Friday, August 29, 2008

"CHIPS: Bell Labs exits chip research"

Bell Labs confirmed Friday (Aug. 29) that it is exiting the chip researcher business. Researchers at Bell Labs, now part of Alcatel-Lucent, have received six Nobel Prizes in physics. For the last six years, since Bell Labs spun off its semiconductor business, its material sciences and device physics research group has been in decline. The only remnant left is a small group studying quantum computation, high-speed electronics and nanotechnology.

"PODCAST: Week in Review, Aug. 29, 2008"

This week out top technology stories include how IBM has improved its light-emitting nanotubes (LENs) with optical cavities, how green energy is on-track in the short-, medium- and long-terms, how viruses can assemble on-chip batteries and how 3D lidars (laser radar) are obsoleting the weather balloon. Plus hear IBM Fellow Phaedon Avouris' quote of the week.Hydrogen power, light-emitting nanotubes and a 3-D laser radar for weather forecasting top our weekly technology review. For details, see our slideshow. For commentary, listen to technology the weekly podcast.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"ALGORITHMS: Robot removes kidney"

A robot has for the first time removed a kidney with only a single incision. Using the da Vinci surgical robot from Intuitive Surgical Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), the Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit) recently removed a diseased kidney using a new procedure designed by its surgeon, Craig Roger. The procedure, which has now been performed on two patients, proving a concept which could enable engineers to design special one-incision surgical tools for performing other types of surgery. The "Holy Grail" is reducing "open heart" surgery to a single, non-invasive, procedure requiring only a single small incision.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"OPTICS: 3-D lidar said to detect weather conditions"

Doppler radar is routinely used to detect weather conditions, especially rain clouds, around a horizontally rotating beacon. Unfortunately, the most reliable means of adding the third dimension--vertical--to determine the height of cloud formations and weather conditions at different altitudes, remains the weather balloon. Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland) claim to have made the weather balloon obsolete with a vertically projecting lidar (light detection and ranging) system that scans the sky instantaneously up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). What is claimed as the world''s first installation of a 3-D lidar-based weather-forecasting measurement system was inaugurated this week (Aug. 26) by the Swiss National Science Foundation and MeteoSwiss, Switzerland''s national weather service (Payerne).

"ENERGY: Green energy research targets hydrogen, photosynthesis"

Green energy initiatives are striving to replace fossil fuels with renewable resources like hydrogen and photosynthesis. The U.S. Energy Department (DoE) is funding university research on near-term applications for hydrogen power in order to demonstrate its feasibility while drumming up public support for the technology. Meanwhile, medium-term applications for commercial fuel cell technology are still gearing up. For the long-term, the European Science Foundation (ESF) is developing artificial photosynthesis technologies to harness solar energy to produce cheap fuels, including hydrogen, alcohol and even the hydrocarbons from natural gas and oil.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"ENERGY: Virus patterns nanoscale battery"

By combining microcontact printing and virus-based self-assembly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers claimed to have fabricated micron-scale batteries. Using microcontact printing, the batteries can be stamped onto a variety of surfaces. About half the size of a human cell (five microns), the microbatteries could someday power medical implants as well as power a new generation of labs-on-a-chip, MIT said. Genetically engineered viruses were used to assemble layers of the battery material atop an array of posts that were patterned with soft lithography. Once the battery was assembled atop the posts, the assembly was used to print arrays of batteries by transferring the material atop the posts onto a substrate. ' MIT engineers said they fabricated the electrolyte and anode of the micron-sized batteries, two of the three key components of a battery. Next, they will use a second genetically engineered virus to deposit a cathode atop the posts, enabling them to print complete batteries onto even curved surfaces.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"MATERIALS: IBM demonstrates light-emitting nanotube"

Electric control of the spectrum, direction and efficiency of light-emitting nanotubes (LENs) has been demonstrated by researchers at IBM Corp.'s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, bringing silicon photonics one step closer to reality. IBM Research (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) previously demonstrated record-breaking silicon optical waveguides and higher electroluminescent efficiency for LENs compared to LEDs. Now, it has put a LEN inside an optical waveguide to achieve directional surface emission, wavelength selectivity and the potential for ultrahigh efficiency. chip. The bottom mirror was made from silver, with a top half-mirror made from gold. Light was emitted from the nanotube in the cavity, which was filled with transparent dielectric.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"PODCAST: Week in Review, Aug. 22, 2008"

This week's top technology stories include the irrresistable memristor, new applications for digital signal processors and highlights from the Intel Developers Forum. For details, see our slideshow. For commentary, listen to technology correspondent R. Colin Johnson's weekly podcast.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"CHIPS: Intel CTO surveys tech future: 'Pretouch,' wireless energy"

Intel Corp. is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2008, and Intel CTO Justin Rattner devoted his keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum on Thursday (Aug. 21) to "what the next 40 years of technology might look like," said Rattner. "I'm addressing how we expect to see the gap between human intelligence and machine intelligence close over the next 40 years."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"WIRELESS: Intel designing wireless wallet for e-cash"

Digital money, from smart cards to wireless wallets, will be featured during this week's Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco. Intel's People and Practices Research group (Beaverton, Ore.) has been for the last year pondering the electronic infrastructure needed to support a new generation of wireless wallets. One goal is to cut the clutter generated by wildly proliferating digital money formats.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"MEMS: TI aims DLP at new applications"

Texas Instruments has unveiled a platform designed to ease the development of spatial light modulation applications on digital light processors (DLP). The Discovery 4000 development kit works with TI's DLP chip sets used in digital projectors for cinema and projection TVs. As TI's customer base shifts to optical communications and imaging applications, the tiny microelectromechanical system (MEMS) mirrors are used to shuttle different light wavelengths.

"MATERIALS: Will memristors prove irresistible?"

The transistor was invented in 1925 but lay dormant until finding a corporate champion in Bell Labs during the 1950s. Now another groundbreaking electronic circuit may be poised for the same kind of success after languishing as an academic curiosity for more than three decades. Hewlett-Packard Labs is attempting to catapult the memristor, the fourth passive circuit element after resistors, capacitors and inductors, into the electronics mainstream. Invented in 1971, this "memory resistor" represents a potential revolution in electronic-circuit theory akin to the invention of the transistor -- and perhaps its time has finally come. But as with that earlier device, it will take a killer application to get it off the ground. Where the hearing aid played that role for the transistor, Hewlett-Packard Labs (Palo Alto, Calif.) hopes resistive random-access memories (RRAMs) will open the floodgates for the memristor. HP Labs is promising prototypes of these ultradense memory cells next year.

"CHIPS: Updated: Smallest SRAM debuts"

IBM Research claims to have fabricated the world's smallest SRAM bit cell with joint industry and university development partners. The SRAM bit cell, which was cast using 22 nanometer design rules, measures just .1 square microns. The SRAM was developed with partners AMD, Freescale, STMicroelectronics, Toshiba and the University of Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE, Albany, N.Y.). The previous world record for the smallest SRAM bit cell was established by IBM in 2004 at .143 square microns in an experimental 32-nm device. Since then, several engineering groups have questioned whether conventional architectures could be extended to the 22-nm node. IBM researchers assert than it can.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"PODCAST: Week-in-Review, Aug. 15, 2008"

Technology Week in Review: Faster swimmers, 3-D chips
This week's podcast features technology stories describing how the world's first 3-D chip were made, how ocean power could generate electricity 24/7 and how fluid mechanics is helping engineers to improve the performance of U.S. Olympic swimmers. For details, see the slideshow.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"MATERIALS: Terabit hard-disk technique uses 'density multiplication'"

A demonstration of terabit-per-square-inch densities for hard-disk media used self-assembling block co-polymers to perform "density multiplication." The technique, demonstrated by researchers from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (San Jose, Calif.) and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, used current lithographic tools to pattern magnetic domains for a 250-megabit disk. A self-assembling block co-polymer was then added to divide each track into fourths, resulting in terabit-per-inch2 densities.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"ALGORITHMS: Fluid mechanics used to improve U.S. Olympic swimmers"

Olympic swimmers are clocking times milliseconds faster at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing thanks in part to engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Using a technology called Digital Particle Image Velocimetry (DPIV), a team led by Tim Wei, an aerospace engineering professor at RPI (Troy, N.Y.), was able to pinpoint trouble spots for U.S. swimming coach Sean Hutchison, who used the information to alter his swimmers' strokes and cut their times.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"ENERGY: Going deep: Ocean to power grid, recharge fuel cells"

Harnessing ocean power to generate electricity, hydrogen to fuel cars and heat exchangers to cool buildings is the aim of a $13.75 million effort at Florida Atlantic University's Center for Ocean Energy Technology. COET has already built a fleet of acoustic doppler current-profiler platforms to be anchored later this year off Florida's Atlantic coast. By 2009, the Center hopes to have permanent mooring sites picked for underwater adaptations of wind turbines. The ocean turbines would be mated to on-shore hydrogen storage facilities that could recharge fuel cells and generate electricity. The moorings will also house pumping facilities to pipe frigid deep ocean water coming from the Arctic Circle into buildings' heat exchangers for cooling

Monday, August 11, 2008

"CHIPS: First 3-D ICs debut"

The world's first 3-D chip process is ready for licensing from the fabless semiconductor design house BeSang Inc, which recently demonstrated chips with 128 million vertical transistors for memory bit cells above their control logic. The chips were designed at the National Nanofab Center (Daejeon, South Korea) and Stanford Nanofab (Palo Alto, Calif.). BeSang said its process, which is protected by over 25 patent applications, will allow flash, DRAM and SRAM to be placed atop logic, microprocessor cores and SoCs. BeSang claims it achieved 3-D by fabricating logic circuitry using a high-temperature process on the bottom and by fabricating memory circuitry using a low-temperature process on top of the logic. By placing logic and memory on different layers of the same 3-D chip, BeSang's process packs in more die per wafer, which translates into lower costs per die.

Friday, August 08, 2008

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

Will card-playing bots doom online poker? Don't throw in your cards until checking out this week's technology slideshow, which also showcases a fuel cell advance, supermagnets and high-resolution holograms. For commentary, listen to the weekly podcast.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"ALGORITHMS: Card-playing bots could doom online poker"

The premise underlying online poker is that all players are humans. But with the growing availability of free poker "bot" downloads, it is becoming difficult to detect whether a player is real or a possibly unbeatable bot. Now a researcher at the University of California at San Diego has authored an open-source poker bot called "Fell Omen" which is available for free download. The phrase "Fell Omen" suggests the possibility of dooming online poker with open-source bots that can beat every human. Fell Omen took second in a recent bout with 16 other bots. First went to Hyperborean at the University of Alberta where doctoral candidate Michael Johanson shows, in the photo, poker from the bot's viewpoint.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"ENERGY: Fuel cell advance could lower cost, boost efficiency"

A superlattice electrolyte with far greater conductivity could significantly boost fuel cell efficiency while lowering costs when compared to current solid-oxide fuel cells. Spanish researchers claim their superlattice electrolyte achieves almost 100 million times greater ionic conductivity than conventional fuel cell components. The new technique has been successfully characterized by scientists at the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Delphi Automotive Systems, BMW and Rolls-Royce have all announced development programs for solid-oxide fuel cells. However, fuel cells based on the new superlattice electrolyte are being touted as far more efficient and cheaper for use in automobiles.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"ENERGY: Cheaper 'supermagnets' could drive future hybrid cars"

Rare earth permanent magnets could enable smaller, higher-performance motors and power generators. Cutting the cost of producing the powerful magnets could usher in a new breed of hybrid automobiles using smaller, cheaper motors. Space and aircraft applications are also possible. The rub is that they require an expensive, multi-step process to fabricate. Now, Northeastern University researchers claim to have invented a cheap, green, one-step process for creating samarium cobalt permanent magnets. Samarium cobalt magnets -- the strongest of the rare earth magnetic materials -- could be manufactured using recyclable chemicals using a scalable for high-volume process and at a fraction of their current cost.

Monday, August 04, 2008

"MEMS: Torch is passed to MEMS"

Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) chips have been built into the Olympic Torch--not the one that traveled around the world, but the replicas that spectators will wave at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Fans will be able to spell out messages in midair by brandishing their Waving Torches in the stands. Built-in LEDs will spell out preloaded sayings, or the units can be plugged into a computer for uploading a personalized message, said Yang Zhao, founder of Memsic Inc. (Andover, Mass.), which designed the accelerometer used in the item.

"ALGORITHMS: Olympics technology: Keeping 'em honest"

About 4,500 separate tests will be performed at the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing to screen the participating athletes for banned substances. To keep pace with the seemingly ever-changing list of prohibited compounds--and keep a step ahead of savvy cheaters--test equipment maker Agilent Technologies Inc. must continually update the gas chromatograph, liquid chromatograph and mass spectrometer used for doping analysis. Drug testing will be performed at the Olympics by the China Anti Doping Agency. CADA is certified by the World Anti Doping Agency, whose code specifies that drug testing may be performed on any contestant, anytime, anywhere, without notice. But some athletes will still look to beat the system.

"OPTICS: World's highest highest-resolution holograms debut"

An international team of researchers combined an X-ray laser and a lens-less pinhole camera to demonstrate the world's smallest and highest-resolution holograms of micron-size objects at nanometer resolution. By placing the camera's aperture very close to the object and using an array of hundreds of different-size pinholes, a computer was able to reconstruct the holograms, according to researchers in the United States, Germany and Sweden. The team displayed two images--a 3-D rendering of a single bacterium and a lithographic reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man"--to demonstrate the feasibility of nanometer-resolution holographic X-ray images of micron-size objects. The project showed that holographic X-ray images with femtosecond exposure times can freeze the action of atomic-scale operations--such as chemical actions--to advance nanotechnology

Friday, August 01, 2008

"PODCAST: Week-in-Review, Aug. 1, 2008"

This week's top technology stories include a significant breakthrough in solar energy storage reported by an MIT chemist, a microscope-on-a-chip and the emergence of nano-inks for faster printing.
For details, see our slideshow. For commentary, listen to technology correspondent R. Colin Johnson's weekly podcast.