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Mechanical Engineering. 2009;131(07):22-27. doi:10.1115/1.2009-Jul-1.
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This article focuses on creation of autonomous robots by engineers that can interact with the world around them by layering simple behaviors. The growing presence of autonomous robots at Hanover echoes the interest seen worldwide. In the United States, for instance, autonomous robots range in sophistication from simple Roomba household vacuum cleaners to the complex vehicles that competed in Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Urban Challenge. Instead, engineers are looking for clues in the behavior of social insects. Ants have attracted the most interest. While an individual ant has only a limited range of simple behaviors, the way it interacts with other ants produces responses that make the nest appear intelligent. Autonomous robots need better localization and mapping. They must learn faster and more efficiently. They should work together better as a team. They need to be more robust. Above all, they need to get smarter. An ant works randomly because it has no choice. It stumbles around until it creates the shortest path to food. Humans can see the whole picture and pick out that path immediately.

Topics: Robots
Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2009;131(07):28-35. doi:10.1115/1.2009-Jul-2.
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This report highlights on run-up to success, the American space program that had absorbed a series of high-profile embarrassments as the Soviet Union, with which the United States was competing in a so-called Space Race, seemed to remain one step ahead. To declare so publicly the goal to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade was to risk another humbling loss. At the time, the public spotlight shined on the face of the space program, the astronauts who had already become national heroes. One of the biggest issues to settle was the mission architecture—the steps through which spacecraft would be launched, landed on the moon, and returned safely. The engineers who designed the remarkable pieces of space hardware were only a part of the overall Apollo team. Thousands of engineers were involved in launch processing and monitoring the flights. In an era when computer systems were primitive compared to what we have today, constant communication between the astronauts and an army of engineers back in Houston was critical to ensure the safety of the astronauts as well as the success of the mission.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2009;131(07):36-40. doi:10.1115/1.2009-Jul-3.
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This article discusses that the future of nuclear energy could lie in plants that can be factory built, shipped to a site, and operated 30 years without refueling. The scope and timing •of the “nuclear renaissance,” however, remain somewhat uncertain. All that is known is that in countries around the globe, including the United States, significant numbers of new nuclear energy projects are under way or in various stages of planning, and this activity represents a departure from that of recent decades. The broad interest in developing new small reactor system concepts seems to be in conflict with the trend toward ever-larger central station power plants, which is driven by the principle of economy of scale. The Secure Transportable Autonomous Reactor (STAR) concept and the Small Secure Transportable Autonomous Reactor (SSTAR) reactor in particular provide good examples of additional design features that could make the introduction of such reactors more readily accepted while offering the potential for economic performance that makes sense in comparison to other alternative sources of energy.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2009;131(07):42-45. doi:10.1115/1.2009-Jul-4.
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This article explores benefits of vision system and role it can play in manufacturing industry and beyond. Vision systems rely on cameras and image processing software with interfaces to perform manufacturing tasks. The article also highlights that manufacturing insiders see an ever-expanding number of uses for vision technology in the not-too-distant future. Vision systems can be programmed to perform narrowly defined tasks such as to count objects on a conveyor or to search for defects in a product or in packaging. The vision systems, through software joined to other equipment and devices, can be used to help make decisions about—and act upon—what they see. Machine vision systems are also making their way into biomedical applications. Progress in biomedical research has been highly dependent on engineering techniques and these types of vision systems have immense potential to return unprecedented information for cellular biology.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2009;131(07):46-49. doi:10.1115/1.2009-Jul-5.
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This article discusses various aspects of self-help. In popular psychology, self-help is all about solving personal problems without professional intervention. In mechanical design, it implies letting the design deal with a problem from within, rather than intervening with more structure or force. The article also illustrates that authors on self-help like to organize variations of the self-help principle into taxonomies; however, categorizing is often unnecessary. One of the examples of self-help is balanced doors, which have special, articulated hinges so wind does not blow them open. Yet they open easily, and fully, when pulled or pushed. Self-help is an important feature of the control surfaces-rudders and elevators-on many airplanes. Balance weights on the opposite side of the pivot reduce the pilot&s control column forces and eliminate flutter by changing the center of mass. Examples in the article highlight that a half-nut for a lead screw drive can benefit from self-help.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

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