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Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa --

Automobile design with feeling

Virtual prototyping of automobiles will be on a faster track due to the efforts of Iowa State University researchers. An ISU engineering team is investigating the use of virtual reality (VR) techniques to improve vehicle design while reducing development costs. Specifically, they will be incorporating haptics, or force feedback, in the virtual environment. For the most part, the highly visual science of virtual reality has lacked a sense of touch. But with the addition of haptic devices to the virtual environment, the user will be able to "feel" when one computer-generated object runs into another.

"We want to see how much more information a person receives about the shape and location of objects in a car's interior with the addition of force feedback to the virtual environment," said Judy Vance, lead investigator for the project at ISU's Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology.

"I believe there is a need for an interface where all sensory modalities are brought together in the virtual environment," Vance said. "The addition of haptics is a step in the right direction. Our vision is that this approach will allow the user to sit in a car interior, look at the virtual model, adjust their position, and reach for controls while receiving realistic touch information from the environment, making it possible to make critical design decisions without building physical prototypes."

This should reduce the design time of new vehicles and bring the products to market faster, Vance added. Ford Research Laboratory is providing funding for the project. For more information, contact Vance at (515) 294-9474, or Anita Rollins, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113.

Cool idea nets NSF award

Srinivas Garimella, an Iowa State University associate professor of mechanical engineering, recently received a National Science Foundation CAREER (for Faculty Early Career Development Program) award for his innovative work to help lessen ozone depletion and global warming.

Garimella said an explosion of ideas for environmentally safe, energy-efficient systems have come to light in recent years. "However, it has been difficult for manufacturers to convert these ideas into simple, compact and cost-effective products, which is causing a barrier to the widespread use of energy-efficient technologies," he said.

Garimella plans to use the $210,000 grant to develop a theoretical model, validated by experiments, to remove critical hurdles in the design and fabrication of innovative heating and air-conditioning systems. Instead of using electricity for energy input during the winter and summer months, these systems will use natural gas or heat that otherwise would be wasted.

"Incorporating these inherently consistent theories into design tools will result in more accurate designs, thereby decreasing expensive design margins," Garimella said. He added that this research goes well beyond the space- conditioning industry. "Large segments of the chemical processing and power generation industries, which rely on thermal systems, could benefit from this technology through lower capital and operating costs. Given the large size of this market, higher efficiencies will benefit energy conservation and the environment on a global scale."

NSF Career grants support promising college and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration of research and education. For more information, contact Garimella at (515) 294-8616, or Mitch Mihalovich, engineering communications, (515) 294-4344.

Innovative driver support for high-performance gigabit networking

Chris Csanady, a network research programmer in the Scalable Computing Lab (SCL) of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and an undergraduate student in physics at Iowa State University, has written a BSD Unix driver code for Packet Engines. Packet Engines (an Alcatel company) is a leader in gigabit networking solutions.

Csanady's code is the only BSD Unix Gigabit Ethernet network interface card (NIC) driver available today, and is the result of ongoing collaboration between the SCL and Packet Engines. The driver is designed for use with Packet Engines' G-NIC II; the industry's only second-generation Gigabit Ethernet NIC, which offers a solution for specialized applications that require high-speed, reliable network connectivity. Such applications include intranets, server clusters, graphics systems and World Wide Web servers.

For more information, contact Chris Csanady at (515) 294- 7336; David Halstead, SCL, (515) 294-1943; Mark Gordon, SCL, (515) 294-0452; or Saren Johnston, Ames Laboratory Public Affairs, (515) 294-3474.

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