Monday, March 3, 2008

The Need for Speed

Hard-wired into human nature is a fascination for speed—we like to go fast. In our March 2007 issue I wrote about FARO, a German laser company that had recently entered the U.S. market with their laser scanner. We visited their factory in Stuttgart, and along the way, took advantage of the opportunity to do some legal high-speed driving (140mph) on the Autobahn..

A couple of weeks ago, FARO capitalized on “speed” by staging a press event at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Disney World in Orlando. The star of the show was FARO’s latest scanner, the Photon. I thought it was cool that in their “drive” for accuracy, reliability and repeatability, FARO chases every micron.

The new Photon has several improvements: faster scans with 200 percent better positional accuracy, 300 percent less “noise”, and an improved color overlay that uses a high-rez digital camera, all resulting in crisper scans with greater clarity. FARO has improved the optics, angle encoders, and underlying electronics. The electronic improvement yields twice the power at the same eye-safeness, and 1.4 times the range in sunlight. New to the Photon is its iPod controller, wireless capability and a six-hour battery that fits under the tribrach. You can read more about the new Photon HERE

Another “direct relationship” that played out at the press conference was one between my hands and the steering wheel of a 600hp NASCAR vehicle! Strapped in from the head down, the Richard Petty Driving Experience allows you to get behind the wheel and follow a pace car driven by a professional driver. The object is to stay three car lengths behind him. If you can manage that, he continually picks up speed. Those who don’t feel up to driving alone can opt for a ride-along with a professional driver. The ride-alongs hit speeds of 140-145mph, while the drive alone option is generally 20-25mph slower.

Sure enough, my best lap was just short of 120mph. When I exited the vehicle my hands were shaking, not from fear, but from the extreme concentration required to maintain the measured distance behind the pro (and my desire to not hit the wall). Unlike the smooth-running car we had driven on the Autobahn, the NASCAR vehicles are not easy to drive. I came away with a new measure of respect for the skill of the NASCAR drivers who draft each others bumpers at nearly 200mph.

Yes, we like to go fast. Our need for speed spurs the growth of new technology. And while our technology would make our predecessor’s heads spin, we also enjoy reading about the days when surveyors wore spurs!