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Top 10 Electrical Engineering Marvels 

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges DamSituated in China, the Three Gorges Dam on River Yangtze is used for power generation, power control and navigation purposes. Opened in 2008, this hydroelectric dam is the World's largest power station in terms of its installed capacity - 22,500 MW (mega-watts). It became fully functional on July 4, 2012, except for the ship lift which was expected to be operational by 2015. The ship lift is a kind of elevator for vessels weighing up to 3,000 tons.

Three Gorges Dam is also the second largest hydroelectric facility in annual energy generation. It is an example of historical engineering with state-of-the-art large turbines. Each main water turbine has a capacity of 700 MW and weigh about 6,000 tonnes each. The dam uses 4,63,000 tonnes of steel (enough to build as many as 63 Eiffel Towers).

Did you know that upon completion, the Three Gorges Dam changed the speed of rotation of the Earth? It holds about 39 trillion kilograms of water 175 metres above sea level. NASA calculated that since the dam has been built, each day is 0.6 microseconds slower than before. It might not make much difference to us but it is still a mind-boggling fact.s

Electrical engineers have not stopped planning bigger miracles in the field of Power Systems Engineering. The proposed Grand Inga Dam in Congo is expected to have a capacity of 39,000 MW (about twice the capacity of the Three Gorges Dam). Penzhin Tidal Power Plant in Russia is another proposal with an installed capacity of 87 GW.

AVATAR

AVATARAVATAR (Aerobic Vehicle for Transatmospheric Hypersonic Aerospace TrAnspoRtation) is manned single-stage reusable spaceplane (or hyperplane) which will be able to make horizontal takeoff and landing. It is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and is expected to be a model for low-cost military and commercial satellite space launches, and space tourism.

The first phase of scaled-down tests for AVATAR is planned for 2015 while the first manned AVATAR flight is planned for 2025. The challenge for electrical engineers working on a space shuttle is to make sure that all its electrical systems keep operating for about two decades without any maintenance in the hostile environment of space.

Key electrical engineering systems on board a satellite include power supply (based on solar energy), its intelligence (located in its processor and memory systems), complex control system (that includes sensors and actuators), telecommunication system (to exchange commands and signals with the ground), and a navigation system.

AVATAR is expected to be a ground-breaking piece of work for electrical engineers.

Electric Cars

Electric CarsAn electric car is a light-weight urban car which runs using one or more electric motors, which uses electrical energy stored in batteries. It gives instant torque and smooth acceleration.

BMW i3, launched in 2014, has been certified by the EPA as the most fuel-efficient vehicle. The i3 REx has a combined fuel economy of 29 kW-hrs per 100 miles.

BMW i3 is the first zero-emission mass-produced vehicle which uses electric powertrain. It has won 2 World Car of the Year Awards this year, which include 2014 World Green Car of the Year, and 2014 World Car Design of the Year. It also won an iF Product Design Gold Award and 2 of the first UK Car of the Year Awards, which include UK Car of the Year 2014, and Best Super-mini of 2014.

World’s Smallest Microchip that You Can Swallow

World’s Smallest Microchip that You Can SwallowKinetis KI02 is the world’s smallest ARM-powered chip – a Microelectronics wonder. Manufactured by Freescale Semiconductors, it measures just 2 x 2 x 0.5 millimeters (about as large as two ants side-by-side). This microchip is a full microcontroller unit in itself with a 4KB RAM, 32KB flash memory, a 32-bit 48 MHz ARM Cortex-M0+ processor, a low-power UART and a 12-bit analog to digital converter. A complete tiny computer that can be swallowed! This microchip is a breakthrough in itself – especially for modern medicine.

There are several other uses proposed for Kinetis KI02. MCU in shoes can let you know how many steps you have walked a day while plumbing MCU can let you know instantly about a leaking pipe – all through a watch or may be an iPhone app (just like the Tile tracker for your car keys and other important items that you frequently misplace).

Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive Cruise ControlCars equipped with adaptive cruise control (ACC) technology are intelligent enough to slow down and speed up automatically to keep up with the car in front of you – preventing collisions. ACC allows drivers to set a maximum speed. A radar sensor watches the traffic ahead of the car, locks on to the car ahead in the lane, and drivers can set the car to stay behind by a particular period of time (2,3 or 4 seconds) or particular distance. Often, adaptive cruise control is paired with a pre-crash system that issues alerts and starts braking whenever it senses danger ahead.

Ideal for stop-and-go traffic and rush-hour commuting, the ACC systems are available from $2,500 to as low as just $500. They typically use radars at a frequency band different than police radars (to avoid triggering radar detectors). Full-range Adaptive Cruise Control systems use two radars – one that sees up to 100 feet and other that sees up to 600 feet. However, newer ones are able to use a single radar system.

A much-coveted safe driving feature, cars with autonomous cruise control are ideal for long trips. Premium car manufacturers such as BMW, Audi, Ford, Honda and Hyundai are selling cars with ACC systems.

Till now, ACC systems do not use satellite support, roadside infrastructure or cooperative support from other vehicles. It is mostly based on on-board sensors only - an example of Control Engineering at its best.

CuBox-i

CuBox-iCuBox-i, the world’s smallest computer is one of the most powerful mini-computer that can replace a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop, and possibly even streaming devices like an Apple TV or Roku. Made by SolidRun, these energy-efficient low-cost tiny computers are sleek and elegant.  It has jam-packet ports panel, a subtle logo and is just 2-inch long, thick and high.

Offering industry’s Price Power Performance Ratio (P3R), CuBox-i price starts at just $45. CuBox-i has solo, dual or quad i.MX6 Cortex A9 ARM processors (up to 1.2GHz each), up to 2 GB DDR-3 RAM, ARM

v7 instruction set including NEON extension support, HDMI 1080p output, Infra-red receiver and transmitter, microSD for operating system storage etc.

Epitome of simplicity, CuBox-i devices are made of highest quality materials and use an open source software platform.

3-D Memory

3-D MemoryChipmakers such as Samsung, Micron, and SK Hynix readily lapped up the 3D revolution. 3D memories are of two types – NAND flash memory type which is non-volatile and holds on to information even when it is powered down, and Hybrid Memory Cube which stacks DRAM and adds layer of logic to boost speed.

In NAND, memory designers layer cells straight to alleviate scaling issues and boost density. It is made with a 30- to 40-nanometer process, has bigger cells and more electrons.

In HMC, focus is not on storage of memory but in dynamic RAM. It is faster than the ordinary DRAM chip and off-loads most of the processing responsibility to the high-speed logic chip stack atop DRAM, connected using thousands of copper wires called through-silicon vias (TSVs).

Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power Plant

Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power PlantIvanpah Solar Electric Generating System situated in the Mojave Desert in California is the World’s largest solar power plant. An engineering marvel in itself, Ivanpah uses over 3,00,000 mirrors (heliostats) to reflect heat and light from the Sun onto boilers atop three of the towers here. Each of these towers is 150 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

As water in the towers gets heated, steam is created and moves turbines. This produces enough clean and green electricity to power up 1,40,000 homes (about 392 megawatts).

From a distance, mirrors look like a lake in the middle of a desert which is about four times larger than the Central Park in the New York City. It can be seen from the International Space Station.

Solar thermal projects like Ivanpah are said to be more suited for India as we have plentiful of land and Sun while natural gas is as abundant as in the United States.

Optical Link

Electronic Engineering Professor Jelena Vuckovic of Stanford University has recently led a research in which a team of engineers designed and built a prism-like device that can split a beam of light into different colours and bend it to right angles.

Described as 'Optical Link', this tiny silicon slice has a bar code like pattern etched on it. When a beam of light shines at the link, light of two different wavelengths (colours) split off at right angles forming a T-shape. Eventually, this could be a big step towards developing computer systems that use Optics (Light) rather than Electricity (Wires) to carry data.

Professor Vuckovic claims that light can carry more data than a wire and it takes less energy to transmit photons than electrons.

Spacecraft Radar Mappers

Spacecraft Radar MappersMagellan - the Venus Radar Mapper and Cassini - the Titan Radar Mapper are some of the shining examples of Electrical Engineering marvels.

Though an aging man-made satellite, Magellan spacecraft again made new when it was pulled from the elliptical orbit 5,285 miles above the Venus to just 105 miles above Venus with the help of controllers. The Cassini Titan Radar Mapper is another high-tech Imaging achievement that can fire up several Electrical Engineers for a long time to come. Synthetic Aperture Radar images of Titan's surface obtained with the help of Cassini is of great interest to planetary geological processes. But to engineers, it is the radar mapper itself which is of major interest.

Magellan has two broad square solar panels, each measuring 2.5 meters across. They degraded gradually during the mission due to extreme and frequent temperature changes. The spacecraft was equipped with twin 30 amp-hour, 26-cell, nickel-cadmium batteries that got recharged whenever they received direct sunlight.

Cassini is the largest and most complex interplanetary spacecraft which is unmanned (include an orbiter and a probe). It was powered by 32.7 kg plutonium-238 batteries whose radioactivity produced electricity. Its instruments included a synthetic aperture radar mapper, an infrared mapping spectrometer, a charge-coupled device imaging system, a plasma spectrometer, a magnetometer and several other sophisticated devices.

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