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Sep 10 2021

Arcs & Sparks: Finding Fault on Live Wires / Entrepreneurship: Turning Ideas into Reality

ECE 595 Department Seminar Series

September 10, 2021

11:00 AM - 12:15 PM




Chicago, IL 60607

Arcs & Sparks: Finding Fault on Live Wires / Entrepreneurship: Turning Ideas into Reality

Presenter: Cynthia M. Furse, University of Utah

Abstract: Arcs & Sparks:
Aging electrical wiring has been identified as an area of critical national and international concern. Faults in aircraft wiring have been implicated in a number of severe aircraft incidents including the TWA800 and SwissAir111 crashes. Electrical wiring is the number one cause of home and building fires, and is responsible for numerous incidents in consumer product safety, photovoltaic systems, vehicular safety and reliability, safety of nuclear facilities, reliability of power distribution systems and communication systems, and others.

What could possibly be so hard about finding these electrical faults? Learn about the real-world challenges in electrical systems – live signals, switching systems, grounding and moisture, vibration, and more. The discussion will include how electromagnetics, signal processing, artificial intelligence, chip and hardware design all merge to create new sensors that can detect and locate faults in critical systems. In particular, hear about the development and use of spread spectrum time domain reflectometry (SSTDR) for finding faults on live electrical systems. Using a tiny pseudo- noise (PN) code similar to a cell phone or GPS signal, SSTDR hides within the noise margin of existing signals, enabling continuous monitoring and location of very hard-to-find intermittent faults. And along with SSTDR came a very broad family of broadband reflectometry systems and algorithms for analysis of the reflection signatures, which will be discussed.

Today, SSTDR is used in aircraft manufacturing, handheld electrical testing, undersea cable testing, and has recently been approved for installation on Network Rail systems (UK). But our work is not done. Electrical systems are complex and varied, and some very gnarly problems remain. Hear a vision for the future, and some ideas about what it will take to get there.

Entrepreneurship: Turning Ideas into Reality:

Have you ever thought about starting your own business? Taking an idea off the bench and into the market is exciting and so rewarding, but it is also hard, messy, and takes some critical knowledge and skills to be successful. Learn from Furse's entrepreneurship journey taking research off the bench and into the real world.

In 1998 Furse happened upon the idea, or invention, of using a coded cell phone signal to locate intermittent electrical faults on aircraft wires while the plane is flying. Most faults happen in the air (vibration, moisture, stress, heat, cold ...) and many disappear before the plane lands, thus leading to the frustrating and potentially dangerous ‘no fault found’ condition where a maintainer knows something is probably wrong but cannot find it. After some large and clunky lab tests proved out the basic idea, Furse's first PhD student, Paul Smith, built a sleek and functional board to demonstrate the system and work out the theoretical constraints. Cool! Publication-publication-publication. A couple of patents. Some conference presentations. And that is where Furse's typical world of NSF-funded academics would normally have stopped. But it didn’t. The demand for this technology as a product was clear. Furse explains her Department of Defense and National Science Foundation program managers strongly encouraged her to set up a company to move the technology to the next level, and eventually to a product they could purchase for their fleets. Furse initially thought development didn't look half as interesting as research, but realized development is often the instigator of much more research, and is how research gets off the bench and has impact on the world.

Furse will describe her journey, and two tools available to anyone hoping to develop their research ideas, and grow business ideas from them. They include  the Lean Canvas for Invention, which guides users through identifying a real-world problem (by talking to real people who have this problem), searching both the scientific literature and patent literature, critically evaluating the existing solutions to this problem and the market landscape, to reach the Most Valuable research Question (MVQ) and idea with potential and impact. And then, as you move through the research process, you will keep your eye on the real-world problem. Not all ideas will work out, but when they do, it is time for the next tool – the Lean Canvas for Business. This tool will help you identify partners, resources, costs, and value propositions, customers, market channels, and revenue streams, and to get started on the Most Valuable Product (MVP) for your fledgling company.

Speaker Bio: Cynthia M. Furse is a Fellow of the IEEE and the National Academy of Inventors, and is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. Her research interests are the application of electromagnetics to sensing and communication in complex lossy scattering media such as the human body, geophysical prospecting, ionospheric plasma, and complex wiring networks. Furse is a founder of LiveWire Innovation, Inc., a spin-off company from her research, commercializing devices to locate intermittent faults on live wires. She has taught electromagnetics, wireless communication, computational electromagnetics, microwave engineering, antenna design, introductory electrical engineering, and engineering entrepreneurship and has been a leader in the development of the flipped classroom. She is an associate editor for the Transactions on Antennas and Propagation (AP), a member of the IEEE AP Young Professionals Committee, a past administrative committee member for the IEEE AP society, and past chair of the IEEE AP Education Committee. She has received numerous teaching and research awards, including the 2020 IEEE Chen To Tai Distinguished Educator Award.

Host: Alex C. Stutts (


Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Date posted

Sep 8, 2021

Date updated

Sep 22, 2021