Tag Archives: wireless technology

Why Panic Buttons are Going Wireless

Panic buttons or emergency stop switches are extremely important for protecting workers, machinery, and products from catastrophic failures. Traditionally, manufacturers include them with their machinery, and most are hard-wired. However, things are changing and now, these red emergency switches are finally going wireless.

When a machine malfunctions, or a critical incident occurs, operators often have to press these last resort switches to bring the system or the entire machine to a halt quickly and safely. Hence, these switches are aptly called E-stop, emergency, or panic switches. Operating these switches brings the machine or the system to a halt and prevents serious damage to products or the machine itself, as well as preventing injury to workers.

The importance of the emergency stop button is evident from a report from OSHA or Occupational Safety and Health Organization. According to this report, more than 5000 US workers were injured fatally in 2015 in industrial accidents.

Ever since the second industrial revolution, manufacturers have hard-wired E-stops in their machines as a standard solution to shut them down in case of emergency. Usually, manufacturers placed these emergency switches well apart from the usual on/off and other switches the machines normally carry on their control panels, making it easier for the operator to identify and hit them to stop the machine. With the E-switches being functionally so important, it is understandable manufacturers were reluctant to make them wireless. However, a wireless E-stop device would allow the worker to shut the machine down without even having to go near it, improving the safety factor.

The tech company, Laird PLC, of London, has seemingly realized the additional benefit of a wireless E-stop button, and has evolved the Safe-E-Stop. It is possible to incorporate the Safe-E-Stop with the existing hard-wired emergency stop system already involved with production systems such as assembly lines. This improves the on-the-job safety, as an individual operator or a group can immediately shut down a machine in the production line, without having to hit the hard-wired E-stop button physically.

The emergency might involve the closest machine-mounted E-stop button in the same danger zone. Therefore, the operator rushing in to operate such an emergency button could face a hazard and increase the response time for arresting the emergency.

Laird PLC has developed a wireless personal safety solution rated at SIL 3 as an answer to the above problem. The Rockwell Automation distributors market the Safe-E-Stop from Laird making it available through the Encompass partner program of Rockwell Automation.

Users can have continuous status indication on LED and LED readouts on the Safe-E-Stop system. They can use the IP/Ethernet port on the MSD or Machine Safety Device for reporting the status of the wireless E-stops actuated to personnel in charge of operations. It is possible to link as many as five PSDs or Personal Safety Devices to the MSD simultaneously. This allows multiple operators to collaborate or work independently to supervise the operation. Activation of an E-stop on any linked PSD causes the MSD to issue a stop command and notify all other PSDs immediately of the stop condition.

Free Your Smart Phone and Let it Fly

You may not feel very enthusiastic about Lily, the flying camera-drone that follows you around, but a PhoneDrone is bound to change your point of view. Using your smartphone as its brains, the PhoneDrone lends it wings and allows it to fly along a predetermined path.

This is a perfectly logical situation as a smartphone already contains the necessary sensory and computing power that a drone needs. Most smartphones run on a powerful multicore processor along with several sensors on-board, so why pay for all these things over again when buying a drone. The people at PhoneDrone were also led by the same reasoning and the result is a drone that utilizes its owner’s smartphone for its brains. Users have to dock their phone into the device for each use. Not only does this approach help to keep the price down, it also makes the user exercise caution not to crash the thing.

The Indiana-based company, xCraft, has designed the PhoneDrone, which can accommodate not only iPhones 4s and above, but also the most popular Android phones as well. This same company had earlier produced the fixed-wing/hovering X PlusOne drone. Users can fly the latest PhoneDrone, a quadcopter, in a few different fashions.

By using another mobile device, users can control their flying mobile through Wi-Fi and at the same time, watch live streaming video from the camera on the PhoneDrone. A free app allows users to enter a flight path for the PhoneDrone to follow autonomously. When transporting the device, the propeller arms of the PhoneDrone will fold back.

The user can also impose a follow-me mode with the second mobile device, if required. The phone in the aircraft locks on to the signal of the hand-held device and will automatically pilot the drone to position it above the hand-held device as it moves. A folding mirror on the drone allows the camera of the phone to shoot straight ahead, down or anywhere in between. The battery in the drone gives a flight time of 20-25 minutes. According to xCraft, they are working on an ultrasonic type of collision-avoidance system.

At present, xCraft is raising product funds via Kickstarter for their PhoneDrone project. You can pledge US$199 for the product, which will be yours as soon as xCraft is ready to go.

Others have also tried their hands at making drones with brains based on smartphones. Notable among them are the University of Pennsylvania and the Vienna University of Technology. However, their attempts were mostly one-off. Qualcomm and UPenn have also combined the drone and phone earlier. They had used the electronics of the Android smartphone and its software to fly the drone. All the sensors required for providing navigational information for the drone are already present on the smartphone – accelerometer, GPS, gyroscope and others.

The present trend is to utilize the camera on the phone itself and use its visual input to steer the phone. The user has to install an app on the phone to achieve this. In future, expect more hobbyists to substitute smartphones for hardware at the heart of several other types of machinery such as drones.

All about electrical wires

Recent advancements in wireless technology may have led many people to believe that soon, we would be able to do away with these squiggly, snaking, long implements we call wires. However hard we may try to hide them by burying them within walls and under the ground, the time is not yet ripe for a life entirely without wires. While we have to put up with wires all around us, it would be interesting to know something more about them.

Use of wires can be broadly categorized into two main classes of requirements – mechanical and electrical. While the mechanical requirements deal mainly with load carrying strength/capacity of the wire under use, the electrical requirements can be further subdivided into power and signal carrying capabilities. In this article, we will be talk about wires and their electrical requirements only. The materials with which wires are made, their dimensions and the nature of protection used depends to a large extent on whether the wire is required to carry power or signal.

Most wires within our houses and those carrying power are made of copper. Conductivity, malleability and cost are the main considerations that govern the choice. Copper is a good conductor of electricity, meaning it presents a low resistance to the flow of electricity through it. The metal is easy to bend and mold in the form of wires of different diameters. Since copper is abundantly available, the price is reasonable for residential use. Some wires are made of aluminum, which is cheaper than copper. However, its conductivity is lower than that of copper. For carrying the same amount of electricity, you need an aluminum wire with a larger diameter compared to that of a copper wire.

The nature of protection used on wires carrying electrical power depends on the voltage it is carrying and the environment in which the wire is used. For example, special cladding and fire-retardant protection is required for wires carrying high voltage electricity passing through an area with plenty of oil.

Compared to power handling wires, signal-carrying wires are of more varied types, depending on the application. For example, there can be connecting wires, RF coaxial feeders, screened cables, ribbon cables, data cables and many more. For most of these applications, the governing factor is the frequency of the signal rather than the voltage and current carrying capacity. Waveform distortion, crosstalk, noise and signal loss are more important rather than the amount of power transferred.

As long as the signal frequency is low, say below 1000 Hz or so, the material or construction of the wire does not matter greatly. However, as the frequency of the signal increases, the wire starts to behave like a non-linear entity and its inherent inductance and capacitance start to cloud its performance. With still higher frequencies, the signal is unable to retain its original waveform. To retain the high-frequency performance, people need to use special types of RF coaxial feeders, ribbon cables, screened cables, etc.

For example, to prevent loss of signal in screened cables, a low-loss insulator often surrounds the wire conductor. A braided sheath on the outside of the insulator acts as a shield and a PVC jacket protects the entire package.

A drone camera to follow you around

Unlike Mary, most of us are fortunate or unfortunate enough not to have a little lamb following us around. However, that does not mean we cannot have a camera drone following us wherever we go. A California-based startup firm has pioneered an easy-to-use, self-flying drone as the world’s unique throw-and-shoot camera that flies itself.

To use the device, you simply throw it into air. Lily, the drone camera, immediately deploys its four propellers to provide thrust and directional vectoring. No controller is required as Lily automatically follows its owner. You are free to continue to focus on your activity as Lily captures your adventures, flying itself while grabbing high definition images and video. It is impossible for you to outrun Lily, because it can fly at speeds of up to 25 mph. Therefore, you can employ Lily to film you while snowboarding, kayaking or cycling.

The camera inside Lily is specially engineered to withstand robust handling in tough aerial as well as water environments. Anyone who wants to share their everyday activities can use Lily as a simple, fun way to record their outdoor action sports. Lily can track its owner intelligently, following his or her every move by using GPS and advanced computing algorithms. Lily can provide additional creative shooting opportunities for those wanting to move beyond the single point-of-view of handheld and action cameras.

What makes Lily follow you around and not wander off with some stranger? Well, Lily comes with a tracking device that the owner has to wear on his or her wrist. In reality, Lily is wirelessly tethered to this tracking device, while recognizing the owner using computer vision to follow your features optically. Over time, the tracking accuracy improves as Lily learns on-the-job. With Lily, you can get exciting close-range photos as well as wide, cinematic shots just as professional filmmakers can.

Lily captures still shots at 12MP resolution, slow motion at 720p at 120fps and HD video at 1080p at 60fps. The tracking device uses a built-in microphone for recording high-quality sound, which Lily automatically synchronizes with the video being recorded. Lily has a companion app to which it streams low-resolution live video. This helps the user to frame the shots.

Lily works best in outdoor conditions at a height of 10-30ft. A proprietary computer vision algorithm drives the core technology of Lily’s camera. Although Lily works comfortably in winds exceeding 20mph, the manufacturer advices its use in winds below 15mph, to be safe.

Lily complies with FAA guidelines, while communicating with the tracking device worn by its owner. It relays speed, distance and position back to the built-in camera. The user can direct Lily via either the tracking device or the mobile app. According to the program used, Lily can follow, hover, loop, zoom and do more at an average flying speed of 15 mph. Depending on the way Lily’s owner uses it, a full charge allows Lily to operate between 18 and 22 minutes.

It takes two full hours to charge up fully. As the battery runs low, the tracking device warns you with vibrations. You can summon Lily to make it land on your palm gracefully.