September/October 2011

Automation by the Numbers

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Chemists from Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences have created the world's first single molecule electric motor. The tiny electric motor measures 1 nanometer, which shatters the current world record of 200 nanometers for the smallest electric motor. The team was able to control the motor with electricity through the use of a low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope. There are only about 100 of these microscopes in the U.S., and it uses electrons instead of light to identify molecules. With a metal tip on the microscope, an electrical charge was provided to a butyl methyl sulfide molecule that was positioned on conductive copper. The molecule then had carbon and hydrogen atoms radiating off of it with four carbons on one side and one on the other. These carbon chains had the ability to rotate around the "sulfur-copper bond." The researchers were able to control the rotation of the molecule by adjusting the temperature. They found that temperatures at about 5 Kelvin (K), or minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit, the motor's motion was easy to track.

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300-400

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A new creation, known as Adaptiv technology, is a camouflage cloak that masks a vehicle's infrared signature by imitating the temperature of its surroundings. BAE Systems, a British multinational defense, security and aerospace company in London, is the creator of the camouflage cloak, reported DailyTech. Using hexagonal panels, or pixels, which are made of a material that can change temperature rapidly, BAE Systems was able to make a cloak that not only allows tanks to mimic its surrounding temperatures, but also makes the tanks look like other objects. The hexagonal panels are operated by onboard thermal cameras, which repeatedly image the surrounding ambient temperature of the tank. The panels then project these temperatures whether the tank is moving or sitting still. In field tests, this cloaking system made a tank look like its surroundings from a distance of 300-400 meters. To make the tank look like other objects such as cars, large rocks, trucks, etc., BAE Systems refer to a library of the heat images of these objects, and projects them onto the panels.

1,000

BMW is working on laser-powered headlights that could debut in vehicles "within a few years," the German automaker said. The laser diodes powering the next generation of headlights will have an intensity that is 1,000 times greater than conventional light emitting diode, or LED, technology but consume only half the energy. Laser diodes will also be about 100 times smaller than the small, square-shaped LED cells, reported TechNewsDaily. The light from the laser diodes is blue but will be converted into a pure white light that is "suitable for use in road traffic," BMW said. The laser headlights are expected to make their first appearance in the BMW concept vehicle, the BMW i8.

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The U.S. Steel Co. is converting its vehicles to run on natural gas, according to Manufacturing.Net. The steelmaker saves 61 cents for every mile driven using natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel fuel, according to U.S. Steel Chief Executive John Surma. So far U.S. Steel has converted five vehicles at its Irvin, Pa., plant, and more are planned. The conversions cost about $12,000 to $15,000, company officials said. Chesapeake Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon said it has even bigger goals-converting its fleet of 4,900 trucks and other vehicles to run on natural gas. The company expects that will save millions each year when the process is completed in 2013 or 2014. Chesapeake is also investing $1 million toward building 1,000 to 1,250 natural gas stations across the country, McClendon said.