Mar 12, 2011

APEC: Day 5 Final Thoughts

This is my last night in Fort Worth so I thought I would do a recap of my time here in this entry. First, some awards:

Best freebie: Microchip’s retractable headphones

 Figure 1. Retractable headphones from Microchip

They are not exactly high fidelity devices but they are not bad for a quick and dirty on-the-go solution.

Most interesting presentation: Capacitive Power Transfer for Contactless Charging

Mitchell Kline of UC Berkeley is working on his PhD and chose to do a project on capacitive transfer as a means of wireless power as opposed to the more widespread inductive methods (see “Power Mat” from Duracell). This was a presentation I attended entirely because a friend of mine was going on the last day of the conference. I had little interest in the topic but the presenter was really good at pulling the audience into the research. He had a video showing how an iPhone could be powered through capacitive charging which was nice because no other session I had been to the entire week really showed the products in action. Most of the people presented the theory and experimental results without true proof.

What impressed me most about Mitchell’s project was the control scheme he used to ensure the highest possible efficiency in the power train. It was fairly complex in the theory, but what was incredible was that on the final PCB he managed to implement the controller using AND gates and ICs they had lying around rather than ordering specialized parts. During the presentation he mentioned it in passing, but it was definitely an aspect of his design that blew me away.

Best presenter: Dr. Dushan Boroyevich of the CPES group at Virginia Tech

Fine, call me biased for making this pick. I will admit I had a few close choices for this category and the fact that Dr. Boroyevich basically launched my interested in power electronics put him over the top. However, thanks to the folks over at, you can watch it and judge for yourself here. Unfortunately, they don’t have the slides associated with his talk which is a shame because they really supplemented his speech and helped convey his ideas. I also picked him as my favorite because he was by far the funniest speaker I heard all week. Dr. Boroyevich is the head of the IEEE Power Electronics Society and at one point he said he was going to give some advice on reading IEEE papers (about 6 minutes into the video). Below is a summary.
1.)    “It is well-known”
             Translation: I didn’t spent any time to find a reference.

2.)    “It can be easily shown”
             Translation: It’s too complex to be explained in less than 10 pages.

3.)    “Correct within an order of magnitude”
             Translation: It’s wrong.

4.)    “Preliminary tests were inconclusive”
             Translation: It didn’t work.

5.)    “Typical results are shown”
             Translation: Either the best results are shown or the only results are shown.

On content alone I liked what he had to say because it was very much related to my field of interest (renewable integration to the power grid, digital controls, smart power electronics). See 28:30 in the video for a reinforcement of his IEEE writing standards.

Most Disappointing Presentation: AC vs. DC Distribution in the US

I mentioned this in one of my earlier posts, but I wanted to bring it up again because I was so disheartened with how it went. I don’t feel like there was any sort of discussion going on about the benefits of AC or DC. The entire session ended up being about DC standards and arc flash problems with DC grids (I will explain arc flash later). At one point, a student from the University of Illinois tried to get the panel to discuss the benefits and burdens of each and I applaud her for attempting to get something relevant out of the train wreck. Unfortunately, they were more interested in answering a completely unrelated question and rambling on about nothing for 10 minutes. Even with all the presentations about micro DC grids during the week, no one ever spelled out exactly how the grids would work or about how the infrastructure of the US would have to change and that was what I wanted from this talk.  

Final Thoughts

These last few days have been humbling but not overwhelming. To my surprise, the papers presented were, for the most part, completely within my realm of understanding. My time away from school working on my own projects has given me a greater appreciation for the engineering profession and the nature of the engineer. I have completely changed the way I approach a design problem now and I think that is the reason I have been able to relate to the more complex concepts so much better these days. Overall, I would say this was an enlightening conference.


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