Thursday, April 28, 2005

"QUANTUM: encryption enters product phase"

Network security systems that rely on the laws of quantum mechanics to create hack-proof networks are arriving in the form of practical products that are easily integrated into optical networks. At the Infosecurity Europe 2005 trade show in London, id Quantique SA (Geneva) announced a turnkey quantum encryption system enabling hack-proof secure bridges between two Fast Ethernet (IEEE 802.3u) networks up to 100 kilometers apart. The move followed a March announcement by MagiQ Technologies Inc. (New York), which rolled a rework of its Quantum Private Network (QPN) 5505 system. The QPN 7505 incorporates Cavium Networks' Nitrox data encryption processors. The id Quantique product is "the first quantum cryptography system designed for network engineers and not for physicists," said CEO Gregoire Ribordy.

Monday, April 25, 2005

"NANOTECH: Nanoscience makes this chemist see green"

A pioneer in green nanotechnology, University of Oregon professor James Hutchison proposes creating safety-approved nanoscale building blocks � nanoparticle lines and arrays � that would integrate smoothly with existing silicon chip-processing steps. Hutchison is the director of the Materials Science Institute on the university's Eugene campus. Brooks-Cole last year published his book Green Organic Chemistry: Strategies, Tools and Laboratory Experiments. The director of the Green Chemistry Institute, Paul Anastas, has singled out Hutchison's work on what Anastas calls a "conceptual template for designing nanomaterials using green chemistry."

"SOFTWARE: Wireless captions empower the deaf"

For more than a quarter-billion of the world's people-including upward of 28 million in the United States-sporting events lack an announcer's commentary and modern multiplexes show only silent movies. But an alliance of private industry and academe in Georgia is promising help for the hearing-impaired and a chance to enjoy public events that depend on sound for communications. To ease the problem wherever it's found-movie theaters, museums, schools, sports arenas, places of worship-Georgia Tech Research Institute developed wearable captioning electronics. Now it's licensed that technology to Peacock Communications Inc. (Marietta, Ga.), which plans to offer the solution to public venues in a software system it calls COMMplements. The system taps into 802.11b wireless capabilities. Offered by more and more public venues to give mobile users easy Internet access, the wireless nodes will transmit text versions of the voices of actors, teachers, sports announcers and clergy. Initially, existing audio will be translated for transmission as text, but eventually all sorts of annotations-statistics during sports events, for example-could be possible. Peacock plans to leverage the growing infrastructure of 802.11 wireless transceivers, already installed in places like stadiums, coffee shops, restaurants and even urban business districts. "Using our system, venues can add text annotations to be received by hearing-impaired patrons on the [patrons'] own personal digital assistants or on special venue-supplied heads-up displays that overlay the captions on, say, a movie," said Leanne West, Georgia Tech Research Institute project director. At the beginning, Peacock Communications plans to market to U.S. venues, such as movie theaters, that already have American-language audio streams running. COMMplements can also translate the audio into multilingual text streams.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"NANOTECH: Researchers grow self-aligned nanotubes"

Growing carbon nanotubes on silicon could enable nanoscale transistors, but only if designers can specify exactly where the tiny devices grow. Engineers at Case Western Reserve University have demonstrated how to grow nanotubes exactly where designers want them � self-aligned across a wafer.
The researchers also reported that the nanotubes self-welded during growth, and claimed that their nanotube-enabled wafers need only to be diced and wire-bonded to a chip carrier. This would make them as reliable and cost effective as current chips. "Our contribution has been to come up with a technique where the nanotubes grow where you want them to grow � between two electrical posts," said Massood Tabib-Azar, a professor in the electrical engineering department at Case Western (Cleveland).

Monday, April 11, 2005

"CHIPS: Self-assembling organic semiconductors reported"

Israeli researchers have taken a page from nature's book to create self-assembling organic semiconductors. Unlike inorganic silicon semiconductors, organic materials are naturally self-assembling: All the complex development and growth experienced by living things evolved from the self-assembly of atomically precise organic materials. The researchers hope that within two years their semiconducting proteins, called "electronic peptides," could enable lighter, cheaper, lower-power, flexible electronics. "Our aim is 100 percent control of electronic peptides," said professor Nir Tessler of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Haifa, Israel). "We want to prepare electronic peptides in the same precise way that electrical engineers at Intel or IBM prepare a silicon circuit." By linking electronic peptides in protein chains, like conventional polymers, Tessler's group plans to produce various organic semiconductors that can both emit and detect light. Emitting electronic peptides are predicted to enable foldable, color organic-LED displays with a higher resolution than possible with inorganic methods. Likewise, the self-assembling methods for detectors could enable large-scale, flexible solar cells. Both displays and solar cells made from electronic peptides could be rolled up like a blanket. The researchers also predict that electronic peptides could enable new sensor devices that detect trace amounts of environmental toxins or, in the body, diseased cells before they can multiply. "Eventually, we will run into engineering problems we will have to surmount, but so far our technique is working like magic," said Tessler.

"SOFTWARE: For high-tech control, the eyes (and hands) have it"

Safety, security and ease of use were on the minds of the more than 1,900 engineers and scientists who gathered here last week at CHI 2005, the computer-human interfaces conference, to review progress in such technologies as eye-tracking interfaces and simplified manual controls for handhelds. "Our theme this year is 'Technology, Safety and Community,' which reflects the responsibility that our members have for shaping interactive computer systems that reinforce the feeling of community and make people feel safe again," said conference chairman Gerrit van der Veer, a professor at Vrije University Amsterdam (Netherlands). Several sessions featured gesture recognition or eye-tracking software to simplify navigation on handheld devices without a keyboard or speeding up interfaces with a keyboard. Another aim of eye-tracking software is the use of visualization tools to train workers.

Monday, April 04, 2005

"OPTICAL: EEs take optical aim at ultrawideband RF"

An electrical engineer from Purdue University claims that his team has developed the first all-optical method of generating ultrawideband signals. The future of UWB communications is bright, promising everything from high-speed wireless communications to automobile collision avoidance to personal-area networks to ground-penetrating radar to imaging systems that can see through walls. Spurred by the promise of such applications, researchers are hard at work on the Federal Communications Commission's UWB slot from radio frequency (RF) 3.1 to 10.6 GHz. A Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) professor claims to have brought commercial UWB one step closer by shaping the UWB signal within an all-optical modulator. "Our enabling tool is optical pulse shaping," said Purdue visiting EE professor Jason McKinney. "You simply cannot create our waveforms electronically-certainly not programmatically." McKinney said he is building on the previous work of his co-researcher at Purdue, EE professor Andrew Weiner, who perfected the method used here to shape the optical spectrum. Ingrid Lin, a Purdue doctoral student, also contributed to the work.

"SENSORS: Bomb sniffers sharpen nose for 100% screening"

A modified capacitive transimpedance amplifier promises to increase the sensitivity of airport explosives detectors one thousandfold, making it possible to screen 100% of luggage and passengers with handheld devices that sniff the air around baggage and passengers without delaying departures. Despite the stepped-up federal emphasis on security since 9/11, it has been impossible to scan all airline passengers and their luggage for explosives. Today's technology is not sensitive enough. Machines now used in airports can only detect trace amounts of explosives from samples swabbed from suspicious articles, slowing the process. University of Arizona professor Bonner Denton says the system he developed with other researchers will be smaller and more efficient. "Our entire analyzer system as well as detector electronics fits in a space 4 x 2 x 1.6 inches, and it can be made smaller than that," said Denton. "And it produces higher resolution as well as vastly improved sensitivity." Denton collaborated with fellow University of Arizona scientist Roger Sperline as well as researchers Christopher Gresham and David Jones at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. Sandia is slated to use the chip in a handheld version of the explosive detector that will replace bomb-sniffing dogs. Sandia calls its device a "microhound."

"ROBOTICS: Team's vision of robotic carts to aid blind shoppers"

Robotic carts may soon be available to assist the visually impaired in stores and other public venues, such as airports, by reading RF identification tags to guide users to products or service counters. "We have not deployed the cart yet in an airport, but we have deployed it for an extended time in a grocery store," said Utah State University professor Vladimir Kulyukin, who designed the cart together with four graduate students. One of those students, he said, "is an EE, and we would not have been able to accomplish our goal without that person." The robotic cart first presents users with a Braille menu of items. When the shopper chooses a product, the cart leads the individual to the proper aisle and provides verbal, step-by-step directions on how to retrieve the desired item from the shelf. The robotic shopping cart was built for less than $20,000 using off-the-shelf components that were integrated by the team's EE, Bharath Ramaswamy. Custom software was designed by the other team members for an embedded laptop computer connected to the robot, its RFID antenna, a Braille haptic display and a keypad input device.