Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"WIRELESS: Motorola prototype validates metal-oxide for WPAN device"

Wireless personal area networking (WPAN) got another boost today, when Motorola Labs (Tempe, Ariz.) announced that its joint-development agreement with Phiar Corp. (Boulder, Colo.) had succeeded in validating metal-insulator electronics as a viable alternative to semiconductors for millimeter wavelength 60-GHz WPAN devices. IBM recently announced a deal with Taiwan's MediaTek to supply chip sets for the IEEE 802.15.3c WPAN standard using IBM's silicon germanium (SiGe) BiCMOS radios. Motorola claims to be developing a rival 60-GHz radio sans semiconductors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"MATERIALS: 'Shrink-wrap' formation of carbon-60 observed"

When the late Harold Kroto, Robert Curl and the late Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize for their 1985 discovery of carbon-60, they speculated on how they believed it was created. The trio called these hollow spheres of 60 carbon atoms arranged in interlocking pentagons "fullerenes," (and sometimes "buckyballs") to celebrate their resemblance to the geodesic dome invented by Buckminster Fuller. They called fullerenes' construction method "shrink wrapping," because they believed that fullerenes started out as sheets of graphene that were wrapped into giant spheres of a thousand or more atoms, then shed atoms by "evaporation" until they reached the smallest possible formation, carbon-60. Unfortunately, when Smalley died, in 2005, the shrink-wrap hypothesis had yet to be confirmed. Now, however, Sandia National Laboratories claims to have experimental confirmation

Monday, October 29, 2007

"CHIPS: Electronic nose starts sniffing"

An electronic-nose technology will be demonstrated Tuesday at the Composites at Lake Louise Conference in Alberta, Canada. The electronic nose, invented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology electrical engineer mimics biology through a low-cost thin-film fabrication technique that combines the best aspects of organic and inorganic materials. By directly writing sensor films to a quartz substrate with an experimental Hewlett Packard programmable ink-jet printhead, the researchers can create arrays of smell sensors that work like a nose, but which can be calibrated to sense the aroma of noxious gases including those wafting off toxins and explosives.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Apple takes wraps off iPhone development"

Apple has unveiled an iPhone development center to spur software developers to create application programs. So far the center supports only Web-based applications, but Apple reaffirmed its commitment to provide a native application development environment by February 2008. The iPhone Development Center guides developers through the intricacies of Web 2.0 application development for both the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Videos guide developers through basic design and interface issues, then progress to content management, compatibility issues and optimization strategies. Code libraries and example applications are also provided.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"MATERIALS: Atom smasher unleashes new isotopes"

You might have thought that scientists had already cataloged the 118 natural elements--from hydrogen to silicon to uranium--and their various isotopes. Unfortunately, only the first eight elements--hydrogen to oxygen--have had all their isotopes recorded. Recently, Michigan State University's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) began smashing atoms in hopes of cataloging the isotopes for the other 110 elements on the periodic table. So far, they've found three never-before-observed isotopes of silicon, aluminum and magnesium.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"OPTICAL: Optical antenna helps QC laser hit the spot"

Spectral scanners using tiny semiconductor quantum-cascade (QC) lasers hold promise for handheld devices that can read out the chemical composition of nearly any sample. Unfortunately, QC laser's wavelengths are measured in microns, limiting scanners to micron-scale resolution, since a focused laser's spot cannot ordinarily be smaller than its wavelength. Now the co-inventor of the quantum-cascade laser has devised an optical antenna that enables QC lasers to perform submicron scans by focusing the laser's spot with nanoscale accuracy.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"WIRELESS: Pinyon's 25-cent antenna wins over Siemens"

Beam-steerable phased-array antennas--a technology perfected by the military for tight, secure radio-frequency (RF) communications--will become commonplace in residential communications soon, according to Pinyon Technologies Inc., a startup co-founded by Gil Amelio--the former CEO of Apple Computer and National Semiconductor. Today, Pinyon is coming out of its research-and-development phase with a dozen claimed design wins for the Airwire antenna. These 2.4-to-5.8-GHz antennas, based on a proprietary shorted-slot technology, add only 25 cents to a bill-of-materials. Siemens Home and Office Communication Devices is Pinyon's latest design win for Bluetooth and ultra-wide-band (UMB) devices--together called Turbo Bluetooth. Pinyon also claims a dozen other original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are licensing its antenna for WiFi, WiMax and Wireless USB devices, and soon for both 3G and 4G mobile phones, the design wins for which it plans to announce by 2008.

"WIRELESS: WPAN chip set promised"

Wireless personal area networks (WPANs) for the digital living room and digital office are the promised outcome of a joint-development effort announced by IBM and MediaTek. The companies have already begun development of an IEEE 802.15.3c-compatible chip set for WPANs. IBM will supply its 60 GHz radio cast in BiCMOS SiGe, and MediaTek will mate to it a baseband chip, resulting in a complete silicon solution for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of WPAN devices. The multi-year effort is scheduled to coincide with finalization of the WPAN standard at IEEE, which is aimed at providing individual rooms with wireless gigabyte data connections. Theoretically, all the interconnections of components in a room could be wireless using WPAN, including transmission of high-definition video and high-speed file transfers that sync an iPod in seconds.

"WIRELESS: Startup tries proprietary path to wireless hi-fi"

Touting a successful pairing of wireless and hi-fi audio, fabless chip vendor Avnera Corp. (Beaverton, Ore.) today will announce chip sets for wireless audio connections in the 2.4-GHz band that outperform data-oriented wireless connections in range, freedom from interference, automatic network configuration and full CD-quality sound. But the proprietary approach means the chip sets are not interoperable with other brands.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"MATERIALS: Metamaterials to enable 3-D displays"

Metamaterials use composite resonators that can bend light any which way, potentially cloaking regions of space from visibility by diverting light around them. Now a mathematician has offered a blueprint for casting metamaterials into hollow fibers to create cloaked tunnels, each of which masks the light ascending from a planar pixel array to illuminate a 3-D display. By arraying the tiny cloaking tunnels in 3-D, light from the planar pixel array would travel up through the fibers unobserved except for their glowing ends, which would appear to be floating in space.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"MATERIALS: Metamaterials tackle communications wavelengths"

The world's first communications-wavelength metamaterial was recently demonstrated by a Princeton University design fabricated at Alcatel-Lucent. The clever semiconductor architecture sidesteps the need to craft nanoscale mechanical structures by alternating layers of indium gallium arsenide with layers of aluminum indium arsenide.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"MATERIALS: Nanotube probe invented"

Carbon nanotubes have exceptional electron mobility, but their extremely small size makes it exceedingly difficult to integrate them into transistors. One barrier to commercialization of nanotube-based circuitry is the lack of quick and easy ways to accurately measure their performance. IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center has demonstrated a characterization technology for carbon-nanotube transistors that it claims is quick and accurate. By focusing a laser on the nanotube that is being tested, IBM measures the shift in Raman phonon frequency to determine whether the nanotube is metallic or semiconducting and to measure its electron- or charge-density. This type of probing method, absent until now, is essential to characterizing nanotube materials capable of commercialization.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"MATERIALS: Carbon-impregnated plastic: Strong as steel! Thin as cellophane!"

Nanomaterials are often cited as being up to a thousand times stronger than steel, but researchers have had a difficult time transferring that strength to bulk materials. Now, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) claims to have invented a "brick-and-mortar" technique that achieves that goal by mimicking the way oysters embed calcium carbonate into an organic matrix to create sea-shells--one of the strongest materials found in nature. The result is a material as strong as steel, but ultra-thin and transparent.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: EE attempts to unify prosthetic design"

An electrical engineer is determined to unify neural-prosthesis research by applying graphical state diagrams to bring together the disparate approaches taken by other experimental groups. Neural prosthetics convert brain activity into control signals that can drive electronics, but the algorithms that make the link have been unique to each implementation. Now, Lakshminarayan Srinivasan's state diagrams appear to offer a single method to conjure the intentions of a patient from the signals in his or her brain, then translate that into actuation of a prosthetic device.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"NANOTECH: for flip-chips blows hot and cold"

Nextreme Inc. (Research Triangle Park, N.C.) claims to have solved the over-heating problem with modern flip-chips with its thermal copper pillar bumps. The technology embeds a thermoelectric cooler into each bump, which can either help cool chips, or can be used in reverse to generate energy from waste heat.

"CHIPS: Lab-on-a-chip enables quick test for avian flu"

Singapore research collaborators recently demonstrated a lab-on-a-chip that can detect avian flu (H5N1) in less than 30 minutes. Lab-on-a-chip bird flu tests, created by the University of Colorado, have been validated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for U.S. medical clinics. Now Asia, where influenza is entrenched in poultry according to the Singapore researchers, has access to a flu chip, too. The lab-on-a-chip was developed by Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Collaborators there propose that medical- and humanitarian-aid workers throughout Asia head off a global pandemic by performing routine examinations using the while-you-wait test.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: 'Mind reading' technology aims to help control computers"

Next week, a "mind reading" technology will be demonstrated at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST 2007, Oct. 7 to 10). Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), Tufts University researchers have successfully crafted machine learning algorithms that deduce users' "stress levels," while performing tasks with varying levels of mental workload (from bored to overwhelmed) and adjust the man-machine interface to match.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"ROBOTICS: Darpa hatches plan for insect cyborgs to fly reconnaissance"

Cyborg insects with embedded microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) will run remotely controlled reconnaissance missions for the military, if its '"HI-MEMS" program succeeds. Hybrid-Insect MEMS--a program hatched earlier this year at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa)--aims to harness insects the way horses were harnessed by the cavalry.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"CHIPS:First organic circuits cast"

Organic semiconductors aim to self-assemble complex circuitry by precipitation of thinly spread solutions. Thin films of organic semiconductors have been cast into n- and p-type transistors separately, but the world's first gate to use both was recently fabricated at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.). The complementary organic semiconductor (COS) circuitry was created from nanowires that self-assembled at room temperature from solutions of organic semiconductors. The semiconductor inverter gate that was produced (hexathiapentacene for p-type and perylenetetracarboxyldiimide for n-type) had a gain exceeding of 8, an on/off ratio of 104 and electron mobility on the order of one-hundredth of a square centimeter per volt-second.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"CHIPS: IBM fabs graphene FETs"

Graphene field-effect transistors (FETs) using a single layer of carbon atoms atop a silicon wafer have been successfully fabricated at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.). Although the technique is a decade away from widespread commercialization, IBM is currently working on radio frequency (RF) applications of the technology for discrete devices planned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa)