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Lab News --April 8, 2011

April 8, 2011

LabNews - April 8, 2011PDF (4.3 Mb)

Sandia partners with TUV Rheinland PTL, LLC to advance nationís photovoltaic industry

By Stephanie Hobby

Technology developed and perfected at Sandia National Laboratories is being used to accelerate the growth of the nation’s photovoltaic solar power industry through a partnership with TUV Rheinland PTL, LLC, a private testing and certification company in Arizona.


The test yard used by TUV-PTL in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of TUV-PTL)

“The unique, multiplatform test capabilities developed at Sandia Labs are providing a tremendous value to our customers,” Govindasamy Tamizhmani of TUV-PTL says.

As a leader in PV research, the Photovoltaics and Grid Integration Department at Sandia Labs has been the source private companies have consistently turned to for testing and analysis needs. But as the nation’s PV industry continues its exponential growth, keeping up with those demands is no longer feasible.

“Transferring our technology to a commercial test house allows for a much faster response time for getting PV into the field,” Sandia researcher Jennifer Granata (6112) says. “This partnership enables us to continue to support requests while maintaining our primary focus on research and new technologies.”

In 2009, Sandia opened a competitive bid for a third party to certify systems using Sandia technology, which was awarded to TUV-PTL in May 2009. Fourteen months later, Sandia verified the test and analysis methods of TUV-PTL through two rounds of exacting tests and the contract was completed.

Traditional tests only characterize modules at one temperature, one irradiance, and one spectrum, but Sandia’s technology allows users to test PV modules with a high accuracy, dual-axis tracker and gather data on multiple weather conditions, temperatures, irradiances, air mass values, and angles of incidence. The data are then used to build models to predict how a module would behave in any location.

“As the industry and test standards slowly and steadily move away from single-condition to multicondition testing, the future for this new service looks great and allows us to provide a unique capability to our customers,” Tamizhmani says.

Since being awarded the contract, TUV-PTL has successfully used Sandia’s test methods for several clients to understand various real operating conditions in the field.

The technology transfer was conducted under the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Program PV Test Technology Transfer effort. -- Stephanie Hobby

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Sandia researchers merge serious gaming, simulation tools to create high-level models for border security

By Mike Janes

The responsibility of securing the US homeland from terrorists and other threats while facilitating legitimate trade and travel falls on the shoulders of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It’s not an easy task.


Donna Djordjevich (8116) describes the high-level model of border security to Jill Hruby, VP of the IHNS SMU and Div. 6000. The software provides a virtual environment where users can run various scenarios to see the outcome of their decisions. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

Sandia researchers at both the California and New Mexico sites, however, are doing their part to help the government answer the difficult questions that face CBP officials every day. With funding from CBP, Sandia is using a serious gaming platform known as Ground Truth, a force-on-force battle simulation tool called DANTE, and the work of several collaborating organizations to develop the Borders High Level Model (HLM), a high-fidelity simulation and analysis program that aids policy and decision-makers tasked with making key procurements and funding choices.

“There’s a lot of debate going on in the government concerning the technology and infrastructure investments that need to be made along the border,” explains Jason Reinhardt (8112), who serves as the Borders HLM project manager and deputy program manager for borders security within the Labs’ International, Homeland and Nuclear Security (IHNS) Strategic Management Unit. “How much fence do we need? What kind of fence? What is the right mix of border personnel and technology? How can sensors, vehicles, and other technical equipment most effectively be used? With Borders HLM, CBP officials can simulate their defensive architectures, accurately measure their performance, and start to answer these difficult questions.”

Ground Truth (Lab News, 8/17/07), initially funded through an LDRD in 2007, is a gaming platform originally designed to prepare decision makers and first responders for weapons of mass destruction/weapons of mass effect (WMD/WME) attacks in metropolitan areas. Developed by computer scientist Donna Djordjevich (8116), principal investigator on the Borders HLM project, the software provides a virtual environment where users can play through various scenarios to see the effects of their decisions under the constraints of time and resources.

For the Borders HLM project, the Ground Truth software has been integrated into a bottom-projected touch surface table. On this game surface, users can see “people” moving across the border terrain, observe CBP “personnel” respond to incidents, and essentially control those movements and “apprehend” suspects. Users can also view a leader board of sorts that shows how many suspects have been apprehended, the dollar amount spent implementing the chosen architecture, and other metrics that matter to CBP decision makers.

DANTE, also part of the Borders HLM platform, is a force-on-force battle simulation tool built on the well-known Umbra simulation framework (http://umbra.sandia.gov/) that Sandia researchers developed and introduced in 2001. Umbra is a flexible, tactical, hybrid simulation engine and framework that can integrate physical, cyber, and behavioral elements at variable fidelity in a 3-D environment.

The work also builds upon a Borders Grand Challenge project from the mid-2000s (focused on the impact of new detection technology at ports of entry) and capitalizes on a range of existing Sandia capabilities, including the Weapons of Mass Destruction Decision Analysis Center (WMD-DAC), the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC, a joint Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory program), and even the Labs’ expertise in robotics.

Jason compares Borders HLM to the popular Command & Conquer video game.

“Players can watch people run across the border, and they’re seeing terrain, they’re seeing Border Patrol agents respond and drive around on horses or helicopters or other vehicles, and they’re actually ‘driving’ in a Command & Conquer-style response,” he says. “You might choose to go get this guy, respond to an alarm, adjudicate this apprehension, and so on. Then, at the end, you can evaluate how everything worked.”

There were a number of technical challenges in integrating a mature modeling technology like DANTE with a newer gaming technology like Ground Truth, say Jason and Donna.

“We needed to create real-time control for the user, and our current capabilities weren’t built to do that,” Jason says.

“There’s also the fact that we’re modeling 64 square miles of border, and we need to do so at a pretty high fidelity,” adds Donna, who points out that Ground Truth’s terrain was originally developed at a fixed, small scale.

To help overcome some of the barriers, Sandia has looked to some important collaborators.

The University of Utah offers a technology, Visualization Streams for Ultimate Scalability (ViSUS), which allows researchers to progressively stream in terrain and imagery data and minimize data processing requirements, an important consideration given that HLM requires many gigabytes of data. For its part, Happynin’ Games, an iPhone/mobile game development company, developed the 3-D artwork and the characters found in the simulations. Sandia, acting as the systems integrator, then put all the pieces together, presented the Borders HLM product to CBP, and demonstrated how it would allow them to go through all the steps of the “engagement analysis cycle.”

“We learned that the Border Patrol agents and CBP decision-makers need a tool that offers a common view of the problems they face,” Jason says. “With our high-level model, they can play through various scenarios and see how people, technology, and other elements all interact. Then, later, they can go back and do a baseline analysis and dig into the details of why certain architectures and solutions aren’t working as well as they should.”

Even better than failure recognition, Jason points out, is Borders HLM’s ability to demonstrate viable solutions that CBP can implement into its security plans. “They can then play the game again with a recommended solution, and the end users – the people who are actually charged with making it happen on the ground – can critique and tweak it to their liking.”

With additional funding and the right kind of collaborations, Donna says, more robust features could be added to make Borders HLM even more valuable to CBP and other potential customers. The current version, for instance, only deals with individual border crossers, so it doesn’t capture crowd behaviors. Other sensor types, such as radiation detectors or even airborne equipment, could also be added.

Jason says the future of the Borders HLM tool will likely depend on the direction in which CPB chooses to go with its border operations.

“CBP is undergoing a shift in the way it evaluates border security,” he says. “It’s really a difficult problem they’re facing, so they’ve been trying to figure out a systems engineering approach. Our high-level models tool will likely change the way CBP conducts it business, and it will probably have a real long-term impact on how large expenditures are justified or reputed on and around the nation’s borders.” -- Mike Janes

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Life-saving device receives first-place prize from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers

By Iris Aboytes

Austin Silva (1462) and Tyler Bushnell (6121) were recently awarded the first place, $6,000 prize from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers of New Mexico for designing a life-saving device. The winners were announced at the Engineers Week luncheon by New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers on Friday, Feb. 25.


Austin Silva (1462), foreground, and Tyler Bushnell (6121) review the intricacies of their award-winning design. The concept is intended to serve as a life-saving solar-still desalinator device in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

The four-week ASME competition’s requirement was to design a practical, self-contained, multienergy source  that serves as a life-saving device in the event of a natural or manmade disaster in a coastal area.

Austin says it all started with a back-of-napkin basic concept. “From there we bounced ideas around, fed off each other’s energy, and the winning design was born.”

 “I have discovered a new world through design and engineering,” Tyler says. “We’ve created a perfect shelter for use in a disaster. Working on the design ensured it was realistic and used a natural solution – solar energy.”

Their concept arrives in a box covered in a thick clear plastic, which is disassembled and reassembled in the form of a raised solar-still desalinator with a tent. The main idea is to use a shelter to conserve heat, and use cooking and heating energy to assist in the desalination process. The solar-still reservoirs are raised and made of steel so that heat, either from cooking or a built fire can be used to accelerate evaporation, and is not lost to the atmosphere.

“Our concept is ready for commercialization,” says Tyler.

Austin and Tyler met as freshmen at New Mexico Tech, and have been good friends ever since. Austin is now a Sandian who has recently been accepted into the Masters Fellowship program and Tyler is an intern who will receive his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in May.

Austin’s undergraduate degree was in electrical engineering but his interests changed. During his time at Sandia, he got involved with projects in cognitive science and how it relates to the human-computer interaction. “Cognitive science is a very important emerging field and the implications that it has on the world are very exciting to me,” he says.

Austin is currently working on a project at Sandia that uses electroencephalography (EEG) to study the effects of cognitive training on memory. Through his fellowship he is looking forward to receiving formal training in this field and bringing it back to support Sandia’s mission.

This project interested Austin because one of his passions is human-centered design. He would like to use science and engineering to improve the lives of people throughout the world. He was a co-founder of Engineers Without Borders student chapter at New Mexico Tech.

“This design competition was the perfect platform for Tyler and me to display our abilities as globally conscious engineers and designers,” Austin says. “We would like this design to become a manufactured reality. The world needs this right now.”

Tyler plans to one day pursue his doctorate in design optimization and methodologies. He is interested in exploring the connections between engineering design, psychology, and politics. “The principles of engineering are ultimately about problem solving,” he says.

Tyler has been working in wind power at Sandia since the summer of 2010. “It has given me an opportunity to develop my skills as an engineer and to apply my education to real-world problems,” he says. “I wanted to include a wind turbine in our concept’s design, but it wouldn’t fit.”

He draws much of his inspiration from travels around the country and abroad, as well as his time working at Walt Disney World. “It’s important to hold the details and the big picture in your head at the same time,” he mentions, “otherwise you can miss the obvious.” 

Originally inspired by architecture, he has held graphic and web design jobs. Tyler admits to getting heavily involved in school design projects and seeks out competitions. “I can’t get enough of it,” he says. “It is the thrill of creation.”

Since winning the competition, Austin and Tyler have been invited to multiple presentations showcasing their design. They plan on turning this into New Mexican jobs and a product that the Red Cross or other philanthropic organizations can use to save lives. - Iris Aboytes

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