Thursday, July 31, 2008

MIT claims 24/7 solar power

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have combined a liquid catalyst with photovoltaic cells to achieve what they claim is a solar energy system that could generate electricity around the clock. A liquid catalyst was added to water before electrolysis to achieve what the researchers claim is almost 100-percent efficiency. When combined with photovoltaic cells to store energy chemically, the resulting solar energy systems could generate electricity around the clock, the MIT team said.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"OPTICS: Microscope-on a-chip debuts"

Today's bulky, expensive microscopes could be come smaller and cheaper after researchers found a way to combine pinhole optics, microfluidics and a charge-coupled device (CCD) to assemble a working microscope on a single chip. Small enough to fit in a mobile phone or similar handheld device, the optofluidic microscope developed by California Institute of Technology engineers requires only sunlight for illumination, and could be mass-produced for $10. Caltech hopes to work with a manufacturing partner to produce handheld versions for remote monitoring. Applications could include malaria screening or identifying pathogens on the battlefield.

"OPTICS: Lasers need lenses no more"

Focusing semiconductor lasers usually requires bulky optical lenses acting as a "collimator." Researchers have now demonstrated a plasmonic collimator that utilizes grooves etched directly into the semiconductor laser facet. If the technique is adopted -- Harvard University has applied for a patent on the process -- then semiconductor lasers can be downsized to a bare die without a lens. Eventually the team at Harvard and Hamamatsu Photonics (Hamamatsu City, Japan) hope to demonstrate electrically-controlled polarization of laser beams for use in spintronics and quantum computing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"MATERIALS: Nano-inks could advance printed electronics"

Nano-inks for aerosol printing of electronics circuitry are being jointly developed by Applied Nanotech Inc. and Optomec for its M3D aerosol jet printer. Optomec's jet printer transfers metallic, semiconducting and insulating inks onto any shaped substrate. Aerosol Jet printing like ink-jet printing can reproduce electronic circuits on inexpensive flexible polymer films.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"PODCAST: Week-in-Review, July 25, 2008"

This week our top technologies stories include how CherryPal is redefining the PC, how a software tool called Supple personalizes user-interfaces, how to extend optical lithography down to 12 nanometers.
For details see our slideshow.
For commentary, listen to our weekly podcast.

"SECURITY: 'Attack graphs' predict break-ins"

"Attack graphs" help predict the risk that hackers can crack a computer system's security, plus identify its most vulnerable resources, according to the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). By analyzing and assigning probabilities to every path a hacker could use to penetrate a computer system, NIST hopes attack graphs will help IT managers identify weak points that need to be patched to safeguard valuable data. Attack graphs, developed by NIST jointly with George Mason University, calculate the vulnerability of each path into a computer system using NIST's National Vulnerability Database (NVD). By assigning a probable risk to various computer network pathways, the researchers hope to secure computer systems from multistep attacks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"CHIPS: Optical lithography good to 12 nanometers"

Optical lithography can be extended to 12 nanometers, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who have so far demonstrated 25-nm lines using a new technique called scanning beam interference lithography.

"WIRELESS: CherryPal attempts to redefine PC"

A new "green" PC that consumes only 2 watts of power also lays claim to integrated software and "cloud computing" on a par with desktop PCs. Based on embedded Linux and stripped down to support Open Office, FireFox browser, iTunes, instant messaging and multimedia access, the CherryPal C-100 includes 50 Gbytes of free cloud storage. The pricetag is under $250.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"ALGORITHMS: Tool targets faulty, 'one-size-fits-all' computer interfaces"

User interfaces should adapt to individual skills and style, rather than forcing users to adapt to the size, location and layout of buttons and menus in computer application software, University of Washington researchers told the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. In response, the team developed the "Supple" user-interface technique. They claim the new tool would allow user interfaces to adapt to screen size, input devices and skill level of individual users. Supple works by offering a configuration option that tests users' dexterity in basic operations, then replicates the appropriate size, location and layout of buttons and menus.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"PODCAST: Week-in-Review, July 18, 2008"

This week's top technology stories include improved white LEDs, fire-fighting unmanned vehicles from NASA and solar-powered cars racing from Texas to Canada.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"ENERGY: White OLEDs made brighter than light bulbs"

A solid-state, white-light source that is said to be brighter on a per-watt basis than incandescent bulbs has been described by a University of Michigan researcher. White organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are already producing more light per watt than incandescent bulbs, according to engineering professor Stephen Forrest, but it is trapped inside the device. By fabricating a tandem system of grids and micro lenses on a white OLED, the device can achieve a brightness of over 70 lumens per watt, compared with 15 lumens for incandescent bulbs--almost as much as fluorescent tube lights (90 lumens).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"OPTICS: NASA drone's sensors help battle California wildfires"

NASA's Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is spotting for the firefighters battling the more than 300 wildfires raging in California this week. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) received an emergency request for imagery from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and has responded by flying its UAV over 4,000 square miles of forest from Santa Barbara north to the Oregon border. The UAV is flown by remote control from take-offs at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

"ENERGY: Solar cars racing across North America"

After the first leg of the North American Solar Challenge—a 10-day photovoltaic-powered automobile race from Dallas to Calgary, Alberta (July 13-22)—Continuum has successfully defended its title.
The first leg of the race from Dallas to Neosho, Mo., found the University of Michiga's Continuum entry arriving first, about 16 minutes ahead of Principia College's second-place Ra 7. The University of Michigan has won four out of the eight North American Solar Challenges it has entered with its team of more than 100 engineering students, who have vowed to defend their title this year. The 24 teams racing from Dallas to Calgary are mostly from American universities and colleges, but they also include Canadian entries such as Eclipse VI from Ecole de technologie superieure (ETS; Montreal) and Schulich 1 from the University of Calgary.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"ENERGY: Nanoelectrodes boost electrolysis to cut hydrogen fuel cost"

QuantumSphere Inc. will report at Semicon West in San Francisco that its nanoparticle-coated electrodes can make hydrogen an economical alternative to natural gas and gasoline. By increasing the surface area of conventional electrodes by more than 1,000 times, the company claims that electrolysis could soon be the least-expensive way to produce hydrogen for industrial and consumer applications. In addition, electrolysis creates no greenhouse gases, whereas making a pound of hydrogen from natural gas produces 4 pounds of greenhouse gases.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"CHIPS: UC claims EUV source breakthrough"

A new, cheaper laser light source for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography has been patented by the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) in cooperation with Cymer Inc.--a maker of laser illumination sources for photolithography systems.
By demonstrating that less expensive lasers using long, rather than the usual ultra-short pulses, the researchers hope to pave the way to EUV lithography beyond the 32-nanometer node.

"SLIDESHOW: Week-in-Review, July 11, 2008"

This slideshow features this week's top technology stories including how an AI beat humans at poker, how a robot defeated human air hockey players, paint-on solar panels, a millimeter-sized microphone and how memristors, the fourth passive electronic component, are ready for prime time.Slideshow:

"PODCAST: Week-in-Review, July 11, 2008"

This week's top technology stories include how an AI beat humans at poker, how a robot defeated human air hockey players, paint-on solar panels, a millimeter-sized microphone and how memristors, the fourth passive electronic component, are ready for prime time.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"CHIPS: 3-D chip stacks standardized"

The Intimate Memory Interconnect Standard (IMIS) being promoted by the 3D-IC Alliance recently released its official specification for 3-D stacking memory chips. Founding members of the Alliance, Tezzaron Semiconductor Corp. (Naperville, Ill.) and Ziptronix, Inc. (Morrisville, N.C.), are already fabricating memory chips using the IMIS port, the first versions of which will be available by the end of 2008.

"ENERGY: Paint-on solar panels could cut cost, boost efficiency"

Paint-on solar panels could boost current energy efficiency by 50 percent while making new solar panel installations virtually invisible by painting organic dyes onto windows. By absorbing light and transporting energy to panel edges, developers of the paint-on solar panels said they could lower cost by only requiring active solar cells around a panel edges. Solar concentrators usually have to track the sun with mirrors or light troughs, then dissipate heat building up at their focal points, according to Marc Baldoat, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of technology. His organic-dye coating process absorbs the light without mirrors, has no focal point to heat up and requires no moving parts. Edge-mounted solar cells, where light is concentrated by as much as 40 times, then convert the energy to electricity.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"MATERIALS: Memristors ready for prime time"

Memristors, the fourth passive circuit in electronic circuit theory, have moved a step closer to prototyping with the harnessing of a substrate material that could yield a new memory device by 2009. In April, Hewlett Packard Laboratories researchers claimed to have "discovered" memristors, which joined resistors, capacitors and inductors as the fourth passive circuit postulated by University of California at Berkeley professor Leon Chua in a 1971 paper. Now, HP Labs (Palo Alto, Calif.) said it has demonstrated how to control its memristor material, which changes resistance in response to current flowing through it. The advance promises to speed development of commercial prototype chips for its RRAM (resistive random-access memory) by next year.

"ROBOTICS:Robots aim to top humans at air hockey"

First, a supercomputer beats a chess master. Then, an artificial intelligence program deals defeat to a poker champion. Next: A robot takes on humans in air hockey. An upgraded robot designed by General Electric Fanuc (GEF) and programmed by Nuvation Research Corp. (San Jose, Calif.) can beat most human air hockey players, its developers claim. The robot is powered by a special pc-board that can instantly switch between Freescale Semiconductor's 8-bit Flexis and its 32-bit ColdFire microcontrollers running identical C language programs. The 8-bit version lost to most human players, but the 32-bit microcontroller defeated even the best human air hockey players by a ratio of three to one.

Monday, July 07, 2008

"ALGORITHMS: AI beats human poker champions"

Humanity was dealt a decisive blow by a poker-playing artificial intelligence program called Polaris during the Man-Machine Poker Competition in Las Vegas. Poker champs fought the AI system to a draw, then won in the first two of four rounds (each round had Polaris playing 500 hands against two humans, whose points were averaged.) But in the final two rounds of the match, Polaris beat both human teams, two wins out of four, with one loss and one draw. IBM's Deep Blue beat chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. A year later, the University of Alberta's Computer Poker Research Group began winning hands with early prototypes that eventually became Polaris. A decade later, Polaris 2.0 added poker to the list of machine triumphs.

"MEMS: microphone measures two millimeters square"

What is touted as the world's smallest analog microphone fits into a package as much as four times smaller than existing analog microphones, according to developer Akustica Inc. (Pittsburgh). The 2-by-2 millimeter chip houses a 1-by-1 millimeter MEMS microphone die that the company announced last year. The newly packaged chip can be mounted alone or in arrays of two or more for sophisicated acoustic processing.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"SLIDESHOW: Week-in-Review, July 3, 2008"

View a slideshow version of this week's top technology stories, which include how a new type of transistor solves the optical computing problem, how the MEMS business topped $6 billion, how the electronic retina is making the blind see again, how compressed air could store energy generated at night for use during the day, how airless tires are on the way, and how a new photodetector can sense anthrax floating in the air.

"PODCAST: Week-in-Review, July 3, 2008"

This week's top stories include how a new type of transistor solves the optical computing problem, how the MEMS business topped $6 billion, how the electronic retina is making the blind see again, how compressed air could store energy generated at night for use during the day, how airless tires are on the way, and how a new photodetector can sense anthrax floating in the air. To read and see more, check out our slideshow, the podcast is available here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"ENERGY: A lot of hot air! Cutting energy prices with compressed air"

An engineer at Sandia National Laboratories thinks compressed air stored in underground caverns could help cut in half the cost of electricity from generators. During off-peak hours compressors pressurize underground caverns to as high as 1,200 pounds per square inch (compared to 15 psi at sea level). During peak demand hours the compressed air is used to make electricity generators more efficient.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"SECURITY: :Gallium nitride photodetector targets bioterrorism"

New sensors based on gallium nitride could improve the detection of bioterror agents like anthrax. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Savannah said gallium nitride avalanche photodectors could provide real-time detection of bioterrorism agents like anthrax by inducing fluorescence in the biological molecules floating in the air at ultraviolet wavelengths. Since gallium nitride photodiodes do not respond to visible light, they enable noise-free avalanche photodetectors--unlike silicon photodiodes which require strong filters to reduce noise at visible wavelengths.