Monday, May 28, 2012

The Emflume1 2D flume-- first glances.

It seems there is no rest for the weary Development wing of LRRD; this weekend I've been working on the next prototype of our Emflume1 -- a portable, semi-low cost "2D flume."

I've worked on this on and off for several years now; in 2012 we hope to finish development and market these flumes to university civil engineering departments, which sorely need them.  The Hydrosystems Lab at the Univerisity of Illinois - UC is a great example -- it's full of very big, very expensive, super noisy flumes.  Great for research, not so practical for teaching.  The Emflume1 will be just about a meter long, very quiet, not so expensive, and moveable by one or two people from desktop to lab bench.

Based on a super-efficient ducted propeller design (thanks to advice from Steven Vogel, one of the best researchers and science writers alive), the unit can produce flows of around one cfs using only about 3 amps of current.

Our original small 2D flume, built especially for video production, made it into Science a couple of years ago!

This development push is stoked by our upcoming trip to the ASEE Annual Conference in San Antonio in two weeks, where we'll have a booth and meet thousands of university engineering educators.

We hope to release the Emflume1 this summer or fall; we have so much going on, it's hard to tell, and our sales have been very strong.  After five years of economic drought, we have a lot of ground to gain!

This little movie shows work I did yesterday along with our Christina Bovinette, who gave up most of a holiday Sunday to come in and assemble tubing for a flow straightener in the flume. (And thanks to Jim and Nate, who came in today, Memorial Day, to get various shipments ready.)

Steve and Christina work on the Emflume1's acrylic reservoir.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

LRRD from four-foot-three.

Adam and I review his footage of the day's activities.  
Yesterday our Business Director, Meriam Lahlou, brought her ten-year-old son, Adam, to spend his first day of summer vacation in our office.

He joined our creative team for the day and  made a video tour of our office and lab.

You'll see it was a busy day here; we're throwing all of our weight into preparing for two back-to-back conferences next month — the Third International Symposium on Shallow Flows in Iowa City, and the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference in San Antonio.  On top of the R & D we always do, and of course, shipping geomodels as fast as we can build them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

First full-scale Em3 dual tilt base this week!

Abandoned screw jack design for Em3 dual tilt.
Em3 concept, mid 2011.
Geometry sketch, Em3 tilt concept.

This week we're building the first full-scale dual-tilt base for our Emriver Em3.

I can't wait to finish it, after hundreds of hours of work.

In 2010 we spent nearly a year redesigning our already excellent Em2.  The Em2 now does its job as well as modern materials allow, and we're shipping them as fast as we can build them.

We design our Emriver models to reveal river processes for teaching and research.  It's not that difficult to run water through a box full of sand.  Add design for low cost, efficient production, safety, durability, ease of use, quick set up, and reliability, and things get terribly complex.

Our new three-meter Em3's design is based on years of studying what university engineering and geoscience departments need.

This design includes lab space, budget ranges, curriculum, portability, and alternative uses like outreach to recruit students.

We’re now finishing up design of a dual-tilt system for our new Em3 that will allow both roll and pitch (long profile) movement of the model. 

The first image shows an inevitable part of the process, the nice-looking dead end using screw jacks and stepper motors.  It used off-the-shelf components, but was too slow and too expensive.  Close to a hundred hours of design effort gone.

This week we’re building the final Em3 dual-axis tilt prototype.  Can’t show everything of course.  This part is magic to me -- seeing years of knowledge and hard work turned into an elegant metal teaching machine that will populate museums, labs, and schools all over the world.

Machining prototype parts.

Me with finger I sacrificed in this prototyping effort.

The exciting, tedious, process of converting ideas to precise metal parts.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Matt Kuchta's science in slow motion

This is the first in a series of posts in which we'll feature some of our many interesting and impressive colleagues.  Stay tuned for more.

"To me, good science looks cool," Matt Kuchta, professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, says.

When Kuchta has anything to do with it, science looks awesome.

In the past few months, he's been using a high-speed video camera to show events in super slow motion.

Like this one, which shows stress and strain in gelation during a collision.

Or this one, showing bank collapse in an Emriver Em2 model at 1,000 frames per second.

Or a slow-motion view of what happens when you pop a balloon filled with gelatin and water.

"Gelatin-filled water balloons look gorgeous at high speed, but take about three to four times as long to clean up," Kuchta says.

He can spend up to two hours setting up and tearing down for a video showing only one second of real-time action.  But the results are stunning.

Kuchta has been making videos and science visualizations since he was in high school.  And in the six years he's been writing his blog, he's demonstrated tons of geophysical phenomena, from the 2011 Sendai Earthquake in Japan to volcano eruptions.

Visit Research at a Snail's Pace, Matt Kuchta's blog, for all the amazing videos I couldn't include here (and so much more).

Settle in and stay a while.  And stay tuned: Kuchta tells me slow-mo footage of liquid nitrogen volcanoes might be in the works.

Update: The liquid nitrogen volcano footage has arrived, and it's been picked up by Boing Boing.  Read the article and see the video here.  See more from Kuchta about the eruption demonstration here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Amazing augmented reality Kinect sandbox.

Oliver Kreylos at UC Davis has just posted this video showing an amazing hands on "augmented reality" (AR) tool built with a sandbox, Microsoft Kinect sensor, and a digital projector.  From the project home page

Together with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, Lawrence Hall of Science, and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, we are involved in an NSF-funded project on informal science education for freshwater lake and watershed science. As part of this project, we are primarily developing 3D visualization applications to teach earth science concepts, but we also built a hands-on exhibit combining a real sandbox, and virtual topography and water created using a closed loop of a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera, powerful simulation and visualization software, and a data projector. The resulting augmented reality (AR) sandbox allows users to create topography models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topography map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees, etc.

This project was inspired by a video created by a group of Czech researchers, who demonstrate an early prototype of an AR sandbox with elevation color mapping and some limited form of fluid flow. There is an even earlier project, Project Mimicry, of which we learned only later; it also appears to only be in early testing phase.
 I'd seen the Czech work, but Oliver's team has taken this a step further, and apparently open-source code is forthcoming.  This has huge implications for our Emriver models, I think; just drawing the contours seen in these videos would be immensely useful for teaching.

We were able to test a Kinect system at the University of Illinois last month, and through a bit of play and talking to the students working with it, we determined it's resolution was good enough for visualizations like this but probably not good enough for research measurements.

Here's another video from his YouTube channel.  Geomorphoglists will note there is one part of reality clearly missing in this dam failure visualization -- erosion and sediment transport!  Still an amazing achievment.