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Will the U.S. Finally Get a Unified Power Grid?

The long-delayed Tres Amigas superstation would help move up to 20 gigawatts of electricity around the continent

4 min read
Illustration: Elias Stein
Illustration: Elias Stein

It is a decades-old dream: a single, vast North American electric grid, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Mexico to the Arctic Circle. Such a continent-wide supergrid would let officials transmit the tens of gigawatts of wind-generated power from the Great Plains to cities on both coasts. It would let Pacific Northwest hydropower flow to Chicago and let Texas wind power find its way to Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Montana. The benefits, measured in financial and reliability terms, would be fantastic. And yet despite many studies and even several attempts to create such a grid, it has never been achieved. The technology and the political will have been lacking.

In 2016, though, engineers will make a major stride in the former. An ambitious project known as Tres Amigas, eight years in the making, is finally getting under way. Eventually it will link the three largest North American grids: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection, which together cover the lower 48 states plus 8 Canadian provinces. Tres Amigas, located in eastern New Mexico, where the three grids converge, will be a transmission “superstation,” able to transfer up to 20 gigawatts of electricity in almost any direction.

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Inside the Universe Machine: The Webb Space Telescope’s Trailblazing Optics

As NASA’s newest Big Science project opens its eyes, IEEESpectrum reflects on JWST’s groundbreaking engineering

9 min read
Fourteen technicians in clean-room suits guide the hoisting of a honeycombed, hexagon-mirrored telescope inside a giant cleanroom construction space

The James Webb Space Telescope’s 18-segment gold mirror enables it to see a penny 40 kilometers away, or a football 550 kilometers away.

NASA/Desiree Stover

“Build something that will absolutely, positively work.” This was the mandate from NASA for designing and building the James Webb Space Telescope—at 6.5 meters wide the largest space telescope in history. Last December, JWST launched famously and successfully to its observing station out beyond the moon. And now according to NASA, as soon as next week, the JWST will at long last begin releasing scientific images and data.

Mark Kahan, on JWST’s product integrity team, recalls NASA’s engineering challenge as a call to arms for a worldwide team of thousands that set out to create one of the most ambitious scientific instruments in human history. Kahan—chief electro-optical systems engineer at Mountain View, Calif.–based Synopsys—and many others in JWST’s “pit crew” (as he calls the team) drew hard lessons from three decades ago, having helped repair another world-class space telescope with a debilitating case of flawed optics. Of course the Hubble Space Telescope is in low Earth orbit, and so a special space-shuttle mission to install corrective optics ( as happened in 1993) was entirely possible.

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This Startup Is Using AI to Help Keep Store Shelves Stocked

Wisy’s platform eases supply-chain issues by tracking inventory

4 min read
Phone screen with Wisy platform on black background

Store employees take a picture of a product on display using Wisy's platform, and the AI records information based on the photo.

Wisy Platforms

Shoppers are seeing more and more empty shelves, as stores around the world struggle to keep products stocked. The situation is the result of supply-chain issues caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. The product-unavailability rate increased from 5 percent to 15 percent during the past three years, according to the Consumer Brands Association.

To make it easier for stores to track inventory, startup Wisy developed an AI platform that uses image recognition to detect which products are out of stock or running low, as well as those that are available but haven’t yet been put on display.

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A Multiphysics Approach to Designing Fuel Cells for Electric Vehicles

White paper on fuel cell modeling and simulation

1 min read
Comsol Logo
Comsol

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) often reach higher energy density and exhibit greater efficiency than battery EVs; however, they also have high manufacturing costs, limited service life, and relatively low power density.

Modeling and simulation can improve fuel cell design and optimize EV performance. Learn more in this white paper.