Six systems for celebrating Earth day

Global warming? I’m still not convinced. Biofuels? Pure marketing hype. Organic foods? Healthy, especially for the companies who make money selling them.

Don't get me wrong. I care deeply about the environment and I believe that we should do more — a lot more — to make it better. But, sometimes, I think people would rather embrace fashionable solutions than do the right thing. Like consume less.

But, hey, enough of my skepticism. It’s Earth day, so let’s celebrate! To get things going, let me tell you about some QNX-based systems that are making the world a little bit greener:
  • Building automation system helps Boeing conserve electricity — This system, designed by Tridium, allows a large Boeing plant (over 1 million square feet) to slash power consumption by 20% during peak periods. More.

  • Automated sensor system prevents soil pollution — This system monitors the insulating foil in a waste landfill site, ensuring that dangerous substances don’t seep into the surrounding soil. More.

  • Traffic control system optimizes traffic flow — This system from Delcan minimizes traffic jams and shortens waits at intersections. Which means less gas is wasted going nowhere. More.

  • Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) monitor underwater pollution — Pollution monitoring is just one of the talents of these Russian-designed AUVs. More.

  • High-speed simulation system speeds fuel-cell research — Fuel-cell hybrid vehicles (FCHV) hold the promise of cleaner air. This system speeds up the simulation of FCHVs based on proton exchange membranes. More.

  • Monitoring system helps factories reduce emissions — This system, designed by Bailey Controls, dates back to the early 1990s. You won’t find much about it on the Web, but if you have old copies of QNXnews lying around, look for Volume 6, Number 2 (1992) and turn page 5.

How about you? Have you or your company designed a system that uses electricity or fuel efficiently? That minimizes pollution? That prevents environmental disasters? I’d love to hear about it!


Well, king me: It's a checkers-playing robot!

QNX-based systems perform eye surgery, control air traffic, monitor nuclear power plants, and keep 9-1-1 systems running 24/7. Heck, they even control touchless car washes. But did you know that QNX can also play a wicked game of checkers? Check out the video here. (Hint: Skip the intro and fast-forward to the 00:40 mark.)

I don't know about you, but any robotics project that can prove its point using beer caps and bubble gum has got my vote!

For the record...

If you really want to have a million people do something, don't ask them to speak Latin. It is enough to ask them to just speak English without using cuss words...”

- Wen-mei Hwu, a senior researcher in parallel programming at the University of Illinois, on resisting the temptation to create new programming languages for multi-core processors.

Random hits...

A QNX-based system for genome analysis; your forest on drugs; explaining cosmetic surgery to children.


Rx for oil-rig blowouts

Got 15 seconds? Then check out this video of a oil-rig blowout — the action starts at exactly 00:15:

Fortunately, no one got hurt in the incident. And just as fortunately, real-time control devices called blowout preventers (BOPs) are making blowouts a thing of the past. This week, Control Engineering magazine profiled a BOP based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS and the McObject high availability database. It’s a pretty cool system, but more important, it keeps oil rigs from bursting into incendiary versions of Old Faithful.

Oil rigs are surrounded by saltwater. Lots of it. Salt plays havoc with electronics, so this is one system where redundant, standby controllers come in handy. To achieve this redundancy, the BOP relies on QNX Neutrino transparent distributed processing (TDP), which can merge any number of real-time control systems into a seamless, peer-to-peer network. Together with the McObject database, QNX TDP ensures that the primary and standby controllers share the same, up-to-date view of the system.

This application is a shoe-in for my list of all-time life-saving QNX-based systems.


Balancing act

Want to see a cool example of real-time control? Check out this video of a QNX-based system controlling a Furuta pendulum:

This isn't just a parlor trick. Furuta pendulums help engineering students learn the principles of controlling dynamic or unstable systems, such as walking robots. In this case, the pendulum was part of a student project at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Remotely related trivia: Josef Hofmann, a piano virtuoso and inventor who lived from 1876 to 1957, is credited with inventing windshield wipers for cars. Story has it, he got the idea by watching a metronome — which, of course, is a pendulum — swinging back and forth. (Metronomes, thankfully, went digital in the 1980s. The older mechanical types had a tendency to beat out syncopated rhythms when placed on anything less than a perfectly flat surface.)