Science and Industry
on the World Today
RECENT automotive news from Britain indicates that there are still plenty of smart engineers in the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The new British “mystery car” is the product of Harry Ferguson, who is understood to have built a prototype and demonstrated it to British defense experts. No specific information has been released about it, but the car is said to have wholly new kinds of chassis, power transmission, and braking, with dramatic results in performance, demonstrated by driving it down a narrow lane at 70 mph toward the wall of a house and then stopping it in a few yards. Top speed is reporter! 90 mph; consumption, SO miles to the gallon; and the probable cost in England, $1900.
The car has a flat, horizontally opposed, fourcylinder engine, placed in the rear, and the chassis is a tubular steel “back bone,” running fore and aft. Some reports indicate a novel type of fluid drive; the engine drives a pump which transmits hydraulic fluid under pressure to individual turbines at each of the four wheels. Quick braking power is achieved by reversing the fluid flow to all or any of the turbines.
The first Ferguson car is described as a super jeep designed for rough roads and particularly suitable for military use and for export to underdeveloped countries. Ferguson, who has been extremely successful as a designer of unusual farm tractors, has offered his vehicle to several British manufacturers— so far no reports of acceptance.
The Omega engine
Another British engineer, Granville Bradshaw, has invented a wholly new type of internal-combustion engine, claimed to pack so much power in so little space that a 3000-horsepower model would fit under the hood of the average American car. Bradshaw, who has developed a variety of devices for the British Admiralty, calls it the Omega engine. Its ingenious design aims at avoiding the considerable internal power loss of the conventional gasoline engine. This loss goes into friction in the complicated mechanisms needed to power fuel valves and the nonworking cylinders. Three of each four cylinders must be driven by the fourth to expel the burned gases, draw in the new fuel mixture, and compress the mixture for firing.
The Omega short-cuts this power drain by having the three nonproductive cycles carried out with minimum of friction. To understand how it works, lay a partly open pair of shears on a circle so that the pivot point is at the center of the circle. The two blades and two handles form a St. Andrew’s cross and divide the circle into four sectors. These are in effect the four “cylinders” of the Omega engine. Open and shut the blades a few times and you will see that two opposing sectors are always rapidly expanded and two are rapidly narrowed.
This scissors action is the secret of the Omega. One narrow sector contains the fuel ready to be fired; the next one has drawn in the fuel; the opposite sector, also narrow, has just pushed out the exhaust and is ready to draw in fresh fuel; while the fourth, wide sector has just been fired and will squeeze out the exhaust in the next stroke.
The scissor blades are two double-ended arms (pistons) enclosed in a steel drum. The drum has single spark plug set into its circular wall and revolves slowly, bringing the plug in succession to each sector when it is ready to fire. The same rotation brings intake and outgo ports in the drum to the proper sector at the right time to supply new fuel and exhaust the burned gases.
Each of the double-ended piston arms drives its own hollow shaft with an oscillatory motion as the “scissors” alternately open and close. This transmitted to a crankshaft by tie rods as onedirection motion.
Bradshaw claims that an Omega one third the size of a normal automobile engine and weighing only 70 per cent as much will develop 30 per cent more power. The report is that an Omega engine will go into a British-built Grand Prix racing car.
Experts within and without the auto industry have been having their own discussions about the future of America’s pampered technological darling. Despite disagreements, there is a surprising consensus on one point: the present all-purpose American car is likely to be superseded by specialized types. These are seen as a highspeed superhighway car and a minimum car, designed for maximum efficiency on short runs.
The Urbanite, as some engineers dub the small car, is proposed in various sizes, starting with a small electric model which could run only 35 miles a day and would have a cruising speed of 25 mph. (Its proponents point out that the average daily use of American automobiles is 26 miles.) Such a car would sacrifice high-speed roadability for economy, easy parking (some suggest swiveling wheels), and low maintenance. The problem of how to create snob appeal for such a car is met by pointing out that the car itself would be evidence that the owner could afford two cars.
The Highway Cruiser or Excursion Turbine, as it is variously called, would be bigger, probably more powerful than today’s cars, and certainly better designed to handle well at prolonged high speeds. One proposed version would be a super station wagon, intended to sleep five, with a concave top that would cradle baggage while permitting higher doors that would make it easier to get in and out.
Power Plant. The gas turbine gets the nod for the big cruiser — probably located in the front to improve weight distribution, but with the exhaust vented out the back. One prediction is that the power will be held down to around 200 horse, which is about the largest capacity that does not require a huge pipe to carry off the exhaust. This 200-horsepower turbine job is said, however, to provide performance very close to today’s 275-horsepower cars.
While there is general agreement that the turbine will appear in more expensive stock models in the next few years, there is little tendency to consider the piston engine as finished. Refined with superchargers, possibly with fuel injection systems rather than carburetors because of their cooler operation, and with horsepower increased even more, the reciprocating engine has a chance of survival because of its relatively low costs to manufacture and maintain.
DuPont has been running an experimental Lincoln with a fuel injection system for some time, while American Bosch has announced that it has developed the same sort of system. Fuel injection, in which cool gasoline is squirted directly into the cylinder, cools the engine and therefore permits it to run with lower-octane gasoline. It also makes vapor locks less likely.
Lubrication. According to one report in the petroleum trade press, researchers are now working on sealed lubrication systems that would not require attention for two or three years at a time.
Paint. DuPont has already announced a new auto paint that can go many months without waxing, and research is being conducted on paints that will outlast the cars.
Tires. The lifetime tire may be on the way—a new steel-wire cord is said to permit tires to run 300,000 miles. According to U.S. Steel, the wire is far st ronger than any available fabric cord, making it possible for the cross-section of the tire to be unusually thin, with less tendency to accumulate heat. Tire manufacturers have been handicapped in promoting the new tire by a shortage of wire cord, according to Firestone. One important point: proper inflation of the tires is essential. Otherwise they flex and eventually snap inward.
The newest development in insecticides is applied before the crop is even planted. Called Thimet, it is coated on the seed and later enters the system of the plant when the seed begins to sprout. If an insect nibbles the tender young shoots, he gets a big mouthful of insecticide that effectively disposes of him before he can do the plant any real harm.
American Cyanamid developed Thimet to deal with pests — thrips, mites, and aphids — that attack plants as they push through the ground before the farmer has a chance to spray. Chief problem was to make the insecticide stick to the seed — finally solved by combining it with methyl cellulose. Thimet itself is an organic phosphate.
The new insecticide is now available only in the form of Thimettreated cotton seed. It adds about $3 an acre to the crop cost, but eliminates several sprayings. Cyanamid’s researchers are studying the use of Thimet with other crops.
The familiar felting process used for hats is being tried with metal fibers to produce a new kind of metal. Researchers at Armour Research Foundation find that felting the fibers produces a metallic substance that is stiff, very porous, and light in weight — somewhat like the products of powder metallurgy, but much stronger and tougher.
The new metallic “felt “ is expected to have a wide range of applications as filters, and in such specialized jobs as the porous device that distributes de-icing fluid along the edge of an airplane wing. It might even be used in the wing itself as a way of allowing air to move through the wing surface, thus preserving streamline flow, increasing the lift, and reducing drag.
ERMA can rend
One of the newest and smartest of the electronic brains can read printed arabic numbers. To be sure, the numbers must be printed in magnetic ink and they must all be from the same type face. Within these limitations the machine reads them far faster and fifty times more accurately than human clerks. It reads by considering each number a rectangle and scanning the amount of magnetic ink in each portion of this rectangle. Scanning left to right across a “1,” for example, the machine would find no ink at all, then a solid mass, then none again. A “9'’ would show little ink at first, then a larger, constant amount as the scanner moved to the right, and finally a great deal of ink at the righthand side.
The electronic reader is now reading the numbers on travelers’ cheeks for a super bookkeeping machine built by Stanford Research Institute for the Bank of America. ERMA — short for Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting — performs the entire bookkeeping operation of looking after 32,000 accounts.
ERMA needs only be told the account number, the amount involved, and whether it is a withdrawal or a deposit. Fed checks and deposit slips, the machine credits each account with deposits and withdrawals, maintains correct balances, carries out stoppayment. and hold orders, and prevents overdrawing of accounts. At the end of the month it provides a bundle of sorted checks and slips and a balance sheet for each customer.
The principle of the electron microscope is being tried on a much larger scale at Stanford University with the hope of exploring the nucleus of the atom itself. In the electron microscope, the shape of an extremely small object is determined by bombarding it with electrons, then measuring how the object deflects the electrons.
The Stanford researchers have harnessed a full-size electron linear accelerator that hurls the electrons with 10,000 times the energy of the ordinary electron microscope. What happens to the particles en route is measured by a magnetic spectrometer at the other end. The deflections there recorded enable physicists to prepare charts describing the atomic nucleus as if it had been enlarged 100,000 times. With the new microscope they have already discovered the diameter of the proton, smallest particle of matter within the nucleus.