: Scholastic Press)

  • What’s My Superpower?

    by Aviaq Johnston

    As adults, many of us spent much of our lives wondering what our true calling is. This book is about a little girl who wonders the same thing–what makes her special? She sees so much talent around her and feels she has nothing to offer. There’s no superlative to attach to her name—she’s not the fastest or the best at anything. She doesn’t have “a thing.” The powerful message in this book is that the concrete foundation for anything STEM-related is instilling the belief in children that they can do anything and always have something to offer.

    (Image source: Inhabit Media)

  • When I Build With Blocks

    by Niki Alling

    This short read is sure to stimulate some creative block building, as well as requests to read it over and over again. And, you’ll want to because the book offers just the right amount of inspiration for your child to dust off their neglected wooden blocks and build something new. In addition to being inspiring, the message is timeless: We are limited only by our imagination.

    (Image source: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)

Amee Meghani is a mechanical engineer graduate from The University of Texas at Austin and engineering manager at GoEngineer. Her industry experience is in material handling and consumer products, focusing on product development.

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microsoft-uses-intel's-latest-chip-technology-for-its-new-foldable-devices
The Surface Neo will be a foldable, dual-screen laptop and the first product to leverage Intel’s Lakefield processor. (Image source: Microsoft)

Microsoft will be bringing two foldable dual-screen mobile devices to consumers in 2020 thanks to a new chip technology created by Intel.

Microsoft made a handful of product announcements at its Microsoft Event on October 2, including new additions to the the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop families, as well as a pair of Surface Earbuds. But the most buzz came from two new foldable, dual-screen products: the Microsoft Surface Neo, a dual-screen laptop; and the Surface Duo, a dual-screen smartphone-like device.

New Chips for New Form Factors

The Surface Neo will be the first to feature a next-generation chip from Intel called Lakefield. Microsoft said it chose the chip specifically because of its ability to facilitate the size and computing needs of its dual-screen devices.

First teased at CES 2019, Lakefield is a 10-nm “hybrid CPU” from Intel – meaning it integrates different CPU core architectures. Intel has said this hybrid approach offers a balance of compute performance and battery life that is ideal for mobile devices. Lakefield in particular has five cores packed onto a single motherboard – a 10-nm, high-performance Sunny Core along with four Intel Atom processor-based cores. All-in, the SoC package measures 12 x 12 mm.

Crucial to Lakefield’s small size is a new packing technology Intel calls Foveros 3D that allows for the chip’s components to be stacked on top of each other rather than laid alongside each other. Foveros is designed to allow two or more chiplets to be assembled together. The logic die sits at the base while other components such as the memory are stacked on top of it.

Intel is positioning Lakefield to not only compete with offerings from competitors like Qualcomm and AMD in terms of mobile computing performance, but to also facilitate new form factors and devices such as the Surface Neo.

Intel’s Lakefield chip achieves its small footprint through the use of a 3D stacking packaging technology. 

Meet Neo and Duo

The limited specs on the Neo released by Microsoft said the device will be ultra-thin, measuring 5.6 mm on each side (the thinnest LCD ever created, according to Microsoft), weigh 655 g, and will be surrounded by Gorilla Glass for durability.

The device features a 360-degree hinging system allowing it to open up in a variety of configurations beyond the standard open-closed scheme of a typical notebook. Microsoft said its hinging system uses a combination of microgears and an added torque system to provide stability and a durable feel when opening the Neo.

The Neo’s two 9-in. touchscreen displays are connected through the hinge by an array of over 60 micro-coax cables, each thinner than a human hair.

With both screens open and the device’s keyboard peripheral connected via Bluetooth the device looks like it will take up about as much space as an ultra-thin 13-in. laptop like the Microsoft Surface Laptop. The keyboard can also be connected magnetically in a way that uses one entire screen and partially cuts off the other, allowing the truncated screen to be used as a trackpad or smaller touchscreen. There’s also a stylus pen available for using the device in a more tablet-like configuration.

On the software end the Neo will run on a new version of Windows 10 called Windows 10X that has been designed specifically to run on dual-screen devices. Microsoft’s vision is to bring the productivity and efficiency advantages of a dual-screen desktop setup down to mobile. During the event Microsoft demonstrated how apps on the Neo can run across both screens or be isolated to a single screen depending on the user’s preference.

The announcement of Windows 10X immediately brought questions to mind of just how many more dual-screen devices Microsoft is planning. And in a surprise announcement the company unveiled that there is at least one more on the horizon – the Surface Duo.

The Surface Duo will be Microsoft’s version of a dual-screen, foldable smartphone. (Image source: Microsoft)

Though the Surface Duo has all the bells and whistles of a smartphone on paper, Microsoft wants you to think of it less as a smartphone and more like a mini tablet or computer that also happens to make calls and texts. Technical details on the device were scant, but Microsoft did say it features two 5.6-inch touchscreen displays and utilizes the same 360-degree hinging system as the Neo.

Microsoft also announced it is partnering with Google to bring Android to the Duo, meaning developers will be able to design and deploy Android-based apps for the device. Microsoft also committed to offering APIs in the future that will help developers code for applications that take unique advantage of the dual screens.

The Future Is Not Yet Foldable

It will be interesting to see how readily consumers will embrace Microsoft’s foldable products. Foldable phones in particular have been on the horizon for a while now and the first generation hit shelves this year with releases from Samsung and Huawei, as well as an anticipated re-release of the once-popular Motorola Razr with foldable functionality later this year.

No foldable phone has really taken off with consumers however, in part because of pricing (Huawei’s Mate X retails for about $2,600) and concerns over durability.

Samsung, one of the first to market with its Galaxy Fold earlier this year, had to delay the phone indefinitely due to flaws in its design. Early reviewers got their hands on the Galaxy Fold and found their phones breaking due to issues with its hinging system, screen, and unclear instructional materials. The Surface Neo has a bezel at the hinge, meaning the dual screens do not form one continous screen when unfolded. Design decisions like this suggest Microsoft has paid attention to Samsung’s woes in engineering its own foldable products.

Microsoft said both the Surface Neo and Surface Duo will be released in holiday season of 2020. No information was given on the pricing of either device.

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

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Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!