Friday, September 29, 2006

HondaDog W.O.W Concept Car

A friend wanted a new car to carry two people and a dog. So I thought I would search the web for dog carrying systems. I found the expected pet barriers, boxes, harnesses and books. Some of these things seemed a little obsessive, such as four wheeled stroller for dogs. But also there was a specially designed car for dogs: The HondaDog W.O.W Concept Car.

This has a range of doggy support systems all in the one experimental vehicle. The first is an oversize mesh glove box to carry a small dog.

The base of the centre row of seats flips forward to provide space for a medium size dog, much like a child seat.

The most practical seems to be an anchor point in the floor which you can attach a harness to for a large dog. To make this more dog-friendly, the anchor point is shaped like a dog bone.

There is also a bar near the door to tie a dog to when the car is open.

Google's automated translations from Japanese don't do to well on the descriptions of these, but you get the idea:

"When cup thing driving together, being if possible, soon as for the owner we would like placing safely, many expectation. Answering the desire of such an owner this “center crate”. It slides the rear seat up to the last section and producing the extra seat which is received under that floor, if it causes the pad of the seat back and the bearing surface, you turn quickly to the center crate which it can ride to the medium-sized dog. Also 4 name riding in a car are possible in this state. Exactly is even in the going out in the family."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Systems of Systems

At the ACT joint systems interest groups (SQA, SESA, IEEE-CS and SCSC) meeting this week Shaun Wilson, from Aerospace Concepts Pty Ltd talked about "Challenges of Socio-technical Systems-of-Systems Engineering":

The World is full of systems, natural and man-made. We all know this; indeed, this conference and the Systems Engineering Society of Australia exist to further the practice of engineering complex systems because history has demonstrated that design and management approaches that explicitly recognise the nature of systems are useful in undertaking man's more challenging technical projects.

Recently, and especially in the Defence sector, the term 'systems of systems' has become commonly heard, perhaps to the point of being over-used. What is the difference between 'SoS' and systems in general. And what about the socio-technical aspects of SoS? To some, there is no fundamental difference, it's all just a matter of scale ... but is this really the case?
I had difficulty understanding what "Systems of Systems" were. A quick search of the Wikipedia gave:
"System-of-Systems is a relatively new term that is being applied primarily to government projects for addressing large scale inter-disciplinary problems with multiple, heterogeneous, distributed systems that are embedded in networks at multiple levels and multiple domains. ..."
Almost all of the audience had a Defence Department background, including myself. Shaun drew his examples of systems of systems from defence and aerospace. However, as an IT person, the idea of having to link to together existing systems just seemed to the everyday routine, not a new concept. With the advent of the Internet and the web, having to get existing systems (and the people who build them) to work together is not unusual. It may be new to systems engineers, but is not to IT ones.

There seems a fundamental flaw in the System-of-Systems concept. It tries to fix problems with large defence project from an engineering point of view. But many of the problems with Defence projects are not due to a deficiency in engineering or systems design, they are from political pressures preventing effective management. The engineers know what needs to be done, but bureaucratic impediments prevent them doing it. To hide the management problem is in the quasi-engineering jargon of "socio-technical aspects" is the wrong approach.

An example I gave in a question was the color of the engine nacelles on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airliner. Boeing has proposed to airlines that the nacelles be painted a standard shade of grey. This allows the engines to have a very smooth paint job, reducing drag and saving fuel. But without the financial incentive, there would be no reason for the airlines to agree to do this. In the defence environment there would not be this financial incentive and there would have to be rules and committees invented to try to have the color standardized. The solution is to introduce the financial incentive and let the projects respond to that incentive.

An example Shaun used was the major upgrade problems for the US Air Force to keep B-52 bombers flying for 90 years. His solution was to use systems-of-systems techniques. This seemed to me to not be an engineering problem at all, but a simple case of bad management. The solution is to get rid of the old planes and buy some new ones.

The cost of developing a large military aircraft to replace the B-52 would be prohibitive, so the alternative would be to militarize commercial airliners. That might sound hard to do, but the US Navy is converting the 737 airliner into the armed P-8A Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA).

The B-52 is comparable in size and payload to a 787 airliner. It would take a little mechanical work and a lot of software to turn a 787 into a bomber. But at least they would not have to repaint the engines, as the standard grey would do fine. ;-)

ps: The Australian military is unlikely to buy any 787 bombers. But they are buying some C-17 transport aircraft which could be used in the role. This might just need a software upgrade. The C-17 can launch a missile 20 m long of 27,000kg.

Net-Enabled Command Capability

In August I gave a talk at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra on "Podcasting for Network Centric Warfare". In this I suggested using web technology for the military, including putting web servers in jet fighters.

That sounded a bit far fetched, but I see US DoD's Standing Joint Force Headquarters (JSFHQ) have several proposals for such techniques (some items below).

What is a little worrying is that non-nation state groups could apply the same technology. Hezbollah are reported to have flown UAVs over Lebanon in the recent conflict. What makes these UAVs more than just large model aeroplanes is the computer technology on-board.

From "Israel shoots down Hizbullah UAV", By Alon Ben-David, Janes Defence Weekly, 9 August 2006:
The Israel Air Force (IAF) intercepted an Iranian-made Ababil unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launched by the Islamic Resistance - the armed wing of the Lebanese Shi'ite Party of God (Hizbullah) - off the northern Israeli coastline on 7 August. ...

The Ababil has a maximum operational radius of 150 km, a maximum ceiling of 14,000 ft (4,268 m), the ability to travel at a maximum speed of 300 km/h and is capable of carrying a 45 kg payload. It has a surveillance configuration, carrying a camera and digital communications equipment, but also an attack configuration, carrying a high-explosive warhead that would be delivered by the UAV crashing onto a target.
Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) :
The Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) principal command and control capability that will be accessible in a net-centric environment and focused on providing the commander with the data and information needed to make timely, effective, and informed decisions. NECC draws from the C2 community to evolve current and provide new C2 capabilities into a fully integrated, interoperable, collaborative Joint solution. Warfighters can rapidly adapt to changing mission needs by defining and tailoring their information environment and drawing on capabilities that enable the efficient, timely, and effective command of forces and control of engagements.
Global Information Grid (GIG):
The Global Information Grid (GIG) vision implies a fundamental shift in information management, communication, and assurance. The GIG system will provide authorized users with a seamless, secure, and interconnected information environment, meeting real-time and near real-time needs of both the warfighter and the business user. The GIG will use commercial technologies augmented to meet DoD's mission-critical user requirements
Core Services - Net-Centric Enterprise Services:
The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) created the Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) program to provide enterprise services in support of the Global Information Grid (GIG). NCES will provide Department of Defense (DoD) organizations ubiquitous access to reliable, decision-quality information through a net-based services infrastructure and applications to bridge real-time and near-real-time communities of interest (COI). NCES will empower the edge user to pull information from any available source, with minimal latency, to support the mission. Its capabilities will allow GIG users to task, post, process, use, store, manage and protect information resources on demand for warriors, policy makers and support personnel.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Life Cycle Analysis, 20 Sep, Canberra

Free seminar in Canberra at the Australian National University:
Life Cycle Analysis – A Tool to Understand Sustainability

Date: Wednesday 20th September 2006

Location: Engineering Lecture Theatre, Building 32, Grid reference F4.

Time: 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm

Cost: Free

Both Dr Faltenbacher and Dr Gediga will be in Australia attending a conference on alternative transport energies in Perth.

During this seminar they will give an overview of their work, their methodologies and then some detailed results and analysis of a couple of case studies.

Life cycle analysis is vital in discussing the cradle to grave impact of sustainable energy technologies. The work carried out in the Engineering Department at the ANU and, within engineering, the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems responds well to life cycle analysis.

Dr Michael Faltenbacher is in charge of all projects focusing on fuels for transportation energy systems within the PE Consulting Group based in Germany.

From 1999 to 2005 he was a research Engineer at the Department of Life Cycle Engineering at the University of Stuttgart, Chair of material science of metal and polymers, IKP. During that time he was, amongst other things, the coordinator of the accompanying studies for the world’s largest fuel cell bus demonstration trial taking place in 10 European cities as well as in Perth, Western Australia, and Beijing, China (CUTE – Clean Urban Transport for Europe).

Dr Johannes Gediga is an expert in evaluating and improving the performance of product systems. He has extensive experience in the metals and mining industries, including non-ferrous and precious metals processing. `He has expertise in economic calculations, weak point analysis, and technology benchmark energy efficiency studies, with a focus on sustainability and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
For my own take on this, see my "Belconnen to City Transitway Submission".

Friday, September 08, 2006

Services Sciences and Network Centric Warfare

On Wednesday I talked on Podcasting for Network Centric Warfare. at the ANU. I argued that civilian university research on how to collect information and coordinate the work people do, is applicable to the military.

John Ridge, Executive Director of the ACS Foundation, said that this reminded him of IBM's "Services Sciences, Management and Engineering" concept:
"Services sciences, Management and Engineering hopes to bring together ongoing work in computer science, operations research, industrial engineering, business strategy, management sciences, social and cognitive sciences, and legal sciences to develop the skills required in a services-led economy."
IBM argue that just as research has previously been used to help manufacturing processes, it can be applied to the service industry. In a way this is a civilian version of the military's "Network Centric Warfare". The military is moving from the mechanistic linking of "engagement systems" to "sensors" and now talking of how to allow people to act more effectively.

"Services Sciences, Management and Engineering" was first called "Services Science" at an IBM conference in May 2004. It doesn't seem to have gained much attention outside IBM and a few US Universities.

A web search only found 500 references to it (126 IBM references, 38 from US universities, 4 from UK Universities, 4 from Australia). Google Scholar had 11 references, with most from IBM publications. One non-IBM published paper is from the Communications of the ACM: "Service systems, service scientists, SSME, and innovation" by Maglio, Srinivasan, Kreulen and Spohrer (all from IBM).

There appear to be no books yet on SSME, or at least I couldn't find any on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Government Service Point and Search Quality

Last Thursday I attended the fifth Canberra Web Standards Group meeting at the "Bunker Theatre", under the Department of the Environment and Heritage. This featured Peter Alexander, Team Leader, Online Development, Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and Dr David Hawking, from the company Funnelback and the CSIRO ICT Centre.

Peter Alexander, Team Leader, Online Development, Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) talked on "The impact of the e-government strategy and development of the Australian Government Online Service Point". The federal government is going beyond just providing a home page to provide more personalized services. At the same time they are trying to break down the government department based "silos" of services and information. Peter was quite brave to take on a room full of departmental web masters and tell them that from now on government wide information campaigns would use the one home page address, not one for each campaign. Departmental level programs would still be under the department's web site, but would be accessible from the central web address as well.

As I outlined from the AGIMO "e-Government Update" in June, a user id and password will be added to the home page allowing citizens (and small businesses) to access government services in a more integrated way. The exact details of what will be provided are still being works out. I asked if paid advertising would be allowed on the site, as this could offset the cots and provide a useful service (if carefully done). My question was met with laughter from the back of the room, but Peter said this had not been ruled out.

One flaw in the AGIMO strategy is the lack of integration with state and local governments (who are the ones which provide the bulk of government services). Peter replied that they want to get the federal level sorted out first, but there may be some pilots with state government. One entertaining example was a "report-a-pothole" web site, because the general public has no idea which bit of road is the responsibility of local, state or federal government.

Dr David Hawking, from the company Funnelback and the CSIRO ICT Centre talked about "Measuring, optimizing and comparing search result quality". Dr Hawking is a world authority on web search engines, the creator of the technology behind Funnelback and trained some of the clever people at Microsoft and Google. He has come up with a technique (and software) to test public search engines (such as Google) and to tune those used in organizations, such as the Australian Government's service point.

Like all good ideas the way the testing works sounds obvious, but only in retrospect, after a decade of work. What is perhaps moire interesting than tuning the technical settings on a company (or government) search engine, is to use the test results to see how the actual content of the web site should be changed. Dr Hawking used the example of where a query failed because the everyday words the public were searching for were not in the more technically written government documents.

ps: Funnelback provided a lucky door prize for the event. I joining said I was the only one eligible to win it as everyone else was from government department. At the draw I won it! :-)