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Engineering Update #13: Internet-beaming balloons and a robotic cat (Transcript)

Tue, 01/01/2013 - 12:00am
Editor

Melissa: Welcome to Engineering Update, brought to you by Mouser Electronics, the electronic components distributor with the widest selection of the newest products. I’m Melissa Barnes, Associate Editor of ECN. 
In this week’s headlines:
Internet-Beaming Balloons
Battery-Free Driving on Electric Roads
An interview with Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan
and
A Robot that Runs Like a Cat

Jeff:
Following recent trends in biomechanics, EPFL’s Biorobotics Lab has designed a cheetah-cub robot. The light-weight, quick, and agile movement of the feline-inspired robot could one day be used for search and rescue missions.

So far, the robot is the fastest of its kind, able to run nearly seven times its body length in one second. And though it is not nearly as agile as a real cat, the robot has shown excellent auto-stabilization abilities when running at full speed.

Melissa: The robot’s legs are directly designed after a cat’s, consisting of three segments on each leg, with springs acting like tendons, and actuators like muscles. This translates to the mechanics of the robot’s legs being fully autonomous.

Jeff: Google’s lofty ambitions of bringing the internet to the entire planet are becoming a reality with the recent launch of internet-beaming antennas onboard balloons. The helium balloons sail up to 12 miles above the ground, beaming back internet signals to remote locations. Known as Project Loon, the mission was developed in the same Google X lab that created the driverless car and Google glass.

Jeff: Project Loon … really people. Is this the best Google can come up with?

Melissa:  Come on, you’re Google, you could afford to hire 10 people with no other job than to think of a cooler name, and just an FYI, the duck wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. You’re better than this and you’re representing the engineering community. Step up.

Melissa: The balloons are made from thin, polyethylene film and are able to float freely, untethered around the globe. Google ground controllers, which are located about 60 miles apart, are then able to adjust the altitude in routing them in order to bounce Internet signals up to the balloons, which are then echoed back and forth. The balloons will also make use of solar panels to generate electricity for powering flight-controlling equipment.

Google feels this scheme could bring Internet service to remote areas of about 780 square miles, and because of their high altitude, rugged terrain would not be a problem.

Jeff: When Tony Kanaan won the 2013 Indianapolis 500 in a car sponsored partially by Mouser Electronics, it seemed like everyone was cheering—including his competitors. The 2.5-mile oval track requires a nearly perfect run from both the driver and the car to win. ECN recently caught up with Kanaan during a celebration at the Mouser headquarters in Mansfield, Texas. [clip].

Melissa: Mouser welcomed Kanaan to Texas for the Firestone 550 race with a party … and a few cars of their own. [Clip of parade/rolls Royce] where Kanaan and KV Racing owner Jimmy Vasser talked about the race, the car, and the win.
If you’re interested in learning more about technology behind the car, check back at ecnmag.com next week for a series of videos exploring the components and systems of the champion car.

Jeff: Volvo’s recent research and development in electric vehicle technology is striving to do away with batteries by creating roadways able to charge the very cars that drive across it. To do so, they have constructed a 1,312 foot -long track fitted with a special collector that gathers power from rails along the road’s surface.

The two rails that run along the road’s length work much like train systems, with a positive pole and return current working to propel the vehicle. The specialized truck that was designed as part of the project, is equipped with a radio emitter that is sensed by these road rails and send out an encrypted signal to that specific vehicle.

Melissa: The truck currently being used in the testing is a standard Volvo FH12 tractor. When the collector comes into contact with the power lines, 750 volts of direct current is delivered and routed to a water-cooled heating element.

While the system is managed locally using smart sensors, there are plans for incorporating remote operation and monitoring. And whereas other companies are looking into technologies involving overhead rail systems, Volvo maintains their mode would be less costly, as it would be integrated into already existing roads. The first vehicles to use the system could even be hybrids rather than full EVs, which would help eliminate any possible power interruptions.

Jeff: That wraps up this week’s report. Be sure to join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. I’m Jeff Reinke, and this has been your Engineering Update!


To view the video, click here.

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