In This Issue: NIST Helps Keep New Safety Measure on Road to Reality Grocery List Toppers Are Gaining Popularity in Chemistry Labs Coming Soon to a Computer Near You: Smart Space Technology Cop Cars Measure Up with New AutoBid Software from NIST Controlling the Future of the Semiconductor Industry Spark Detector Helps Predict Breakdowns Tech Trivia
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NIST Helps Keep New Safety Measure on Road to Reality
You're driving down a dimly lit, winding country road when fatigue sets in. Suddenly, an alarm breaks the silence, warning that your wheels have crossed a lane stripe. You pull the car back onto the road and continue on your way.
As futuristic as this seems, run-off-road (ROR) warning technology is just around the bend. And not a bit too soon. In 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 969,000 road departure accidents, nearly 15 percent of all crashes recorded. These accidents produced 365,000 injuries and 11,385 deaths. The primary causes of ROR collisions: driver inattention, excessive speed, evasive maneuvers and poor road surface conditions.
NHTSA's efforts to develop and introduce ROR warning technology is getting a hand from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Researchers in NIST's Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory have designed a system to quantify and measure its field performance. The system incorporates a video camera and sensors to assess a vehicle's position and movement while driving a laned road. The data is digitized, turned into a computer map of the road and used to test how well an ROR system reacts during runs along the same test route.
Michael Newman , (301) 975-3025
Grocery List Toppers Are Gaining Popularity in Chemistry Labs
Chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are extending the popularity of milk and eggs from the breakfast table to the lab bench. Egg powder and milk powder reference standards are among several food-based reference materials created by NIST and Agriculture Canada since the early 1990s. Egg and milk powder have now been updated to help food chemists accurately measure protein, carbohydrate, fats, calories and individual fatty acids in foods.
The milk and egg powder reference materials will help food producers meet federal laws requiring accurate nutrition labeling. Laboratories can purchase them from the NIST Standard Reference Materials Program. The egg powder (Reference Material 8415) and milk powder (Reference Material 8435) come in glass bottles with a report listing assigned values for fat, protein, carbohydrates, calories, ash, moisture, solids, fatty acids, vitamins and elemental constituents. Since the food industry needs reference samples that are similar in chemical composition to their products, NIST soon will update nine more reference materials made from coconut oil, spinach leaves, corn starch, corn bran, oyster and mussel tissue, wheat gluten, durum wheat flour and infant formula.
Linda Joy, (301) 975-4403
Coming Soon to a Computer Near You: Smart Space Technology
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is launching a pervasive computing initiative to integrate a host of emerging and existing technologies. NIST's Information Technology Laboratory plans to explore ways to link computers and a variety of sensors. The initiative will involve developing tests and standards that will catalyze advancements in fields ranging from wireless devices to wearable computers.
NIST scientists believe three trends are shaping the future of the information technology industry: the growing number of computers per person in homes and offices, advances in miniaturization technology, and the phenomenal growth of the Internet. The convergence of these trends will result in an era of pervasive computing. Computers, actuators and sensors will be embedded in virtually every device, appliance and piece of equipment, and even in clothing. Many devices will be connected to the Internet.
While many technologies that will contribute to pervasive computing are still new, others are more mature. One field that is ready for advanced research is the development of "smart spaces." These are work spaces that have many built-in computers, sensors and communications devices, such as voice recognition systems. NIST currently is developing an experimental smart space as a first step in its pervasive computing initiative.
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661
Cop Cars Measure Up with New AutoBid Software from NIST
Some police departments just want a fast car. Others put more stock in vehicle maneuverability, and still others emphasize fuel economy. Currently, four automakers offer 10 cars designed for high-speed and pursuit work. Law enforcement officials often puzzle over which vehicles would be best for their department.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has developed a computer program to help them make the right choice. Called AutoBid, it allows people to weigh factors that influence their decisions. AutoBid calculates the compromises and tradeoffs and shows which model would be best.
The program employs the results of Michigan State Police vehicle tests. Michigan's annual testing program includes results from all police vehicles on the market. Police agencies collectively spend some $1.5 billion to purchase about 67,000 patrol vehicles annually.
AutoBid can be used over the Internet or can be downloaded to run on a desktop computer. The Internet version can be viewed using any Java-capable Web browser, such as the latest versions of Netscape or Internet Explorer. The desktop version runs on any operating system if the Java Runtime Environment is installed. Both versions are at the NIST Office of Law Enforcement Standards home page at www.eeel.nist.gov/oles.
Philip Bulman , (301) 975-5661
Controlling the Future of the Semiconductor Industry
Money alone can't buy perfection in a semiconductor factory, but innovative software is helping the industry get a lot closer to it.
The new technology, developed by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) of Austin, Texas, and Honeywell Inc., of Minneapolis, in cooperation with the industry consortium SEMATECH, overcomes a long- standing control problem by detecting and classifying process faults immediately and adapting process "recipes" as necessary from one run to the next. In software lingo, the technology is called an advanced process control (APC) framework, which controls various types of manufacturing execution systems, process control tools and wafer fabrication equipment.
The benefits include increased process consistency and yield. The joint venture, which was co-funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program, enabled AMD to achieve an 83 percent reduction in photolithography rework and a 48 percent reduction in variability in microprocessor speed, among other advances. The company was able to bring faster microprocessors to market sooner than otherwise would have been possible, substantially increasing revenues.
Since the ATP project ended in mid-1998, the APC technology has been commercialized by ObjectSpace Fab Solutions of Austin, a project subcontractor. The new framework is also in the process of becoming an industry standard.
Michael Baum , (301) 975-2763
Spark Detector Helps Predict Breakdowns
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed the first practical system to continuously measure small pulses of electricity that ultimately lead to the failure of expensive high-voltage equipment. The so-called "partial discharge" pulses, which can be likened to extremely weak sparks, appear randomly and are not detected by high-voltage test equipment. They commonly occur at points where insulation is at its weakest, gradually damaging the insulation until it fails.
The lightweight, portable NIST system uses specialized software to continuously record and analyze pulses in power generation, transmission and other high voltage equipment. Utility companies can use this information to monitor equipment and get repairs made before failures occur. The system detects pulses up to 100,000 times weaker than the typical "static electricity" spark caused by touching metal in dry conditions.
The U.S. Air Force provided partial support for the NIST research. Military and other aircraft currently rely extensively on heavy hydraulic controls to operate wing flaps, rudders, landing gear and other systems. Lighter weight electric motors would help improve fuel efficiency but are less reliable. Accurate monitoring with the NIST discharge detector could allow manufacturers to replace hydraulic controls with electrical systems, while ensuring aircraft safety.
Michael Newman, (301) 975-3025
The first director of NIST, Samuel W. Stratton (1901-1922), became the 12th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a year after leaving the NIST post. He also was the first chairman of the MIT Corporation, the university's board of trustees.
NIST's third director, Lyman J. Briggs (1932-1946), explored the physics of baseball as a hobby, co-authored two National Geographic articles and, in 1939, was appointed chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Uranium that initiated the work leading to the development of the first atomic bomb.
Allen V. Astin, the fifth NIST director (1951-1969), strengthened the agency's reputation for objectivity and careful research in the 1950s when he refused to reverse test results showing that the AD-X2 battery additive had no merits. He also was the father of actor John Astin, best known as Gomez on TV's "The Addams Family."