Driver’s Side Mirror with No Blind Spot Receives U.S. Patent

Originally posted on DrexelNow.

A side mirror that eliminates the dangerous “blind spot” for drivers has now received a U.S. patent. The subtly curved mirror, invented by Drexel University mathematics professor Dr. R. Andrew Hicks, dramatically increases the field of view with minimal distortion.

Traditional flat mirrors on the driver’s side of a vehicle give drivers an accurate sense of the distance of cars behind them but have a very narrow field of view. As a result, there is a region of space behind the car, known as the blind spot, that drivers can’t see via either the side or rear-view mirror. It’s not hard to make a curved mirror that gives a wider field of view – no blind spot – but at the cost of visual distortion and making objects appear smaller and farther away.

Hicks’s driver’s side mirror has a field of view of about 45 degrees, compared to 15 to 17 degrees of view in a flat driver’s side mirror. Unlike in simple curved mirrors that can squash the perceived shape of objects and make straight lines appear curved, in Hicks’s mirror the visual distortions of shapes and straight lines are barely detectable.

Hicks, a professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, designed his mirror using a mathematical algorithm that precisely controls the angle of light bouncing off of the curving mirror.

“Imagine that the mirror’s surface is made of many smaller mirrors turned to different angles, like a disco ball,” Hicks said. “The algorithm is a set of calculations to manipulate the direction of each face of the metaphorical disco ball so that each ray of light bouncing off the mirror shows the driver a wide, but not-too-distorted, picture of the scene behind him.”

Hicks noted that, in reality, the mirror does not look like a disco ball up close. There are tens of thousands of such calculations to produce a mirror that has a smooth, nonuniform curve.

Hicks first described the method used to develop this mirror in Optics Letters in 2008.

In the United States, regulations dictate that cars coming off of the assembly line must have a flat mirror on the driver’s side. Curved mirrors are allowed for cars’ passenger-side mirrors only if they include the phrase “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

Because of these regulations, Hicks’s mirrors will not be installed on new cars sold in the U.S. any time soon. The mirror may be manufactured and sold as an aftermarket product that drivers and mechanics can install on cars after purchase. Some countries in Europe and Asia do allow slightly curved mirrors on new cars. Hicks has received interest from investors and manufacturers who may pursue opportunities to license and produce the mirror.

The U.S. patent, “Wide angle substantially non-distorting mirror” (United States Patent 8180606) was awarded to Drexel University on May 15, 2012.

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Robotic Dinosaurs On the Way for Next-Gen Paleontology with 3-D Printing

Originally posted on DrexelNow.

Researchers at Drexel University are bringing the latest technological advancements in 3-D printing to the study of ancient life. Using scale models of real fossils, for the first time, they will be able to test hypotheses about how dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals moved and lived in their environments.

“Technology in paleontology hasn’t changed in about 150 years,” said Drexel paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed — until right now.”

3-D Printing Technology in Paleontology

Lacovara has begun creating 3-D scans of giant dinosaur bones and other fossils in his lab. The 3-D scan puts a virtual image in a digital workspace that researchers can manipulate and analyze. To bring these scans to life, Lacovara is also teaming up with mechanical engineer Dr. James Tangorra, an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, to use 3-D printing technology to create and test scale models of fossil bones.

A 3-D printer is a technology for rapid prototyping and manufacturing objects based on a digital design. Common models work by repeatedly extruding extremely thin layers of a resin or other material, building up strata to create a physical object.

“It’s kind of like Star Trek technology, where you can press a button and the object pops out,” Lacovara said. A six-inch model of a dinosaur bone can be printed in a few hours using current technology.

Using 3-D printing can aid paleontology in several ways:

  • To create exact-size replicas for museum display, without the limitation on the number of copies made and materials and storage hassles of traditional casting methods.
  • To create small-scale models for educational use.
  • To create small-scale models for modeling and testing hypotheses about the mechanics of how long-extinct animals moved and behaved.

A 3-D scan is taken of the humerus bone from a Paralititan dinosaur.This biologically-derived modeling to test possible movements of extinct species is the major focus of Lacovara and Tangorra’s collaboration.

Robotic Models to Test Mechanics of Dinosaur Movement

“We don’t know a lot about the way dinosaurs move,” Lacovara said. “How did they stand? How did they ambulate? Did they run or trot? How did they reproduce? It’s all a bit mysterious,” especially when it comes to the largest dinosaurs. Paleontologists’ current methods of understanding such mechanics rely heavily on guesswork and common sense about what types of movements seem possible. With new technology, researchers can begin testing their predictions for the first time.

Lacovara has been part of scientific teams unearthing some of the largest known giant sauropod dinosaur specimens, including the new species Paralititan stromeri found in Egypt in 2000, which is the second-most-massive known dinosaur species and a new giant from Patagonia. Such giant sauropod dinosaurs could reach weights of 60 to 80 tons, which is 12 to 14 times heavier than a large modern elephant.

When working with enormous dinosaur fossils, Lacovara said, it’s simply physically impossible to manipulate the bones to test theories about mechanics and movement. That’s why scaled-down replicas that preserve the exact shape and proportion of the bones can help. Researchers can also digitally reshape the models to correct for changes that may have occurred over millions of years of fossilization and compression.

Lacovara and Tangorra will work together to create robotic models of giant sauropod dinosaurs, attaching artificial muscles and tendons to perform comprehensive tests of how the animal’s body could have handled physical stresses of the environment.

This work is similar to Tangorra’s ongoing work modeling and manufacturing robotic fish. “We extract features from biological species and create software-based or robotic testing systems. It’s easier to test a biorobotic system than a biological system,” Tangorra said. This work relies on studies of the fish’s movements, biomechanics and fluid mechanics to ensure that the robot reflects the biological system. Tangorra noted that because the dinosaur species they are modeling are extinct, any robotic reconstructions will be more speculative.

Lacovara predicts that they will have a working robotic dinosaur limb constructed by the end of 2012. A complete robotic dinosaur replica will take one to two years to create.

“A Virtual Zoo of Cretaceous New Jersey”

In addition to constructing models of giant dinosaurs, the researchers will make 3-D models of some fossils found closer to home. A fossil dig site in Gloucester County, N.J., has yielded a large number of marine animal fossils from the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Lacovara and his students and collaborators from other institutions continue to excavate the site. Now they will begin producing 3-D models of the turtles, crocodilians, fish and other animals found at that site, for what Lacovara called “a virtual zoo of Cretaceous New Jersey.” A sample of their first reconstruction, of an ancient New Jersey crocodile, can be seen here:

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Zombie Uprising Helps Nurse Educators’ BRAINS

Originally posted on DrexelNow.

They came from beyond the grave… and gave 24 nursing educators an unforgettable lesson they’ll take with them as they train the next generation of health professionals across the continent.

Monday morning, 24 nursing education professionals from across the U.S. and Canada gathered at Drexel for the first day of a week-long certificate program in clinical simulation at the College of Nursing and Health Professions – where they will learn to manage simulation labs for training health professionals at their home institutions. They expected a classroom workshop in the use of manikins and standardized patients (actors tasked with portraying a patient to aid hands-on and interpersonal training for students). Little did they know, something more sinister was lurking in body bags in the very next room.

An hour into the morning session, program organizer Carol Okupniak and simulation coordinator John Cornele interrupted with news of a breaking emergency: An outbreak of the highly infectious viral agent Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome (as described by the CDC) had taken hold in Philadelphia. All the health professionals at Drexel that day, including the simulation program participants, were being called in to attend to victims of the virus. Okupniak is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Clinical Simulation and Practice (CICSP) at Drexel, and a lead organizer of the week’s events.

The first twelve participants rushed in to attend to the “ill and wounded” manikins. (Ten rushed in, while two stopped to don gowns and masks before exposing themselves to an infectious agent.) They checked vital signs and attempted to assess their patients.

A few minutes later, the remaining twelve participants followed. Their assignment: Visit the morgue area and identify the five dead bodies. But these were no ordinary dead people. The instant they were touched, the dead (actors) rose, grunting, stumbling, and uttering a low but urgent groan of “Braaaaaaains.” They lurched toward the manikin patients in their beds, reaching for the sweet nectar resting on their pillows. (That is, brains, made of Jell-o and gummi worms.)

The participants tasked with identifying the dead rallied to contain their “patients” in the morgue area, while those responsible for manikins stood guard over their precious brains. As the room nevertheless grew increasingly chaotic, Okupniak called in reinforcements in the form of additional staff who had already been infected with the virus.

And so the third wave of zombies – CICSP and Drexel staff members Angie DeRamus, Shenna Hines, Fabien Pampaloni, and Nick Mazzuca – stumbled in. Instead of helping as intended, they fought for their share of the tasty, precious brains.

After ten minutes of growing chaos and confusion, a voice over the intercom called the scenario to an end. As the stunned participants filed out of the simulation room, headed to a debriefing session, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” began playing over the speakers, and the actors broke out of zombie character and began to dance.

Lessons Learned

In the debriefing session, conference participants discussed their feelings about the simulation exercise. Okupniak and Dr. Leland “Rocky” Rockstraw, who led the debriefing, emphasized that their goal was to give the participants the experience of their students’ perspective on simulation scenarios, by throwing them directly into one. When participants noted that they felt underprepared to handle this emergency – having no idea what they were in for with Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome – that became a learning point, that preparing students prior to clinical simulation is key.

In the debriefing, Okupniak also demonstrated the importance of a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit, as described by the CDC – useful for all kinds of emergencies, including some that have affected the region recently, such as floods.

Drexel’s Zombies Will Rise Again

While all clinical simulation scenarios in Drexel’s CICSP are recorded on digital video for educational review, this week’s events were recorded with several additional cameras. The CICSP staff plan to produce a video for the Zombie Apocalypse Emergency Preparedness video contest to be announced later this month by the CDC.

More Photos and Behind the Scenes

For additional photos and behind-the-scenes views of preparing the zombie uprising at Drexel, view the Flickr photoset.

Additional coverage of the event on Zombies attack in Center City — but it’s for a good cause.

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