[FoRK] the end of M.E.

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Thu Jun 9 22:29:03 PDT 2005

"Click, click, bang, bang logic", cool.

They don't get much into extrapolation, but there is a lot of obvious 
stuff, including the well-known GM "skate" base car design.


Eugen Leitl wrote:

> the end of the m.e.?
> They call this "convergence." Old lines are changing, or disappearing
> altogether. What it's doing under the hood is downright electrifying.
> by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills 	
> The turf still divides up quite neatly. The electrical engineers move the
> light stuff—electrons, power, bits, and logic. The mechanical engineers
> do the heavy lifting; they move atoms. And, like it or not, the MEs still
> control most of the real estate.
> Look at our cars. They're made of big heavy things that shake, bounce, and
> sway; they're propelled by pistons, shafts, gears, and belts; controlled by
> shafts, gears, valves, and hydraulic fluids. All the really important parts
> go click-click, bang-bang. The car is a 100 kW (peak) machine. The stuff
> that hums instead of clanking, the electric load, peaks at 2 kW.
> Mechanical engineers control most of the rest of our energy economy, too.
> The United States consumes 100 quadrillion Btus, or quads, of raw thermal
> energy every year, in three broad sectors—electric power,
> transportation, and heat—with consumption split (roughly) 40-30-30 among
> the three. But electric power plants themselves are mainly thermomechanical:
> The furnaces, boilers, and turbines themselves consume over half of the
> fuel; only about 16 quads worth of mechanical energy actually get to the
> shafts that spin the generators that dispatch the gigawatt-hours.
> [Image: Komatsu's 930E is a 2,000 kW truck. A 16-cylinder diesel engine drives a
> generator that powers electric motors on the wheels.]
> It doesn't have to be that way, and pretty soon it won't be. General
> Electric's 4,400-horsepower, diesel-electric GEVO-12 locomotive is powered
> by an enormous, diesel-fueled engine-driven generator; everything beyond is
> electric. Komatsu's 930E—a monster mining truck with 320-ton
> capacity—is propelled by a 2-megawatt Detroit diesel-electric generator.
> Everything else, right down to the 12-foot wheels, is driven electrically.
> Submarines have been largely all-electric for decades, and the surface ships
> now on the Navy's drawing boards are all-electric, from the propeller to the
> guns. Thermomechanical engines are still the prime movers on all of these
> platforms, but what they move is electricity. An on-board generator powers
> an all-electric drivetrain; an electric motor drives the propeller or
> wheels.
> Electric drives are taking over because an electrical bus can convey far
> more power in much smaller, lighter conduits, and do it far more precisely
> and reliably, than even the best designed mechanical drivetrain. Indeed, on
> the key metrics of speed and power density, the electrical powertrain is
> about five orders of magnitude better. Electricity moves at close to the
> speed of light; all thermal and mechanical systems move at the speed of
> sound, or slower. It takes 10,000 driveshafts in 10,000 redlining Pontiacs
> to convey about as much power (1 gigawatt) as a single power plant
> dispatches down a few dozen high-voltage cables. By a very wide margin,
> electricity is indeed the fastest and densest form of power that has been
> tamed for ubiquitous use.
> But precisely because it is so fast and dense, electricity is inherently
> difficult to control. Direct-drive electrical systems are fast all right,
> but they tend to jitter, overshoot, jerk out of control, and fall off the
> edge. The solution, historically, has been to get mechanical again—wrap
> the electric coils and magnets around heavy, inertial, and frictional
> components to get back to a simple and steady source of mechanical
> power—rotating a shaft, say—which can then be channeled through
> gears, belts, hydraulic fluids, and other arrays of click-click, bang-bang
> logic well before it reaches the final payload. Until recently, direct-drive
> electrical movers—systems in which the power stays electric right down
> to the very threshold of payload—have remained the exception, not the
> rule.
> Power in Control
> But big motors and their electric power supplies can now be built compact
> and precise enough to mimic the small muscles of a hand. A key breakthrough
> occurred in 1982, when Hans Becke and Carl Wheatley (both at RCA) were
> granted a patent for what is now called the insulated gate bipolar
> transistor. IGBTs are high-power semiconductor gates. They control kilowatts
> almost as efficiently as logic semiconductors control the picowatts that we
> call bits.
> Sensors have also become sufficiently small, fast, and accurate to provide
> real-time feedback of what's happening at the payload. And cheap
> microprocessors are now readily available to make sense of it all, and to
> constantly recalculate how much power to dispatch to the drive to make it do
> exactly what's needed.
> Supplied with a suitably shaped and amplified stream of power, a loudspeaker
> vibrates a diaphragm through a Beethoven symphony; do the same with a
> hundred kilowatts, and you can run a Pontiac. What's new now is that
> inexpensive semiconductors are available to provide the extraordinarily
> precise control of very large amounts of electric power, at very low cost,
> in very compact controllers.
> The sidestick, being tested by Mercedes-Benz, is part of a fully
> computer-controlled car handling system of the possibly near future.
> Because they move less material in the middle, direct-drive powertrains have
> far less inertia and friction; and because they are informed by very fast
> sensors controlled by computers they can react much faster to the outside
> world. Direct-drive motors can thus reach levels of precision that are
> completely unattainable with any conventional technology. With less weight
> in the powertrain, and fewer moving parts, direct-drives are also more
> robust. Pneumatic and hydraulic fluids leak, turn into molasses when they
> get cold, and are easily contaminated. Shafts, belts, and pulleys need
> lubricants, and get bent out of shape when they expand or contract. They
> corrode and need periodic maintenance. Electric wires don't.
> The transformation is already well under way in the car's peripheral
> systems. The belts and pulleys that drive water and oil pumps, and radiator
> cooling fans, are giving way to electric motors. The best brakes are already
> electrohydraulic; all-electric brakes will follow. With electronic
> throttles, the gas pedal sends electrical instructions to a microprocessor
> that controls the fuel injection system electronically. Drive-by-wire
> electric power steering began appearing in production vehicles in 2001.
> Passive, reactive, energy-dissipating springs and shock absorbers are being
> displaced by an active array of powerful linear motors that move wheels
> vertically as needed to maintain traction beneath and a smooth ride above.
> And electric actuators will displace the steel camshaft on every valved
> engine. Put each valve under precise, direct, digital-electric control,
> actuated independently by its own compact electric motor—open and close
> each valve as dictated by current engine temperature, terrain, load, and
> countless other variables—and, in effect, you continuously retune the
> engine for peak performance. Belts, shafts, and chains melt away. Everything
> shrinks, everything gets lighter, and every aspect of performance
> improves—dramatically.
> To meet this steadily rising demand for electric power, car manufacturers
> are making the transition to a 42-volt grid to replace the existing 14-volt
> grid. Lower-voltage wires just can't convey large amounts of power
> efficiently. A new 42-volt industry standard emerged recently, and half of
> global automobile production will be on a 42-volt platform within the next
> decade or so.
> Next-generation integrated high-power alternator/starter motors have already
> been incorporated in BMWs and Benzes, and in Ford and GM trucks; about half
> of all new cars will have them by 2010. These units will supply the car with
> abundant, efficiently generated electric power, in a much lighter package,
> that will provide a virtually instant engine start as well.
> Cheap in the Gearbox
> This will set the stage for the last big step—the one already taken in
> monster trucks: Silicon and electric power will knock out the entire
> gearbox, driveshaft, differential, and related hardware; electric drives
> power the motors that turn the wheels. Power chips now make it possible to
> build high-power motors the size of a coffee can, and prices are dropping
> fast. When such motors finally begin driving the wheels, the entire output
> of the engine will have to be converted immediately into electricity before
> it is distributed, used, or stored throughout the car. It will take
> heavy-duty wiring and substantial
> silicon drives and electric motors to propel a hybrid-electric sport utility
> vehicle down a highway at 70 mph—but they'll be far smaller than the
> steel structures in today's powertrain. Cars will shed many hundreds of
> pounds, and every key aspect of performance will improve considerably.
> As this process unfolds, the engineering focus will shift inexorably toward
> finding the most efficient means of generating electricity on-board. Trains
> and monster trucks both use big diesel generators. Hybrid cars on the road
> today burn gasoline, but it's the fuel cell that attracts the most attention
> from visionaries and critics of the internal combustion engine. Remarkably
> elegant in its basic operation, the fuel cell transforms fuel into
> electricity in a single step, completely bypassing the furnace, turbine, and
> generator. In this scenario, mechanical engineering ultimately surrenders
> its last major under-the-hood citadel to chemical engineers.
> Much the same transformation is well under way in the factory. The
> 19th-century factory was powered by a single driveshaft spanning the length
> of the building; belts and chains delivered power to each individual work
> bay. That primary mechanical driveshaft gave way to electric power long ago,
> with motors powering the lathe, drill, or milling machine in each
> workstation. But, by and large, the motors still connect to shafts and belts
> and compressors. As in the car, mechanical systems still control the last
> few meters of the powertrain.
> I, Sensitive Robot
> The new industrial robots, however, are complex configurations of electric
> servo motors; the electric power now runs right to the final threshold of
> where the power is needed. Packed with sensors, the robots are now precise,
> sensitive, and far more compact than any mechanical alternative. They are
> also far more flexible—they now can be instantly reconfigured to perform
> new tasks through software alone, a dramatic advance over previous systems
> that required hours of manual rewiring.
> At the same time, high-power lasers—built around another family of
> recently developed semiconductors—are rapidly taking over functions
> previously viewed as mechanical. At kilowatt and megawatt power levels,
> lasers don't move bits, they move material. They fuse powdered metals into
> finished parts, without any machining, cutting, or joining. They supply
> ultra-fine heating, soldering, drilling, cutting, and materials processing,
> with fantastic improvements in speed, precision, and efficiency. They create
> thermal pulses that can blast metals and other materials off a source and
> deposit them on a target to create entire new classes of material coatings.
> They move ink in printers—not just desktop devices, but also the mammoth
> machines used to produce newspapers. They solder optoelectronic chips
> without destroying the silicon real estate around them, and they supply
> unequaled precision in the bulk processing of workaday materials—heat
> treating, welding, polymer bonding, sintering, soldering, epoxy curing, and
> the hardening, abrading, and milling of surfaces.
> Delphi has sold millions of its electric power steering units, which
> eliminate hoses, pump, and hydraulic fluid.
> Mechanical systems can be remarkably clever—just look at how a high-end
> mechanical watch powers and times the movement of hands around the watch
> face. In engines and machines of every description, much of the mechanical
> engineering is still devoted to imposing a desired logic on the flow of
> power. Until quite recently, EEs themselves relied on at least
> semi-mechanical systems to choreograph and order the flow of electricity.
> The huge electromechanical switches that phone companies used to route calls
> until the 1960s set up circuits by reconfiguring tapestry-like arrays of
> small, electromechanical switches—thousands and thousands of them,
> clicking away, day and night. But the advent of the transistor—invented
> by Bell Labs—changed all that. Semiconductors now choreograph the flow
> of all-electric
> (or photonic) power through our watches and our phone lines.
> Pushing semiconductors up the power curve took 20 years longer than it did
> to push them down. But it has now been done. And these fundamentally new
> technologies of "digital power" make possible an extraordinary new variety
> of compact, affordable, product-assembling, platform-moving, people- moving,
> and power-projecting systems that seem to be all but magical. They will
> inevitably infiltrate, capture, and transform the capital infrastructure of
> our entire energy economy—the trillions of dollars of hardware that
> convert heat into motion, motion into electricity, and ordinary electricity
> into highly ordered electron and photon power.
> One might say that the age of mechanical engineering was launched by James
> Watt's steam engine in 1763, and propelled through its second century by
> Nikolaus Otto's 1876 invention of the spark-ignited petroleum engine. We are
> now at the dawn of the age of electrical engineering, not because we
> recently learned how to generate light-speed electrical power, but because
> we have now finally learned how to control it.
> Peter W. Huber, a former mechanical engineering instructor at MIT, is a
> senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute. Mark P. Mills, a physicist, is a
> founding partner of a venture fund, Digital Power Capital. They are
> co-authors of The Bottomless Well (Basic Books, 2005) . 
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Stephen D. Williams 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 20147-4622 AIM: sdw

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