Trip to Atlanta

At Mines Paristech, students in the program Master of science in executive engineering, better known as cycle ingenieur civil, are required to choose a minor, called option, among the different fields offered by the university. For each option, a one-week trip is organized abroad during which students get a chance to visit places related to the topic they picked. This year, students in the option MAREVA (which stands for applied mathematics, robotics, computer vision and control) traveled one week in the south east of the United States. This document describes the different visits they made and summarizes the lessons that the students learn from this trip.

We were welcomed by Robert S. McFadden, plant manager, who began by offering some drinks and snacks. Then we received the instructions concerning our visit. The use of cameras was forbidden in the whole site, which is why we do not have any pictures of the visit. He was proud to show us that very few accidents ever happened at Saint-Gobain, and that there had been no lost-time injuries (i.e. injuries that prevent the employees from working for any period of time) this year. He listed the various dangers related to the use of the machines: heat, noise and dust; he explained that these dan- gers were taken care of and that safety of every employee was of paramount importance.

After a brief overview of the history of Huntsville, the plant engineer gave us some figures concerning the site of Saint-Gobain. For instance, he explained that it consumes around 18.5 MW per month, and that it consumes in one hour the electricity used by two houses for a full year. Then he told us about the major businesses of this 100 employees site: the production of grain for abrasives, such as sand paper, grinding wheels… and the refraction of zircon for electronics, high temperature isolation and so on. These businesses yield around 80 million dollars per year.

Finally, he briefly explained the various processes that these materials undergo and presented us to the employees that would lead us during the visit.

HudsonAlpha institute for biotechnology is the landlord of several companies (among which MicroArrays Inc, Serina, Egen) and hosts scientific labs (research in genomic).

MicroArrays Inc. produces orderly arranged DNA and protein capture probes attached to solid substrate. This aims at detecting genetic mutations, sub- typing cancer and diagnosing diseases (identification of pathogens).

They make different products: 25 ⇥ 75mm glass side (microscope com- patible size) array with 48 blocks (1160 capture probes/block) and 96-well microplate for example.

The main benefit of having this kind of array is that each probe can capture one biological piece of information, therefore it is possible to run several tests at the same time.

Examples of use:

• Expression profiles: we mark genes with different colors and we can determine which one is on/off in each patient cell by simply observing the color profile. This process is used to diagnose cancer for instance.

• Diagnostic arrays in the case of infection diseases: we deposit different antibiotics, and according to the resistance profile, we can figure out which one is good for the patient.

We visited the assembly line of the Nissan Smyrna plant on a little train driven by two guides. We were wearing a headset in order to hear their explanations. As we were not authorized to take pictures during the tour, all the images below were gathered on the web.

The factory is able to produce 2000 vehicles per day which represent 1 vehicle each 27 seconds. Five Nissan models are produced out there: Versa, Altima, Maxima, Pathfinder and the brand new Rogue (named Qashqai in Europe). The three first models are sedans and the last two are SUVs. The factory also produces some Infinity vehicles (which is the luxury brand of Nissan).

The factory was closed the day before we visited it to prepare the assembly lines to produce the new Rogue. During the tour we did not see the whole factory because some steps of the process are located on other buildings.

On Thursday evening, the group was invited at the French consulate. Nicolas Florsch, the Scientific attach at the General Consulate of France had been a great support to get some contacts for visits and it was the occasion to meet and thank him, as well as the consul. We were welcomed in prosperous apartments, typically French style; this interior decoration was very different from all we saw before, with its paintings, ornamented lustrums and mirrors. The consul first welcomed us; he had prepared a little speech, and as everyone understood French, he could tell it in our mother tongue.

We were welcomed by Professor Yves H. Berthelot, teacher in Mechanical Engineering and now in charge of relationships between Georgia Tech and foreign colleges and companies. He told us about Georgia Tech and the role it plays in the city of Atlanta, and in particular in its economical and demographical growth.

From 1985 to 2013, Atlanta’s population increased from 1.8 million people to about 6 million habitants and it is the home city of some of the biggest companies, such as CNN, Coca-Cola, Delta, etc.

During our visit of the laboratory we saw a few French-made quadrotor helicopters, as well as two golem robots, able to overcome obstacles and move freely in a constrained environment. These robots were quite impressive: one of them even had its own training room.

A student also showed us his work on the tablet interface of a robot with 15 degrees of freedom and two Kinects. His goal was to make this incredibly complex robot and interface much more user-friendly. He showed us how to control this robot using only the tablet, in order to create series of simple tasks such as opening a test tube or putting pieces of equipment away. The screen of the tablet also displays the view from the many cameras located on the arms and torso of the robot.

We attended a presentation about the research activities in the Dynam- ics and Control Systems Laboratory (DCSL) given by Professor Panagiotis Tsiotras who is the lab director. DCSL is located in Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering. Professor Panagiotis gave us an overview of its past, present, and future projects. His lab deals with theoretical and experimen- tal investigation of highly complex and uncertain aerospace and mechanical systems. Topics of research are spacecraft control, control of high speed vehi- cles, path-planning, UAVs, wavelets in control and multi rendezvous orbital transfers. The lab currently has 7 PhD students.

Following the visit of the DCSL, we had the opportunity to discover the Bio Robotics and Human Modeling Laboratory. This lab of approximately 6 graduate students is directed by Dr Jun Ueda, who began at Georgia Tech in May 2008.

Last but not least, this trip was the opportunity to discover the United Sates and have a glance at the American culture. For some students, it was the first time in this country. They will of course remember the large choice of fast food restaurants, the impressive size of cars, which are far bigger that what can be seen around Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris, and the popularity of football and baseball, often broadcasted in restaurants and bars. The timing of the trip also allowed knowing more about the American political system. Indeed, the trip occurred right in the middle of the shutdown and the negotiations concerning the debt ceiling.

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