IEEE University of Lahore

August 3rd, 2019

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

DARPA SubT Tunnel Circuit – August 15-22, 2019 – Pittsburgh, Pa., USA
IEEE Africon 2019 – September 25-27, 2019 – Accra, Ghana
ISRR 2019 – October 6-10, 2019 – Hanoi, Vietnam
Ro-Man 2019 – October 14-18, 2019 – New Delhi, India
Humanoids 2019 – October 15-17, 2019 – Toronto, Canada
ARSO 2019 – October 31-1, 2019 – Beijing, China
ROSCon 2019 – October 31-1, 2019 – Macau

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

August 3rd, 2019

Multifunctional metal-oxide semiconductor used to build flexible RRAM, transistors, and sensors

Engineers at the University of Houston are trying to make the melding of humans and machines a little easier on the humans. They’ve developed an easy-to-manufacture flexible electronics patch that, when attached to a human, translates the person’s motion and other commands to a robot and receives temperature feedback from the robot.

Led by University of Houston assistant professor Cunjiang Yu, the team developed transistors, RRAM memory cells, strain sensors, UV-light detectors, temperature sensors, and heaters all using the same set of materials in a low-temperature manufacturing process. They integrated the different devices into a 4-micrometer-thick adhesive plastic patch.

A paper describing the Houston researchers’ work appears this week in Science Advances.

With the patch on the back of a volunteer’s hand, the researchers were able to control a robot hand—causing it to close or open according to what the human’s hand motion did to the patch’s strain sensors. What’s more, they were able to close the human-robot control loop by providing temperature feedback from the robotic hand to the human one using the patch’s integrated heater circuits.

August 2nd, 2019

Get To Market More Quickly With Manufacturing As A Service

 Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS) leverages the expertise of outside manufacturing engineers, outsourced production, and Just in Time (JIT) inventory management to reduce the cost and time associated with producing quality products. With the right partner, MaaS accelerates product development and transforms the processes by which organizations bring new products to market.


Companies of all sizes seek MaaS partners to help them scale in various ways. For some, the combination of production speed and variety of services draws them toward marketplace platforms. Other organizations attempt to form a deeper relationship with a MaaS partner to improve quality and consolidate logistics. 


MaaS companies typically work with dozens, if not hundreds, of clients representing a broad array of industries, applications, and production methods. They apply their deep experience in production to complement the design-focused approach of OEMs, Product Designers, Product Engineers, and design firms. This results in the best of both worlds: well designed products that are efficient to manufacture and deliver.


Marketplace Manufacturing and MaaS

The Marketplace Economy has spread beyond Uber and AirBnB and into manufacturing. Manufacturing networks, such as Dassault Systemes’ 3DExperience Marketplace, pair product designers dynamically with available manufacturers based on a range of criteria, including capacity, location, and capabilities.


Such marketplaces offer many of the benefits of MaaS—reduced overhead, JIT production—but also present additional challenges. For example, reordering may lead to a different vendor making that part, which introduces risk related to quality control. 


“The Marketplace model can be great for low volumes of simple parts, especially during the prototyping phase of product development,” says Jim Quinn, CEO of Plethora. “But it tends to lack true partnership with manufacturing engineers, which can offer critical value over the entire lifecycle of a product.”


Partnering with Manufacturing Engineers

An often overlooked aspect of manufacturing, MaaS partners Design Engineers with Manufacturing Engineers, offering complementary knowledge and experience that typically shortens the production process and reduces costs. 


Product Designers work to create the best part for their overall project. They approach these parts with the context of how that part fits into the larger schematic of the overall product, and may not be as focused on the manufacturability of the part in question.


Manufacturing Engineers lend unique insight into how best to produce the part. Manufacturing Engineers may have a deeper knowledge of specific materials, or the capabilities of specific manufacturing processes. As such, Manufacturing Engineers are often able to suggest more efficient ways to produce a usable end part by iterating slightly on the original design. 


We offer our MaaS customers a designated Manufacturing Engineer for expert guidance on machining capabilities. This personalized design experience helps ensure that our customer’s design achieves the highest quality while working to ensure it is cost effective over the life of the product. —Jim Quinn, President and CEO, Plethora


Finishing offers a simplified example of how a Manufacturing Engineer can add value to a project. While a Design Engineer or Product Designer may justifiably want to create the best looking part, a Manufacturing Engineer can point out where a chamfer would add cycle time, where a narrow, flat-bottom hole would introduce the risk of a broken tool, or where a glass-smooth finish might not be necessary for a part that won’t have any faces showing in the final, assembled product. 


Making such iterations on a part design may not save much in prototype quantities. In fact, updating a design may cost more than the savings realized at low quantities. But Manufacturing Engineers consider scaled production, where simple updates to the design can lead to savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Outsourcing Production

Though manufacturing has made giant leaps in the last few decades in terms of efficiency and capabilities, it has come at the cost of added complexity. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, refers to this as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, blurring the lines between the physical and digital world: 


The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.


Specific to manufacturing, there are more ways than ever before to make a part, in more materials. With this growth comes an ever-expanding knowledgebase of capabilities, properties, specialities, and dependencies related to materials, processes, and machinery. Designing parts and manufacturing parts are two distinct skill sets.


Successful companies realize this distinction and find it more economical to outsource manufacturing rather than manage it internally. There exists real and significant costs in keeping up with continuous improvements to hardware, firmware, software, and best practices that often distracts from an organization’s ability to develop and bring to market compelling products. 


MaaS shifts these costs to the manufacturer, who are better able to justify the costs due to their scale and volume. Producing high volumes of parts, spread over two or three shifts, warrants a continuous investment in the latest technologies and processes. MaaS manufacturing partners are able to spread these costs across hundreds of customers and thousands of orders.


Just In Time Production

Just In Time (JIT) inventory management produces goods as they are needed, avoiding the overhead of carrying and managing excess inventory. JIT practices deliver parts or products directly from the manufacturer to where they are needed—for assembly, for packaging— further reducing costs associated with warehousing and transporting excess inventory. 


JIT requires less working capital, because organizations only obtain inventory as needed. JIT reduces risk associated with inventories becoming obsolete. JIT offers an environmentally conscious method of manufacturing. This type of lean manufacturing keeps production runs short leaving less stock on hand and more funds to invest elsewhere. 


Toyota has embraced JIT manufacturing for years. Toyota produces vehicles based on orders it receives from its dealerships. For each vehicle, only the necessary supplies ordered and sent from the supply chain. According to Toyota’s website

Use of JIT within the Toyota Production System means that individual cars can be built to order and that every component has to fit perfectly the first time because there are no alternatives available.


Extending MaaS Relationships

Today, MaaS partnerships are evolving well beyond just contract manufacturing. MaaS manufacturers are finding new opportunities to serve their clients. Designated resources within the manufacturer may help with other aspects of production, such as sourcing, logistics, assembly, and planning.


“Our clients have asked us to manage production through other vendors, and we’re happy to do it,” says Sean Cardenas, VP of Sales at Plethora. “It makes sense for us because our manufacturing engineers gain a deeper understanding of our clients’ overall needs, and in turn we’re able to offer more valuable suggestions and feedback that save our clients time and money.”


August 2nd, 2019

New satellite sensor data, combined with info from the terrestrial U.S. National Lightning Detection Network, will help scientists identify the most dangerous lightning strikes

In the time it takes to read this sentence, lightning will strike somewhere in the world. In fact, lightning strikes are thought to occur between 50 and 100 times every second. Most of the time, lightning just puts on a pretty show. But sometimes, it kills people. And then there are the times when it ignites wildfires or damages electrical equipment.

With new tools, researchers can now distinguish the most damaging lightning strikes from the many millions of others that occur every year. All lightning is dangerous—but if we can tell which strikes are more likely to actually inflict harm, that information might help us react more quickly during a storm.

Already, the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network keeps a record of virtually all lightning that strikes the ground anywhere in the United States. That network is maintained by Helsinki-based Vaisala, which built it 30 years ago and sells the data to the National Weather Service and to utilities, airports, seaports, mines, and sporting arenas. Vaisala operates a global lightning detection network, as well.

But the company hasn’t been able to make one specific measurement that could provide clues as to how dangerous a given strike is likely to be—until now.

August 1st, 2019

Reliable torque data leads to efficient, cost-effective designs

Description: Download this application note to learn selection parameters for selecting current sensors, as well as the limitations of alternative technologies such as current sense resistors.

August 1st, 2019

Cofounder Mike Warren talks about the future of high-performance computing in a data-rich, cloud computing world

Descartes Labs cofounder Mike Warren has had some notable firsts in his career, and a surprising number have had lasting impact. Back in 1998 for instance, his was the first Linux-based computer fast enough to gain a spot in the coveted Top 500 list of supercomputers. Today, they all run Linux. Now his company, which crunches geospatial and location data to answer hard questions, has achieved something else that may be indicative of where high-performance computing is headed: It’s built the world’s 136th fastest supercomputer using just Amazon Web Services and Descartes Labs’ own software. In 2010, this would have been the most powerful computer on the planet.

Notably, Amazon didn’t do anything special for Descartes. Warren’s firm just plunked down US $5,000 on the company credit card for the use of a “high-network-throughput instance block” consisting of 41,472 processor cores and 157.8 gigabytes of memory. It then worked out some software to make the collection act as a single machine. Running the standard supercomputer test suite, called LinPack, the system reached 1,926.4 teraFLOPS (trillion floating point operations per second). (Amazon itself made an appearance much lower down on the Top 500 list a few years back, but that’s thought to have been for its own dedicated system in which Amazon was the sole user rather than what’s available to the public.)

July 31st, 2019

Traffic software providers Mobi and Axilion have taken two very different approaches to solving the world’s congestion crisis

Aside from being a major nuisance to commuters, traffic congestion costs the average American driver $1,348 annually in lost time. According to INRIX, an analytics company based in Washington state, Americans lost 97 hours each to congestion in 2018 alone. 

We are in a congestion crisis and the problem is not exclusive to America—Londoners lost 227 hours apiece due to congestion, according to the same study. 

With the rise of technological advances including IoT and AI, multiple companies are now working on ways to reduce congestion for residents and cities alike. Mobi, a traffic management company based in Israel, sells technology that aggregates data from a wide variety of sources to predict traffic patterns and optimize mobility. 

July 31st, 2019

How to Handle Complex Multicore Environments with ANSYS SCADE

Multicore environments that feature clusters of microprocessors deliver a range of benefits, but present significant engineering challenges. ANSYS SCADE produces embedded software that enables the entire electronics architecture to perform reliably and all components to work together flawlessly, while accounting for the way essential tasks are distributed across multiple cores.


July 30th, 2019

Venture advisor Chenyang Xu recommends staying up to date on technology and taking entrepreneurship classes

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THE INSTITUTEEngineers often misunderstand what it takes to launch a successful startup, according to IEEE Fellow Chenyang Xu, who has been advising entrepreneurs and investors for 20 years.

Xu was general manager of the Siemens Technology-to-Business Center, in Berkeley, Calif., where he led a team of venture technologists who invested in and partnered with more than 50 promising disruptive-technology startups. He helped found the Silicon Valley Future Academy, a consulting company in Palo Alto, Calif., that teaches startups about design, venture capital, and cutting-edge technologies including artificial intelligence and big data. He’s now a partner at the Corporate Innovators Huddle, in Menlo Park, Calif., which provides a forum to help large companies be more innovative by investing in and partnering with startups. And he’s the managing partner at Perception Vision Medical Technologies, a fast-growing startup involved with AI, based in Guangzhou, China.

 Xu says many technologists struggle when they start their own company. “Running their own business is foreign to many engineers, because they don’t understand the process,” he says. “They fail because there are too many gaps in their knowledge.” Xu calls that gap the “entrepreneurship Grand Canyon,” with engineers on one side and entrepreneurs on the other.

“It’s a gap that feels so big that engineers feel they cannot cross it,” he says.

Xu identified four actions that engineers can take to narrow the divide.


Being an expert in a single area can cause you to lose perspective, Xu says.

“This is not to say that specialization is wrong,” he adds, “but I think that as you keep specializing, it’s also important to be aware of the speed of change of the broader engineering discipline.

“A cutting-edge technology today can become a dinosaur tomorrow. Don’t become obsolete.”


There are a host of things that engineers turned founders need to know besides technology, Xu says, such as business-model development, venture-capital processes, communication, leadership, and how to prepare pitches to investors.

“Engineers will have a far greater impact to society if they are able to understand entrepreneurship,” he says. “I’ve coached hundreds of brilliant engineers over the years, and I found they are held back because of their mindset.”

There are many entrepreneurship programs out there, he notes. One valuable resource is the IEEE Entrepreneurship program, which offers online resources and both online and in-person events for people to meet and support one another. Its IEEE N3XT event series provides startups with opportunities to connect with venture capitalists and others who might help them get their company off the ground.

Some corporations, including Cisco and Siemens, offer entrepreneurship training to their employees in the form of boot camps.

Colleges such as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, are doing a good job of incorporating entrepreneurship courses into their engineering programs, Xu says.


Entrepreneurs have to deal with a lot of uncertainties and unknowns. That is not easy for engineers, who often know what they have to do and prefer to stick to fundamental principles, Xu says. Startup founders have to be good communicators who can articulate ideas effectively to investors, he says.

“The stereotype for engineers is that they don’t like to work with people and only talk through computers,” Xu says. “This is indeed common. But from my experience, all engineers can learn to be good communicators if they set their mind to taking continuous-learning courses and practicing their communication skills.

“Another critical skill that entrepreneurs need is leadership, which isn’t taught in engineering school.”

IEEE offers several online career development courses, including An Introduction to Leadership: A Primer for the Practitioner, Leadership Development for Technical Professionals, Communication and Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals, and Stuff You Don’t Learn in Engineering School: Communicating Effectively.


Gender equality is an important issue for Xu.

“Women show more empathy and tend to develop relationships—which are two key attributes of effective entrepreneurs,” he says.

Xu is a member of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department industrial advisory board at UC Berkeley and a member of the Biomedical Engineering Department advisory board at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

These university engineering department boards are working on ways to recruit more women and attract more girls from grade school and high school to engineering, he says.

“Companies need to hire more women and promote diversity,” he says. “We are seeing some women leaders rise up through the ranks, but in general there is still a minority.

“A team with more diversity often achieves higher performance and better results.”

July 30th, 2019

An emergency parachute failure raises questions about the safety of urban delivery drones

For about a year, Swiss Post and Matternet have been collaborating on a drone delivery service in three different cities in Switzerland, with drones ferrying lab samples between hospitals far faster and more efficiently than is possible with conventional ground transportation. The service had made about 3,000 successful flights as of last January, but a January 25th crash into Lake Zurich put things on hold until April.

A second crash in May caused Swiss Post to suspend the service indefinitely, and a recently released interim report published by the Swiss Safety Investigation Board provides some detail on what happened—and a reminder that for all the delivery drone hype, there are some basic problems that are still not totally solved.