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Stop That Train!

Electronically controlled railway brakes may finally displace a 150-year-old technology

14 min read
Stop That Train!
Whoa! A Norfolk Southern railway freight train equipped with a new electronically controlled pneumatic (Ecp) braking system comes down a mountain. it is the second such train that the company hasequipped with Ecp brakes.
Photo: New York Air Brake

George Westinghouse’s many inventions rank him with Thomas A. Edison and Werner von Siemens as founding fathers of our electrified world. Yet, ironically, Westinghouse’s first invention, a railroad brake he patented in 1869, was actuated not by electrons but by air. To this day, most railroads rely on that system’s principle of releasing air from a pressurized pipe that runs the length of the train and brakes the cars one after the other, at a rate of 152 meters per second.

To compound the irony, some of Westinghouse’s early competitors proposed electrical mechanisms, but Westinghouse himself rejected these as unreliable. In the past decade, however, the idea has reemerged in a hybrid system that uses an electronic system to control a pneumatic one, so as to set the brakes in all the cars simultaneously. So obvious are the advantages of the new technology—called electronically controlled pneumatic braking, or ECP for short—that its manufacturers are optimistic it will eventually sweep the field.

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Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Computing With Chemicals Makes Faster, Leaner AI

Battery-inspired artificial synapses are gaining ground

5 min read
Array of devices on a chip

This analog electrochemical memory (ECRAM) array provides a prototype for artificial synapses in AI training.

IBM research

How far away could an artificial brain be? Perhaps a very long way off still, but a working analogue to the essential element of the brain’s networks, the synapse, appears closer at hand now.

That’s because a device that draws inspiration from batteries now appears surprisingly well suited to run artificial neural networks. Called electrochemical RAM (ECRAM), it is giving traditional transistor-based AI an unexpected run for its money—and is quickly moving toward the head of the pack in the race to develop the perfect artificial synapse. Researchers recently reported a string of advances at this week’s IEEE International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM 2022) and elsewhere, including ECRAM devices that use less energy, hold memory longer, and take up less space.

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Solving Automotive Design Challenges With Simulation

Learn about low-frequency electromagnetic simulations and see a live demonstration of COMSOL Multiphysics software

1 min read

The development of new hybrid and battery electric vehicles introduces numerous design challenges. Many of these challenges are static or low-frequency electromagnetic by nature, as the devices involved in such designs are much smaller than the operating wavelength. Examples include sensors (such as MEMS sensors), transformers, and motors. Many of these challenges include multiple physics. For instance, sensors activated by acoustic energy as well as heat transfer in electric motors and power electronics combine low-frequency electromagnetic simulations with acoustic and heat transfer simulations, respectively.

Multiphysics simulation makes it possible to account for such phenomena in designs and can provide design engineers with the tools needed for developing products more effectively and optimizing device performance.

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