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The numbers can be overwhelming. Hundreds of billions of sensors, potentially connecting tens of billions of devices, with software to control and manage it all.

But the rewards of connecting and integrating complex machinery and devices can be great.

What does it cost to build a research center from scratch these days? Gerry Rubin, who runs the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus in Virginia, estimated that his organization will spend a few billion dollars before it's clear if HHMI's research will work out. Ken Herd, who helped set up GE's new research center in Rio de Janeiro, said the building alone carried a $150 million bill.

But a steep pricetag is merely the start. While securing funds is a massive initial barrier for any new facility, a modern world-class lab also needs the right combination of appeal for researchers, planning, and flexibility for when said planning doesn't work out. And on top of that, would-be lab builders better start out with a lot of institutional support.

Don a pair of special glasses, and the image of a turbine part floats off a screen.

You can look around the side or under the part, or even stick your head inside to look around.

But don't worry about bumping it. It's virtual.

At General Electric's Global Research Center, scientists and engineers have embarked on a move to digitize just about everything, in an effort that can optimize production, validate manufacturing processes, and feed data back through to designers, all while boosting efficiency and cutting costs.

Danielle Merfeld oversees more than 500 employees around the world as the director for power electronics at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, New York.

Merfeld, 42, has worked in various roles for GE Global Research and GE Power & Water since 1999. Today, she is in charge of GE Global's electrical technologies and systems team. Part of that job is directing a $500 million New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

While our recent feature looked at the various ways to make wind hardware more affordable, researchers at GE's Bangalore technology center are looking at ways to get more out of the wind hardware we already have. They're focusing on two different areas: how wind turbines interact with the grid and how they interact with each other.


Software developers have long been able to collaborate through community sites like those based on Git and Apache Allura to contribute code, synchronize software builds, and track issues around a project. And games like Minecraft allow people to collaborate in building virtual environments with embedded behaviors—including "mods" that leverage the games' simulation capabilities to interact with other objects in a virtual world. Now, an open-source Web platform originally designed with Defense Department funding could let communities collaborate to build more tangible things—like tanks, planes, and consumer appliances.

Called the Digital Manufacturing Commons (DMC), and sponsored by a collection of universities and major manufacturers through UI Labs' Digital Manufacturing Design and Innovation (DMDI) Institute, the platform puts design, modeling, and simulation tools in reach of collaborative teams of all sizes, and allows designs to be "compiled" and tested like software projects before being prototyped in the physical world. If it gets traction, the software could open up the rapidly growing "digital manufacturing" space to allow even the smallest maker teams to partner with the largest manufacturing and distribution companies, allowing gadget-makers to scale into global players.

At this week's Big M Manufacturing Conference in Detroit, GE and UI Labs—a research center funded by a public-private partnership to help advance manufacturing technology—announced the roll-out of the Digital Manufacturing Commons, which GE Research Global Technology Director for Manufacturing and Materials Technologies Christine M. Furstoss said is "like massive multi-player online (MMO) gaming meeting the real world of manufacturing."

"Like MMO, we can build things digitally before they’re even built with raw materials in a real factory," she said.

In late May, Ars continued its global tour of GE research centers. This destination? The John F. Welch Technology Center in Bangalore, India. We spent three days talking to researchers but barely touched on all the work that goes on there. Sadly, a number of interesting looking labs weren't on our agenda (we merely saw partly disassembled hardware here and there).

However, we did talk to a number of interesting people. Two of them came from GE's Power and Water research team, which has over 100 engineers in India. Anil Rajanna and Kannan Tinnium (who got his PhD from Tulane and worked in the US for over a decade) described how research in Bangalore tackled everything from the materials used to build the wind turbines to the software that manages entire wind farms.

NISKAYUNA, N.Y. (AP) — For nearly three decades Krishan Luthra stubbornly labored away in a General Electric research lab on a long-shot effort to cook up a new type of ceramic that few consumers will ever see or use.

Now this obscure material, which is lightweight, strong and can handle extreme temperatures, is being built into the bellies of jet engines and promises to save billions of gallons of fuel in the coming decades by reducing weight and allowing engines to run hotter.

It has helped GE win jet engine orders worth $100 billion — so far — from airlines looking to shave their huge fuel bills. In the future it is expected to be used in power plants and other equipment.

"It's a dream material," says Luthra, who has spent most of his career dreaming about it.

It’s Mother’s Day WEEK, and today we’re turning our attention to four brilliant, beautiful, totally inspiring moms who spend their days innovating to change the world. It’s all part of an exciting series with GE that focuses on tapping into technological creativity in every mom, sister and aunt. Whether fixing, hacking or redesigning things, moms have a knack for engineering solutions in unexpected places and achieving feats of greatness on the daily.

We hope these stories inspire you as much as they inspire us — these women are seriously badass!

Based in Schenectady, NY, GE Electrical Engineer Danielle Merfeld is one seriously inspiring lady. Her interest in electrical engineering stemmed from a love of lasers — the very fact that we can convert electricity to light sparked (pun intended) something in Danielle. Now she spends her days engineering new ways to create lighting that uses less energy to make the world brighter, more efficient and more connected. We can certainly get behind that.

General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt told the 830 graduates at Siena College's commencement ceremony Sunday that they probably would have rather heard from comedian Stephen Colbert, who is speaking atWake Forest University, or movie star Matthew McConaughey, who is part of the commencement proceedings at the University of Houston.

However, "I can actually give you a job" Immelt said, drawing laughter and applause from the few thousand in attendance at the Times Union Center event.

So what is General Electric Co. worth to the Capital Region?

GE's local manufacturing and research operations in Schenectady County and elsewhere pump $11 million into the Capital Region economy every day — $4 billion last year — according to a newly released study commissioned by GE back in January.

Perhaps even more surprising is that GE's operations pay for the salaries and benefits of 17,576 people in the Capital Region. That equates to about one out of every 27 workers in the region — nearly 4 percent of the local workforce.

The GE Foundation has donated $400,000 to launch a science, technology and math education program with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

The donation, announced Tuesday, will be for a program called STEM Empowers OK. GE, which is building an oil and gas research technology center in Oklahoma City, will sponsor a weeklong STEM program for 50 students in July at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.