The Unruly Power Grid

Advanced mathematical modeling suggests that big blackouts are inevitable

14 min read

Thanks to an authoritative U.S.-Canada report, we now know that negligence by a utility in Ohio and lax oversight by a rookie regulator precipitated the blackout that darkened much of the North American upper Midwest and Northeast a year ago. Paradoxically, however, when the same remarkable event is seen in a wider historical and statistical perspective, it is no less natural than a sizable earthquake in California. Major outages occurred in the western U.S. grid just eight years ago. And last fall, electric power systems collapsed in Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom within weeks or months of the U.S. blackout.

The 14 August 2003 blackout may have been the largest in history, zapping more total wattage and affecting more customers than any before, but if history is any guide, it won't be the last. "These kinds of outages are consistent with historical statistics, and they'll keep happening," says John Doyle, professor of control and dynamical systems, electrical engineering, and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "I would have said this one was overdue."

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Video Friday: Turkey Sandwich

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
A teleoperated humanoid robot torso stands in a kitchen assembling a turkey sandwich from ingredients on a tray

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

Enjoy today's videos!

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New AI Speeds Computer Graphics by Up to 5x

Neural rendering harnesses machine learning to paint pixels

5 min read
Four examples of Nvidia's Instant NeRF 2D-to-3D machine learning model placed side-by-side.

Nvidia Instant NeRF uses neural rendering to generate 3D visuals from 2D images.


On 20 September, Nvidia’s Vice President of Applied Deep Learning, Bryan Cantanzaro, went to Twitter with a bold claim: In certain GPU-heavy games, like the classic first-person platformer Portal, seven out of eight pixels on the screen are generated by a new machine-learning algorithm. That’s enough, he said, to accelerate rendering by up to 5x.

This impressive feat is currently limited to a few dozen 3D games, but it’s a hint at the gains neural rendering will soon deliver. The technique will unlock new potential in everyday consumer electronics.

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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.