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Segments of DNA can perform basic computing functions (NAND), and code the answer by emitting green flourescent protein (GFP) (image via Nature)


What happens when the world runs out of silicon? Biological circuits could replace minerals as storehouses of computing power. So far, it’s been much easier to store lots of information using DNA and programming that allows translation between DNA and binary code. What if cells could be programmed to activate certain genes? With the ongoing developments of analogue and digital programming in microbes, that may well happen soon thanks to an effort by MIT.


That takes some tinkering, though, because silicon circuits are much easier to design and many more transistors can be packed onto a chunk of silicon than within a single cell. But we’re working on it! So far, researchers at MIT have developed biological circuitry which allows a cell to convert analogue signals into digital ones, with a range of responses. A cell could detect the concentration of acid in the stomach, for example, which triggers different responses based on the intensity of the stimulus. Essentially, the living circuit is composed of a threshold module, which detects a range of analogue signals, and subsequently controls the expression of a recombinase gene, which is turned on or off by inverting it.


Expression of the gene regulates the response of the cell to the stimulus. A bacterium could be designed to detect a range of acid concentration, and respond within a certain preprogrammed range using this circuit design.


What kind of stimuli would a bacterial circuit be used for? Current investigations underway are to detect the levels of inflammation in the body, levels of glucose in the blood, and treat diseases of the gut with specially designed probiotics. Microbes are already used to produce medically important substances, such as penicillin and morphine. The gene circuitry under development would allow a microbe to produce insulin only in the presence of high blood glucose, for example, which could potentially change medicine in a powerful way.


Unlike silicon computer chips, however, microbes reproduce and exchange genes with each other. Engineering microbes to respond to environmental challenges could unleash a host of unforeseen consequences.


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The ridges and bumps of the OLED, when mimicking the firefly, enhance its luminescent efficiency (via American Chemical Society, 2016)


Who knew that a firefly’s rear end contained the secret to efficient lighting? When aeronautic engineers designed plane wings with structures that imitated a bird’s wing, they reduced turbulence and continue to be used in modern aircraft. Such biomimicry is now enhancing the world of fluorescent lighting and design. Up until recently, fluorescent lights have been designed much like the conventional light bulb, with smooth curvature. Upon examining the structures in the tail of fireflies belonging to the species Pyrocoelia rufa, researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology initially noticed marked ridges and nanostructures that give the firefly’s organic light-emitting diode (OLED) console the appearance of honeycomb rather than a smooth bulb.


Because the firefly has such an efficient lighting capability, the researchers designed a synthetic replica and tested its efficiency. Using a scanning electron microscope, spectroscopy, and numerical analysis, the team was able to assess the structure of a firefly’s lantern. The synthetic replica was made using micromolding and  polydimethylsiloxane oxidation, which recreated the asymmetrical nano ridges.


When tested, the external quantum efficiency had increased 61%. The nanostructures also reduced reflection, which contributed to the increase in light transmission.


While the fluorescent lighting and design industry has yet to catch up with mass-marketed  designs that incorporate this research, the efficiency of such a design makes that highly attractive. The cost of making the materials may make scaling production up for a mass market unfeasible currently, but it’s only a matter of time. Advances in molding technology and increased efficiency in the design of synthetic polymers often occur in tandem with other technologies. It may be just a few years before lights designed on the humble firefly appear in our homes. Read more about this effort in the KAIST paper after this link.


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Rice University researchers have tested nanocars outside of a vacuum sealed environment (via Rice University)


Researchers have been using nanocars, molecular-scale cars that may carry tiny payloads one day, for testing in different vacuum environments for a while. But one group of researchers at Rice University have taken nanocars out of sealed environments and out into the open. The university, who first developed the nanocars, teamed up with North Carolina State University to give the tiny vehicles the ability to move around in ambient environments. “Our long-term goal is to make nanomachines that operate in ambient environments,” said James Tour of Rice University. “That’s when they will show potential to become useful tools for medicine and bottom-up manufacturing.”


This new nanocar model has adamantane wheels that are water repellent, which allows them to move on the surface made of glass without getting stuck. Balance is an important key here because if the wheels repel water too much they risk getting stuck in place. Testing takes place on glass surfaces and glass coated with polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG). The plain glass surface was coated with hydrogen peroxide to prevent wheels from sticking while the PEG coated glass offered a non-sticky surface.


These test drives are meant to show what makes a nanocar “hit the brakes” and how much energy it needs to exerts to get it moving again. Once the cars hit the track they started running into some problems. The nanocars had a difficult time moving on glass surfaces because they kept get dirty since they were exposed to molecules in the air. Though the molecules are small they still acted like obstacles preventing the cars to continue moving. The nanocars actually moved faster on the PEG-coated surface and twice as many move on these slide than the plain ones.


Even though the results were less than stellar, it shouldn't impact their chances at the first ever Nanocars Race in France this fall. The event features five nanocars from different countries including the US, Germany, and Japan and will be “invisible to the naked eye.” A unique microscope based in Toulouse, France will be used so spectators can watch the competition around the world. The track the cars will be racing on is made of single gold atoms dropped on a gold surface. The track is then placed inside a scanning tunneling microscope based at the CNRS Centre d'Elaboration de Materiaux et d'Etudes Structurales (CEMES). The EMES STM is the world's only 4-needle microscope that makes it possible to drive four nanocars at the same time.


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Implement new USB Type-C and Power Delivery technology with ST certified embedded software solution based on STM32.

The free STM32 USB-C and PD stack is compliant with USB Type-C 1.2 and USB Power Delivery 2.0 specifications enabling the rapid development in end-products, benefiting of the rich feature set of STM32 Cortex-M based MCU.

The new firmware stack, X-CUBE-USB-PD, initially based on STM32F0 entry level Cortex-M0,  allows designers to upgrade their USB legacy devices to provide significant benefits to their end users. USB-C together with Power Delivery technology provides a reversible connector, the ability to carry all necessary data (including video or proprietary protocols), and up to 100W of power to supply or charge equipment connected to the USB port.en_STM32_USB_CPD_P3825S_big.jpg

The successful STM32 family sets the standard for embedded processing, from the smartest phones and tablets to the smallest Internet-of-Things applications. “It offers the world’s widest range of price/power/performance options for the de facto industry-standard embedded-processor architecture, backed up by a comprehensive design ecosystem that includes no-cost software and low-cost development boards that minimize time to market and maximize ROI.”

Important benefit in terms of cost and PCB footprint is that solutions using STM32 with the stack require only a very simple Analog Front End comprising a few passive components, because it fully exploits STM32 embedded features such as comparators, ADCs, timers, and Direct Memory Access.

Other key technical features and benefits of ST’s solution include:

  • Support for up to two USB-C ports (provider, consumer, or dual role);
  • Cable-insertion detection, plug orientation;
  • Identification of the role of the port partner attached and its current capability;
  • Vbus Power negotiation via Power Delivery communication protocol;
  • Vendor-Defined Messages are handled to identify device or cable ID or to manage Alternate Mode commands;
  • Maximum flexibility and adaptability versus evolving specification changes, as firmware upgrades are possible during the application lifetime;
  • The processing bandwidth and available resources allow the MCU to perform other application-specific tasks, such as power-management control, USB2.0 communication, and/or voltage and current monitoring, on top of its USB-C functionality;
  • Software library provided in the X-CUBE-USB-PD software expansion is fully in line with STM32Cube APIs (HAL - Hardware Abstraction Layer), ensuring easy switch across different STM32 series;
  • Best time-to-market with market-proven solutions already deployed by industry leaders.

ST supports the new USB-C technology with an STM32 Nucleo Pack as a discovery and development tool to minimize design effort The pack includes a  NUCLEO-F072RBNUCLEO-F072RB board a USB-C and PD expansion board and a full-featured USB Type-C cable The expansion board features two Dual-Role Power USB Type-C ports with a discrete Analog Front End

The STM32F0 USB-C and PD Nucleo Pack (P-NUCLEO-USB001) is available at a unit price of U$49.90.


More insights in this presentation


Internet of Things



STEM Academy

This blog is the first in a series on the new debug features in SOMNIUM DRT.

We all know from experience (and this is confirmed by many studies) that debugging takes up a significant part of the time in software development. Software systems are complex and debugging is hard. This is especially true for embedded systems where there may be real-time constraints on when data is received or sent, the timing of interrupts, and so on. This means that traditional techniques, such as breakpoints or changing to code to print out state information, cannot be used because they will drastically change the timing and therefore the behavior of the program. Program flow is often controlled by asynchronous and external events, for example inputs from touch sensors and other peripherals. Therefore the real-time behavior of the program cannot be understood simply by looking at the control flow in the source code.

SOMNIUM DRT includes features to support debugging embedded systems. One of these enables the live, non-intrusive display of interesting data. Another is the ability to trace program flow so you can step backwards and forwards through the execution history to see how you to to a particular state.

SOMNIUM DRT is is a set of development tools for ARM Cortex-M based devices [such as the Kinetis and LPC devices from NXP and the STM32 devices from STMicroelectronics]. It is fully compatible with industry-standard tools such as the GNU toolchain and Eclipse IDE. DRT uses our patented techniques to produce highly optimized code by exploiting information about the embedded processor, the memory system and other peripherals to deliver improved performance, lower code size and reduced energy use.

It also includes some great debugging tools such as trace, live expressions and fault diagnosis.

Live Expression View

The first of these is the live view of expressions. This enables you to see the value of global variables, and expressions using them, change as the program runs. This is minimally intrusive - it cycle-steals from the bus to grab the data but does not affect the processor itself - so there is far less chance that it will change the behavior of the running program. There are no source code changes required, you just need to click the icon in the expressions view to enable live updates. The debugger will periodically read the selected memory locations and update the values in the expressions view without interrupting program execution.

A free trial of DRT is available. DRT is able to automatically import projects from other Eclipse-based development environments, making it simple to migrate your projects to DRT so you can quickly see the benefits for yourself. Download your free trial today and try out these powerful debug features for yourself.

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