Washington Beat

NHTSA revising standard for car-brake

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is devising a new
standard for car brakes. The agency plans to phase in the regulation over five
years, eventually replacing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 135. The main
purpose is to mesh U.S. standards with those in Europe and Japan, making for
smoother exports of American-built cars. The agency also is stepping up its
investigations into some 1990 and 1991 Mazdas and Chrysler's 1994 Dodge
Intrepids. Mazda owners complain that the electronic seat-belt tracking above
the door fails to rotate properly when the door closes. The Intrepid
investigation centers on trunk lids. Some owners say the lids often drop
unexpectedly when it is windy or when the car is parked on a hill.

Sorption compressor among defense spinoffs

Engineers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, have developed a gas-fueled sorption compressor with vastly increased efficiency. Using waste heat from one refrigeration cycle to heat a second compressor, the design employs a four-bed system. A thermal wave front passes waste heat from compressor to compressor. The laboratory has teamed with three other organizations to use the heat recovery technology in a prototype air conditioner for subway cars. The compressor resulted from research for a method to cool space-based sensors. It was to be part of the Brilliant Eyes program of the Defense Department. The invention is one of 50 projects that the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization describes in its yearly "BMD Technology Applications Report." Another spinoff is a composite material that can keep pizzas hot and crisp for two hours.

Stretch-wrapping system wins new-product award

A system designed to wrap heavy-duty bulk packages won a new-product award in a yearly competition run by the National Society of Professional Engineers. Called the Q-Series Semi-Automatic Stretchwrapping System, it can package up to 35 palletized loads per hour in several patterns. A forklift truck can move each Q-Series unit to its job. The system took top honors in the large-company category for its developer, Lantech Inc., of Louisville, KY. Winner among medium firms was Mas-Hamilton Group of Lexington, KY, for a combination lock that mon- itors and records openings and detects tampering. The small-company award went to Hoveround Corp., Sarasota, FL. It invented a 34-lb, collapsible cart for the handicapped. Battery-powered, the vehicle can maneuver through narrow doorways and turn in a 22-inch radius.

Software, books aid users of Internet

Engineers, like many other professionals, are finding increased uses for Internet, the worldwide computer network. The trend is spawning a profusion of software and books to pave the user's way along information highways. A new version of askSam for Windows, a free-form database from askSam Systems, Perry, FL, contains filters for Internet and other online services. Shown at a conference in Washington, DC, the software also includes a module for optical character recognition and allows superscripts and subscripts for writing equations. Meanwhile, Prentice Hall of Des Moines, IA, has come out with two books for online users. One is "The Internet Book," by Douglas E. Comer, a professor of computer science

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