Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#ENERGY: "3D Batteries Boost Output, Speed Recharge"

Whether it's your smartphone, your electric car or the backup batteries for a server farm, a new kind of 3D battery electrode is aiming to boost both their output and recharging speed by up to 100 times.

Ion transport and electronic conduction is boosted 100 times in three-dimensional cathodes during battery discharge and charge. (Source: University of Illinois)

3D structures are adding the third dimension to a whole array of applications today, and now battery electrodes are following suit, increasing their ability to deliver lots of current quickly and speeding up their recharge time.
Batteries have long been the weak link in the forward march of technological progress, mainly because the chemistry of their reactions is fixed by the laws of physics. However, by adding 3D patterning to the battery electrodes where these chemical reactions take place, recharging can be accelerated by as much as 100 times

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#MEMS: "World's smallest MEMS mic debuts"

The world's smallest MEMS chip—a tiny 700 square micron digital microphone—was fabricated recently by Bosch Sensortec GmbH for its subsidiary Akustica Inc. The CMOS die integrates a mechanical microphone diaphragm in a sea of mixed signal CMOS circuitry that culminates in a standard PDM (pulse density modulation) output.

Using Bosch's CMOS process, Akustica has shrunk the size of its die by 80 percent, yielding five-times as many chips per wafer.

The MEMS microphone market topped 695 million units in 2010, up more than 57 percent from the 441 million units shipped in 2009, according to IHS iSuppli (El Segundo, Calif.), which predicts that shipments will rise to more than 1.7 billion units, or $471 million, by 2014. Applications for MEMS microphones include mobile phones, touchscreen tablets, PCs, laptops, netbooks, video- and audio-recorders, Bluetooth headsets and camera modules.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#SPACE: "Smarter Orion Spacecraft Trumps Shuttle"

NASA's new Orion spacecraft by Lockheed Martin aims beyond just shuttling people to the International Space Station (ISS), but can return man to the moon, navigate to Mars and mine approaching asteroids.

Artist's rendering of Lockheed Martin's Orion spacecraft (right) approaching its thrust module in low-earth orbit. (Source: Lockheed)

The Space Operations Simulation Center (SOSC) for Lockheed Martin's shuttle successor was unveiled in Denver recently, along with the Orion spacecraft that can reach the International Space Station (ISS) and other destinations in the solar system.
Using NASA funding, Lockheed Martin's Orion spacecraft is designed to lift astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond into deep space for a return to the moon, a trip to Mars or even a round-trip to an approaching asteroid, possibly to deflect it before impacting Earth. NASA's Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for The Orion Project is on schedule for its first orbital flight test in 2013, and operational status could come as early as 2016.

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#MARKETS: "Demand Grows for Digital Compasses, Supplies Stable"

Japan's earthquake has slowed or stopped electronics manufacturing in many facilities—especially automotive electronics—but digital compass makers claim to be keeping up with growing demand for location-based services in vehicles, smartphones, personal navigators and touch-screen tablets.

AKM's electronic compass, using Hall sensor technology on a CMOS chip, was discovered inside Apple's iPhone 3 and 4 by Chipworks.

Digital compass makers are hustling to avert a global shortage that could stunt sales of popular navigational electronics in vehicles, touch-screen tablets and nearly all smartphones, but automotive electronics manufactured near the stricken nuclear reactor in Japan are on indefinite hold.
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#ENERGY: "Hydrogen Pellets Could Obsolete Batteries"

Hydrogen fuel pellets being perfected for military applications are preparing to go commercial, replacing conventional batteries with electricity generating fuel cells.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen from the air to produce water, and in the process releasing electricity on demand.

Hydrogen fuel pellets that are cheaper and weigh less than half what batteries weigh could soon be replacing them thanks in part to a new recharging technology. Using a Purdue University innovation, General Atomics (San Diego) claims its hydrogen fuel pellets will save the Army $27 million a year and cut a solder's backpack by 10 pounds. In addition, General Atomics' hydrogen fuel pellets could someday be replenished after use by virtue of technology from the guys who invented the atomic bomb—Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
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#MEMS: "Microfluidics detects cancer with nanotubes"

A Microfluidic device created by a pair of professors from MIT and Harvard Medical School uses an internal detector studded with tiny carbon nanotubes to detect individual cancer cells in blood samples containing billions of healthy cells. About the size of a dime, the microfluidic sensor can also be functionalized to detect viruses as small as 40 nanometers

Posts just 30 microns in diameter are fashioned from bundles of hollow carbon nanotubes that can trap individual cancer cells as they flow through a microfluidic cancer detetor.
Image Source: Brian Wardle/MIT.

MIT professor Brian Wardle and Harvard Medical School professor Mehmet Toner say the microfluidic device should enable low-cost tests for diagnoses in-the-field by untrained personnel.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

#MATERIAL: "Superconductivity: New phase of matter?"

Superconductivity theories abound, but thus far none has led to a room-temperature superconductor. Now DoE researchers believe a new theory—namely, that superconductivity is based on an undiscovered state of matter—may hold the key to a better understanding of the phenomenon.

Phase diagram common for cuprate superconductors goes from insulating phase typical of undoped cuprate compounds (left, black) through hole doping phases to superconducting (blue), the pseudogap phase (red), and a “normal metallic” phase (white).

The new theory comes from researchers at Berkeley Lab, the University of California at Berkeley, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.; SLAC's original name was the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center).
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Friday, March 25, 2011

#ENERGY: "Green, Non-Nuclear Energy Favored in U.S"

Before Japan’s tsunami hit Fukushima Dai-ichi, nuclear energy was being billed as a "green" alternative because of its small footprint and zero emissions, but U.S. taxpayers are turning against nuclear in favor of wind and solar power. The nuclear fires, partial meltdown and widespread fallout from the tsunami-swamped Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant in Japan is changing U.S. popular opinion in favor of wind and solar as viable alternatives to nuclear power, according to the latest survey.

The transition scenario proposed by the Civil Society Institute would have both coal and nuclear energy phased out in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.

Gallup's last poll back in 2010 showed 62 percent of U.S. adults supported nuclear power, but that was before the recent nuclear troubles in Japan. A more recent study performed by ORC International for the Civil Society Institute showed a 25 percent drop to 46 percent who "support more nuclear power reactors in the United States."
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

#MATERIALS: "Researchers integrate silicon, III-V"

Integrating gallium nitride emitters and other optical materials onto silicon substrates was recently demonstrated at the Toyohashi University of Technology. Researchers there claim to have solved the lattice mismatch problem between silicon and III-V materials, thereby enabling future integration of optics onto silicon chips.

Cross-section of the counter circuit demonstrating how to lattice match silicon with III-V optical materials. Source: Toyohashi University of Technology (Toyohashi Tech)

Silicon photonics has been demonstrated for most optical functions, including waveguides, resonators and switches, but optical emitters has remained a task for III-V materials using gallium, arsenide, indium and their various nitrides. Now Toyohashi Tech (Aichi, Japan) claims to have invented a method of mitigating the lattice mismatch between silicon and III-V materials, thereby enabling optical emitters—including lasers—to be fabricated on silicon chips...
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#MATERIALS: "Graphene aims for quantum interference"

A novel, pure-carbon semiconductor fabrication technique promises to enable quantum-interference transistors to harness graphene's ballistic transport. As silicon runs out of gas, researchers from Georgia Tech aim to have epitaxial graphene fabrication techniques ready to fill the tank.

A team of Georgia Tech researchers led by Professor Walt de Heer (shown) has pioneered techniques for fabricating epitaxial graphene nanoribbons using a "templated growth." Georgia Tech Photo: Mali Azima.

Georgia Tech's templated growth technique uses lithography to pattern blank silicon carbide wafers with steps in the locations where they want graphene nanoribbons to form. Then, by using high temperatures to burn off the silicon on the top layer, epitaxial carbon nanoribbons form with widths proportional to the size or the step—15-to-40 nanometer in the demonstration with the potential for sub-10 nanometer widths...
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#MARKETS: "Japanese Chip Maker Shutdown Threatens IT"

Global inventories held by semiconductor suppliers surged to their highest level in two and a half years during the fourth quarter of 2010. (Source: IHS iSuppi)

The global electronics industry has luckily weathered shortages of raw silicon wafers and other key semiconductor components no longer being manufactured after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear-accident in Japan. As luck would have it, inventories had just reached pre-recession highs. However, as on-hand and warehoused supplies dwindle, the biggest players are scrambling to line up alternative sources of key components. And if our luck runs out, it will likely force prices higher as manufacturers compete for scarce remaning supplies.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#WIRELESS: "Dual-Pane Smartphone Kills Windows"

Sprint's Echo by Kyocera can be folded flat for view a single large image (left) or can run different apps on each screen.

Windows are dead--long live multi-panes. The smartphone and the touchscreen tablet have driven a stake through the heart of the multi-window interface--replace cluttered overlapping windows with a clean multi-pane approach that allows quick multi-tasking. Look for multi-pane smartphones like Sprint's Echo by Kyocera to spawn a whole new genre of multi-pane apps by the end of 2011. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLOg
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#MARKETS: "5 Key iPad Components in Short Supply"

IHS iSuppli has identified five components inside the new iPad 2 that will be in short supply due to manufacturing stoppages caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. (Source: iSuppli)

As customers clamor to find an iPad-2 in local stores, the online store keeps promising delivery in 4-5 weeks (but so far is not subtracting from its estimate as time goes by). This worst possible timing for supply shortages will likely keep iPad-2s off store shelves until the situation stabilized in Japan. Look for consumers to wait at first, causing pent up demand, but begin switching to Android tablets if shortages persist more than three months. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog
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Monday, March 21, 2011

#ENERGY: "LEDs Illuminating Your Future"

An LED light bulb is chock-full of electronics--from the emitter itself to the control circuitry that sculpts the quality of the light.

Every electric light in the world could be converted to LEDs, saving billions in the process, and in the process the entire electronics industry will be boosted by $100 billion in new revenue. LEDs are replacing all types of incandescent bulbs already, with major business biting the bullet to buy the more expensive LED fixtures, in return for long-term energy savings. Look for a solid-state lighting industry to take over most of the industry by 2020. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog.
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

#ENERGY: "Nuke Explodes in Spent Fuel Pond"

The Mark I boiling water reactor was designed by GE to save money with a smaller containment vessel and by allowing the hot reactor core to directly boil the water.

When a fire erupted in a spent fuel pond at Fukshima Dai-ichi next to reactor No. 4, at first the nuclear fire fighters ignored it, since they were trying to prevent a meltdown. Unfortunately, it only takes 110 pounds of melted uranium to cause a nuclear explosion--called a criticality accident because the explosion only lasts microseconds before blowing apart the critical mass. That's what happened in spent fuel pond No. 4, releasing a vast pulse of radiation that drove the humans into their armored vehicles and safe rooms. When they came out, they had voted to multiple the maximum allowed dose of radiation by 2-1/2-times, and had since been spraying sea water into fuel pond No. 4 to prevent any further nuclear explosions. Look for extensive contamination of water and food supplies as the nuclear fires expell radioactive isotopes into the open air and seawater around Fukishima Dai-ichi.
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#ALGORITHMS: "Smart Cities Simulate Japan-Sized Tsunamis"

Sandia National Labs tests containment vessels of proposed nuclear reactor designs to see what conditions cause them to fail.

Today supercomputer simulations are our best method of evaluating nuclear reactor designs, to make sure they can operate safely. Now we need to extend these simulations to the whole ecosystem that supports their safe operation, including the geological realities of their specific location. In this age of giant earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and other natural disasters, we should use supercomputers to re-evaluate the safety of every important asset in our cities--especially those built near the ocean!
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Monday, March 14, 2011

#ENERGY: Plutonium-laced fuel deepens Japan's nuclear crisis"

Smoke from reactor No. 3 at Fukushima Dai-ichi where its plutonium core is overheats more quickly than the uranium cores on the other reactors.

Just last fall, Japan renewed the license on a reactor that was 20 years old and scheduled to be decommission in 2011. Then they put plutonium in its core. These dual decisions have now put the Japanese population in peril, as its food and water become contaminated with radioactive isotopes of uranium, now its air is in peril from plutonium. If the reactor containing the plutonium blows, then the air will be laced with particles that can kill instantly in large doses, and which can cause cancer if only breathed in microscopic quantities. The worst part, is that the plutonium burns hotter, making reactor No. 3 the most dangerous of the hazards at at Fukishima Dai-ichi.
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Friday, March 11, 2011

#CHIPS: "Supercomputers meld with high-end servers"

HP Unified Cluster Portfolio (UPC) offers reference stacks for cluster computers from 5 to 1024 nodes with a choice of interconnects.

In days of yore when supercomputers were giant CPUs built from discrete parts to outperform microprocessors, servers were just telecomm accessories. Today, however, the microprocessors in servers pack supercomputing punch. Custom built supercomputers will always be better performers for specific applications, but with the converging trends of moving computer power to the clouds and the use of multiple standard GPUs for acceleration, the time is right to pack supercomputer performance into server farms. Look for supercomputers to proliferate both in-house and in-the-clouds as more and more designers turn to them for detailed simulations of products before they are prototyped. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog
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#ALGORITHMS: "Gestures on Apple iPad Control Nano-Tweezers"

Using an iPad's touch screen allows intuitive gesture control of holographic optical tweezers so that even a novice can manipulate microscopic scientific samples like a trained technician. Look for touchscreen tablets--both Apple and Android--to become the remote controls for future scientific instruments. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Using the pinch gesture on the iPad, a microscopic sample can be moved up toward the viewer or down and away.

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about gesture control of scientific instruments: The iPad is becoming a scientific remote control, allowing intuitive multitouch gestures to more easily control complex manipulations using holographic optical tweezers. Optical tweezers use laser beams to physically hold microscopic objects—from living cells to nanoparticles—allowing operators to rotate, zoom into and closely inspect microscopic objects using the same intuitive gestures used to manipulate the macroscopic world...
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

#CHIPS: "Automotive Microcontroller Aims for Zero Fatalities"

Artists rendering of vehicle using digital electronics to avoid collisions with 77 GHz radar.

The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently reported that one third of passenger vehicle fatalities--and one-fifth of serious injuries--can be prevented by crash-avoidance electronics. Statistics like these are prompting mandates in the U.S., Europe and Asia that are forcing car manufacturers to lower the price of collision avoidance. Specialized automotive microcontrollers--with more performance but lower prices--are needed to bring down the cost of collision avoidance from $500 and up to under $100, so that it can become standard equipment like seat belts and airbags. Look for the goal of zero fatalities to be achieved by 2020. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

#ALGORITHMS: "Institute for Electronic Government Adds Clouds, Analytics"

One IEG imperative for using IT for strategic innovation, rather than just tactical automation, is to build an organizational culture that supports participatory and evolutionary innovation.

Adding cloud computing and analytics to its technology mix gives the Institute for Electronic Government more tools to help public-sector IT improve efficiencies, reduce costs and tackle energy and budget challenges. The Institute for Electronic Government embraced a major face lift recently by adding cloud computing and business analytics to the roster of technologies about which it educates public-sector IT...
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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

#MEMS "ADI ups ante in high-precision gyroscopes"

Already known for its high-precision micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers, gyroscopes and complete inertial navigation units (IMUs), Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) has upped the ante for high-precision with its invention of quad-differential iMEMS gyros, which combine four separate sensing elements to cancel out the effects of vibration, noise and other environmental stimuli. Look for ultra-precise MEMS sensors to revolutionize automotive crash prevention over the next five years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

ADI's new ADXRS64x quad-differential iMEMS gyroscope family uses four separate proof masses (upper left, upper right and lower left, lower right) to cancel out the effects of vibration, noise and other environmental stimuli.

Here is what my EETimes story says about high-precision gyros: MEMS gyroscopes use a vibrating "proof mass" suspended on silicon springs which harnesses the Coriolis effect to detect rotation orthogonal to its motion with capacitive sensors around its edges. Unfortunately, vibration, shock and excessive linear acceleration can fool a single proof mass into falsely reporting rotational motion. To cancel out these effects, ADI already had dual-differential proof masses on its previous high-precision gyros, but now has taken a significant step forward by going quad...
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#ALGORITHMS: "Freescale crypto protects cars from hackers"

Freescale Semiconductor announced the first automotive security module compliant with the secure hardware extension (SHE) supported by European automobile makers Volkswagen, Porsche, BMW, Audi and Daimler. Look for automobile makers to add specialized security hardware to prevent tampering, theft and hacking of its automotive processors over the rest of the decade. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Artist conception of how Freescale's cryptographic services engine secures data streaming through body-control microcontrollers with on-chip secure storage for encryption and authentication keys.

Here is what my EETimes story says about hardware security: As electronics takes over more and more control of a car's engine, body and safety functions, hardware security modules will be necessary to prevent unauthorized access to on-board systems, according to a consortium of European automobile makers...
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