Design Engineering

Top 10 of 2010

By Mike McLeod   


Design Engineering’s most popular stories of 2010

Flight of the killer mini-vans: Flying car maker Terrafugia made
headlines in July 2010 with the debut of the Transition but has since
signed a contract to help take the concept into combat.
— image courtesy of AAI Corporation

On the Eve of a new year, it’s always fun to look back on the most popular stories of the past 12 months. From an engineering standpoint, 2010 seemed to be the year that the present began to resemble what science fiction promised the future would look like 40 years ago.

While the possibility of viable human interplanetary travel wasn’t in the cards (that came in December 2009 with Ad Astra’s VASIMR Ion propulsion engine), alternative energy projects blossomed, flying cars came that much closer to the consumer market and Ratheon developed an Iron Man-like exoskeleton. Even Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver became a possible and practical new industrial product idea.

And although they didn’t make the list, stories about electric/hybrid vehicles hitting the mainstream, semi-autonomous UAV and snake robots wriggling onto the battlefield and bacteria becoming a way to fix concrete at the microscopic level, all added to the “Tomorrowland” sense of things.


The following are the most read stories of the year in order of popularity:

1. Terrafugia’s “Flying Car” to launch next year
Boston-based Terrafugia debuted the second generation prototype and announced plans to go into commercial production of its Transition vehicle which can drive at highway speeds but transform into a small airplane within minutes. The idea may seem fanciful, but the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) liked the idea so much it launched a $65M program in November 2010 to develop a four-person flyable and driveable vehicle, aptly named the Transformer (pictured above). Terrafugia will act as a subcontractor to one of the two winning contractors, AAI Corporation.

2. U of T engineering students make aviation history
After more than 500 years of failed attempts, Leonardo Da Vinci’s dream of creating a human-powered ornithopter capable of maintaining lift and airspeed finally became a reality in 2010 thanks to the work of University of Toronto professor emeritus James DeLaurier, engineering PhD. candidate and test pilot, Todd Reichert and a team UofT engineering students.

3. Siemens to build Ontario’s first wind turbine blade factory
Although its location angered the CAW, the new Siemens turbine blade factory (announced in August 2010) served as a sign that large companies are taking a long term approach Canada’s alternative energy market. Since the enactment of Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff Program (FIT) in May 2009, wind and PV power has become a potential new core sector for Canada’s ailing manufacturing community.

4. The physics of the 2010 World Cup
Along with the ubiquitous and annoying Vuvuzela. the 2010 World Cup introduced another new word to Western culture, Jabulani, the Adidas soccer ball that confounded players due to its unique and aerodynamically-optimized design. Whether the new ball had any appreciable effect is debatable but the fluid dynamic principles behind it are fascinating none the less. For the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA said it would “revisit” the design with Adidas.

5. SolidWorks heads for the clouds
Last February, at SolidWorks World 2010, CEOs Jeff Ray and Barnard Charles provided a glimpse of SolidWorks running purely as a Software as a Service application, obviating the need for boxed software, a specific OS or even specialty hardware. Since then, it has been nearly impossible to talk about the CAD industry without including Cloud in the same sentence. As SWW 2011 approaches, it will be interesting to see how close the company is to a concrete product/service launch date.

6. Catching Some Rays
Power Plastic (a flexible organic photo-voltaic material developed by Massachusetts-based Konarka Technologies, Inc.) has the potential to turn any product into a mini power generator. Boosted by the work of Université Laval materials engineering professor Mario Leclerc, Power Plastic achieved a world record in November 2010 for power efficiency (8.3%) from the National Energy Renewable Laboratory (NREL).

7. Get Your Motor Running
At the last three Autodesk University’s, Canadian engineers have held center stage, not only for their designs but for the manner in which in their creations were manufactured. ImaginIT Canada designer Nino Caldarola’s chopper motorcycle and twin blade turbine engine stole the show in 2008 and 2009 while Calgary’s Kor Ecologic turned heads in 2010 with its Urbee hybrid. All of them were produced, in whole or part, using the Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. It may not be a Star Trek-inspired replicator but it’s not hard to imagine Rapid Manufacturing becoming a close approximation.

8. World’s largest PV facility opens in Ontario
You’d think it would be in the Southwest U.S., Australia or some Middle Eastern desert, but the largest solar array installation anywhere currently generating power is situated just outside Sarnia, Ontario. Owned by Enbridge, Inc., the 80MW installation covers 973,000 square meters and is composed of 1.3 million modules.

9. Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver a possibility says ultrasonics engineer
Right next to the Standard, Philips and Robertson screwdriver models displayed at Canadian Tire, you may also find the Sonic variety, some day soon. Bristol University engineering professor Bruce Drinkwater says the sound wave-powered devices are more than theoretical and could find utility in industrial and medical applications.

10. Raytheon’s XOS 2 robotic exoskeleton nabs top innovation nod
The concept of wearable robotics has been around since before the Iron Man comic debut in 1968, but Ratheon’s second robotic exoskeleton prototype, the XOS 2, can turn a regular G.I. into a near super-hero. Equiped, the XOS 2 allows operators to easily lift and install 200 pound ordinance on fighter jets while allowing mobility enough to climb stairs or kick a soccer ball. Rocket shoes and repulsor ray sold separately.

Hopefully, 2011 will be even more eventful and futuristic than 2010. To keep up to date on Canadian innovation and engineering news and features, be sure to follow Design Engineering on Twitter at or subscribe to our RSS feed:


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