Clapton probably won't lose too much sleep over this news,
but some graduate students at the Georgia Tech school of mechanical
engineering's mechatronics lab have invented a machine that
can play the guitar. Sounds pretty good, too. It's not up to
the blistering lead solos in Clapton's Layla, but
it can strum mean versions of such ditties as The Kinks' Lola,
Downtown by Petula Clark, The First Noel,
and most any other tune that doesn't require more than the
29 notes it's capable of hitting.
The Crazy J
guitar has 23 plastic fingertips poised over the first
four frets of the guitar's neck, and six independent picks
are mounted above its body. The picks and fingers are activated
and controlled by solenoids. The Crazy Jwhich can be heard
under the Fall 2000 student projects headingwas
one of several projects put on display by the lab earlier this year
to showcase the fast-growing field
of mechatronics, which merges mechanical engineering with electronics
and microprocessing to control functions.
lab director, says that products wedding mechanical engineering
with electronics have been around for awhile, but the importance
of the field has been heightened by the widespread adoption of microcomputers.
Other projects by Ume's lab grads include a brewer's aide,
which automatically selects and measures the right barley needed
for the type of beer to be brewed, and a cash dispenser that doles
out specific amounts of money using all denominations of bills and
Clearly some of the
projects have more commercial potential than others. It's doubtful
that the Crazy J guitar will ever replace the real thing. But who
knows? Some day re- cord producers may decide self-playing guitars
are as useful for basic rhythms as drum machines are for keeping
a beat and employ them in recording studios. Just gimme some of
that sweet solenoid music!
games can be a good way to capture the attention of youngsters and
show them how useful technology and engineering can be in real life.
That was certainly
the idea behind a computer simulation game created for the University
of Kentucky's recent Engineering Day festivities by the school's
Center for Biomedical Engineering. Several hundred high-school students
who attended were allowed to try the game, which required players,
using a mouse, to stimulate the virtual leg muscles of a person
to move an artificial leg.
The game showcased
the growing field of rehabilitation engineering. When people are
paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, their limb muscles and nerves
remain healthy. Already, paralyzed people can get artificial legs
that move by stimulating the muscles electronically. But fine control
remains a problem, says Jimmy Abbas, U-K professor of biomedical
engineering, because all muscles are different and their responses
change as they become fatigued.
game showed the students just how hard it can be to move one of
the limbs. Too little stimulation, and nothing happens; just a bit
too much, and the limb can overreact. The Kentucky center is researching
a control system to smooth out the differences and get a more
predictable response," Abbas says. (To see how the game works,
The center has a good track record; among its research successes
is the first hip-replacement joint.
that showed how muscular stimulation works also proved popular.
Electrodes were placed on the legs of graduate student volunteers,
and the high-schoolers were able to make the wired subjects'
legs move with the press of a button. Hey, there just may be a commercial
product there that would be a hit with many parents.
who run red lights are a menace, causing about 260,000 accidents
and taking about 750 lives every year in the United States. One
good way to clamp down on red-light runners is installing video
cameras that capture violators on film and record their license
plate numbers, so that tickets can be issued. But those cameras
are expensive, costing at least $50,000. So when a municipality
wants to use them, it helps to know which intersections need the
of Florida civil engineering professors Scott Washburn and Ken Courage.
Along with graduate student Shaun MacKenzie, they're working
on a prototype system that combines video and audio equipment with
computer software to automatically, accurately, and inexpensively
identify those intersections with the highest number of incidents.
uses video cameras and audio encoders that can pick up the eight
different tones that a traffic signal can emit at a four-way intersection.
It also uses detectors at the entrance, exit, and midway point of
the crossroads to determine when cars have gone through it after
the light is red. The result is an accurate count of the number
of cars running red lights.
that the system could perhaps cost a few thousand dollars, but it
would be a one-time-only capital ex-pense. And,of course, the system
could be used repeatedly at
different locations. Current ways of determining which intersections
have the most violations are neither cheap nor efficient. Some cities
post police officers to watch problem cornersbut this is not
an efficient use of personnel, and it's open to inaccuracies.
Intersections can be videoed, but then someone has to spend hours
afterward monitoring the tapeanother costly and potentially
Near the UF
campus in Gainesville, the prototype system has been in place at
the intersection of 34th Street and University Avenue. In one two-hour
period, it spotted 24 violators in just two of the four approaches.
If that sounds hair-raising, consider that Washburn says there are
other intersections in the city where the problem is almost certainly
to helping law-enforcement agencies, Washburn says they hope the
equipment can be used to help study the behavior of drivers who
run red lights. That could help in developing engineering and design
techniques that might make dangerous cross-roads a bit less lethal.
for more briefings.