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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 53, No. 12        June 15, 2001
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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High-speed optical transceiver modules Labs software makes bomb 'bots smarter Sandia Cplant supercomputer program released to public

EMCORE, Sandia team up to develop high-speed optical transceiver modules for short-haul communications

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By Chris Burroughs

EMCORE Corp. and Sandia have teamed up to develop high-speed optical transceiver modules that promise to make short-haul fiber optic communications faster and less expensive.

Over the past year-and-a-half some 50 Sandians from Centers 1300, 1700, 2300, 2600, 2900, 9100, and 14100 have worked with EMCORE's Fiber Optical Components Division to develop a high-speed parallel array "transceiver." It consists of an array of vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) on the transmission end and an array of photodiodes at the receiving end of fiber optics.

EMCORE will open a 67,000-square-foot manufacturing plant next month at the Sandia Science and Technology Park to further develop and produce the product. Robert Bryan, former Sandian and current vice president for EMCORE's Fiber Optic Components Division, says the company has already hired nearly 100 people to work on the project and anticipates hiring "hundreds more" as the product line grows.

"The development of this technology represents a substantial investment for EMCORE in terms of money and time," Bryan says. "We chose Sandia to help with the product development because of the Labs' unique set of capabilities -- primarily in the area of microsystems integration -- that can't be found anywhere else."

EMCORE is already marketing to potential customers the 12 x 1.25 GB/s transceiver, which has the receiver and transmitter in separate packages, and its cousin, the Very Short Reach OC-192 Parallel Array Transponder, which puts both the receiver and transmitter on one board. EMCORE is the only company in the country manufacturing the transponder.

The market for EMCORE's transceiver and transponder will be Internet service providers which would use the devices for short haul data transfer -- distances of 300 meters or less.

Long relationship

EMCORE and Sandia's relationship dates to 1993 and a series of cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) and work-for-others agreements. Bryan says when EMCORE officials realized they wanted to jumpstart work on the transceiver line, they turned to Sandia, knowing the Labs could "get the new technology up and running quickly."

Sandia's Integrated Microsystems Dept. 1738, under the direction of Manager Mike Daily, conducted a feasibility study to see what it would take to put together a transceiver device that could be easily manufactured. Based on the report, presented in January 2000, EMCORE officials decided to proceed with the project.

Fifteen months later Sandia and EMCORE have a working transceiver designed for low-cost, high-volume production manufacturing.

The transceiver consists of two parts -- a transmitter and receiver. On the outside the transmitter and receiver look alike, but inside they are different.

The transmitter consists of a high-speed driver integrated circuit (IC) and a 12-VCSEL array chip -- a type of laser where photons bounce vertically between mirrors grown into the structure and then shoot straight up from the wafer surface. The VCSEL is used to transform electronic signals to optical signals that travel through the fiber optic cables.

At the receiving end is a single chip array of 12 gallium arsenide photo detectors that convert the light back to electronic pulses and a high speed receiver IC to shape the electronic pulses.

Two challenges

Dave Peterson (1738), who led the Sandia high-speed parallel optical transceiver development effort, says two challenges had to be overcome before a device with the potential of easy manufacturing was possible.

"First the units had to be designed to align the laser arrays and fiber cable to within 10 microns in all three dimensions even though the fiber cable is manually plugged and unplugged multiple times by field service technicians," Dave says. "This was no easy task."

The laser array inside the transceiver must be within microns of -- but not touching -- the fibers for the device to function.

The second challenge was to meet the high-speed data-transfer requirements while keeping the laser light intensity low enough to meet eye safety certification standards. A unique feedback control approach was used to meet these requirements by controlling the laser outputs.

Bryan anticipates that the EMCORE/Sandia-developed transceiver and transponder initiative will be highly successful. This is partly because the demand for the modules exceeds the supply -- and the company that can come up with an inexpensive way to manufacture the modules will be the winner.

"I believe in the long run we will be that winner," Bryan says. "Our advantage is that our devices are easier to make and easier to use than others on the market." -- Chris Burroughs

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Labs software makes bomb 'bots smarter

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By John German

Some 700 law enforcement officials gathering in Albuquerque later this month will see for the first time a wheeled police robot made smarter with Sandia software.

The prototype robot makes many of the "how to" decisions on its own, freeing up its operator to make the more critical "what to do next" decisions during stressful and potentially dangerous bomb-disablement missions.

Working with a commercially available robot on loan from REMOTEC Inc. of Oak Ridge, Tenn., Sandia automated many of the robot's complex movements while retaining the operator's ability to command the robot's behaviors.

The software, called SMART, for Sandia Modular Architecture for Robotics and Teleoperation, is expected to make police robots quicker, safer, easier to operate, and capable of more behaviors. It also could make available to on-scene commanders a greater number of tools for responding to a wider variety of situations.

"Most importantly, it should minimize 'time on target' for human bomb techs," says project leader Phil Bennett of Intelligent Systems Principles Dept. 15221.

The robot will be demonstrated during the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators annual in-service training conference June 24-30 in Albuquerque, which draws law enforcement officers from around the world.

REMOTEC is discussing with Sandia the possibility of licensing the use of the SMART software on future commercial robots.

Difficult work under intense pressure

Law enforcement agencies worldwide are welcoming mobile robots into their special ops units to perform tasks that would normally put an officer in danger.

Robots outfitted with cameras, grippers, and other sensors and tools are particularly useful during bomb threat responses because a robot can enter a dangerous area, assess the situation, and handle explosive devices while the human operator is safely behind a control panel hundreds of feet away.

But today's police robots can be difficult to control. A robot's operator, often working under the pressures of limited time and the threat of severe economic consequences associated with mistakes, has to master control levers for each joint of a robotic arm, as well as for a robot's on-board grippers, cameras, and other tools. The operator has to operate the arm while the camera views might be upside down and backwards. Furthermore, the operator has difficulty judging distances through the cameras, which provide little depth-of-field information.

"Sometimes it's like playing a video game with a seven-lever joystick held upside down, with one or both eyes closed, and your boss looking over your shoulder," says Phil. "Operators might think they're about to bump an object but they're really three feet away. Or they don't know if the robot will be able to fit between two cars or climb a flight of stairs. Often they don't accomplish these difficult tasks on the first try. The pressure can be intense."

A SMART-based robot with associated sensors and other tools could be pre-programmed, using software control sequences that allow it to grip tool A or go directly to point X rather than having individual movements controlled separately by the operator.

"That would be useful, for instance, when you need to reach through a car window, grab an object, and back out without whacking the door," he says. "It will free up the human operator to think about what needs to happen and in what order -- which is what humans do better than machines -- rather than the monotonous and sometimes confusing details of moving joints."

Guarantees a stable system

A robotic system is more than just hardware, adds Phil. When you assemble a robotic system, you need a control system that integrates the hardware components electronically in such a way that you have a stable, useful tool.

SMART's patented control algorithms guarantee that a variety of components, perhaps from different vendors, can be integrated into a single system and work correctly the first time, says SMART's developer, Bob Anderson of Mobile Robotics Dept. 15252.

SMART has been demonstrated on robots used by DOE for accident response and hazardous waste cleanup.

"SMART overcomes obstacles to system stability in unstructured environments," says Bob.

In addition, SMART's "stackable" software modules -- one for each robot component or function -- enables the rapid assembly of off-the-shelf equipment into a working system.

"That's what has us really excited," says Phil. "A sergeant can look at the situations and problems officers are encountering in the field and essentially add this tool or that behavior to the robot's portfolio without the technical difficulties normally associated with changes to the system."

It also will allow new tools to be integrated into commercial robotic systems perhaps weeks after they are developed or introduced, rather than months or years.

Sophisticated behaviors to come

Prior to incorporating SMART into REMOTEC's Wolverine robot, Phil worked with the FBI to survey law enforcement robot operators across the country to determine which robot tasks and problems officers encounter in the field most frequently.

He also observed the difficulties confronted by Albuquerque Police Department bomb squad members as they practiced dealing with mock explosive devices using their own robot (Lab News, May 19, 2000).

The Wolverine now incorporates some of the most challenging and commonly needed robotic tools and behaviors in police work, such as automatic tool changes, tool placement, and bomb-disrupter aiming, as well as telerobotic straight-line movement in all directions.

During a demonstration in March at the FBI Hazardous Devices School, the SMART-modified Wolverine shaved minutes off typical bomb responses even with the most skilled FBI robot operators. More evaluations of the robot's effectiveness are being conducted next week.

Phil expects that REMOTEC and Sandia will begin introducing new tools, sensors, and behaviors for additional law enforcement needs soon. Possible new technologies could include path planning, machine vision, proximity sensing, obstacle avoidance, visual targeting, reachability analysis, and automatic calibration, which would enable a variety of new, sophisticated capabilities.

"We could add sensors and software to the robot that would, for instance, tell the operator in advance whether or not the robot is going to be able to fit between the two parked cars, turn left, reach through a window, remove an object, and get out," he says, "and then it could do all that automatically if the operator decides that's the right approach."

Phil hopes law enforcement agencies one day will be able to select and download new behaviors or tool modules from a network or off of a CD-ROM and insert them into their robots' control systems.

Ultimately he believes SMART-based mobile robots could be useful in such areas as emergency response (to clean up a chemical spill, for instance), facility security (to patrol perimeters or respond to an attack), nuclear reactor accident response (to turn on or off a safety valve), combat engineering (to breach barriers, lay razor wire, or remove or emplace an object and get out), urban warfare (to punch access holes in walls or assist the injured), and space (using Earth-supervised robotic manipulators to repair satellites, for example). -- John German

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Sandia Cplant supercomputer program released to public

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By Neal Singer

A computer program that enables a collection of off-the-shelf desktop computers to rank among the world's fastest supercomputers has been released to the public by Sandia.

The program, called Cplant system software, dramatically extends the capability of researchers to modularly assemble large blocks of off-the-shelf computer components.

The rationale behind this open-source release is to allow researchers free access to the body of research and development that created the most scalable, Linux-based, off-the-shelf computer available, says Neil Pundit, Manager of Scalable Computing Systems Dept 9223.

The hope, says Neil, is that modifications and enhancements made by researchers elsewhere will enrich the system software, and that these improvements will be communicated back to Sandia.

While other cluster software may run faster, none exceeds the Cplant system software's ability to help off-the-shelf processors work together in large numbers.

Sandia's Cplant hardware comprises the largest known sets of Linux clusters for parallel computing. These sets are made up of Compaq Alpha processors and Myrinet interconnects. The largest cluster within Cplant consists of more than 1,500 Alpha nodes.

Cplant system software is modeled after the system software that Sandia developed for the highly successful ASCI Red supercomputer built by Intel, installed at the Labs' Albuquerque site in 1997, and for several years generally agreed to be the world's fastest computer.

The software can be downloaded from the Cplant web site at www.cs.sandia.gov/cplant.

DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) funded this research under the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI). DOE/NNSA expects mutual benefit from this release for the high-performance

computing community and the DOE/NNSA

ASCI community.

This first open source release of the Cplant system software is named Release 1.0 and totals about 43 MB. Requesters must agree to software licensing terms before downloading. -- Nancy Garcia

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Last modified: July 5, 2001

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