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(Left) Giga-pixel camera concept (Right) Assembly of the camera prototype (via Duke University)


A collaboration of electrical engineers from Duke University, University of Arizona, University of California (San Diego) and the Distant Focus Corp have recently designed a super HD 50 gigapixel camera. That’s an astounding 50,000 megapixels of clarity (compared to 8 to 40 of most consumer devices), 5 times better than 20/20 vision for humans! A team of engineers designed the camera, dubbed AWARE2, using 98 (14 megapixel) separate individual micro-cameras. All operate independently, with a monocentric objective lens that provides a 1200 X 400 (degree) horizontal field of view (FOV) at the center. Light is gathered by the centered monocentric lens and routed to each of the micro-cameras.



Aware2 functional concept (via Duke University)


Each camera takes a picture of its field of view and then uses an on-board GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) and specialized software to piece all the images together. As it stands right now, AWARE2 measures 30 inches square and 20 inches in width. However, the camera’s themselves only encompass roughly 3% of the overall camera while the rest of the space is dedicated to housing the GPU, circuit-boards and cooling system. The team states that future versions of the camera will obviously be reduced in size as the miniaturization of electronics decreases over time.


The AWARE2 is only capable of taking black and white photos and video at a paltry 1 giga-pixel and 3 frames per second. That is not the end of the story, the team is already working on a revised version of the AWARE camera that will be capable of taking color photos and video at over 10 giga-pixels. With future miniaturization, the team believes they can push the camera’s resolution all the up to, and possibly over, 50 giga-pixels, which translates to ½ of a terabyte of data every second! The engineers also state that a commercialized AWARE camera system will be available, and affordable, within five years for the general public while much more powerful versions will be allotted to the military (as the project came about through DARPA).



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(Left) Back To The Future time machine settings (Right) Ford Traffic Jam Assist sensor diagram


So, Marty McFly arrived to the future just a couple of days ago. And although I have not seen any hovercrafts of flying cars around, it is assuring to know that the Ford Motor Company, along with others, is striving to produce a car that will drive itself during the worst time of any drivers life: traffic.



Automation of the car has happened in steps, from the automatic transmission to self parking cars. Now, Ford Motor Company is developing a system called Traffic Jam Assist (TJA) which is an automated semi-autonomous system that takes over during slow bumper-to-bumper traffic.



TJA uses battery sensors, cameras, laser-range finders, 2.4 GHz microwave radar and ultrasonic transducers to make the car’s computer aware of its changing surroundings.



The system is engaged by simply pressing a button on the dashboard after coming to a stop during slow traffic. The car then calls on its sensors to see lane markings, and gage distances and velocities of surrounding cars so that when traffic moves again, the driver does not need to touch any controls. The car even recognizes cars changing lanes and sudden large objects in front of the vehicle. Once a specific traffic speed increases the system will notify the driver to take over once again. The cut-off speeds are still being researched by Ford.


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Ford concept video pic. Angry driver on the left. TJA using driver on the right enjoying coffee. (Via Ford)


Hands-off traffic driving technology give drivers a bit of free time during tedious driving conditions. Users could make use of all sorts of gadgets included in the car like the Ford-Sync Bluetooth software or simply enjoy some extra time to relax and catch up on some reading. It is estimated that commuters spend 30% of their time in heavy-traffic, so this possible free time is not something to sneeze about. However, it is hard to imagine giving up control of the car and reading a book while sipping coffee. Simulations predict that if only 1 out 4 cars have TJA, car rides could be reduced by 37% and might also reduce the number of delays by 20%. Recent tests have shown the system to be fully functional, but Ford and  other car manufacturers must be assured that their critically thinking  software is as safe as it could possibly be. It currently does not take  into account animals, pedestrians or cyclist.



TJA technology will launch commercially between 2015 and 2020. For those readers who are not Ford fans, BMW, GM, Audi and Mercedes are also working on similar tech to be released around the same time.



This technology will put us a step closer to fully automated cars that communicate with each other, allowing them to drive at fuel efficient speeds, safely in groups. In this situation, safety means developing software that is protected against (illegal) hackers.



All of these efforts by car manufacturers are being encouraged by government agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ford has that going for them. Lower emission, stress-free traffic and a bit of extra free time are very well within our near foreseeable future.




Dave Young

Houston is a Home to Makers

Posted by Dave Young Jun 29, 2012

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Last week I was in Houston launching the newest branch of BlueStamp Engineering (BSE) and in addition to checking out Houston's famous running club and heading down to Galveston, I HAD to see what the makers in Houston are up to.


2012-06-18_17-43-21_872 (Small).jpgAs early as Tuesday my BSE students had been tackling their projects faster than anticipated, so I had to head out for extra parts.  A staff member suggested I check out Electronic Parts Outlet,or EPO for short.  I must say, it was impressive.  Even with the decline of surplus stores nation-wide, they were well-stocked AND well organized!  Their parts bins were setup so a casual stroll down the aisle would allow you to see the bulk of what was offered. While it is true that there are great online stores to buy parts in small quantities, there is something about getting a power resistor the same way you would buy a stick of gum.


In addition to having parts, they had used equipment for reasonable prices (although the selection left something to be desired – lots of single supplies but no triple output power supply).  And for someone just looking to throw a project together, they had loads of different kits.  After all, the idea of being able to pop down to EPO for a quick kit when a child shows interest makes Houston seem much more pleasant than the climate would suggest.


Happy with my EPO outing, I couldn't refuse the suggestion of checking out the local hackerspace, TXRX.  They have an open house every Friday for members, friends, and strangers from other cities to come by and check it out.  I was floored.  Even though they have only been running for ~3 years, the space was excellent, the members were active, and I saw no fewer than 3 projects being worked on.  One was an electric skateboard being tested that very night (see the video below)!   They also had a bunch of visitors which was likely related to the fact that they had food for all (donation-based buffet style).




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The space was well done, despite not having as much square footage as they would want.  There were several community benches that were clean and organized, which is no small feat!  They had a generous membership base, which provided the slew of equipment for general use.  The bench lighting consisted of florescent tubes that were suspended by counterweights, so the user could lower it to a few inches off of the table for precision work, or high above the table for large projects.  When not wrist-deep in a project, a member could hang out on the couch, cook some food outside on the grill or in the full kitchen (!!!), or dream up their next project at the conference table.  And as a personal favorite feature there was a sweet bike shop in a second room, again putting a new face on Houston from what an afternoon jog might otherwise draw me to conclude.


2012-06-22_21-38-34_814 (Small).jpgTo top off the evening, on my way out I had a chance to see a very unique piece of Houston: Lucha Mobile. This impressive van was not just an intricate mobile art project – but included a pop-up wrestling ring on the roof.  Never to be disappointed by art merged with functionality, I took an instant shine to the folks working on the masterpiece.  Action figures on the hood, custom lighting, and hand-painted everything resulted in what I'm sure is the life of any tailgate.  Especially once the cooler comes out.


All a person needs to get into making is a source of parts (preferably in a storefront), and a solid community to guide them on their path.  Houston has done both of those things wonderfully, and after living in Denver, Cleveland, and Chicago, I'm impressed.


Check out more photos here!


Speech-to-speech translation concept (via U-STAR)



While it is not exactly Star Trek’s universal translator, U-STAR’s soon-to-be-released translator app looks to be pretty impressive. Developed by the Universal Speech Translation Advanced Research Consortium, the Speech to Speech Translation app (called VoiceTra4U-M) uses the ITU-T standardization protocols F.745 and H.625 that lets users speak to others in a multitude of languages such as English, Japanese and Hindi. According to U-STAR, up to 5 users can converse on a single device by face-to-face or remotely over the phone either by audio (with a slight delay) or through text for the hearing impaired.


The translation for each language is done remotely through U-STAR institute servers located in 23 different countries around the globe; meaning for those who speak Chinese, a dedicated server responsible for only that language provides speech recognition, machine translation, and acoustic synthesis for that language alone (this is the reason for the slight delay). The application was initially designed as a way for tourists to communicate to people in foreign countries where it has an 80 to 90% accuracy of translation. This is because the software, developed using Julius (speech recognition decoder) and Sphinx 4 (open-source speech recognition software), was able to learn certain words and phrases that were associated with tourist activities such as hotel/restaurant locations and directions.


Obviously using words and phrases not associated with tourist activities makes those percentages drop, so be careful at what you say otherwise describing your pet cat may have an adverse translation. This is to be expected, as the app is still in its testing phase and will continue to be so, even through the Olympic Games, until approximately March 31, 2013.



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Phase-change non-volatile memory structure concept (via University of Cambridge)


Chemical engineers from the University of Cambridge recently released a paper detailing a significant increase in speed for phase-change non-volatile memory (PCRAM). Phase-change memory has a distinct advantage over flash memory, it can write bits faster without the need to erase huge chunks of data beforehand. Degradation (or cell damage) is also a factor for both mediums over time; however phase-change memory can withstand roughly 100,000,000 write cycles as opposed to flash memory’s 5,000 writes per sector before noticeable damage starts to occur. PCRAM works by passing an electric current over chalcogenide glass making it transition between two states when heat is applied, crystalline to amorphous. This transition happens almost instantaneously which gives the memory an increase in speed over conventional flash memory. However, most of today’s PCRAM modules crystallize slower than it takes to write 1-bit of data for their DRAM counterparts (1 to 10 nano-seconds), not to mention that the heat needed to crystalize PCRAM tends to transition back to its organized state at room temperature (data erasure over time).


In an effort to overcome these limitations, the UOC’s engineers have figured out a way to not only counter the effect of data-loss at room temperature but also increase the speed of PCRAM, as well. To achieve their results, the team was able to achieve the PCRAM’s stability at room temperature using a weak electric field of 0.3 volts generated by 2 titanium electrodes placed in between the germanium, antimony and tellurium layers of the phase-change medium. They then found that they only needed a 500 picosecond jolt of 1 volt in order to cause crystallization, which is 10-times faster than previous PCRAM modules. They tested their findings by using a 6.5V jolt to continually erase data and found the PCRAM to be stable and damage resistant over the course of 10,000 re-writes. The team states that this development "could pave the way for mobile devices that could transfer non-volatile data at speeds over 1GHz." (0.3V refresh isn't quite "non-volatile," but it is a beginning.)



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Gate-tuning of graphene plasmons, concept and experimental images (via University of California & Nature)


Graphene is back on the scene once again. Researchers from the University of California have found that they could use the super-material to turn electron waves both on and off by using a simple circuit. The team, led by Professor Dimitri Basov, made the discovery by stripping a 1-atom thick single layer of graphene from graphite. They then rubbed the material onto silicon-oxide chips where they then fired an infra-red laser onto the surface of the chips which created waves of electrons. They then measured the length and height of the oscillations (plasmons) produced using an atomic-force microscope. The team found that when the electrons reached the edge of the graphene surface they reflected back to the point of origin where they then would either add to, or cancel out, the subsequent waves.


The oscillation of plasmons resulted in a pattern which resulted in determining their wavelength and amplitude frequencies. The researchers found that when the connected a pair of electrodes to both the graphene and silicon layers they could alter these patterns which then formed an electrical circuit (or tunable plasmonic device). Theoretically, this method could be used to transmit data through extremely tight spaces where light wave-lengths (hundreds of nano-meters long) can’t squeeze through such as fiber-optics. That would mean that we could have super-efficient and ultrafast processors that would make today’s generation of CPU’s look archaic in comparison.


Another team from Spain, led by Frank Koppens, was successful in creating the same circuit; however they used a gas process to create their graphene sheet instead of shaving it off of graphite. As scientists continue to develop and create new technologies using the super-material, it makes me wonder what else might graphene be used to accomplish.





Students from various Universities’ around the nation (US) are invited by the US Air Force to design a way for soldiers to climb tall obstacles without the use of grappling hooks. The teams designed some pretty compelling contraptions, some of which involved the use of robots to secure a rope at the top of a 90ft wall for soldiers to ascend. However, one team in particular chose a different route all together by equipping vacuum technology to the soldiers themselves to secure a line at the top of the obstacle.


Students from Utah State University, called the ‘Ascending Aggies’, designed what they call the Personal Vacuum Assisted Climber (PVAC) for their entry in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Design Challenge. Looking like a G.I. Joe action figure accessory, the device enables the wearer to use vacuum assisted suction cups that can adhere to Stucco, glass and rock to help them climb obstacles. The system  consists of three principal components which include the vacuum-ascender, a rope-ascender or winch and an adhesive anchor. The PVAC uses two high-powered vacuum motors (make and model unknown) that generate 4.5lbs of force which is able to accommodate loads from 500 to 700lbs.


The vacuum’s hoses connect to two large suction pads that connect with rubberized gaskets, which are able to conform to just about any surface in most conditions. The pads are fitted with cables that connect to a pair of foot braces that help the wearer climb more easily almost like climbing a ladder. After the user reaches the top of the obstacle, they then use a super-adhesive to secure an anchor and rope that’s capable of holding 300lbs securely. Both vacuums are powered by batteries (unknown as to what type) housed in ice-cream buckets situated on top of each vacuum respectively.


The design took first place in the Air Force’s competition taking a $100,000 US award to streamline the PVAC system for future testing. After watching the video, it’s apparent that the PVAC system is not entirely tactical as it generates an enormous amount of sound which would tip-off people quite some distance away, so they will have to incorporate some kind of silencing system or muffler. Even with the sound problem the system still works and I would love to try it out.




Update: It appears that the Aggies were not the first to create this device, but took the award anyway:

From earlier this year:


From a year ago:


Chip in a pill prototype by ZetrOZ (via ZetrOZ)


Ultrasound is a cornerstone of medical applications. It's in use inside and outside of the human body today. Though this is the case for decades, it is with the shrinking technology that is allowing for innovative uses never thought possible. One such innovation may soon change the daily routines of millions of patients that require daily injections.



Previously, medicines that must take effect quickly, such as insulin, could not be taken by mouth because of slow absorption rates. Now, a team from the biomedical engineering company ZetrOZ LLC is developing a device called the uPill that uses ultrasound to increase the absorption rate of medicines by a factor of 10. The device greeted the world at the IdeaStream Conference at MIT in May.



The method works by heating skin tissue with ultrasound waves and making cell membranes more permeable. The medicine is applied as a coating on the pill and, as it moves through the gastrointestinal tract, the uPill goes to work. The pill then passes through the entire digestive system and could even be reused…(in theory).



The method works best with protein-based medicines like insulin and some vaccines and cancer drugs. Animal tests are underway to ensure safe passage through the digestive system. (See animals in testing). The ZetrOZ team has also developed an ultrasound medicine patch that works on the same principles. These are some of the smallest ultrasound systems in the world and could potentially create a new class of drugs. ZetrOZ hopes to release the uPill in 2013. The price of each pill could be around $20-$30, which could make that reusability option a bit more appetizing.





Sega has released their London 2012 Olympic Games video game for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and PC for all those who strive to be Olympic athletes. The latest edition takes players off the couch and performing the actual events thanks to Microsoft's Kinect. This marks the second game to feature the 2012 Olympics with Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games being the first. The events featured in Sega’s new release include Archery, Swimming, Gymnastics, Shooting, Track & Field and Weightlifting with sub-categories for each event respectively. The game itself is already garnering strong reviews over previous entries such as Beijing 2008 (an all-around deplorable game).


Then again, we’ve been playing Olympic-based games since 1977 with the introduction of Pong for the Atari 2600, which didn’t actually become an event until 1988 (as ping-pong), but who cares about the semantics.


Once we hit the 1980’s games based on the Olympics had become more appealing as the ‘eye-candy’ evolved over simple rectangular blocks with games such as HesGames ‘Summer Games’ for the Commodore 64 which featured events such as diving, track and weight-lifting and allowed for up to six people to play against each other making it an early form of multiplayer.


Another game that came out at roughly the same time was Activision’s ‘Decathlon’ for the Atari 5200 that featured all ten events including the high-jump and pole vault.


However, the pinnacle of 80’s Olympic-based gamming came in the form EA’s ‘Caveman Ugh-Lympics (released in 1988) for the Commodore 64, DOS and NES systems and featured Olympic favorites such as mate-tossing, fire making and saber-racing where runners competed against each other with a saber-tooth tiger running behind them for encouragement.


These games were promptly followed by official IOC (International Olympic Committee) sponsored games in the 1990’s such as Sega’s Olympic Gold (Barcelona 92) for the Game Gear, Genesis and Master System and let players compete in events such as hammer-through, hurdles and spring-board diving.


Sega’s ‘Olympic Summer Games’ for the SNES, Genesis and Game Boy platforms released in 1996 came next. The game featured events such as discus, javelin and skeet-shooting in all of its 16-bit glory.



All of these games eventually lead to the incredible and realistic games we see today with visuals that make Pong look extremely archaic in comparison, but still provide a nostalgic sense of fun none the less.




Two metal gates providing dual transistors on a single nanowire (via IEEE)


Moore's law rears its validity once more. Xiang Li and a team of researchers from A*STAR have created a vertical transistor using nanowires. Although 3D transistors is not a new idea, through the use of a nanowire as a center mount for two wrap around gates, a transistor has been designed that will reduce the transistor size by a factor of two. Reducing the area will allow silicon designs to be much more compact and dense as predicted by Moore's law.



The design used to create the vertical transistors consisted of a center cylinder made from the nanowire and two transistors stacked on top of each other separated by a dielectric. Along with reducing size, the technique also allows the transistors to control the current on each gate independently. In addition, the voltage applied to one of the vertical transistors does not affect the threshold voltage of the other, unlike other independent double-gate transistor designs. In other words, activate one gate, but not the other.



Furthermore, scientist hope that the emerging transistor design may soon be integrated with tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs). The combination of the two would create a product that will consume much less power due to TFETs relying upon the tunneling of electrons rather than thermal activation of electrons. The new vertical transistors will have many useful applications including non-volatile memory, logic gates, and may help save energy by creating better, cheaper and lower-powered processors. See more about the project after this link.




While the majority of London debates whether it will be possible to move around the capital city during the Olympics - and if they're even willing to try - technology experts have confirmed that their systems will be working during the Games.


According to a report by Tech Republic, the teams in charge of the IT infrastructure that will play an important role in this year's Games have been practising for worst-case scenarios. In fact, 750 of them. This includes power failures and problems in the server rooms to if several employees are unwell.


The company behind the event's technology implementation, Atos, recreated three of the busiest days at the Olympics across each of its 33 venues to iron out any potential problems and ensure reactions are quick during the London 2012 Games.


Michele Hyron, chief integrator at Atos for the London 2012 Games, told the news provider that there is no place to hide if anything goes wrong: "Unlike other IT projects, the Olympics are delivered and executed under the eyes of the world and there are no second chances. This makes all the testing - and especially the final technical rehearsal that we complete - absolutely critical to our preparation."


Furthermore, the report added that the technology team will be growing to 330 people over the coming weeks as demands increase. Every athlete will need to be processed, while 200,000 people will be given privileges to be involved in sporting events in one way or another. London 2012's IT infrastructure will be moving to a 24-7 operation from July 13th in what is set to be an early test for those involved.


Meanwhile, fears continue as to whether other infrastructure will hold up across London. The Jubilee underground train line - which is going to be a key route in and out of Stratford - recently had a new signalling system installed to help increase the number of trains that can run and reduce delays. But with problems continuing on all lines, Transport for London is already encouraging commuters to find new routes around the capital to ease the pressure.


With 31 days left until the event begins, the capital's technology is not far away from its biggest test yet.

Swiss watchmaker OMEGA has revealed new timekeeping technologies that will be introduced at the London Olympics, which begin next month, keeping with the tradition of every Games being a showcase for new features.


This year we have four to look forward to as OMEGA debuts the tools it has been working on for the last few years.


Firstly, the Quantum Timer will provide resolution of up to one millionth of a second in what the company calls a "new generation" of OMEGA Timing products. The resolution is said to be 100 times greater than devices used at previous Olympics, making them five times more accurate because of a new component embedded in the timer.


Furthermore, 16 independent clocks will be running at the same time to send information to scoreboards and television screens - giving everybody within the stadium and across the world the same access to precision.


Secondly, OMEGA has revealed new technology for the athletics starting block. Runners' reaction times will now be measured by force against the back block instead of movement, therefore measuring the reaction time of every runner. To help with this, the central bar has been made thinner and the foot rest wider, therefore catering for all start positions.


Thirdly, the company will be introducing a new lights system for spectators at the swimming events. These will be mounted to the starting blocks to indicate who finishes in first, second and third place, allowing people to watch the race without having to take a glance at the big screen.


And finally, OMEGA has revealed that the men's and women's swimming marathons will also be improved to provide timing information throughout the race - and not just at the end of the event. While the finishing will have touchpads for people to tap and stop their timer, there will also be horizontal transponder antennas to pick up signals midway through the race to provide time information throughout.


As a precaution, though, high-definition cameras are mounted on poles to serve as a back-up and for when the athletes are too close together.


With only 31 days until the Games begin, OMEGA is ensuring that timings remain accurate during the events themselves.

Microsoft has joined the tablet market by launching Surface, its own range of Windows-run devices that it claims will provide its operating system with the "ultimate stage". The technology firm kept details about last week's event secret until the last moment - even its location - but has unveiled to the world the tablet it believes can challenge Apple's iPad.


So what can people expect? Firstly, Microsoft says that software takes centre stage with a full-sized USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio, helping deliver full high-definition capabilities. Additionally, Surface has a touch cover that represents a "step forward in human-computer interface", sensing keystrokes and gestures better than ever. This, the company believes, enables people to touch type significantly quicker than an on-screen keyboard.


Secondly, Microsoft has revealed more details about the way the device itself is constructed. Surface is built from a combination of material selection (called VaporMg), which moulds metal to a similar standard as a luxury watch. This means parts can be as thin as 0.65mm, creating a product that is light and strong in equal measure.


The use of VapoMg also means the Surface tablet includes a built-in kickstand, allowing its user to watch a movie or other video with ease. High definition cameras are also located at the front and rear of the tablet.


Reviewing the device, Adrian Covert of said that the device is more akin to a laptop, but not as bulky.


"The Microsoft Surface may be billed as a tablet, but hiding in its 3mm cover is a pressure-sensitive keyboard called Type Cover which will allow the tablet to transform and resemble more of a computer on the go without the burden of a bulky keyboard case," he explained.


Microsoft said that it is to release two models of Surface: one that runs an ARM processor featuring Windows RT and another that runs with a third-generation Intel Core processor that includes Windows 8 pro. The latter will not be available until 90 days after the release of the Windows RT version, which is expected to come out in the autumn.


The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is set to launch a UK first, giving its online viewers the ability to rewind live television. Through its iPlayer platform, viewers will be able to restart a program from the beginning and immediately catch up on what they have missed. Furthermore, they will also be able to go back two hours to ensure they have access to as much programming as possible.


Previously, viewers would have to wait up to 24 hours - and sometimes even longer - for their favorite programs to appear on catch-up. It is hoped that the new service will help alleviate the frustrations of missing the start of a show online.


Explaining how the technology works, Henry Webster - an executive product manager in media services at BBC Future Media - said that it is similar to the delivery of text rich web pages.


"The technology that allows us to offer this new functionality is part of a wider strategic move to embrace HTTP chunked streaming for delivering our online video," he explained.


"Instead of using a point-to-point streaming protocol such as RTMP as we have done in the past, this method breaks up the H.264 video into chunks and delivers them as HTTP packets in much the same way as we deliver our text rich web pages today."


He added: "We already use Content Delivery Networks to help us with video delivery, but a move to HTTP streaming means that instead of relying on their capacity to stream video from specialist video servers, we are now able to use their cheaper and more abundant HTTP serving capacity."


The BBC is especially keen to introduce the technology quickly ahead of broadcasting the Wimbledon tennis championships and the London 2012 Olympics, which start on July 27th.


Around 22 percent of people viewing iPlayer through their PC in April were watching programs as they were being broadcast, according to the Corporation's own research. The new service will only be available through the PC at first, but the BBC hopes to expand it onto mobiles, tablets and even internet televisions by the end of this year.

Cabe Atwell

Rise of the Hexapods

Posted by Cabe Atwell Jun 26, 2012

Engineers and hobbyist alike are bringing us a wide variety of walking robots. Sidestepping balance issues, the latest creations coming to life are Stompy and Hexy, two unique hexapod robots walking of six legs. Stompy, an extra large rideable robot, is one of the biggest ever created and allows people to ride upon its large structure. Hexy is a small, but fun, robot that comes in a kit and requires assembly and is cheaper than any other hexapod robot available.



Stompy is the work of students and engineers taking part in a hacker space class focusing on robotics, metal working, and hydraulics. The class taught by Gui Cavalcanti, James Whong, and Dan Cody is currently in the final stages of the project, assembling the full scale mechanical version.  After much planning and preparation, a prototype leg was made to test out the control algorithms and how well they worked with the hydraulic joints. The prototype leg weighed in at 600 lbs and, offensively dubbed Gimpy. At every joint are sensors and micro controllers connected by Ethernet cables to assist with movements. When completed, the mechanical giant will weigh over two and a half ton and be 17 feet wide. Additionally, it is powered by a 135 hp propane engine and will be capable of lifting passengers 6 feet into the air.



Hexy is a small hexapod built for the robot enthusiasts.  The creator, Joseph Schlesinger, wanted to create a sophisticated robot without the high cost. He decided to produce all the parts himself from acrylic using his own laser cutter to avoid the extra cost of a manufacturing process fee. The robot uses 19 servos for leg and head movements, and when customers purchase the kit they will receive an extra servo and an ultrasonic range sensor. The kit only costs $200.00, were as similar kits currently available start around $700.00 and can reach up a fifteen hundred. In addition, the microcontroller used is arduino compatible. As a result, creating your own movements or adding on additional sensors should not be a difficult task. Hexy's controls stream through USB. However, as more supporters back his project through kickstarter, he is looking to develop drag and drop programming GUI and Android and iOS remote controlled apps.



The increased use of robots in today's world is creating a strong interest, more usage and guiding those to build their own robot creations. The Hexy kit available is a great way to spark interest in young minds and help the more curious older minds to explore robotics. It is also making robotics more accessible to everyone. Stompy may just look like something out of the Wild Wild West movie and draw people to it naturally like a magnet. Or it may possibly scare everyone to death, or send them running. Either way, robots are undoubtedly becoming an important part of society, if only for fascination.




For a long time, I have thought that the future of fast food is not in overworking low wage employees, defrosted ingredients and questionable hygienic conditions, but an automated process that delivers food fresh and fast. Thanks to inventor Claudio Torghel of Italy, this idea has become reality. There are a few other food vending machines out there, but this seems to be the only one with the Italian seal of approval.



For three years, the company Let’s Pizza has been installing pizza vending machines throughout Europe, making them fresh from scratch in just 2.5 minutes. The vending machine uses hygienic sacs of mineral water and flour to knead the dough. Once the 10.5in crust is rolled, organic tomato sauce is applied along with one topping. The pie then goes into an infrared oven for a short cook at 380 degrees. The customer has the option to receive a disposable pizza cutter, oregano and a napkin to round out the great mechanical service.



Each machine is able to make 4 types of pizzas but there is a catalogue of 90 pizza possibilities for the operator to choose from. The ingredients are prepared in company facilities and delivered in single serving, vacuum-sealed packs, which are never frozen to ensure freshness. Even kosher and Muslim-friendly choices are possible.


Payment can be done through cash and credit card or by tokes and vending keys at specialty locations. Let’s Pizza suggests a price of $5.95 per pie but the price is adjustable.



Each machine can be equipped with ingredients for 200 pizzas, and it will alert the operator when restocking or basic maintenance is needed via the Internet.



Let’s Pizza emphasizes the non-human, hygienic environment the pizzas are made in, which will provide peace of mind to those cynical of typical fast food joints. Some reports, however, say that each pizza still contains around 676 calories and 22.6 grams of fat. But then again, that’s how you know it tastes good.



The company’s distributor, A1 Concepts from the Netherlands, wants to hop across the pond and possibly set up headquarters in Atlanta, GA this year. They say an amusement park in Florida has expressed much interest in partnering with them, though they did not name which.



Local and national corporations can are encouraged to partake in this business venture. Expect to see some Let’s Pizza vending machines in malls, hotels, universities and many more locations next year.



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Missle defense (via AAP)


The British Parliament is going ‘all-out’ with security at this year’s (2012) Olympic Games being held in London. The government recently stated that they are set to deploy 13,500 military personnel, more than are stationed in all of Afghanistan, as back-up for the 10,000+ police and private security contractors (unknown as to the total number). To give an idea of what security measures are being put in place for this year’s summer games, Parliament is placing surface-to-air missiles on various roof-tops around the city in order to combat any airborne threat that might incur. Even the river Thames will serve as a staging platform for troops stationed the country’s largest amphibious assault ship the HMS Ocean, which can provide sea, ground and air support whenever and wherever needed. Sprinkled among the conventional forces will be the UK’s elite SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service) units. Their recent exploits had them reaching out to their US counterparts loaning a few UH-6 ‘Little Bird’ (or ‘Killer Egg’) attack helicopters for a QRF (Quick Reaction Force), an anti-terror rapid response team.



Security forces outside the Olympic stadium (Via EPA)


Security for the Olympic Park’s 1.24 square mile area includes 20 foot-high fencing with the top 4 feet of it electrified encompassing the park itself. Of course, there are checkpoints, known as ‘tunnels of truth’, that employ sensors to detect a wide range of weapons, explosives and biohazards located through-out the venue along with CCTV cameras just about everywhere you can imagine. Think of them like TSA (Transportation Security Administration) screening areas in the US only without the nudity.


A concerned employee from the Sun tabloid newspaper recently decided to test the Park’s security measure and was successful in smuggling a fake bomb through 2 checkpoints, that featured both iris and hand scanners, where he then posed for a photograph he took himself and the bomb directly outside of the stadium. However, I’m sure that the security ‘loop-hole’ he used has been addressed by the appropriate personnel at this point so there’s no need to worry. The price tag for all these measures tops out at roughly 1 billion Euros (~1.25 billion USD), but can that justified when it comes to personal safety? Yes and no. If we look back to the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 where athletes of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage (and killed) by the Palestinian group known as Black September or the pipe-bombs that killed two people and wounding 111 at the Olympic Games held in Atlanta Georgia in 1996, then the cost is certainly justified. You can’t put a price on people’s safety, especially when it comes to high-profiled events such as the Olympics.


On the other hand, fear is an extremely lucrative emotion that can easily be ‘cashed’ in on. How much security is enough? Why stop at surface-to-air missiles, when we could easily wear biohazard suits inside of bomb-proof concrete bunkers with windows made of ballistic glass while using high-powered optics to watch the events from a few hundred yards away. If we let fear control us, then, haven’t the ne'er-do-wells won? If we can learn to live without fear, we can accomplish the same goals (security-wise) without the added extra cost that falls on the taxpayer shoulder's, which is what we should fear.


For a comparison:

The 2008 Beijing Olympic games cost approximately 40.9 -56 Billion USD, and only returned a profit of $146M

2004 Athens ended in a loss

2000 Sydney - US $1.765 billion profit

1996 Atlanta US $10 million profit

1992 Barcelona US $5 million profit

1988 Seoul US $300 million profit (record high, not in adjusted dollars)

1984 Los Angeles US $250 million profit



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CyberQ Wifi (via thebbqguru)


Having a BBQ is a lot of fun, but there is a lot of pressure on the chef. The entire gathering depends on the person manning the grill, and if they overcook or under-grill the burgers that could very well dampen the evening. The company BBQ Guru is providing relief to all those unsure or beginner grillers that hold so much responsibility and also providing expert grillers with an invaluable tool that can only help them grill even better.



This device, called the CyberQ, has a wireless ad-hoc network which includes a built in server that relays real time notification of temperatures and offers remote control of the pit via its own Wi-Fi. To use, you simply connect to this Wi-Fi signal using your iOS or Android device. Then you type in your CyberQ’s IP address into the URL bar of your browser to access all the information being collected by the CyberQ as well as set pit temperatures.



The system comes with temperature probes that tell you the temperature inside the pit as well as inside three pieces of food. Since it has a server, it can alert you via email or text when the food is ready. The CyberQ is capable of regulating the fuel flow of gas stoves and also uses blowers to regulate temperatures in the charcoal pits.



The device comes with many features like a low and slow ramp down that assures no meat ever over cooks and open lid notification that minimize temperature disturbance to name just two. The list of extensive features is available on the BBQ Guru website.



This cyber assistant is powered via 100-200 V wall output or with 12 VDC from your car. The CyberQ can be yours for $295, which may seem steep but surely makes up in enjoyment of new recipes, good food and people at BBQ’s for endless summers to come.





Surface Tablet (via Microsoft)


Unlike smartphones, tablets come in two flavors for most people; Apple and Android (unless you’ve modded yours to use another OS). This year (2012) looks to add a third contender to the tablet market with the introduction of Microsoft’s Surface line that features the eighth incarnation of the company’s Windows OS. Currently, Microsoft has only unveiled two of the upcoming tablets with the higher-end Surface Pro (Windows 8 Pro) which features a dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 10.6in ClearType Full HD (16:9 ratio 1080p resolution) touch-capacitive screen with 64/128GB of storage. The midrange Surface tablet (un-Pro version) uses the Windows RT OS which is essentially Windows 8 for mobile devices that run an ARM processor.


The OS choice makes sense as the entry-level Surface tablet runs an (rumored) Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM quad-core CPU, 10.6in ClearType non-Full HD (16:9 ratio) touch screen and 32/64GB of storage. Each tablet houses multiple connectivity inputs that include 2X2 MIMO WI-FI, USB 2.0 (3.0 for Pro), microSD (microSDXC for Pro) and micro HDMI (Mini DisplayPort for Pro). Battery power for the Surface line consists of 31.5Wh for the RT version and 42Wh for the Pro respectively which is great for everyday tasks but expect those numbers to be reduced while gaming or watching movies.


While both tablets feature some notable differences over the current generation of slates such as a built-in kickstand (sure you can get after-market stands but this feature should be included as standard), one of the major differences is the case/covers that are offered for both flavors that include Touch Cover and Type Cover. Both are connected to the tablets via a magnetic strip and protect the device when closed. When the cases are un-folded, they become a 3mm touch sensitive keyboard for the Surface midrange and a thicker tactile (traditional) keyboard for the Surface Pro. Both include a regular touchpad (like those found on laptops) and use an accelerometer and gyroscope sensors to determine the tablet's position which helps in preventing accidental input (keystrokes) like some smartphones do when carried in a pocket. The Surface mid-range tablet will be on hand as soon as Microsoft Windows 8 is released (sometime this year) with the Surface Pro becoming available three months after. There’s no information yet on the prices for both tablets, but you can expect them to be competitively priced over the current competition.





Deechee and its team (via University of Hertfordshire)


Teaching one's child to speak and hearing their first words are some of the proudest moments for parents all over the world, even if your child is a robot. That’s exactly what researchers from the University of Hertfordshire set out to do with their iCub robot in an effort to show how language-learning evolves at the infant stage (human). The team, Dr. Caroline Lyon, Professor Chrystopher Nehaniv and Dr. Joe Saunders, were looking to understand the process of how infants (from the age of 6 to 14 mos.) traverse from simply ‘babbling’ syllables to complete words in order to learn how they start to make sense of language. So they decided to use an iCub robot (more on this in a bit) to acquire that understanding. In order to mimic human infants the team programmed the robot, named ‘DeeChee’, using a specially written algorithm that uses 40,000 English-language syllables in order for it to babble by stringing the syllables together. The team then appointed 34 adults to act as ‘parents’ (or teachers) and talk to the robot as though it were a child. The parents had 8 minutes each to spend talking with DeeChee, after which its memory was saved and erased in order to see what percentages of syllables were spoken by the robot. They found that DeeChee babbled the same amount for each syllable each time. They next programmed the robot to listen and then speak after the teachers spoke to it and found that the robot would speak the syllables the teachers had articulated. It was concluded that the robot was sensitive and reacted to certain sounds in much the same fashion as human children.



What were DeeChee’s first coherent words? Well, several, including red, green and box which, just like our human children, are no less impressive.


The robot that was used for this research is known as the iCub (Cognitive Universal Body) which is an open-source product of the RobotCub Consortium that’s comprised of a group of Universities in the European Union for study in a multitude of disciplines. The robot is designed to look like a human child approximately 3.5 years of age and uses a series of tendon-driven joints in conjunction with servos and Hall-effect sensors for motion that are controlled by an PC104 on-board computer board. The head is equipped with stereo cameras that are mounted on swivels for eyes, microphones located on both sides where the ears are located and a series of red LEDs to both mimic the mouth and eyebrows for facial expressions. The first iCub robot was only able to crawl but has since been upgraded with smaller hands and fingers as well as increased leg strength with stronger joint angles that permit the robot to walk, however, it does require ground-markers to navigate. One of the more intriguing demonstrations that the robot could accomplish was from the Italian Institute of Technology where a research team designed an algorithm called ARCHER (Augmented Reward Chained Regression) that enabled the iCub to learn archery and shoot an arrow at the target's center (I could think of better uses, but to each their own).






Georgia Tech road repair in action


Repairing America’s roads is extremely time consuming and makes those of us not repairing them seethe with anger as roads are usually partially blocked off which backs up traffic making us late for work and ruins the rest of our day. In an effort to remove these bad feelings researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, headed by Jonathan Holmes, have designed an automated crack detection and sealing system that repairs the road on-the-go.


The design utilizes a series of LED’s (in two colors) that are situated both parallel and perpendicular to the road to help illuminate the surface for a stereo camera which ‘looks’ for road cracks that need repaired. The camera takes two pictures of the road simultaneously and sends the information to a computer that uses an algorithm to analyze the information and produces a ‘crack’ map showing both the length and location of said cracks all within 100 milliseconds of taking the first picture. Once the location and crack size have been determined the computer then repairs the cracks using an automated valve system that uses a linear axis servo to position a series of nozzles (12 in all) to dispense the sealant that’s stored in a tank.


The entire system is situated on a trailer that’s pulled by a utility truck at the blistering speed of 3.1 miles per hour. Sure that might seem slow, but it’s definitely faster than traditional methods and cheaper too as it doesn’t require a lot of man power for the road repair. The system does have its share of problems though as testing showed that it correctly identified 83% percent of the cracks on a section of ‘test’ road but was confused when it encountered different features of the surface such as oil stains, lane stripes and debris. While country-wide implementation of the system is still a few years away, it certainly would alleviate some of the head-aches involved with the traditional ways road-patching which might enable us to get to work on time.




Ferrofluid based heart pump (screen-capture via


Imagine, someone's life may be saved by swapping in a "liquid heart." Science fiction to reality in a year?


An engineering team, led by Christopher Suprock, from Suprock Technologies has designed an artificial heart that has no moving parts that could change the way future implants function. The design utilizes an electromagnet base that uses ferrofluid encased in a flexible membrane to simulate a heartbeat. Once the magnet receives power it attracts the ferrofluid which then acts like a pump (or diaphragm) through switching on the electrical current at certain frequencies.


The fluid is actually the key in making the pump work, as it’s composed of nano-ferromagnetic particles that are suspended in a liquid usually made of water or organic solvent. When exposed to a magnet, the fluid becomes magnetized and forms a clump of particles that attract each other. When the magnetic field is turned off the particles dissipate and are no longer magnetized. Obviously the pump couldn’t be used as an implant as it stands, but the team hopes to implement the device inside of an artificial heart chamber to act as the hearts power plant at moving blood through the system.


The team is also working on a way to provide power to the pump wirelessly, which would eliminate the need for a power cables like the current generation of artificial hearts use. There are actually two versions of fluid pumps the team has designed with the second version using two chambers and valves which minimizes obstacles encountered with fluid flow, which decreases the risk of ‘shear’ that can damage red and white blood cells, as well as muscle tissue. Christopher hopes to have both prototypes completed in six months and then the FDA approval process within a year which is a pretty lofty goal. Still his design is simple but no less ingenious and could actually indeed change the way artificial hearts function.





Bed Hadwen with the lab-on-a-chip device (via University of Southampton)


The hospital waiting room could turn into the place one waits for all their results. A team of researchers from Sharp Labs Europe in collaboration with the University of Southampton has recently announced their combined effort in developing a pocket sized device that analyzes blood in a matter of minutes rather than days. The team, led by Sharp’s Ben Hadwen, developed the lab-on-a-chip using what’s known as ‘digital microfluidics’ which processes tiny (nano-liter) discrete droplets of fluid (in this case blood) that can be mixed, reacted and analyzed using either electrowetting (manipulation from an applied electrical field), dielectrophoresis (manipulation from a non-uniform electrical field) or immiscible-fluid flows.


The team’s device works by placing a droplet of blood on the devices microfluidic square (4 to 5cm) where it is then broken down into smaller sized sub-droplets by the LCD-based micro-electronics located directly underneath the square. The droplets are then subjected to bio-chemical diagnostic testing which can then be analyzed in a matter of minutes. In fact, multiple testing can be done with only one drop of blood because the device is able to split and store the droplets for additional testing. Digital microfluidics isn’t actually new as Cytonix designed microfluidic bio-chips back in 1987 that were EWOD-based (Electrowetting on Dielectric) but the technology was lab-based and certainly not portable.


Of course, the team states that their device could also be used to test other liquids such as urine that could detect infections, virus’s or drug use. While Sharp Labs states that the company could easily mass produce, the device is still in its infant stage of development and still needs testing and refinement which could take another 5 to 10 years before it hits the market.



Cabe Atwell

Seesaw on a Beam of Light

Posted by Cabe Atwell Jun 21, 2012


Working on the seesaw. This is as close as we will get to seeing what exactly in inside the piece. (via ENESS)


I always enjoy when engineers transform old-fashioned toys and games into modern pieces of interactive technology. This time, the award-winning art & design group ENESS, which does many futuristic luminous displays, has transformed one of the oldest pieces to modern playgrounds: the seesaw.



They have equipped this classic playground structure with 33 rows of changing color lights and accelerometers that react to the changing or static position of the seesaw. The apparatus looks like a light-up candy cane, except for the red and white stripes move back and fourth as if they were acted upon by gravity.



The team has programmed the lighting circuits to provide different movement of the light. The user chooses whether they would like to see how the “ball of light” ping-pongs through different mediums. Air, water, space and even yogurt provide different atmospheres of resistance to the light as it moves with the seesaw motion.



Don’t expect this in your neighborhood playground anytime soon. ENESS is not reveling exactly how they built this so you will have to engineer your own. If you really wish to give it a try, you will have to travel to Melbourne, Australia’s Federation Square, where the installation will be till July.





Mali core concept (via ARM)


As mobile devices increase in popularity, demand for silicon-based processing power rises. This includes GPUs, without which we could not game, watch HD movies and alter photography. All of which are extremely necessary in this day and age of social-site based communications with others (that’s technical jargon for hooking up with friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc), retaining high-score positions on Angry Birds and sharing recent pic’s with location mapping on Four Square. To that end most of that processing power comes from companies such as ARM who recently released their new GPU, named Mali-450MP, to help scale well with existing and future CPUs in the mobile device market.


This means that companies such as HTC, Nokia and LG can extend the use of their current software platforms, as well as future platforms, using ARM’s new Mali-450 series GPUs Graphical Processing Unit). It also provides an increase in support of up to 8 CPU cores over its predecessor the Mali-400 which can only support 4 cores, which means the 450 can pump-out an increase in pixel processing and vertex shading throughput. Simply put, better visuals for games, pictures and videos for entry level and mid-range mobile devices.


So, what’s packed onto the new 8.6mm2 die? How about 4 processing cores with 256k of level 2 cache with each core running at 240MHz (in LP mode) or 480MHz (in GP mode) respectively. Running at 480 MHz provides 104M triangles with 3.8G pixels running with 4 X FSAA (Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing) with support for OpenGL 1.1/2.0 which is pretty impressive. The ARM Mali-450MP is available now for OEM manufacturers (price unknown at this time).




Squid in action (via Northeastern University)


Sure there is a multitude of ways to monitor your workout progress such as using heart-rate monitors or pedometers, but none has the in-depth real-time information feedback as that of Northeastern University’s ‘Squid’ shirt. Designed by a team of engineers the shirt features a series of strategically place EMG (Electromyography) sensors (13 in total) that monitor muscle activity in three key areas. These include the deltoid, pectoral and latissimus dorsi muscle groups.


The disposable sensors (you can throw them away after your workout) send the real-time information to a connected to a 3D printed box (worn on a belt) that houses an Arduino NanoArduino Nano. A custom made filter (signal) board that processes the data, which is then sent wirelessly, using a Bluetooth module, to the users, smartphone that uses an app (Android only as of now) that lets you monitor how much muscle activity. The sensors also send information regarding the user’s heart-rate which when combined with the muscle activity gives a more complete workout performance picture.


This information is then sent wirelessly from your smartphone to a computer where the user can monitor their performance over time in the form of a graph chart. Obviously, using the Squid shirt would give the wearer a ‘bigger picture’ regarding their workouts. It’s the hope of the engineering team that coaches use it to monitor their athletes in the off season, but the shirt could provide valuable information for doctors in monitoring the progress of patients who suffer a stroke, for example. As it stands right now, the Squid shirt is still in the development stage (currently on version 2), so don’t expect to see the shirt anytime soon.





The world of air traffic controlling is set to improve after a communications company announced a new method of tracking planes in an attempt to improve routing. Iridium Communications will be installing Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receivers to follow planes anywhere in the world, with an expected launch date of between 2015 and 2017.


These receivers will be built into each of the company's 66 Iridium NEXT satellites and this will mean airplanes can be tracked even in the most remote regions of the world and over oceans. The firm believes aircraft can be safely managed over busy areas, with the North Atlantic a specific target because airplanes are currently kept well apart because of poor visibility.


Iridium believes that its tracking system - named Aireon - will allow more planes to fly these routes while maintaining the highest levels of safety.


Matt Desch, chief executive officer of Iridium, said that the new technology is revolutionary.


"Just as we opened the world of personal communications far beyond the ten percent of the Earth's surface that is covered by terrestrial networks, we are now extending the reach of land-based aircraft tracking systems," he explained.


"This is a big milestone for commercially hosted payloads and it will be a ground-breaking use of Iridium NEXT. Iridium is the only company with the capability and reach to enable this, and we are thrilled that our service will make air travel more efficient and safer. Aireon is truly revolutionary."


NAV CANADA is expected to be the first customer of the technology in the coming years, with more Air Navigation Service Providers expected to follow afterwards.


Iridium said that there are three main benefits to introducing Aireon, including operational cost savings. The Aireon service will save around $6-8 billion in fuel costs over the North Atlantic and North and Central Pacific regions, it claims.


Additionally, the ability to optimize routing and allow planes to climb rapidly and fly for longer will reduce carbon emissions and therefore lower the environmental impact of aircraft. Furthermore, continuous global surveillance will, Iridium believes, extend operational safety as air traffic controllers have more accurate information at their fingertips.

Sparkfun Electronics (SFE) held their 2012 Autonomous Vehicle competition last weekend. Hobbyists and engineers from all over the country came to send their terrestrial and aerial charges, guided only by their programming and sensors, around the Sparkfun building.  To make it more interesting, the winner is decided by the fastest time, upping the speeds at which the robots collided with the course obstacles!


The full day of racing was well organized with everything you would want, with my favorite place being the staging area for the inventors to prep their machines (and for us gawkers to speak with them about their designs).  There were bleachers at the finish line, a few food trucks, and a booth giving out free swag!  Of course the most important part was the track. Sporting many barrels (which were light enough to be pushed all over the place) and a hoop that gave those bots that went through it a 30 second time reduction, there was plenty for the cars to worry about. Believe it or not, the surrounding creeks and pond was as big of a concern for the airplanes as it was for some of the cars.  But my personal favorite part of the course was what I call the 'Danger Zone.'  As the videos show, we were standing where all of the navigation failures occurred.  Nothing better than being chased down by one robot, only to be run down by ANOTHER robot!  But I'll let my favorite videos take it from here (all of my videos can be found on my youtube channel).


One robot 'reconfigures' the course boundaries while Team Tobor completes an excellent run:


A great aerial run (with landing!)


Another great aerial run, with an unexpected landing in the creek!


A stellar ground run (with a hoop!) and me almost getting run over:


One robot tries to take a swim:


This robot was programmed to steal a barrel for a souvenir:



Once again, Sparkfun succeeds in making Colorado's front range that much more fun for those interested in electronics.  Well done!

"I always feel like somebody's watching me" - Kennedy "Rockwell" Gordy



Every year computers become more adept at interaction with their human users. Whether it is to help around the house or while shopping, computers are with us at most moments during the day to help us out. Soon, they will even know us by face, track our emotions and help us find the things we always seem to misplace.


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(Left) Facial tracking (Right) Avatar control (via Keio University)


At Keio University, in Tokyo, Associate Professor Yasue Matsukura and his team are developing methods to perform effective face recognition in real time, simply using a regular PC and a USB webcam. The system tracks the eyes, nose and mouth at high speeds using a continuously updating algorithm that tracks facial orientation and expression with remarkable precision. We are sure to see this type of tech in games, video production, and general interaction in the near future. The team is working on software that could be installed on any PC that would enable facial recognition to be accessible on a wide scale. The camera-type restrictions are not known at this time.




Kinsight block diagram concept (via University of Virginia)


On another project, Computer Scientists, Shahriar Nirjon and John Stankovic, from the University of Virginia are developing software called Kinsight, which modifies the Kinect camera to recognize and keep track of objects around your home. After manually tagging items, the Kinect camera can track them around its field of view. When something goes missing, you simply search the Kinsight memory to find what you’re looking for. It even learns to track duplicates of the same objects. Although a Kinect sensor costs around $120 per unit, the team states that an array of Kinects is 4-16 time cheaper than a RFID tracking system for the same objects. Read more about the Kinsight here.


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Your emotions to ads, the concept (via Microsoft and USPTO)


Of course, facial and object recognition could be used for a myriad of applications. Microsoft has attempted to patent at least one application that would use the Kinect to look at your emotions. As I am sure most of you have noticed, social networks make use of all the information you output like keywords, tags and things you publicly liked, to tailor advertisements to you. Microsoft wishes to use their Kinect camera to perform facial recognition to aid in advertisement management. They suggest that, as you watch TV or play a game, the Kinect could watch your facial expressions and use this information to advertize to the emotions it detects. This peeping could extend to seeing your reaction to emails and keywords, as well. The company filed a patent for this application but it is unclear exactly how your privacy wishes will be considered.



If this ever becomes implemented, I hope the Kinect will realize I loath all advertisements and stop sending them to me. In any case, your computer may soon recognize all sorts of objects in the material world and may even attempt to understand your emotional world.



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(Left) Samsung Galaxy S III offer (Right) BBS Sport app


Just in time for the summer Olympics, BBC-sports has announced live European sporting events will  r stream to mobile phones and tablets. A partnership between Samsung and Eurosport will be bringing the lucky Samsung Galaxy S3 owners the option to try out  the new Eurosport player app for free. The newly available options will allow sports fans to catch every moment of the most important sporting events.



With the growing use of on-the-go mobile web access, why not provide a means of mobile video for the large population of sporting fans? Many people already enjoy live and on demand videos through their desktops or office computers. To bring the sports world to mobile devices, BBC redesigned their website using an approach called 'responsive design.' The responsive design system automatically formats the web page to adapt to the device's screen size and system capabilities. As a result, a wide variety of devices could access the web page with results optimized for their specific system.



Samsung's free Eurosport offer will be available to all participating countries, which is almost all the European countries excluding Italy. The app typically costs $5.90 a month and will give customers access to all the latest new, scores, and highlights. For streaming, Android devices must have an OS 2.2 or newer, and for Apple devices they must have an iOS 5.0 or greater. The Samsung offer will be available starting July 14th and will run through August 12th. With major European sport coverage beginning soon, the Olympics in particular, their streaming system may take off instantly.




TecTiles logo (via Samsung)


NFC (Near Field Communication) can trace its roots all the way back to 1983 when Charles Walton patented his ‘Portable Radio Frequency Emitting Identifier,' the first to use the acronym RFID, which is considered the predecessor to NFC. Arguably, you can trace NFC’s roots all the way back to 1945 when a Soviet scientist created a covert listening device which retransmitted ‘incident’ radio waves which were augmented with audio information. NFC technology uses RFID as a foundation and allows for communication between two end-points instead of only one way (ID cards, 3D barcodes and LoJack).


This is where Samsung’s TecTiles come in, they allow for interaction with smartphones through touching which provides automatic functions such as setting the phones alarm, social media functions, transfer contact information and automatically launch applications, just to name a few. Just "tap" the TecTile with your device to perform the action. The tiny stickers are programmed using a NFC enabled smartphone using a downloadable app which allows the user to place only one function on each sticker, however according to Samsung each sticker can be re-programmed up to 100,000 times (and can also be locked for security).


As with any new product there are some limitations and ‘bugs’ that need to be overcome before the smart stickers can be fully implemented into daily life. The first issue being limitation as TecTiles can only be used by a handful of NFC enabled phones that include the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S 4G, Galaxy Nexus (T-Mobile), Galaxy S II and Galaxy S Blaze (all Android) with no word as of yet if other providers/brands will be included anytime soon. As far as bugs go, you cannot use TecTiles on metal surfaces as it interferes with the communication between the sticker and the phone which makes using them in an iron foundry practically null. They are available on Samsung’s website as of now for $14.99 US for a pack of five.




The world has a new fastest computer after a team from technology giant IBM managed to create a new system to top the list. Sequoia achieved speeds of 16.32 petaflops per second in recent tests, therefore beating Fujitsu's K Computer which held the previous record with 10.51 petaflops per second.


According to BBC News, the petaflops scoring system is known as the Linpack Benchmark and this calculates the number of quadrillion floating-point operations per second a computer can do. In simpler terms, IBM explained that the computer could work out as many calculations in an hour as it would take 6.7 billion people using hand calculators 320 years to finish.


This, explained National Nuclear Security Administration administrator Thomas D'Agostino, will make it a welcome addition to a US nuclear research program.


"While Sequoia may be the fastest, the underlying computing capabilities it provides give us increased confidence in the nation's nuclear deterrent," he explained. "Sequoia also represents continued American leadership in high performance computing."


This success helps the US take back top spot in the list of supercomputers after China took it from the country two years ago. Furthermore, the US now has three computers in the top ten. Germany and China have two each, with France, Japan and Italy also having one each in the list.


Other statistics further reveal how impressive the Sequoia machine is. The computer features 96 racks that include 98,304 compute nodes and 1.6 million processor cores. Additionally, it consumes only 7,890 kilowatts of power on full load compared to K Computer's 12,659 kilowatts.


Around 4,500 square feet of floor space is also given up for 1.6 petabytes of RAM and, according to reports, the device was tested for 23 hours without a single core failing. LLNL division leader Kim Cupps told Ars Technica how significant an achievement this is.


"For a machine with 1.6 million cores to run for over 23 hours six weeks after the last rack arrived on our floor is nothing short of amazing," she explained. The device will now be used at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, undertaking simulations on how to extend the life of nuclear weapons.



Although the large displays on new smart phones look great, some still miss the feel of physical buttons. The California company, Tactus, has developed the first dynamically deformable touch screen that could change our device interface forever.



Earlier in June, the company demonstrated their new touch screen technology at the Society for Information Display conference in Boston. Tactus has created a “microfluidic” screen, which flows a special type of oil through predetermined channels to fill pockets, which rise to become buttons over a flat display. The buttons then disappear when not needed. Tactus claims this technology can work with most current touch screens.



The device called the, “Tactile Layer” adds valuable haptic feedback to any flat surface interface. The company hopes to integrate this layer into all sorts of devices like cell phones, tablets, televisions, GPS devices, gaming devices and remote controls but also in automotive displays, industrial controls, and medical devices where quick and easy operation is crucial. 



The Tactile Layer adds minute thickness to any device and requires very little additional power to function. The system only needs the power to raise and lower the keys. After which the position remain static, no additional power needed.



At the moment, the Touch Layer can be improved upon. As mentioned, button layout and shape must be predetermined and, although the device is mostly transparent, the outline of buttons is still somewhat visible. Also, the interface currently offers no physical feedback after actually pressing buttons. It is a step in the right development direction.



The company plans to develop better versions that would help not only aesthetics but also functionality. The display offers customizable pressure of fluid in the buttons, but the company wants to use buttons as variant pressure sensors that would unleash more applications. Tactus says they are working to create more physical feedback and more complex channel patters to allow as many button layout possibilities for developers.



This futuristic display will be released in the not-so-distant future. Expect to see the Tactile Layer in devices next year.




DepthSense (via SoftKinetic)


SoftKinetic is changing the way we interact with the digital world by bringing us innovative new 3D vision and gesture recognition technology. They are going a few steps further than Microsoft's Kinect. In January, they announced their first 3D recognition camera at the Consumer Electronics show.  The sensor used a patented time-of-flight technology to provide us with end-to-end 3D gesture recognition. Recently, they have announced the DepthSense 325 offering a smaller size and increased accuracy. The sensor is small enough to sit in the palm of your hands and can see color objects in high definition 2D and 3D.  The new characteristics may allow this technology to be smoothly integrated into consumer technologies such as laptops and TVs.



The DepthSense 325 works by an infrared light which is projected into a room and the sensor measures the time period that it takes to return. The previous model allowed for tracking up to 15 centimeters from it, whereas the 325 allows high quality tracking as close as 10 centimeters from it. This is even closer than the Kinect for Windows. In addition, the camera features two built in microphones for audio input. The high quality finger and hand tracking allows the user easy control over programs such as slide shows or games.



It is the company's announced the free availability of its middleware, iisu 3.5 that truly sets the device apart. The gesture recognition software is conveniently compatible with almost every 3D sensor available. Developers will now have new tools available in their arsenal for innovative new products. The new sensor will be ideal for video conferences and presentations and while providing a more natural feel. 




British schools will be able to focus their technology lessons on computer science in the coming years after an exam board announced plans to introduce a paper on the subject.


Until now, students have been taught Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in schools, but this has received criticism for bearing little to no relevance on future technology careers.


It is hoped that by introducing a computer programming paper, education establishments will be able to vary what they teach and spark an interest in the subject.


Last August, Google chairman Eric Schmidt criticized Britain's teaching of information technology, saying the country is "throwing away its computer heritage".


He said that he was "flabbergasted to learn that computer science isn't even taught as standard" in UK schools, adding: "There's been a drift to the humanities - engineering and science aren't championed. Even worse, both sides seem to denigrate the other … you're either a 'luvvy' or a 'boffin'."


The Daily Telegraph reports that the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) is now looking to introduce a new General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam, usually taken at 16-years-old, after taking advice from Microsoft and the British Computer Society.


Stuart Gilbertson, subject manager for AQA's new GCSE, told the news provider that the move isn't in response to Mr Schmidt's speech last year, but something that has been in the pipeline for a while.


"Eric Schmidt's comments were very much in line with our thinking. We'd been developing the new GCSE since the end of 2010," he explained.


"[The old GCSE in ICT] wasn't keeping pace with what's out there in society and wasn't setting up students with suitable skills. We wanted to make it more engaging and relevant to students."


Coursework will also be a part of the qualification, with a sample piece released by AQA giving students around 25 hours to produce a mobile phone application that could help bus passengers pay for tickets.


The course, which takes two years to complete, will be made available to students from September. Evidence of change within the UK's technology sector could take longer to come to the fore.


The inexact processor, more-or-less gets the job done (via Rice University)


Correctness is the definition of computer function. It is what programmers strive to attain. So, it might come as a surprise that a new counterintuitive computer chip is taking advantage of making mistakes.



A huge team that includes researchers from Rice University, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Switzerland’s Center for Electronics and Microtechnology and UC Berkeley have produced an “inexact” computer chip that improves power efficiency, processing time and resource efficiency by allowing occasional mistakes. These “inexact” chips, also known as PCMOS, probabilistic complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, are about 15 times more efficient in speed, power, and size than current technology.



A paper released by the team has been recognized as the “best paper” at this year’s ACM International Conference on Computer Frontiers in Cagliari, Italy. The “inexact” chip works by allowing hardware that performs simple functions like addition and subtraction to make some mistakes. By statistical management of the probability of errors and limiting those calculations that cause errors, these researchers found they could cut down power consumption dramatically.



A method for improving efficiency of the chip is a process called “pruning”, in which rarely used parts of the chip’s digital circuitry are deactivated. Applying “pruning” allows for chips that are twice as fast, use half the energy and are half the size of conventional chips. It was published, that chips with 0.25% deviation improved power efficiency by 3.5 times compared to current chips. An 8% deviation proved an efficiency 15 times greater. “Confined voltage scaling” is another idea that helps power efficiency by taking advantage of the faster processing speed.



(Left) Original frame (Middle) Using an error of 0.54% (Right) Error of 7.58%. The frame on the left is 15 times more efficient. (via Rice University)


Project co-investigator Christian Enz of the CSEM, expressed his enormous confidence for this new technology, “Particular types of applications can tolerate quite a bit of error. For example, the human eye has a built-in mechanism for error correction.” Using these PCMOS, researchers were able to produce images with 0.25% error, which were practically identical to their correct counterpart.



Now the team plans to apply these chips in everything from hearing aids, cameras and even low cost tablet computers called I-slates. In fact, Krishna Palem, Professor of Computing at Rise announced that 50,000 I-slates are due to be delivered to India’s Mahabubnagar District middle schools and high schools in the next three years.



I-Slate (via Rice University)


The high efficiency of this “inexact” technology will allow the I-slate to be powered by solar panels similar to the ones used in calculators. The first batch of I-slates and hearing aids containing PCMOS, or “inexact” chips are expected to surface in 2013. So much for avoiding mistakes this whole time.




ATLAS bimanual-rehabilitation glove (via  Northeastern University)


Having a stroke is no joke and it affects about 700,000 people per year in the United States alone. Out of those who have had a stroke 85% of them require special care and rehabilitation to get their fine motor skills back which can be very costly (estimated at $28 billion US annually). To help people recover the motor skills in their hands, a team of researchers from Northeastern University have designed a pair of specialized gloves that allows the wearer to regain motor control from the comfort of home. The team designed the gloves, called the ‘Angle Tracking and Location at Home System (ATLAS) bimanual rehabilitation glove’, using a series of internal and bend measurement sensors that are sewn into each finger (except the pinky) of the gold Lycra gloves to measure movement.


These sensors are connected to an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) on the back of the glove that houses a 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis magnetometer and a 3-axis accelerometer that are connected to an Arduino microcontroller which collects all the data such as hand position/orientation, finger movement and muscle strength. The information is then sent, via USB, over to a box that houses an Arduino Mega microcontroller which connects to a laptop that translates the user’s movements in a virtual environment. 


The team, led by doctoral student Mark Sivak, recently demonstrated the gloves potential using a program developed from the Unity game engine where the users arm movements were monitored in real-time. The ATLAS system is intended to help stroke victims regain fine motor-control in their hands and arms by interacting in a virtual game type environment which would make rehab both fun and effective. The system can also be monitored online from rehabilitation specialists that can track the progress of the user and recommend different programs or games as the rehab evolves over time. So far the ATLAS system is still in its development stage, but it does look to be an easy cost effective (costing around $500 US) way for stroke victims to get their mobility back.




Glucose fuel cell on a silicon wafer, 64x64mm (via MIT & Sarpeshkar Lab)


Fuel cell technology has been used in everything from cars to phone charging, and it is progressing on to provide its unique power-generating capabilities in future brain-machine interfaces. What sets this fuel cell apart from the others is that it runs off of the human body’s own glucose (sugar) stores found in cerebrospinal fluid. However, this isn’t a new idea. Scientists from the 70s designed a glucose-based fuel cell to power pacemakers, but the technology was scrapped as they found lithium-ion batteries could supply more power than the cell could generate. This is no longer the case as advancements in technology allowed the team from MIT, led by associate professor Rahul Sarpeshkar, to design a fuel cell that generates enough efficient energy to power future implants. The team fabricated the fuel cell out of silicon and platinum in the same manner as any semiconductor chip, but instead of processing information like a CPU, the cell generates power through the use of a ‘platinum catalyst’ which strips the electrons from glucose much in the same fashion as the body’s own cells. While the power generated isn’t astronomical, it is none the less impressive at generating hundreds of microwatts.


The team used platinum not only for its ability to strip electrons from sugar but also impart because it’s much less likely to be rejected by the human body’s immune system as the cell is designed to use the cerebrospinal fluid that’s used to protect the brain from the skull which has virtually no red or white blood cells to attack it. The most interesting aspect of the design consists of using the same fabrication process as other silicon semiconductors. This allows for integration of any circuit-based implants to be used such as neural-controlled prosthetic limbs for persons with spine injuries or smaller more efficient pacemakers. Don’t expect to see this new fuel cell implant anytime soon. MIT states that the designed as a ‘proof of concept’ and still requires years of clinical trials starting with animal integration first before its used on humans.



Beaty.jpgFading - A phenomenon I encountered when I first began experimenting with radios in the 80s.  It occurs when a radio’s signal strength varies with small movements.  Walk around with a handheld radio or listen to a car radio; the received signal strength will vary greatly.  Sometimes the fluctuations are random and other times peaks and troughs occur every half wavelength travelled. 


While living in Beaty Towers dorm at the University of Florida in Gainesville, I experienced a striking case of fading while talking to talking to a friend 120 miles away through a 2m-band [146MHz] repeater located on the roof of my building.  (You can see the antenna at the picture to the right from, which was taken around the time I lived there.)  The station in Clearwater could reach the repeater with 50 watts into a antenna with 22dBi gain.  I reached the repeater from my fourth-floor dorm room with 50mW into a rubber duck.  There were some locations in the building where I could not reach the repeater with my transmitter.  It was shocking to observe this happen while talking to someone over 100 miles away who was getting into the repeater with no difficulty.  I walked around the building and imagined all there places where reflections could occur. 


In my communications class at UF I learned complicated models for this type of fading.  The case in which the transmitter and receiver have a direct path between them plus some reflections is modeled with a Rician distribution.  When there is no direct path, the signal strength tends to vary more, and this is modeled a Rayleigh distribution.  When I first heard this, I thought academics must be scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to model in MATLAB and write transaction papers about because to me fading was just a fact of life.  These models surprisingly turned out the basis for the most amazing technology I have worked on. 


The most basic use for modeling a fading channel is to work out how reliable a radio system will be.  If the receiver requires -80dBm of signal to work and you calculate the signal strength will be -70dBm, you can use a fading model to work out what percentage of the time the signal will fall below the -80dBm threshold. 


You can also work out when the reflections will be far enough apart that by the time the later reflections reach the receiver the message on the signal has changed.  For example, a typical speech sound (phoneme) lasts 20ms to 40ms.  Radio waves propagate a 5us per mile, so if you had a radio system transmitting voice with a strong reflections taking paths 4000 miles apart in length, the reflected signal would contain sounds 20ms delays from the other, making it difficult to understand.  You typically only see reflections from a few miles, so this intersymbol interference is not a problem for voice signals. 


A Wi-Fi (802.11a/g) signal sends symbols that last only 4us.  Reflections from paths one mile apart (i.e. 5us of delay spread) are an issue that people setting up Wi-Fi based systems occasionally encounter.  Reflections significantly shorter than the symbol period, cause the signal strength to vary but don’t corrupt the data. 


In school I saw transaction papers modelling how having two antennas receiving the same signal could reduce fading because both antennas being in a location with low signal strength is much rarer than a single antenna being in a bad spot.  They took a step further and said a multiple input multiple output (MIMO) system could have multiple transmit antennas. The receiver could use the variations in echoes received on its two antennas to receive signals that would be too weak to be received on a signal antenna.  The transmitter could theoretically send completely different data on its multiple antennas on the same frequency.  The receiver could use the different delay spreads of the paths between each transmitter and receiver to recover multiple streams of data.  When I read that in 2002 I thought this was MATLAB fantasy.


Seven years later I worked on a project with 802.11n, which uses multi-stream MIMO.  802.11n is pretty finicky about the channel.  It needs not too much or too little delay spread to work in multi-stream mode.  It works best if the antennas have different polarizations.  But I have seen it realized and work well on a $50 mini-PCI card.


These random fluctuations in signal path that I originally thought of as nothing more than a random fluttering of leaf in the wind became the basis for the most amazing technology I’ve worked with.  If you had told me about it in the 80s when I had a 2400 baud phone modem, I might have been able to imagine sending megabits per second over a wireless link.  I certainly would not have believed you could transmit multiple streams of data, each one in the 50Mbps, range and recover them based on the antennas being 100 light-nanoseconds apart. 


I don’t scoff at predictions about curing aging or technological singularity.  The most mundane phenomena can lead to revolutionary technologies. 


Sensum system (via Shimmer)


When you are watching a movie or playing a game, your engagement and appreciation are most easily observable by the sound you make or body movement. In reality, there are many more ways to measure the emotional investment that go unnoticed. The company Sensum is launching a product that works to personally detail the level of emotional engagement by measuring changes in heart rate and perspiration.



The device that measures these changes is called a galvanic skin response (GSR) sensor. These are simply mounted to the wrist where heart rate and sweating can be measured in real time. The idea is to use these sensors so that one can see how they personally were engaged in a movie, game or TV show.



The device communicates with a smart phone via Bluetooth (802.15.4) using the Sensum app. The system can also be connected to external sensors; gyro, ECG, EMG, GPS, temperature, magnetometer, and a strain gauge. It stores all of the data collected while you are watching or playing, and it then displays a personal graph that details different levels of engagement. At its heart is a MSP430MSP430 uC at 8MHz sitting alongside a 3 axis accelerometer (Freescale MMA7361Freescale MMA7361), tilt/vibration switch, and a SD card port. Direct support for labVIEW and ShimmerConnect on top of the systems TinyOS firmware gives the device plenty of leeway for developers.



Sensum believes that this idea of emotional response entertainment can be applied to many entertainment platforms and even tailor stories and endings to best suit the level of emotional engagement. The device could also be paired with games to unlock new levels based on what got your heart pumping or made you sweat (especially good for exercise games). The device can also be used to synchronize emotional response and on screen content in real time.



The device was tested at the SXSW and the Tribeca Film Festival, and now Sensum is working with sci-fi writer Ian McDonald plans are being executed to write a full-length feature film that uses the data collected by the Sensum sensors to alter the music, special effects and movie plots in real time.



Sensum representative Gawain Morrison explains the purpose of the device,“ You’re getting rewarded for taking part… you’re getting a personal reward for engaging with the film. All the further content is led by how you engaged with it.”



No details as to when this device will be available to the public.




Good-old Wall Street (via stock photography)


In an effort to shave milliseconds off communications time, stock traders are turning to microwaves to transmit their information instead of currently used fiber optic cables. Apparently, every millisecond is valuable in the stock market trading. Therefore, several companies have submitted applications to the Federal Communications Commission to build microwave relay towers between New York and Chicago.



Both microwaves and infrared light travel at the speed of light within a vacuum. However, the infrared light in fiber optic cables travel through a glass medium which slows light to about two thirds of its speed, or 200,000,000 m/s. On the other hand, electromagnetic waves traveling through air get slowed down only slightly. The change will allow the telecommunications to reach Chicago in 4.25 milliseconds, 2.3 milliseconds less than fiber optic cables. If the trend catches on and more cities install microwave relay towers, millions of dollars worth of fiber optic cables may become obsolete. It may be just me, but something seems wrong about stock traders being able to profit by shaving two milliseconds off of telecommunications time.




"What is he thinking?" The brain wave meter in action at Keio University (via Keio U)


A team of researchers from Keio University have developed a brain scanner that’s able to measure (in real-time) whether the user has interest, desire, stress, tiredness or concentration at any given time. The team, led by Professor Yasue Mitsukura, designed the simple (over EEG) brain wave meter to take readings from only one area of the brain known as ‘FP1’ (position on the head where the electrode of an EEG is attached), which is located on the left frontal and pre-frontal cortex regions of the brain.


This area of the brain is generally known as the location that’s responsible for ‘executive function’ that controls cognitive processes such as memory, attention, problem solving and inhibition among others. It’s traditionally thought that if the brain produced a significant amount of theta waves it indicated that the person was tired and if a lot of alpha waves were generated than that meant the person is relaxed depending on the wave’s frequency using EEG scanners. However, EEG machines are designed to record all of the brains electrical activity where Keio University’s brain wave meter focuses on only one area which makes the device accurate at measuring those specific attributes such as desire and concentration. Of course, the team’s device uses a special algorithm (no other details on either hardware or software) that’s able to process the brains frequencies emitted in that part of the brain only. Professor Mitsukura states that the team is currently working on research and development using the brain wave meter for futuristic communication such as writing a cell phone text using only your mind. As I’m sure this technology could be adapted for use in many ways, this kind of reminds me of the movie ‘Firefox’ where the pilots could fire off missiles just by thinking in Russian.




From measuring brain waves to sweat, see what in next for interactive entertainment.

Silicon Valley Bank has just opened its banking and loans services to the UK tech industry. The US hi-tech bank hopes that its considerable capital will help to stimulate the technology industry on the other side of the Atlantic.


The news has been warmly welcomed by George Osborne, the Chancellor, who said that the arrival of the bank is tangible proof that "the UK is fast becoming the technology centre of Europe". The bank, for its part, has stated that it has specific sectors that it will look to support in the UK, including life science, private equity and venture capital.


Speaking to the BBC, Phil Cox, head of UK, Israel and India division of the Silicon Valley Bank, said: "We've already lent hundreds of millions in the UK but we're looking to increase this to billions very quickly."


It has been confirmed that the bank will be making loans between £300,000 and £30 million, and will be deliberately targeting firms that are seeking to expand. The bank is determined to further credentials of supporting technology firms in the US, Mr Cox said, adding: "We are excited to be able to help the UK's entrepreneurs meet and exceed their ambitious goals."


The bank already has an impressive list of clients in the US, including Cisco Systems, Mozilla and Pinterest. There are also some top level investors, such as NEA, Sequoia Capital and Silver Lake. It has, in fact, already made loan payments worth as much as $7 billion, a figure that could rise significantly over the next few months.


Julie Meyer, the Managing Partner of the ACE Fund, a digital seed fund, hailed the news and suggested that it is a reflections of the UK's expanding influence in the technology sector.


"What an endorsement of the UK tech scene this is - that an important institution such as Silicon Valley Bank - the beating heart of the Valley - has come to the UK to bank its entrepreneurs," Ms Meyer said.


"This should cause the other UK retail banks to work a little harder or think more constructively about how to bank the UK's best high-growth tech firms."


CPU wafers in process (via stock photography)


Next year, 2013, looks to be the year Samsung gives Intel a run for its money in shrinking processor die’s for smaller faster chips. While Intel’s Ivy Bridge line is certainly impressive at 22nm, Samsung has stated that their looking to reduce mobile chip designs down to an astounding 14nm for the next generation of mobile devices coming next year. The Korean chip manufacturer is investing 1.9 billion US (2.25 trillion Korean won) in Hwaseong, South Korea for a new fabrication line that will produce 300mm wafers with 20 and 14nm logic chips. As mobile devices are becoming more popular than computers, demand for these semiconductor chips is set to skyrocket. Speculation from market researchers (Gartner) say’s that current demands for smartphone and tablets alone is set to grow from $23.4 billion US in 2011 to a 20% increase of $59.4 billion US by 2016. Sure, shrinking of the fabrication process down to 14nm will indeed create a smaller footprints, but it will also generate much less heat. It will be interesting to see how these new chips will be packaged inside devices.




(Left) Sphero and control app (Right) 3D controller/ augmented reality app (via Orbotix)


At this years (2012) E3 Expo Orbotix was on-hand to reintroduce their robotic ball Sphero with all new app that transforms the ball into an interesting type of controller for gaming. For those of you who don’t know what Sphero is; it’s a robotic polycarbonate ball that houses a multi-axis gyro with an accelerometer that’s powered by lithium polymer batteries (inductively charged) that can be controlled wirelessly much like an RC car only by using your smartphone.


This is done through a Bluetooth enabled link. Orbotix has taken their robotic sphere and created some rather clever apps that turn the ball into an interesting 3D-type gaming controller which they demonstrated at E3 recently. One of these games that incorporate Sphero is known as Exile which looks like a cross between Galaga and Asteroids. The player uses a tablet or smartphone as the games monitor while maneuvering the ship is done by twisting and rolling the robotic ball which provides 3600 of movement. Shooting is done automatically. However, using ‘super weapons’ requires the user to shake the ball. The fun continued on with a demonstration of what Orbotix calls their ‘Sphero Augmented Reality Engine’ app that lets players use the ball as an avatar for future game applications. The mobile devices camera captures and tracks the ball, and it replaces its image with that of an avatar (a dragon was used in the demonstration) which can then be placed in a completely different environment (using Unity as a 3D engine) on-screen without any fiduciaries such as add-in cards or marker guides. This app actually lets you turn the physical environment into any type of gaming augmented reality where you can interact with it directly through Sphero! Sadly, the app is still in development with the SDK being released for game developers sometime in the future. Still, you can download other games such as Last Fish, Sphero Drive and the popular Sphero Chromo for iOS and Android devices (available through Orbotix website) to pass the time while waiting for the AR games to hit the street (literally).





(Left) Fire Scout (Right) Fleet Readiness Center East, Civilian maintenance and assessments. (via US NAvy & Wiki commons)


The US Department of Defense has announced the awarding of a $27,883,883(US) contract to Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems to ‘transition’ over to Linux for the Navy’s tactical control systems software for vertical take-off unmanned air vehicle (VTOL) ground control stations. Yes, that’s almost 30 million US taxpayer funded dollars to install the free open-sourced Linux OS (Ubuntu?) on the command and control systems of ground stations that control the Navy’s VTUAV (Vertical Take-Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). It might be a little more than just an OS refresh.


Raytheon was awarded the no-bid contract as their previous awarding of $5,175,075 to implement the Linux OS is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. So, why switch over to the open-sourced software? It’s been speculated that the transition has been attributed to the recent malware cyber-attacks in the Middle-East as well as last year’s (2011) attack on the Air Forces drone control systems (Windows based) which was stated to be a credential stealing software that didn’t affect the flight controls but rather the drones surveillance and weapons systems. Apparently the ‘fly-boys’ contracted the malware by playing ‘Mafia Wars’ online where the software was present. It also stands to reason that Linux-based systems have tighter security measures over Windows when it comes to military adaptation. When it comes to handling the open-source nature of the new OS, the government has protection. US-DOD guidelines state "The US government can directly combine GPL and proprietary/classified software into a single program arbitrarily, as long as the result is never conveyed outside the U.S. government, but this approach should not be taken lightly. When taking this approach, contractors hired to modify the software must not retain copyright or other rights to the result."


The military is banking on security through controlling all aspects of the Linux operating systems. Some of the benefits: controlling the privileges of the user by default, software layers/shells help protect the core, and the hand-on community help keep exploits to a minimum. Relying on a non-mainstream OS will only have a finite lasting effect. If the goal in to effect a machine running "X," the enemy will get adept at "X." For the time being, it is a monumental leap in security.


The US Navy currently employ’s only one (unclassified) VTUAV designed by Northrop Grumman, which comes in two versions known as Fire Scout RQ-8A and the MQ-8B. Both designations deploy from air-capable ships such as Carriers and Littoral Combat Ships (close to shore), and they have a range of 110 nautical miles (with a cruising speed of 110 knots) with an on-site hovering time of 5 hours. Both versions of the Fire Scout are equipped with UHF/VHF communications relays and an impressive payload of sensors that include infrared/electro-optical imaging systems and a laser-designator to track and acquire targets. As you might suspect, they are indeed outfitted with the Navy’s APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System) missiles that are housed in pods located on the aircrafts sides. The weapons system these VTUAV can pack is impressive, to say the least, but the Navy states that certain safe-guards have been implemented in using the Linux software for their ground stations so that what happened with the Air Force doesn’t happen to them.



Controlling robots with electromagnetism is nothing new, but controlling a living organic organism is still in the realm of science fiction. Here, on Element14, we have seen attempts to use optogenetics to influence the behavior of a living organism. Now researchers the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo are pushing one step further by modifying nematode worms to control their movement at the flip of a switch.



A team of biophysicists from SUNY has been conducting experiments on protein gates called ion channels that are found in the membranes of cells. In the natural cellular world, there are a wide array of these ion channels which react or open to different cues such as light, mechanical forces and temperature and regulate cell functions.



The team has made previous breakthroughs using the temperature sensitive ion channels and now they are applying their findings to nematode worms. Nematode worms have ion channels that activate as a reflex when they are hot enough and alert the organism of possible harm ahead of it. This causes the worm to stop and move the opposite direction automatically.



In order to activate these minute ion channels in cells, the researchers found that they could excite magnetic nano particles made of manganese-iron with a magnetic field to create heat and activate these minute ion channels.



To attach these magnetic nano particles to tissues, the team coated them with polyethylene glycol, which adheres to the mucus layer near the worm’s head. After they are implanted, a radio frequency is applied which causes the polarity of the nano particles to change quickly; a process which releases heat, opens the ion channels and allows calcium to enter the cells which triggers the flight reflex.


When the white & clack square appears, the signal is being applied


The results of this were immediate. When the worms implanted with the nano particles were exposed to the magnetic field, they responded in exactly the way the researchers had hoped. They were able to activate biochemical processes simply by pressing a button. Magnetic nano particles had never before used to control cellular function.



Advantages of this method over optogenetics is that this uses a magnetic field that easily penetrates living organisms rather than visible light which does not. Furthermore, researchers believe this technique holds a lot of potential. They released an article in June’s Nature Nanotechnology issue where they say this could be used to destroy tumors with heat, treat paralysis and fix dysfunctional organs that need to secrete important chemicals for our bodies to function.




DICE+ (via GIC)


If GIC has their way, board games will be brought into the technology age. This is the concept behind their design of DICE+, which was shown at this year’s (2012) E3 Expo (Electronic Entertainment Expo) held in Los Angeles. DICE+ is a digitally enhanced version of traditional die that allows you to interact with ‘powered’ board games on any digital screen, such as smartphones, tablets and TV’s without damaging them. Essentially, DICE+ gives the players a better sense of interaction with digital board games (such as Monopoly for example) that allows them the entire tech ‘bells and whistles’ while maintaining a traditional feel. Actually, it’s easier to think of the dice as a simplified game controller for digital board games. GIC designed DICE+ (currently in its 5th generation) using a nonabrasive noise-cancelling rubberized polymer case with configurable colored LEDs that houses a Bluetooth 2.1 EDR wireless communication system that’s used to connect the die to the game being played.


Powering the cubes are rechargeable ‘cube-shaped’ batteries (unknown but most likely Li-ion) that have a 20 hour run time before needing a recharge, which is done through a micro USB port incorporated in each cube. The USB port also allows to access the internal settings (with the appropriate software) to change the various work modes for game development. The DICE+ cubes are balanced for complete randomization of the dice throw using the cube-shaped batteries along with specialized ‘anti-cheat’ algorithms designed to ‘check the minimum spin angle’ along with roll time and surface gradient. GIC is currently looking for hardware developers and gaming software designers to get their DICE+ digital dice to the public but when they arrive. (perhaps around the holiday’s?) GIC states they should cost around $30 US when they start shipping.



Now, if we can only get a D50 from them.


(via Justin Michell)




Edinburgh's Olympic rings by the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. Weighs approximately 3,100kg (6,834 lbs)


The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stated in a recent press release that it will stream the Olympic Games to 64 territories in Asia and Africa live over their YouTube channel beginning on July 27th and ending on August 12th. That’s 2,200 hours of digitally live-streamed Olympic programming for people in countries where the digital broadcast rights haven’t been collected for the IOC’s broadcast partners (meaning it’s free). This is because the IOC didn’t (or couldn’t) sell those digital rights to the various broadcasters covering the games and also because the IOC and YouTube have a revenue-sharing deal for Olympic coverage. The IOC will have 11 simultaneous HD broadcasts for the various events all with English commentary with 10 of those being the London feeds (which begin daily at 9:00 a.m. London time and ending at 11:00 p.m.) and one 24-hour channel for updated Olympic news and scores for that day. The people located in these regions will be able to view the live-stream coverage on any smartphone, tablet or computer that has access to YouTube. So, exactly what countries will be able to view the games via YouTube? A complete list is as follows:


Asian regional countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.


Sub-Saharan African countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.


Who says the people in these countries will even have the ability to watch these Youtube streams? (Maybe at schools, other institutions)




(via Vista Medical)


For some time now medical professionals have been searching for a reliable way to distribute and reduce pressure on patients bodies to prevent costly and elusive medical conditions, such as pressure ulcers (bedsores). Vista Medical's pressure mapping system appears to end that search. With an easy to use pressure mat, interface module, and display, medical users can quickly analyze and locate areas of high pressure on a patient's body.



Stretchable fabric sensors with advanced elastic 3D properties are the brains behind the pressure mapping. The pressure mat  is made up of 3 layers of fabric that collectively gather and send information to the interface over a 77”x44” mat featuring 864 sensors. The top and bottom layers are conductive columns and rows respectively, made from Eastex or a spandex type of material. The middle layer houses the pressure sensitive fabric which works by varying electrical resistance due to force. Although pressure sensors are nothing new, this system boasts the world's first 3D, stretchable, and breathable pressure sensing material.



Research has shown that pressure mapping is a reliable means to analyze and redistribute a person's mass over a supported surface. In addition, the easy-to-use system and display make it ideal for integrating into current medical equipment. The display maps the pressure using a color system, hotter colors indicating more pressure, and it allows different diagrams. For example, users can view a 2D view of the pressure surface, a 3D view of peak pressure areas, or view statistical information. The valuable pressure mapping information offered can help prevent many medical conditions and help give patients the right support from the start of operations. These mats may help take the pressure off  of visiting the doctor's office for a checkup.





CEO Vision technology integration concept (Via Keytree)


Augmented reality is transitioning from video conferencing and gaming to business offices with Keytree’s CEO Vision. Sure pie-charts and PowerPoint presentations are effective but augmented reality is much more fun. CEO Vision was designed using a pair of Vuzix (what version Keytree used is unknown) virtual reality glasses along with 2 HD cameras and a Microsoft Kinect to access company data in an augmented reality environment. The system is able to show information such as sales figures, spread sheets and a host of other information by using simple gestures on a ‘management dashboard’.


For instance; you could look at your company’s branch locations on a world map and instantly get annual sales figures and other critical data for those branches respectively. To do this, CEO Vision uses SAP AG’s SAP Hana in-memory database technology which uses system memory instead of disk storage to access data quickly from a Cloud-based service. SAP Hana is a compilation of four separate components that include SAP Hana DB (in-memory database), SAP Hana Studio (modeling tools), SAP Hana Appliance (memory firmware), and SAP Hana Application Cloud (cloud-based infrastructure). The two HD cameras provide the user with a stereoscopic image of an object through which the overlay of information is placed. The Kinect tracks the user and provides the simple gestural interface with the object while the Vuzix glasses in conjunction with SAP Hana provides the user with the augmented reality platform.


Surprisingly, the whole set-up works very smoothly at supplying relevant data while interacting with various objects. The developers state that the CEO Vision system cost around $625 US but have yet to market their AR system on a commercial level. My guess is that companies will be able use Keytree’s new interaction tool sometime in 2013, but that’s only a guess.





Ivy Bridge in the raw (via Intel)


Intel has recently released their new batch of Ivy Bridge processors using their new 22nm process for ultrabooks, mobile devices and desktops. These include the core i5 and i7 CPU line with the i3, Pentium and Celeron lines coming later this year (2012). All of the chips feature lower power-usage, which translates to longer battery life for the ultrabook/mobile device platforms which include the i5-3317U (clocked at 1.7GHz @ 17w), i5-3427U (clocked at 1.8GHz @ 17w), i7-3717U (clocked at 1.9GHz @17w) and i7-3667U (clocked at 2GHz @17w) for ultrabook OEM makers. Intel released four more processors that consume slightly more wattage with a greater frequency for the mobile market with the i5-3210M (clocked at 2.5GHz @ 35w), i5-3320M (clocked at 2.6GHz @ 35w), i5-3360M (clocked at 2.8GHz @ 35w) and i7-3520M (clocked at 2.9GHz @ 35w) respectively. Finally, rounding out the newly released processors are Intel’s new ‘affordable’ Ivy Bridge QC/DC CPU’s (featuring 5 quad-cores and 1 dual-core) for low-end desktops, which include i5-3470T dual-core (2.9GHz @ 35w), quad-core i5-3470S (clocked at 2.9GHz @ 65w), quad-core i5-3470 (clocked at 3.2GHz @ 77w), quad-core i5-3475S (clocked at 2.9GHz @ 65w), quad-core i5-3570S (clocked at 3.1GHz @ 65w) and the quad-core i5-3570 (clocked at 3.4GHz @ 77w). All of the newly released processors feature Intel’s new 22nm die process that use ‘Tri-Gate’ 3D transistors for processing power over the current standard planar 2D implementation.



Ivy Bridge transistor concept (via Intel)


So, what exactly are Intel’s Tri-Gate 3D transistors? Simply put; they differ from traditional planar 2D transistors by housing a single horizontal gate that’s stacked onto two vertical gates (three or more silicon fins) which allow for a greater surface area for electrons to travel. According to Intel the 3D transistor allows for better control of the gate which when in the ‘off’ state is as close to zero as possible with wider current flow (more power) in the ‘on’ state. The 3D design allows for faster switching between the two states (over 100 billion times a second). This enables the new Ivy Bridge processors to be 37% faster with a reduction of up to 50% power usage over last generation Sandy Bridge processors. To demonstrate exactly how fast these new process can go, overclocker HiCookie took his Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K processor and overclocked it to an astounding 7.03GHz using liquid nitrogen for cooling on a Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H motherboard. This was recorded as a world's record for Ivy Bridge processors but was later defeated by Andre Yang who used the same CPU but on an ASUS MAXIMUS V Gene motherboard to achieve a top speed of 7.07GHz!


See more about the Ivy Bridge processor after this link.




An increasing number of restaurants in the US are relying on technology to speed-up and simplify the process of ordering. At diners such as Chili's Grill & Bar, for example, customers are now using a small, interactive computer screen to place their order.


One obvious advantage of this is that it means firms can reduce their overheads by employing fewer staff. But from a customer's viewpoint, there is also the added advantage of being able to preview the meal they want before placing an order. The screens - which are being trialed at dinners throughout the country - display glossy images of all the meals on the menu.


Allied to this, some of the screens also allow customers to play video games and read news stories, often without any additional charge.


Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Austen Mulinder, president and chief executive of TableTop Media, the firm behind the technology, said: "Restaurants are faced with either being outside of that communication and just allowing it all to take place on guests' phones or they can be part of that."


Jay Johns, vice-president of strategy implementation at Applebee's, which is currently trailing the technology, explained that the move should also simplify the process of paying the bill. "When you are ready, that five minutes waiting for the credit-card transaction feels like 20."


The technology allows customers to pay for their meal using their credit card. Some of the screens are so advanced, in fact, that they are able to print the bill at the table, meaning there's no hanging around.


Mike Bova, senior vice-president of operations for ERJ Dining, has welcomed the new technology, explaining that dessert orders have risen by 30 percent since it was introduced. Furthermore, restaurant owners have found that the screens have helped to turn historically low tippers into more generous customers.


A simple idea many of us have probably tried doing before has led to a fantastic little invention. I have found myself a few times using my phone to take a picture of a document to send to a friend. However,  shaky hands make it difficult and trying to find the perfect distance is more of a guessing game.  Phil Bosua from Melbourne Australia has created a box optimized to scan documents using a smart phone. The “Scanbox” may just make scanners a thing of the past.



Most scanners come included with printers or can be rather large and take up lots of space on a desk. Additionally, most can take a minute or two to create a copy. The Scanbox eliminates all the hassle with modern scanners. It folds down flat to fit into folders or laptop bags making it conveniently portable or easy to store away in a desk when done using it. When ready to use it again you just unfold it and it holds itself together using neodymium magnets. It has also been designed to optimize light in different situations creating the clearest possible copies. The Scanbox sizes in at 12.2 x 12.2 x 9.05 inches and allows any 3D object capable of fitting inside to be scanned.



The Scanbox will be available around the end of summer and will sell for $15. In addition, there will also be a $25 option called the Scanbox Plus. The Plus will feature an internal LED lighting system and a side enclosure for precise light control and reducing glare. The Scanboxes' ease of use to scan items, receipts, documents, and even books make it an irresistible accessory for smart phones and the office. Hello Scanbox, goodbye scanners.




The Team: Ryan LaVoie, James Barron, Pedro Lopes, Nick Aquino, Basel Magfory, Mohammed Kante and advisor electrical and computer engineering professor Waleed Meleis (via Mary Knox Merrill & Northeastern University)


The disabled, as well as their caregivers, know that the simple act of trying to eat can be a daunting task in itself. People eat at different rates (speed) that caregivers have a difficult time trying to match those individual speeds so a team of engineers from Northeastern University in Boston designed a robotic arm that overcomes that problem and provides a personal sense of freedom.


The team, led by Mohamed Kante, designed the robotic arm so that the user can control it by eye movement alone. Called ‘iCRAFT’ (eye Controlled Robotic Arm Feeding Technology), the robot functions using color-coded boxes situated on a monitor which correlates with individual containers of food. A camera positioned next to the user follows the user’s pupil direction with specialized eye-tracking software and detects which colored box (4 in all with 3 associated with two bowls of food and a drinking bottle with the fourth being a pause feature) the subject is looking at and then sends a signal to the robotic arm to scoop up the food from the corresponding food container.


The robotic arm the team used to create iCRAFT (unknown at this time) looks to be a RobotShop M100RAK which features 4 Hitec HS785HB servo motors with four degrees of movement and operates with 4.8 to 6 volts of power depending on torque. Similar configurations of robotic assistive arms can cost around $3,500 US but the team states that building the iCRAFT set them back only $900 US which seems very affordable for the amount of freedom it gives the user. The design won the ECE Capstone Design Competition 2012.


See more about robotics in the element14 Robotics goup.




Kang Xu, one of the people behind the innovation (US Army)


Researchers from the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) have recently announced that they are able to generate more power from batteries through new design processes and materials. This small group of researchers are tasked with providing soldiers with power solutions that are both lightweight and energy efficient. Soldiers are being increasingly burdened with more technology everyday (communications, laser designators, NVG’s, etc.), and this requires them to carry a significant amount of batteries along with the 30 to 70Lbs worth of gear. The researchers developed their new lithium battery technology that provides 30% more power using what they call a ‘sacrificial additive’ that was developed a few years ago by US Army researchers Dr. Kang Xu and Dr. Arthur Cresce. The additive is an electrolyte made from a highly fluorinated phosphate ester structure. Their electrolyte additive bonds with the batteries cathode surface (carbonate-based electrolytes) which creates a stable interface that enables the battery to operate at 5 volts, which would be a first for single-cell battery solutions. The ARL researchers state that this new battery technology is just one advancement for the soldiers and that they’re looking towards the future with developments in ‘ubiquitous energy’ resources that would provide power through ‘indigenous sources’ such as making fuel from water (separating the hydrogen from water). Despite power saving schemes, the most popular operating voltage still sits at 5V. This battery will be welcomes with open arms.



Innovation.jpgA passage on innovation in a recent article questioning STEM education funding caught my attention.

While everyone generally agrees that “innovation” is critical to U.S. economic and social progress, there aren’t good definitions of what the term means let alone how to measure innovation.


This reminded me of an article I saw last week from Harvard Business Review titled, “Please Can We All Just Stop Innovating,” which argues that the word innovation has become a meaningless buzzword akin to what “synergy” and “paradigm shift” were in the 90s.


Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma may have helped propel this word to alleged buzzword status.  This is unfortunate because in the book innovation has a real meaning: Something new that provides increased value to an existing market or provides a product or service to a new market that previously did not have access to it.  Christensen explains how innovation drives the cycle of commoditization and de-commoditization that everyone working in technology has seen.  The word is too important to retire. 


Much of the use of the word innovation, particularly with regard to STEM education and economic growth, is consistent with its legitimate meaning.  Providing more value to existing markets and bringing products to people who previously could not afford them or lacked technical understanding to use them is what economic growth is all about.  To use Thomas Friedman’s terms, innovation might be stressful on our olive tree (cultural identity) as it eliminates jobs and commoditizes previously high-margin industries.  But if we want more Lexus (wealth and fancy consumer products), we need people innovatively applying STEM knowledge.


It is less clear whether we need particular funding programs for STEM education.  If people believe STEM knowledge and hard work create value, they will seek out the knowledge without regard to government funding.  If people think prosperity is a birthright or engineering is un-cool, no amount of funding will help. 


Image Source Credit: Click on the image to go to the Wall Street Journal article "You Call That Innovation?"


Everybody (I’m fielding a guess here) at one point or another has built with Legos. Imagination brought those constructs  to life. Those were some pretty fun days, but long ago. However, we may be able to relive some of those Lego fantasies once again with Wonder Years BrainBricks. Being developed by Bas van de Poel and Daan van Dam (from Amsterdam), BrainBricks uses Legos that have wireless sensors housed inside them which are able to sense how they’re configured. Once the configuration is mapped, they then send a signal to any mobile device, using the BrainBricks app, which then recreates the ‘build’ in a virtual gaming environment that lets you play with your creations. Theoretically (Wonder Years states), the better the build, the better performance you will have within the game. There’s just one slight problem; BrainBricks is just a concept from the guy’s over at Wonder Years and doesn’t actually exist yet. Hopefully, the people over at Lego will sign-off on this concept and let us relive some of the greatest times we’ve ever had as kids, or as adults! (10,000 supporters will make the tech a reality)



I had the pleasure to visit the Sensor Expo & Conference earlier this week in Chicago.  For the last two years, ESC Chicago had occurred alongside the Sensors Expo & Conference, but this year ESC didn't come to Chicago.  However, the Sensor Expo on its own did not disappoint.


One of the first booths I visited was North Pole Engineering where they were displaying their WiFi-IT! technology which simplifies integrating Wi-Fi control into projects.  WiFi-IT! modules are based on a GainSpan SoC which contains two 32-bit ARM processors: one for the wireless communication stack and one for application code.  To speed the development cycle, NPE provides a custom Basic language and IDE which abstracts away the low-level details of wireless networking.  Several applications were on display including LED lightning that can be controlled by a smartphone or computer via WiFi:


The usage of WiFi-IT! that I found most interesting was their WASP device which can connect up to eight ANT+ devices to WiFi:


One application for WASP would be to enable a trainer to visualize on a tablet the heart rates of all the students in an exercise class:


I was just surprised to see a bed a few booths over.  More than just a high-tech luxury item, the BodiTrak Smart Bed is an intelligent way for healthcare providers to prevent bed sores:


MaxBotix was showing off their latest ultrasonic sensor which offers an impressive 1mm resolution and both analog and serial output.  Their demonstration had the MaxSonar module suspended above a deck of cards with serial output from the module displayed in a terminal program on a laptop.  It's precise resolution was demonstrated when removing just a few cards from the deck:


In Freescale's booth, I spotted their FSLBOT - a dev kit that can walk!  It's 4 servo motors give it four degrees of freedom for bipedal motion, and it's face contains capacitive touch buttons and LEDs:


It also supports different add-on sensors such as magnetometer and accelerometer.  The 32-bit ColdFire processor can be programmed in C/C++ with Freescale's CodeWarrior IDE.  Alternatively, beginners can choose to program in StickOS BASIC which lowers the learning curve by abstracting low level details.


Twisted Traces caught my attention with their beautiful Nixie tube clock:


I was pleased to learn they are engineering and PCB services company which does all their fabrication and assembly in the Chicago area.  As their name implies, one of the prototyping services they offer is flexible PCBs.


After reading Anaren's blog post about the Sensors Expo, I was sure to stop by their booth where they were generously giving away pairs of their wireless AIR BoosterPacks and TI's MSP430 Launchpads:


It looks to be a great solution for easy-to-use, low-cost embedded wireless networking.  I look forward getting up to speed with AIR and the MSP430 soon.


Speaking of TI, they had impressive booth which included a demonstration of their brand-new, ultra-low-power MSP430 processor code named "Wolverine":


It integrates FRAM and consumes shockingly little current.  The other exciting part was the daughter board featuring Sharp's low-power "memory" LCD.  I'd heard about these displays before, and it was very interesting to see in person.  Hopefully, the complete dev kit will be available soon.


Finally, Rohm had several interesting new personal sensors on display including this UV light sensor which might be worn as a fashion accessory:


The user could then view UV levels on their smartphone to know if they should apply sunscreen.




lok ground sensor.jpg

Soldier planting a T-UGS system, original version (via NorthropGrumman)


The military, as well as Border Control, have been using ground-based sensors and sensor nets for quite some time now. It’s even been speculated that famed Area 51 has employed them since the late 50’s. These sensors detect people or vehicles with a variety of technology including seismic, acoustic and infrared imagers. However, the current generation of sensors have a limited lifespan; meaning they only work for days or weeks before the batteries need a recharge or replacement. They also aren’t very ‘stealthy’ either with the US Army’s T-UGS (Tactical Unattended Ground Sensor) system as an example, which houses an infrared camera system atop a telescoping pole which makes it hard to conceal.


The current UGS systems are being used in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and both borders of the US to monitor the movement of ‘hostiles’ or illegal immigrants respectively. In Afghanistan, these sensors are used as a way to monitor area soldiers are concerned about but can’t patrol because of a lack of man-power or other ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) equipment. As the US sets to draw back its conventional forces in 2014, the remaining special operations units will rely heavily on UGS systems for SR (Special Reconnaissance) for the rest of their stay.


To help the special operators in their efforts, various companies are looking to equip them with the latest next-gen UGS systems which include Northrop Grumman’s Scorpion 2 Unattended Target Recognition System and Lockheed Martin’s SPAN (Self-Powered Ad-Hoc Network) system among others (Harris Corporations Silent Watch, Falcon Watch and McQ Inc. OmniSense, OmniSense-Enhanced).


lok scorpion 2.JPGlok scopion system.JPG

(Left) SCORPION II gear, 50% smaller and lighter than original (Right) The communication network (via NorthropGrumman)


Northrop’s Scorpion 2 UGS features wireless day/night Electro-optic sensor along with seismic, magnetic and passive IR (infrared) sensors and have BLOS (Beyond Line of Sight) communications capability. This means that anyone around the world (with the right decryption ie: the Pentagon) can monitor the area being covered by the UGS system. The system even has pan/tilt servos that allow the remote operator to adjust the position of camera (with a maximum view distance of 800 meters) for a better view. Powering the Scorpion 2 are two to six (depending on requirements) B/A 5390 non-rechargeable lithium battery packs that are capable of running for six months or longer before needing to be replaced.



SPAN system, original in the left hand, concealed "rock" version in the right (via NorthropGrumman)


Lockheed Martin’s SPAN system is no less impressive and features a ‘self-organizing/self-healing’ sensor grid which is able to detect vehicles or people that pass through its ‘grid’. The system design uses both seismic and acoustic sensors that are housed in a false rock (and any other concealment you prefer) to detect movement. Up to 50 of them can be used to create a ‘grid’ (think of it like a laser array that guards precious jewels in the movies) in an area to be monitored. Each sensor rock is connected wirelessly and work together as a net. When one sensor is tripped it automatically sends a single to others around it to gather data such as direction and speed which is then transmitted to a spy-blimp equipped with a camera system that can lock on to the target that tripped the grid. It can also send the signals anywhere including satellites or tactical communications systems, and it’s also capable of sending a Twitter message to mobile devices!



(Left) Thin-film battery powering a LED circa 2009 (Right) Concept Thinergy battery cell


SPAN's power system is quite unique. Each ‘node’ houses a ‘thin-film battery’ (manufacturer is unknown) that’s capable of being recharged over 80,000 times.  Thin-film batteries can be as thick at a piece of paper, and often flexible. Shaping a battery to fit the housing would be easy. Each node reduces the power used by shutting down unnecessary systems (such as wireless) when not in use. The devices can be outfitted with a tiny photovoltaic solar panel that recharges the battery which technically can provide the sensor with power for 20 years or more, so the officials say. 


We can certainly expect to see a wider use of UGS systems in the near future for monitoring battlefields and borders, but will it stop there? Why not deploy them around prisons or other heavily guarded facilities such as the NSA’s new super-facility being built in Utah? It certainly makes sense considering we already have police and corporate UAV’s flying over American airspace monitoring everything from criminal activity to cattle (EPA monitoring farmers in Nebraska and Iowa with UAVs). These little sensors could do the same thing without the use of fossil fuels and large costs associated with UAV flights.




(via Marvell)


Marvell Technology Group Ltd is a leading developer in storage, communications, and consumer silicon solutions. Their latest creation, the Avastar 88W8897, will be keeping them on top for some time. The chip is designed to integrate smoothly into ultrabooks, smart TVs, gaming systems, and tablets with an advanced power management system.



The Avastar is one of the first chips that will increase bandwidth as needed by using the IEEE 802.11ac wireless communication standard. This allows multiple-station WLAN to push 867 Mbps wirelessly alongside other communication protocols. Using the combination yields other benefits, applications will have low power consumption, longer battery life, and multi-streaming HD capabilities. Within the same chip there is pairing of several different wireless technologies, the chip features near field communication (NFC), Bluetooth 4.0, and Wi-Fi certified Miracast.



Due to such a highly integrated chip it allows much less materials to be used in systems, thus reducing required space inside devices. In addition, cost will be about 75% less than current wireless connectivity systems. Avastar 88W8897 will most likely introduce the world to the always on, always connected (AOAC) computing experience while not draining the world of energy. Furthermore, with its NFC capabilities we may soon see the dawn of e-money transfers in most devices. (The 88W8897 can support an e-wallet application for smart phones.)



Similar combinations of wireless connectivity systems have been combined before, but none have managed to boast all the features of the 88W8897. It is the smallest chip to be manufactured to date. With 50% smaller foot print and 75% reduction in cost over rivals, Marvell has certainly raised the bar significantly with this chip. New smart devices will enhance user's experience while offering developers a limitless playground to create new applications and products. Within a year we could expect to see new electronic devices featuring these chips, possibly sooner.



See Broadcom's 5G offering, for a comparison.



Bilayer graphene concept (via Loretta Kuo and Michelle Groce, University of Maryland)



Graphene is becoming the main ingredient in innovation. Since its discovery scientists have used its unique properties to create many useful devices with extraordinary properties, if only to make our vodka stronger. The latest creation to come from graphene is a photo detector able to detect a very wide range of wave frequencies. Acting as a photo detector, it has the potential to have a very wide range of applications it may be used for, from security scanners to detecting dark energy.



Researchers at the University of Maryland have created a bolometer using bilayer (two atom thin sheets) graphene. The unique properties associated with graphene give the device the capability of detecting light energies ranging from terahertz frequencies to visible light frequencies. The graphene layer has a bandgap of exactly zero energy, distinguishing it from other photo detectors. (Finally, a use for graphene's one weakness, the bandgap) The zero energy bandgap allows it to absorb photons of any energy. In addition, it will be able to detect very low energy photons such as infrared and sub-millimeter waves that pass through currently used semiconductor photo detectors.



The bilayer graphene bolometer is particularly attractive in the field of astronomy. Photons of submillimeter waves are emitted from early-stage formations of stars and galaxies. By examining these interstellar clouds of molecules astronomers can get a deeper understanding of redshifts and masses of distant beginning galaxies. Furthermore, it may help us research dark energy and structure development in our universe.



However, more work is to be done before a device can be put together using bilayer graphene. The electrical resistance in the bilayer graphene bolometer is extremely high. This creates a problem when working at high frequencies and very little incident light gets absorbed. Despite the drawbacks the team continues to work on new designs for the device and staying optimistic about graphene's future in photo detecting devices. 



A mere 19 percent of UK graduates gave serious consideration to their long-term career prospects before starting their university course. That is according to the Milkround Student and Graduate Career Confidence Report, which polled 1,730 students. The study concluded that while the majority did not consider their lives post-education at the outset, a year into their course this had dramatically changed, suggesting that the course had opened their eyes.



Some 79 percent of first year students had, in fact, considered the job they might want after university after a year of studying, the survey found. However, the research also confirmed that ongoing economic strife is having a profound impact on career confidence, with four percent of students in the last year over their course vocalizing optimism.



Consequently, Stephanie Fernandes, the IET's principal policy advisor for education and skills, has urged young people to consider their career options carefully before pursuing life in academia.



"The traditional path to finding a career is not as obvious as it once was and the thought of finding the right career can be quite daunting," she commented. "The better informed you are the easier it will be and there are many career guides available to equip students with information to get a head start in the hunt for the right position."



Ms Fernandes said that in order to succeed in an ultra-competitive job market, students should record all of their work experience. In fact, the IET has its own online skills development and recording tool for members, which they can use to help build their own CVs.



The IET Graduate Advantage package, meanwhile, will help new graduates to "prepare for interviews, deal with the steep learning curve that comes with your first significant professional experience and make a successful transition from education into early career development and towards a successful career", Ms Fernandes added.


The Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) Americas returns to San Antonio this year!

Join our squad on these four geeky days to learn about the newest embedded technologies: devices to elevate your designs, tools to make your job easier, and upcoming trends that are driving our future.


FTF Americas brings together the embedded design community on several hands-on and classroom trainings, impressive solution demonstrations from the embedded ecosystem, visionary keynote presentations from industry innovators, and the chance to connect with product experts and a bunch of colleagues engineers.


For the second year in a row, we will be around the Tech Lab, the Make It Challenge, Freescale Cup for students, and some hands-on workshop rooms...

updating from time to time here, but primarily on Twitter through our handle: @squadMCU – follow us!


If you cannot attend, you would like to keep these buddies on your radar to get some cool insights from FTF 2012.

They all will give you the opportunity to follow up the happenings from different angles:

- Sensors and Touchy Stuff: @SensorFusion, @EmbeddedStories, and @TouchSensing

- Healthcare and Medical Devices: @N2_Healthcare (he did great on last’s year keynote) and @HealthDevices

- Automotive Technologies: @Marc_Osajda, @DriverInfoSys@AutoEmbedded, and @iLOVEautomotive


Also @theSmartEnergy, @aboutEmbedded, @Engineer_in_MKT, @TowerGeeks and @Freescale will be around…

obviously all the amazing (and geeky) @element14 crew will attend as well!



But if you are attending, please don’t be shy, stop by and say HELLO! We will be witnessing how Powering Innovation happens at FTF 2012



YEI (Yost Engineering Inc.) has recently shown their line of 3-Space sensors at this year’s Sensor Expo held in Chicago. The sensor line was developed using high precision AHRS (Altitude and Heading Reference Systems) with IMU’s (Inertial Measurement Units) which include a triaxial gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer and compass sensors. Processing is accomplished on-board with filtering algorithms that provides extremely accurate heading and attitude information in either absolute or relative terms based on reference position.


The USB versions such as TSS-USB, TSS-USB-S and TSS-DL-S have driver options that make them an ideal choice for use as PC controllers such as a joystick or mouse. These sensors have USB drivers that function as a virtual COM port along with an RGB LED and buttons which makes them ideal for computer use. Gaming is just one aspect of how YEI’s 3-Space Sensors are adapted for as other possibilities include robotics, virtual reality simulation and healthcare monitoring to name a few.


These sensors were demonstrated at the show with the presenter wearing a series of TSS-USB sensors to track body extremities in a virtual environment. This created a virtual avatar (if you will) of the demonstrator which could be used as a modeling system for movies that use ‘green-screens’ or live-action video games. YEI’s 3-Space Sensor line is available now with prices starting at $99 US for the entry-level TSS-EM model up to the $299 US TSS-BT-S model that features Bluetooth 2.0+EDR and rechargeable LiPO battery.





So what do you do when you can’t get your hands on Google’s Project Glass ‘Wingman’ AR glasses? You build your own, like software developer William Powell.


Coincidentally called ‘Project Glass’ (not sure if the name was trademarked), William designed his version using a pair of Vuzix AR (Augmented Reality) glasses as the platform for his project. As his details of what specific technology was used is almost nonexistent, he appears to use Vuzix’s Wrap 920 VR edition that can connect to PC’s or mobile devices equipped with a video-out port. His system uses a couple of Microsoft HD webcams to send a live video feed to the glasses which is combined with a specialized overlay application that provides the glasses AR software.


His AR, designed using Adobe AIR, is more akin to phone apps that are shown through the glasses instead of the phone. His system also uses voice recognition to access the various apps using a microphone headset (replacing the headset from the Vuzix 920 VR’s?) and Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which enables him to check the weather, appointments and share photo’s (among other things) by using voice commands alone. While I’m not sure that his system is actually portable (replacing the HD webcams with smaller glasses-mounted ones?), it is still pretty impressive to say the least.



I attended Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire last weekend and was quite impressed by Ford's OpenXC project: "an API to your car".  I'd read about project earlier this year but talking to the Ford engineers helped me understand the potential:


The current prototype uses a PIC32-based chipKit MAX32chipKit MAX32 board with the Network shieldNetwork shield to provide a full solution for listening to the CAN bus in the vehicle via the ODB-II port.  The real power of OpenXC comes when an Android device is connected via USB.  This allows Android apps to read many different signals in real-time as this demo shows:



One of the Ford engineers also showed me an interesting app which highlights instances where one's driving behavior has a negative impact on gas mileage.  The idea is that reviewing this data would allow one to optimize their driving habits.


I also saw their latest prototype which uses the ARM Cortex-M3 mbed dev boardmbed dev board along with a Microchip CAN transceiver:


Another prototype on display was this solar-powered heads-up display unit which can indicate system status and events via 5 LEDs reflecting on the windshield:


The OpenXC team will also be at Maker Faire Detroit at the end of July, so I look forward to catching up with them again there.






(via Duke University & ACS Publications)


The uses of digital screens on hand held devices are rapidly expanding. An elemental part of this industry is its use of indium tin oxide (ITO), which is part of the transparent coating to create the displays we use on our cell phones, iPads and devices alike. But there is a draw back to using ITO in millions of devices. ITO is obtained from a slow expensive process which gives it a cost of $600-$800 per kilogram.



However, the tide may soon be changing for a big part of this industry. In a paper published May 29 by Duke University’s assistant chemistry professor Benjamin Wiley, titled NanoLetters, he explains a new method for synthesizing a nano wire material made of copper and nickel. He also tells of its properties that could very well be used to replace the expensive ITO found in everyday  devices. The cupronickel wires could also be used as a new medium for printed circuit boards. It could be used in electronic paper displays, flexible clothing, packaging, solar cells and LEDs as well.



Copper nanowires alone were undesirable because of their natural orange tint and corrosiveness. The team hypothesized that coating the copper nanowires with nickel solve the issue of the orange tint and also protect the copper from corrosion. After experimentation, their hypothesis was confirmed.



The thin film of conductive cupronickel nanowires is composed of a 2:1 ratio of copper to nickel and has a grayish tint which works fine in displays and electrochromic windows. The nanowires themselves are only about 70 nm wide. In the paper published, the Duke team speaks of the method for synthesizing and new information about the properties of the material like higher strength and flexibility. It is projected that a cupronickel film containing 20-mol % nickel will lose half of its conductivity in 400 years at room temperature. By comparison, nano films of pure copper or silver lose half their conductivity in only 3 and 36 months, respectively, at room temperature.



Of course, there are limitations this new material. This cupronickel material cannot be used in LCD screens the way it is because it is not as conductive as ITO, and high electrical conductivity is needed when viewing films with a high level of transparency.



Still, this is only the beginning and researchers at Duke are excited about their results because it means that many products can use this new material and use elements that are much more abundant and easily obtained. Whether the decrease in manufacturing cost will transfer to a price drop of devices, will be left to the capitalists.




Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) are fun to build, watch, and operate. Innovations with the current design of mini-UAVs may have them charging electronic devices soon. Researchers at University of Nebraska-Lincoln's NIMBUS labs have used a quad rotor helicopter to charge electronic devices wirelessly.



The method used for wireless transmission of energy is called strongly coupled magnetic resonances. It works using two coils of wire, one attached to the UAV and one attached to the electronic device to be charged. While the UAV is in flight current flows through the attached coil. Consequently, an oscillating magnetic field is created which radiates from the coil on the quadcopter. If this oscillating magnetic field enters a region close enough to another coil of wire, the second coil will start to resonate thus inducing a voltage. The voltage can be used to charge whatever device to which it is attached.



The research team has been working on ways to optimize the power output using algorithms. So far they have found that the optimal distance to transmit power wirelessly is around 20cm which transfers 5.5 watts of power with 35% efficiency. An algorithm using sensors would work better to keep the UAV in a stable hover over the target. In addition, the UAV has to be near perfectly perpendicular to the surface in which the coil is resting for an optimal power transfer rate.



The whole idea could work great for small sensors and electronics located in hard to reach places. Researchers stated that possible applications can include, “highway messaging systems, ecological sensors located in forests, or sensors shallowly embedded underground or in concrete.” Maybe one day iRobot or Google will have a fleet of these things to deploy for our services. Or maybe one day we can have our own personal one for convenience and recreational purposes.



OpenROVangle1.jpgopen rov.jpg

OpenROV (via OpenROV)


Exploring the sea or other bodies of water is usually limited to either SCUBA diving, piloting a small sub or using ROV’s. All three can be costly and limited for the average explorer; however a team of engineers has designed an open-source project that will change all that with submersible they call ‘OpenROV’. Led by NASA engineer Eric Stackpole, the team developed the mini-sub for amateurs and teachers who have an interest in underwater exploration without being complicated or the most expensive part of one's gear.


The latest iteration of OpenROV was designed using laser-cut acrylic for the ROV’s chassis, which houses a BeagleBone (modified BeagleBoard) single-board computer that’s equipped with an Arduino and features an ARM-Cortex A8 processor and multiple IO ports which is used to control the sub’s systems. Propulsion of the OpenROV consists of three brushless motors that are commonly found on RC planes (two for horizontal thrust/one for vertical) and is powered by 8 on-board C batteries that provide 1.5 hours of operation. The sub is equipped with some pretty cheap technology including a HD forward-facing USB webcam and two 87lm LED light arrays mounted on a tiltable platform for navigating in dark areas.


OpenROV is tethered to a laptop with 100ft of ‘twisted’ 10 MB ethernet cable, which is used to relay video and control the submersible. Control of the sub is done from a laptop running software that was developed using OBCROV-1 (on-board controller running on Arduino) and TSCROV-1 (top-side controller that uses Processing programming language) which runs through a web-browser. The total weight of the sub is 5.5Lbs and supposedly has neutral buoyancy but can be augmented with weights for the user’s desired depth (up to 100ft). The sub is still a work in progress, but it should be available later this summer (check Kickstarter) and cost around $750 US which is not to bad considering the ROV (Alvin) used in the first Titanic exploration cost $55,000 a day to use!




Google has thrown its weight behind plans to improve information computer technology (ICT) teaching in English schools, revealing that it is to fund the salaries of dozens of teachers specialising in computer science. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google, explained that the funding would go towards "teaching aids, such as Raspberry Pi's or Arduino starter kits".


Explaining the move, Mr Schmidt said that a significant level of investment is needed to ensure that the UK does not squander the scientific talents of young people. Back in 2011, the Google Chairman launched a highly-publicised attack on the education system in the UK, arguing that it inhibits innovation. The UK, he said, was "throwing away [its] great computing heritage" by focusing too much attention on using software.


Mr Schmidt’s outburst left a big impression on the UK, prompting Education Secretary Michael Gove to acknowledge failings in ICT lessons. Mr Gove, a prominent member of the Conservative Party, has subsequently revised the National Curriculum to ensure that it incorporates more computer programming skills.


Addressing an audience at London's Science Museum, Mr Schmidt explained that technology innovations can only be achieved if there is an investment in science and engineering. "The challenge that society faces is to equip enough people, with the right skills and mindset, and to get them to work on the most important problems," he explained.


Progress has been made in recent months and years, but according to Mr Schmidt, computer science education in the UK remains in a "sorry state".


Thanks to Google's generaous donation,however, there will soon be more than 100 science teachers entering the education system over the next three years. It is hoped that the investment will benefit as many as 200,000 children from disadvantaged communities, most of whom would have been neglected otherwise.


"It's vital to expose kids to this early if they're to have the chance of a career in computing," Mr Schmidt remarked. "Only two percent of Google engineers say they weren't exposed to computer science at high school. While not every child is going to become a programmer, those with aptitude shouldn't be denied the chance."


Middle picture shows the prototype cell, millimeter scale (via Sharp)


Sure it may be small, but it’s what’s inside that counts; Sharp recently announced their record conversion efficiency rating of 43.5% for their new compound solar-cell. Known as the ‘triple-junction compound solar-cell’, the little photovoltaic cell will be used in Sharp’s lens-based concentrator system which acts as a funnel to capture the sun’s rays.


To achieve the record rating, Sharp designed the new cell using layers of indium and gallium which are alternated between three additional photo-absorption layers of photovoltaic cells. Sharp engineers then optimized the spacing of the cells surface electrodes which helps in reducing the electrical resistance encountered when converting the sun's energy into electrical power. To confirm Sharps efficiency claim, the German-based Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems tested the tiny cell and found that it does indeed hold the world’s record for the cells energy conversion. These types of compound solar-cells are usually equipped on earth-based satellites, but Sharp hopes to employ them in Earth-based concentrator systems due of their ability to generate electricity with a relatively small surface area.




Grill controller, one-half of the system (via Aisen Caro Chacin)


‘Grills’ (no not barbeque); you’ve seen them before, usually worn by rappers with loads of money. They’re actually pieces of jewelry, which are typically made from gold or platinum, that line the teeth giving the wearer ultimate street-cred (this is what I’ve heard anyway). It’s in that respect that a student from Parsons The New School for Design has taken the extremely expensive teeth prosthetic to a whole new level with ‘Play-A-Grill’.


Designed by Aisen Chacin, the grill is able to play MP3’s that lets the wearer hear the music through their teeth (teefis) rather than external speakers. This is known as bone conduction hearing. In fact, that’s how we hear under water (using the bone directly behind the ear). This isn’t anything new, as some Special Warfare soldiers and SWAT teams have been using specially made bone-conducting headphone systems (like the TCI SOBCH) for the better part of a decade or more. However, they don’t provide too much bling (unless you consider the ‘tacticool’ factor) as Play-A-Grill does. Aisen designed the prosthetic using a tiny MP3 player housed inside the teeth’s plastic housing. A small motor is connected to the MP3 player’s headphone jack which provides the bone-conducive sound that only the wearer can hear. For the moment, the user has a motor and wire hanging out of their mouth during use, not the coolest look.


If that wasn’t ingenious enough, she installed the MP3s controller to face downward so that the user could manipulate song selection and volume control using their tongue! It does have draw-back. Playing music too loud makes the housing vibrate which then acts like a speaker that lets other people hear the music coming from their mouth.


Demonstrating the other half of the system.



Cabe Atwell

Intel's Battery Blunder

Posted by Cabe Atwell Jun 5, 2012



Technology today is increasing faster than ever. With this increase electrically powered devices, there should be a linear increase in battery technology powering these devices. It appears that battery tech is not keeping pace with device innovation. Although there have been many breakthroughs in battery research, advancements in batteries are very slow to hit the market. Energy density in batteries improve every year by about 7% where as it should and is capable of increasing around 15% every year. Intel is one company struggling with these problems as they look to reduce their Ultrabook costs.



Intel has been searching for some time now for the best fit battery for their Ultrabook. Their main goal is to lower the cost of the unit but without diminishing the life cycle. Additionally, they would ideally like it to have a faster charge time and the ability to deliver short-term high power boosts. After input from many professionals, they have narrowed their selection down to two possible solutions. One being Sanyo's and BAK's 16650 cylindrical battery and the other being a prismatic lithium ion battery. However, both possess their drawbacks. The prismatic batteries are more expensive while the 16650 batteries' market is dominated by their Asian manufacturing companies.



As of now no choice has been made as for which one may be finding its new home in Ultrabooks. Intel is slightly leaning towards the 16650 due to its balance of size, capacity, and cost. The 16650 does not provide an improvement in capacity, however. Hopefully before Intel settles upon a choice they think about pursuing new battery designs. Intel is one of very few organizations that have the power to push the battery market to its full capability. When Intel steps in it may start a domino effect of electronic manufactures rallying for new batteries. If enough people work together, we may soon see the battery breakthroughs we have been reading about on the markets.




Navy SEAL training (via US Navy)


When it’s time to bring the fight to the enemy the US SOF community uses the best gear they can get their hands on to gain an edge. This summer the men being deployed in the US Navy SEALs will be outfitted with $2,000,000 US worth of brand new high-tech gear that will not only give them the upper-hand in a combat environment but will also be friendly to the planet. No it’s not a new SDV (SEAL Delivery Vehicle) sub, assault rifles or invisibility cloaks (not yet anyway), but rather solar technology. As part of the US Navy’s efforts to reduce its carbon foot-print, the deploying Team (known as the ‘Green Team’ which is not part of DEVGRU) will be using solar arrays, solar battery chargers/generators and water purifying equipment to help them with their ever-changing mission set. This naturally makes sense as most of their operations require that they be out in the field for extended periods of time. It’s not always feasible to get resupply helicopters or vehicles into remote locations to bring needed supplies, which can cost lives. The US Marine Corps has been using portable solar arrays called the ‘Ground Renewable Expeditionary ENergy System (GREENS) in Afghanistan for the last year or so and it’s been proven a remarkably effective in remote outposts (FOBs Forward Operating Bases).



Mobile solar deployment (via EarlCon)


So what solar technology will the SEALs be using on their deployment? Your guess is as good as mine as most information about any SOF group is usually classified. However, I’m leaning towards either the ONR’s (Office of Naval Research) GREENS modular/scalable solar-array system or Earl Energy’s FlexGen or EarlCon systems. The EarlCon system is a modular solar-array which provides 4.8kW capacity (per panel) that can be modified based on the needs of the mission set which can also include a mini wind-turbine for redundancy (see picture). The power collected is stored in Earl Energy’s battery ‘packs’ which use a AGM VRLA (Absorbed Glass Mat Valve Regulated Sealed Lead Acid) battery array capable of 88 kWh per charge. The solar array can be offset with their FlexGen diesel ‘Tactical Quiet Generator’ system which uses energy stored in lithium-ion batteries to minimize the generators fuel consumption much like a hybrid car. This is just a guess, as Earl Energy was founded by retired Navy SEAL Doug Moorehead who’s company was awarded contracts for both the Navy and Marines, but I could be wrong. Still, with the inclusion of solar technology into the folds of the SEAL’s ever-growing arsenal it does indeed make them ‘lean green fighting machines.'



Cabe Atwell

The Leap, 3D Mouse Pad

Posted by Cabe Atwell Jun 4, 2012


It turns out seeing people in the movies controlling computers with hand gestures was a good CGI trick, but the company San Francisco company Leap Motion says it has now made it reality. The Leap is tiny-device the size of a stick of gum, but it will completely change the way you are used to interacting with your computer.



The Leap offers exactly what a flat surface cannot, a third dimension. With in a volume of four cubic feet, the Leap sensor bar will detect hand gestures made by all ten fingers to an accuracy of 1/100 of a millimeter. This provides the best sensitivity of any 3 dimensional motion detection system yet and truly delivers a sci-fi experience.



The official announcements offered just a few possible uses for the Leap: Navigation of desktop and browsers, precise drawing in 2D as well as 3D, rendering and manipulating 3D models and even playing first person shooters. One can do all of this using simple pointing, pinching, moving the hands in very intuitive ways. The Leap also offers customizable options to optimize its use within any application or accommodate any user.



Before you consider throwing out your existing PC for something compatible with the Leap, you should know the Leap simply connects to any PC via USB. The device can be embedded within almost any device with a computer. They anticipate endless applications by implementing the Leap into a wide range of devices that span from cell phones to refrigerators. One could even connect multiple Leap sensors to create a bigger workspace.



The company is not disclosing exactly how the Leap works. However, they do say that innovative, ingenious coding, resulting from many major mathematical breakthroughs, is at the heart of the device. To make sure their invention meets its full potential, they are offering a free SDK to developers who request them.



But somehow the device gets better. Apart from all of these features it is accessible to those without deep pockets for only $70. Some are eligible for pre-orders, but the general public will be able to buy a Leap at the end of 2012.





FBI Los Angeles branch (via FBI)


As if federal agencies like the FBI or Homeland Security didn’t have their noses in our private matters enough, the FBI is announced the formation of yet another “surveillance” organization. This new group called the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center (NDCAC or DCAC) will be one designated towards ensuring the Feds have access to information passed via Internet, wireless communications and VoIP.



Little else about this new center was disclosed, but its purpose was outlined. The DCAC will initially focus on VoIP, like Skype, social networks, and wireless communication mediums. They will be in charge for inventing technology that will let police eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communication easier than ever before.



The FBI hopes for Internet companies to simply comply with their “security” measures and willingly install backdoors for VoIP communications, social networks, instant messaging and email so the government can sneak in when they deem necessary.



The DCAC is looking to hire people with experience in PacketCable, QChat, T1.678 VoIP etc. The FBI would also like to improve upon their Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier (CIPAV), which is illegal, remotely installed spyware used by the above-the-law FBI to identify child molesters, hackers, hit men, extortionists, terrorists and all other scary evil people that lurk among us.



This center, based out of Quantico Virginia, will be receiving about 15% of the $54 million budge allocated by congress towards “lawful electronic surveillance."



There are some who are raising concerns about the transparency the FBI seems to be avoiding. Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said, “We should know more about the program and what the FBI is doing. Which carriers they’re working with – which carriers they’re having problems with. They’re doing the best they can to avoid being transparent.” A committee of the House of Representatives has directed the FBI to disclose other agencies involves and what the DCAC has accomplished three months after it becomes effective.



Charles Gervasi

The Future of Money

Posted by Charles Gervasi Jun 4, 2012

MoneyScale.jpgThe latest edition of IEEE Spectrum focuses on the electronic alternatives to money as we know it.  I was amazed to learn that the costs of the printing, recycling, guarding, and transporting cash in the US amount to over $100 billion per year.  This one fact cries out for an electronic alternative to money. 


One huge advantage to physical cash, however, is it’s less abstract to the mind than electronic alternatives.  Money itself is an abstraction of value.  It takes some mental effort to remember that I worked all day for a pile of cash that I can optionally exchange for any number of goods and services.  It requires even more mental effort to keep track of the value associated with numbers on a screen.  For example, if I fill my wallet with a few large-denomination bills to cover the costs of a particular task, say a vacation or outfitting a lab, it’s very easy for my mind to weigh how fast I am using the money versus how much of the task is complete.  Just counting out the bills for a single purchase makes me think on visceral level of the amount of billable hours it took to earn those bills.  If you think you’re immune to this effect, try making two similar purchases, one with cash and one with another payment vehicle and see if you think about them at all differently.


Technology has made card payments common even for trifling purchases for which it would have been unthinkable to use a card 20 years ago.  I sometimes wonder if this has caused people to lose sight of the purpose of money.  During the real estate bust, there were many stories of people who couldn’t sell their houses offering to “throw in” cars or other valuables to make their house more appealing.  Maybe this was a backdoor way of getting the additional items financed on a mortgage, but I suspect the sellers simply forgot that the original purpose of money was to be a medium of exchange so people could trade goods and services individually.


CottageCash.jpgIn his article for Spectrum, David G. W. Birch says electronic money replacing cash is inevitable.  He says that it will take the form of many organizations creating their own currencies, like an advanced form of “Camel Cash” that will be mutually interchangeable in a free market.  This presents exciting questions for society and the economy.

  1. 18%-19% of the economy is currently underground.  Much of it involves trading things that the government does not want people to trade, primarily drugs, undocumented labor, and sex.  (See Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser)  Some otherwise legal exchanges are made in the black market to avoid taxes.  Will the elimination of paper money make these illegal exchanges more difficult?  Will it force us to evaluate the merits of trying to prohibit these transactions for which there is a large market of willing buyers and sellers?
  2. Critics of the US Federal Reserve system say attempts to even out the economic cycle by expanding and contracting the money supply incur an indirect cost on the economy by creating uncertainty about the value of currency.  Will these people vote with their feet (or their touchscreens) and abandon US currency for most transactions in favor of something else, perhaps an electronic currency backed by precious metals?
  3. Things of value in our society are increasingly intellectual property rather than physical things.  When someone went to buy music 20 years ago, she handed over a $10 bill and received an audio cassette tape.  If the bill and cassette are no longer necessary for this transaction and the player is trivially inexpensive, will the human mind be able to keep track of these abstractions on a daily basis?  Will a new generation of people who have never seen a cassette tape have a better ability to keep track of the scarcity of money on their smartphones and the scarcity of the digital property they can purchase with it?  Or are some of the fundamental ideas of scarcity and how value is created being upended?


Walking down the street can one day help power our electronic gadgets. The idea may come true with a twist on the concept coming from a common virus. With a virus's unique traits and conservation of energy principles, researchers at Berkeley Labs have created the world's first organic piezoelectric material. A harmless virus is used to create electrical energy from mechanical energy and may one day be embedded into the sole of our shoes to charge our electric devices.



The research is still in the beginning stages, however, scientist have managed to assemble an electrical generator using an electrode coated with a specially engineered virus to power a LCD display. With the tap of a finger on the electrode, the force gets converted into electrical energy, and a small image appears on the LCD. The first applications of this research can lead to a paper thin generator that can be mounted onto moving objects or any object that experiences a force on a regular basis.



The driving effect used in the experiment is called piezoelectricity generated from the virus.  The M13 virus used is coated with helical proteins that release electrical energy when twisted and turned. To amplify this effect scientist added negatively charged particles to the outer layer of the virus which resulted in a larger potential energy output. The output of their LCD experiment yielded 6 nanoamps at 400 millivolts, just enough power to flash the number one on the LCD.



Test setup (via Berkely Labs)


Many piezoelectric devices are toxic making working with them difficult. However, the M13 virus is nontoxic and self-assembles into sheets. These properties make working with it to create small generators more simple than previous methods. We may soon be using small electrical generators during everyday tasks without even knowing it. The small films could possibly be connected to cars, doors, shoes, and bikes to help us save on our electric bills.




Now-a-days it's tough for the playground to compete with video games, TV and computers. The company Octavia wants to level the playing field a little by introducing a computerized game to the old-fashioned swing set.


This toy is called the Son-X Octavia. It is a solar powered device that easily attaches to any swing rope or chain. Equipped with accelerometers and speakers, the Son-X Octavia is used while swinging to play different games, like swinging to new heights or at beats. Kids hear applause or cheering from the speakers to let them know when they have won a game or moved up a level. When the games get boring, the toy can be upgraded for new games through USB.



Solar panels on the Son-X Octavia (via Son-X)


The device measures 7.5 in by 7.5 in by 4.5 in. The Son-X toy is solar powered but it does use batteries to ensure play even on cloudy days. The company says these batteries should last about 2 years before needing to be replaced. The solar panels are coated in glass so they can be cleaned with heavy-duty cleaners in the event of vandalism.


You can equip your swing with a Son-X Octavia for $624 but you will have to order it from the European company Hags as there is no current U.S. distributor. Or just wait until people start stealing them out of your local park...




(Upper left) Red image showing the 3D structure of the CsSnI3 panel, absorption is at 1.3eV (via Nature)


As seen on element 14, there are a wide array of solar cells providing different ideas for solar energy harvesting. The Gratzel cell, first developed by Michael Gratzel and Brian O’Regan, was unique in that it used an organic liquid as an electrolyte that evenly covered the entire area of the solar cell. This would provide a lot of surface area for photovoltaic reactions, but fundamental problems kept it from advancing. Since the electrolyte is a liquid, there was the risk of leaking and this liquid was capable of corroding solar panel if it did. Not only that, but the lifespan for a Gratzel cell was only 18 months.



Nanotechnology experts and researchers from Northwestern University, lead by Robert P. H. Chang, decided to tackle on these issues with the Gratzel cell to produce a new version. This version is not technically a Gratzel cell because of some fundamental differences but builds on similar concepts and promises to provide dramatic improvement in cost, longevity and efficiency. Their studies were supported by the NSF, U.S. DoE, and the Initiative for Energy and Sustainability at Northwestern.



To start, the corrosive liquid has been switched out by a thin-film, p-type semiconductor compound, CsSnI3, which can be poured in the cell as a liquid and then solidifies. This new cell also uses titanium dioxide spheres as the n-type semiconductor and a monolayer dye molecule that connects the two. The thin-film, CsSnI3 compound is a natural light absorber, but each cell is coated with additional light absorbing dye. Chang says the solid electrolyte will allow for more efficient, more stable and longer lasting cells.



Each cell measures 1 cm by 1 cm by 10 microns thick. Each is composed of millions and millions of 20 nanometer nanoparticles. Chang calculated that this size maximized the amount of spheres that could fit, while optimizing the space between them to allow for conduction.



Preliminary tests at Northwestern resulted in an efficiency of approximately 10.2%, the highest for any solid-state solar cell with dye sensitizer. This value is very close to the highest Gratzel efficiency obtained which was 11-12% but still below the conventional silicon efficiency of about 20%.



Chang is confident that the low cost and small size of the cells will make them competitive. He adds that these solar cells are perfect candidates for automated manufacture, which would reduce costs even more.



Of course, there are still many improvements to be made to increase the energy conversion efficiency. This concept of solid-state electrolyte could even be applied to other types of solar cells so as Chang said, “This is only the beginning… there is a lot of room to grow”. A paper titled, “All-Solid-State Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells With High Efficiency” was published by the Northwestern team on May 24 in the journal Nature.





Jonathan Ive, the man credited with developing some of the most important consumer electronic products of the last 15 years, has been handed a Knighthood by the Queen, thereby making him Sir Jonathan Ive. The honour was bestowed on the Brit in recognition of his services to design and enterprise, in particular during the last two decades at Apple, where he has been a key figure behind products like the iPod and iPhone.


In an interview with BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, Sir Jonathan reflected on his career within the technology industry and reaffirmed his enthusiasm for product design. In fact, he said that product design is more complex now that at any other time.


"I think the challenges are more significant now than they have been in the past," he explained to the broadcaster. "I think the consequences of getting it wrong are also more significant."


Sir Jonathan’s profile has perhaps become more prominent in recent months following the death of Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple. Despite Jobs’ passing in 2011, Sir Jonathan said that Apple’s short-term and long-term ambitions remain unchanged. The goal, he explained, is to "try and to design the very best products that we possibly can".


"We're very disciplined, very focused, and very clear, across the company - that is our goal."


He added that unlike most of its rivals, Apple's overarching ambition is not to maximise profits, despite pressure from shareholders. Instead, Sir Jonathan insisted, Apple is committed to producing the most iconic and innovative products that will compare favourably to the likes of the iPod and the iPhone.


Later this year Apple is expected to unveil the eagerly-awaited iPhone 5, which is sure to be a landmark moment for the smartphone industry. It remains to be seen, though, whether the company is able to maintain the extraordinary momentum it has built up over the last few years.


What do you see in store for Apple over the next decade?