Thursday, July 30, 2009

"VIDEO: Bokode, a better bar-code, explained, explored"

Bokodes are better bar codes that pack as much information as RFID tags, but are secure from hackers and much, much smaller. Check you this video about how MIT packed coded information behind a three millimeter illuminated microdot that can be read with a cell phone camera.

MIT's bokode is named after the Japanese term "bokeh," which refers to the image of a round blob that results when a camera is out of focus. MIT researchers reversed that process by encoding the microdot's blob-like image based on the angles at which rays emerge from the lens--an encoding that allows the out-of-focus camera to recombine the rays into the original. Check out all the details in the video!


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"ALGORITHMS/CHIPS: MIT's 'bokode' chip bests bar codes"

Bokodes--a new type of printed code similar to bar-codes but much much smaller--promise to house reams of information about products that can be revealed with an out-of-focus camera. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology invention could replace RFID tags too, in applications where high-security is required. Look for bokodes to start appearing on everything you buy within the next five years. R.C.J.

A new kind of identification tag that combines the security of a bar code with the capacity of an RFID tag will debut next week at the Siggraph 2009 conference. The new tag, which can be read by consumers with a cellphone camera, looks like a 1-mm-high raised bump. Called a "bokode," the MIT invention consists of an illuminated microdot behind a plastic lens. However, the team is working on a holographic version that would use flat, fresnel-like lenses to encode angular information that does not require a backlight. On credit cards bokodes could store information more securely than RFID tags, since the bokode cannot be hacked while still in your wallet like a RFID tag. Bokodes could also be used for classroom presentations, business meetings, video games and motion-capture systems. For augmented reality, nutrition information stored by bokodes could be overlaid on products on grocer's shelves. Bokodes could also allow ultra-high-precision motion capture. For example, using them on body suits would reveal both the angle and the speed of joints, rather than just the speed detected by current motion-capture technology.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"MEMS: Natural iridensence harnessed for reflective displays"

Iridescence in nature--on insects', butterflies' and birds' wings--depends not on brute-force backlights, but instead plays tricks with the reflected light to make it appear brighter. As researchers uncover how these natural systems work, engineers are harnessing that knowledge to build reflective displays that require almost no power but are as bright as backlit LCDs. Look for bright reflective displays by QualComm for cell phones by the end of 2010.

Iridescent insects, butterflies and birds have long puzzled scientists with their unique ability to reflect bright colors. Nature's trick is growing nanoscale structures with dimensions that filter light being reflected without dimming light the way conventional filters do. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta) said they have unearthed the secret of natural liquid crystals that reflect light as bright as a back-lit LCD. Separately, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies Inc. announced it is breaking ground on a manufacturing plant to fabricate its own reflective displays using methods similar to those recently discovered at Georgia Tech. Next, the researchers said they plan to characterize the shells of iridescent insects to create unique colors not seen elsewhere in nature.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"MATERIALS: transparent aluminum created with soft X-ray photoionization"

Don't look for transparent aluminum in Home Depot just yet, but scientists claim they have perfected a method, albeit only for a few femtoseconds. R.C.J.

Oxford university scientists have created a new state of matter that they call transparent aluminum. Ordinary aluminum was bombarded with intense radiation from the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser. Transparent aluminum was featured in the movie Star Trek IV, where it was used to makes tanks to hold whales, but the real material is too exotic. Unfortunately, transpatent aluminum only stays that way for an estimated 40 femtoseconds and only in the ultra-violet spectrum (which bees see but people don't). However, the materials could have applications in nuclear fusion and in understanding planetary science.


Friday, July 24, 2009

"INTERNET: Google claims YouTube on-track for profitability"

YouTube could be in the black by 2010, according to Google Inc. which bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006. The high cost of streaming millions of videos only a few of which are supported by advertising has kept YouTube in red ink, but Chief Executive Eric Schmidt claimed during an earnings call on Thursday that new formats, like pre-roll ads that appear before a video, are generating more and more revenue each month. Google's reported quarterly profit beat Wall Street expectations, but revenue growth was not as stellar as some had predicted, resulting in its shares dropping in price by nearly 3 percent.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"MATERIALS: cloak could render buildings 'invisible' to earthquakes"

Invisibility cloaks have already been demstrated for radar, sonar and acoustic waves, but now researchers think that they can render buildings invisible to earthquakes! If this technology is proven out experimentally, then metamaterials could become standard equipment in the foundations of every new building constructed worldwide. R.C.J.

Earthquakes can be made to bypass buildings surrounded by seismic invisibility cloaks, claim researchers at the University of Liverpool. Just as submarines can be shielded from sonar, airplanes from radar and small areas from probing by laser beams, the very long wavelengths emanating from earthquakes can likewise be redirected around buildings, effectively making them "invisible" to seismic waves. Invisibility cloaks work by harnessing metamaterials--regular patterns of dielectrics that resonate at the cloaking frequency. The technique effectively diverts electromagnetic energy around objects. Experimental confirmation of the metamaterials is underway, and the researchers also are experimenting with methods for diverting shock waves around passengers during automobile accidents.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"QUANTUM: Q-Internet heralds a new age of networked qubits"

Quantum bits--called qubits--can perform mathematical operations that are intractable, by encoding both ones and zeroes simultaneously in what is called a superposition of values. However, to create full fledged quantum computers something like an acknowledgment pulse is needed, and MIT claims to have one. R.C.J.

Future versions of the Internet will store and transfer quantum information--qubits--from node to node, researchers predict. After each operation, an acknowledgement pulse signaling a successful transfer must be sent to insure the smooth interchange of information among network nodes. Acknowledgement entails inspecting the data values, but that would destroy quantum information. Therefore, MIT scientists have invented a new method of signaling the reception of qubits without revealing their values. The quantum memory value is received from polarized qubits on incoming photons with the herald pulse acknowledging its successful storage in the cold gas. Later, another photon with the same polarization state as the original is retrieved from the gas, thereby proving that the herald pulse preserved the quantum information by only announcing the successful reception and storage of the qubits without resolving their superposition of quantum values.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"WIRELESS: 20 Million Internet TVs To Ship in 2011"

Internet protocol televisions (IP-TVs) will sweep the world over the next few years as people switch from overpriced satellite and cable service to low-cost alternatives on the Internet, such as Hulu and Netflix. Instead of buying a set-top box to make the connection to the Internet, an increasing number of TVs will come with an Ethernet port or WiFi built-in. Look for IP-TVs to overtake traditional televisions, as prices drop, achieving parity within five years. R.C.J.

ABI Research forecasts that by 2011, over 20 million IP-TVs will include Internet connectivity, a trend that will enjoy linear growth through 2014. Networked TVs are already widespread in Japan with North America, Western Europe, and select Asian countries as the next growth markets, according to ABI. The 2009 holiday season will be the watershed when IP-TVs could begin trickling down from high-end models to the mainstream. Online content is also growing, with news, weather and sports complementing Internet video sites like YouTube. Also music, gaming, and social networking will drive IP-TV adoption, according to ABI in a new report, “Internet and Web-Enabled HD TVs.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

"ENERGY: Wind power on track for 20% share by 2030"

Alternative energy from the wind, water and sun has begun contributing a major segment of U.S. electricity generation, but the fastest growing arena is wind powered turbines. The Department of Energy (DoE) tracks alternative energy sources and has pegged wind power as the most significant alternative energy source today and tomorrow. Look for a wind farm on your horizon in the near future. R.C.J.

Wind power is on track for a 10-fold increase that would supply 20 percent of U.S. generated electricity by 2030, according to the annual Wind Power Report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. U.S. wind power capacity expansion increased by 60 percent in 2008 with a record $16 billion invested, making the U.S. the fastest-growing wind power market in the world for the fourth consecutive year. The report also addressed the issues of how best to integrate wind power into the existing grid infrastructure. The report predicts that this year between 4,400 and 6,800 megaWatts of wind power turbines will be installed in the U.S. with 2010 on-track for even bigger gains.

"ROBOTICS: androids may be forever doomed to menial labor"

Androids--humanoid robots--may never pass the Turning Test whereby they are indistinguishable from humans, at least for the next 50 years, according to this research report by an engineer and a collaborating psychologist. In addition, humans may limit the ability of androids to mimic human behavior out of fear, limiting their job functions to low-level tasks that humans don't want to perform anyway. The question of whether androids dream of electric sheep may forever remain moot. R.C.J.

Humanoid robots (androids) will improve their interactions with people over the next 50 years, but even by 2060 will still be unable to detect subtle nuances of natural language, be unable to draw their own conclusions from visual evidence, and will be unable to deduce underlying motives and emotional states of people according to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign computer scientist Eyal Amir and psychologist Neal Roese. Androids will steadily improve their ability to speak in a human-like voice, will be able to precisely identify spoken words, answer questions from textual knowledge bases, will walk and run with human-like gaits, will display human-like facial expressions and will be able to detect simple human emotion. These achievements will qualify them for a wide range of menial tasks, like toll-collectors, for which a major shift will occur similar to the automation of factories in the 20th century. Androids will remain a frightening addition to the workforce, however, because they still lack human-like functions such as making eye contact. On the other hand, making androids undistinguishable from humans will also be frightening to us, making the psychological impact of human-android interaction a subject that should be explored by psychologists and engineers together over the next 50 years.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"NANOTECH: Hitachi funds $14 million Canadian microscopy effort"

Canada's National Institute for Nanotechnology has acquired a new electron microscopy research and product development centre sponsored by Hitachi. Called the Hitachi Electron Microscopy Products Development Centre (HEMiC) at the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) in Edmonton Alberta, the $14 million project has the backing of the Canadian and Alberta governments, the University of Alberta and Hitachi High Technologies Inc. The research and development collaboration will aim at new innovations in electron microscopy, one of the first of which will be evaluating what Hitachi claims is the world’s sharpest electron emitter, developed by the Molecular Scale Devices group at NINT. The new Centre is slated to use $7 million for three new electron microscopes including the first Hitachi Model H-9500 transmission electron microscope outside of Japan.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"WIRELESS: Korea awards $9 million to Georgia Tech for multimedia"

Georgia Tech has won a $9 million contract from the Korean government to develop a new generation of consumer electronics that combine multimedia applications on a single wireless device. The university claims that the award is the first time for a grant from the Korean government to a U.S. university for leading one of its research and
development programs.

"MEMS: market still growing for EV Group"

EV Group (EVG), a maker of wafer bonding and lithography equipment for micro-electro0-mechanical systems (MEMS), nanotechnology and traditional semiconductors, claims an uptick in orders of 10 percent compared to this time last year. The rise was attributed by the company to growing demand for through-silicon-via (TSV) equipment for volume manufacturing of 3D chips as well as increasing orders from research institutes, universities and organizations like SEMATECH.

"WIRELESS: mobile phone market growing by 24 percent through 2014"

ABI Research claims that entry-level mobile phone markets will continue to enjoy 24 percent annual growth through 2014. Led b developing regions in Asia, Africa and Latin America the low disposable income of citizens does not seem to be deterring them from going wireless. Lower cost handsets and services, including a new category of device ABI calls ultra-low cost (ULCH) handsets, will enable the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24 percent for the next five years.

"MEMS: 1st EMI-Reducing Differential Oscillator for PCI-Express and DIMM"

SiTime is laying claim to the industry’s first EMI-reducing differential oscillators for PCI- Express and FB-DIMM applications in PCs, servers, RAID controllers, host bus adapters, networked attached storage (NAS), multi-service access platforms and high-end graphics dards. The micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) oscillator--the SiT9002AI--provides clocks for PCI-Express or FB-DIMM using built-in spread spectrum technology which reduces electro-magnetic interference (EMI) by up to 16 db with a frequency stability of ±50 PPM.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"WIRELESS: Google Voice enables free long-distance from Blackberry and Android"

Google Voice to allow users to make free long-distance calls from Blackberry and Android handsets by using voice-over-Internet (VoIP) that bypasses the voice-fee structure of the major carriers.

Previously, to place a call using Google Voice, you had to dial your own Google Voice number from your cell phone, but with its new mobile application, users can make calls and send SMS messages directly from the mobile phone. Google claims full integration with each phone’s contact lists, so dial can be made with Google Voice directl from your existing address book.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stirling engine solar dish farms also seek to restart Detroit

Stirling engine solar dish farms--which uses solar heat to run a Stirling engine driving a generator--could replace the fossil fuels used for electricity in the U.S. with a one-mile wide by one hundred mile long swath through the sun belt, according to Department of Energy (DoE) calculations. Now Sandia National Labs has licensed its Stirling engine solar technology to companies commercializing it by manufacturing them in old automobile factories in Detroit. Look for demonstration projects in 2010-11, and if successful, a sun-belt roll-out over the next two decades. R.C.J.

The solar power industry could help put Detroit back to work, according to Sandia National Laboratories and their commercial collaborators who plan to break ground next year on the first commercial Stirling engine-based solar energy collectors. The automotive supply chain can be used to make the collectors. Based on prototypes at the Sandia National Laboratories' National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF), the patented SunCatcher solar dishes track the sun with parabolic mirrors that reflect light directly into the Stirling engines' combustion chamber, thereby focusing solar heat into electricity from the attached generator. Tessera Solar (Houston) is constructing two pilot solar dish farms using collectors manufactured by Stirling Energy Systems (SES, Scottsdale, Calif.). The first is a 1,600-megawatt facility for the San Diego California Gas and Electric Utility scheduled to go online in 2010. The second is a Southern California Edison project for a 1,000-megawatt facility in the Mojave Desert to be launched in 2012. The pilot programs will use multiple 60-disk arrays each generating 1.5 megawatts to power about 800 homes--the largest solar generating plants in Southern California.


"OPTICS: Woven optical fibers seek to replace lens"

Optical fibers woven into a soldier's uniform can collect light from all directions, with a wearable computer integrating the signals into a 3D complete surround image that redefines "eyes in the back of the head." Look for prototypes within five years and deployment within a decade. R.C.J.

By combining semiconductor layers and metal electrodes within optical fibers, researchers have demonstrated a distributed camera lens that can be woven into a fabric. Designed at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the fabric gathers light from all directions, then uses a wearable computer to integrate the signals into a 3-D image of the surrounding area. MIT researchers claim they can construct fibers in a bulk material that can then be melted in a special furnace so that components are drawn out into the tiny fibers while retaining the orientation of the various materials. Currently, the team is perfecting the algorithms which reconstruct the images while developing fibers with additional light-gathering layers for higher resolution and better differentiation between wavelengths of light for color images.

"MEMS: light force to enable nanoscale on-chip switches"

Both attractive and repulsive forces can be exerted on nanoscale devices according to Yale University researchers. The forces will be used to manipulate components on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) as well as on advanced silicon microchips. The team had already demonstrated the attractive force of light, but today announced the repulsive force too. Next the researchers plan to create nanoscale MEMS switches on a chip to demonstrate their techniques utility.

"WIRELESS: RFID tags up 5 percent to $5.6 billion in 2009"

IDTechEx claims there has been a surge in orders for RFID tags in 2009 despite the economic downturn. The world’s largest RFID project is the $6 billion China National ID card scheme to be completed this year, but the global RFID market in general has also risen 5 percent in 2009 to $5.56 billion, and many applications area for RFID tags are up by 10 percent or more.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"ROBOTICS: bats provide model for micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs)"

Predator drones--unmannned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are basically fixed wing aircraft sans pilots, but micro-sized versions don't work as well. To the rescue are bat-like micro-aerial vehicles from researchers at North Carolina State University. By mimicking the bat's maneuverability in tight spaces, these MAVs could herald a new era of unmanned surveillance as well as search-and-rescue robots. R.C.J.

The North Carolina State University researchers developed bat-like skeletal and muscular systems that allowed the robobats to weigh in at a diminutive 6 grams. The are currently fabricating joints, muscular system and wing membranes to allow it to fly by flapping like real bats. The metal muscles respond to heat from an electric current which makes them contract. Because the contraction also changes their electrical resistance, the microprocessor will be able to use the resistance as feedback to adapt to changing conditions like a gust of wind.


Friday, July 10, 2009

"QUANTUM: computing being perfected by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)"

An optical lattice (blue) uses lasers to isolate and control rubidium atoms (red), with polarized light used as information "bits" in future quantum computers.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is banking on quantum computers to cash in on solving "super" problems that are intractable today--such as creating uncrackable encryption codes for national security. By encoding quantum bits, or qubits, that represent both ones and zeroes simultaneously--a technique called superposition--quantum computers bypass all the sequential steps needed to sift data the way normal computers do. Look for NIST to announced a working quantum computer within three years. R.C.J.

Quantum computers have inched closer to reality after the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers demonstrated the ability to read and write individual quantum bits using a combination of microwaves and polarized lasers. The technical challenge is controlling a quantum computer's processing steps without disturbing the delicate superposition state that makes the qubits so useful. The situation is especially troublesome for adjacent qubits, since reading or writing one qubit often disturbs the state of adjacent ones.

NIST researchers claim to have found an technique that solves the problem by first selecting the atom with the pinpoint accuracy of a polarized laser beam. The technique allows individual qubits to be read and written with microwaves that do not disturb the state of adjacent qubits. The researchers said this week they are now attempting to develop their prototype into a working quantum computer.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"ENERGY: Paper-thin batteries set to arrive by 2010"

Batteries printed onto paper-thin plastic substrates with inexpensive silk-screen techniques will enable smart credit cards to house batteries by the end of this year. Look for commercialization of printable batteries as early as next year (2010). R.C. J.

As researchers rush to commercialize printable batteries that pattern organic semiconductors onto paper-thin, flexible substrates, a German team claims to be on-track for a 2010 product launch. Scientists at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems together with colleagues from Chemnitz University of Technology and Menippos GmbH (all based in Chemnitz, Germany) collaborated on product development. They are targeting applications such as smart credit cards with battery-powered displays to show balances and other account information. Fraunhofer's batteries use zinc anodes and manganese cathodes, which react with one another to produce electricity. The materials slowly dissipate over the lifetime of the battery, making them suitable for short-term applications like greeting cards with built-in music players, The researchers are aiming at a price point under 10 cents per card.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"MATERIALS: Carbon chip technology goes commercial"

Silicon chips are so 20th century, since carbon is destined to take over where silicon let off in the 21st century. Within a decade, the semiconductor baton will be passed to carbon-based technologies that are faster, cooler running and actually work better the smaller you make them! R.C.J.

Carbon--the basis of all organic compounds--appears destined to supplant silicon as the material of choice for future semiconductors. According to researchers, various structures based on the element that sits just above silicon on the Periodic Table can surpass silicon's abilities in thermal performance, frequency range and perhaps even superconductivity. Three-dimensional carbon--diamond--offers 10 times the heat dissipation of silicon, according to suppliers currently hawking 40-nanometer to 15-micron diamond films on silicon wafers. Two-dimensional carbon--3-angstrom-thick monolayers called graphene--could dismantle silicon's roadblock to terahertz performance by attaining 10 times the electron mobility of silicon.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"ENERGY: Backpack power plant gererates green electricity from river currents"

Green energy can be produced by the Bourne Energy RiverStar Backpack Power Plant. By teathering the float at the bottom on a stream, with the included tie-downs, the turbine generates electricity 24/7/365 with no heat or exhaust emissions. Take it along to generate 500 watts--or up to 20kwatts when used in arrays--to power your campsite or in remote third-world locations to power water purifiers, cell phones, whatever. Look for these green energy generators to start popping up everywhere. R.C.J.

The RiverStar BackPack Power Plant is the smallest of its Bourne Energy's hydrokinetic, zero-fuel continuous power generators, measuring just three feet in length and weighing less than 30 pounds. The self-contained units unfold their turbine blades, which are stored inside the float for backpacking, and are bottom mounted with no threat of contamination from waste materials, cutting the cost of electricit by more than 90% compared to portable generators. Bourne also offers many other designs for portable micro-hydro power generators that can use river, tidal and ocean power to produce as much as 3MW per unit.

Friday, July 03, 2009

"MATERIALS: GE and CIA collaborate on flexible solid-state lighting panels"

Solid-state lighting panels will begin to replace the venerable light bulb next year when General Electric (GE) kicks off its printable organic light-emitting diode (OLED) effort. These flexible light panels use an inexpensive printing process to fabricate OLEDs on cheap plastic substrates. Right now the panels are not bright enough to replace high-intensity halogen lights, but over the next decade, as they get brighter, look for the light bulb to be phased out. R.C.J.

In 2010, General Electric (GE) plans to start mass producing flexible, paper-thin lighting panels by printing organic light emitting diode (OLED) semiconductors on flexible polymer substrates, then encasing them in ultra-high barrier coatings. The market for organic printed electronics will grow to become a $300 billion market by 2028, according to IDTechEx Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) The wide diversity of architectural, industrial and consumer applications for its flexible OLED lighting panels prompted GE to recently sponsor two design courses at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) which explored the range of applications available.

Some of the most promising CIA student designs, according to GE, include under-shelf lighting for retailers, flexible signage for advertisers, illuminated stairs for architects, light-up wallpaper for decorators and illuminated safety jackets, pants and hats. View the full range of student ideas by viewing a video. By using its roll-to-roll manufacturing capability for OLEDs on inexpensive flexible substrates, GE claims it can both decrease manufacturing costs and increase design flexibility. And the company claims its ultra-high barrier coatings will protect the flexible OLED material throughout its lifetime just as well as the stiff glass panels traditionally used to protect the delicate organic devices being printed. The GE-CIA collaborative effort resulted in hundreds of student-inspired designs, many of which GE engineers are currently developing into commercial products at its Nela Park design center in Cleveland and its Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. The students at CIA originated the designs in a class entitled "Future Design Center," the first semester of which focused on research, ideas and concepts, and the second semester of which refined, modeled and prototyped their best product recommendations.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"ENERGY: Retrofit kit transforms any vehicle into a hybrid"

80 percent of U.S. drivers make daily trips of less than 30 miles at 40 miles per hour or slower, all of which could be powered by a retrofit kit that costs as little as $3000 to turn any gasoline powered vehicle into an electric hybrid. Four 10-15 horsepower electric motors--one for each wheel--could cut double the gas mileage on most cars, and save as much as 120 million gallons of fuel per day in the U.S. alone, and as much as 600 million gallons per day worldwide. Look for most cars and trucks to start using this invention by 2012. R.C.J.

A former IBM electrical engineer has designed this retrofit kit that he claims can transform existing automobiles into hybrids by placing an electric motor inside each wheel, thereby doubling gas mileage. The motors would be powered by extra batteries installed in the automobile's trunk. Charles Perry, a former IBM product development researcher, recently received first prize for his invention at a green energy competition at the Tennessee Technology Development Corp. The patent pending Plug-in Hybrid Retrofit Kit will be developed into a commercial product by Palmer Labs LLC (Reston, Va.). Perry and associates hope to market the retrofit kit directly to consumers, who can install it themselves, as well as to shops who would do the installation fo you. The also hope to sell the kit wholesale to car dealers and even car manufacturers, so that when you buy a car you can add the "hybrid option" to your new or used vehicle.