The Technology First Journal team at element14 would like to invite you to help us decide which are the most influential technologies and products for 2013. This is a list for us to build together, we have just put our ideas forward here for starters. We invite your views on the following and if you feel that we've made any glaring errors on our list—please join in.

 

 

You may also be interested in reading about technologies for electric vehicles on the road and those that are catalysts for change as part of this series.


Game Changers of Tomorrow

Technologies in their infancy which can lead to a sea change in the industry


  1. Neural Networks in the Data Mine

 

Multicore processing has been a significant trend in modern computing, though it still suffers from limits imposed by the fundamentally serial nature of Von Neumann architecture. In real terms, this means that applications utilising large data sets such as pattern recognition programs do not scale particularly well or respond in real time.


Fabless semiconductor companies such as CogniMem Ltd are designing components for high speed and parallel pattern recognition, so-called “cognitive computing” chips, intended to use with large data sets. Though the CM1K chip, which was introduced in 2007, boasts only 1024 “neurons”, it has seen increasing usage as the data that companies need to process explodes in volume. In summer 2011, IBM developed their own synaptic CPU designed to act in a “brain-like” manner.


Whether it is a finance company monitoring millions of transactions or a high definition camera providing sensory input to a microcontroller in a drone aircraft, finding “the needle in the haystack” in real-time can prove too much for ordinary processors. Recent examples including gaze tracking using a CM1K chip and Freescale i.MX53 Quick Start Board have illustrated how easily this technology can be incorporated into high end MCU based applications.



 

As businesses deal with larger amounts of data, the next decade will see a growing reliance on data mining to assist in decision making. The needs of a burgeoning market for real-time analysis is likely to shift the emphasis onto hardware rather than software which requires significant expenditure of time and computing power. Every day consumer devices, pilotless drones and data analysis could all benefit from this technology within the very short term.

 

By: Joseph Alderson

 

2. Graphene: The Next Big Thing in Electronics


Graphene is a one-atom-thick planar sheet of carbon atoms that are densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. It is superstrong, superconductive, self-cooling, anti-bacterial, anti-corrosive and photovoltaic.  A massive effort called the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, which includes many of the world's biggest chipmakers as well as state and federal agencies and dozens of universities, is underway to find a way to replace CMOS transistors. Logic devices built from graphene, which conducts electricity 30 times faster than silicon logic, will consume less power and take up far less real estate than CMOS or optical switches, and is considered by many to be the heir apparent to CMOS FETs.


Until recently, use of graphene was limited to development of more-efficient batteries and foldable touch screens, which do not require scientists to be able to stop and start the movement of electrons in the material. But researchers now believe that with the right structuring, three layers of graphene could allow it to be turned from insulator to conductor via a control voltage.


In May of this year Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology research arm reported it has found a way to make the material switch from one state to another with a new transistor structure. The company's research team has re-engineered the basic principles of digital switching, allowing graphene to switch between states without losing any of its conductive properties. Samsung says that it has developed a 'Schottky barrier' control device named a 'Barristor' which can stop current in the graphene by lifting the barrier to a cut- off point. (By way of review when a metal and a semiconductor are appropriately chosen and put in contact, their interface behaves as a rectification barrier to electric current—the so-called Schottky barrier that allows a current to flow easily in one direction, but not in the other). The firm claims to have also expanded the research into basic circuit components such as logic gates and logic circuits.


As alluded to earlier graphene is also being investigated as a replacement for indium tin oxide (ITO), a transparent conductor widely used as a touch screen coating on smartphones and tablets as well as the standard material used for solar cell electrodes. The cost of ITO is high and rising and the brittle material is difficult to work with. Graphene is transparent, so electrodes made from it also can be applied to transparent organic solar cells without blocking any of the incoming (or in the case of displays, outgoing) light. Last year a team at Rice University reported combining a single-layer sheet of graphene with a grid of metal nanowires five micron-wide-- about a tenth the size of a human hair and thus invisible to the naked eye --to create a material that it claims is vastly superior to ITO.


Roll up graphene and you've got a carbon nanotube (CNT). CNTs are a prime candidate material for use in lithium-ion batteries due to their substantial surface area and high conductivity. The large surface area of a nanotube allows it to store more charge than other types of carbon, such as graphite, while also letting those charges migrate more easily, thereby increasing power. This one is a game changer.

 

By: Murray Slovak


3. Single photons produced electrically


Physicists at Universität Würzburg have succeeded in using semiconductor nanostructures to produce single photons electrically and transfer them via a quantum channel. The application of these single photon sources is seen as further progress toward broader use in secure data communication. These findings are published in the New Journal of Physics in August 2012.


Scientists are fully aware that the transmission of photons has to work not just in the laboratory, but also over far greater distances. They have already performed successful work aimed at achieving this in a project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Within this project, they managed to realize secure quantum communication with electrically powered single photon sources over a free-space test distance of around 500 meters over rooftops in the center of Munich.


However, the scientists from Würzburg, Munich, and Stuttgart want to achieve transmission distances that are far greater than this. They are therefore currently researching building blocks for so-called quantum repeaters as part of a group funded by the BMBF involving other research teams. These are analogous to signal amplifiers in traditional communication technology and are essential for long-distance quantum communication.

 

By: Bee Thakore

 

Submit your suggestions or discuss the above one. More categories coming soon! IF you have suggestions for the categories of electric vehicles and change catalysts, please drop in a line here and we would love to include it!