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28 Posts authored by: Cabe Atwell

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NASA eel bot that may delve into the depths of moon Europa. NASA recently announced their current 15 winners of NIAC funding for $100,000 for each candidate. Among them is a project to develop a robotic eel to explore Europa, Jupiter’s moon.  (via NASA)

 

 

Anyone seen that movie Europa Report? It may have inspired NASA...

 

NASA recently announced their winners of their annual NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. There are 15 winners in total that have far-out ideas (pun intended) about making science fiction a reality. NASA is hoping that these highly innovative, and a bit crazy, ideas will lead them to advances that can progress their ability to delve further into space.

 

One crazy idea that just might work is NIAC 2015 winner Mason Peck’s research to design a robotic eel that can explore the depths of Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons. The idea is highly innovative and calls for the invention of new technologies – including new power systems.

 

A mock-up for the robot design is seen above. It would be a soft-bodied robot that can swim and explore the aquatic depths of Europa. Peck describes the robot as more of a squid than an eel, as NASA calls it. The science behind it is pretty inspiring. The body of the eel/squid would have ‘tentacle’ structures that allow it to harvest power effectively from changing electromagnetic fields.  The energy will power its rover subsystems, one of which allows it to expand and change shape to propel itself in water and on land. It would do this by electrolysis of water, creating H2 and O2 gas that will be harvested to expand, and combusted internally to act as a propulsion system. To learn more about the other 14 winners who scored $100,000 to develop technology like this, see their extensive report.

 

C

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Chalmers University of Technology researchers have found that large area graphene helps prolong the spin of electrons over longer periods of time (via Chalmers)


Chances are you own a smartphone, tablet or PC/laptop that features some form of solid-state technology - typically in the form of RAM, flash drives or SSD hard drive. Those devices are faster than their mechanical counterparts and new findings by researchers from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology are set to make that technology even faster and more energy efficient through the use of graphene.

 

Specifically, they found that large area graphene is able to prolong the spin of electrons (spintronics) over a longer period of time over that of ferrous metals. Spintronics deals with the intrinsic spin of electrons in a magnetic moment- or the torque it will experience when an external magnetic field is applied. As mentioned above there are already spintronic devices on the market, however they use ferrous metals for their base platform. It’s the impurities in those metals that hold spintronics back from becoming a mainstream component in today’s electronic circuitry- limiting the size of the components themselves.

 

This is where graphene comes into play as the material extends the area of spintronics from nanometers to millimeters, making the spin of those electrons last longer and travel farther than ever before. So why is that good? Data (in the form of 1’s and 0’s) is encoded onto those electrons as they spin up and spin down rather than relying on the other method of turning the electrical state of off and on using traditional circuits. The problem is as the process nodes become smaller it results in increased electrical ‘bleed’ across transistors in the off state thereby preventing us from building transistors that consume less power.

 

Using graphene as the substrate for spintronics allows for the electrons to maintain their spin alignment to a duration of 1.2 nanoseconds and transmit information contained in those electrons up to 16-micrometers long without degradation. Of course, progress doesn’t come without its problems- in this case it’s the graphene itself or rather the manufacturing process. Producing large sheets of the one-atom thick substance is still an issue for manufacturers and when it’s produced it usually has defects in terms of wrinkles and roughness, which can have negative effects on electron’s spin rate and decay.

 

The researchers however have found that the CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) method is promising and the team hopes to capitalize on it to produce a logical component in the short term with a long-term goal of producing graphene/spintronic-based components that will surpass solid-state devices in both speed and energy efficiency.

 

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Microchip CEO Steve Sanghi (via Microchip)


Microchip Technology, Inc., is celebrating this week, as it was just named the number one provider of 8-bit microcontrollers (MCU) globally. The title was awarded by Garner’s annual ranking publication, in its 2014 edition.

 

Microchip Technology, Inc., is an innovation giant that specializes in mixed-signal, Flash-IP and analog solutions. It has long been a leader in the microcontroller industry and although the powerhouse is celebrating its reclaim of the top spot for 8-bit MCUs, it is a leading provider of 16-bit and 32-bit MCU production as well.

 

Microchip is committed to growing its MCU technologies in all markets, including 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit product lines, and its dedication and commitment to excellence is paying off. The technology innovator was ranked the fastest growing MCU supplier of all top 10 providers in 2014. Its rate of growth was charted as double that of its competitors. With this, the company was also named one of the top 10 providers of 32-bit MCUs for the first time ever. While its stats across the MCU industry are impressive, what’s most striking is that Microchip closed a 41% revenue deficit to reclaim the stop spot from Renesas.

 

Renesas is a company resulting from the merge between NEC, Hitachi and Mitsubishi. These three companies were the leading semiconductor companies of Japan and when they merged, Microchip was knocked out of the top spot for 8-bit MCUs in 2010. At the time, Renasas’ business was 41% larger than that of Microchip, but it worked tirelessly each year, and finally won with a 10.5% advantage over the Japanese supplier in 2014.

 

MCUs are used for a number of different products, including watches, mobile phones and many digital household electronics. The need for MCUs is increasing, as the consumer market and global technologies shift toward digitization. The Internet of Things devices, “smart” household products and other digital devices will all rely on MCUs for their processing power as the demand for technologically advanced goods continues to rise – good news for Microchip.

 

Microchip offers a wide range of MCU products in its portfolio, including MCUs for analog peripherals, core independent peripherals, low-power products and more. If you’re interested in Microchip products, you can find a complete list of their solutions on their website.

 

C

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Altium’s Circuit Studio opens into what looks like a moderns CAD system, complete with a design tree. Into each project sits a collection of details about it. Click the home tab to navigate the less ‘designy’ aspects of the software. What I like most is simplistic preview of all the design files in the home screen. It boarders on tablet/smartphone level simplistic.

 

A familiar set of PCB layout tools populate the top band of the window. If familiar with any other PCB design package, or even CAD software, then the tools will feel quite familiar. However, similarity doesn’t go hand in hand with familiarity here. I followed the one and only PCB layout example on Circuit Studio’s website, since most of the critical selections I had to make were all over the place.

 

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Laying out a simple circuit, 2 LEDs, 1 resistor and power contacts was quite easy. I started in a schematic design window. I laid out the parts as simply as possible. I used the generic component, which will only place a footprint for the parts. Standard is through-hole components. Using the Altium component vault, I could have grabbed specific parts.

 

Next, I “compiled” the schematic. This will allow me to import the schematic as components in the PCB layout window. I did just that. I then placed the parts on the board. (Which, I re-shapped to look like a bow-tie. This wasn’t intended, as I was seeing how the “board shape” options work. So, I went with it.)


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After placing the components, I used the manual route option. Which I simply connected the dots. There is an auto-trace option too, but, for this simple design, I didn’t this is was necessary. I checked for errors using the “Design Rule Check” button, found none. It is done!


I switched to the “3D view” from the view tab. There you go. A design in less than 3 minutes.


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I can from here get all the necessary design files for fabrication… but I will leave this step for the next-level review of Altium’s Circuit Studio 1.0.

 


Some critiques…

 

Since this is a new program, examples are nil. On the Circuit Studio documentation page, there is a single example that explains all the steps to creating a simple PCB. I didn’t see much about multi-layer designs though.

 

I have a tendency to move the cursor to the top bar and select the tool I want to use. However, Circuit Studio keeps the last tool used active until right-click a few times or hit escape. So, as I move the cursor the view on the screen moves alone with the mouse. I just have to get used to it.


My optimism of the simplistic menu view changed after having to navigate through the menu trees to change simple settings, get library files, etc. I think this is where Circuit Studio should improve with later versions. Bring the most common setting to the top of menus, put all the rest in the background out of sight.

 

While I am at it… everyone that uses this software will do the same thing. Make a schematic, lay out a PCB, get the build files. The software should simply walk the user through those steps automatically. Instead, it leaves the used stranded with lots of little options everywhere. As I said above, not all those little options will be used.

 

Originally, I thought the design was so simple I could just lay it all out in the PCB view, skipping the schematic altogether. This proved impossible. I could place component footprints, lay tracks/traces, but it always gave me errors. So, lesson here… start with the schematic stage.

 

C

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Silicene Structure concept art (via UT at Austin)

 

While some researchers are hard at work to achieve quantum computing on a chip, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School are busy making history. The research team recently created an atom-thick transistor made from silicon particles, called silicene, which may revolutionize computer chips.

 

There had been talk about the development of silicene, but it had yet to be constructed, until recently. Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Deji Akinwande and lead researcher Li Tao successfully built the first-ever silicene chip last month. The team looked to current graphene-based chip development for guidance, but discovered a major issue at the onset – silicene was sensitive to air.

 

To circumvent this issue, Akinwande and Tao worked with Alessandro Molle of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Agrate Brianza, Italy, to construct the delicate material in an airtight space. The team was able to form a thin silicene sheet by condensing silicon vapor onto a crystalline silver block in a vacuum chamber. Once the sheet was formed, silicene atoms were placed on a thin silver sheet and covered with a layer of alumina that was one nanometer thick. Once formed, the team was able to peel the silicene sheet off of the base and move it to an oxidized-silicon substrate. The result was a functional silicene transistor that joined two metal groups of electrodes.

 

The transistor was only functional for a few minutes before crumbling due to instability in air. While the transistor’s capabilities were rather archaic, the UT team was successfully able to fabricate silicene devices for the first time ever through low-temperature manufacturing. As silicone is a common base for computer chips, the researchers are confident that the technology could be adopted relatively easily, to make for faster, low-energy digital chips.

 

The team of scientists plans to continue its research to develop a more stable silicene chip. Having a super-thin silicene transistor could incredibly enhance the speed of computing, but it isn’t without competition. Graphene-based transistors have been under development for quite some time and may also be a solution to the question of how to enhance computing capabilities. Both technologies, however, may fail to surpass the potential power of the Università degli Studi di Pavia in Italy’s newest quantum chip. The chip features entanglement capabilities, potentially allowing an entire network to function as one unit. The new technology may also make cyber threats a thing of the past.

 

At present, emerging chip technologies are all still in need of further development before they are ready to hit the market. No one knows which technology will prevail, but it certainly is exciting.

 

The Cockrell School’s Southwest Academy of Nanoelectronics, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office and the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies Programme funded the University of Texas at Austin-based project.

 

C

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Photon Entanglement Ring Resonator visualization (via Davide Grassani, Stefano Azzini, Marco Liscidini, Matteo Galli, Michael J. Strain, Marc Sorel, J. E. Sipe, and Daniele Bajoni)


As IBM readies its brain-like computer-on-a-chip for mass production, the Università degli Studi di Pavia in Italy is making history, as it just built the very first chip capable of entangling individual light particles. The new technology may inspire a host of novel computing innovations and quite possibly put an end to cyber threats as we known them.

 

Entanglement is an essential quantum effect that enables the instant connection between two particles, regardless of distance. This means that anything done to one particle will be instantaneously done to another particle, even if it is at the other end of the universe. The entanglement of photons isn’t a new technology, but researchers at the Università degli Studi di Pavia, including co-author on the paper Daniele Bajoni, made history in successfully scaling the technology down to fit on a chip.

 

Researchers have been trying to scale down entanglement technology for years. Typically, the technology is harnessed through specialized crystals, but even the smallest set-up was still a few millimeters thick. Bajoni and his team decided to try a different approach and instead built what they call micro-ring resonators onto an ordinary silicon chip. The resonators embed coils into silicon wafers that capture and re-release photons. The design results in successful entanglement at an unparalleled width of 20 microns, or one-tenth the thickness of a strand of human hair.

 

The technology has huge implications for computing, as entanglement can exponentially increase computing power and speed. Computing communication can become instantaneous, as can other communication technologies. Tweeting at the speed of light, anyone? While these potentialities for advancements in computing are impressive, the biggest impact it may make is in inhibiting cyber threats.

In entanglement, particles act as one cohesive unit. Hackers operate by identifying weaknesses in computer and information systems and exploiting them. If computing and information systems, however, operate as one cohesive unit, there would be no way through which a hacker could breach the system, thus eliminating cyber threats. Sorry Dshell analysts.

 

The new quantum chip is infinitely more powerful than even the most cutting-edge supercomputers around today. It has the potential power to revolutionize communication, computing and cybersecurity, by enabling the adoption of quantum technologies, such as quantum cryptography and quantum information technologies. When we can expect to see this technology rule supreme, however, is another subject entirely.

 

Bajoni believes the technology is the connector through which innovation technologies can begin harnessing quantum power on a small scale, but others disagree. Some believe ring resonators must be produced on a nanoscale first to compete with up-and-coming nano-processors. Only time will tell, but our bet is cybersecurity stakeholders, at the least, will begin looking into the chip’s development. Until quantum mobile communication is available, however, you’ll just have to upload your social media photos like everybody else, 3-4GBs at a time.

 

C

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PowerBar installed (via Andice Labs)

 

If you've ever thought of designing a BeagleBone-based vigilante robot that fights crime in the rural Mojave Desert using only battery power, now you can with Andice Lab's PowerBar. The PowerBar was designed exclusively for the BeagleBone open hardware computer and enables it to function fully on DC, or battery, power. Portability is inspiring.

 

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PowerBar attached to BeagleBone (via Andice Labs)

 

The PowerBar is a "micro cape" power supply that provides the low-power BeagleBone (SBC) computer with enough energy to run from anywhere, even in outer space (cue Twilight Zone theme song). The battery pack runs 5V of energy to the computer and even offers 15V over-voltage protection and reverse-voltage protection to protect against surges. It's a simple power pack that works for both BeagleBone White and Black.

 

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BeagleBone White (via BeagleBoard)

 

BeagleBoard's BeagleBone is a single board computer based on Linux that runs Android and Ubuntu. The White version comes equipped with an AM335x 720MHz ARM processor, 256MB DDR2 RAM, 3D graphics chip, ARM Cortex-M3 and 2 PRU 32-bit RISC CPU's. BeagleBone Black was made with developers in mind and features double the power, with 512 DDR2 RAM, 4GB 8-bit built-in EMMC flash memory and a NEON point accelerator. Both computers offer USB, Ethernet and HDMI connectivity. It also runs Cloud9 IDE and Debian. What makes it unique is its open hardware design.

 

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BeagleBone Black (via BeagleBone)

 

Open hardware designs take open-source to a whole new level. Not only are software platforms completely open to developers, but designs are too. That means you can buy a BeagleBone Black, or you can go directly to the BeagleBoard website and find the instructions for building your very own. Open hardware is developed for the love of innovation and raising up the next generation of tinkerers. My only critique of this cape is that I could do the same with an external cell-phone battery backup. Countless battery bricks out there too.

 

The development of the PowerBar now allows us to take our innovations on-the-go. Now remote locations all over the world can still gain access to the unscripted power of BeagleBone. If you take the lead from one tinkerer, you can power your very own brewery using the mini computer. Even the pirates in the Mojave Desert would raise a glass to that.

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The cPulse is seen in action being used as a home rave device (via Codlight)


The French company, Codlight Inc. is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter to produce one of the first fully customizable LED Smartphone cases. While the prospect of becoming a walking, breathing billboard advertisement doesn't particularly appeal to me, I must give Codlight Inc. credit for the multitude of features and uses it offers.

 

The company certainly left no stone unturned when they programmed the cPulse smartphone case for a variety of uses. The cPulse LED case can act as everything from a notification banner, to a homemade rave device, to a form of light therapy. This feature can also be used to mimic a good old-fashioned analog clock radio.

 

The cPulse uses a panel of 128 high-efficiency LED lights powered by the Smartphone battery, and controlled by a custom program which allows the user to specify different commands, modes, notifications, and create customizable light shows set to music.

These light displays sap battery power at a rate of about 7% per hour so you may want to have quarters on hand if you need to call someone on short notice. - Remember payphones?

 

The LED light panel and the smartphone case  are 3D printed by Sketchfab and Sculpteo. Kickstarter backers who fund at least $79 to this Codlight initiative will receive a kit that will allow them to 3D print their very own cPulse case. Donors who are a bit more generous, funding at least $89 will receive a fully functioning cPulse case delivered to their home.

 

At the moment, the case is specifically made for the Android 4.4 smartphone, however if the project gets off of its feet, its easy customization could allow anyone to own a cPulse.

 

I must say, I am still pretty impressed by the functionality of this device, even though it is entirely unnecessary and a product of a culture of consumption and excess.

 

For now, Codlight Inc. is asking for no paltry sum, with a pledged goal of $350,000. They are currently nowhere near the goal, but still have about a month left to raise over a quarter of a million dollars.

 

If you are obsessed with bright, shiny objects and want to blind and dazzle those around you, you can get your very own cPulse from Kickstarter.



C

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A real-life Star Trek communicator for $99 (via OnBeep)


OnBeep is a San Francisco start-up company that recently unveiled its Onyx communicator to technocrats in New York, sparking buzz. OnBeep is only one year old, but they raised $6.25 million in early 2014 to develop their Onyx device: something that lets you communicate with groups of people at the touch of a button.

 

The working, finished product was only unveiled early last month, but Business Insider, CNN, Forbes, and Wired already have something to say about it. The design is meant to be worn on any type of clothing, handbags, belts, or even put inside your pocket. The ease of talking at the push of a button was inspired by Star Trek, so your LARPing adventures can be fortified by this device for sure.

 

In practice, the Onyx seems like an expensive, stylish speaker phone in the style of a walkie-talkie. In terms of hardware and design, it basically is exactly that. But the co-founder, Jessie Robbins notes that it does more: it allows a group of people to work together and stay focused on the task at hand. Both Robbins, and the OnBeep CTO, Greg Albrecht, have experience in emergency situations as firefighters and EMTs. Hence, the Onyx really makes sense when you need to communicate real-time with a group of colleagues and can’t afford to waste time messing around with a phone.

 

The cool thing about the Onyx is that in thoeryit allows you to collaborate with anyone around the world. For now, radio frequency regulations mean that people outside the US can't technically buy the Onyx. Considering the amount of funding OnBeep has raised, it seems like a matter of time before the Onyx is available everywhere. The device can currently be pre-ordered for expected release in December 2014. The current cost of the Onyx is $99 which seems a bit steep for an extension of your smartphone, but I can see how it can be super helpful depending on your job environment.

 

I can certainly see businesses adopting this technology as a new part of team management: cutting the time and space between employees. Perhaps this is why so many business gurus are interested in the technology since it enables people to work together, real-time, outside of boring meetings.

 

The Onyx works by using Bluetooth to sync to your smartphone. In order to take advantage of Onyx's capabilities, you must download the OnBeep smartphone app which is currently available for iPhone and Android systems. The Onyx then takes advantage of wireless data/WiFi to contact your networks and stay connected. The app allows you to manage your groups, see who's available, and see where every member of your team is located – if you are worried that Tom forgot the dip, for instance.

 

You can talk to up to 15 people at once with the Onyx, and you can create as many groups as you like. The platform works regardless of network carrier, however it is only compatible with iPhone and Android at the moment.

 

C

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Blueshift Hydrogen (via Blueshift)

 

If you thought the ‘80s mobile boombox was out of style, guess again. Blueshift recently announced the launch of its portable, supercapacitor-powered, Bluetooth speaker, Hydrogen – your new best friend.

 

The Blueshift Hydrogen speaker is changing the nature of mobile devices. The portable Bluetooth speaker is powered by supercapacitors, and while it only takes five minutes to fully charge, the 4lb speaker can play for more than 4 hours at 80 percent volume. Connect it to your computer, cell phone, or any other Bluetooth-capable device and let the beat drop.

 

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Inside the Hydrogen speaker (via Blueshift)

 

Blueshift’s Hydrogen sits at 9” x 8” x 4.” What it lacks in stature it makes up for in sound. The beach-friendly box speaker features a 3” full-range driver, Class-D amplifier and volume controls, housed in a bamboo shell – a wood which really vibrates well for music., All of the speaker’s parts are custom-made in America and the entire unit is plastic-free. The real secret, however, are the supercapacitors.

 

While batteries store chemical energy, supercapacitors house energy in the form of a physical, electric field. This allows for the technology to charge rapidly and remain extremely durable. For example, the supercapacitors that power the Hydrogen speaker charge in five minutes and are guaranteed to function at optimal energy levels for up to half a million charges. If the same technology is applied to mobile devices everywhere (or any electronic devices, for that matter), your local energy company would be very upset.

 

The Hydrogen speaker is open-source and includes a Bluetooth A2DP and 1/8” wired input, 1/8” cable and AC charger in the box. Blueshift claims that the Hydrogen speaker is built to last. All of the parts are easily replaceable and/or upgradeable and all of the parts, from the components to the bamboo shell itself, are durable. With this, since the project is open-source, Blueshift welcomes new upgrades and enhancements from consumers. While supercapacitors are still more expensive than traditional batteries, having a practical way to use the technology really opens the doors for makers to change the way we charge. 

Blueshift has designed a number of other speakers, currently on presale via Crowd Supply, including a subwoofer, entitled Iron Subwoofer, preamp and home sound system. All of the speakers feature bamboo and the signature Blueshift simplistic design. While the designs are open hardware, the retail versions are proprietary.

 

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Blueshift Product Line (via Blueshift)

 

Blueshift is currently running a crowd-funding campaign via Crowd Supply. The Hydrogen speaker will retail for $400, but is on sale for early backers at $330. All of the company’s speakers are on presale, but the Hydrogen may be the best bang for your buck. Cool Material was quoted saying that the portable speaker might be the best deal in the market, when factoring charge time vs. playback.

 

The crowd funding campaign is open for two more weeks, so if you’re considering buying one, act now. Honestly, who couldn’t use a portable speaker? So, hurry and support their effort!


Sure, they’re wonderfully useful at morning board meetings, but they’re epically awesome on the beach. C’mon man. Drop that bass.


C

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The RN4020 Bluetooth Smart Module is Microchip Technology’s, first Bluetooth 4.1 Low Energy module. It comes industry-certified and functions completely as a stand alone or in conjunction with any microcontroller.

 

The module not only functional immediately but also carries various international certifications right out of the box, including certification from Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

 

The RN4020 Bluetooth module also comes with the Microchip Low-energy Data Profile pre-installed, enabling immediate compatibility across the BTLE network. It is also stack-on-board and can either connect directly to Microchip’s line of PIC MCUs with a UART interface (or any microcontroller with a UART interface) and it can operate independently for basic uses, such as the collection and transmission of data.

 

It’s the first of its kind at Microchip and the micro tech giant hopes to provide developers with an easy solution for the next generation of wireless products that will eat up less power.

 

Microchip hopes that its RN4020 revolutionizes the development of Internet of Things devices by providing energy-efficient access to Bluetooth technology on a chip. If MCU-powered devices gain access to Bluetooth, they can revolutionize the industry, enhancing a wide range of products, from consumables to medical devices.

 

Imagine if pacemakers, for example, began utilizing Bluetooth technology. The device would not only save the life of its host, but could even transmit critically important data to doctors, such as technical malfunctions and abnormalities. There are a lot of requirements for on patient products including FDA approval; off the shelf Bluetooth product are not necessarily certified for use in medical care.

 

The RN4020 LE Smart module comes preloaded with useful profiles, such as MLDP, Bluetooth SIG low-energy, public and private profiles via the ASCII command interface.

 

The RN4020 also comes equipped with a PCB antenna, capable of 7 dBm transmission and -92.5 dBm receiving sensitivity over 300ft. The module itself is 11.5 x 19.5 x 2.5 mm and will retail to manufacturers and developers at $6.78 each, sold in quantities of 1000 units.

 

C

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A prototype of the FreFlow gone fashion accessory which may become a ‘must-have’ for concerts. (via SONY)


Sony may be bringing another risky product to market that may sink instead of swim. However, their prototype tested at concert venues was a success, so it seems the synchronizable glowing wristband may soon hit markets in the USA.

 

The new product is a riff on their FreFlow glow pen which takes the form of a wristband fashion accessory. The basic idea is that the LED equipped bracelets will flash colors in unison with the performer’s master lights. Hence, it is basically the ultimate rave gear.

 

Concert- goers went crazy for the FreFlow technology when it was tested by the Japanese Rock band, Fuji Fabric on October 24th, 2012. The FreFlow also allowed concert goers to manually change the color of their lights to fit their mood.

 

It seems that this technology was a big hit during the concert because it give a feeling of collectivism with the performers and audience. However, who knows how a capitalistic, individualistic society (yes I mean us)will judge these unison rave bracelets.

 

The main concerns are also the logistics of these products as there would need to be someone controlling the remote-controlled master wireless transmitter and concerts would have to support the technology. This provides many barriers as concert venues would probably have to buy thousands of these little gadgets and pass them out to concert attendees; which could happen. But, then the venue would have to get the bracelets back which is less likely to happen as attendees may want a free souvenir.

 

Another market strategy could be that people would buy them and concert venue can have the technology available for use. However, it kind-of ruins the feeling of collective euphoria to distinctly separate the haves from the have-nots.

 

Whatever strategy Sony takes to bring these gadgets to market, I am sure the world will learn to live with, or without them.

 

 

C

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Microchip Technology Inc., recently announced a new line of eXtreme Low Power PIC microcontroller that are more secure, more cost effective and feature faster throughput. Your home phone technology will never be the same.

 

Microcontrollers are tiny computers that are programmed for very specific functions, such as running our household appliances. They are also very unique, in that they must run on extremely low power and are expected to last for more than a decade or two.

 

From running the microwave and home phone to powering many emerging products within the Internet of Things, these cheap, simplistic chips power much of the world around us. Because of their importance, Mircrochip, a leading manufacturer of microcontrollers, decided to up its game-on-a-chip with its new XLP line, the PIC24F ‘GB2’ family.

 

The PIC24F line features a hardware crypto engine, One-Time-Programmable passcode storage and Random Number Generator for increased security. It also runs on less energy while in sleep mode, in which MCUs remain more than 90 percent of the time.

 

The PIC24F microcontroller line also features up to 128KB Flash and 8KB RAM hardware in packages that vary from 28 to 44-pin. Microchip says its line is ideal for IoT sensor nodes, security systems and units with keyless access. The microcontroller ‘giant’ also claims the GB2 line allows for faster throughput, longer battery life (180 µA/MHz Run currents and 18 nA Sleep currents), more secure data and lower cost.

 

Microchip is convinced its new nanotechnology will have a large impact within the world of the IoT. With enhanced security, PIC24F microcontrollers may find their way into the growing industry of home automation. Also, with longer battery life and less energy consumption, the PIC24F chip may become a favorite among pacemaker manufacturers too.

 

PIC24F GB2 chips will work seamlessly with Microchip’s entire line of programs and tools for developers. The chip will sell with and without USB access and will be available to manufacturers in SOIC, SSOP, SPDIP and QFN packages starting at $1.30 each when purchased in volume.

 

While the new microcontrollers will last longer and consume less power, it is often not the microchip, but the hardware of a device, that fails us long before the 20-year mark. Microchip told me during an interview at Sensor Expo 2014, they are definitely not expanding into the mobile (smartphone) industry. However, Microchip continued that they may find a way to extend the life of our household appliances then they will really be in business. Here’s hoping.


 

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Trinity College Dublin researchers produce graphene in quantity using mechanical exfoliation.

 

Just about everyone knows that the 1-atom thick wonder material, graphene, is poised to take over the world of electronics. Its electrical properties alone would allow manufacturers to build CPUs that could run in the 100GHz range, that’s how unusually great the material is. The only problem is, we do not know when this will happen due in part because it has always been difficult and expensive to manufacture the material in bulk.


Current methods of graphene production include reduction processes (usually in oxide form), sonication (graphene oxide film applied to a DVD and burning it in a DVD writer) and heating silicon carbide to high pressures (among a handful of other methods). The trend of producing graphene using these slow and inefficient methods may be over with, thanks to some clever researchers from Trinity College Dublin’s AMBER department.


Their method of producing the material in bulk is based on the first technique pioneered in 2010- using adhesive tape to grab layers of graphene, otherwise known as the mechanical exfoliation method. Instead of using ‘Scotch Tape’ to grab flakes of graphene, the team used a stabilizing fluid mixed with the material and fed it into a shear-mixer. The mixer shears off sheets of graphene at a sufficient size that qualifies at ‘industrial levels’, claiming that their exfoliation method can be achieved using a few millimeters of liquid up to hundreds of liters and more. This breakthrough could open the door to manufacturing graphene on enormous scales at reduced costs, allowing electronics manufacturers to incorporate the material into their next-gen products.


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Will graphene allow us to truly have a flexible phone? Samsung thinks so.

 

One of those electronics manufacturers is already eying the material for truly flexible electronics. Graphene beats out silicon for electron mobility 100-times over and is more durable than steel, has incredible heat conductibility (meaning it dissipates heat very well) and flexible to boot, which is why Samsung is eyeing it for flexible displays, wearable computing and mobile devices.


The tech giant has collaborated with Sungkyunkwan University to develop a synthesis method of producing the material in bulk. Unlike the AMBER department’s exfoliation technique, Samsung has adopted the multi-crystal synthesis method to synthesis ‘large-area’ graphene into a single crystal on a semiconductor. Multi-crystal synthesis tends to reduce the electrical and mechanical properties of graphene, however the collaborative effort at developing the process of depositing a single crystal on a semiconductor at wafer-scale sizes has allowed the graphene to retain its properties.


To put it simply, their method of fabricating the wonder-material results in sheets of graphene at wafer size, making it possible to mass produce new electronics in the near future rather than decades from now. While the prospects for incorporating graphene into everyday electronics is becoming a reality, powering those devices is a whole different story but may be possible using something the Earth has an abundance of.


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Chinese scientists use graphene and saltwater to produce an electrical charge.

 

Powering our mobile devices is typically done through a rechargeable Li-ion battery but that may soon change, thanks to some ingenious Chinese scientists. Humans have been using water for power as a renewable resource through the use of hydroelectric dams, however to gain a powerful enough charge, the dams need to be large. This presents a problem when the technology is scaled down, as generating electricity at small levels is wholly inefficient.


To that end, scientists have been investigating grabbing a charge at nano-scale levels using nano-structures. Scientists have found that a significant charge could be garnered by passing ionic fluids through a pressure gradient, however even that is limiting due to that pressure gradient needed. As luck would have it, the Chinese science team found that passing a saltwater droplet over a sheet of graphene could produce an electric charge without the need for a pressure gradient.


The team found that when a droplet of saltwater sat static on the material, they carried an equal charge on both sides, however when they slid the droplet from one side to the other, it generated measurable voltage along the way. In fact, they found the faster the droplet moved, the more voltage it creates! While the initial generated charge was only around 30-milivolts, it presents future options to power our mobile devices if it can be refined and developed upon. Until then, we will still have to use the tried and true Li-ion to listen to music, watch our favorite shows and converse with our friends.


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California’s BPPE sets its sights on coding bootcamps (via stock)


Education is one of the biggest issues the younger generations are facing today. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the US is lagging far behind other countries when it comes to the sciences, math and even reading (based on the 2012 PISA exam). These statistics will undoubtedly limit what jobs will be available to the students of today, a good portion of which will be in the technology sector with a focus on coding and programming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for healthcare IT and mobile networks professionals will, in turn, promote an increased demand for programmers, systems analysts and support technicians to the tune of 22% of those currently employed by the year 2020. In an effort to keep those potential jobs from going offshore, the US government, tech companies and academic institutions have initiated several programs that bring the computer sciences to classrooms and other learning centers. Several nonprofits, including Code.org, Khan Academy and MIT’s Scratch have sprung into existence since 2012 to give kids a leg-up on the skills needed to land one of those tech jobs by providing the necessary tools online. The popularity of those programs has invaded classrooms all over the globe (programming has become part of the sciences in some schools) and as a result, has spawned a slew of independent programming and coding schools in the US. This also brought on the rise of ‘coding bootcamps’ where students get a crash course on programming in weeks rather than months or years. As those programs have risen in popularity among high school kids, it also caught the attention of regulators who have recently taken a closer look at how those camps are run and what classification they fall under as an academic institution.

 

In recent weeks, California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) has issued ‘cease and desist’ orders to several coding camps, including Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor and App Academy (along with a few others) in an effort to bring those institutions up to code. The BPPE is an offshoot of the California Department of Consumer Affairs (NOT the Department of Education) and is tasked at regulating private institutions of post or secondary education, which includes vocational schools and other academic institutions.  The problems seem to be that those programming bootcamps did not (or were not aware of the need to) register or apply for a license with the BPPE and are therefore not in compliance with regulations and guidelines set forth by the regulatory commission. Those bootcamps were issued the C&D orders, which stated either they comply with the guidelines or be forced to shut down and face a hefty fine of $50,000. To get a better understanding of the situation, online programs like Code.org are free to anyone who wants to learn the basics of programming while the coding bootcamps charge anywhere from $10,000 and upwards for a 10-week full-throttle course in specific programming languages. Regulation and oversight when it comes to that kind of money isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however the regulations set down by the BPPE are somewhat archaic in nature when it comes to the digital age. For example, if the institution offers a degree program (which most of those bootcamps do), they must have a library and other learning resources, complete with a professional librarian or information specialist. Suffice it to say, the Application for Approval to get those bootcamps up to regulation is staggering to say the least, which is putting those institutions under immense pressure as they attempt to continue to operate.

 

It should be noted that some of these programs incorporate diversity within their respective communities. For instance, Hackbright specializes in teaching women to code in an effort to gain a competitive edge in the job market. Bootcamps can also help many unemployed Californians find jobs, which could only bolster the state’s ailing economy. Many coding institutions in the state however, fear that they will become bankrupt and forced to close as the application process can take up to 18 months and during that time, no classes can be taken and prospective students cannot enroll, which costs the institutions their income. It should also be noted that those coding bootcamps usually have a job-placement program in conjunction with many of the top tech companies in the nation, such as Google, Facebook and even Microsoft, which many students will miss out on if these camps go under. Most of the institutions that received the cease and desist letters are working to comply with the regulations to get back to the business of teaching, which consists of a $5,000 application fee, course catalog and a performance fact sheet on student progress (among other things). While some may feel that these camps are being unjustly singled out, others feel that regulation is necessary in order to deter fraud, such as implying a ‘guaranteed job after graduation’ (only the military can do that). The question is, does this signal an end to the ever-growing coding camps or will it only serve to solidify their credibility and could that scrutiny transfer over to schools that have implemented their own coding courses?

 

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