Friday, October 30, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Can Electronic Gadgets Really Improve Your Heath?"

Do health apps, electronic gadgets and online health websites really help that much, or do they do as much harm as they do good? The answers to these probing questions were answered this week by an extensive report by leading medical experts. Look for your friends, family and maybe even you finding new ways to improve your health with apps in the coming year. R.C.J.

Electronics gadgets and health apps were proven to have a positive effect on the health of users, according to this 549-page report. What they called consumer health informatics (HIT) improves the health care process, especially regarding adherence to medication regimes and to ensure successful treatments. Just as importantly, none of the 146 studies found any evidence of harm coming to patients as a result of misinformation or other negative effects. Check out the full report to see if any of these apps might improve your health!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"ENERGY: Electric Driveways Plug In Hybrids to Smart Grid"

You can turn a Toyoto Prius into an all-electric vehicle by making its battery bigger but charging it from the grid will be tricky, that is unless you get in on a pilot program in Austrailia where the "Electric Driveway" was invented. Look for Austrialia to offer smart meter support for all-electric cars within two years. R.C.J.

Australia is aiming to become the first country to integrate electric cars into a nationwide smart grid. own under electric vehicles are harnessing plug-in hybrids to not only reduce greenhouse emissions and lower transportation costs, but also to make smarter use of energy from the grid by charging at night during periods of low demand, then supplying any excess charge back to the grid during periods of high demand during the day.

"ALGORITHMS: 'Roadrunner' supercomputer verifying U.S. nuke reliability"

How do you know if you nuke is going to detonate or not if treaties prevent you from blowing up a representative sample now and then in tests? Well, you just hire IBM to build the world's fastest supercomputer to simulate them. Look for Roadrunner--the world's fastest supercomputer--to start modeling nukes later this year. R.C.J.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is using the world's fastest supercomputer, dubbed "Roadrunner," to run extremely accurate simulations to verify the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Over the last six months, Roadrunner proved its mettle working on 10 unclassified projects that advanced the state-of-the-art in astrophysics, plasma physics, nanotechnology, magnetic reconnection and materials science. Roadrunner was developed by IBM Corp. in partnership with Los Alamos National Lab and the National Nuclear Security Administration. It's developers claim Roadrunner is the first computer to exceed petaflop performance at 1.105 petaflops per second (1 petaflop is a quadrillion floating-point operations per second). The 10 test projects were selected to flush out any problems in Roadrunner's architecture. The projects were also chosen since all use the large data sets crunched when simulating nuclear weapon tests, especially aging weapons.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"ENERGY: Obama Walks the Smart-Grid Walk"

President Obama traveled to Florida to announce smart grid funding at a solar farm unveiling, because using solar energy there exemplifies what is smart about smart grids. After all, Florida has 343 sunny days per year, and yet it generates most of its electricity by burning fossil fuels. Look for municipalities to increasingly turn to local alternative energy generation in your neighborhood over the next decade. R.C.J.

President Obama announced $3.4 billion in stimulus subsidies for smarter electricity generation and distribution in a new Recovery Act program. Slated to bring the total number of smart meters to 40 million, or more than 30 percent of U.S. households, the new program will consist of 100 grants in 49 states. Speaking at DeSoto Next-Generation Solar Energy Center (Arcadia, Fla.), Obama unveiled the $3.4 billion in stimulus subsidies, which will balloon to $8.1 billion with required matching funds from utility companies.


"CHIPS: Silicon Labs seeks to unify touch interfaces"

Mixed-signal chips combine analog functions, like sensing a finger's presence, with digital functions like issuing the commands that match what the finger is touching. This chip house has combined touch sensitive sensors with the digital microcontrollers to offer a comprehensive solution to consumer electronics makers. Look for Silicon Labs chips in new touch-sensitive interfaces by 2010. R.C.J.

Silicon Laboratories Inc. has launched a mixed-signal silicon and software initiative for developing human interfaces for touch-, proximity- and ambient light-sensitive devices. Called QuickSense, the portfolio includes specialized microcontrollers along with necessary sensors, and will be supported by a common software development environment. Among the applications are personal electronics, small appliances, light and thermostat controls, home security panels, set-top boxes and displays. The QuickSense portfolio includes the F800 family of capacitive touch-sensitive microcontrollers using what the company calls capacitance-to-digital converters. The converters eliminate the need for mechanical buttons and sliders. Silicon Labs also said it plans to extend QuickSense with new touch-screen microcontrollers that support multi-touch interfaces, such as pinching to zoom.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"MATERIALS: Hyperlens harnesses metamaterials for ultrasound, sonar"

Invisibility cloaks are giving way to real applications of metamaterials, such as a hyperlens that can focus ultrasound and sonar with eight-times more resolution merely by adding a mechanical attachment, such as the one demonstrated here. Look for commercial ultrasound imagers to retrofit hyperlenses within three years. R.C.J.

Researchers claim that they have harnessed metamaterials to fabricate the world's first acoustic hyperlens, potentially offering an eight-fold increase ultrasound and sonar image resolution. Metamaterials have previously been proposed for sonar invisibility cloaks that hide submarines by bending acoustic waves around them. Researchers at the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory say they have demonstrated that metamaterials also can be used for acoustic hyperlenses focused with sub-wavelength accuracy. Berkeley Lab's hyperlens uses metamaterials to focus on objects 6.7 times smaller than the wavelength of the sound wave used. The researchers said the acoustic hyperlens can be further improved to boost the magnification of sound-based imaging technologies such as ultrasound and sonar. The group is currently working on a 3-D ultrasound imaging system that will use pulse-echo technology used to "ping" submarines in sonar applications as well as for medical imaging.

"ENERGY: Trucks and Transportation Industry Going Greener by 2020"

The trucking industry, once disparaged as a polluter, is changing its image by adopting hybrid-electric propulsion technologies at a quickening rate. Look for a majority of service vehicles to be electric by 2020. R.C.J.

As more and more people migrate to cities, more trucks, buses and delivery vehicles will be needed. At the same time, increasing safety and emission regulations are encouraging the transportation sector to become a smarter and more energy efficient industry. This convergence marks not only a challenge to the trucking industry, but also an opportunity according to presenters at this week's Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF, Oct. 27-29, 2009, Atlanta). There truck-, utility- and military-vehicle makers are showing off their latest hybrid-electric and high-efficiency designs. IBM, the national sponsor of HTUF, will unveil there its road map to a greener, smarter trucking industry in a new study called Truck 2020.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"SENSORS: Bionic Hands Could Restore Sense of Touch"

Researchers are working on an effort to produce a bionic hand that not only moves like a normal hand, but restores a sense of touch and temperature. Look for human trials to begin within three years. R.C.J.

Fewer and fewer soldiers are being killed in combat today, due to the increased use of body armor. An unfortunate side effect, however, is that body armor does not protect extremities. Consequently, a larger percentage of those surviving attacks become amputees. Now the Department of Defense is funding efforts to improve prosthetic hands by directly interfacing them to the nervous system. If successful, future bionic hands could even restore a sense of touch. Recently this cooperative effort between medical and bioengineering researchers was outlined at the 95th annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, where they described an effort to produce a bionic hand that moves like a normal hand.

"MEMS: 3-axis MEMs gyro chip debuts"

Gyroscopes are replacing accelerometers for user interface applications because companies like Invensense are lowering their price. Look for MEMS gyro chips in smart phones, gaming- and remote-controls starting in 2010. R.C.J.

A three-axis gyroscope chip developed by InvenSense Inc. combines separate MEMs resonators for motion tracking, offering a cheaper alternative for game controllers and remote control devices. InvenSense (Sunnyvale, Calif.) claims it three-axis gyroscope chip is the first of its kind for motion tracking in the z, y and z (pitch, roll and yaw) axes. It also claims its ITG-3200 gyro chip could replace current game controllers and 3-D remote controls. New applications based on the chip are expected to appear during the first half of 2010, the company said. Gyro applications include image stabilization for digital still cameras and camera phones, dead reckoning for navigation devices (when GPS signals are lost indoors), 3-D peripherals such as mice and TV remote controllers and gaming controllers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"WIRELESS: Nano-Antennas Transmit, Receive Light as Radio Waves"

Nano-antennas are so small that they operate at the same frequencies as light waves, enabling information to be transmitted by optical-frequency radios that can transmit data up to a million times faster that radios today. Look for use of nanoantennas to speed up on-chip communications within five years. R.C.J.

The fact that radio waves behave like light--exhibiting optical properties like reflection, refraction, diffraction and interference--was demonstrated back in 1887 in Karlsruhe, Germany, by Heinrich Hertz (after whom Hz was named). Since then radios have gone to higher and higher frequencies, enabling more and more data to be communicated, but making the antennas for transmission and reception smaller and smaller. Now researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have come full circle, demonstrating nano-antennas so small that they operate at the same frequencies as light waves, enabling information to be transmitted by optical-frequency radios that can transmit data up to a million times faster that radios today.

"ROBOTICS: Robot tests visual prothesis designs"

A new mobile robot promises to aid developers of artificial retinas and other visual prosthetics by testing the endless variations of video filters proposed to improve their effectiveness. Look for artificial retinal implants to become widely available over the next decade. R.C.J.

Called "Cyclops," for its single video camera "eye," the wheeled robotic emulates the quality of visual scenes enabled by current low-resolution implants, performing navigation tasks that may allow engineers to perfect video filter algorithms needed to help artificial retina recipients. The main problem with visual prostheses is low resolution, but that can be partially compensated for by choosing the right image processing routine. For instance, if a patient is trying to find a doorway in a darkened hallway, there may not be enough contrast to perceive a dark doorway compared to the almost-as-dark wall next to it. However, if an image processing routine measured all the pixel values and assigned pure white to the lightest pixels of the wall and jet black to the darkest pixels representing the doorway, then a patient could perceive it more easily.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Seismicity to Smartly Settle Global Warming Debate"

Geophysicts believe they can settle the global warming issue by reinterpreting seismic records to track the history of storm systems back to 1880. Look for a lot more data being considered by climatologist in the coming years. R.C.J.

Even in the absence of earthquakes, the venerable seismograph still records tiny deflections of the needle as that familiar roll of paper glides through. Once considered random fluctuations, geophysicists now say that atmospheric disturbances at sea are the cause of this noise, enabling seismic records to be used to expand our historical knowledge of past storms, potentially settling the global warming debate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Smarter Hurricane Prediction to Shorten Power Outages"

Hurricanes were mild this year, a boon to Gulf states many of which are still recovering from Katrina, but at least one group is anxious to see another biggy--not to cause devastation, but to prevent it. A new power outage prediction model has been financed by Gulf state utilities to advise it on how to shorten power outages during the next storm. Look for shorter power outages the next time a hurricane hits the Gulf. R.C.J.

The machine learning algorithm described here combined the talents at Johns Hopkins and Texas A&M to digest the facts about the last five hurricanes, in hopes of doing better next time. And when next time comes, it will be ready to compare its predictions to the real damage caused, and improve its predictive power next time. There are some interesting details about how they did it, so check if you're interested in keeping the lights on, check out this attempt to keep homes on-the-grid.

"NANOTECH: Nanodots could yield denser memories, ceramic engines"

Future memory chips could use arrays of magnetic nanodots to store information, depending of ferromagnitism. Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) already exists today, but its density is much lower than other memory technologies like flash. These researchers aim to turn that around. Look for nanodot based memory prototypes within three years, and if they prove scalable, commercial chips in 7 to 10 years. R.C.J.

Researchers at North Carolina State University said they were able to read and write bits at room temperature using magnetic nanodots that delivered 1 terabit of memory per square centimeter. The ferromagnetic film on which the nanodots were based could lead to ultra-dense memory chips that store bits in the magnetic spin--either up or down--of each nanodot. The nanodots themselves are composed of clusters of a magnetic nickel alloy that the researchers said precipitates into nanodots about 10 nanometers in diameter. They are composed of about 10,000 atoms. The nanodots make good candidates for magnetic memory chips since they automatically line up in the rows and columns needed by memory chips.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"WIRELESS: E Ink to use Freescale SoC"

Seeking to attract more electronic book and newspaper customers, Freescale Semiconductor is collaborating with E Ink Corp. on a new system-on-chip (SoC) that integrates Freescale's microcontroller with a display driver. Look for Freescale to announce availability of its eBook SoC in 2010. R.C.J.

Freescale and E Ink said the SoC will offer e-book makers a 20 percent cost savings, a three-fold increase in speed and the flexibility to build not only e-books but also tablet PCs, laptop secondary displays and e-notepads. The e-book SoC, which will officially debut in 2010, will be based on a next-generation ARM processor core based on 65-nm process technology that runs at a higher clock speed than Freescale's current i.MX processors. Currently, e-book vendors like Amazon (Kindle) and Sony combine Freescale's i.MX microcontroller with a Vizplex display driver chip made by Epson. Freescale's SoC will integrate display driver functions with an i.MX microcontroller.

"ALGORITHMS: Cyber-warriors Smarten Up on Virtual Battlefields"

The threat of attacks on our global computer and communications networks has the U.S. Department of Defense moving its war games into cyberspace using emulations called software virtual networks. SVNs in the civilian sector are also testing the security of wireless devices you already own. R.C.J.

Software virtual networks are already trickling down into the private sector too, enabling all sorts of commercial application developers—from Microsoft to NTT—to test their planned network rollouts before they are deployed. For instance, Microsoft is using SVNs to test the Wi-Fi protocols in its mobile operating system. And NTT's DoCoMo—the main mobile phone operator in Japan—uses SVNs to emulate its base stations countrywide. For the military, the software virtual network allows them to release the nastiest viruses, worms and other malware, then test them against their countermeasures. The military tests all sorts of real-world attack scenarios, such as network intrusions, wormholes, denial of service, simulated RF jamming and every other conceivable hack. SVNs allow cyber-warriors to stress-test applications for vulnerabilities, close security gaps and pinpoint routines that need to be rewritten.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Stealth App Googles Pirates, Phones Home Forensics"

Software vendors are fed up with piracy and are striking back by hiding stealth algorithms inside licensed applications. Awakening like a Trojan Horse after you use the program, the algorithm sends your information to the software vendor if you don't have a license, trying to get you to pay up! Look for stealth algorithms to be embedded into an increasing number of high-end applications. R.C.J.

CodeArmor Intelligence puts an informant inside every program sold—finding the location of pirated software and "phoning" that information home to software vendors. Software pirates can now be remotely scanned by a stealth security software suite that identifies them, finds their location on a Google map, then "phones home" to software vendors with forensic evidence about them. With billions of dollars a year lost to illegal copying of licensed software, V.i. Laboratories has made a business of helping independent software vendors recover lost revenue. Its stealthy security suite called CodeArmor Intelligence offers users of unlicensed software a deal on buying a valid license, and if they do not agree, reduces the program's functionality or revokes access entirely.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"WIRELESS: Smarter Search-and-Rescue Sees Through Walls"

Giving rescue workers safe x-ray vision was the goal of this project to commercialize a former military "see through walls" technology. First responders can use inexpensive wireless radio transmitters to locate people inside structures before commencing a rescue operation. Look for x-ray vision systems in wide use within five years. R.C.J.

A smarter way to conduct search-and-rescue operations is not to blindly send in search teams or even robots, but instead to first surround the area with inexpensive wireless radio transmitters and use radio tomographic imaging (RTI) to see through the walls. Locating people moving behind solid walls before commencing a search-and-rescue operation could potentially help firefighters find victims, paramedics find elderly who have fallen, police locate illegal aliens trying to breach the border under cover of fog, and the military locate hostages inside buildings.

"MEMS: film could enable brighter, cheaper displays"

A possible successor to the CRT, LCD and even the organic LED is scheduled to hit the market next year, according to a MEMS film developer. Look for small MEMS displays for cell phones next year and flat-panels withn three years. R.C.J.

Uni-Pixel, Inc. (Woodlands, Texas) recently announced volume deliveries of its MEMS films. Dubbed "Opcuity," the films are used in time-multiplexed optical shutter (TMOS) displays that are 10 times brighter and 60 percent cheaper to manufacture than LCDs. The films also can be fabricated on the same manufacturing lines as LCDs. Earlier this year, Samsung Electronics revealed that it had a joint development agreement with Uni-Pixel for its TMOS display technology.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"CHIPS: Smarter Microchips Heal Themselves"

"Circuit, heal thyself" is the motto of the Self-HEALing mixed-signal Integrated Circuits (HEALICs) program at the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. Look for self-healing microchips for the military by 2012 and for the rest of us within five years. R.C.J.

DARPA recently granted defense contractor Raytheon a phase one $5.5 million award to design, fabricate and test self-healing circuits. Raytheon is crafting smarter radio-frequency (RF) and mixed-signal (analog+digital) microchips that sense their own malfunctions and automatically heal themselves. Raytheon is partnering with both the California Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University on the contract, which will be worth $11 million total if phase two is subsequently awarded too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"CHIPS: TSMC, SVTC collaborate on fast-track chip design"

In Europe they have IMEC, which assists startups in developing their technology for mass production by Taiwan manufacturing giants, and now the U.S. has a similar set-up at SVTC. Look for fabless chip makers, especially of MEMS chips, to immediately start fast-tracking their best designs. R.C.J.

A new industry alliance will seek to speed the introduction of new chip design and manufacturing advances. The Innovation Incubation Alliance is being formed by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. and SVTC Technologies (San Jose, Calif.). The joint effort builds on an earlier alliance designed to accelerate new ideas in chip design and manufacturing. The new alliance follows the formation of a similar venture earlier this month between TSMC and the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC of Leuven, Belgium).

"SENSORS: Freescale gives touch screens a software twist"

The growing popularity of touch screens in mobile devices is fueling new touch-sensitive interfaces for everything from automobiles to industrial controllers, according to Freescale Semiconductor. In response, Freescale has unveiled an initiative to enable touch screens on any device, upgrade capacative- to resistive-touchscreens that handle multitouch interfaces, and support transparent ITO (indium tin oxide) panels.

The emerging touch-sensing market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 23.8 percent, according to iSuppli Corp. (El Sugundo, Calif.). The market researcher predicts the market will top $3 billion by 2011, when touch sensing formobile phones alone is expected to grow to 400 million units. Freescale currently offers a range of touch sensing chips for adding flat-panel keypads and rotary dials. It is expanding into new features like ultra-lower power consumption for battery-powered devices. Freescale is now offering a software solution for its microcontrollers that enables designers to add touch panels with no additional hardware.

"ALGORITHMS: IBM Encryption Breakthrough Secures Cloud Computing"

Today databases are stored as plaintext, available to anyone gaining access which often results in identity theft. IBM's new smarter way to handle sensitive information is to encrypt queries, encrypt the database and search it in its encrypted form. Impossible until now, IBM now claims "homomorphic" encryption allows data to be searched, sorted and processed without decrypting it. Look for homomorphic encryption to be deployed in cloud computers within five years. R.C.J.

The world's first encryption scheme that allows you to search, sort and process data without first decrypting it was recently discovered at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center. As the perfect companion to cloud computing, IBM's new encryption technique allows data to remain stored as encoded cypertext while it is being searched, making online access to cloud computer databases totally secure, unlike today where data is vulnerable while it is stored in the clouds. An optimized version, now under development, will be deployed in cloud computing and other security conscious applications by 2012, according to this story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"3D: Lasers Enable Smarter Home Theater Projector"

Smarter 3D home theaters project a 100-inch display with red, blue and green lasers for ultra-bright images at a fifth the power consumption and half the cost of plasma displays. Look for 3D laser-based HD TVs to hit the market in 2010. R.C.J.

Smarter 3D home theaters project a 100-inch display with red, blue and green lasers for ultra-bright images at a fifth the power consumption and half the cost of plasma displays, according to Los Gatos, Calif., startup, High Definition Integration Ltd (HDI). By using lasers as the source of illumination for high definition (HD) stereo 3D projectors, HDI aims to seduce the high-end home theater market with its Switchable Dynamic Video Projection Display. Rival home theater 3D systems multiplex the right and left eyes using active shutter glasses that always have one eye turned off to black, resulting in flicker. On the other hand, for HDI's Switchable Dynamic Video Projection Display you wear polarized glasses like they give you at the 3D cinema, with parallel hardware projectors simultaneously supplying both left and right polarized images to the screen. Your eyes get separate but continuous images with no flickering.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"CHIPS: IBM claiming ultra-fast optical comms with carbon chips"

Both emitters and detectors are required for an optical transceiver. IBM previously solved the carbon chip emitter problem by injecting electrons and holes into opposite ends of a light-emitting nanotube. It now claims to have solved the carbon chip receiver problem using nanoscale p-n junctions formed by the electric fields surrounding its metal contacts in a graphene field-effect transistor. Look for carbon-based optical transcievers from IBM within five years. R.C.J.

IBM Corp. researchers have demonstrated that graphene, an atoms-thin layer of crystalline carbon, acts as a receiver of optical signals. In claiming the world's first graphene photodetector, scientists at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) predicted it could operate at up to terahertz frequencies. The 40-GHz graphene photodetector demonstration matched IBM's earlier demonstration of a nanotube optical emitter, the second component needed for bi-directional carbon chip-based optical transceivers. Graphene is formed as a single atomic layer of carbon atoms that, unlike metals, have no bandgap. Optical materials ordinarily require a bandgap so that photons can be absorbed (received by detectors) or given off (transmitted by emitters).

Friday, October 09, 2009

"WIRELESS: Smarter RFID Tag Applications Enabled by FRAM"

RFID technologies today use floating-gate transistors to store data in flash memory blocks that can only be read and written together a limited number of times, making updates slow and cumbersome. Ramtron's new MaxArias family, on the other hand, uses ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) whose data values can be individually changed up to 100 trillion times, making updates fast and easy. FRAMs also use less power to change data values and have a 20-year data retention time.

Smarter radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are on their way now that Ramtron International has added wireless access to its ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM). The new wireless FRAM family—called MaxArias—supports smart RFID applications that instantly update up to 1,000 16-bit data values at a distance of 10 meters (30 feet) using the latest standard protocol—the UHF EPC Class 1 Generation 2. MaxArias microchips, when mounted in a flat millimeter-sized RFID tag with a tiny UHF antenna, can store data about the item to which they are attached, which can be queried by an electronic reader that "pings" it with a radio frequency (RF) signal. No battery is required because the energy to operate the microchip is harvested from the RF signal.

"ENERGY: New materials could overcome fuel cell contamination"

Solid-oxide fuel cells offer the highest efficiency, but need to use expensively purified fuel and operate at high temperatures. Now both those problems could be overcome by new technology from Georgia Tech. Look for solid-oxide fuel cells in mainstream applications within 10 years. R.C.J.

Solid-oxide fuel cells offer high efficiency--80 percent compared to 50 percent for hydrogen fuel cells--and can utilize a wider variety of fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas or propane. But they also are easily contaminated by sulfur and carbon build-up on anodes that reduce these advantages. A new kind of electrode material could overcome contamination problems using an auto-cleaning process that could also lower their cost. Traditional anode electrodes can be fouled by as little as 1 part per million of sulfur in the fuel, requiring the costly step of purifying fuel before it is used. The ceramic electrode material can tolerate sulfur contaminants in concentrations as high as 50 ppm. The ceramic material, which was discovered after extensive experimentation, is composed of five different elements: barium, zirconium, cerium, yttrium and ytterbium. Despite the complex formulation, it can be cast into relatively inexpensive anode electrodes, the researchers said.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"SPACE: NASA prepares to bomb the moon"

Watch NASA blow a hole in the moon, kicking up a mile high plume, early tomorrow morning (Friday 4:30 a.m. PT).

A Web site will stream live telescope images of the impact of a NASA lunar probe scheduled to hit the surface on Friday (Oct. 9). NASA's search for water on the moon will be carried by a site that provides live telescope feeds. NASA's Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is scheduled to hit the moon's south pole around 7:30 a.m. eastern on Friday. LCROSS is expected to kick up a mile-high plume of "ejecta". Viewers will be able to watch the impact and the subsequent flight of NASA's probe through the plume to collect ejecta for analysis. NASA hopes to find liquid water in the deep shade of the 60-mile-wide, mile-deep Cabeus crater. If frozen water is found, NASA hopes to establish a Moon base nearby using the water to drink as well as using electrolysis to split the water into hydrogen for fuel and oxygen. Video feeds will start one hour prior to the impact at 6:30 a.m. eastern on Friday at or htp://

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

"ENERGY: Smart Electricity Meters Now Easier to Design"

Future smart electricity grids will avoid overloads and blackouts by interacting with users to level loads so that off peak usage is maximized and new energy technologies are smoothly integrated with the existing infrastruture. The smarts for these new capabilities starts with your meter, and Freescale Semiconductor is pioneering the way with its smart-meter reference design. Look for utility companies around the world to adopt Freescales approach over the next five years. R.C.J.

Smart electricity meters will change the way energy is conserved—by reporting usage wirelessly, by prompting consumers on how much their current usage is costing and by leveling loads on the grid by shifting usage of non-essential appliances, like clothes driers, to off-peak times. However, to realize those smarts—and to make room for next-generation innovations such as wind turbines, solar panels and the recharging of electric vehicles—requires building intelligence into meters. Freescale Semiconductor is now making such smart meters easier to design. The company described a new ColdFire microcontroller aimed at simplifying the design of such smart meters at the Metering Europe Conference and Exhibition (Oct. 6-8, 2009, Barcelona, booth #660). Freescale's specialized microcontroller for smart meters comes complete with dedicated peripherals, firmware and a turnkey reference design dedicated to the needs of smart electricity meters.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"CHIPS: IBM Unveils Personal DNA Sequencer Project"

Making DNA sequencing available to everyone for as little as $100 using its DNA-transistor-powered gene-sequencer on-a-chip will reap staggering benefits, according to its inventor, IBM, by identifying genetic predispositions and enabling designer gene therapies to cures maladies that resist traditional therapies. Look for IBM to create a gadget-like gene sequencer based on its DNA transistor within five years. R.C.J.

IBM announced a "personal genome sequencing" which its chairman, Sam Palmisano, described as harnessing its "DNA transistor" and state-of-the-art 8-inch semiconductor fabrication equipment to simultaneously manufacture hundreds of gene-sequencers-on-a-chip. Each chip will power a genome sequencing device that identifies every base in a person's entire 3 billion-nucleotide DNA sequence in about an hour. Making DNA sequencing cheap enough for everyone on the planet will identify each person's genetic predispositions, pinpointing medicines that are likely to help, drugs that are likely to cause adverse reactions, and usher in an era of new gene therapies that cure diseases that have been impossible to cure until now. IBM has pooled its resources in nanofabrication, microelectronics, physics and biology to make this dream a reality, estimating that the cost will be just $100 to $1000 per person, and will be available in a handheld gadget.

Monday, October 05, 2009

"MATERIALS: Nano-ruler Measures Semiconductor Microchip Features"

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) already supplies over 1300 Standard Reference Materials (SRM) for scientists and engineers worldwide, but recently unveiled the first in a family of "nano-rulers" exclusively for the semiconductor microchip industry. The nano-rulers will allow microhip manufacturers to make super-accurate meausurements of their chip features as sizes shrink to the nanoscale. Look for NIST nanorulers to immediately become the industry standard for next-generation microchips. R.C.J.

NIST releases the world's first silicon nano-ruler, which allows semiconductor manufacturers to accurately measure modern semiconductor devices. Nanotechnology is challenging the National Institute of Standards and Technology to downsize its measurement tools, which the agency did recently by releasing the world's first silicon nano-ruler. Designed for the semiconductor microchip manufacturing industry, the silicon nano-ruler is a "calibrated artifact" that is individually measured and certified by NIST for the spacing, angles and orientation of its silicon atoms. The silicon nano-ruler allows semiconductor manufacturers to accurately measure the thickness, crystal structure, embedded strain and orientation of the atoms in modern semiconductor devices.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

"WIRELESS: RFID Tags + MEMS Sensors Track Food for Safety"

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can now track food shipments and even keep track of the conditions under which it was stored, giving the trillion-dollar food industry a method of quickly recalling items and making more intelligent shelf-life predictions. Look for smart RFID tags with embedded MEMS sensors within five years. R.C.J.

When you see a "today's special" sticker on meat at the grocer, its hard not to imagine that the sale was prompted by a clerk leaving the meat out of the refrigerator too long. With radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in the package tracking temperature, your fears could be allayed, according to the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) which features RFID tag use in this month's issue of their flagship publication, the Journal of Food Science. In the October issue of the JFS, researchers detail the range of future uses for RFID tags in the trillion-dollar food industry which employs about 17 million people in the United States alone.
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