OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of engineering

New dispatch system could save money for trucking industry, make life easier for drivers

The study this story is based on is available online: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/38433

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University are studying a new approach to organize and route truck transportation that could save millions of dollars, improve the quality of life for thousands of truck drivers and make freight transportation far more efficient.

The findings, published recently in Transportation Research Part E, show the feasibility of the new system. More research is still needed before implementation, but there’s potential to revolutionize the way that truck transportation is handled in the United States and around the world, some experts say.

Loads could be delivered more rapidly, costs could be lowered, and the exhausting experience of some truck drivers who often spend two to three weeks on the road between visits back home might be greatly reduced. This difficult lifestyle often leads them to quit their job as a result.

That turnover problem is sufficiently severe that more long-haul, full-truckload drivers quit every year than there are trucks of that type on the road.

“The perceived quality of life for long-haul truck drivers is poor, and it shouldn’t have to be that way,” said Hector Vergara, an assistant professor in the OSU School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, who is working on this project in collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas.

“It will take a transition for companies to see how the approach we are studying can work effectively, but it should help address several of the problems they face,” he said.

In truck transportation, some of the existing approaches include “point to point,” in which one driver stays with a full load all the way to its often-distant destination; “hub and spoke” systems in which less-than-full loads are changed at selected points; and “relay” networks in which the drivers change but the load stays on the truck.

None of these systems by themselves are ideal for long-haul transport. The hub and spoke system is among the most popular with drivers because they get home much more frequently, but it can be costly and inefficient for full-truckload transportation. Relay networks make sense in theory but are difficult to implement.

The new approach under study combines the relay system and the point-to-point system for full-truckload transport. The researchers at OSU developed a new mathematical approach to optimize the design of the dispatching system for the movement of goods and to minimize the impact on drivers. It’s one of the first models of its type to create a mixed-fleet dispatching system at a large scale.

“We now know this approach can work,” Vergara said. “Compared to point-to-point, this system should cut the length of trips a driver makes by about two-thirds, and get drivers back to their homes much more often. We can also keep loads moving while drivers rest, and because of that save significant amounts of money on the number of trucks needed to move a given amount of freight.”

The computer optimization determines the best way to dispatch loads and tells where to locate relay points, and how different loads should be routed through the relay network.

Truck transportation systems will never be perfect, researchers concede, because there are so many variables that can cause unpredictable problems – weather delays, road closures, traffic jams, truck breakdowns, driver illnesses. But the current system, especially for long-haul, point-to-point transport, is already riddled with problems, and significant improvements based on computer optimization should be possible.

Disillusionment with existing approaches led to a shortage of 125,000 truck drivers in 2011, the researchers noted in the study. The negative economic impacts of this system also reach beyond just the trucking industry, they said.

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Hector Vergara, 541-737-0955

Dam construction to reduce greenhouse gases causes ecosystem disruption

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/14XWxBu

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers conclude in a new report that a global push for small hydropower projects, supported by various nations and also the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, may cause unanticipated and potentially significant losses of habitat and biodiversity.

An underlying assumption that small hydropower systems pose fewer ecological concerns than large dams is not universally valid, scientists said in the report. A five-year study, one of the first of its type, concluded that for certain environmental impacts the cumulative damage caused by small dams is worse than their larger counterparts.

The findings were reported by scientists from Oregon State University in the journal Water Resources Research, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

The conclusions were based on studies of the Nu River system in China but are relevant to national energy policies in many nations or regions – India, Turkey, Latin America - that seek to expand hydroelectric power generation. Hydropower is generally favored over coal in many developing areas because it uses a renewable resource and does not contribute to global warming. Also, the social and environmental problems caused by large dam projects have resulted in a recent trend toward increased construction of small dams.

“The Kyoto Protocol, under Clean Development Mechanism, is funding the construction of some of these small hydroelectric projects, with the goal of creating renewable energy that’s not based on fossil fuels,” said Desiree Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

“The energy may be renewable, but this research raises serious questions about whether or not the overall process is sustainable,” Tullos said.

“There is damage to streams, fisheries, wildlife, threatened species and communities,” she said. “Furthermore, the projects are often located in areas where poverty and illiteracy are high. The benefit to these local people is not always clear, as some of the small hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, indicating that the electricity is being sent outside of the local region.

“The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”

This study was one of the first of its type to look at the complete range of impacts caused by multiple, small hydroelectric projects, both in a biophysical, ecological and geopolitical basis, and compare them to large dam projects. It focused on the remote Nu River in China’s Yunnan Province, where many small dams producing 50 megawatts of power or less are built on tributaries that fall rapidly out of steep mountains. There are already 750,000 dams in China and about one new dam is being built every day, researchers say.

Among the findings of the report as it relates to this region of China:

  • The cumulative amount of energy produced by small hydroelectric projects can be significant, but so can the ecological concerns they raise in this area known to be a “hotspot” of biological diversity.
  • Per megawatt of energy produced, small tributary dams in some cases can have negative environmental impacts that are many times greater than large, main stem dams.
  • Many dams in China are built as part of a state-mandated policy to “Send Western Energy East” toward the larger population and manufacturing centers.
  • Small dams can have significant impacts on habitat loss when a river’s entire flow is diverted into channels or pipes, leaving large sections of a river with no water at all.
  • Fish, wildlife, water quality and riparian zones are all affected by water diversion, and changes in nearby land use and habitat fragmentation can lead to further species loss.
  • The cumulative effect on habitat diversity can be 100 times larger for small dams than large dams.
  • Policies encouraging more construction of small dams are often developed at the national or international level, but construction and management of the projects happen at the local level.
  • As a result, mitigation actions and governance structures that would limit social and environmental impacts of small hydropower stations are not adequately implemented.

“One of the things we found generally with small dams is that there was much less oversight and governance with the construction, operation and monitoring of small hydropower,” Tullos said. “On the large, main stem dams, people pay attention to what’s going on. On a small hydropower project, no one notices if minimum flows are being maintained. Or if a pump breaks, the hydropower station might sit idle for long periods of time.”

Researchers said the key finding of the research, contrary to prevailing but unvalidated belief, is that “biophysical impacts of small hydropower may exceed those of large hydropower, particular with regard to habitat and hydrologic change.”

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Desiree Tullos, 541-737-2038

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Normal water flow
River with water


Water diverted by dam

River below dam

OSU, industry partnerships draw on student talent

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An increasing number of Oregon companies, both large and small, are taking advantage of the chance to work with Oregon State University engineering students on projects ranging from applied research to product development.

This year many small Oregon companies and startups have teamed up with students on topics such as optimizing solar panel performance or developing devices for the treatment of type-one diabetes. VAL Avionics of Salem, Ore., sponsored a project that resulted in a new navigational system for airplanes that is already on the market.

Such university-industry partnerships sometimes produce a marketable product, and sometimes just improve efficiency or add new capabilities. Inspired Light, a small startup in Corvallis, Ore., sponsored a project to store, monitor, and display output from solar panels that will help them more easily monitor the performance of their panels.

“We definitely have gained value that will help us start more quickly this summer on implementation of the final product, where their work will be utilized,” said Jim Dickie, research and development manager at Inspired Light.

Projects range in technical complexity and potential impact. Other examples include:

  • A group of seniors from the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics is working on a heat removal analysis and design for NuScale Power, a Corvallis-based company that is developing small modular reactor designs. The goal is to determine if the NuScale design can withstand Fukushima-type accidents without core damage.
  • Students are creating an “Oregon Ale Trail” Facebook and mobile apps. The goal is an online community that celebrates more than 170 breweries by sharing brewery experiences. As users visit breweries they create their very own ale trail, with a goal of visiting them all.
  • Energy systems engineering students at OSU-Cascades designed a “purge system” to prevent embrittlement of the film in a fuel cell hydrogen generator during loss of power or controlled shutdown for maintenance, thereby significantly extending the life of the materials.
  • Students redesigned a water distribution system to pump irrigation water from the Columbia River to 125-acre circles owned by Madison Farms in eastern Oregon. The computer model and optimized water distribution saved roughly 8 percent of energy use for a growing season, and may be applied for other farm irrigation systems.
  • Students created an ergonomic assessment and scoring tool for truck cabs of the Oregon Department of Transportation to use in purchasing decisions. The tool has been licensed and will be used to justify buying $10 million worth of trucks for herbicide applications.
  • One senior project is developing a membrane that will improve the performance of an integrated sensing catheter used in monitoring blood glucose levels and managing type-one diabetes.

“It’s a win-win model,” said John Parmigiani, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU.

“Students gain real-world engineering and project management experience in a classroom environment,” he said. “Sponsors receive a deliverable that would have otherwise been expensive and/or difficult to obtain. The outcome is a great educational opportunity for students and satisfied sponsors who return to Oregon State for additional projects.”

A new initiative at OSU, the Oregon State University Advantage, is also taking an organized approach to developing more partnerships between OSU business, industry, students and faculty, through such programs as the Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnering Program.

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Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

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John Parmigiani, 541-737-7023

New navigation system for airplanes modernizes old technology

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research at Oregon State University has developed a new airplane navigation system based on concepts that were developed in the 1940s but are still popular and affordable, and it uses new technology to make the system even smaller, simpler and more accurate.

The new product is just one inch tall – half the size of other navigational systems on the market – and should be of special interest for the homebuilt airplane market, its designers say.

It was created by three OSU seniors in electrical and computer engineering and improves UHF-VHF technology. Called the NAV 2000, the system is the newest product for VAL Avionics, an Oregon company that already has several orders pending.

The navigation system receives and processes signals and a separate navigational indicator unit translates the information for the pilot. It’s compatible with several indicator systems including the old-style needle display, and a more modern video display called an electronic flight instrument system.

According to the developers, this approach is more affordable than the use of newer and more expensive GPS technology.

“Much of the equipment that is out there still uses the old analog technology,” said James MacInnes, one of the student designers. “As an aspiring electrical engineer, I felt that we should look at simplifying and improving upon that technology to receive the UHF-VHF signal.”

The system can direct pilots from point-to-point using signals broadcast by airport and other towers, and guide airplanes for landings with existing runway transmitters. The unit conveys both horizontal and vertical information which allows pilots to land even in poor visibility conditions.

 “I’m incredibly impressed with how accurate the students have been able to make this system,” said Jim Harr, president of VAL Avionics. “It's more accurate than anything I've seen.”

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Researchers help threatened wheat crops in Asia

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have helped develop new environmental monitoring technology that will allow farmers thousands of miles away, in west and central Asia, to save millions of dollars while more effectively combatting a pest that is threatening their wheat crops.

Twenty million acres of wheat in parts of Asia and North Africa are threatened by the “Sunn pest,” a bug that can destroy the value of wheat. Speed in confronting this pest is essential – even minor delays in use of pesticides can cut wheat yield by 90 percent, and if just 2-5 percent of the grains have been affected, the entire crop becomes unusable for making bread.

A solution to that problem lies in an unusual collaboration between an entomologist, a rangeland specialist and an OSU computer scientist who are using mobile technology and cloud computing for better management of the devastating pests.

Mustapha El Bouhssini, a senior entomologist for the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, an organization based in Lebanon, learned about research done by Doug Johnson, an OSU professor of rangeland ecology and management, which uses geo-referenced photos of rangelands for environmental monitoring.

“When I heard about the OSU imaging system, I knew immediately we could use this for Sunn pests,” El Bouhssini said. “Because of the Sunn pest, governments treat infested wheat fields with pesticides; $150 million is spent annually on chemical control. But it’s not just the cost that is a concern.

“That’s a lot of pesticide to dump in the environment,” he added. “It kills the bees, and pollutes the water and the environment.”

OSU professor and computer scientist Bechir Hamdaoui joined the project to develop an integrated data acquisition system that could collect and process photos from the field quickly and accurately. Now, smart phones or smart cameras will be used by workers in the field to capture location information and transmit it wirelessly to a remote OSU server for automatic processing.

Decision-makers in places like Turkey and Uzbekistan will be able to find out the number of Sunn pests in their fields and spray only when conditions warrant action. The data collected for pest management can also be examined year-to-year, along with other factors like temperature and weather for prediction modeling.

“We would like to have an impact for these countries where wheat is very important,” Hamdaoui said. “It's an essential part of their lives.”

The researchers expect the technology will expand to many other areas of research and management.

“Already we’ve had people talk to us about other applications such as rust on wheat,” Johnson said. “People are quite interested.”

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Bechir Hamdaoui, 541-737-9843

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Sunn pest on wheat
Sunn pest


"Smart" camera

Smart camera

OSU’s Engineering Expo to showcase student projects

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 14th annual Engineering Expo, featuring student projects from many engineering disciplines, will be held Friday, May 17, at the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

The senior design showcase has more than 150 student-built projects, including at least 30 that focus on green energy and sustainability, and is combined with a “Robo*Palooza.” The event is free and open to the public, and will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kelley Engineering Center on the OSU campus. Tours of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory are also available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the hour.

More information on the event is available online at http://bit.ly/10o7V72 or by calling 541-737-3101.

The various displays offer an entertaining learning opportunity for anyone, organizers say, and may be of particular interest to high school students who are considering a career in engineering.

"The Expo celebrates the college's commitment to developing engineering leaders – students and graduates who apply their education to solve important and complex problems," said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering.

Among the various displays will be:

  • A driving simulator where participants can interact with a video screen dashboard;
  • A technology that uses solar energy to power a refrigeration system for developing countries;
  • A laser radar camera that scans objects and creates a 3D image;
  • A mechanical device designed to simulate tremors suffered by victims of neurological diseases, and aid in designing products for people with disabilities;
  • 3D models of two indicator species, earthworms and honeybees, to determine safe and unsafe radiation doses for wildlife, which could help in the radiological cleanup at places such as Fukushima.
Media Contact: 

Abby Metzger, 541-737-3295

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Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

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Race car

Race car

College of Engineering

About the OSU College of Engineering: The OSU College of Engineering is among the nation's largest and most productive engineering programs. Since 1999, the college has more than tripled its research expenditures to $37.2 million by emphasizing highly collaborative research that solves global problems. It is a leader in signature research areas, including precision health, clean energy, resilient infrastructure and advanced manufacturing; and targeted strategic areas, including robotics, materials research and clean water.

Lieberman to help guide OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mark Lieberman, an expert in business commercialization, entrepreneurship and international finance, has been named as the new chief startup officer and co-director of the OSU Venture Accelerator, an initiative to help move university research to commercial success.

The Venture Accelerator and a related effort, the Industry Partnering Program, are two key parts of the Oregon State University Advantage, a major new program to boost the university’s impact on job creation and economic progress in Oregon and the nation. It began this spring.

Lieberman most recently has been executive director of the Business Technology Center of Los Angeles County, and was named one of the 50 “Most Innovative Men for 2012” by THE Magazine. He has taught entrepreneurship programs at various colleges, consulted with several governments, worked in international finance, and served on President Obama’s “Rank Review Committee” for 2010.

“Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in launching new enterprises and in mentoring management teams,” said Ron Adams, executive associate vice president for research at OSU. “His leadership as chief startup officer will help ensure OSU’s success in fostering job creation and in developing Oregon’s future entrepreneurial talent.”

The Venture Accelerator is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies. It will aid their development with legal, marketing, financial and mentoring assistance to help turn good ideas into real-world businesses.

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Ron Adams, 541-737-7722

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Mark Lieberman

Mark Lieberman

Invention could make spent nuclear fuel useful for irradiation purposes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A researcher at Oregon State University has invented a way to use spent nuclear fuel to produce the gamma rays needed to irradiate medical supplies, food and other products – an advance that could change what is now a costly waste disposal concern into a valued commodity.

The technology, if widely implemented, might allow each of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States to create a revenue stream of $10 million a year while providing thousands of new jobs. And by lowering the cost of irradiation, it could become commercially feasible for a wider range of uses.

A provisional patent has been issued on the technology, and commercialization efforts are under way through a private company, G-Demption LLC, created for that purpose.

“This is essentially a way to re-use spent nuclear fuel for a valuable purpose,” said Russell Goff, a masters student in the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. “Until now no one really thought to do this. But this approach is safe, practical and economical. Instead of treating all nuclear waste as a disposal problem, we could be putting much of it to good use.”

Irradiation is a growing industry, and is commonly used in the sterilization of medical supplies such as bandages or syringes. It’s also widely approved for helping to preserve foods – many spices, and some fruits and meat products are irradiated. The use of gamma radiation for these purposes does not make the underlying product radioactive, and generally has no effects on it that are any more pronounced than other sterilization or preservation technologies.

However, the gamma ray sterilization industry is constrained by the need for cobalt 60, the radioactive isotope most commonly used.

“The U.S. already uses about half of the world’s supply of cobalt 60 for various types of irradiation, and the process can be expensive,” Goff said. “The new system we’ve created should be significantly less expensive, and as such could open the technology to more routine uses. We could double the world supply of gamma rays with this new technology and still won’t come close to meeting the market demand for this valuable resource.”

Sterile medical supplies are a huge market for gamma irradiation, Goff said, and increased used of irradiation could reduce the need for sterilization with ethylene oxide gas, which is a highly toxic and flammable gas.

The system Goff has invented adds another level of protection to prevent unwanted fission products from escaping the spent nuclear fuel and entering the environment, but allows gamma radiation to be released in a controlled manner for irradiation purposes. Because recently spent nuclear fuel – less than 12 years old - still has fairly intense levels of radiation, it provides an economical way to irradiate products.

The nuclear waste handling systems needed to use the new technology are similar to those already being used at nuclear power plants, he said, and the process of sterilizing the products is almost identical to processes used in the cobalt 60 irradiation industry today.

Aside from providing a commercial use for spent nuclear fuel, the approach would also reduce the significant expense of otherwise storing it, Goff noted. This system might also have special appeal in developing countries, where refrigeration and other approaches to preserving food, as well as access to sterile medical supplies, are not always readily available.

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Russell Goff
515-231-0736

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Irradiating medical supplies

Irradiating products

 

YouTube video: http://bit.ly/XT0fxO

Pedestrians at serious risk when drivers are “permitted” to turn left

The report this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/kZJkWs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study to examine driver behavior in permitted left turns has identified what researchers call an “alarming” level of risk to pedestrians crossing the street – about 4-9 percent of the time, drivers don’t even bother to look and see if there are pedestrians in their way.

As opposed to a “protected” left turn, in which a solid green arrow gives a driver the complete right of way in a left-turn lane, a “permitted” left turn is often allowed by a confusing hodgepodge of signals, and drivers may have to pick their way through narrow windows of oncoming traffic.

This difficult driving maneuver, which is played out millions of times a day around the world, is fraught with risk for unwary pedestrians, who too often appear to be an afterthought.

 The danger is much higher than had been realized, experts say.

“There are far more pedestrian crashes in marked crosswalks than anywhere else on roads, and pedestrians already have a false sense of security,” said David Hurwitz, an assistant professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University. “This study found that one key concern is permitted left turns.”

As they wait to turn left, sometimes taking a narrow opportunity to lunge into a stream of oncoming traffic, drivers focus most of their attention on the vehicular traffic and the traffic signal, rather than any pedestrians crossing the street, the research showed. The heavier the traffic, the less attention paid to pedestrians.

In a controlled analysis in a full-scale driving simulator that monitored specific eye movements, the engineers found that about one time in 10 or 20, the driver didn’t even look to see if a pedestrian was there before moving into the intersection. This suggests a major level of risk to pedestrians, researchers said, if they assume that drivers not only will look for them, but will allow them to cross the street.

The problem is aggravated by “permitted” left turn signals that vary widely, from state to state and sometimes even from one city to the next. Such turns might be allowed by a circular green light, a flashing circular yellow light, a flashing circular red light, or even a flashing yellow arrow. More consistent national standards regarding the flashing yellow arrow were recommended as recently as 2009, but the process of upgrading signals across the nation takes time.

The danger is sufficiently high, the researchers concluded, that more states and cities should consider prohibiting permitted left turns while pedestrians are allowed to be in the crosswalk. In Washington County, Ore., traffic managers recently did just that, after receiving a high number of complaints about pedestrian-vehicle conflicts.

“In traffic management you always have multiple goals, which sometimes conflict,” Hurwitz said. “You want to move traffic as efficiently as possible, because there’s a cost to making vehicles wait. You use more fuel, increase emissions and waste people’s time. The permitted left turn can help with efficiency.

“But the safety of the traveling public is also critical,” he said. “Sometimes the goal of safety has to override the goal of efficiency, and we think this is one of those times.”

Also of some interest, the study found preliminary evidence to suggest that the currently-mandated type of signal, which uses four heads instead of three, offers no change in driver behavior. However, the cost to implement a four-head signal is about $800 more than retrofitting the three-head version, which is widely used around the nation. Many millions of dollars might be saved nationally by using the simpler signal.

The findings of these studies have been compiled in a report by OSU and Portland State University researchers to the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, which funded the research. They will also be presented this year at the Driving Assessment Conference in New York and the Western District ITE meeting in Arizona.

OSU has a sophisticated driving simulator research facility, which allows test subjects to see, experience and react to realistic driving experiences while scientists study their reactions and behavior. This study was done with 27 subjects experiencing 620 permitted left turn maneuvers.

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David Hurwitz, 541-737-9242

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Volunteer driver


Tracking eye movement
Tracking eye movement


"Permitted" left turn

"Permitted" left turn