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"Last tree in the LAB" (by Yuni Lim www.yuniworks.com)

 

As we hail ourselves as masters of Science and engineering, it can be seen time and time again that humans still have much to learn from the simplest of structures that surround us. This time, that simple yet complex and highly capable structure is the tree, and the lesson to be learned is sustainable, renewable, electrical energy storage.

 

 

Professor of biomolecular and organic electronics, OlleInganas from Linkoping University, is proposing to use a tree byproduct product called lignin, to produce highly efficient cathodes for batteries.

 

 

Inganas discovered this possible use by studying the process of photosynthesis. Electrochemically active molecules called quinones are the ones responsible for transporting solar-charged electrons. Quinones are composed of benzene rings made of six carbon atoms. These structures can be found abundantly in the lignin byproduct of paper pulp. Lignin itself comprises 20-30% of the biomass of a tree so it is highly renewable.

 

 

Conventionally, non-renewable metals are used as cathodes in rechargeable batteries. Turning the page beyond this convention, Inganas and his team have been able to make a cathode out of a 0.5 micron film of lignin derived from brown liquor, which is a waste material produced when making paper pulp.

 

 

Advancements in the efficiency of organic solar cells could be used in concert with these tree-derived batteries and scaled to industrial scales all while being efficient, sustainable, renewable, resourceful and cheap. Professor Inganas put it simply when speaking of electrical energy storage, “Nature solved the problem long ago."

 

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3D Solar Array (via MIT)

 

Sure, MIT’s 3D solar array may look like art, but its looks are pure function. Unlike sun-tracking solar arrays that follow the fiery sphere along its ecliptic path to maximize its power gathering potential, MIT's 3D solar array is designed to efficiently gather energy by positioning its photovoltaic cells upward. Conceived by Associate Professor Jeffrey Grossman and his team at MIT, the 3D solar array provides more than double (and in some cases 20 times more) the power output than fixed emplacements.

 

Special computer algorithms were used to test different configurations of cell placement as well as a host of different seasons, weather and locations. The team then went on to build three different configured models based on the algorithmic findings which were then put through a week long testing process. The chosen 3D design was able to beat out current panels even in adverse conditions including overcast skies. According to the propeller-heads, the reason the 3D configuration is better at grabbing energy when the sun is positioned closer to the horizon such as mornings and evenings. The design does have one downside over current set-ups: Money. It costs more to build the 3D array. According to MIT, the energy collected over existing arrays is worth the additional cost to build them. I’ll go one step further in saying that they look more interesting and appealing, as well.

 

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By Lou Covey

Editorial Director, New Tech Press

 

It's time to stop wondering what Apple is going to do with its cash reserve after it pays out dividends to stock holders.  If what Cadence's Tom Beckley says about the next generation of chips holds true, Apples is going to need every dime to create the next generation of processors for the iPad and iPhone.

 

Beckley, senior vice president of R&D in the Cadence Custom IC group, was the keynote speaker at the 2012 International Symposium on Quality Electronic Design in Santa Clara (ISQED) addressing "Taming the Challenges in Advance Node Design."  Beckley pointed out that Apple has been the poster child for cost-efficient development and production, but even if every chip developer followed the "Apple Way" it would not put much of a dent in the total cost for developing the next generation of SoCs.

 

The A5 system on chip in the current Apple products, designed at 45nm, could come in under $1 billion to design and bring to market with effective control of the supply line.  Cost projections for a chip at 28nm (the next step) could be as much as $3 billion. At 20nm, the cost could exceed $12 billion.  The Cadence exec stated that the cost of EDA tools (both purchased and developed) could run as high as $1.2 billion alone. 

 

The evidence of the increasing costs of development can be seen in the profit margins of the iPad.  According to iSuppli, the cost of the A5 chip in the new iPads at $23 is double the cost of the original A4 chip.  Why is the cost going so high?  Because the way chips are being manufactured is changing dramatically.

 

Beckley explained that the physics of making a semiconductor mask reached a breaking point at the current most popular nodes as the resolution of a photoresist pattern begins to blur around 45nm.  Double patterning was created to address that problem at 32nm.  "But everyone wanted to avoid doing it at 32nm because of the mask costs.  They wanted to maximize their investment in lithography equipment."

 

The process splits the design where the structures are too close together, into two separate masks.  It's an expensive process (especially when each mask costs around $5 million) and requires entirely new ways of creating the masks to avoid rule violations.  But where the foundries were willing to let is slide at 35nm, they are requiring double patterning at everything below, Beckley stated.

 

These new techniques are driving up development costs straight up the design chain.  Beckley said he has close to 400 engineers in his unit working on tools just for 20nm design -- half of his entire staff.

 

The benefits of the moving the node are just as tremendous, he said.  Instead of millions of transistors, each chip will have billions allowing for greater functionality in devices.  "We expect improvements  of 25-30 percent in power consumption and up to 18 percent overall perform and improvement," he predicted.

 

"If what I'm saying scares you, it should.  There are many questions and issues to be ironed out," Beckley concluded.  "But at Cadence we are already working with a dozen customers on active test chips, which will increase to 20 very soon, and we are already working with customers for products at 10nm."

IEEE Spectrum recently published an article on the the value of the Internet.  It discusses and economic report, The Internet Economy in the G-20, from The Boston Consulting Group. 

 

Dig-Man-II-4.2-Trillion-ex8_large_tcm80-100429.jpgThe report attempts to quantify the value of the Internet and makes the case that the Internet is still changing rapidly and will have a huge impact on the world economy.  Written from a public policy standpoint, the report attempts to quantify the elusive value of things such the ability to research products or services. 

 

In an undergrad economics class, I remember learning about the difficulties of measuring inflation over decades because the whole market changes.  My professor, Dr. Denslow at the University of Florida, brought up the example of how watching a movie in your home would have been very expensive 20 years ago but now the VCR had made it affordable.  If he teaches the class the today almost 20 years later, maybe he uses the example of Microsoft Encarta’s $400 CD-ROM encyclopedia.  If an Internet connection provides access to thousands of such encyclopedias and databases, is its value millions of dollars? 

 

This question is so confusing because it involves appraising the value of something that is changing the very nature of value in the economy.

 

This economic revolution is similar to the changes brought about by the introduction of agriculture of industrialization.  Going from a hunter-gatherer economy to an agricultural economy increased the types of goods and services available such that it became impractical to trade them by barter.  Money was needed to allow trading without mutual coincidence of wants.  In an agricultural economy, arable land was the primary means of production and most wealth was held in the form of land.  When societies shifted to an industrial economy, factories become the primary means of production.  There is a finite amount of arable land, but factories can be created without limit.  So industrial economies rely on fiat money whose quantity can be controlled by central banks, with the goal of matching the amount of money to the amount of wealth in the economy. 

 

Automation and the Internet are moving us toward another economic revolution.  Automated factories can produce material goods with few people.  The Internet can distribute intellectual property such as software, music, phisiables inexpensively.  The very questions that researchers asked regarding giving up sex or material things in exchange for the Internet unintentionally juxtapose the primary stores of value in each type of economies. 

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Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, puts it this way. 

  • Hunter-gatherer societies are driven by Motivation 1.0: Survival (food, avoiding a premature death, sex). 
  • Industrial economies use Motivation 2.0: Money
  • Information economies aredriven by Motivation 3.0: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

 

It’s worthwhile for the researchers to attempt to quantify the effects of the Internet on the world economy.  The very questions they ask, however, illustrate that the Internet and automation are revolutionizing the economy in a way that is hard to put a value on. 

Technological advancement is not always for pushing the future along. Often enough it helps us understand the past and know more about our present. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is using satellites to record specific reflective properties for exploring ancient civilizations. Google is using ground images to allow viewers to tour far away and restricted locations. Both efforts are modern, leading edge, giving us all a deeper understanding of our Earth and history.

 

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Topographical maps combines with MIT's anaysis show connections between past civilizations (via Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA)

 

Using unique soil signatures and satellite images, MIT researchers have created a new way to study past civilizations. Human activities such as large-scale settlements leave distinctive patterns in the soil. These patterns, called Anthrosols, have fine textures and lighter reflective properties. As a result, these patterns can be seen from satellite images exploiting human migration patterns. These methods can help us prove new and old hypothesis, and learn more about areas in which we have little or restricted access. Currently, computer science researcher Bjoern Menze has created a software program that takes the satellite images and maps the Anthrosol patterns by analyzing the wavelength patterns. Although the software can detect large settlements very well, it currently is not reliable detecting smaller settlements due to the sporadic or less dense wavelengths detected.

 

 

Now dealing with the present, Google will be adding a new feature to its street view software.  The software will enable viewers to traverse rivers and trails in the Amazon. It works on the same concept as street view using over 50,000 photos together to create a panoramic picture that can be viewed from any direction. The project will allow viewers to learn more about the Amazon from the comfort of their own homes while providing access to areas restricted to the public and was funded by the non-profit organization Amazonas Sustainable Foundation.

 

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Tibutary of the Rio Negro (via Google)

 

Sounds like one of the best jobs in the world, taking the Google street view camera through the Amazon.

 

 

Using technology can help us learn more about the past, present, and future of our planet Earth. With more easily accessed information, Today's generation has the potential to learn about anything they desire with a few clicks.

 

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Rocket tracers, nightime (via NASA)

 

In the military, soldiers sometimes use tracer rounds to help them direct fire onto an opposing target. The tracer projectile uses a pyrotechnic charge that makes the bullet burn brightly and therefore visible to the naked eye. NASA has taken a page from the military’s tracer principal and adapted it to their ATREX (Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment) program.

 

Five rockets were launched in succession 80 seconds apart to study the Jetstream at high altitude (65 miles up) but keeping an eye on the rockets is difficult to say the least. In order to maintain a better visual lock-on of the sounding rockets (2 X Terrier-Improved Malemutes, 2 X Terrier-Improved Orions and 1 Terrier-Oriole), NASA equipped each with a chemical tracer (unknown as to what chemical) that formed a ‘milky white cloud’ at altitude that enabled researchers to visually see the wind speeds found at that height as well as the rockets trajectory. Two of the five rockets launched carried weather instrumentation (I suspect human subjugation tech as well) that measured temperature, pressure and wind speed to better understand Earth’s upper atmosphere.

 

Tracers or further fodder for the "Chemtrail Conspiracy?"

 

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Cencept of how the plastic repairs (via American Chemical Society)

 

The day may come when our robot subordinates will be able to bleed and bruise when we suppress their uprising, thanks to a new form of polymer that has self-healing capabilities. At this year’s ACS (American Chemical Society) Professor Mark W. Urban (School of Polymers and High Performance Materials at USM) unveiled a new type of plastic his research group has designed that mimics human skin in that it can discolor and even bleed, which is needed for the healing process, when damaged. The polymer works similar to skin in that when exposed to UV light, temperature or pH fluctuations it changes to shades of red when damaged and bleeds when cut or scratched.

 

The secret to this is that the team’s water-based copolymers is infused with nano-links, dubbed ‘bridges’, that travers the chemical make-up of the plastic. Once damaged these tiny links distort and change shape resulting in a red color. Once these deformities are exposed to light or temperature changes the nano-links return to their original state which gives the plastic its self-healing properties. The applications for which this new polymer can be applied to are virtually endless. Think of it being incorporated into cars (self-healing fenders?), planes (stress-point identifiers), body armor (heals after round impact), medical applications (burn victims, artificial limbs), and the list goes on and on. What might you apply it too? Let’s hear some feedback.

 

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(Left) SUGAR high/freeze (Right) supersonic Boeing concept (via Boeing)

 

"Green" is becoming the norm in new design. Boeing is jumping on the bandwagon and looking to win a major contract from NASA to create new subsonic/supersonic aircraft that will be more environmentally friendly. Concepts for the subsonic aircraft (noted as N+3 for the next three generations of aircraft) are all derived from the project known as SUGAR (Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research). These include "SUGAR free" and "refined SUGAR" (I’m not making this up these puns) that resembles current 737 designs. SUGAR high and the electric/gas hybrid SUGAR Volt are more of a futuristic design and SUGAR ray (a design that looks like a B2 stealth converted for passengers) bringing up the rear. Finally, the SUGAR freeze (based on the SUGAR high) runs on cryogenically frozen liquid natural gas, making it 64% more efficient than current Boeing 737-800 planes.

 

All planes in this category have been designed to decrease CO2 emissions in one way or another; however the SUGAR Volt stands out from the pack because of its battery/fuel hybrid engines which reduce its energy burn by 55% over the other designs.

 

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(Left) refined SUGAR (Middle) SUGAR ray (Right) SUGAR high (concepts via Boeing)

 

The supersonic designs are just as diverse as their slower moving brothers that include a swing-wing configuration, a fixed-wing design that uses a ‘v-tail’ concept (called Icon 2) and a joined-wing ‘scissor’ (1 wing joined at the fuselage that rotates on a pivot point) concept. All the supersonic crafts are designed to lessen or reduce the inevitable sonic boom created with super-fast flight. Yes, Boeing understands that while the supersonic models aren’t exactly up-to-speed (as it were) on the whole green initiative, they more than make up for it in raw speed alone. Conceptual designs were also submitted by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to NASA as well, all in the hopes of winning a contract. If all goes according to plan, the first group of next generation planes will hit the runway in 2030.

 

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The E=MC2 pages. (via Einstein Archives Online)

 

Anyone who is a fan of Albert Einstein will be excited to hear, over 80,000 digital scans of his documents are available to all of the public with access to the internet, right now. This is all due to the effort of the Polonsky Foundation UK. The foundation hopes to have Einstein's complete body of work finished by the end of 2012.

 

 

After Einstein's death in 1955, he left the rights to all his documents and his image to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They launched the project on March 19, 2012 to photograph all of his groundbreaking scientific research, such as papers on his Theory of Relativity, along with non-scientific papers such as letters to family, fans, and his lady acquaintances. In addition, the archive will be easily navigated using a search engine with options such as search filters.

 

 

Einstein is considered one of the greatest scientists of all time. He revolutionized the scientific world and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. These new publications will allow anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the genius, access to his personal life and work.

 

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Engineering On Friday (comic strip) finds a gem burried in the Eienstein archives, see more after this link.

Apple has extended an olive branch to a number of its rivals in the ultra-competitive smartphone market, offering royalty-free license to its nano-SIM design. By doing so, the California-based firm hopes to make the design an international standard.

 

That is according to the Foss Patents blog, which explained that the move is designed to placate the competitors, including Nokia, Motorola and Research In Motion, the firm behind the BlackBerry. These rival companies have already stated their fear over using technology patented by Apple, which already has a strangelhold on the market through its iPhone handsets.

 

http://aperture.adfero.co.uk/Image/Original/7029181

 

The key advantages of the new SIM card is that it is thinner and smaller than the micro-SIM, which is currently used in the high-end smartphones. The design is set to be discussed this week at the Smart Card Platform Plenary meeting of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

 

Rivals of Apple have voiced concerns of the new nano-SIM design, observing that it is set to give the firm an unfair advantage in the lucrative smartphone market. But according to a report on the blog, Apple does not intend to make huge financial gains on the nano-SIM.

 

Under the terms of the agreement, Apple will not be paid any monies whatsoever for the use of the nano-SIM design, which is an uncharacteristic state of affairs in an industry where intellectual property is protected so robustly. And Apple has claimed that it will ease the concerns and complaints of its disapproving rivals, who are fearful of its control of the market.

 

Nokia, however, has already submitted a rival design to ETSI, arguing that its approach offers "significant technical advantages" to the smartphone industry. The final ruling on the issue is set to be made later this week and is likely to have significant implications for the market.

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Concept (via Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)

 

Slowly but surely, the cloaking devices seen on almost every sci-fi show in existence are becoming a reality. Sure we can’t actually hide a Klingon Warbird (we haven’t figured out how to build one yet), but we can do the next best thing, cloaking objects from magnetic fields. A collaboration with researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain) and the Institute of Electrical Engineering (Slovakia) have designed a special cylinder that is able to hide objects from magnetic fields.

 

The research team was able to build the device using a super-conductor material encased in iron, nickel and chrome (chrome for style?). There are two main layers. One is a superconductor that reflects magnetic fields, while the other ferromagnetic layer attracts the same fields. Anything placed inside a cylinder of the composite materials will be undetectable. Think of it as being able to bend a magnetic field around an object. Theoretically you could pass through a metal detector at an airport with anything that could fit inside the cloaking tube undetected. That is until security notices the liquid nitrogen vapor (used for the superconductor) coming off the metallic cylinder. All kidding aside, the technology could be adapted for use in the medical field to shield pacemakers or other implants from magnetic resonance tests, as well as a host of other applications.

 

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Engineering On Friday shows the military application for this tech.

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"Big-money." (via stock photography)

 

Almost all of American currency in paper form features a mylar security strip that responds to UV light. This is one of the many tricks to help determine whether or not the bills are counterfeit. Conspiracy theorists think that these strips are used for money tracking as well as a host of other nefarious government doings. As crazy as it sounds, they are partially right.

 

New printing methods incorporate metal filaments or flecks embedded in the ink that makes the bills partially magnetic. This not only makes it harder to counterfeit money, but it is also a way to track it. Christopher Fuller and Antao Chen from the University of Washington have found that the magnetic inks used in newer currency can be detected, albeit in large bundles, from a distance. The pair found that they could use a standard everyday metal detector to locate paper bills at an incredible distance of 3 centimeters. The team also found that adding increments of five dollar bills not only increased the strength and distance of the reading capabilities, the detector could pick up but also how much money was in the bundle (not really accurate as every bill, regardless of amount, contains the same amount of ink). While the distance of detection is relatively small, the process could be used in airports and border checkpoints to curb money funneling to narco-states. Somehow I think this going to be more ‘fuel to the fire’ for conspiracy junkies rather than an efficient way of detecting money on the move.

 

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Wheelchairs have had some up-grades over the years. Various forms have come and gone, but they are typically limited to moving forward and backward. Those days are over as Masaharu Komori (from Kyoto University in Japan) has designed a new wheelchair that can not only travel forwards and backwards but also sideways. Called ‘Permoveh’ (Personal Mobile Vehicle) the wheelchair features a set of rollers housed inside the chairs wheels that lets the user travel in all directions, including diagonally as well as sideways. The rollers use a separate drive-train from the main wheels which gives the Permoveh its unique ability. This enables the disabled to move in tight or crowded areas with an impressive amount of maneuverability. The wheel innovation can also be adapted for other uses such as an upgrade for forklifts used in warehouses or adapted to robots that work in small places like my apartment. The downside to the Permoveh is that there are no plans to commercialize the chair as of yet but conceivably it could be on the market in the next few years.

 

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Prototype chair and wheel concept (via Kyoto University)

 

The idea is nothing new, robotics competitions have had this exact tech for years. Whoever markets the wheels first will be treated as the inventor, so hop to it Masaharu Komori.

 

Eavesdropper

Computer giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) has announced that by 2017 it hopes to have developed a computer chip that features 256 microprocessors tied together with beams of light. The microprocessor, codenamed Corona, will be powered by a laser and HP hopes it will be able to perform ten trillion floating points operations a second.

 

As a result of this development, the chips could operate at an impressive 20 terabytes per second. Memory, meanwhile, would work at ten terabytes a second, HP said. Consequently, Corona stands to run memory-intensive applications about two to six times faster than an equivalent chip  using electric wires.

 

The chip would also use a lot less power, according to HP, which confirmed that it would enable supercomputers to reach the exascale barrier - a remarkable 100 times faster than the current fastest supercomputer

 

Long-term, HP, as well as a number of other research operations, hopes to see light play a more prominent role in this area, with information being sent through the power of light. Other projects attempting to break through the much-vaunted exascale barrier include Intel's Runnemede, MIT's Angstrom and NVIDIA's Echelon, as well as Sandia's X-calibur projects.

 

At present, the necessary technology does not exist to develop Corona. That, according to HP, is about to change and it expects to have the chip ready to use by 2017.

Student Calculate.jpgAfter my last article on what error budgets  are, I imagine there were plenty of people who thought that calculating error budgets on a complex product would be a pretty tough way to start a job.    To the contrary, I found them to be the single best project a junior engineer can be assigned.  And no, that's not because it's funny to give the rookie tasks with the most excel work.

 

First, let's talk about who junior engineers are.  The new hire will have been well educated, maintain a high energy level, and will be used to heavy calculations from their recent college education.  Heck, some college programs would lead students to expect nothing BUT calculations in the engineering profession!  Plus, if the right one was hired he or she will be eager to learn from and impress the senior engineering staff.

 

On the surface, there are many reasons that a manager would not want to give a rookie the task of leading up an error budget.  It is a very difficult task that requires a lot of critical thinking, engineering assumptions, and flawless organization; all daunting requirements for a new engineer.  There are also social and professional implications to a rookie telling a seasoned veteran what is wrong with their design, perhaps learning how to confront statements like “There's nothing wrong with that circuit. Check it again, Sport.”  And of course the master of the error budget is also expected to deliver bad news to marketing and purchasing like, “We can't hit this spec” and “We need this expensive, long lead time part.”  But what better way to get your new employee off to a good start than challenging him or her from day one?!?

 

To the companies that look past these challenges, go great benefits!  The new hire gets the best experience possible: direct access to a senior engineer where lessons on how different circuits work will undoubtedly occur often.  This is where the majority of learning and passing of company knowledge happens and should be encouraged at every turn.  The junior engineer also gains the opportunity to be the resident expert on a topic by leading a project, all within 6 months of starting work.  The manager also has a lot to gain.  With the significant challenges listed above, leading an error budget is an extraordinary vetting ground to determine what the rookie is capable of.

 

Finally, you want to give the error budget to the rookie since no engineer in their right mind would do more than a couple error budgets!  It could be a rite of passage into the design team, with each member having their own war stories about the raw endurance it took to find a circuit error – and the $Millions the resulting fix saved!

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Reduced graphene oxide (a) Optical magnification of sheet (b) increased magnification

 

Most of you have heard of graphene, one atom thick super-packed sheet of carbon atoms. It is little know that, depending on the process used, graphene is very difficult to produce. The materials used to make the extremely hard substance usually consist of using sodium ethoxide, magnesium or sugar as well of a host of other substances. The quantity produced using these materials is typically on the small side due to the toxic by-products (hydrazine) that come as a result of the manufacturing process (which is usually done with heat and/or chemicals).

 

A research team from Toyohashi Tech (Japan) headed by Yuji Tanizawa have come up with a novel way of producing graphene that significantly reduces, if not eliminates, the toxic after-birth by using micro-organisms found in ponds and rivers. Hydrazine is used to remove the oxygen from the graphene film which makes it denser and also stronger. Tanizawa and his team were able to eliminate the toxic by-product by realizing that graphene acts as a magnate to micro-organisms. These organisms, taken from a local river bank, help to reduce the oxygen left over from the chemical process used to create the graphene sheets.

 

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GO (graphene oxide) via traditional methods in blue. Red is the bacterial reduced GO.


The team found that when sheets of graphene oxide (GO) were placed in a dish containing the pond water which was left to sit for three days produced high-quality graphene sheets. This process is not only a more environmentally friendly way of mass producing high-quality graphene, but it’s also a cheaper one. Maybe now we can actually see graphene introduced in our electronic devices' as core-technology.

 

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All images via Toyohashi University of Technology

 

Learning how to play the guitar (no not "Guitar Hero") can be a long and daunting endeavor. Sure, you can use sheet music or tablature, but who really has time for that when we all just want to be overnight rock sensations? Robert Sanchez, with partners Ryan Rogowski and Kipp Bradford, might just have the solution to that problem with his design teaching aid called ‘Tabber’.

 

The system uses an LED (13 in all) sleeve that slips onto the guitars fret-board and lights up the positions which lets the user know where to place their fingers. Future musicians will first download an app on their mobile device that has various songs, chords and lessons. Once the choice is selected it is then sent to an Arduino Uno Dev platform, via Bluetooth, that in turns lights up the correct LED strips position for finger placement.

 

Powering the Tabber is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that will ensure hours of practice time for becoming the next Eddie Van Halen. The guys are funding their project on Kickstarter with the ultimate goal of reaching $45,000 US to get the Tabber off the ground with donors contributing $5,356 US so far. The team is hoping for a release as soon as July of this year if funding keeps coming in which means all you perspective musicians should be ready for your first concert by the fall!

 

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Promotional image (via Kickstarter)

 

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iRobot Ava development platform (via iRobot)

 

The field of robotics, and the market for robotics, is rapidly expanding into new fields and applications. Two weeks ago, the company iRobot announced their adapting to this expansion by branching into three different sections as a strategy for their long-term dominance in the robotics market. These branches will be comprised of three units: home robots, military robots and branch focused on emerging technologies.

 

 

iRobot has sold 7.5 million home robots since it began, most notably the Roomba vacuum cleaner. More than 4,500 combat proven military robots have been sold to the military as well to keep soldiers out of harms way during dangerous operations and also perform reconnaissance missions. Both of these departments have contributed to the 75% growth seen by the company in the last three years.

 

 

Hoping to continue this growth trend, the newest branch is focusing on emerging robotics technologies will begin by featuring the Ava platform to help developers in designing mobile robots of all sorts. iRobot hopes the platform will be used in everything from medical robots to retail, security etc.

 

 

The future of the iRobot company seems promising. However, the iRobot Corp. admits that the future is not certain and there are many factors out of their control which could get in the way of the three branches success. Investors are told to invest with caution and not be deceivingly inspired by their “forward-looking statements”.

 

Eavesdropper

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No, that is not a giant pencil. It is a 1.875 Mega-Joule laser (via National Ignition Facility)

 

Is it a glorious win or a crushing defeat if you beat your own record? In the National Ignition Facility's case (NIF - in Livermore, California), it’s a win, as they have succeeded in creating a 1.875 MJ (mega-joule) ultraviolet laser-shot at the facilities target chamber. This beat out their previous record of a scant 1.8 MJ record.

 

This isn’t all about breaking records, as the laser-pulse (at 23 billionths of a second) generating 411 trillion watts of power is meant to ignite nuclear fusion by hitting small (millimeters in size) frozen fuel pellets. The pressure generated inside the test chamber is astounding, as ignition of the pellets would create pressures 100 billion times that of earth with temperatures that would rival the sun at 100 million degrees!

 

The laser itself is actually 192 lasers housed in two separate locations that coalesce into 1 focal-point through the use of precision ground specially coated mirrors, and then shot at a central target (in this case frozen pellets). The scientist’s goal is to achieve more energy output than was used for a fusion reaction thus garnering a new power source that’s safer than traditional nuclear power plants. Will it ever happen? Maybe not, but the super-laser can be used in other applications that explore astro-physics, materials science (lasing different types of matter ie: apples and matchbox cars) as well as nuclear experiments (Manhattan Project?). No matter how the scientists use it, they still have the world’s most powerful laser, and that’s a success in itself.

 

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"Ren Limin, a worker at the Jinyuan Company's smelting workshop, pours the rare earth metal Lanthanum into a mould near the town of Damao, in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region October 31, 2010." (via Reuters & David Gray)

 

There are 17 "Rare-Earth" elements that are a critical component of today's advanced technology. Neodymium (60-Nd), for example, is used in making ceramic capacitors. Lanthanum (57-La)is used in camera lenses, batteries, hydrogen storage, and the cracking catalyst for oil refineries. Although these two and the other fifteen are plentiful around the world, most companies do not find the Earth-extraction to be a lucrative endeavor. China, on the other hand, has such cheap labor that they can pull the elements and price them cheaper than anyone else. Due to this, China produces 95% of the world's "Rare-Earth" supplies.

 

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Baotou, inner Mongolia, China. Half of the world's supply of rare earth comes from the hills of this area. This is a toxic waste lake made from the processing of the elements. (via China's Red Door News)

 

A global monopoly has only brought China scrutiny around the world. Europe has joined Japan and the US in filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the issue as China was restricting the export of the materials. In fact, China is stockpiling 8 of the elements for their own use, no longer exporting at all. Due to the Rare-Earth elements becoming rarer, people are mobilizing to fill the void.

 

The Molycorp reopened the Mountain Pass mine, California, in 2010. Approximately 20 million tons of ore sit inside the mine, 8.24% of which are Rare-Earth oxides. Alkane Resources, Australia, plans to have a mine in operation by 2013. Japan is looking to rid electronics of components that use the materials. Their first step is Reducing the use of Dysprosium, used in magnets, by 30%. France's Rhodia group is exploring the recovery of the elements through the recycling process. Two factories in La Rochelle and Saint-Fons can produce 200 tons annually right now. Rock in Southern Afghanistan and a volcano near the Helmand province in Russia are also showing possibilities for mining.

 

Whichever way the world steers, their goal is unified, bring down the China monopoly on Rare-Earth supplies.

 

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OMAP powered Roomba (via iRobot)

 

The creator of military robots and house cleaning robots, iRobot, will be teaming up with Texas Instruments to create a slew of new bots powered by TI's OMAP  technology. The chip will provide multi-core processing capabilities to fuel the growth of next generation robots. To give you a glimpse at the processing power knoew this, OMAP processors are currently used in many smart phones and tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy product line.

 

 

The faster chips will allow robots to be "more intelligent" by adding the ability to handle more sensor inputs. OMAP technology will bring multiple advantages to the robot industry such as, accelerators for multimedia, power and voltage domains, hardware and software for advanced power management systems, wide bus architecture, dual external memory interfaces, and the fastest image interface on the market. Therefore, the robots of tomorrow are promising to be more autonomous and interactive.

 

 

The products that are looking to be created out of this partnership are not yet known. However, with TI's credibility and iRobot's experience in the robotics industry, selling more than 7.5 million units, there is sure to be further advancement with this partnership.

 

See more about robotic innovations in element14's Robotics Group.

 

Eavesdropper

 

After the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last year, the entire country was shut down due to catastrophic damage to its electrical grid. Among other things, this meant that all of the 5.5 million vending machines, which have become a very convenient commodity for Japanese people, were out of service. Access to vending machines plethora of convenience items were cut off. (No more drinks, hot food, fruit, clothes, etc)

 

 

To combat this issue, companies like Coca-Cola have fitted some of their machines with solar panels, but this has proved ineffective when building block sunlight. The company Sanden is trying an age-old solution to the power-less vending machine that will simply require muscle power; the crank powered vending machine surfaces.

 

 

Turns out that about 20 seconds after 70 cranks, the machine will turn on and be ready to dispense 2 to 3 items. It will surely make those who wish to indulge re-think their excesses, but the machine is surely to work after any power outage. Sanden made no announcement of added cost each machine will need other than the sore bicep.

 

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Over the next few months, the world's most popular search engine, Google, will undergo a number of radical reforms in a bid to provide its users with 'answers' rather than just links to other websites. Historically, Google has specialised in providing blue web links. The new Google search bar, however, will go one significant step further and offer explicit answers to search queries at the top of the results page.

 

To achieve this, the California-based firm will employ 'semantic search technology', which Google is banking on helping to keep it one step ahead of rival firms in the search engine market, including Yahoo and Bing, the Microsoft-owned operation.

 

http://aperture.adfero.co.uk/Image/Original/7078169

 

Industry experts have speculated that the changes have been prompted by the ever-increasing popularity of sites like Twitter and Facebook, both of which pose a serious threat to Google's advertising revenues.  The firm's new approach to its search engine could, in fact, serve to increase revenue from advertising.

 

One of Google's principal ambitions is to entice some people to stay longer on the search site.

 

In a recent interview, Amit Singhal, a top Google search executive, said that the Google search will look more like "how humans understand the world". And while there is no specified date for implementation of the changes, a source close to the situation told the Wall Street Journal that they will become apparent in a few months' time.

 

Google is, according to Mr Singhal, undergoing a year-long process to enter the "next generation of search", which is sure to have a profound impact on all areas of the electronics industry.

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Un-printer concept (via Cambridge University)

 

So, how many of us have messed up a printing project only throw the paper away and start over?

 

All of us. The waste that is produced is tremendous as well as costly for business and the environment. Some ‘green’ conscious-minded researchers from Cambridge University have a solution that would save countless trees from a wasteful fate with the help of nano-pulsed laser technology, a printer eraser.

 

Dr. Julian Allwood and David Leal-Ayala, both from the Low Carbon Materials Processing Group at Cambridge, have conducted a study on the removal of toner-based printing with the use of ultraviolet, visible or infrared lasers pulsed at varying time rates. The team used a total of ten test set-ups with each using a different level of power, laser and pulse duration along with standard copy paper printed on with HP LaserJet black ink. The lasers were then used to remove the ink on the paper, and the results were then scanned under an electron microscope and scrutinized to see which laser and pulse duration was the best at ink removal.

 

Segway: This kind of reminds me of the laser tattoo removal process some people under-go: end Segway.

 

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Electron microscope scan of an erased "ex" from the printed "Text12" (via Cambridge University)

 

The pair found that a laser with the wavelength of 532 nano-meters (in the green light spectrum) with a pulse duration of 4 nano-seconds was the optimal range at which to remove the ink without setting the paper on fire or discoloration. Of course, Dr. Allwood states that they have had success at removing ink off of the same piece of paper three times over but says that any more risks paper damage or ‘yellowing’.

 

As it stands right now, the team thinks that the laser-pulsed ink-removal process could be implemented into next generation printers and copiers but have yet to talk to any companies regarding integration. As for how much paper could theoretically be saved using the laser-removal process? According to recycling-revolution.com the US throws out about 1 billion trees (or 4 tons) worth of paper each year which equates to a paper wall 12 feet high from New York to California.

 

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Ice breaker ship plowing through the Arctic Ocean (via stock photography)

 

Many projects, some which will start this year, will upgrade the current Internet connections of many regions of the northern hemisphere. Increased speed, connectivity, and reduced latency is the goal.

  

 

Starting this August, after the summer exposes the arctic sea, there are plans to lay fiber optic cable connecting Tokyo Japan and London UK across the Arctic Ocean. One of these projects is called the Russian Optical Trans-Arctic Submarine Cable System (ROTACS). This specific project will be composed of two cables through the North-West passage, while a third cable will be laid along the northern Russian coast. It will be comprised of 14,700 km of cable and will be responsible for installing the longest single stretch of fiber optic cable ever.

 

  

A second project, conducted by Toronto company Arctic Fiber, will lay cable beneath the Canadian Arctic. This project will lay 15,600 kilometers of cable and will include optical amplifiers ever 50 to 100 kilometers to ensure a strong signal throughout the massive fiber optic network. The Arctic Fiber project will reduce latency between Japan and the UK from 230 ms to 168 ms.

  

 

These projects will bring fiber optic Internet to communities along the arctic and surely will prove to be extremely useful to people accessing it. But, of course the project is not being done out of good will. So, no people in remote areas will piggy back on to this new Internet pipeline 

 

  

Motive seems to never be without the assurance of monetary gain. Herein lies the reason for the excitement about the 62 ms latency reduction. High-frequency stock traders will gain an advantage over others in using these networks and automated trading.

 

  

These aforementioned projects will begin this year, but there is more in the works. A third project called the Arctic Link may begin in 2014 featuring 15,840 km of cable.

  

 

The remoteness of these oceans will provide protection to these lines. The plans side step politically unstable areas of the world. It is also rare to find much activity in the waters. So the laid lines will remain untouched by fishing boats or other activity. But, these projects will certainly put a dent in the wallets of those funding them, as their cost range from $600 million to $1.5 billion dollars. The price of expanding data communication.

 

Eavesdropper

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SeeMe concept (via DARPA)

 

In the military, it’s usually the SOF (Special Operations Forces) community are that get all the toys. For example, new body armor designs, improved weapons platforms and the latest electronic equipment are usually given to ‘Tier 1’ (the term is actually from the DOD’s budget rather than elite soldiers) operators. However, DARPA is seeking to develop and supply the average military units (as well as SOF) with the ability to recon over the horizon with cheap/disposable real-time satellite imagery.

 

Called ‘SeeMe’, DARPA’s project aims to use cheap already in-orbit satellites (about a dozen or so) that can be accessed with the push of a button and give the soldiers an area image within 90 minutes. DARPA is trying to combine the low-cost manufacturing processes from the cell-phone industry, propulsion systems designed by the auto-racing community, and valve tech from the medical field to get the SeeMe project off the ground (so to speak). The satellites are expected to cost around $500,000 US (which is pretty cheap as far as satellites go) and will remain in orbit anywhere from 60 to 90 day’s at which point the will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up on re-entry.

 

DARPA plans to use their ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access) platform to send these ‘prying eyes’ into space over conventional rocket deployment since the payload is expected to be 100Lbs or under. The company is hosting a get-together (called Proposers’ Day) on March 27 of this year to hear prospective proposals from interested parties interested in the SeeMe project. If you have an idea on how to make this happen, have a go at SeeMe. Maybe I will 'SeeYou' there!

 

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WiGig logo (via Wireless Gigabit Alliance)

 

As you may or may not have heard, there is a new wireless Internet technology in the works capable of up to 7 Gbps. Unlike the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band we are familiar with now, the WiGig technology (wireless gigabit) would step it up a couple notches to deliver wireless at 60 GHz, aka 802.11ad.

 

 

The future of the WiGig is not set in stone. The established electronics manufacturer and distributor, ZTE, is throwing their support for this emerging technology by joining LGE, Allegro, Silicone Image and other companies in the WiGig Alliance. ZTE general manager, Sun Qingbo, expressed much interest in the emerging technology, saying he wishes to integrate WiGig capabilities to ZTE products that range from tablets to conference terminals. He says, “It will be fantastic if WiGig technology can be adopted on all these products. I am certain there are many companies that share the same vision as us.”

 

 

Support for the WiGig revolution is sure to keep rising. The WiGig Alliance announces it has finished the first ever multi-gigabit wireless docking specification, performed its first interoperability test and received ITU-R recognitions. The alliance is encouraging more developers to help in creating a unified specification for wireless docking that they believe would revolutionize the wireless Internet world. Testing will continue through the 2012 year with plans of having the first certified WiGig products released in 2013.

 

Eavesdropper

Paypal, the web-based payment protection service, has announced an exciting new development - a mobile credit card reader which allows consumers to enjoy on-the-fly transactions at small firms worldwide.

 

The move marks an important landmark for the firm, which is seeking to move into the mobile payment space. To this end, it has introduced "Paypal Here", which is a blue triangular reader which plugs into a smartphone's audio jack.

 

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The firm explained that it has created a mobile phone app to control the payment service, which puts them in competition with Square and Google Wallet, the two leading services at present.

 

Launched at an event in San Francisco, Paypal observed that the app was designed to make the traditional "payment experience disappear". In a blog post, the firm explained: "It's designed to help ... merchants make more sales and grow their business with confidence."

 

PayPal Here is an all-around beautiful piece of technology, the firm said in the blog. "We spent spent considerable time (152 days, to be precise) with legendary designer Yves Béhar and his firm, Fuseproject, designing every aspect of PayPal Here - from the triangular card reader to the packaging," explained Anuj Nayar, the director of communications at PayPal.

 

"A lot of very gifted individuals worked tirelessly to ensure every last detail was perfect, and I have to say they did a great job."

 

Paypal observed that while the free reader currently works only on iPhones, an Android app is planned to start in April, meaning that the technology may soon become commonplace.

 

Launched in 1998, Paypal currently boasts around 100 million customers worldwide who use 25 different currencies.

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Clips connected to the implanted eletrodes, measuring the generation within the snail.

(Via L. Halámková, J. Halámek, V. Bocharova, A. Szczupak, L. Alfonta, E. Katz, Implanted biofuel cell operating in living snail. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, in press (DOI: 10.1021/ja211714w) | Copyright 2012 American Chemical Society)

 

A research team from Clarkson University in Postdam N.Y., led by chemistry professor Evgeny Katz, has developed the very first fuel cell comprised of a live snail. This “battery” makes much less electricity than a AAA battery, but Katz and his collaborators from the Ben-Gurion University are working to increase the power produced.

 

 

Biocatalytic electrodes made of Buckypaper, or thin sheets of carbon nano-tubes, were implanted in the snail. These electrodes combined with certain enzymes consume glucose and also use the oxygen circulating in the snail’s hemolymph (blood) to produce the current. After proper feeding and relaxing, the snail was able to regenerate the glucose needed for this biochemical electrical reaction by the biocatalytic electrodes. The snail was fitted with its own portable cell, which allowed it to move about freely while producing electricity. (Brings a new meaning to the saying “by perseverance the snail reached the ark [arc- Charles Spurgeon]”.)

 

 

The question then becomes, how can the minute amounts of electricity be used? The masters of exploit at the U.S. Military and the Homeland Security Department have already thought of uses. They propose using these snail batteries as sensors for gases etc. and wireless transmitters for minute microphones, video cameras and other espionage gear.

 

 

Katz elaborated, "In this [direction] the biofuel cells are expected to operate in small creatures (snails, worms, insects, etc) providing sustainable electrical power for various sensors and wireless transmitters... In the future setup, the implanted bioelectrodes will be connected to a microelectronic device (sensing and wireless transmitting) fixed at the snail body, and the snail will be released to move as much as it wants."

 

 

Take a look at some other insects used for surveillance and generating alternative energy.

 

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As citizens and politicians argue about how not to spend tax dollars, the U.S. navy seems to be gaining ground in persuading congress in spending hundreds of millions. A new type of gun that was previously thought as impractical and a waste of time, energy, and money may soon get back on the design track. This new weapon is called an electromagnetic rail gun and it works by accelerating a 20+ lb aluminum “bullet” around hypersonic speeds (Mach 5) towards the enemy.

 

 

Congress was skeptical as early designs did not include a barrel for the gun but new footage of preliminary tests by the company BEA Systems and the Office of Naval Research show a functioning rail gun with a barrel. These tests shot a 23 lb bullet at 5500 ft/s using 33 Mega Joules of energy. While these results have convinced the navy that this project should be pursued, there is still more development needed before battleships can handle these weapons.

 

 

The Navy wants guns that can shoot 10 times per minute, which means that the barrel will need to withstand the punishment. The firing needs to reduce the demand on the ships energy supplies. So additional energy-dense batteries for the gun will be need to be added. Each projectile has to be equipped with processing systems to guide its trajectory. Lastly, the blast cannot damage the onboard components. A new thermal managing systems are in development as well.

 

 

The companies BEA Systems and General Atomics are hard at work on this project. So far the effort has cost about $240 millions dollars, and it is expected to cost around twice this amount by the time it is complete and ready to buy. We may not have jobs in 2020, but the Navy counts on having these rail guns ready for war.

 

 

Eavesdropper

 

Have you ever wanted to design your own robot but were unsure where to start? Fear-not friend, Microsoft has recently released a new iteration of its robot design software called ‘Robotics Developer Studio 4’. The software is centered heavily around the inclusion of Microsoft’s Kinect sensor for the home hobbyist’s robot designs. Included are SDK’s for both real and simulated Kinect sensors with support for all of its functions, the skeletal tracking feature, depth sensing, and microphone arrays.

 

RDS4 also takes advantage of Microsoft’s Visual Programming Language (VPL) that lets designers ‘drag and drop’ objects displayed in a virtual environment which then can be used to test your robot in any setting such as your virtual home and anywhere else you can think of. More advanced users can still program in C# through Visual Studio and Visual Studio Express. The software also incorporates Concurrency and Coordination Runtime (CCR), accessed through .NET Framework, in conjunction with a Decentralized Software Service (DSS) Manifest Editor (Decentralized Software Services web-based compiler) that makes writing robot applications much simpler. They want it to be easy.

 


 

With that in mind, Microsoft has also added tutorials for just about every aspect of RDS4 as well as sample code to help get you started in the world of robotics. With that said, Paralax Inc. has released a robotic hardware kit (for $1,249 US) based off of Microsoft’s ‘EDDIE’ robot design that takes advantage of RDS4 for those who are interested. Robotics Developer Studio 4 is available now for free and runs on Windows 7 and the upcoming Windows 8.

 

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Parallax EDDIE


See more about robotic innovations in element14's Robotics Group.

 

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Concept art (via Frog.com)

 

A few weeks ago the website frog.com held a competition called Future of Fiction for the first time, where they challenged their own staff to come up with innovational and non-conventional solutions to wind power harnessing. Their employees decided that a portable wind turbine was worthy of reality, and thereafter, engineers looked at the idea and came up with a prototype for a beautiful commercial grade portable wind turbine called the Revolver.

 

 

This prototype claims to produce 35 watts in the swiftest breeze. It could charge batteries, power an electric lantern, charge phones and other mobile devices and even keep your laptop juiced, all while you are enjoying being far away from “the grid."

 

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(Left) Turbine setup (Right) Concept structure of the turbine (via frog.com)

 

The final design will be easily portable because of its shape and flexible turbine blades. Initially the Revolver is a slender cylinder, just a couple feet long. A sliding collar, to which the bendable urethane turbine blades connect, slides up the vertical axis turbine shaft. When this collar slides up, the blades “blossom” to reveal their beautiful spiral shape and the die-cast magnesium tripod legs on which the Revolver stands. There is no mention of how it could anchor to the ground, but engineers will find a solution before it becomes available to the public.

 

 

The future of camping is near, and it will involve a new type of “revolver”; one that keeps things alive.

 

 

Eavesdropper

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NSA concept drawing (via NSA)

 

The National Security Agency (NSA) is currently carrying out a project called “Fishbowl” that is intended to encrypt telephone communications with high levels of security within networks using commercially available cell phones, cell phone components and the open source Android software. They are working with the Department of Defense, and other national agencies, to coordinate this security effort. They are also encouraging private companies to follow suit with their own encrypted Android-based networks by making some specifications of this type of network available to the public.

  

 

On February 1st 2012, the NSA released a document called the Draft of Mobility Capability Package that summarizes the 5 major components of the this secure “Fishbowl” network: Mobile Enterprise Infrastructure, Interoperability, Secure Voice, OS/Apps and Mobile Device and Mobile Transport (Carrier).

 

  

The NSA created 100 phones from commercially available parts that are compatible with the network and capable of highly secure communication. All of the sensitive telephone conversations are handled by the NSA’s own VoIP server which runs them through an IPsec VPN with real-time transport protocol for encrypting the voices involved in every phone call. If a private company whishes to create their own secure network, they will be required to obtain they own server.

 

  

A priority of the NSA is to obtain complete interoperability so that their Information Assurance Directorate is not compromised and available across all government networks.

 

 

Eavesdropper

Charles Gervasi

The Four Noise Paths

Posted by Charles Gervasi Mar 18, 2012

Like most engineers who have worked on PCB-level and system-level projects, I know from hard experience the ways noise can travel from one line to another.  There are several unrelated ways for crosstalk to occur, so it's easy to think of it as black magic.  At the EMC seminar I attended last week, I learned that there are only four paths for any signal, including crosstalk, to take.  Having them enumerated allows you to work out the mechanism of crosstalk by process of elimination and then focus debugging efforts on the particular noise path at work.

1. Conducted Coupling (aka common impedance coupling) - Two currents share a conductor path whose resistance is not zero.  The most common example of this is ground loops.

 

ConductedCoupling.jpg

 

2. Inductive Coupling (aka mutual inductance coupling or H-field coupling) - Current in one line induces a current in another line, by the same means as in the windings of a transformer.

 

InductiveCoupling.jpg

 

3. Capacitive Coupling (aka E-field coupling) - Two conductors close together form a capacitor allowing fast changes in voltage to flow from one conductor to the other.

 

CapacitiveCoupling.jpg

 

4. Radiated Coupling (aka EM copuling, far-field coupling, plane wave) - An electromagnetic wave is radiated by one antenna and received on another antenna over a distance of greater than one wavelength.

 

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This is an exhaustive list of the ways noise can travel.  They are nothing new to an experienced PCB engineer, but having them in a clear list allows you to be methodical about eliminating noise. Here are some ideas about identifying each noise path: 

 

Conductive Coupling: There must be two wires between the aggressor and victim.  If there are no wires or only one wire between the source and victim, you can rule out conductive coupling.

 

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The above circuits cannot experience conductive coupling because there are not two conductors connecting them.  .

 

Inductive and Capacitive Coupling are similar.  Inductive coupling causes current to flow in the opposite direction on the victim line, so if the victim load is on the same side as the aggressor load, the crosstalk noise voltage will be opposite of the aggressor current. The following example shows this property of inductive coupling. 

 

TruthCrosstalk-2.gif

A low-inductance ground path (in the case of a PCB, this is a solid plane with no gaps under the trace) will reduce inductive coupling into adjacent lines.

 

Radiated Coupling requires both the aggressor and victim have antennas.  Antennas could be any piece two pieces of metal of size > wavelength / 4 with a voltage across them.  A dipole antenna ideally consists of two pieces of metal exactly a quarter wavelength, but anything longer than that will radiate.  If the wires are significantly shorter than a quarter wavelength, you can rule out radiated coupling.   If the distance between the aggressor and victim is less than one wavelength, the coupling mechanism is not radiated. 

 

All diagrams are from Lee Hill except for the inductive trace coupling diagram from Howard Johnson.  Hill's seminar and Johnson's book are both excellent sources of information on this topic.

 

While many speech recognition and voice translator programs exist today, Microsoft has demonstrated its new one that is well ahead of its competition. They have showcased their new software at Microsoft's TechFest 2012, and have named it Monolingual TTS. (TTS, Text To Speech)

 

 

Unlike most translators, this one has the capability to output the translation in a voice that sounds just like your own and also includes a 3D image of your face. Additionally, it simulates movements of your facial expressions such as your lips and eyebrows while it speaks and can currently support 26 different languages. However, their software is not completely ideal yet as it will take up to an hour of audio-visual 2D video recording to create the avatar simulation. During the process, a 2D-to-3D reconstruction algorithm is used to create the face simulation and data is collected for the speech synthesis.

 

 

The Monolingual TTS voice translator can have many useful applications when fully completed. Microsoft suggests it can be used in applications such as a voice-agent, telepresence, gaming, and speech translation. If it is possible to create an app for smart phones out of this software, it can be a very valuable tool for people who like to travel to foreign countries. Without a doubt, it will change the way we all do business internationally.

 

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SoftKinetic is looking to change the way people interact with the digital world. They have recently unveiled a new depth sensor, 8 years in the making, that offers end-to-end 3D gesture recognition. It has no problem working in the dark or dim-light situations and works in confined areas better than its competition. Look at you, Microsoft Kinect. I originally saw this tech at CES 2012.

 

 

The sensor uses a patented time-of-flight(TOF) technology that can provide 3D distance data at up to 60 fps. The sensor seemed much more responsive that the Kinect, almost zero lag. It works by an infrared light, which is projected into a room, and the sensor measures the time period that it takes to return. It can precisely detect objects in the room and then process the distance data into a sharp 3D RGB image. In addition, the data include depth maps and grey-scale separation for software purposes. It can operate between a range of 1.5 to 4.5 meters and includes a dual microphone feature for audio input.

 

 

The technology will cost around $500 to buy a development kit for your own projects, but SoftKinetic is also looking to integrate these into new TVs and possibly laptops. However, they will have to size them down first before they could make the smooth transition into consumer technologies. At the moment, the SDK for the DepthSense system is available at their website, iisu SDK for Windows or Linux.

 

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Three students from the University of Belgium have created a touchscreen system using the legacy CRT monitor and a glove fitted with phototransistors. They have named their system CRTouch and their setup revolves around an Altera DE2-70 development board.

 

 

The system works by using the phototransistors at the end of the index and middle finger to detect the beams emitting from the electron gun within the CRT. The Altera board controls the monitor and receives the sensor information. Using this information they can create images on the monitor that replicates a touch screen effect.

 

 

The Altera DE2-70 board integrates various components together making it useful for experiments and college laboratories courses exploring logic circuits and computer organization. The board includes toggle and push button switches, LEDs, 7-segment displays, SSRAM, SDRAM, Nios II processor, simple I/O interfaces, standard video and signal connectors, and USB and Ethernet connections.

 

 

Their system also includes a couple additional options to interact with the touchscreen. Using the middle finger sensor you can change the color of the content being drawn and also use an eraser tool to erase content already drawn. Their system is clearly a working prototype, as it currently shows off its many problems. The first one being detecting the position of the photosensor when the screen display is filled with dark colors, and the second one being picking up to many signals when the screen is a very light color. Even if they refine their system, I do not think CRT monitors are coming back.

 

 

This reminds me of the Nintendo Super Scope video game "gun." It would work by timing how long it would take the electron gun, in the CRT, to refresh the area on the screen where the gun is pointed. The avoid detection problems, the game would lighten up the screen each time the trigger was pulled. Perhaps the Belgium team could benefit from some 1980s-90s Nintendo techniques.

 

 

Eavesdropper

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Frequency comb observed in the Fourier transform spectrum (via the University of Pittsburgh)

 

Our present communications devices, such as cellphones, rely on specific frequencies (usually in the GHz Bandwidth) located in the electromagnetic radiation light spectrum to send and receive information. This frequency range is limited in the speed at which information can be carried (in the form of a sine wave traveling between the very low frequency (VLF) and microwave light spectrum). A recent breakthrough, however, can make our mobile device signal a thousand times faster through the use of a crystal and creative thinking.

 

Professor Hrvoje Petek from the University of Pittsburgh and Professor Muneaki Hase from the University of Tsukuba have collaborated to create what’s known as a ‘frequency comb’, which is a separation of a single color in the light spectrum into spectral lines that can reach a frequency into the terahertz region. According to Professor Petek, they could do this by using a concentrated laser pulse to ‘excite the atomic motions in a semiconductor silicon crystal’. Generation of the terahertz signal is only realised by harnessing this motion.

 

The team then measured the reflection of the laser pulse oscillation which measured at the 15.6THz range.That’s ‘mad scientist' for shooting a laser at a crystal and measuring the frequency generated by each line in the projected comb. It’s at this point that something magical happened as the oscillation also changed the refraction and absorption of the light; multiplying the comb strand frequencies to over 100THz! Sending and receiving information in the space between the microwave and infrared light spectrum would make 4G LTE look like snail racing a Ferrari.

 

Professor Petek boasted the work of the team, "Although we expected to see the oscillation at 15.6 THz, we did not realize that its excitation could change the properties of silicon in such dramatic fashion... The discovery was both the result of developing unique instrumentation and incisive analysis by the team members.”

 

Eavesdropper

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(Left) Concept - University of Rochester (Right) Data frame structure and a depiction of the data sent/received - D.D. Stancil

 

The detector picked up 1 in ten billion neutrinos, that was one bit. The transmission continued, and in a short amount of time the signal was decoded to say "NEUTRINO." The test at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab was a success. A data communication using only neutrinos is possible.

 

At the Fermi National Accelerator Lab (Fermilab), in a Chicago suburb called Batavia, a team of researchers sent a message over a distance of 1.035 km. The communication setup was the 2.5-mile particle accelerator (transmitter) and the MINERvA 170-ton detector (receiver) located 100 meters below ground. The data stream was at 1 bit/sec of binary code. The team stated they sent a burst of neutrinos to represent a "1" and nothing to stand in for a "0." The research team suggested that this tech could be used for the global exchange of encryptions codes. (That is until everyone uses the method.)

 

Along the path, the near massless neutrinos had to pass through 240 meters of stone. Neutrinos have no electric charge, and they are not affected by electromagnetic forces. Only the weak sub-atomic force (which acts at extremely close) and gravity (which has little influence on the subatomic scale) can influence the particle. As a result, the neutrino can travel through the gaps of molecules fluidly, which includes solids. The particle is "elusive" to detect, hence the need to send 10 billion for every 1 detected.

 

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MINERvA neutrino detector layout - D.D. Stencil

 

Team researcher, North Carolina State University professor Dan Stancil, explained the possibilities, "Using neutrinos, it would be possible to communicate between any two points on Earth without using satellites or cables. [Although] Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today’s systems, but [they] may have important strategic uses."

 

Partner school, University of Rochester, physics professor Kevin McFarland said, "Of course, our current technology takes massive amounts of high-tech equipment to communicate a message using neutrinos, so this isn’t practical now. But the first step toward someday using neutrinos for communication in a practical application is a demonstration using today’s technology.”

 

With the recent experimentation with the speed of neutrinos, there is a slim possibility of faster than light communication. The thoughts of science fiction are reality once again. Although the recent September and November 2011 experiment from the OPERA Collaboration suggests it is possible, skepticism surrounds the results.  Further tests are sure to come. In the meantime, neutrino communication through the center of the Earth is paramount.

 

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The practical beginnings of human-body augmentation are on us. GM and NASA have partnered to create a "Human Grip Assist" device,  which they are calling the Robo-Glove or K-Glove. The tech is pulled from the joint developed Robonaut 2 humanoid robot worker in the International Space Station.

 

Like in the Robonaut version, the glove is laden with sensors that help it decide what operations to perform. Pressure sensors let the Robo-Glove know it needs to start gripping. At which point the glove starts it actuators pulling in the synthetic tendons inside the glove. The team is boasting that 5-10 pound of human grip strength translates to 15-20 pounds of force in the glove. Actuation is produced via cords within the glove surface. A motor winds the cords up to pull the fingers into themselves. Very much like the tendon/muscle combo in human joints.

 

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Robo-Gloves in use and construction image (via NASA & GM)

 

GM is squarely fixed on applying the glove in the automotive industry.

 

GM manufacturing engineering director Dana Komin explained, "When fully developed, the Robo-Glove has the potential to reduce the amount of force that an auto worker would need to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions. In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury. We are continuously looking for ways to improve safety and productivity on the shop floor. "

 

The Robo-Glove houses the actuators and tendons as mentioned above, but also a LCD for programming and diagnostic. A lithium-ion battery attached to the user's belt powers the gloves. Glove materials are constructed by the Oceaneering company (added link for those interested in similar projects). At the moment, third generation prototypes, the gloves weight 2 pounds each. The next gen, production models, are promised to be smaller and lighter than previous iterations.

 

Although great for workers, I believe medical applications will be a major user. Those who have lost their grip strength, now have it back.

 

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See behind the scenes at the Robo-Glove Test Procedures, from the view of Engineering On Friday after the link.

 

Robo-Glove fun facts:

The Robonaut 2 (R2) projects have given GM and NASA 46 patents.

- 21 of which are for the R2's hand.

- 4 apply to the Robo-Glove

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Optochip prototype (via IBM)

 

Data transfer speeds have increased significantly over the past decade with the introduction of new interfaces, flash-drives, USB 3.0 and SSD’s. These can’t hold a candle to IBM’s new optical chipset which has a transfer rate of 1 terabit per second.

 

Dubbed ‘Holey Optochip,' the chip-scale transceivers (optical network interfaces) use fiber-optical connections rather than traditional copper leads or wires to move data which amps up the speed considerably. The prototype uses parallel-optics technology that is able to send and receive information at the same time over multiple fiber optic connections. It may be hard to see in the above picture, the IBM researchers used a 90 nanometer CMOS transceiver with 48 optical ‘vias’ (vertical electrical connections) with 24 holes allocated for receivers (photodiode array’s) and the other 24 populated by 850-nm VCSEL’s (lasers). They are then connected to each other using the flip-soldering technique (soldering to the bond pads then mash to the board using an adhesive) which apparently helps make the Holey Optochip fast as well as easy to produce by conventional means.

 

So, are we likely to see the Holey Optochip integrated into Motherboards or other electronics in the near future? Perhaps, but not likely, as IBM has other light related projects gathering dust in their lab closet. It may end up on the pile with projects such as the ‘CMOS integrated Silicon Nanophotonics’ project (2010), which paired both electrical and optical pathways on the same chip or the ‘Mach-Zehnder elctro-optic modulator’ which was to help multiple CPU cores on a single die communicate with each other using fiber-optics. Then again IBM has a way of surprising people when they’re least expecting it.

 

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Efficient Kettle in use concept drawing (via Red Dot)

 

Two Hubei University Technology’s School of Art and Design professors, Shi Yuanwu and Wu Chongxiang, have set out to show that even the smallest wasted energy is worth capturing. More specifically, the China based team of professors has invented a teakettle that captures the wasted energy lost during the boiling water for tea. 

 

 

Yuanwu and Chongxiang's teakettle capture the energy that is usually wasted from the sides of a conventional fire top stove. Dubbed the "Efficient Kettle," the capabilities come from an unconventional shape. The kettle is a rectangular base with a hole for the stove burner in the middle. As one cooks something else on top of the stove, the Efficient Kettle being underneath collects the side heat for heating the tea.

 

 

It includes a removable handle and a whistling spout to know when the water is boiling. The kettle then is more of a base, which other pots can be put on top while the water boils inside. While you are making other food on your stove, the kettle simply uses the extra heat that would be lost horizontally to boil water: 2 jobs for the price of one. However, you always have to be cooking something else to benefit from the efficiency boost.

 

 

The research team won the Red Dot award (given to those showing "best in design and business"). They have shown that not every age-old designs are finished.

 

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Efficient Kettle renders (via Red Dot)

 

 

Eavesdropper

Audi, the German car manufacturer, claims to be on the cusp of leading vehicle design into a new era. At the firm's annual meeting, staged earlier this month, Audi unveiled a host of innovative ideas that are set to feature in some of its new vehicle designs. One concept in particular, though, has really captured the imagination of industry experts, namely the impressive exterior illumination based on OLED technology.

 

Stephan Berlitz, Audi's Head of Innovations Lighting / Lighting Electronics, is the mastermind behind the concept and he has suggested that such technology will become increasingly common over the next few years. Indeed, he claimed that OLED will be one of the defining features of car in the 21st century.

 

Unquestionably, the technology ensures that Audi vehicles will appear very futuristic and aesthetically pleasing, especially as the lights are able to change colour. Mr Berlitz explained that the OLED technology is an extension of that featured on the rear lights of the Q7 model.

 

In a booklet produced for the annual Audi event, Mr Berlitz explained that the technology is in place to provide a mixed colour effect. He explained, too, that this could not be achieved using standard LEDs.

 

"Such LEDs are individual points of light that need additional optical devices - reflectors, optical conductors or scatter optics," he commented. "OLED surfaces are themselves the source of light, and the thin plates also look attractive. They light up extremely fast, develop only a small amount of heat and don't consume any more energy than conventional light-emitting diodes."

 

OLEDs, he added, are perfectly suited to Audi because "they combine high-end technology, maximum precision and super design". Mr Berlitz also observed that the lifetime of OLEDS almost already reaches the requirements of the automotive industry.

 

In 2010, about 457 million people were online in China. At the end of 2011, there were 56 million new users. Having those large numbers of users, it is a must to have enough energy to power it all. It is no surprise that China now holds the world’s largest battery energy storage station located in ZHANGBEI, China. On September 20th, 2011 the company BYD announced the official opening of "China's Largest and First Environmentally-friendly Battery Storage Station.”

 

 

What makes China’s battery storage environmentally-friendly station different from the renewable generation systems is the gargantuan storage capacity. Renewable energy is not a continuous power source. The fact that energy comes in bursts, storage is essential in regulating the alternative energy sources. The station consists of a 140 Mega-Watts of renewable energy generation, 36 Mega-Watt-Hours (MWh) of energy storage, and a smart power transmission system. BYD outputs 1GW of solar a year, this new station will do wonders for regulation. It has shown to be a stable solution for transferring enormous amounts of renewable electricity safely to the grind on a scale.

 

 

All the credit to the design of the station goes to State Grid Corporation (SGCC).  BYD played a big role by providing energy storage batteries in amounts that are larger than a football field. The batteries provide by BYD improves the renewable energy efficiency by 5%-10%.  The total investment that was put into this station is worth over $500 million USD.  The exact reason we do not see the same facility built elsewhere.

 

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The battery facility (via BYD)


Eavesdropper


 

Korea, undoubtedly one of the most computerized nations on the world, is showing the world again, why they choose to emerge themselves in the virtual world of video games and augmented reality.  “Live Park”, located near Seoul, is evolving the idea of what a theme park is for, as they say, generation x. The experience is unlike anything ever seen before. There you will see RFID and kinect camera technology used in odd ways, and even the concept of an real world Avatar. The idea is to transport the imagination, but also transform the identities of visitors. Everyone is paired up with his or her avatar when entering “Live Park”. The avatar is capable of recognizing your every movement, gestures, even face and voice.

 

 

With 65 technologically innovative and interactive attractions scattered throughout the "live park," it is more like a ten thousand square meter augmented reality town.  A sections of the “live square"  holds the world's biggest interactive videogame projection screen. Not only is there the biggest video game screen, there is also the biggest interactive 360-degree stereoscopic theater that one alongside their avatar can enjoy.

 

 

The mainstream’s use augmented reality is innovative. This trend of increase in popularity and accessibility will surely make its way around the world, especially with plans like those of Microsoft to license their Kinect camera for laptop integration.

 

 

Over 13 million dollars were invested into “Live Park,” which will keep it running for 2 years. With 10,000 daily visitors that embarking on a augmented reality experience, the park is sure to turn a profit.


 

Eavesdropper

 

An inevitability, but Microsoft said it first; 1ms response time touch interface. Microsoft Research (MSR) promotes the early form of what is to come over the next decade is a short teaser video. MSR Assistant Director Paul Dietz walks us through the video describing how a faster touch interface will be useful over current 100ms touch panels.

 

No exact word on how their "test setup" works. It is most likely not using capacitive or resistive techniques, that is likely why it is so fast. Different types of touch interfaces offer a wide variety of latencies on inputs. For example, the latest from Neonode uses light beam breaks to detect inputs. Neonode is boasting a 1,000 Hz delay, or 1ms. The future Microsoft is promoting may be closer than they think.

 

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Solar-Cell Paint

Posted by Cabe Atwell Mar 12, 2012

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(Left) Solar paint prototype. (Right) How the Dye Solar Cell works. (via Dyesol)

 

Everyone has had this idea at some point, solar paint. During a research project discussion about a decade ago, I said to paint the roof tops of every building creating a solar network. It was not chosen, an inspired idea taking the back-burner. It is said, good ideas and great ideas are often delineated by simply following through with the project. The following is a great one.

 

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Professor Michael Grätzel, an internationally recognized chemistry professor from Switzerland, has invented a highly flexible and efficient type of solar cell that can be applied as paint to various types of surfaces. The  Grätzel cell, as it is called is a Dye Solar Cell (DSC) that uses the principles of photosynthesis to harness energy.

 

DSCs work by a mixture of titanium-dioxide and photosensitive ruthenium dye. When photons collide with the dye the electrons become ejected and create a current due to an electron concentration gradient. DSCs have been around for a while, but the solar cell paint has not.The design creates a new highly flexible and efficient product. Low cost allows for a great performance/price ratio that along with its versatility makes it a competitive against traditional solar cells. It could be applied to moving vehicles or objects with curved surfaces that regular solar cells would not permit.

 

Because of his outstanding research and contributions to the solar energy field, he has been awarded the 2012 Albert Einstein World Award of Science. The Interdisciplinary Committee of World Culture Council is referring to it as the most significant breakthrough in clean energy.

 

Michael Grätzel's score card:

900 research papers written

60 reviews and book chapters

50 patents invented or co-invented

Take inspiration and beat his record.

 

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If you’re looking to use a projected touch screen on any surface while looking like the "Predator" alien from the movies, then Microsoft’s got you, or rather any surface, covered with their Wearable Multitouch Projector. The projector, designed by Chris Harrison, Hrvoje Benko and Andy Wilson is outfitted with a PrimeSense RGB/depth camera (it’s actually an Asus XTION Pro) that can image objects with a 320X240 resolution as close as 20cm at 30fps. Along with the depth camera is an SHOWWX Laser Pico Projector that can project a focus free image (with a range of 6in to 100in) at a resolution of 848X480 at a 16:9 aspect ratio.

 

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Mounted camera and projector. (via Mircosoft)

 

The R&D guy’s at Microsoft had to calibrate the camera for finger detection by using an algorithm that ‘looks for vertical slices of cylinder-like objects’ which allows the fingers to be separate objects rather than one big one. This enables the user to use any or multiple digits to interact with the screen. For the actual ‘click detection’ the team used a depth map that can detect the distance of an object on a very small scale (a centimeter or less). This enables the system to judge distance and whether the object (or finger) has made contact with the image projected. The combined platform of both camera and projector is placed on the users shoulder because the location provides an unobstructed field-of-view for both projection and interaction.

 

Sure, the Wearable Multitouch Projector is rather large and sure you will look kind of funny wearing it, but it sure is cool being able to make a touchscreen out of everything even curved surfaces. According to the team, future versions could be as small as a matchbox, and it could be worn as a pendant with the continuing miniaturization of technology.

 

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Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer designed by technology experts to teach code to children, has just gone on sale in the UK. And already, the low-cost technology, created by volunteers mostly drawn from academia, has been greeted with an impressive degree of enthusiasm by consumers.

 

Premier Farnell - the parent company of element14 - was involved in the launch of the device in Nuremburg and was last week selling around 700 per second with no signs of demand slowing down.

 

The already-popular computer is sold uncased without keyboard or monitor, with those behind the concept hoping that it will help to improve the UK's technology industry, which is currently being undermined by a distinct lack of programming skills.

 

"It has been six years in the making; the number of things that had to go right for this to happen is enormous. I couldn't be more pleased," explained Eben Upton, who works at the Raspberry Pi Foundation in Cambridge.

 

The launch comes at an interesting time for the UK technology industry, with Education Secretary Michael Gove recently outlining his ambition of making computer technology lessons a more prominent part of the National Curriculum. Mr Gove conceded that the Government had been slow to recognise the increasing importance programming is playing in the economy, but pledged to support computing lessons.

 

Raspberry Pi was, in fact, mentioned in a recent speech given by Mr Gove, with the Education Secretary suggesting that such devices are likely to become increasing common to the classroom.

 

"Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming," he said. "This is a great example of the cutting edge of education technology happening right here in the UK."

 

Much of the initial enthusiasm is sure to center on the fact that the device is relatively inexpensive at just £22 ($35). And the manufacturer has already confirmed that a cheaper version will go on sale later in 2012. The cost of the device means that children from all backgrounds will have the opportunity to code from a young age, which has never previously been the case in the UK.

 

The device itself runs an open-source operating system Linux and features an ethernet port, which means that it is able to take advantage of high-speed internet services.

I recently attended one of Lee Hill’s classes on EMC. The class had an large portion devoted to “ground”.  Hill pointed out that the word “ground” is not clearly defined.  There are two common meanings of ground.

  1. Power or Signal Return Path
  2. Safety Ground - An example is the connection between a product’s chassis to the ground prong on an electrical outlet.  Current only flows during a fault condition in which the chassis is shorted to something.

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When I say “ground” I usually think of the return path or the plane on a PCB, but Lee Hill discourages this.  If disconnecting such a wire would make the system not work right, he calls it a return.  If the ground is protection against a fault condition and could be removed, it should be called ground.

 

Some people think of earth ground as being an especially good place to sink noise, but this is a case of the word “ground” fooling us.  Devices like battery-powered laptop computers, cars, and airplanes have no connection to earth ground and do not require special EMC considerations because of that fact. 

 

Occasionally grounding causes a noise problem in the form of ground loops (also known as “common impedance noise coupling”).  Often people are vaguely aware that ground loops involve noise from the ground resulting from multiple ground connections.  Here is a model to understand ground loops.

 

Suppose you have these two systems: The red system and the green system

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Notice the red system has its return connected to ground at both ends.  On the green system the signal return line is connected to ground at the load but not at the source.  The resistance of the ground is not zero, so currents on the ground will develop voltages.  Current on the ground  could affect the red system by making the return reference different between the source and the load.  Such current will not affect the green system because its return path is grounded at a single point.  If the green system’s return path were connected at both ends, return currents from the red system could interfere with the green system. 

 

A schematic drawing of this shows why it is called “common impedance coupling”:

GroundLoopSchematic.jpg

Currents are shared among the desired return path and ground according to their impedances.  The return wire has a much lower impedance at high frequencies, so the ground does not carry high-frequency currents, and therefore high-frequency noise does not get into a system by ground loops.  Crosstalk that is worse at lower frequencies points to a ground loop.

 

(I learned about Lee Hill's class through an IEEE member. I paid full price and have never spoken to Lee Hill or his company outside the class.  A good portion of the class will be review for experienced engineers, but it's a worthwhile review.  It's a good place to learn more about the grounding issues in this post.) 

 

Most new computer hardware that comes out creates better speed, memory, or graphics. It is rarer to find hardware that will revolutionize the way we use computers. We are burgeoning on an era of complete connectivity. Touchscreens has taken us to a new level. Microsoft's Kinect opens up 3D space. Now the company Tobbi wishes to make our eyes control our futures.

 

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Tobii IS-2 (via Tobii)

 

 

Tobbi, the world's leading creators of eye tracking and eye control technology, has announced its introduction of next generation products. The new IS-2 is 75% smaller in design than its predecessor, and it consumes 40% less power (3W total power drain). It is a fully integrated eye tracking component with an embedded processor allowing it synthesize smoothly into many commonly manufactured products today. Regardless of light levels, the IS-2 can still track the user. Tracking can still take place up to 31.5 inches (80 cm) away from the base.

 

 

The eye tracking component can create many innovations in the computing world along with progress studies in fields such as psychology and marketing research. One of the greatest features it possesses is the ability to track eye movement despite the eye color, orientation, or eyewear being used. It also has the potential to create numerous applications for the handicapped.

 

 

Currently, the IS-2 is being sold exclusively on a manufacturer to manufacturer basis. The effort is to have the tracker embedded into multiple company's products. If anyone chooses to become a Tobii partner, they will receive a Gaze Interaction and Analytics SDK. I can only hope this will be part of the next version of the Microsoft Kinect. Combining all connectivity options together is the only way to arrive at complete emersion.

 

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(via Nokia)

 

"It’s not technology. It’s what you do with it." -Nokia

 

For some people with disabilities, using a smartphone can be a hassle. Just ask Trevor Prideaux. Born without his left arm, using a phone was like performing feats of acrobatics which usually entailed trying to balance his phone on his prosthetic arm while calling or texting. He decided to get in touch with some medical technicians from Exeter Mobility Centre (makers of custom prostheses) as well as Nokia to design a new prosthetic arm that has a smartphone docking station housed in the arm itself. The technicians carefully designed a limb around Nokia’s C7, placing the phone on the inside of his arm making it much easier to use. Trevor chose the C7 because of the fact that it has both a QWERTY keyboard as well as an alphanumeric giving him a wider range of options to use. This ingenious design will definitely open up new doors of mobile device technology for people who use prosthetic limbs. (Adding extended battery packs along with the mobile devices could also remove all worry for the user. Nokia, take it further!)

 

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The iRobot team has recently released its newest ground robot the 110 FirstLook Scouting Unit. Unlike most robots, the First Look is capable of surviving 15 foot drops onto concrete, which allows it be thrown into buildings or onto out of reach places.

 

 

The robot is designed and marketed towards military and special ops teams. However, it is packed with awesome features that will appeal to any technical person with an inner child. The small robot is highly portable weighing in at only 5 pounds and measures 10'' long, 9'' wide, and 4'' tall allowing it to easily fit into a backpack. In addition, it features 4 cameras, one on each side that will give the user a 360 degree view of the environment. The cameras also feature IR illumination to enhance visualization while in low light situations.

 

 

The First Look gives the user the ability to navigate through rough terrain and dangerous situations at a safe distance. Worried about curbs or puddles of water causing navigating problems? The robot is waterproof up to 3 feet, and it can even overcome obstacles and steps up to 8 inches. The design is also convenient when needing to investigate hard to reach places, such as pipes, air ducts, or tunnels.

 

 

Controlling the robot requires a small 'tactical operating control' unit that includes a two way radio and screen for video feedback. The battery allows up to 6 hours of continuous operation and up to 10 hours of stationary video feedback.

 

 

Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has recently ordered a hundred of theses bots and will be testing them out for the first time within the next few months.

 

 

Just like with the ReconRobotics "Scout XT," if I saw this rolling towards me in even a mildly hostile environment, I would run in the opposite direction.

 

 

Eavesdropper

The head of Intel's smartphone operation has confirmed that each new mobile chip is to be accompanied by a 'reference design' smartphone device. Speaking at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Mike Bell, Intel's Vice-President of Ultra Mobility, announced that he expects at least two new devices that have used this technology demonstrator to be launched by 2014.

 

The 'reference designs' are currently being used by Intel to both test and demonstrate the capabilities of its new chips for the handheld devices, according to Mr Bell, who denied suggestions that the chip-making giant intends to market them to the public. Instead, he said, the 'reference designs' are to be used by Intel as 'calling cards' with mobile operators and device manufacturers.

 

"If you make a chip and don't make a phone," Mr Bell explained, "then you just have to go in to manufacturers with Powerpoint and tell them making a phone with your chip is a really great idea." He added that Intel makes the reference designs in order to demonstrate "what our hardware can do".

 

Using the current Intel chip, he claimed that smartphone users will be able to enjoy higher performance on Google's Android operating system than rival operating systems, such as Apple's iOs. And in less than 12 months, Intel said that the chip will be around half its current size.

 

Although the chip-making giant has "a lot of stuff in play" when it came to mobile devices, Mr Bell conceded to the audience in Barcelona that "the really hard part is getting the software and the hardware to line up". He did, however, acknowledge that the soon-to-be-released version of Google Android represents a clear opportunity to test the technology.  "The 'Jelly Bean' release is the obvious point of intersection," Mr Bell remarked.

 

Mobile phone network Orange is set to ship Intel's first mass market smartphone, the firm has confirmed. Motorola and ZTE, meanwhile, are already known to be involved in making Intel devices, though specific details of the technology are still to emerge.

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Save Santa, a game designed by Angelina. (Right) The win screen, after I beat the game. (via GamesByAngelina.org)

 

Angelina isn’t your everyday game designer (or programmer for that matter). She’s a little different in that she doesn’t need to eat, sleep or take the ‘required’ coffee breaks normal game developers do. You see she’s not human; she’s Artificial Intelligence (AI). While her games may be on the simplistic side, they are still impressive none the less.

 

Project ANGELINA was created by Michael Cook, from the Computational Creativity Group located at London’s Imperial College, for his PHD project to see if games could be created from nothing. This is where Angelina comes in; Michael designed her by using what’s called ‘cooperative coevolution’ (CC). CC essentially takes a big piece of information and breaks it down to smaller individual pieces (or species) which are then solved and put back into one piece. The project uses three ‘species’ that generate maps (or level layout), passable or impassable walls and ‘rulesets’ that dictate how NPC’s (Non Playable Characters) move as well as how objects behave in the game. Angelina can’t create games entirely from scratch as of yet. However, she (or it) can create a game level by first selecting the layout (or space) from a list and then populates that level with objects such as power-ups and enemies. This may sound rudimentary, but the AI actually takes into account the ‘human’ factor meaning that she plays the level against a simulated human opponent and decides if real humans would enjoy playing it.

 

Each level that Angelina creates is potentially different in its layout or design and becomes increasingly better through each level iteration that the AI designs. This is still an ongoing project so all we can do is wait to see how Angelina evolves over time to see what it’s actually capable of however you can play a few games already designed by Angelina from Michaels website located here: http://www.gamesbyangelina.org/games/

 

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Cheeta concept drawing (via Boston Dynamics)

 

Robots are best known for their superhuman strength or computational prowess but not necessarily their speed. That’s all about to change with the introduction of DARPA’s new M3 (Maximum Mobility and Manipulation) robot. Called the Cheetah, the robot is the brainchild of Boston Dynamics and can reach speeds of 18 mph, which is a world record for multi-legged robots (unseating the previous contender from MIT). The Cheetah is designed after the animal of the same name and uses a mechanism, powered by a hydraulic pump, which flexes its back making the legs move (much like a muscle). Increasing the flexibility rate results in faster movement of the legs, but the robot needs to be held in place and run on a treadmill to do so at the moment. Outdoor testing without a leash will be done this year (2012) according to Boston Dynamics for further development. DARPA is funding the Cheetah and plans to adapt it to EOD teams, as well as other military applications, to help with IED disarmament and removal in rugged terrain that other robots ca not traverse. Sounds like a good project that would help save the lives of our ground-pounders. I just hope the final rendition of the Cheetah look like the concept graphic shown above.

 

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See some of Boston Dynamics other robots:

The AlphaDog, a heavy equipment carrier

Petman, the robotic human soldier

 

Often enough building electronic projects is more than just a circuit board. Materials, construction quality, and aesthetics is as important as the PCB layout.

 

To the outdoor adventurer, keeping devices charged can pose a difficult problem. When traveling away from the grid, or outlet, there is an affordable and eco-friendly solution  being developed. The answer, a solar photovoltaic backpack that outputs more electricity than anything else available. The inventor, Norman Ho, working for the company ZenTrek, is currently trying to get a production run of the pack.

 

The backpacks are modeled behind those used by the military. The materials used to make the backpack are what define its quality. They feature highly flexible silicon wafer photovoltaic cells that will not crack. The exterior is composed of Kevlar-like carbonate-hardened ballistic fiber, three times stronger than leather, abrasion-proof, puncture resistant, of course waterproof but also allows for aeration between the backpack and the user for those long hot yet fulfilling and delightful hikes.

 

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On the go. (via ZenTrek)

 

ZenTrek is offering three different versions of the system, the slimline Xplorer, the full-sized Instinct and the hybrid Endura. All of which are described in detail and offered in return of from a respective contribution of $199, $269 and $399. The full Endura system features dual solar panels, which they claim will deliver 30% more power than currently available solar backpacks. This Endura also includes the most carrying capacity and even comes with a multi-tool set, tactical flashlight, hiking stick and more.

 

As ZenTrek motto says, these backpacks are intended to make you “Go Outside and Stay Outside”. For nature lovers, there is no reason to go back home now, even if you repeatedly forget to charge your electronics.

 

Eavesdropper

From New Tech Press


Apple's third generation of the iPad (imaginatively titled "iPad") was revealed today in San Francisco featuring a remarkably sharper screen and faster processing thanks to a quad-core GPU and a dual-core processor.  A larger battery is 70 percent stronger than the iPad2 battery allowing the device to maintain the same 10 hours of use.

 

Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed the new display is sharper than the average high-definition television set, but the higher resolution means little for common low-resolution web images.

 

Cook pointed out at the outset of his presentation that the iPad in the fourth quarter outsold all PCs in the world, bolstering his claim that we now live in a post-PC world.

 

The new device also includes a high res camera on the back of the device, similar to - one used on the iPhone4s, and there will be separate versions for Verizon and AT&T LTE networks.

 

Software-wise there are several upgrades, but the popular Siri app won't be available immediately, instead Apple has included something new in the meantime: the ability to dictate and turn your voice into text. The company also said it would start letting users store movies in its iCloud remote storage service, so they can be accessed through the Internet by PCs and Apple devices. It already lets users store photos, music and documents in the service.

 

The new iPad will go on sale March 16 in the U.S., Canada and 10 other countries. A week later, it will go on sale in 25 more countries, making it the fastest product rollout in Apple history. 

 

Is the iPad 3 the end of 3G as we know it?  How will users fully leverage the capabilities of the new HD iPad without unlimited data plans or issues due to throttling?  Tell us what you think.  Leave your comments at element14.com

 


 

This year’s (2012) MWC had some interesting innovations with new and upcoming mobile technology. There were even some new takes on old tech with a partnership between EPOS (software-based input solutions) and Texas Instruments. Their collaboration has taken the stylus to a new level with the inclusion of ultrasound. The ultrasonic stylus uses a sound-based transmitter housed inside the pen that sends out a unique high-pitched sound wave (too high for humans to hear) that’s picked up by a receiver.

 

The receiver, which uses a series of microphones positioned on the device being used, triangulates the position and distance of the stylus on three axis. That’s XY and Z, which gives the ultrasonic stylus a 3D environment to move in by simply moving closer or away from the device thanks to TI’s OMAP 5 ARM Cortex-A15 platform. There is no word yet on when the stylus will be released as TI has yet to find a manufacturer. The interface fun doesn’t stop there though, as the Israeli-based company Extreme Reality (XTR3D) has designed a new hands-free gestural system (with help from ShiVa3D software from the French company Stonetrip) for phones, tablets, laptops and TV’s. The XTR3D motion capture software enables any device with a front-facing 2D camera the ability to be gestural-controlled in a 3D environment with a distance of up to 17 feet away regardless of the operating system being used. The XTR3D SDK is available for developers so expect to see apps as well as games coming sometime later this year.

 

EPOS is about to make a troublesome world for animals, bathing the planet in ultrasonic sound. (Also, I do not believe that it will work as effortlessly as the video, only time will tell.)

 

Eavesdropper

 

We have all been in a situation where we wished some obnoxious person, or group, would just quit talking, but there was nothing that could be done about it. That may be in the past. Japanese researchers Kazutaka Kurihara (from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) and Koji Tsukada (from the Ochanomizu University) have designed a device called the ‘SpeechJammer.’ This device nullifies a person’s speech.

 

The gun uses a microphone that records the target talking and after a delay of only a few micro-seconds, sends it back to the target through a speaker which cancels out the sound. Fixated on top of the Jammer is a laser pointer to help target a person’s mouth and a distance sensor that helps in calibrating the delay needed for ‘feedback’. At its heart are a PIC18F152 and a BU9262AFS Audio IC commonly found in Karaoke machines for digital echo effects.

 

soundjammer.jpgspeechjammer 2.JPG

SpeechJammer and block diagram (via design paper)

 

However, the way it works is more psychological than technological in that most people feel uncomfortable when hearing themselves talk (like hearing a recording of your voice) and then cease talking after they’ve heard their own voice. Early tests showed that the SpeechJammer works best when someone is reading from a book, or other written text, at a distance of about 98 feet. The device is completely harmless to the target and can actually help people who stutter improve their speaking capability. Therapists have often used auditory feedback (same principal that the SpeechJammer uses) as a way to improve stammering in both adults and children. Now if it could only work through walls and quiet my neighbors down!

 

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BAE.jpg

(via BAE Systems)

 

Recently the US military has been increasing its use of ‘green’ technology in the last few years, but they have been in the area of renewable energy sources for some time. The armed forces are slowly but surely incorporating hybrid vehicles into their ranks. One such vehicle, being developed by the partnership of BAE systems and Northrop Grumman for the US Army, is both green and lethal. Called the Ground Combat Vehicle, the armored troop-carrier sports a hybrid-electric drive system that uses two electric motors (generating 1,400 horsepower) powered by a lithium-ion battery. Two diesel engines, which hold 255 gallons of fuel, provide back-up power as well as recharging the batteries when necessary. What makes the GCV a formidable threat is its ability to run completely on battery power, which makes it almost silent on the battlefield. Overall, the fuel efficiency of the tank gets a 10-20% boost over its stock counterpart. Another notable feature of the hybrid is the ability to ‘plug’ in electric-powered weapons systems such as LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Device) and microwave weapons which gives troops more options when it comes to load-outs.

 

The 70 ton hybrid can carry three crew members and nine passengers with a top speed of 43 Mph at a range of 186 miles. It’s also outfitted with a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun and 25mm auto-cannon as a base platform which can be upgraded with different weapons for depending on the scenario. The GCV looks like an updated hybrid Bradley Fighting Vehicle for the 21st century but with thicker armor and a completely different drive system. The Defense Department has approved for production at a cost of about $11,000,000 US each which would make the GCV a truly ‘Mean Green Killing Machine’!

 

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Organisers of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering have announced that nominations for the £1 million accolade are now open. The prize is to be awarded on the strength of exceptional advances in engineering and the cash windfall is to be funded by an endowment from a number of engineering companies.

 

As well as confirming that nominations are now welcome, organisers have also announced the list of judges who are to determine who is the most outstanding candidate. The list, which is comprised of some of the most respected figures from the world of science and engineering includes the likes of Professor Brian Cox in the UK and Professor Calestous Juma in the US.

 

Lord Browne, the Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize Foundation, explained that the award is needed in order to recognise the enormous contribution engineers have made in "developing the infrastructures of the world's most powerful economies".

 

"It is absolutely critical that we as a nation make it our mission to inspire and excite the next generation of engineers. It is only through engineering that ideas are brought out of the lab and into the marketplace," he added.

 

When the creation of the new award was first announced in November 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped that the Queen Elizabeth award would one day command the same respect as Nobel Prizes.

 

Meanwhile, Imran Khan, the Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, observed that the prize was a "fantastic way" to raise the profile of engineering, which he suggested was key to stimulating economic growth.

 

Over the next decade, in fact, the engineering industry will need more than two million new recruits at all levels, joining the 5.6 million already employed by the sector, according to the ten engineering-related UK Sector Skills Councils.

 

"We need a healthy pipeline of talented, skilled and enthusiastic people to continue our proud tradition as an engineering nation. We must also give our students and young people a greater incentive to choose engineering as a career than is currently on offer," said Lord Browne, adding that the UK's future economic growth depended on this happening.

Solar3D.jpg

3D Solar collection concept (via Solar3D)

 

Another solar vie for the record holder.

 

An obvious draw back to the conventional solar panel is that it attempts to capture, in a flat area, a highly reflective entity which travels through three-dimensional space. Electrical engineer, Nadir Dagli, an expert in photonics and nanophotonics, from a company called Solar3D, is thinking out side the conventional plane, proposing a solar cell which exploits the reflectivity of photons by designing a three dimensional solar cell.

 

This 3D solar cell attempts to manage incident light by using new fiber optic materials and techniques. The cell is comprised of a volume, in which light is collected and reflected with in it. This type of collection allows for the photons to bounce inside the cell until it is absorbed by a photovoltaic cell.

 

The orientations of the photovoltaic cells increase the cells efficiency in three ways. They allow more time for photons to be absorbed, wiring is placed under the cells and will not block incident photons and the electron hole pairs created by the ejected electron have to travel a lot less to the anodes located directly under and thus will have less chance of being reabsorbed. There three issues play an important part in the inefficiency of conventional flat solar cells. This three dimensional geometry aims to harness the energy lost by the estimated 30% of photons that bounce off of the surface of conventional solar cells.

 

Micro-scale prototypes have been achieved, but nothing full sized just yet. These early tests have resulted in an efficiency of 25.47%, which is already higher than the industry norm of about 23%. They are also currently searching a partner to fabricate their semiconductors.

 

Jim Nelson, President and CEO of Solar3D explained that their ultimate goal is not only to increase the efficiency of solar cells, but do it in a what which is cheaper than conventional solar panels available today. He explained that if the results of their preliminary testing continue, this goal will be reached.

 

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Capacitive touch screens may soon go the way of the dinosaur with the introduction of Neonode’s zForce. Unlike common capacitive-based touch screen sensors which rely on the electrical properties of the human body to track movement, Neonode’s zForce Multi-Sensing technology replaces those sensors with an array infrared LEDs. Unfortunately, to use the array, a raised bezel has to be placed around the screen to house the LEDs and sensors. It works by simply detecting interruption between emitter/detector pairs.

 

The advantages of using a device equipped with zForce include pressure sensing (which can track everything from a stylus to a gloved hand), object size as well as the proximity of the object in relation to the screen. Since zForce is based on LEDs (light), there is almost no latency when using the display. The screen is also 100% transparent, ultra-thin, cheaper to produce over traditional displays and has a scanning speed of up to a 1000 Hz!

 

The Swiss company also claims that the zForce consumes less power (at 1mW @ 100Hz), which helps extend the battery life of your device. Neonode has already licensed zForce to companies that include Sony and Barnes & Noble. So, we can expect to see this technology implemented into the next generation of phones, tablets and e-readers.

 

220px-Platovterm1981.jpg

PLATO V (via Wiki)

 

I would like to point out that infrared bezel sensing touchscreens are not that new. The PLATO V terminal from 1981 used the tech. It is also a common type of touch interface for industrial or hazardous areas where people are wearing gloves or protection gear. Neonode is taking this to an even higher level by layering the detectors into a 3D detecting sensor, dubbed "Multi Sense"

multisense.JPG

Multi Sense touch board concept (via Neonode)


 

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Virgin Galactic has announced that it expects to test-fly its first spaceship beyond the Earth's atmosphere sometime later in the year. Officials at the firm, which is a division of billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Group, said that it expects to be making commercial suborbital flights by 2013.

 

The effort to send “regular” citizens into outer space has been an ambition of Mr Branson's for some time and according to officials at the Group, Virgin is moving closer to reaching the historic landmark. Already, in fact, nearly 500 customers have signed up for rides on SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship.

 

http://aperture.adfero.co.uk/Image/Original/7009658

 

Despite the inhibitive pricetag of $200,000 per person, it seems that there is a big market for commercial flights into space. The Virgin Group, which has interests in a number of other areas, including air travel, music, telecommunications and rail travel, explained that the flights will give people the a few minutes to experience zero gravity. Additionally, they will be afforded the opportunity to stare at the Earth set against the blackness of space.

 

"In the suborbital area, there are a lot of things to be done. This is an area that has been essentially absent for about four decades," explained Neil Armstrong, commander of the first mission to land on the moon.

 

Addressing a crowd of around 400 people attending the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto, California, Armstrong explained: "I certainly hope that some of the new approaches will prove to be profitable and useful."

 

Virgin Atlantic is, however, just one of a number of firms seeking to become the first to send regular citizens into outer space. But while the fight to become the firm recognised as having broken the barrier is intense, most industry experts believe Virgin to be on course to win.

 

Already, the firm's spaceship has completed 31 atmospheric test flights and Virgin Galactic chief test pilot David Mackay said that Virgin is moving closer and closer to reaching the landmark. "We hope to have the rocket motor in the spaceship later this year and start powered flight testing," he said. "We would like to be the first to do this, but we're not in a race with anyone. This is not a Cold War-era space race," he added.

 

CircuitLab is a new schematic design and simulation program that launched at the end of February 2012. A simplistic drag-and-drop component space is a slightly more modern take on the interface of circuit design software, compared to Multisim for example. The initial set of components is more than enough for those looking to get started with electrical design. Which might be the best bet, as building real world circuits for the beginner is often fraught with problems, errors, and quality issues that can be demoralizing. Their initial goal says it all: "We build the tools to help bring those systems from concept to practice faster, easier, and perhaps even make the process more fun."

 

For the more advanced user, CircuitLab cannot import Spice models of components for design and simulation. The CircuitLab support forum is littered with people needing to import component "X" into their design.  Unfortunately, at the moment, there is little help for those users. However, the program is exactly 1 week old at the moment (3/5/2012), and Spice model importing is on MIT graduated founders minds.

 

I tested the web-based CircuitLab on several phones and tablet computers with no luck in getting the environment started. Standard desktops, in any browser, seems to be the only way to use CircuitLab.

 

A great effort for sure. I hope to see expanded functionality in the near future.

 

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Lumus, an augmented reality eye wear company, is taking augmented reality to another level with their OE-31 (optical engine). The new engine is compatible with any type of eye wear from reading glasses to sports goggles. It can allow users to view text messages, games, or a web browser in a full color 640X360 picture. Additionally, it features a 19 degree field of view with 78 percent transparency. Viewing content through the OE-31 engine glasses is equivalent to viewing a 40 inch TV from a distance of ten feet, it will look small. The lower resolution will help get this device to market fast at an affordable price.

 

 

The engine is smaller than a quarter and weighs just 10 grams, making it close to unnoticeable while using. It will be available in binocular and monocular displays to combine head up content, transparent displays, and augmented reality. Products it could be integrated into may be very interesting, possibly a new type of GPS system that runs from your glasses.

 

 

However, Lumus will be facing some competition as Audi and BMW are both creating heads up display designs and Google looking to develop a similar engine for eye wear. I do question the major push with this tech. Almost every wearable eye display based computer has disappeared from the market, becoming mere footnotes in history. I have a feeling this one may follow suit.

 

 

 

Eavesdropper

 

Need to use sensors to do some quick spot testing of a project but find yourself having to build that tester? George Yu, CEO of  Variable Technologies may just have created the perfect solution. Node is a small cylindrical shaped device about the size of a cigarette lighter featuring many useful sensors that can be displayed onto your iPhone 4s or Android device via Bluetooth. Just connect the Node you need for the testing application, it is that easy.

 

 

Every Node will be equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer.  The kore app on the smart phone will allow you to see values on a nice graph displaying the readings from all three sensors. In addition, the Node is Arduino compatible. It will have open API, firmware, and source code allowing it to be easily integrated into various projects. Also, 2 MB of memory will be available for programming through a micro-USB charging port. Node uses a lithium polymer battery that can last up to 14 hours with continuous Bluetooth use.

 

The Node allows the attachment of up to two additional modules to allow multiple sensors to function at once. The modules easily attach at the ends of the Node, and the first two available are the Clima and the Luma. The Clima features barometric pressure, wind speed, and humidity sensing. It can be used on outdoor adventure trips and to track your elevation or for your own weather forecasting projects. The Luma is a flashlight module that features 8 high brightness LEDs that are controlled through your smart phone app. You can turn any number of LEDs on or off and can also create lighting patterns for them.

 

 

Variable Technologies is also looking to add many additional modules to allow for a wide variety of projects. One of these will be called the Oxa and will detect and measure the presence of various gases ranging from hydrogen to carbon monoxide making it ideal for professional situations.

 

 

Overall, the Node will be perfect for those who use on site, spot sensors or even those looking to explore working with sensors for their first time.

 

 

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Joe Alderson reports from Embedded World 2012 in Nuremberg:


With a rare chance to leave the Farnell/element14 stand and take a trip around the rest of the exhibition, the final day of Embedded World 2012, intended for students and academics, really brought home the incredible level of knowledge among young engineers who are just finishing university and heading out into the work-a-day world.  Young engineers were present at many of the stands, demonstrating proficiency with the applications they were showcasing. Many of them had started with simple 8-bit MCUs, using boards like the Arduino Uno, and were now experts working with products from ARM, Intel, AMD, Microsoft and too many others to list.

 

Looking at the young people at Embedded World I was reminded that society has now seen multiple generations of computer gamers and, I’m relieved to say, these gamers have left a positive impact on today’s technology. One outgrowth of gaming-driven technology could be seen in the Microsoft exhibit, where the Xbox manufacturer was demonstrating projected touch screen technology (think of the film Minority Report), while plenty of the autonomous RC cars demonstrated elsewhere ran real-time 3D models and transmitted back camera feed from multiple angles.

 

One of the many great student projects that I saw included object recognition and augmented reality gaming, where real world objects were used as walls in virtual games with computer generated balls bouncing between them. Other young engineers, this time having constructed a giant chess playing robot guided by ultrasound, were keen to demonstrate how they had integrated Atmel’s 8-bit MCU and ubiquitous demo board (I’ll leave you to guess which one) into the motor control system.

 

As I checked out more and more development boards, their increasing level of connectivity really struck me and it’s no surprise that the Embedded World internet backbone was creaking under the weight of many thousands of web-connected demo boards, laptops and mobile devices. A mighty download speed of 9 kb/s made it quite challenging to get a true measure of the functionality of some of the more powerful development kits as they were running apps that relied on APIs from various Internet locations. However, given the popularity of touch screens (both capacitive and resistive) across so many different applications, I think it’s safe to say that the next 2 – 3 years will see massive growth in every day devices making use of this technology.

 

At the Philips stand, even the humble washing machine was interfaced with wireless connectivity and a touch screen in order to monitor and improve motor efficiency. I’d initially thought that the idea would be to implement smart control of the washing machine so that it could be activated remotely, but the real goal was increasing energy efficiency and extending the product’s life span.

 

This drive towards energy efficiency and green technology really impressed me at Embedded World this year, with many of the exhibiting companies placing emphasis on what you can do with only a couple of Watts, rather than what you can do by cramming a massive heat sink on your processor. Of course for this reason ARM seemed to be everywhere at Embedded World 2012. From the autonomous Zeppelin circling above the press area to the smart vending machine on the ARM stand to well over half of the development boards that we were showcasing, ARM cores were the most outwardly obvious sign of the emphasis shifting from energy hungry processors to silent, powerful and well designed cores.

googlefiber.JPG

(via Google)

 

Do not think you can push around Kansas City anymore, they now have a huge backbone! Well, one made of fibers.

 

Kansas City will soon have data speeds more than 100 times faster thanks to Google Fiber, as each home will receive a 1 gigabit per second connection (average national speed is 4 megabits per second). The fiber backbone is the power behind the increase data speed. It is a entirely new high speed infrastructure for the area.  They will be taking thousands of miles of cable and stretching them across Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.

 

As you know, inside the cables will be many thin glass fibers, which are about the width of human hair. The cables will then be weaved into a fiber backbone. Much of the new network will be hung above ground on the same poles as the electrical lines. The estimate has Google paying out $3,000 - $8,000 per home for the broadband connection ($60mil-1.6bill overall.) However, each consumer will only pay a competitive price when the trial is over. No word on that price at the moment.

 

They have measured utility poles, studied maps, and surveyed neighborhoods to come up with the best engineering plan possible. If everything goes well, we will all be one Google Fiber in the coming years.

 

Eavesdropper

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Nokia 808 (via Nokia)

 

There have been some pretty compelling smartphones showcased at this year’s Mobile World Congress. However, the crown of ‘best new mobile handset’ went to Nokia and their 808 PureView smartphone. The phone houses a 41 megapixel sensor with a Carl Zeiss lens which is able to cram 7 pixels into 1 (using Nokia’s proprietary technology) that helps the phone take 1080p pictures and HD movies at 30 frames per second! The images taken can then be uploaded to the net instantly to GetMeRated, Vimeo or a host of other social sites using apps downloaded from Nokia.

 

The 808 uses a Xenon flash that can capture video and images in low-light which is a problem for current smartphones. Another feature in the PureView is the ability to record sound with ultra-low bass at up to 140 decibels. The recorded bass can only be played back in true Dolby Surround sound (provided you have headphones capable to do so). As for the phones display screen; it uses a 4 inch AMOLED screen with a nHD resolution of (16:9) 640 X 360 capable of displaying 16.7 million colors.

 

(41 megapixel brings professional medium format digital photography to the masses. Everyone gets to be Ansel Adams with this sensor.)

 

The 808 PureView comes with everything you’d expect from a top of the line smartphone in terms of connections, including USB 2.0 (why not 3.0?), HDMI and Bluetooth 3.0. It also comes equipped with a dedicated GPU with OpenGL 2.0 that is capable of playing 3D games. A dual-core 1.3Ghz processor, 512MB of ram, and 16GB storage fill out the rest of its specs. The launching OS is Symbian Belle, an all but outdated platform. Though, we are sure to see the 41 MP camera on future Windows Phone handsets. The Nokia 808 PureView is available now (unlocked) for $895.00 US but should be available soon for most major carriers in the coming weeks or months.

 

For those who want to know:

35mm film = 10-16 megapixels

Medium format film = 31-62 megapixels

Large format film = 149 megapixels to 1.15 gigapixels

 

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UVeco.JPG

The concept overview (via Ultraviolet)

 

A collaboration between Hollywood and tech companies Western Digital and SanDisk have come together to store and watch HD movies, as well as TV shows, on a myriad of devices securely. Project Phenix (as it’s named) is a secure DRM-based solution being developed by Secure Content Storage Association that will let the user (owner) transfer HD content onto digital storage devices such as SD cards, flash-drives and SSD hard-drives. The media can then be played on any SCSA-enabled devices like TV’s, tablets and gaming systems.

 

Project Phenix also implements the movie industries 'Ultraviolet' cloud-based servers that will enable users to store their content online and access it anywhere at any time. There is one catch (and this is why the content is secure), only content bought from the SCSA Ultraviolet cloud server (or similar sites) can be used on Phenix. Although one may have purchased movies legitimately from somewhere else, you will not be able to use or store it online using Project Phenix. The up-side is that you can store home movies, photos and music on the SCSA site so you can save them from accidents or disasters. While this project aims to fight online piracy, it seems rather limited to people who have to re-buy their HD entertainment.

 

Eavesdropper

Since establishing itself as the world's premier search engine, Google has been expanding into other spheres, including video content and social media. One of the firm's most successful ventures, though, has been into the world of mobile phones, where its Android operating system has quickly become the most popular option.

 

And now speculation is rife that Google is busy working on digital glasses using augmented reality and its Android technology. Reports suggest that the cutting-edge glasses will feature integrated augmented reality technology into the frames, which look like something from a sci-fi movie, no doubt. Additional contextual information will overlay the screen of the glasses, if various media reports are to be believed.

 

http://aperture.adfero.co.uk/Image/Original/14050834

The glasses are rumoured to look similar to this Oakley pair.

 

Google, for its part, has refused to fan the flames of speculation, however the New York Times has reported that the glasses will feature the firm's Android operating system. And despite what you may believe, the newspaper has speculated that the glasses will cost around the same as a regular smartphone, meaning they will not be beyond the reach of regular consumers.

 

The Times explained that the new device will boast the type of augmented reality technology that already enables consumers to add information to images that appear on the screens of other handheld devices like tablets and smartphones. There is also room for advertisers and social services that will help you to organise meet-ups with friends.

 

Google, of course, already has augmented reality software, Google Goggle. However, this technology differs in the respect of focusing on objects rather than individuals. The new device could be developed at Google's secret lab in Silicon Valley, where the firm is suspected of working on a number of cutting-edge technologies than could revolutionise the industry.

 

For all those lost in the search for a scanty Raspberry Pi, don't forget to download and try the Windows 8 consumer preview.  It is the next level of OS HMI connectivity. Microsoft has ushered in the "Metro" style navigation in Windows Phone to the next incarnation of Windows.

 

Geared towards tablets and multitouch desktops, I am on the fence on how useful the interface is for a single mouse pointer. Easy access common applications are handy, but are they necessary? All in all, I am impressed with the preview. Give it a shot yourself here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/iso

 

Update: It appears that the Raspberry Pi does not meet the requirements to run Windows 8. How unfortunate. (Min specs 1Ghz CPU, 1GB ram)

 

Eavesdropper

 

For people looking for the most convenient, compact, green vehicle around the electric skateboard just might be their solution. Weighing in at only 17 pounds, the new green-vehicle allows you to travel in style on any surface. If need be, it can be picked up and carried on trains, subways, or any public transportation where space is limited.

 

 

KEF Design, a Portland based company, first unveiled their electric skateboards called the metroboards at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The skateboard (in longboard styling) runs off a lithium ion battery attached to the bottom of the board and a 600 watt motor (36V) attached to the rear truck of the skateboard. Additionally, the skateboard also features a braking system that converts the kinetic energy into electric potential energy that can be stored back into the battery.

 

 

I would have lost my mind with desire as a kid over this motorized skateboard. I am sure the designers from KEF were reaching back into their youth for the initial inspiration.

 

 

The metroboard is propelled forward via a remote control stuffed with features. The remote allows you to apply the brakes, accelerate forward at a preset speed from 2 mph to 19 mph, also features a fuel gauge that will beep when the battery is running low. In addition, the skate deck has front and back LED lights and even a horn to get people out of your way, all controlled from the remote. The remote works by a bluetooth signal that communicates with the controls under the deck. If the skateboard gets separated by more than 10 feet from the remote, the brakes will automatically be applied to prevent any people to have to chase down runaway boards. If the user runs out of power, the classic skateboard locomotion, the rider, is free to push away.

 

Sector9_Electric_Skateboard-e1330197946186.jpeg

(via KEF Designs)

 

Four new boards are available spanning sizes between Gravity Mini (27") and the Longboard (41").

 

 

These new boards have the ability to travel up to 15 miles on a single battery charge and can prove to be the most convenient green way of getting around a city or small town. (The equivalent cost per mile is around $0.0005. )  However, don't expect to see any kids doing kick flips on these anytime soon.

 

 

Eavesdropper

RopeRevolution-the Longest Rope to Connect the World from Lining (Lizzie) Yao on Vimeo.

 

Augmented reality (AR) has been around for some time, mostly placing information or images over the video capture of the real world. Even though the AR element is visible, it can never be touched. Will we ever hold a virtual object?

 

There is a new game that ‘touches’ on this concept dubbed Rope Revolution. The game, designed by Lining Yao (from MIT’s Media Lab), lets people play rope games, fly a kite and ride a horse in a virtual environment with tactile response generated through manipulating a real world rope. The ‘rope module’ is equipped with force-feedback and motion sensing devices on the box itself while the rope end uses an accelerometer that communicates the gestures via Bluetooth. Also housed inside the box are a constant-force spring that moves the rope both in and out of the wall housing and a linear actuator that moves the rope back and forth. The gestural information is then sent to a computer, that Lining programmed using Java, to recognize the various patterns and gaming background. This is then sent to a projector that displays all the action back onto the players screen.

 

010.jpg

How the rope is used virtually (via MIT)

 

The most impressive aspect of Rope revolution is that you can play with other people over the internet using a webcam. This would make for some pretty engrossing tug-of-war matches or horse racing tournaments! As it stands right now, there are only four games to play but Lining plans on making a few other rope-based games in the future.

 

From when we all were born, we learned through playing. Playing simple games through Rope Revolution will undoubtedly open up thinking on how augmented reality can interface with the world.

 

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The 2012 edition of the Embedded World Exhibition & Conference opened this week with a record number of exhibitors (872). After two days at the show we've had a chance to check out some brilliant applications of embedded technology, from smart camera monitoring of train stations to custom built reflow machines and even entire car dashboards rendered in crisp high definition. The inventiveness of the embedded engineering community really shines through at Embedded World, with everyone from giants like Intel to final year project students all demonstrating incredible apps.

 

From the Farnell/element14 booth (pictured below) you don’t have to look far to see examples of innovation. The technical university stand behind us has been showcasing electromagnet control of small globes suspended a considerable distance from the source, while FGPA giant Altera have been demonstrating fully 3D (no glasses) screens controlled using their programmable logic devices.

 

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However, for all the incredible eye catching applications, it is often the smallest, low power devices that attract the most interest. The word Raspberry Pi has been heard at an increasing volume everywhere I go in the exhibition hall, and now that the secret is out word has spread quickly that the Pi is making an appearance. Nothing has captured the electronic engineering community's attention quite like this for a long time, and most engineers that we've spoken to have been eager to get their hands on the little board. The "hacker" mentality has certainly gained ground over the last few years with boards such as Beaglebone, Snowball and even Arduino Uno attracting an impressive amount of attention beside their powerful relatives who adorn most of the stands here.

 

 

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Another huge trend is the PIC, any PIC, with most visitors that I've chatted with familiar with Microchip's MCUs. Whether it's showcasing their Google Maps app using a PIC32 or demonstrating compatibility with Matrix Multimedia's GUI- based language "Flowcode" with a DIP PIC18FPIC18F, the PICs have been out in force. It was a highlight to show off the Flowcode board to Dirk Muller of Microchip, who was the initial designer; he hadn't yet seen the complete product so we got a great hands-on demonstration of the board and the Flowcode graphical language.

 

Possibly one of the smallest and certainly one of the most colorful demos at the exhibition is Freescale’s MMA955 Cubes, which change color and frequency depending on whether the onboard accelerometer detects freefall, sudden stops, variable acceleration and inclination.

 

We've seen plenty of RTOS applications during our tours of the hundreds of booths in the Nuremberg Messe, and whether they're controlling model railways (a recurring theme) or present in deadly looking UAVs, their popularity across a staggering range of processors is huge.

 

Of course, Germany being one of the world’s focal centers of automotive technology it was not surprising to see this sector well represented with applications being shown on a wide variety of vehicles ranging from autobahn-eating powerhouses such as the Porsche GT3 RS to Tesla roadsters and all-electric concept cars. It’s clear that embedded computing is growing more and more important in the automotive industry. Meeting Nvidia and seeing their all electric concept with a dash powered by a custom graphics chip was a real eye opener, especially since the technology is so soon to be used in some of the road cars we drive every day (it’s currently used in a Lamborghini, but we can dream, can’t we?).

 

Look for another report on Embedded World in this space as the show progresses.

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