Tag Archives: Engineering

Space News #3 -Antimatter Drive, Interstellar Mission and NASA Funding Far-Out

Some interesting Space related articles I recently found in the news.

Scientists Want to Fund Antimatter Drive through Kickstarter

I saw the article “Physicists launching Kickstarter to build Star Trek-style antimatter drive” almost two months ago. Physicists Steven Howe and Gerald Jackson have been pushing their idea of an antimatter drive for some time. So far though, NASA has not been willing to fund their further research. Now the scientists are planning on engaging the public for a $200,000 kickstarted project.

This is only the first step though. They have many technological issues to overcome and they readily admit that the full drive development would more likely cost closer to $100 million. The results, if achieved, would be worth it as they estimate that using an antimatter drive a space craft could reach close to 40% the speed of light.

Development of the antimatter drive is being done by Howe and Jackson’s company Hbar Technologies.

Interstellar Mission

A group of scientists and technology leaders from Silicon Valley want to send a mission (Breakthrough Starshot) to Alpha Centauri – a mere 4.37 light years ‘near’. The effort is being led by Russian philanthropist and Internet Entrepreneur Yuri Milner. Among those backing this proposal are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and physicist Stephen Hawking.

Their idea is to launch several small satellites and propel them on their way using an Earth based lasers. Each small probe would deploy a ‘sail’ which would catch the laser light and accelerate them to 20% of the speed of light.

Don’t expect this to come about anytime soon. Not only ae there some significant technological obstacles, but the project is estimated at costing upwards of $10 billion. The time line includes 20 years to plan and implement the mission, 20 years for the probes to travel to Alpha Centauri and an additional 4+ years to received any data transmitted by the probes back to Earth.

Read more about this at  #1#2,  #3#4, #5. Article #4 has a good overview video.

NASA Funding Far-Out Concepts

All of the funding done by NASA is not the standard projects we commonly think of. NASA has identified 13 phase I projects and awarded each $100,000 for a feasibility study. Later another round of grants may award up to $500,000 for further development.

DAC Coming to Austin

The IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC) is coming to Austin, TX June 2-10. 2016. DAC is the world’s premier EDA and semiconductor design conference and exhibition. DAC features over 60 sessions on design methodologies and EDA tool developments, keynotes, panels, plus the NEW User Track presentations. A diverse worldwide community representing more than 1,000 organizations attends each year, from system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, CAD managers, senior managers and executives to researchers and academicians from leading universities.

The “I LOVE DAC” registration level is FREE! (free registration deadline is May 18th) It includes:

  • Exhibit Floor (180+ exhibitors)
  • Keynotes and SKY Talks
  • DAC Pavilion
  • DAC Art Show
  • Designer Poster Sessions
  • Three “Teardowns” by iFixit
  • Receptions (nightly)

Other paid levels of registration provide access to even more presentations and content. Check the web site to see the full range of presentations and to determine which registration level is the best fit for you. I have already registered for the “I LOVE DAC” level.

Robot news #1 – Octopus-Inspired, SCHAFT and Google Robots Learn

I came across several articles in the past few weeks I thought told interesting robot related stories.

Octopus-Inspired Robots

While this article  addresses a relatively specialize robot targeted at aquatic environments, it offers some unique characteristics (“MultimediaVideoRobot Sensors & Actuators
Octopus-Inspired Robots Can Grasp, Crawl, and Swim“). As the title suggests, these robots  employ tentacle like appendages to swim and grasp. Article contains a short but interesting video.

SCHAFT Bipedal Robot Revealed

The SCHAFT robot was unveiled at the New Economic Summit (NEST) 2016 held in Tokyo, Japan earlier this month. SCHAFT begun at the JSK Robotics Laboratory a the University of Tokyo, but was acquired by Google (Alphabet). It was their robot that won the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials.

This prototype robot looks a little odd, but provides a low center of gravity. The demo video shows that the robot can traverse varied terrain and conditions. The concepts introduced here may find their way into production robots of the future.


Google Robots Learn

Programming robots to perform tasks is not easy. Increasingly, robots are being programmed to learn on their own. This is the case for robots being “taught” to identifying objects, then picking them up. In this case, the robots picked up objects over 800,000 times over the two month experiment. These robots used a neural network to learn how to pick up a variety of objects during the study.

Letting robots learn from mistakes and improve their skill level will be far more practical in the long run that trying to program how to do something. Once a robot has learned a skill, that knowledge can be migrated to other robots.

For more information read the article “GOOGLE’S ROBOTS ARE LEARNING HOW TO PICK THINGS UP“.

IEEE Central Texas Section April Newsletter


I just finished the April edition of the IEEE Central Texas Section newsletter, The Analog and started it through the electronic distribution process. You will find general interest articles to the Section members as well as a list of scheduled meetings.

Feel free to share the newsletter with anyone you think is interested.

Math has Changed the World


Math has certainly changed the world. I came across this article today “The 17 equations that changed the world” (inspired by the book In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World).

I certainly recognize most if not all of those equations from High School and College. This is an impressive list of formulas upon which much has been built.

  1. The Pythagorean Theorem
  2. The logarithm and its identities
  3. Complex numbers
  4. Einstein’s theory of relativity
  5. Calculus (specifically instantaneous rate of change)
  6. Newton’s universal law of gravitation
  7. Euler’s formula for polyhedra
  8. The normal distribution
  9. The wave equation
  10. The Fourier transform
  11. The Navier-Stokes equations
  12. Maxwell’s equations
  13. The Second law of thermodynamics
  14. The Schrodinger equation
  15. Shannon’s information theory
  16. The logistic model for population growth
  17. The Black-Scholes model

If you are not familiar with these, read the article I linked to above.

The equation that comes to my mind that is missing is Ohm’s Law  I = E/R

Do you know of others that you think should be added to this list?

IEEE Tech for Humanity Party at SXSW


I had the opportunity last night to attend the “Annual SXSW Party #PartyLikeAnEngineer” event sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and held at the historic Driskill Hotel in down town Austin.  This is the first time I had attended any
of the SXSW events. The event was all that I had expected and then some.


There was a large crowd and an interesting mix of participants. Several members of the IEEE Central Texas Section were in attendance, as well as a large number of guests from the Austin area and the rest of the country.

I was fortunate to be invited to the VIP portion of the event which allowed me in early. Not only was there an open bar, but hotel staff were circulating with trays of tasty appetizers. As the evening wore on, the crowd grew and it became difficult to move through the space.

IEEE had arranged for some exhibits and games at the party. One group showed a large scale 3D printer that could be used to print prosthetic hands for kids. A table demonstrated how to produce a hologram from your iPhone. Another area hosted a display of solar powered lighting for developing countries. One of the best displays promoted kits for teaching about lasers as part of the STEM initiative. Not only was that pf particular interest to me because of my participation in Discover Engineering (an Austin area STEM outreach group), but it was the best place to feel a very welcome breeze of cool air from the
burdened HVAC system.  There were also games including a popular horse race game where the competitors powered their race horse avatars across the screen by setting on and using rocking horses. It was amazing how many exhuberently returned to their youth and rocked wildly to win their race.

As you would expect there was music playing (Often so loud you could hardly hear the person you were talking to) through out the evening. Tables around the room sported a variety of 3D puzzles for the guests to challenge their problem solving skills. It was a fun and entertaining evening. It allowed many of us to reestablish old friendships and make new ones as well. I look forward to returning in 2017.

Happy Pi Day!


Yes today is March 14th – 3.14. Those being the first three digits of the mathematical constant pi (π). The earliest known calculations of π date to the 26th century BC when the pyramids in Egypt were being constructed.

Then the simple ratio of 22/7 was used for the value, which relates the circumference of a circle (C) to its diameter (d).

π = C/d

Today, the most recent calculation of Pi goes to over 13 Trillion digits.


March 14th has been celebrated since 1988 as Pi Day, with a non-binding resolution (HRES 224) passed by the US House of Representatives in 2009 recognizing Pi Day. March 14 has become celebrated around the world now to recognize Pi.

How can you celebrate Pi Day?

  1. One of the easiest and most fun is to simply eat pie!
  2. Wear or display the Pi symbol
  3. Plan your recognition event for 1:59 PM (i.e. 3.14159)

Didn’t have time to bake something up this year? Plan ahead and mark you calendar now for march 14 2017.


  1. Pi Day
  2. How to Celebrate Pi Day
  3. Celebrate Pi Day
  4. Pi Day Resources
  5. How America celebrates Pi Day

IEEE Central Texas March Newsletter Published


I finished up the March issue of The Analog, the monthly newsletter of the Central Texas Section of IEEE. It has been posted on the Section web site and can be viewed here.

The news letter gives the schedule of IEEE and some other technical meetings in the Central Texas area for the coming month. If you are interested in technology and live in the area you might want to take a look. If you decide you want to get on the mailing list, the instructions are at the top just under the blue banner.


IEEE Innovators, Engineers & Entrepreneurs Workshop


Being involved in the activities of the IEEE Central Texas Section, I want to promote the workshop that we are hosting next Friday, February 26. The “Innovators, Engineers & Entrepreneurs” workshop, a full day at the AT&T Conference Center on the south side of the University of Texas at Austin campus. This will be our capstone event for Engineers Week.

The workshop will feature some well known speakers – Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet; Donna Wilkins, founder of Charity Dynamics; and Devon Ryan, founder, LION Mobile – among others. Please take a look at the program and see if the presentations are of interest.

Workshop topics include:

  • Power & Energy, Energy Storage, Photovoltaics, Water
  • Internet of Things
  • Privacy and Security
  • Incorporating Legal Organization, Intellectual Property
  • Robotics, 3-D Printing, Manufacturing Automation

If you are thinking of creating a start up, then this will be of great value. Among the presentations are:

  • startup funding
  • how to start a company
  • working with legal teams
  • dealing with security

The workshop is open to all interested parties. You can still register on-line or Friday at the door, though the cost jumps up to $125.