Jeff Reinke: Welcome to Engineering Update, brought to you by Mouser Electronics, the electronic components distributor with the widest selection of the newest products. I’m Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director of ECN. 

In this week’s headlines:

Volvo’s Self-Parking Car

Holographic Video Displays

Steering Cockroaches with Video Game Controls


A Bigger, Better Electric Plane

Melissa Barnes: Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have developed a new projector for 3D holographic video displays. While also promising to improve 2D resolution and lower power consumption, the Spatial Light Modulator provides 3D images at 30 frames per second. Where previous displays have relied on liquid crystals, MEMS-based micromirror arrays, and bulk acousto-optic devices, MIT came up with anisotropic leaky-mode optics with a lithium niobate chip.

Jeff: This allows for the waveguides, modulators, and switches to be fully integrated. The new design also means that properly polarized light is injected into the SLM, which is then guided by the waveguide. When the RF is applied to the electrodes, it generates an acoustic wave along the crystal surface where the interaction of the acoustic waves and the light in the waveguide causes the polarization to rotate. This rotation is what ultimately forms the holographic image.  

And if you don’t have an integrated anisotropic leaky-mode optics system with a lithium niobate chip, sometimes just cleaning up what you have can help:

Volvo recently unveiled their autonomous self-parking concept car, which features programming that allows drivers to simply drop their vehicle off at the final destination, as it parks itself. The concept is activated with a simple smartphone app that communicates with the vehicle to seek out an open parking space. Once a space is identified, it parks and waits for the driver’s retrieve command.

Melissa When the car is parked, it immediately sends out a notification to the driver regarding its location. To avoid traffic incidents, Volvo has also equipped the vehicle with sensors and cameras for safe interaction with both pedestrians and competing vehicles. To retrieve the car, owners can either walk to the parking space or signal the vehicle to come pick them up.

Researchers at NCST are using video games to remotely control cockroaches. They are currently studying how the bugs react to remote control technology in hopes of creating a type of bug-autopilot. By incorporating a Microsoft Kinect system into an electronic interface, developers can plug in a digitally plotted path and then use the Kinect to identify and track the insect’s progress. The program’s tracking data automatically steers the roach along a desired path.

Jeff: The roaches are equipped with basic interface controls, which are wired to the antennae and sensory organs on the bug’s abdomen. These sensory organs are sensitive to air and other movements that cause the cockroach to move in a particular direction. Further research and development into how the cockroaches respond to these electrical impulses could provide techniques for mapping difficult environments, such as collapsed buildings and disaster sites. They may even be able to attach small speakers to the roaches in order to communicate with trapped victims … because talking and listening to cockroachs should have a very helpful and calming effect on somebody trapped in a confined space.

Melissa: The recent Paris air show boasted a number of new and old planes with the most cutting edge technologies – such as the Elektro E6, a twin prop, 6-passenger electric airplane concept. The EADCO team, who also created the Elektra One and Elektra One Solar, is currently developing what they hope to be a much faster electrical system that generates less noise, vibration, and CO2 emissions. This is a bit of a challenge, since they also want to make it capable of flying at least 435 miles with 400 pounds of on-board batteries.

Jeff: In order to fulfill their mission, the Elektro Sky Team is closely following the latest research into microbatteries being developed by the University of Illinois. Their challenge uses the standard calculation that 10 percent of the E6's power needs must be met by on-board solar power, with a target cruising speed of 120 knots. The E6 will have two electric motors on each prop, powered by batteries that can recharge in under an hour.

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


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