Friday, April 30, 2010

#MEMS from IDT aims CMOS at quartz crystals

Integrated Device Technology, Inc. (IDT) entered the all-silicon oscillator market with a line of CMOS oscillators that obsolete the ubiquitous quartz crystal that maintains a time base in most electronic devices today, but without having to resort to micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). Look for IDT's chip to begin replacing quartz crystals next year. R.C.J.

IDT's MM8102 and MM8202 offer frequency accuracies of better than 300ppm and operate a frequencies up to 133MHz. By offering both packaged and bare die, IDT claims its oscillators can eliminate the need for bulky quartz crystals in applications where space is at a premium, such as SIM cards, USB Flash drives and other serial wireline interface applications including S-ATA, PCIe, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. Both parts consume about 2 milliAmps at 1.8V, or less than 1 microAmp in standby mode. Unlike MEMS devices, the parts are immune to shock and vibration, according to IDT (San Jose, Calif.). Other companies offering all-silicon CMOS oscillators that do not use MEMS include Silicon Laboratories Inc. (Austin, Texas), National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara) and Linear Technology (Milpitas, Calif.)
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

#MEMS "Gesture Designer lends hand for MEMs-based interface development" #Microchips #Semiconductor

A new Kionix software engine can capture and subsequently recognize user-defined gestures. Look for gestures to start controlling almost all aspects of handheld gadgets within three years. R.C.J.

The Gesture Designer, intended to help OEMs design gesture-based interfaces using Kionix's microelectromechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers, widens the potential range of motion-enabled functionality for consumer electronics. The Gesture Designer adds the ability to create unique gestures for specific types of consumer gear. OEMs use the software engine to build and manage a library of motions by capturing and analyzing the data stream from their accelerometer during a personal gesture-making event. The unique signatures of any number of gestures can be recorded, analyzed and subsequently recognized. Once a gesture is authenticated by the onboard recognition engine, OEMs can use the command to execute any operation on their device. Kionix recommends the Gesture Designer to developers of intuitive user interfaces and interactive games.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

#MICROCHIPS "Freescale MCUs pave SoC path to medical devices" #Semiconductor

Freescale Semiconductor has created dedicated microcontrollers with analog front ends so that devices can be designed with just a single chip. Look for system-on-chip (SoC) solutions to space-age medical application (see photo below) over the next few years. R.C.J.

Freescale Semiconductor announced five microcontrollers for medical applications at the Embedded Systems Conference, promising a system-on-chip approach to handheld medical device operation. Ultralow-current modes in the Flexis MCUs allow up to five-year battery lifetimes, the company said. Freescale also guarantees that it will manufacture the chips for 15 years to support the long product life spans of medical devices.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

#DSP Freescale takes aim at TI's DSP market #Semiconductor

Freescale Semiconductor will go gunning for Texas Instruments today at the Embedded Systems Conference convenes in San Jose, Calif. Look for Freescale to aim for TI's heartland--its DSP offerings--in 2010 and beyond. R.C.J.

Freescale claims its new high-end digital-signal processors, based on the SC3850 StarCore DSP core, offer twice the performance, for about half the price, of similar TI DSPs. TI has long been the king of the hill in DSPs, but Freescale has made a point of aggressively expanding its own technology in an attempt to unseat its rival. Freescale's new MSC825x family is the first to reach the 45-nanometer process node, allowing the lower price, plus the line reportedly adds both performance and features, such as a second serial port, that TI's DSPs lack.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

#MICROCHIPS "IBM demos faster, cheaper alternative to e-beam litho" #Semiconductor

IBM Research has demonstrated a 3-D technique for patterning at the atomic scale that it says outperforms e-beam lithography in speed and resolution, at lower cost. Look for ultra-small prototypes to switch to the IBM method over the next few years. R.C.J.

IBM Research has demonstrated its new 3-D technique by fabricating a 22 x 11-micron map of Earth and a 25-micron-high 3-D rendering of the 14,692-foot-tall Matterhorn. The tiny images, representing a scale of 5 billion to 1, were created in less than 3 minutes with a silicon tip similar those used in atomic-force microscopes, but measuring just 500 nanometers in length and only a few nanometers wide at its apex. The tip was attached to a flexible cantilever that IBM says can scan the surface of any substrate with 1-nm accuracy. The company plans to use the patterning technique for prototyping nanoscale CMOS electronics, optical components and meta-materials and for making shape-matching templates that direct the self-assembly of nanorods or nanotubes.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

#3D TV disparities said to cause physical, mental strain

Earlier this week Samsung warned of potential health hazards associated with watching 3-D TV. Now comes word that university researchers have already been sounding the alarm, saying visual disparities in 3-D TV images can cause viewers to experience physical strain. Look for 3D TV vendor to be scrambling in damage control mode during the rest of 2010. R.C.J.

Visual disparities in 3-D TV images can cause physical strain in viewers, according to recent research at the University of California at Berkeley. While proper viewing conditions can help avoid most problems--dark room, central seat far from the screen--3-D cinematographers also need to follow careful rules or risk making people sick, researchers said. The debate over 3-D TV heated up earlier this week when Samsung issued a warning about possible health effects. While proper viewing conditions can help avoid most problems--dark room, central seat far from the screen--3-D cinematographers also need to follow careful rules or risk making people sick, researchers said. Even if the physical strains of 3-D are avoided, other disparities can cause mental strain akin to vertigo, according to other investigators at the University of Washington.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

#3D "Samsung warns of 3-D TV health hazards"

Samsung's posts about the potential health hazards of 3D TV reminds me of the fledgling virtual reality (VR) market that consumers revolted against after medical experts hinted that head-mounted displays (HMDs) could encourage "lazy eye" in youngsters. Look for 3D TV vendors to start preparing their defense against lawsuits with similar disclaimers during the rest of 2010. R.C.J.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. has posted a 3-D TV health warning on its Australian web site describing a long list of hazards potentially associated with the technology. Samsung's posting, titled, "Photosensitive Seizure Warning and Other Health Risks," runs through a short list of serious maladies that can be triggered as a result of viewing 3-D TV, the worst of which is a stroke or epileptic seizure. The warning also describes a long list of symptoms to watch out for—especially in children and teenagers—including altered vision, lightheadedness, dizziness, involuntary movements such as eye or muscle twitching, confusion, nausea, convulsions, cramps, disorientation and "loss of awareness." Lesser evils that 3-D TV may cause, according to Samsung, are motion sickness, perceptual "after effects," eye strain, "decreased postural stability," headaches and fatigue. Taking breaks is advised as a quick fix for any of these symptoms. The warning advises people suffering from symptoms against drinking alcohol, watching when tired or watching if you are in "bad physical condition." The warning states that viewers can damage their eyesight by sitting too close or by walking around outside wearing 3-D glasses. The warning also advises against placing a3-D TV too close to "open stairwells, cables, balconies or other objects that may cause you to injure yourself."

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#MICROCHIP "Low-k test regime spots defects on wafers" #Semiconductor

Columbia's noninvasive trap-counting technique makes low-k dielectrics less of a dice roll. Look for a new generation of low-k dielectric materials that act as super-insulators on future chips.

Low-k dielectric materials are super-insulators that help designers scale down chip size, but at the expense of shortening the average lifetimes of their chips. The problem is that low-k dielectrics add porosity—vacancy defects—which can act as electron traps, letting current leak through the insulator and eventually short-circuiting the chip. Now, by using photo-induced current and laser-based second-harmonic generation, researchers at Columbia University are perfecting a testing regime for Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC; Durham, N.C.) that can spot potential failures while the chips are still on the wafer.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

#MICROCHIP Memristor emulates neural learning #Semiconductor

In the 1960s Ted Hoff--who later invented the microprocessor at Intel--suggested to his Ph.D. adviser--Bernard Widrow--that a new type of circuit element was needed to make brain-like devices--they later called it a memistor. Now Hewlett Packard is picking up the ball 50 years later with its memristor, which uses different materials but is still aimed at emulating the brain. Look for a flurry of memristor announcements throughout the rest of 2010. R.C.J.

Synapses are the bit-cells of the brain, and they behave more like memristors than any other electronic circuit element, according to the University of Michigan researchers who recently demonstrated that a single memristor can learn using the same technique as the human brain. Researchers demonstrate memristors emulating the learning function of a neural network by changing the strength of its synaptic connections in response to synchronized voltage spikes. Neural networks can learn patterns that are too difficult for engineers to craft as specific algorithms, but they depend on an analog memory element called a synapse, which today is simulated on supercomputers as a numerical value. Learning occurs when simultaneous voltage spikes are generated from feature detectors in the senses, like edge detectors in the eye. When the simultaneous spikes come in, say from the edge detectors in both eyes, the receiving synapse in the brain responds by increasing its value--a digit used for supercomputer simulations. Instead, memristors change their resistance value.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"ENERGY: Intel touts personal energy management"

The era of the personal computer is giving way to the era of personal energy management, according to Intel. Look for Intel-branded energy management control panels and apps by the fall of 2010. R.C.J.

Intel's CEO declared the "era of personal energy management" during the chip maker's developer's forum in Beijing this week. Intel has designed its own smart energy sensor that plugs into any outlet and uses a training mode to learn the electronic signatures of household appliances on a circuit. Intel also showed a prototype of an energy display panel that uses data from its wireless energy sensor to monitor usage, recommend more efficient practices and set goals. The same functions performed by the hardware control panel can also built into an application for laptops or smartphones.
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Monday, April 12, 2010

#ENERGY MIT harnesses virus to power hydrogen economy #GREEN

Unique new technique mimics photosynthesis to extract fuel from water. Look for the hydrogen economy to challenge electric car proliferation in 2010. R.C.J.

The hydrogen economy was supposed to use solar power to transform water into hydrogen fuel, but it has lagged expectations because no method more efficient than electrolysis has been found to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Now, by harnessing living viruses to mimic the way plants use photosynthesis, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims to extract fuel more efficiently from water.
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Friday, April 09, 2010

#CHIPS "End of the CPU? HP demos configurable memristor" #Semiconductor

HP's 'stateful logic' could extend Moore's Law beyond 2020 as well as obsolete the CPU with a new computing paradigm. Look for memristor architectures to begin appearing in HP-branded chips within three years. R.C.J.

Hewlett-Packard has demonstrated memristors ("memory resistors") cast in an architecture that can be dynamically changed between logic operations and memory storage. The configurable architecture demonstrates "stateful logic" that HP claims could someday obsolete the dedicated central-processing unit (CPU) by enabling dynamically changing circuits to maintain a constant memory of their state. That would let them be powered down at any time without the need to reboot at startup. The architecture makes memristors a candidate for extending Moore's Law beyond the end of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, circa 2020, according to HP. The ITRS has called for a new state variable besides charge or voltage to represent bits, and HP claims that the variable "resistance" employed by its stateful logic circuitry fills the bill.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

#MEMS "Gyro harnesses bulk-acoustic wave" #Semiconductor

Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) devices based on a new paradigm--bulk acoustic waves--promises to enable more reliable solid-state operation. Look for no-moving-parts BAW chips to challenge old-school MEMS by the end of 2010. R.C.J.

Startup Qualtre Inc. has licensed Georgia Tech micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) gyroscope technology that uses bulk-acoustic wave (BAW) disks instead of the usual tuning-fork resonator used in most MEMS gyroscopes. Qualtre (Marlborough, Mass.) claims its technology is lower power—thereby extending the battery life of mobile devices—and less expensive to manufacture since its silicon disks are smaller than the tuning-fork resonators used today. The company promises samples of its BAW-based gyroscopes later this year for a wide variety of consumer applications, including handheld and console based gaming controllers, navigational devices, digital cameras, camcorders and remote controls.
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"OPTICS: Veeco pumping up the volume on commodity LEDs"

The rising demand for LEDs has equipment suppliers scrambling to increase yields as high-brightness LEDs for solid-state lighting become a commodity industry. The stakes are high, since over the decade every incandescent bulb on the planet is expected to be replaced by LEDs, fueling a $14.9 billion market by 2013. Look for LEDs to replace light bulbs over the next decade. R.C.J.

Veeco Instruments Inc. (Plainview, N.Y.) has landed a $4 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to research and develop higher-yielding organic LEDs (OLEDs) that would be 10 times more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs. The specific goal of the two-year project, which will be conducted with Sandia National Labs (Albuquerque), will be to reduce the cost of epitaxial growth fourfold for high-brightness LEDs. Today, variations in metal-organic chemical-vapor deposition (MOCVD) reactors require that fab lines bin for color, brightness, forward voltage and other variations. That requirement dampens yields, and there is no quick fix when moving to higher-volume production.
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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"MEMS: Smart IMU targets mobile consumers"

Inertial measurement units (IMUs) are what robots use to keep upright and to navigate indoors where there are no GPS signals. Now an IMU-on-a-chip is being proposed to track both linear and rotational motion in devices like gaming or remote controls. Look for full 3D remote controls and gaming controllers to roll out this year and next. R.C.J.

MEMS chip maker InvenSense Inc. said it has integrated an IMU on a chip using a digital motion processor (DMP) that performs 6-axis sensor fusion of an internal 3-axis gyroscope and an external 3-axis accelerometer. IMUs enables motion processing without adding system processing overhead, said Michael Maia, vice president of InvenSense's Gaming and 3-D User Interface Business Unit. He said its IMU-3000 reduces power consumption whie easing integration into gaming controllers and 3-D remote controls.
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Friday, April 02, 2010

#CHIPS IBM spawning lower-power microprocessors

#SEMICONDUCTOR A design contest at the International Symposium on Physical Design (ISPD) is expected to spur new clock distribution schemes for microprocessors. Look for lower power clocks for the next generation of microprocessors at the 32 nanometer node and beyond. R.C.J.

A new suite of benchmarks released by IBM Research, in cooperation with Intel Research, will likely accelerate the development of robust new clock distribution schemes for next-generation microprocessors, according to the clock network synthesis contest organizers at the International Symposium on Physical Design (ISPD). The benchmarks were originally developed for ISPD's clock network synthesis design contest, which was won by professor Igor Markov's team from University of Michigan for the second straight year.
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