Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Wireless Sensors Make Smart Bridges Smarter


America's infrastructure is sick and getting sicker -- it's simply a matter of age and an inability to know when and where some doctoring is needed. But sensor technology can identify where problems lie.Unfortunately, the sensors that we currently have available to install on bridges are expensive, in great part because only complex wiring can transform individual sensors into a full functioning diagnostic web. The answer to that problem is wireless technology.

Jerry Lynch, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Michigan, is the lead researcher of a team that's pioneering wireless sensors such as Narada, a low-cost device designed for installation in civil structures. Lynch and his students are collaborating with researchers at KAIST to validate the performance of the sensors on bridges in Korea.

Lynch and his colleagues are also experimenting with a paint-like substance made of carbon nanotubes that can be applied to the surface of bridges to detect corrosion and cracks. Since carbon nanotubes conduct electricity by sending a current through the paint, he says, it's possible to detect structural weakness through changes in the electrical properties.



Lynch and his colleagues explained some of their work in the video "Nova Smart Bridges - Nanotech Skin." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwQVpZFfP18

New Wireless Sensors Make Smart Bridges Smarter


America's infrastructure is sick and getting sicker -- it's simply a matter of age and an inability to know when and where some doctoring is needed. But sensor technology can identify where problems lie.Unfortunately, the sensors that we currently have available to install on bridges are expensive, in great part because only complex wiring can transform individual sensors into a full functioning diagnostic web. The answer to that problem is wireless technology.

Jerry Lynch, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Michigan, is the lead researcher of a team that's pioneering wireless sensors such as Narada, a low-cost device designed for installation in civil structures. Lynch and his students are collaborating with researchers at KAIST to validate the performance of the sensors on bridges in Korea.

Lynch and his colleagues are also experimenting with a paint-like substance made of carbon nanotubes that can be applied to the surface of bridges to detect corrosion and cracks. Since carbon nanotubes conduct electricity by sending a current through the paint, he says, it's possible to detect structural weakness through changes in the electrical properties.



Lynch and his colleagues explained some of their work in the video "Nova Smart Bridges - Nanotech Skin." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwQVpZFfP18

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mark Twain – Author, Inventor and Entrepreneur

When Mark Twain wasn’t writing, he was a dabbler in technology -- a novice inventor and entrepreneur. He once claimed that the name of the greatest inventor was "Accident." But he was very purposeful in finding time amid his prolific literary production to let his imagination lead him to a workshop and hours of tinkering. For his efforts he received several patents.

On December 19, 1871, the U.S. Patent Office granted Twain his first patent (#121,992) for an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten shirts at the waist – he intended to eliminate suspenders, which he thought were uncomfortable. Twain also received patents for a self-pasting scrapbook, which sold more than 25,000 copies, and a history trivia game. (If you have either of these items, contact "The Antiques Road Show"... you'll be very happy that you did.) The process of entrepreneurship excited him so much that it slipped into his work. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, for example, one of his characters said that "a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways."

Twain's adjustable straps didn't catch on, the biggest reason being that he approached the problem all wrong. Mohammed Islam, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, has specialized in the development of patents. He teaches "Patent Fundamentals for Engineers," a class in which he points out that entrepreneurs have to ask themselves, 'What's the pain? Does the problem hurt people enough so that they're willing to pay for the solution? Will the product have a sustainable advantage that's different from other solutions? There has to be a competitive advantage to get beyond the first sale." Twain didn't look beyond his own pain. He needed a broader audience.

Doug Neal, managing director for the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan, agreed, saying that it's "extremely important for entrepreneurs to honestly determine who they're providing what specific value. You have to put yourself in your target customers' shoes and find out if they really see the value your idea brings. Many false starts can be traced to a failure to do this successfully."

Despite his disappointments as an entrepreneur, new technology remained a passion for Twain. The early typewriter, a clumsy configuration of rollers and spindly arms at its inception, consumed him -- he couldn’t keep his hands off it -- and he became the first person to submit a typed manuscript to a publisher. The telephone fascinated and frustrated him -- he spent hours on the line. But service was particularly bad around his Connecticut home, so he spent a lot of time grumbling about the phone company and writing satirical letters of complaint. (Things haven't changed all that much.)

Unfortunately, his love of technology overcame his better judgment when he met James W. Paige, who was developing a machine that would become the Paige Typesetter. Between 1880 and 1894, Twain invested a fortune in it -- including his royalties from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The hapless Paige filed for a patent, only to see it sit as a pending document for eight years -- the first Patent Office examiner died before the process was complete; a second examiner went insane; and the patent attorney who originally prepared the case also went crazy and died in an insane asylum. Meanwhile, mechanical problems forced Paige to redesign the machine.

By 1894, Twain was nearly bankrupt. He closed his Hartford home and headed for Europe, in part because his unprofitable investment had taken a toll on his resources and his imagination. Without realizing it, Twain experienced what true entrepreneurs know is the key to eventual success: failure. Fortunately, he had a job he could fall back on… and he was pretty good at it.

Mark Twain – Author, Inventor and Entrepreneur

When Mark Twain wasn’t writing, he was a dabbler in technology -- a novice inventor and entrepreneur. He once claimed that the name of the greatest inventor was "Accident." But he was very purposeful in finding time amid his prolific literary production to let his imagination lead him to a workshop and hours of tinkering. For his efforts he received several patents.

On December 19, 1871, the U.S. Patent Office granted Twain his first patent (#121,992) for an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten shirts at the waist – he intended to eliminate suspenders, which he thought were uncomfortable. Twain also received patents for a self-pasting scrapbook, which sold more than 25,000 copies, and a history trivia game. (If you have either of these items, contact "The Antiques Road Show"... you'll be very happy that you did.) The process of entrepreneurship excited him so much that it slipped into his work. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, for example, one of his characters said that "a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways."

Twain's adjustable straps didn't catch on, the biggest reason being that he approached the problem all wrong. Mohammed Islam, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, has specialized in the development of patents. He teaches "Patent Fundamentals for Engineers," a class in which he points out that entrepreneurs have to ask themselves, 'What's the pain? Does the problem hurt people enough so that they're willing to pay for the solution? Will the product have a sustainable advantage that's different from other solutions? There has to be a competitive advantage to get beyond the first sale." Twain didn't look beyond his own pain. He needed a broader audience.

Doug Neal, managing director for the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan, agreed, saying that it's "extremely important for entrepreneurs to honestly determine who they're providing what specific value. You have to put yourself in your target customers' shoes and find out if they really see the value your idea brings. Many false starts can be traced to a failure to do this successfully."

Despite his disappointments as an entrepreneur, new technology remained a passion for Twain. The early typewriter, a clumsy configuration of rollers and spindly arms at its inception, consumed him -- he couldn’t keep his hands off it -- and he became the first person to submit a typed manuscript to a publisher. The telephone fascinated and frustrated him -- he spent hours on the line. But service was particularly bad around his Connecticut home, so he spent a lot of time grumbling about the phone company and writing satirical letters of complaint. (Things haven't changed all that much.)

Unfortunately, his love of technology overcame his better judgment when he met James W. Paige, who was developing a machine that would become the Paige Typesetter. Between 1880 and 1894, Twain invested a fortune in it -- including his royalties from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The hapless Paige filed for a patent, only to see it sit as a pending document for eight years -- the first Patent Office examiner died before the process was complete; a second examiner went insane; and the patent attorney who originally prepared the case also went crazy and died in an insane asylum. Meanwhile, mechanical problems forced Paige to redesign the machine.

By 1894, Twain was nearly bankrupt. He closed his Hartford home and headed for Europe, in part because his unprofitable investment had taken a toll on his resources and his imagination. Without realizing it, Twain experienced what true entrepreneurs know is the key to eventual success: failure. Fortunately, he had a job he could fall back on… and he was pretty good at it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Biomimicry – Friend of Technology, Ecology and the Entrepreneur


Mother Nature's pretty smart. And we've been wise enough to steal some of her best ideas, such as taking inspiration from a leaf to create a solar cell. This biomimicry has helped us uncover products, processes and policies that are well-adapted to life on earth -- it draws on 3.8 billion years of "natural technologies" that evolution has given us to use as models. The results of biomimicry have been stunning, and its untapped potential is enough to make entrepreneurial heads spin.

As one well known story goes, the engineer George de Mestral went for a hike and noticed that burrs stuck to his dog. From that observation came Velco, which now has annual sales of $100 million annually. The blue mussel inspired biodegradable "glues" that surgeons can use in place of sutures. The natural ventilation of termite mounds led to the development of natural passive cooling structures such as hooded windows, variable-thickness walls and light colored paints that reduce heat absorption. The study of bumblebees recently sparked a new approach to wind turbines.



Wait... there's more. The plumage of owls and the beak of the kingfisher were models for the aerodynamics of bullet trains that tear through tunnels silently, without producing the rail version of sonic-booms. By observing sick chimpanzees' activity around trees from the Vernonia genus, researchers discovered chemicals with promising medical applications. The list of examples goes on and on.

Greg Keoleian, a University of Michigan engineering professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, teaches a course in industrial ecology, using a presentation (below) that exposes students to biomimicry and its role in creating sustainable systems.
Industrial Ecology and Bio Mimicry

Keoleian points out the genius in biomimicry. Technologies -- even those developed only to improve people's lives -- can sometimes be terribly harmful and enormously expensive. But technologies that emerge from biomimicry are based on mechanisms that have already been part of the natural order -- they belong, as will their technologic successors. There's no danger of patent infringement when stealing ideas from nature, which asks only that we give back to her what we've taken away. And, best of all, Mother Nature is a willing teacher, her classroom is all around us, the curricula are free and all we need to do is show up for class... and pay attention.

Read more:




Biomimicry – Friend of Technology, Ecology and the Entrepreneur


Mother Nature's pretty smart. And we've been wise enough to steal some of her best ideas, such as taking inspiration from a leaf to create a solar cell. This biomimicry has helped us uncover products, processes and policies that are well-adapted to life on earth -- it draws on 3.8 billion years of "natural technologies" that evolution has given us to use as models. The results of biomimicry have been stunning, and its untapped potential is enough to make entrepreneurial heads spin.

As one well known story goes, the engineer George de Mestral went for a hike and noticed that burrs stuck to his dog. From that observation came Velco, which now has annual sales of $100 million annually. The blue mussel inspired biodegradable "glues" that surgeons can use in place of sutures. The natural ventilation of termite mounds led to the development of natural passive cooling structures such as hooded windows, variable-thickness walls and light colored paints that reduce heat absorption. The study of bumblebees recently sparked a new approach to wind turbines.



Wait... there's more. The plumage of owls and the beak of the kingfisher were models for the aerodynamics of bullet trains that tear through tunnels silently, without producing the rail version of sonic-booms. By observing sick chimpanzees' activity around trees from the Vernonia genus, researchers discovered chemicals with promising medical applications. The list of examples goes on and on.

Greg Keoleian, a University of Michigan engineering professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, teaches a course in industrial ecology, using a presentation (below) that exposes students to biomimicry and its role in creating sustainable systems.
Industrial Ecology and Bio Mimicry

Keoleian points out the genius in biomimicry. Technologies -- even those developed only to improve people's lives -- can sometimes be terribly harmful and enormously expensive. But technologies that emerge from biomimicry are based on mechanisms that have already been part of the natural order -- they belong, as will their technologic successors. There's no danger of patent infringement when stealing ideas from nature, which asks only that we give back to her what we've taken away. And, best of all, Mother Nature is a willing teacher, her classroom is all around us, the curricula are free and all we need to do is show up for class... and pay attention.

Read more: