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With the population of mobile devices such as laptops and tablets increasing like jackrabbits on a fertility drug, organizations are increasingly implementing bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies in the workplace to gain a competitive edge and reduce costs. But the benefits of mobility can be lost if laptops and tablets are not adequately protected against security threats.


Recently a four-man team from Tel Aviv University’s LEISec (Laboratory for Experimental Information Security) proved one could hack these devices by nonintrusively measuring electromagnetic emanations for a few seconds from a distance of 50 cm., using cheap components that simply monitor the signals given off when a nearby device’s CPU was processing data. And they did so using a device small enough to be concealed within a serving of pita bread.

The key factor in their efforts to see if they could steal data was the discovery that different data crunching operations in a computer--such as decrypting files or playing games--had a characteristic pattern of radio activity. The CPU’s different power demands while it was working gave further rise to these tell-tale signals. The attack sent a few carefully-crafted ciphertexts, and when these are decrypted by the target computer, they triggered the occurrence of specially-structured values inside the decryption software. These special values caused observable fluctuations in the electromagnetic field surrounding the laptop, in a way that depends on the pattern of key bits (specifically, the key-bits window in the exponentiation routine). The secret key can be deduced from these fluctuations, through signal processing and cryptoanalysis.

The attack can be executed using a consumer-grade radio receiver or a Software Defined Radio USB dongle. After demonstrating that the attack worked in the lab, the group created a mobile version called the Portable Instrument for Trace Acquisition, or PITA for short. Assembly of the PITA device required the purchase of an SDR device. The leakage signal is modulated around a carrier around 1.7 MHz, located in the range of the commercial AM radio frequency band. The researchers also managed to use a plain consumer-grade radio receiver to acquire the desired signal. They then recorded the signal by connecting it to the microphone input of an HTC EVO 4G smartphone.


During their follow-up test, they were able to prove that their technology worked from a distance of about a half meter, grabbing keys used in several widely used encryption programs and algorithms used to protect data. Popular implementations of RSA and ElGamal encryptions are vulnerable to this attack, including those that implement the decryption using modern exponentiation algorithms. The team successfully extracted keys from laptops of various models running GnuPG (a popular open source encryption software implementing the OpenPGP standard).

The group will formally present their findings at the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES) 2015 in September.


(a) A low-magnification tunneling electron microscope (TEM) image of Gr–Si nanoparticle (NP). (b) A higher-magnification image for the same Gr–Si NP from the white box in a. (Insets) The line profiles from the two red boxes indicate that the interlayer spacing between graphene layers is ~3.4 Å, in good agreement with that of typical graphene layers based on van der Waals interaction. (c) A high-magnification TEM image visualizing the origins (red arrows) from which individual graphene layers grow. (d) A schematic illustration showing the sliding process of the graphene coating layers that can buffer the volume expansion of Si.

Silicon is receiving considerable attention as an active material for next- generation lithium-ion battery anodes because of its gravimetric capacity--a measure in mAh/g of the total charge capacity stored by the cell or battery, per gram of the battery's weight.


Unfortunately, the large volume change of silicon during charge–discharge cycles has in the past weakened its competitiveness. Recently, however, a research group from Samsung reported in the publication Nature Communications that using direct graphene growth over silicon nanoparticles without silicon carbide formation resulted in a near doubling of run-time by expanding energy density-- the amount of stored power in a given area -- to 1.8 times that of current batteries.


The graphene layers anchored onto the silicon surface accommodate the volume expansion of silicon via a sliding process between adjacent graphene layers. When paired with a commercial lithium cobalt oxide cathode, the silicon carbide-free graphene coating allows the full cell to reach volumetric energy densities of 972 and 700 Wh l−1 at first and 200th cycle, respectively, 1.8 and 1.5 times higher than those of current commercial lithium-ion batteries.


This observation suggests that a two-dimensional layered structure of graphene and its silicon carbide-free integration with silicon can serve as a prototype toward advancing silicon anodes to commercially viable technology.


Detecting explosives at a “standoff” distance—defined as a meter or two--remains an important, yet elusive, capability requirement of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in their effort to protect government facilities. Currently, vehicle screening methods consist of visual inspections and occasional random security officer or canine inspections. Although these measures offer substantial deterrence value, they provide very limited discrimination capabilities against harmless items. Furthermore, such screening methods are manpower intensive and time consuming. Throughput and safety concerns limit or even prohibit the use of currently available commercial screening technologies.

The Standoff Explosives Trace Detection Program aims to develop technologies to enable and/or improve screening for explosives concealed in or on vehicles from a safe range before vehicles enter parking areas at federal facilities. Toward that goal on Monday officials of the DHS in Washington released a solicitation for the Standoff Explosives Detection on Vehicles (SED-V) component of the full Standoff Explosives Trace Detection program.  Specifically, DHS is reaching out to industry for detection systems that will allow non-contact, near real-time screening against person-borne and vehicle-borne threats; a capability not currently available.

This Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) addresses the advancement of standoff detection techniques for explosive residues on external vehicle surfaces. It should be noted that techniques requiring sample collection and/or pre-concentration for subsequent analysis will be considered non-responsive. For example, vapor collection techniques with subsequent analysis are not considered “standoff”, even though direct contact with a subject is not necessary.

Other key requirements:

  • Range:   

Variable from 0.25 to 2m



  • System shall not significantly impair normal business operations. A fixed site capability is desired to retrofit existing entry control points at federal facilities.


  • Detection Sensitivity

Thumbprint quantities (<250 μg/cm2)


The SED-V project has three phases: a 12-to-18-month advanced feasibility demonstration and preliminary design review; a 12-to-18-month safety validation and critical design review; and a 12-to-18-month prototype completion and test readiness review.

It's pretty well known that for mould to flourish it needs a wet and warm environment. So what better place than a Food & Beverage plant where you can find high pressure washers, fluctuating temperatures and organic substances.


We know this is not a revelation to the Food and Beverage industry; hence the stringent hygiene requirements that are rightfully put in place to ensure factories meet the standards we expect as consumers.


However what F&B manufacturers may not be aware of is the common growth of mould found on the very common PVC control cables (SY, YY, CY) used to power many of these factories (See image below for an example of a mouldy SY cable).


Due to its porous nature PVC will eventually absorb the moisture from the atmosphere which results in degradation of the material. In cable terms this would cause the cable to become hard and brittle and eventually break down the outer sheath. Surprisingly at Lapp Group we have seen these changes in as little as 6 months.


We know what you are thinking - damage from hydrolysis is not necessarily classed as mould. However it is the initial process of the formation of bacteria amongst PVC cables.


The growth of mould is not caused solely by a humid atmosphere but with the added presence of organic substances found naturally amongst this industry. With the combination of these environmental factors a material like PVC will not withstand the build up of microbes; the one thing Food and Beverage manufacturers work so hard to avoid.


So is it fair to say: The presence of harmful bacteria in our food plants is not acceptable so the same should go for the bacteria on cables within these factories themselves?

Lapp Group along with many manufacturers believes this to be the case.




As a result Lapp Group have designed a range of microbe resistant cables with non-porous qualities estimated to last up to 10 times longer then the standard SY, CY, YY cables.


Manufacturers in the UK & Ireland supporting this include Coca Cola, Arla Dairies and Guinness all of which specify ÖLFLEX® ROBUST, our full range of polyurethane sheathed cables and stainless steel cable glands.


All of the above are made from bacteria resistant, water resistant and oil resistant materials ideal for the Food & Beverage industry.

  Mouldy SY extracted from a Food Plant after 6 months

airbus-e-fan-2-paris-air-show (1).JPG

Mockup of E-plane  version 2.0


The E-fan plane from Airbus Group is a fully electric aircraft that operates exclusively via twin 30kw fan engines powered by 120 lithium polymer batteries stored in its 31 ft. wings. Built of carbon fiber composites it weighs only 1100 pounds and can stay aloft from 45 to 60 minutes. Its batteries can be recharged in one hour, according to Airbus. The two-seater is CO2 emission-free and nearly silent in flight. Since its first flight on 11 March 2014, the E-fan plane has now performed 100 test flights with more than 49 flight hours in total. Its most recent demonstrator flight was at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, north of Paris, on Friday, June 19.

An electric motor placed on the aft main wheel provides power for taxiing. Take off speed of the two seater is 68 mph, cruise speed is 99 mph and the aircraft has a maximum speed of 136 mph. A cockpit mockup for the production two-seat E-fan, designated version 2.0, also was on display at Paris. The mockup featured a new carbon-fiber shell and a “Connected Cockpit” panel. Adjustment for a pilot’s height is achieved using a movable bar for the rudder pedals, one of the few moving parts in the cockpit.

Airbus says it is only building E-fan jets for entry-level pilot training and to that end the new instrument panel in v 2.0 has a fixed primary flight display on the left side and a plug-in computer tablet on the right, called the navigation and training display (NTD). When removed from the cockpit, the NTD can serve as either an interactive training device or a debriefing tool to enable the pilot to review or prepare for a flight with an instructor.

Airbus has established a subsidiary named Voltair to build the aircraft in a new factory in the city of Pau in southwestern France. The E-fan 2.0 is scheduled to fly in 2016 for delivery beginning in 2017.

Our Engineering a Connected World geocaching campaign has caught the eye of a few media outlets since it launched last week. They include:


Power Systems Design - element14 kicks off geocaching treasure hunt

Electronics Purchasing Strategies - element14 Kicks Off Geocaching Treasure Hunt


Stay tuned for more!


Unless you’ve been living in a cave these past few years, and possibly even then, you know about Instagram, the popular online vehicle for photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking that enables its users to take pictures and videos and share them on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Now, if Google has its way you will soon be able to use Instagram to calculate the calories in pictures of food you post on the social media site.


A new Google experimental app called Im2Calories, announced at the recent Rework Deep Learning Summit in Boston, relies on image-processing technology to tell you how many calories you're consuming. Im2Calories will spot the individual items on your plate, determine what the foods are and create a calorie count based on the nutritional information available for what you will be eating. In cases where it guesses incorrectly, you’ll be able to correct the program and in this way improve the dietary tool’s accuracy over time.

Kevin Murphy, who works with Google's research lab and specializes in artificial intelligence explained that the AI technology will analyze the depth of pixels in an image and employ “sophisticated deep-learning algorithms” to judge the size and shape of a food item and develop a calorie count. According to Google, Im2Calories and the algorithms that run it are still at the research stage and that there are no product plans at this time. Google also indicated that the AI behind Im2Calories also could be applied to examining traffic patterns or parking facilities to help drivers find a parking spot.


When you were young and your Dad--and/or Mom--took you to a baseball game and you walked into a magical place named Wrigley or Fenway or Yankee Stadium, just after they tore your ticket (in my case it was long before bar code scanners) you were immediately serenaded with the following chant:

“Scorecard! Get your Scorecard here! Ya Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard!”

The scorecard was an essential part of the day’s occupation because with the exception of some well-publicized stars many fans were not very familiar with the players on the field. And the same might be said today about companies in the semiconductor industry, given what has become a record year for mergers and acquisitions.

As an observer with a podium on these pages, lately I have been asked what impact I think the recent spate of M&As will have on the industry going forward? Overall, and noting there are several different and significant forces driving recent mega-mergers, my response is that it will have less of a lasting effect than one might think. But before I say why let me review some of the major scoring plays to date, in descending order from very-big transactions down to those that are just big (all figures given in US dollars).

  • In the semiconductor industry's biggest merger to date Avago Technologies, which bought storage chipmaker LSI about a year ago, has now acquired Broadcom, a major supplier of integrated circuits for the mobile phone industry for $37 billion ($17 billion in cash and $20 billion in stock). The new Avago will be the world's sixth biggest chip vendor. Avago’s specialty is developing RF components and power amps for use in smartphones. With the acquisition, Avago expects to target such market sectors as servers and data centers and wearable products. 


  • Intel is plunking down $16.7 billion to buy field programmable gate array (FPGA) maker Altera Corp. The transaction is expected to help Intel bolster its position in server systems (companies have been using FPGAs alongside Intel’s Xeon chips to help speed up their servers) and other equipment found in corporate data centers, as well as fuel its plans to supply chips for the Internet of Things (IoT) market. Adding Altera will allow Intel to explore FPGA/CPU combination devices based on its Xeon products that could give data center applications a speed boost where on-the-fly re-progammaing can pay dividends such as in data base management. Designers of aerospace and defense high-performance embedded computing (HPEC) also often pair Altera FPGAs with Intel processors for signal processing applications including eletronic warfare (EW) and signals intelligence (SIGINT).

  • NXP is acquiring Freescale for $12 billion. With $10 billion in combined revenues the deal would make the two companies the world's ninth largest chip maker, surpassing competitors STMicroelectronics and Renesas at $7 billion apiece and approaching Texas Instruments’ $12 billion, according to financial analysts. The new NXP would be number one in automotive chips and according to the company the addition of Freescale’s computing chips to its security and wireless communication offerings will make it a stronger player in the emerging IoT market. NXP was formed in 2006 when a consortium consisting of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), Bain Capital, Silver Lake Partners, Apax and AlpInvest Partners NV took an 80.1percent stake in Philips’ semiconductor operation with Royal Philips retaining a 19.9 percent interest.


  • In December Cypress Semiconductor announced plans to merge with Spansion in a $4 billion stock transaction. The combined company will be a provider of embedded MCUs and specialized memories for embedded systems. It will have the number 1 share worldwide in NOR Flash memories and number 1 share worldwide in SRAM memories.


  • In October 2014 mobile chipmaker Qualcomm agreed to buy Britain’s Cambridge Silicon Radio PLC for $2.5 billion to boosts its offerings in Bluetooth wireless technology.

Consolidation in the chip business is not new. We have seen a series of similar vignettes played out often before and usually without much wrenching industry-wide change when looked at over the long term. There are many past instances of the let’s buy each other syndrome. In offering the following few examples I was tempted to use the biblical term “begat” as found in the King James version (where in Genesis Enos begat Cainan and Cainan begat Mahalaleel, etc.), but I won’t just to maintain a level of sanity.

So, for example, Spansion, recently acquired by Cypress, was a former joint venture between Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Fujitsu. Cypress itself began in 1982 when a group of engineers left AMD to form the company. Renesas Technology was established on April 1, 2003 as a joint venture of Hitachi, Ltd. (55 percent) and Mitsubishi Electric (45 percent). Next, Renesas and NEC (established in November 2002 by a spin-off of the semiconductor operations of NEC Corp.) combined with Renesas Electronics starting operation in April of 2010.

In 2005 the private equity firms KKR and Silver Lake Partners teamed up to buy Agilent Technologies' chip arm, SPG, for $2.66 billion to form the company now doing business as Avago Technologies (yes, the same one that just bought Broadcom). In July, 2006 AMD entered the graphics market with the acquisition of the GPU manufacturer ATI Technologies for $4.3 billion in cash and 58 million shares of its stock. And as you may recall Texas Instruments acquired National Semiconductor in 2011 in an all-cash transaction of about $6.5 billion.

With all of this consolidation—current and historic-- one might be led to believe that market share would become much more concentrated among the top 20 industry suppliers. But statistics do not bear this out. The top 20 suppliers of semiconductors in 2014 represented 66.7 percent of the total industry revenue; in 2010 the top 20 represented 65.2 percent and in 2006 it was 63.7 percent. (Source: iSuppli).

A good question is why all of this activity now? Some industry watchers place the current M&A trend squarely on the fact that it is a means of growing quickly, of increasing sales and boosting market share in an era of relatively modest growth, at least by semiconductor industry standards. Other analysts say the wave of deal activity is a direct result of the rising cost of developing new chips and the subsequent cost barrier to entering and succeeding in an applications market you are not currently playing in. It can cost $100 million to produce a leading edge chip these days, which is a 3x to 10x jump over similar costs a decade ago.

When I said earlier that the current spate of mergers would not have a severe impact on the industry I am not forgetting the human element. Yes, there will be layoffs. For example, when Cypress Semiconductor merged with Spansion it triggered a layoff of 1,600 employees. What will happen to these and other employees caught in what the British so expressively refer to as “redundancy”?  Very likely most of them will land on their feet primarily because chipmaking is still a very healthy business, even though its executives bemoan the fact that the industry is growing at just 5 to 7 per cent a year. Admittedly this is less than the 13 percent 20-year annual average growth of what is now a $300 billion industry, but there is no reason to believe its 40-year track record of growth will come to a halt any time soon.

According to the Semiconductor Industry Association the industry accounts for a quarter million direct jobs and over a million additional indirect jobs.  Last year job website CareerBuilder said it had 3.5 electrical engineering jobs posted for every job-seeking candidate. Earlier this year Randstad US, the third largest staffing organization in the United States, put engineering and manufacturing positions on its US “Hot Jobs” list. So jobs should be there for engineers finding themselves caught in an M&A squeeze.


The semiconductor business has come away from previous consolidation periods relatively unscathed just as it has withstood hiccups such as the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2001 and the financial shemozzle of seven years ago. In fact the chip business has come back from our national financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 at a much faster pace than the overall economy. To put things in perspective consider that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States rose just 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 and actually dipped by 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015.  By comparison, then, if presented with a steady 5 to 7 percent growth employees and executives in most other sectors of our economy would be breaking out the bubbly.

So who’s next? Reuters reports that with its CEO Steve Laub due to retire at the end of August, Atmel is being shopped around. The news wire's anonymous sources say investment bank Qatalyst Partners has been engaged as a consultant for the $4 billion company. In 2008 ON Semiconductor and Microchip Technologies launched a hostile takeover bid for Atmel but the offer was eventually withdrawn.

There are also a great many analog chip companies out there, an estimated 150 or so making a variety of chips that among other things manage power and allow wireless communication. Those in the know in the financial community suggest that among suppliers that roughly fit the target size and product model for potential deals include companies such as Micrel, Intersil and Silicon Laboratories.

Stay tuned.


Northrop Grumman Corp. has formed a scientific advisory board to guide its efforts to develop a lighter-than-air vehicle to explore Venus's environment. The company's Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) concept is a long-lived, maneuverable, semi-buoyant platform that would coast through Venus's clouds gathering atmospheric data. The board will help define specific science goals, measurement requirements, and identify possible instruments for VAMP missions. It will also serve as a science analysis group to mine existing data about Venus that may be useful to the VAMP mission.

As currently envisioned VAMP will be a delta-wing shaped inflatable air vehicle with a 55 meter wing span that resembles the Northrop Grumman-designed Flying Wing and its B-2 bomber. It is being designed to be inflated and deployed in orbit and "float" like a leaf into Venus's atmosphere, where it could operate for more than year.

VAMP is the first application for the Lifting Entry/Atmospheric Flight (LEAF) family of vehicles that could serve as atmospheric "rovers," going to any solar system body with an atmosphere, including Venus, Earth, Mars and Saturn's moon Titan.

Although the surface of Venus is hot and hostile, its atmosphere at 50 kilometers is Earth-like and its clouds hold the key to the difference. Understanding Venus' evolutionary path may shed light on Earth's evolution and the origin of life.


An additional “leap” second will be added on to the end of the day on June 30, 2015, resulting in an unusual 61-second minute.


This decision was made by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), the global timekeeping body, in order to reconcile atomic clocks with the Earth's rotation around its own axis, which is gradually slowing down, although very slowly.

Two components are used to determine time. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) utilizes 200 precise atomic clocks to provide the correct speed at which our clocks should tick and Astronomical Time (aka Universal Time) is based on the Earth’s rotation and used to compare UTC with the actual length of a day on Earth.

Because, unlike the Earth-rotation based measure, atomic clocks do not have any inconsistency we have to add a second every so often to co-ordinate the two; since 1972, a total of 25 “leap” seconds have been added with the last one taking place at 23:59:60 UTC on June 30, 2012.

So, instead of resetting to zero after reaching the 59 second mark at midnight on June 30 digital clocks tied to the IERS will instead read 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 60 seconds. You might want to write down this statistic for the next time you have a barstool trivia bet or discussion: days on which a leap second is inserted have 86,401 instead of the usual 86,400 seconds.


Lidar is a remote-sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light. It is used by autonomous vehicles to perceive their surroundings and is also applicable to several essential military capabilities—including chemical-biological sensing, precision targeting and communications, which increasingly rely upon laser-scanning technologies.

One drawback of Lidar systems is that they require mechanical assemblies to sweep the laser back and forth and as a result these systems are expensive.

Now, however, DARPA has come up with a non-mechanical approach that could open the door to a new class of miniaturized, extremely low-cost, robust laser-scanning technologies for military and commercial use. DARPA’s Short-range Wide-field-of-view Extremely agile Electronically steered Photonic EmitteR (SWEEPER) program has successfully integrated non-mechanical optical scanning technology onto a microchip.

Freed from the traditional architecture of gimbaled mounts, lenses and servos, SWEEPER technology has demonstrated that it can sweep a laser back and forth more than 100,000 times per second, 10,000 times faster than current state-of-the-art mechanical systems. It can also steer a laser precisely across a 51-degree arc, the widest field of view ever achieved by a chip-scale optical scanning system.

Phased arrays—engineered surfaces that control the direction of selected electromagnetic signals by varying the phase across many small antennas—have revolutionized radio-frequency (RF) technology by allowing for multiple beams, rapid scanning speeds and the ability to shape the arrays to curved surfaces. DARPA pioneered radar phased array technologies in the 1960s and has played a key role in advancing them in the decades since.

Transitioning phased-array techniques from radio frequencies to optical frequencies has proven exceptionally difficult, however, because optical wavelengths are thousands of times smaller than those used in radar. This means that the array elements must be placed within only a few microns of each other and as such manufacturing or environmental perturbations as small as 100 nanometers can hurt performance or even sideline the whole array. The SWEEPER technology sidesteps these problems by using a solid-state approach built on modern semiconductor manufacturing processes.

SWEEPER technology is being developed further through DARPA’s Electronic-Photonic Heterogeneous Integration (E-PHI) program, which has already successfully integrated billions of light-emitting dots on silicon to create an efficient silicon-based laser.

Under SWEEPER funding, four teams of DARPA-funded researchers have used advanced manufacturing techniques to successfully demonstrate optical phased array technology. These performers include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of California, Berkeley; and HRL Laboratories.

SWEEPER research is drawing to a close and DARPA is seeking potential transition partners.


Repeatedly putting an aircraft on an up-and-down parabolic trajectory angled at up to 50° creates brief periods of weightlessness. During the climb and pulling out of the descent, the occupants then endure almost twice normal gravity. Throughout the “Space Race” of the 1960s NASA used two Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers in this way to provide periods of “weightlessness” to train astronauts. Because of the radical flight maneuvers necessary to create this condition the aircraft were nicknamed “vomit comets”. One, a KC-135A known as NASA 930, is estimated to have flown over 58,000 parabolas. The KC-135s were used until December 2004 and have since been retired.

Recently, ESA, France’s space agency CNES and the German aerospace center DLR inaugurated an Airbus A310 dubbed “ZERO-G” and refitted for altered gravity by running 12 scientific experiments. Flying from Bordeaux, France, French company Novespace has been running parabolic flights for more than 25 years. Last year they acquired their new aircraft to replace their Airbus A300 – maintenance costs were growing due to its age. To turn it into a parabolic science aircraft most seats were removed to provide as much space as possible inside , while padded walls provide a soft landing for the passengers – the changes in ‘gravity’ can be hard to handle. Extra monitoring stations have been installed for a technician to oversee the aircraft’s systems while it is pushed to its limits.

During the altered gravity flight program first a person weighing 175lb. on Earth would feel as if they weighed 350lbs. for around 20 seconds. At the top of each curve, the forces on the passengers and objects inside then cancel each other out, causing everything to freefall in weightlessness.

This campaign’s experiments include understanding how humans sense objects under different gravity levels, investigating how the human heart and aorta cope, looking at how plants grow, testing new equipment for the International Space Station, trying out new techniques for launching nanosatellites, investigating whether pharmaceutical drugs will work without ‘gravity’, and understanding Solar System dust clouds and planet formation.

The aircraft offers more than just weightlessness, by changing the thrust and angle of attack, the team of pilots flying the plane can recreate other gravity levels such as those found on the Moon or Mars.


Among the 15 proposals NASA has for study under Phase I of its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program is one that calls for the use of a soft-robotic “swimming” rover for missions that can’t be accomplished with conventional power systems. This rover would resemble an eel with a short antenna on its back that harvests power from locally changing magnetic fields. The goal is to enable amphibious exploration of gas-giant moons such as Europa.

A proposal from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory aims to develop new mission concepts for in-situ observational atmospheric science on Jupiter and Saturn with high-mobility WindBots, harvesting energy from the strong winds and magnetic fields. Still another selected proposal will look at using two glider-like unmanned aerial vehicles connected by an ultra-strong cable at different altitudes that sail without propulsion. The vehicle would use wind shear in the lower stratosphere (approximately 60,000 ft.), similar to a kite surfer, where the upper aircraft provides lift and aerodynamic thrust, and the lower aircraft provides an upwind force to keep it from drifting downwind. If successful, this atmospheric satellite could remain in the Earth’s stratosphere for years, enabling NASA's Earth science missions, monitoring capabilities or aircraft navigation at a fraction of the cost of orbital satellite networks.

Employing a novel mobility concept, the Cryogenic Reservoir Inventory by Cost-Effective Kinetically Enhanced Technology (CRICKET) proposal explores volatile substances such as hydrogen, nitrogen and water, stored in permanently shadowed regions on planetary bodies. Inexpensive robotic crawlers, hoppers and soccer-ball style buckey-bots would explore the surface of these dark regions for water and other compounds. Multiple bots could be used to develop a high-resolution map to aid in potentially using these resources.

NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000, providing awardees the funding needed to conduct a nine-month initial definition and analysis study of their concepts. If the basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.

NIAC is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which develops, tests and flies hardware for use in NASA's future missions. During the next 18 months, the directorate will make what it calls “significant new investments” to address several high-priority challenges in achieving safe and affordable deep space exploration


The UK is facing a significant skills shortage, with 1.4 million "digital professionals" estimated to be needed over the next five years. To meet this need the BBC has partnered with over 25 organizations in an initiative it calls “Make it Digital”, the centerpiece of which is a small programmable hardware device called Micro Bit; one million Micro Bits will be given without charge to all pupils starting secondary school (age 11-12) in the UK starting in the autumn term. In format the Micro Bit will be a standalone, wearable device with an LED display and a Bluetooth Smart wireless chip (from Nordic Semiconductor). Children will be able to program Micro Bit in a number of ways using entry-level coding by simply plugging into a computer.


The Micro Bit is designed to help youngsters start learning basic coding and programming, acting as a springboard for further learning and more advanced products like Arduino, Galileo, Kano and Raspberry Pi.

The first wave of partnerships in the Micro Bit program includes major corporations like ARM, Barclays, BT, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung as well as educational institutions and organizations across the industry, such as Apps for Good, British Computing Society, Code Club, ComputerScience4Fun, FutureLearn, iDEA, Nesta, TeenTech, Tech City UK, Tech Partnership and Young Rewired State.


In related news BBC’s “Make it Digital” also will include a traineeship to help up to 5,000 young unemployed people boost their digital skills and get a foot on the jobs ladder. Due to launch around the country this summer, the nine-week traineeship includes training from the BBC Academy. It will teach basic digital skills, such as creating simple websites and short videos for the web; involves major BBC brands such as Radio 1; and gets young people ready for work with employability skills and work placement.


The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a contract to Intel Corp. as prime contractor for two next-generation supercomputers to be installed at the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago..

The contract is part of the DOE’s multimillion dollar initiative to build state-of-the-art supercomputers at Argonne, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories that will be five to seven times more powerful than today’s top supercomputers. DOE says the joint Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Livermore (CORAL) will help to advance U.S. leadership in scientific research and maintain its position at the forefront of next-generation exascale computing.

Intel was selected as the prime contractor and will work with Cray Inc. as the system integrator and manufacturer of these next-generation high-performance computing (HPC) systems. The largest system, to be called Aurora, is based on Intel’s HPC scalable system framework and will be a Cray “Shasta” supercomputer. The Aurora system will be delivered in 2018 and have a peak performance of 180 petaflops, making it the world’s most powerful system currently announced to date and 18 times more powerful than its predecessor, Mira, while utilizing only 2.7 times the energy usage.


Aurora is expected to include future generations of Intel Xeon Phi processors and the Intel Omni-Path Fabric high-speed interconnect technology, a new non-volatile memory architecture and advanced parallel file system storage using Intel Lustre software.

Research goals for the Aurora system include: more powerful, efficient and durable batteries and solar panels; improved biofuels and more effective disease control; improving transportation systems and enabling production of more highly efficient and quieter engines; and wind turbine design and placement for improved efficiency and reduced noise.

A second system, to be named Theta, will serve as an early production system for the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF). To be delivered in the 2016, the system will provide performance of 8.5 petaflops while requiring only 1.7 megawatts of power. The Theta system will be powered by Intel Xeon processors and next-generation Intel Xeon Phi processors, code-named Knights Landing, and will be based on the next-generation Cray XC supercomputer.

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