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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST Working to Develop Adaptable Robots That Can Assist—and Even Empower—Human Production Workers

NIST’s new Autonomous Assembly Testbed includes an automated guided vehicle (left), conveyers, mannequins and an underslung robot arm (right).

Guest blog by Albert J. Wavering, the Chief of the Intelligent Systems Division of the Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Robots have explored Mars, descended into volcanoes, and roamed the ocean depths.  Today, they also perform humdrum chores, such as vacuuming and waxing floors.  And in between the ordinary and the extraordinary, robots are carrying out a growing array of tasks, from painting and spot-welding in factories to delivering food trays in hospitals.

But, when it comes to these automated machines, you haven’t seen anything yet, especially in the manufacturing world, where robots were first put to use 50 years ago in a General Motors factory.  In fact, the first factory robot became something of celebrity, earning an appearance, along with one of its inventors, on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Even today, however, manufacturing robots are akin to electromechanical hulks that blindly perform relatively simple, repetitive jobs and—Tonight Show demo notwithstanding—must be safely separated from human workers by fences and gates.

In laboratories around the world, the race is on to build a new generation of robots that are smarter, more flexible, and far more versatile than the current one.  A successful leap to more adept and adaptable robots could set the stage for a revolution in U.S. manufacturing that reaches from the largest factories to the smallest job shops.

Automation technology has found a place performing repetitive and, often, dirty and dangerous factory tasks. It also has helped U.S. manufacturers to achieve productivity increases that are the envy of the world.

But the best could be yet to come.  The next wave of robots could be the springboard to new U.S. companies and new domestic manufacturing jobs.

Agencies Working Together Results in Manufacturers Now Hiring

Alternate Text

Cross-posted on the NIST MEP blog

UEMC, Inc., a woman-owned manufacturer located in San Antonio, Texas, is now hiring. The company has over 50 years of experience in contract sewing, screen printing and textile related manufacturing … and now sustainable manufacturing practices.

In October 2009, UEMC, Inc. participated in a local Lean. Clean. Energy. program as part of a national manufacturing sustainable effort. Five Federal Government Agencies—Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Labor, Small Business Administration and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) of The National Institute of Standards and Technology – have jointly created the E3 Initiative (Energy, Economy, Environment), which is focused on helping manufacturers implement sustainable manufacturing practices. The E3 program is designed to capture the knowledge and tools of the five agencies to run effective sustainability initiatives across the nation.

The E3 program benefits manufacturers throughout the country not only with cost savings, but also by providing access to technical and financial resources.

That’s exactly what UEMC, Inc. experienced. Linda Jordan, the CFO of UEMC, was quick to agree that E3 is about much more than just saving the company money and energy:

Make It and Move It

steel girder rails

Cross-posted on the NIST MEP blog

Without manufacturing, transportation would mean walking barefoot. Without transportation (and manufacturing), there would be no global economy. Fortunately for us, there are trains, trucks, planes, bikes and cars (and shoes!), all of which need to be made. So do bridges, roads, terminals, safety signs and tracks. All these seemingly disparate things work in concert to create the economic systems that keep America buying and selling and building and moving.

And, fortunately for our country, most, if not all, of the transportation infrastructure and supporting transportation equipment can and perhaps should be manufactured here. Transportation is not an end in itself. It’s a means to achieving American manufacturing and economic prosperity — a very big and very important means.

I know that American manufacturers can make anything and everything. The problem is matching manufacturing capability with long-term, predictable business opportunities that make sense.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) teamed up to address some of the issues that have hampered the matching of opportunity with ability. The partnership was set up to find domestic manufacturing capacity for steel girder rails. Yes, steel girder rails. There are 60 cities in the United States that are planning, designing or constructing systems for street cars.  Yes, street cars. (If your mind just wandered off to the scene in Meet Me in St. Louis when Judy Garland sang, “the Trolley Song,” you’ve got the picture.)

Made in the USA – American Innovation

Richard Bogert, President and CEO, The Bogert Group

Guest blog by Richard W. Bogert, President and CEO, The Bogert Group

I grew up with the phrase “American Ingenuity” to describe the monumental accomplishments of our time. I grew up in a time that “Made in America” was the norm and made somewhere else meant inferior. We were proud to manufacture the best and supply the world. That was American Innovation and manufacturing might. We were the best at everything.

I started my company as a service business but soon realized that I was only trading hours for dollars.  I had limited myself because there are only so many hours in a day.  My income also fluctuated with the local economy. I turned to manufacturing because it was limitless and selling products on the global level insulated me from the ups and downs of my local economy. Starting with what I knew, Bogert Aviation became a FAA Certified parts manufacturer in 1986. My philosophy, “We are going to make the very best products – or we aren’t going to do it”.  Over the years we started other companies that manufacture a wide range of products. We call it the Bogert Group.  

I’ve got news for you. American Ingenuity and Innovation are alive and well. Most of the best new products and technologies have been created in the good old USA. Our young people are creative and inventive when encouraged.  We just need to create an environment that fosters innovative thought.

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Bogert transcript

Protecting Our Electronic Main Street

Cybersecurity and the Electronic Main Street

Guest blog post by Ari Schwartz, Internet Policy Adviser at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and member of the Internet Policy Task Force at the Department of Commerce.

As we all know, the Internet has led to incredible commercial growth and an unprecedented means for self-expression and innovation.  Some industry analysts now estimate that the Internet now carries some $10 trillion in online transactions annually.

However, each time a new technology dramatically expands the boundaries of commerce, there are dishonest, dangerous people who try to disrupt and exploit the new pathways for their own gain. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that as the Web, e-mail, and e-commerce have become the electronic version of Main Street, hackers, spammers, and cybercriminals have emerged as major threats to its welfare. An estimated 67,000 new malicious viruses, worms, spyware and other threats are released every day. 

To paraphrase Willy Sutton: It’s where the money. . . and the information is.

A new Commerce Department report issued today calls for a public-private partnership and voluntary codes of conduct to help strengthen the cybersecurity of companies that increasingly rely on the Internet to do business, but are not part of the critical infrastructure sector as defined by the administration’s recent cybersecurity legislative proposal.  Issued by the department’s Internet Policy Task Force, the report targets what it calls the Internet and Information Innovation Sector or the I3S.  These are businesses that range from Mom and Pop manufacturers or startups that sell most of their products and services online to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to cloud computing firms that provide anytime, anywhere access to applications and personal or public data.

NIST Workshop Aims to Advance Usability in Electronic Health Records

Matt Quinn of NIST with large projection screen

Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is hosting a workshop today on usability in electronic health records (EHR) at its campus in Gaithersburg, Md. "A Community-Building Workshop: Measuring, Evaluating and Improving the Usability of Electronic Health Records" brings together industry, government, academia and healthcare providers to identify models and methods for collaborating to improve the usability of EHR systems.

Usability refers to how easy EHR systems are to learn and operate, while maximizing efficiency. A health information technology (IT) industry task force identified usability as one of the major factors hindering widespread adoption of EHRs in clinical settings. The task force also noted that usability has a strong, often direct relationship with clinical productivity, user satisfaction, lower error rate and less user fatigue.

"Moving the science and practice of evaluating EHR usability forward has required an open and transparent community effort,” said NIST computer scientist Matt Quinn, one of the workshop's organizers. “We hope to build on our workshop from last year to encourage further collaboration among stakeholders, collect constructive feedback on methods for evaluating usability, and identify priority areas for future work."

The NIST health IT usability initiative focuses on providing guidance to the public and private sectors in the development of health IT usability standards and measures. NIST collaborates closely with industry, academia and other government agencies to share best practices on electronic health record usability and gather technical feedback on the development of EHR usability evaluation methods.

Workshop sessions include an overview of current programs for improving EHR usability, models for collaboration, efforts to support the needs of developers and care delivery organizations, and various breakout sessions, concluding with next steps on building a stronger community to improve health IT usability.   

For more information on today’s workshop, visit: http://www.nist.gov/healthcare/usability/usability-technical-workshop.cfm.

NIST: New Software Tool Helps Evaluate Natural Cooling Options for Buildings

Image of Climate Suitability Tool graphic

A new, free software tool from Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) could prove to be a breath of fresh air for architects and designers of ventilation systems for "green" commercial buildings.

With the Climate Suitability Tool, building design teams can evaluate whether the local climate is suitable for cooling a prospective building with natural ventilation or requires a hybrid system that supplies supplemental cooling capacity. The tool is based on a model of the heat-related characteristics of a building configured to take full advantage of ambient climate conditions and natural air movement. It incorporates an algorithm—or problem-solving procedure—that crunches hourly weather data (downloaded from annual datasets for U.S. localities) and uses standardized criteria for rating the comfort of building occupants.

"We think this tool will be useful during the early stages of design, when decisions on the form of a building and its components are being made," explains NIST mechanical engineer Steven Emmerich. "It provides estimates of ventilation rates for preliminary design calculations. You can approximate how many air changes per hour will be necessary to offset heat gains due to the occupants, equipment and lighting so that comfortable conditions are maintained."

The effects of direct natural ventilation and a nighttime cooling procedure are assessed using a method devised by James Axley, Yale University professor of architecture and engineering. When the outdoor temperature is below an accepted threshold, direct ventilation through open windows and by other means can deliver the cooling to maintain the comfort zone. When the outdoor temperature exceeds the threshold during the day but drops below it after sunset, the cooler nightime air can dilute heat gained during the day and build a reserve of cooling potential for the day to come.  Read NIST's Tech Beat story

NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership Delivers Results

Program Helps Create and Retain Jobs, Generating $32 in Sales for Every $1 Spent

Today’s release of the latest employment statistics from the Department of Labor—244,000 jobs added in April—makes you wonder, where did these jobs come from? While we know most jobs are created by the private sector, government agencies often do have a role in fostering this job creation.  The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has done just that. 

As a public-private partnership, MEP delivers a high return on its investments to American taxpayers. In 2009, MEP helped businesses create or retain 72,075 jobs, and for every one dollar of federal investment, generated $32 in new sales growth (PDF). This return on investment translates to $3.6 billion in new sales annually among MEP clients. And for every $1,570 in federal investment, MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job. Such impressive results come from a survey of MEP clients by private marketing firm Turner Marketing, Inc.

How did MEP achieve such a large return on its investments?  First, a little history.  Congress established MEP in 1988 to help small- and mid-sized manufacturers increase growth, cut costs, and create innovative new products and services.  NIST, the federal partner in MEP, works with local and regional manufacturing experts across the United States to build a nationwide network of resources for America’s manufacturers.  Several dozen NIST staff leverage over 1,400 technical experts across the nation in every state, focused on solving manufacturers’ biggest challenges and identifying opportunities for growth.

Administration Launches National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

Panelists (Photo: Peter Cutts Photography)

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was joined today at by Chair of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard A. Schmidt to release the administration’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) – a White House initiative to improve online security, increase privacy and foster economic growth and innovation online. Hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the event included a panel discussion with industry leaders and privacy advocates, as well as demonstrations of innovative smart technologies being developed to improve online authentication. 

NSTIC is a key building block in the national effort to secure cyberspace. According to industry surveys, as many as eight million Americans are victims of online fraud and identity theft each year and lose an average of $631 out-of-pocket per incident. Through a private sector-led effort facilitated by the government, NSTIC aims to make online transactions more trustworthy and enhance consumers’ privacy, thereby giving businesses and consumers more confidence to conduct business online.  The webcast will be available on-demand at a later date.  |  White House press release and fact sheet