The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

This week is National Engineer’s Week.

eweek.pngThis week is National Engineer’s Week.

 

Founded by NSPE in 1951, EWeek (February 22–28, 2015) is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.

 

I mentioned the Raspberry Pi in space effort and will be judging a robotics competition later this week. What engineering related activities will be going on near you?

STEM in space...

raspberry PI.pngI do quite a bit of work with STEM efforts in the spring, so this week when I saw the blog post on the Astro Pi Mission Update it was exciting. For those who are not familiar with the Raspberry Pi, it is a low cost, experimenter’s computer. And now it is going to the International Space Station along with the British astronaut Tim Peake.

 

What is the most exciting though is that UK schools can have the same hardware that will be used for experiments on the space station and incorporated into the classwork! I am sure this is getting a great deal of press in the UK, but I’d not heard about it here.

 

The unit being used is a Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ with a special HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) module. This module will have a collection of sensors specifically designed for use in this mission, and an 8x8 matrix of LEDs. You can even buy your own (when it is soon released).

 

That is exciting in itself but taking it a step further (at least from a gamification perspective) is the Astro Pi competition. UK schools can enter and submit programs, and experiments, and the winning submission will be taken on the mission and performed on the space station, itself.

 

These are the types of activities that generate new scientists and engineers. I am going to be judging the FIRST Robotics Competition in Dallas again next week and it has similar aspirations of impact.

HP Matter: Healthcare

Mobile Healthcare.pngEarlier this month HP released a Healthcare industry specific issue of its HP Matter e-magazine that is created in partnership with FastCompany.

 

This joint activity covers a wide range of design, culture, experience and trending issues. For example:

Just to name a few of the articles. This wide-ranging set of material is taking the previous industry specific material to a whole new level from a range of perspectives. Next month will be focused on the Telecom industry.

FIRST Robotics Competition game for 2015 announced

Saturday was the kickoff for the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for 2015. I’ve participated for the last 7 years, locating judges for the North Texas competition. This year, the Dallas FRC event will take place on February 25th – 28th at the Irving convention center. If you’re in town – be there. It’s a free and an exciting show.

 

FRC allows students to start from a standard kit of parts and some state of the art tools, received at the kickoff, and build a robot that attempts to meet specified objectives. At the end of the build period, the robots are packed up and the students do not see them again until the competition.

 

This video is an overview of this year’s challenge – Recycle Rush

 

 

I’ve found FRC to be an exciting and enlightening experience for the students and the volunteers. Every year I am surprised at the ingenuity and commitment demonstrated by those participating.

 

The main competition is judged by numerous factors beyond how the robots perform on the field, like:

  • Coopertition (helping others that you are competing against)
  • Project planning
  • Quality/safety
  • Technical achievement
  • Business plan and marketing

 

The on field performance is not judged, since it has its own rules… Referees determine the winners of that portion of the competition.

 

The goal of FIRST is to encourage the understanding and passion around STEM. It has a proven track record of results that is hard to argue with.

 

You can see some video from previous year’s Dallas FIRST competition, if you are interested.

Automation prioritization

 

Since I have been putting out some posts on automation, I’ve been getting some feedback from coworkers. One was a post titled: 8 Questions to Ask before You Automate. It holds some useful perspectives to evalutate if automation is even applicable to a situation.

 

Back in the early 90s, I led a project called Knowledge-based Tool Design focused on improving the productivity of tooling designers for automotive manufacturing. We used the capabilities of CAD tools to try and automate as much as we could, related to the creation of the machines that facilitate car assembly. This was a high value effort, since late stage engineering changes in the car parts themselves have implications on the tooling and can delay the startup of manufacturing. Anything we could do to address the reengineering of tooling had a direct effect on time-to-market.

 

We would load the car component models that need to be clamped and welded into the CAD system and try to create automated techniques to define and design the tooling needed. After firing rays all over the place to determine entry routes for robotic arms holding the clamping and welding tools, it became clear that people can look at parts and tooling and determine routes for entry very easily compared to doing this programmatically. Creating these designs well definitely involved creativity and intuition.

 

What people could not do reliably was define the underlying Bill-of-Materials need to create that robotic assembly, physically. So yes, I learned back then that it is very useful to understand what people and/or computers are good at, when defining the right approach to address repeatable, higher-value, computationally capable tasks with automation first.

 

Whether it is designing tools, answering calls or writing software – even though the automation capabilities are radically improving, this assessment is still required. I usually think of it as a 3 dimensional matrix and the further away from the origin, the more likely the automation effort will be effective.

 

 automation axis.png

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something, especially when there is a constraint on the effort available to tackle a set of tasks. We need to prioritize.

 

 

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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