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Lighting Up the Andes

A Canadian couple is lighting up remote villages in Bolivia using white LEDs, solar panels, and a little help from their friends

13 min read
Photo: Hubert Stadler/Corbis
The hillsides of the Bolivian Andes are home to many villages like Tahana, where power lines don’t go and families rely instead on sooty kerosene lamps that fill their homes with a thick, acrid smoke.
Photo: Hubert Stadler/Corbis

I’m standing in the fading light of a Bolivian fall day, watching—along with much of the village of Tahana—as Anthony Harckham, with tools and wires in hand, heaves his 6-foot-plus Canadian frame onto the corrugated steel roof of a small, mud-walled home. With the glacial peaks of Mount Illampu, the northern bookend to Bolivia’s Cordillera Real, as a backdrop, Anthony improvises a way to tack up a 15-by-20-centimeter solar panel with wood screws, and then he feeds wires from the panel under the eaves and into the home. I squeeze into the home’s small living space to watch Anthony and his wife, Faith, connect the wires to a 12-volt lead-acid battery pack, which is wired through a switch box to a pair of lamps—transparent plastic boxes each jammed with a dozen white light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. One lamp hangs from a narrow ceiling beam, while a second is located in an adjoining lean-to that serves as a kitchen. The sun is all but gone when the Harckhams finally flip a toggle switch and the LEDs jump to life to cast a bluish beam of light, eliciting smiles from the homeowners and their excited, chattering neighbors.

imageBolivian Beat: The village of Tahana fetes its visitors with a communal meal, including traditional drum and panpipe music.Photo: Peter Fairley

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Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

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Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

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Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Modeling and simulation in Simulink and Simscape

1 min read
Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Design and simulate a fuel cell system for electric mobility. See by example how Simulink® and Simscape™ support multidomain physical modeling and simulation of fuel cell systems including thermal, gas, and liquid systems. Learn how to select levels of modeling fidelities to meet your needs at different development stages.