BY GAIL HELGASON
Robots Reaching New Heights - The Canadarm 2, arguably one of Canada’s best known examples of robotics, is a vital part of the International Space Station. More agile than a human arm, the Canadarm 2 is used mainly for assembly and construction outside the space station, but it is also used to support astronauts, as seen here, to capture some stunning views from space. The Canadarm 2 can be controlled from either the space station or from the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Que. -Photo courtesy of NASA
The robots are rising, reports Mechanical Engineering (New York). Installations in 2005 totalled 121,000 units worldwide, a rise of 25 per cent over the previous year.
Asia claims more than half the world’s robot population, says a survey by the World Robots Review. Europe has one-third of the world’s robots, the Americas 16 per cent.
The 34 per cent jump in robots in the Americas in 2005 was fueled by Asian car manufacturers who expanded production in the U.S. and Canada.
Islet May Avoid
For hundreds of years, the islet of Mont-Saint-Michel off the northwestern coast of France has been one of the world’s most breathtaking sights. Now, reports Civil Engineering (Reston, Va.), some of the allure is vanishing because a new dam has increased sediments around the islet.
How severe is the problem? It threatens to turn the islet into part of the
mainland by 2042.
Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of civil engineers working for the French government. They’ve designed a new dam that will prevent more sediment from settling and flush some of existing sediment back into the ocean.
The design calls for eight sluice gates, closed until 10 minutes before high tide. The time will allow sediment to settle before the water is admitted upstream, the engineers explain.
What Bugs Uranium?
It’s old news that some naturally occurring microbes are able to stop uranium contaminants from reaching streams. But no one has really understood how.
Chemical Engineering (New York) reports that researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., believe they’ve figured out the process.
Their research suggests that a slimy substance produced by the bacteria Shewanella oneidensis contains a very special enzyme — one that changes uranium ions into an insoluble oxide form called uraninite. The uraninite also forms glue-like beads in the slime that help the uranium particles stick to soil, further halting migration.
Uranium contaminates an estimated 2,500 billion litres of groundwater annually in the United States, says the U.S. Department of the Environment.
Historically, wireless technology hasn’t been used widely in process manufacturing. That’s changing now, however, due to new sensor networking and wireless local area networks.
In fact when it comes to cutting plant floor costs, wireless technology is increasingly the way to go, says Food Engineering (Troy, Mo.). The technology dramatically cuts the cost of monitoring plant equipment and processes.
The wireless market will more than triple in five years, reaching $1 billion in 2010, predicts the ARC Advisory Group, a leading manufacturing adviser in Dedham, Md.
The need for a new crew of engineering talent to help build the 21st century’s demand for generation capacity is becoming urgent, reports Power Engineering (Tulsa, Okla.). Only 500 undergraduate degrees in power engineering are being awarded annually in the United States, compared with about 2,000 degrees in the 1980s.
The talent pool is shrinking at a time when many engineers who designed today’s coal and nuclear power plants are thinking of retirement. A new philosophy is needed to stem the ebb of talent, the publication states, and recognize the tremendous opportunities available for the next generation of power engineers.
Bouncing Around Mars
More information about Mars could be just a hop, skip and jump away.
Engineers and scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have come up with the idea of using bouncing balls as probes for exploring the planet’s surface. The probes, about the size of baseballs, would hop, bounce and roll into terrain that is beyond the reach of today’s rovers, explains Steven Dubowsky, the MIT professor of mechanical engineering who heads the research team.
The probes could offer the opportunity to explore such features as lava tubes
and canyons, he says. Artificial muscles would enable them to hop six times an
hour, travelling about 1.5 metres per hop.
Mars applications are predicted to be about 10 years away. The devices could also prove useful on Earth, for such purposes as search and rescue missions at dangerous sites.
Flying High in Seattle
A new, $1.1-billion runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is reaching new environmental heights, reports the Engineering News-Record (New York).
The runway required 17 million cubic yards of fill to create a huge embankment.
Three mechanically stabilized earth walls divide the embankment from protected
creeks and wetlands. These earth walls are nearly 40 metres high — and
said to be the largest of their type in the Americas.