Smart bomb robots

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed software for police robots that will save precious minutes during bomb-displacement missions.

Sandia developed the software in collaboration with REMOTEC of Oak Ridge, Tenn. by borrowing one of the company’s Wolverine robots and developing software that automates the robot’s movements but leaves the operator in control of its behavior.

The software, called Sandia Modular Architecture for Robotics and Teleoperation or SMART, is expected to make police robots safer, quicker, and easier to operate, giving on-scene commanders more tools for responding to various situations.

The robot was unveiled at the International Assn. of Bomb Technicians and Investigators in-service training conference in Albuquerque, N.Mex., where the Sandia project was headquartered.

Law enforcement agencies worldwide welcome the use of robots in their special ops units because they can enter areas that would be dangerous for officers. Robots, using cameras, grippers, sensors, and other tools, can enter hazardous areas while the operator is hundreds of feet away.

The problem with current police robots is that they are difficult to operate. The operator must control all the robot’s joints, grippers, and other tools using a camera view that could be upside down or backwards, and do it under the pressures of limited time and potentially severe consequences.

“Sometimes it’s like playing a video game with a seven-lever joystick sitting upside down, with one eye closed, and with your boss looking over your shoulder,” says Sandia project leader Phil Bennett.

A SMART-based robot could be programmed using software control sequences that allow it to grip a tool or go to a specific location rather than having each separate movement controlled by the operator. According to Bennett this frees the operator to think about what needs to happen next rather than focusing on each individual movement.

SMART software can also integrate different hardware components electronically into one system that is stable. The patented algorithms and SMART’s “stackable” software modules allow components from different vendors to be integrated quickly and work the first time.

“A sergeant can look at the situations and problems officers are encountering in the field and essentially add this tool or that behavior to the robot’s portfolio without the technical difficulties normally associated with changes to the system,” says Bennett.

Prior to incorporating SMART into the REMOTEC robot Bennett worked with the FBI surveying law enforcement robot operators and tracking which problems they encountered most frequently. He also observed challenges encountered by the Albuquerque Police Department bomb squad when they practiced using mock explosive devices and their own REMOTEC Wolverine.

The Wolverine can now perform automatic tool changes, tool placement, bomb-disrupter aiming, and telerobotic straightline movement in all directions. During a demonstration at the FBI Hazardous Devices School the robot shaved minutes off of typical bomb responses of even the most skilled FBI robot operators.

REMOTEC is in the process of licensing the use of SMART software. According to Bennett, Sandia and REMOTEC will soon introduce new tools, sensors, and behaviors for additional law enforcement needs.

It’s show time

Design and manufacturing engineers and suppliers will team up to conquer today’s system engineering challenges October 23 to 25, at the Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia, Pa.

Engineers attending will experience the convenience of three shows under one roof: the Motion System Design Show, the Hydraulics & Pneumatics Show, and the Greater Philadelphia Design Engineering Show. In addition to supplier exhibitions highlighting the latest system technology, tutorial sessions sponsored by Applied Industrial Technologies will cover topics ranging from motion control fundamentals to remote plant maintenance.

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Pre-register for the Motion System Design and Hydraulics & Pneumatics Shows before Oct. 5 and receive your badge by mail. Register online at tradeshows.penton.com/motionweek, or call (216) 931- 9294 for more information.

Those interested in attending the Greater Philadelphia Plant Engineering & Maintenance Show Oct. 24 to 25 can pre-register at www.proshows.com or by calling (800) 668-3908.

NASA sensors and motors up for license

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has started a technology transfer program which allows for commercial use of NASA-developed technologies. In the program commercial companies are invited to consider licensing or jointly developing technology.

Recent additions to the list of technologies that NASA is offering include a brushless dc motor rate sensor and new low-cost rotary position sensors.

The rotary position sensors were initially developed to reduce the size of microgravity vibration isolation systems but the sensors could be used in a variety of real world applications such as printers, robotics, antilock brake systems, medical scanners, electric motors, and industrial manufacturing equipment. They can be used as a conventional resolver or integrated with signal-conditioning electronics in a single unit.

Similarly, NASA has developed new brushless DC motor technology that offers an alternative to brush tachometers, resolvers, encoders, and other rotation sensors. The sensors could hold such commercial applications as industrial robotics, power generators, navigation systems, medical scanning devices, and other scanning devices.

As part of the technology transfer program Marshall would invite U.S. companies or companies with substantial U.S. presence the chance to license or jointly develop its technology and transfer it into commercial products. The licenses may be exclusive, partially exclusive or specific to a field of use.

Portable CAD for mobile designers

By eliminating the need to carry stacks of blueprints and offering the ability to change designs at job sites, Pocket- CAD PRO 4.0 software helps keep designers on the go.

The software, the work of Dulles, Va.- based Arc Second Inc., allows users to check drawings against and create asbuilts, communicate design changes, and sketch new concepts, and can be used during inspections. It can also be used to draw shapes and freehand sketches and edit text. Users can also pan a zoom to any view of a drawing.

PocketCAD 4.0, powered by AutoDesk, is fully functional software for Windows-powered mobile devices that offers designers the ability to create, view, and edit design drawings while at job sites. The 4.0 version reads and writes DWG and DXF files and is compatible with nearly all desktop CAD software packages.

The CadExchange desktop companion transfers files between desktop and mobile device and eliminates the need for file filters. CADExchange is a graphical user interface that works with Microsoft’s ActiveSync software. Version 4.0 can replay and merge field changes into desktop drawing files.

PocketCAD’s programmability allows for custom add-ins and third-party applications. A separate printer driver is also available that allows PocketCAD files to be printed directly from a mobile device to a printer via infrared or serial cable.

Anti-friction affinity

There are clubs for fans of everything on the Internet these days (the Naked Dancing Llama Fan Club Web site is proof of that). New to the list of Internet fan pages is a site for lovers of the spray lubricant WD-40.

The WD-40 Fan Club is a forum for all those mechanics, auto enthusiasts and body specialists out there who want to learn more about the uses of the lubricant and share their stories about how WD-40 helped them get the job done.

On the site fans can learn how to use WD-40 to remove sticker adhesive from windows, penetrate stuck lugnuts, keep the undercarriage from corroding, shine chrome, unfreeze door locks, and remove dead bugs and road tar from a vehicle’s exterior.

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A visitor to the site can register as a Super Fan and receive the WD-40 CDROM. The CD-ROM offers a categorical interactive list of WD-40 uses compiled during its Search for 2000 Uses campaign. The CD-ROM also includes the WD-40 Spray Game, a race against time where players are confronted with tools and parts that need WD-40’s attention.

The WD-40 Fan Club also offers screensavers and wallpaper for desktop computers, the Fan Forum newsletter, periodic promotions, contests, special events, and other perks.

Bill for businesses

Capital spending on productivity-enhancing equipment is one of the best methods businesses can use to get ahead. Often these investments are firewalled by the current tax code, but U.S. Reps. Phil English (R-Pa.) and Richard Neal (DMass.) of the Ways and Means Committee have introduced legislation to make capital spending easier.

The High Productivity Investment Act allows the cost of productivity-enhancing technology to be deducted more quickly than under present tax law. This reduces the after-tax cost making it more readily available to businesses.

“Increased productivity has been the fuel driving the economic expansion for the last eight years,” Neal says. “The High Productivity Investment Act will consolidate and expand these productivity gains.”

The act allows a broad range of machinery and other applied technology to be written off the first year. Computers, software, and equipment to manufacture semiconductors will be included in this category.

In the case of all other machinery and equipment, the bill reduces the number of years over which a business must spread the tax deductions it is allowed for the purchase equipment.

According to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, high levels of capital spending will result in increased worker productivity and allow the economy to grow at accelerated rates without inflation.

It has been 20 years since Congress last updated capital cost recovery rules.