Monday, February 28, 2011

#ENERGY: "Fuel Cell Rechargers Finally Here"

Researchers have finally transferred experimental fuel cells from the lab to handheld recharging stations that can replenish batteries in regions where electricity is scarce—from campsites to third-world outback. Look for fuel cell rechargers to become standard backpack equipment by 2012. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

The fuel cell from myFC AB uses a SiGNa PowerPukk cartridge.

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about fuel cells: University of Michigan spinoff SiGNa Chemistry Inc. claims to have solved the fuel cell problem, at least for small devices, with a replaceable hydrogen-bearing cartridge that can be used to generate electricity anywhere a tablespoon of water is available.
Fuel cells were supposed to rescue automobiles from the need for fossil fuels by consuming clean hydrogen instead of gasoline, but unfortunately the rigorous specifications for safety and longevity has put all-electric cars ahead of fuel cells for transportation power. However, for small devices like cell phones, SiGNa's new Mobile-H2 cartridges can supply the hydrogen needed to recharge batteries anywhere that line power in unavailable.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

#ALGORITHMS: "What's next for IBM's Watson?"

The stunning victory of IBM's Watson cluster computer over human champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the quiz show Jeopardy proved that artificial intelligence algorithms make the system capable of being an expert's advisor. Look for IBM to bring out a whole array of Watson-like helper applications or human experts over the next three years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Watson was the last contestant standing after having knocked the humans out cold.

Here is what my follow-up story for EETimes says about Watson: IBM is currently adapting Watson DeepQA architecture to commercial applications, where it will act as an advisor to human experts, thus defusing criticisms that it is not an expert itself (after Watson asserted during the Jeopardy game that Toronto was a U.S. city). By filtering Watson's advise through the expertise of a human—to eliminate such obvious mistakes—IBM hopes to apply Watson to a variety of fields, including healthcare, financial services, government-mandate management and retailing...
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#ALGORITHMS: "Augmented Reality: From Zero to Billions in No Time"

The augmented reality market, which overlays tactical information onto real-world objects when you point your cell phone camera at them, is poised to rise from a paltry $21 million in 2010 to $3 billion by 2016. Look for app developers to reaping the lion's share of that windfall over the next five years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

The Wikitude World Browser can supply information about sites of interest; here, the Statue of Liberty.

Augmented reality (AR) will transform mobile computing by enabling "zero-click interfaces" that append information on things in the real world when users point their camera phones at them. Eventually, everything from ice-cream shops to server farms will pop up information on demand using AR. For example, retailers will offer special deals you can see only in AR, and equipment suppliers will append specifications and upgrade information directly to their products.
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#OPTICS: "On-Chip Lasers Compute with Light"

Semiconductor researchers have found a way to grow tiny lasers on silicon chips, opening the door to a future where all communication is done with photons instead of electrons. Look for mobile devices using nanolasers that are smaller, lighter, and ultra-low power within seven years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Nanoneedle-based lasers grown on silicon wafers form heterostructures—regions of dissimilar semiconductors—composed of III-V cores clad with insulators like aluminum-gallium-arsenide (AlGaAs).

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about nanolasers: Silicon chip makers will soon be able to grow semiconductor lasers right on the same chip with processors, memory, and logic, enabling ultra-small, ultra-cheap, and ultra-low-power devices that compute with light instead of electrons, according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley...
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#MEMS: "Pico-Projectors Downsized for Cheaper Smartphones"

The world’s largest maker of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) chips announced it has teamed with pico-projector pioneer bTendo to develop the world’s smallest, lowest-power pico-projector for smartphones and other portable consumer electronics devices. Look for pico-projectors to become standard equipment on smartphones by the end of the decade. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Israel's bTendo marries lasers with beam-steering using micromirrors that combine the illumination from three lasers (red, green, blue) then deflect it to the proper pixel by steering the laser beams in two dimensions—fast horizontal and slow vertical.

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about MEMS trends: Pico-projectors promise to enable even the smallest-screen smartphones to project 50- to 100-inch displays onto any flat, white surface. Texas Instruments (TI, Dallas, Texas) currently leads with its digital-light processor (DLP), but now STMicroelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland), the world's largest MEMS chip maker, has thrown its weight behind a relatively unknown startup with a novel, two-mirror design...
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#ALGORITHMS: "IBM's Mira aims to beat Watson"

While IBM's Watson supercomputer tangles with its human competitors on the quiz show Jeopardy this week, the company's high-performance computing architects will be crafting—in cooperation with Argonne National Laboratory. Look for IBM to retake the crown for world's fastest supercomputer in 2012. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

IBM is working toward the world's fastest supercomputer, which it hopes will be a Blue Gene based machine called Mira.

Here is what my EETimes story says about Mira: According to, the world's fastest supercomputer is currently a 2.57-petaflop system, China's Tianhe-1a, which uses thousands of Intel Westmere processors with Nvidia Fermi graphics accelerators. In contrast, the IBM's Mira, based on the Blue Gene/Q, aims to top 10-petaflops using thousands of IBM's own Power7 cores...
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#ENERGY: "Photosynthesis Emulated for Self-Repairing Solar Cells"

A U.S. national laboratory claims its photosynthesis technique, using special polymers, can generate hydrogen fuel from air, water, and sunlight—just like green plants. Look for artificial photosynthesis for industry and households within five years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory uses neutron scattering on lamellar structure of a hydrogen-producing, biohybrid composite material confirming that man-made polymers can self-repair using light harvesting proteins in green plants. (Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about photosynthesis: The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory claims to have found a way to combine synthetic polymers with living proteins to create a self-repairing solar-cell technology whose efficiency will not degrade over time. Today solar panels are available using a wide variety of materials whose prices are set according to the efficiencies obtained. For instance, the highest achieved efficiencies to date (as high as 25 percent) come from expensive multi-band gallium arsenide (GaAs) solar cells, which are only affordable by military and space applications. Next in efficiency comes pure crystalline silicon solar cells (about 15 percent efficient), then amorphous silicon (about 10 percent) followed by thin-film polymer-based solar panels, which are the lowest in both cost and efficiency (as low as 5 percent)...
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Monday, February 14, 2011

#MATERIALS: "Phosphorescence boosts solid-state lighting"

Switching to purely organic phosphorescent emitters could drastically cut the cost of solid-state lighting panels, according to a team of researchers at the University of Michigan. Look for solid-state lighting (SSL) to replace incandescent and even compact fluorescent tubes over the next seven years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Organic phosphors developed at the University of Michigan could one day lead to cheaper organic light-emitting diodes. Here, they glow in blue and orange when triggered by ultraviolet light. Credit: Marcin Szczepanski, U-M College of Engineering.

Here is what my EETimes story says about this solid-state lighting breakthrough: A University of Michigan team claims to have found the first example of a purely organic—and thus ultra-cheap—compound that can compete with an metal-doped emitters in terms of brightness and color tuning capability. Unlike fluorescence, a phosphorescent material does not immediately re-emit the radiation it absorbs, but rather continues to glow for up to several hours after the original excitation—a property that has previously been seen only in compounds doped with metals, called organometallics. However, these new metal-free organic compounds developed at the University of Michigan, which appear white in visible light, radiate blue, green, yellow and orange after absorbing ultraviolet light.
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#MEMS Boom Following Tablet, Smartphone Mania

Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) chips, used as sensors and actuators, are riding the wave of exploding touch-screen tablet and smartphone sales. Look for record growth in all MEMS chip segments in 2011 and beyond. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Consumer and mobile devices are driving micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) chips sales, which will pass the $2 billion mark by 2011, according to IHS iSuppl

Here's what my Smarter Technology story says about MEMS chips: Accelerometers, gyroscopes, oscillators, acoustic-wave filters, digital microphones, digital speakers, and a dozen other microscopic sensors and actuators are micro-miniaturizing the final frontier in consumer electronics. This is driving the sales of once off-beat MEMS applications into the mainstream...
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Friday, February 11, 2011

#ALGORITHMS: "Kinect Gesture Recognition Empowers Surgical Robots"

Purdue University is adapting Microsoft's Kinect gesture-recognition engine to a robotic nurse that can recognize hand gestures and offer assistance to surgeons during operations. Look for robotic nurses to reduce the time it takes to perform operations within four years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Robots at Purdue University are being trained to respond to gestures when assisting surgeons and other professionals (source: Purdue University photo).

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about gesture recognition: By adapting Microsoft's Kinect gesture-recognition hardware (originally designed for gaming) with a software development kit (SDK) from PrimeSense Ltd., Purdue University is developing a robotic scrub nurse to assist surgeons and other professionals...
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#NANOTECH: "Nanowires process arithmetic/logic"

Nanowire processors will pack more arithmetic and logic per square inch than conventional semiconductors, according to Harvard University. Look for nanoprocessors using bottom-up self-assembly techniques beyond the reach of traditional lithography within five years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Scanning electron microscopy image of a programmable nanowire nanoprocessor super-imposed on a schematic nanoprocessor circuit architecture.

Here is what my EETimes story says about nanoprocessors: Harvard University researchers recently demonstrated basic ALU [arithmetic-logic unit] functionality for silicon-germanium nanowire arrays in collaboration with Mitre Corp. The Harvard- Mitre nanowire arrays were billed as the world’s first programmable nanoprocessor...produced by the laboratory of Charles Liber at Harvard...
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

#MARKETS: "Tablet Demand High, but Sales Channels Shaky"

Touch-screen tablets are projected to be the fastest-growing segment of mobile computing devices, but neither carriers nor traditional computer retailers are as good at service and support as Apple's chain of stores. Look for touchscreen tablet vendors to pioneer new distribution channels silicon to Apple's Stores within two years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

IHS iSuppli's forecast of global touch-screen tablet sales, comparing Apple's iPad with PC-based tablets and "others" consisting mostly of Android-based units.

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about touch-screen tablets: Touch-screen tablets are projected to be the fastest-growing segment of mobile computing device, but analysts are asking whether rival tablet sales will be hampered by poor sales outlets. Unit sales of touch-screen tablets will skyrocket by a factor of 12 by 2015, according to IHS' iSuppli, but Apple is the only vendor with sure-fire service and support outlets. As these other players enter the market to challenge Apple's lead, service and support may become a major differentiator...
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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

#NANOTECH: "Nanogenerators to Enable Battery-Free Handhelds"

Forget super-sizing. Nano-sizing is the future of energy harvesters, according to researchers who claim to have mathematical proof that battery-free electronic devices can be powered by mechanical energy from vehicle vibrations to body movements. Look for battery-free mobile devices by the end of the decade. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Northwestern University researchers fabricated a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) to test their piezoelectric nanowires. (Source: Northwestern University)

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about battery-free mobile devices: Energy harvesting today is confined to a few niche applications, such as powering wireless sensor networks in remote areas where it is too expensive to send out crews to constantly be replacing batteries. However, by nano-sizing the working element in these energy harvesters, Northwestern University researchers claim their efficiency can be improved enough to enable battery-free mobile electronics.
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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

#MEMS: "Disposable Lab-on-a-Chip Cures Diagnostic Debacle"

For over a decade, the laboratory on-a-chip has been touted as a solution to world-health problems, promising to provide affordable medical diagnostics even in remote areas. Unfortunately, their cost has never been reduced enough to realize the dream—until now. Look for disposable lab-on-a-chip technologies to greatly expand the number of medical diagnostics that can be performed, like home pregnancy tests, without a prescription. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Purdue University researchers have invented an inexpensive paper lab-on-chip using microfluidics to flow a patient sample to functionalized dots that glow for rapid medical diagnostics and chemical analysis. (Source: Purdue University)

Researchers at Purdue University's Birck Nanotechnology Center have created a dirt-cheap lab-on-a-chip technology that harnesses microfluidics to instantly diagnose medical conditions. The "labs" are inexpensive enough to be thrown away after use...instead of fabricating microfluidic channels on silicon or glass substrates with semiconductor equipment, uses lasers to make the tiny channels on cheap paper substrates. The result is a device that can test for dozens of maladies simultaneously, and yet it is inexpensive enough to throw away after a single use...
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Monday, February 07, 2011

#CHIPS: "Can Touch-Screen Tablets Revive the DRAM Market?"

Touch-screen tablets could help resuscitate the DRAM market in 2011 and beyond if only three caveats can be avoided. Look for touch-screen tablets to become the leading market indicator for component integration success for the next five years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

DRAM sales for touchscreen tablets is rising quickly, from just 37.8 million gigabits in 2010 to a high of 3.5 billion gigabits in 2014, according to IHS iSuppli.

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about DRAM and touch-screen tablets: The market for dynamic random access memory (DRAM) revived in 2010 from recessionary lows, but price-per-unit drops are causing analysts to predict an anomaly in 2011—depressed earnings despite growth in unit sales. DRAM exploded in 2010, increasing by 77 percent over the recession years, according to IHS' iSuppli Corp. (El Segundo, Calif.). Unit sales growth will continue in 2011, but declining prices-per-unit will likely depress DRAM revenues overall. However, touch-screen tablets will likely mitigate the overall dip in DRAM revenue by virtue of rising sales of low-power "mobile" DRAM, whose price has remained stable compared with "commodity" DRAM...
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#SECURITY: "NIST Tackles IT Security Conundrums"

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is tackling computer security, promising an official three-tiered risk-management approach that spans the highest levels of management to the individual algorithms. Look for an increased emphasis of computer security as the number of malicious emails and web pages vie to surpass legitimate ones by 2012. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

A three-tiered security risk management approach keeps managers abreast of information they need to make real-time risk-based decisions.

Here is what my story in Smarter Technology says about computer security: The National Institute of Standards and Technology is currently presenting two draft documents for organizationwide IT security risk management, aiming to provide the foundation for a tiered regime that provides the guidelines mandated by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Aimed at upper-level management, but covering all levels of deployment, the documents seeks to convey an understanding of the latest information security components by which chief information officers (CIOs), security specialists and system owners can secure mission-critical IT functions. The document, called the "Integrated Enterprise-Wide Risk Management: Organization, Mission, and Information System View" (Special Publication 800-39), is available for public comments and can be downloaded here...
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Sunday, February 06, 2011

#MATERIALS: "Nanolasers grown on silicon"

Computing with light will only be possible when we can integrate lasers alongside traditional electronic circuitry on silicon chips, which these researchers claim to now know how to do. Look for integrated silicon optics within four years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

The high crystal quality of III-V nanoneedles grown on silicon are enabling development of practical silicon-based optoelectronics .

Here is what my EETimes story says about integrated silicon optics: Scientists have long been interested in integrating lasers onto silicon to enable on-chip communications using light instead of electrons, which would lead to faster communication and increased bandwidth. But, unfortunately, there is a lattice mismatch between silicon and the traditional III-V materials used to craft semiconductor lasers. Now, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley claim to have surmounted that obstacle by growing indium-gallium-arsenide nano-pillars vertically. The researchers claim their technique is adaptable to mass production of robust on-chip structures for optical interconnects, field emitters, nonlinear optical signal generation, sensors, solar cells, displays and nano-fluidics...
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Thursday, February 03, 2011

#ALGORITHMS: "IBM's Watson computer beats humans at Jeopardy"

Watson's face, topped by cartoon-like hair, is animated with meteor-like traces that streak around it as he "thinks."

Later this month, Jeopardy, billed as American's favorite game show, will air a special edition where the all-time greatest human champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, will compete against IBM's Watson cluster computer. Look for a lively match pitting man against machine on Feb. 14-16. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Watson's father-figure, David Ferrucci, is principal investigator for IBM's DeepQA architecture.

The grand prize of $1 million goes to the winner, with second place earning of $300,000 and third place of $200,000. Instead of shipping Watson to Hollywood, this special edition of Jeopardy was taped last month at IBM's
 T.J. Watson Research Lab, where a mock-up of the original Jeopardy studio was 

In trial Jeopardy matches with champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Watson (center) beat the humans.

Watson was built from the ground up to be adaptable to the kind of business applications for which IBM is famous. Unlike chess-playing Deep Blue, Jeopardy-playing Watson runs on a cluster of 90 commercially available Power 750 servers with 
2,880 Power 7 cores and 500Gbytes per second throughput.

John Kelly, director of IBM Research, claims that grand challenges provide focus for multidisciplinary efforts.

During trial sessions, Watson beat the humans—just barely--but you'll have to tune into Jeopardy to see who wins in the real contest. Check local listings on Feb. 14-16.

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#MATERIALS: "Thermoelectric Generators Turn Heat into an Asset"

Thermoelectric have been around for a while, but were only used for niche applications where size and weight were more important than efficiency. This breakthrough in thermoelectric generator efficiency, however, promises to bring thermoelectrics into the mainstream. Look for energy harvester to turn waste heat into electricity for everything from your cars exhaust to that overheated server farm. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Thermoelectric material from Micropelt GmbH (Freiburg, Germany) uses n- and p-type semiconductors produced on two different wafers then bonded together.

Here is what my story at Smarter Technology says about thermoelectrics: Excess heat remains a major headache for everything from server farms to automobile exhausts, but breakthroughs in solid-state thermoelectric materials aim to turn waste heat into electricity. Recent breakthroughs in the performance of thermoelectric materials boost their efficiency, promising to bring energy harvesting technologies into the mainstream...

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

#MATERIALS: "Gallium nitride boosted into high-power realm"

Gallium nitride has been touted as the next-gen for high-power applications for so long that many thought it was already there. Look for this simple but important process to finally realize the dream within three years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

By flanking a galliun nitride (GaN) device termination with ion implantation (green) researchers boosted GaN breakdown voltage from 300 to 1,650 volts.

Here is what my EETimes story says about GaN: Gallium nitride is lauded as the next-generation material for high-power electronics, but until now has been plagued by breakdown above about 250 volts, according to researchers at North Carolina State University. The researchers claim to have discovered a technique to raise breakdown to 1,650 volts, thereby boosting power handling by 10 times. These high-power handling GaN devices will be useful for emerging applications ranging from smart-grid to electric cars...
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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

#CHIPS: "New material for semis said to beat silicon"

Everybody knows that silicon is running out of gas and most of us think that carbon is the solution to next generation chips, but now there is a new contendor that may beat both silicon and graphene. Look of molybdenite to be developed by multiple labs over the next seven years. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Molybdenite--MoS2--here is used to create an ultra-lower power field effect transistors (FET) by acting as its channel on a silicon-on-insulator substrate using high-k dielectric (HfO2) gate oxide.

Here is what my EETimes story says about molybdenite: A new semiconductor material called molybdenite (MoS2) is claimed to be 100,000 times lower power than silicon, plus will allow the fabrication of much smaller transistors, according to researchers at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPGL). As a next-generation semiconductor material, molybdenite also beats graphene by possessing a bandgap, according the EPGL...
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#CHIPS: "Bilayer gate solves plastic transistor woes"

Plastic electronics has been beckoning for a decade, but slow speed and longevity has slowed actual deployment of many applications--this new architecture could help. Look for flexible plastic transistors to make to to primetime by the end of the decade. R. Colin Johnson @NextGenLog

Georgia Tech expects future plastic transistors on flexible substrates to be enabled by a novel bilayer gate dielectric.

Here is what my EETimes story says about plastic electronics: Bilayer-gate insulators solve the problems associated with building plastic transistors on flexible organic substrates, according to Georgia Institute of Technology, which has developed a new method for stacking two gate dielectric materials that cancel out the drawbacks of each, resulting in relatively fast, stable plastic transistors with high current carrying capabilities. The Georgia Tech researchers predict their transistors will be useful in applications such as smart bandages, RFID tags, plastic solar cells, light emitters for smart cards and other applications requiring flexible ultra-stable electronics...

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#ALGORITHMS: "IT Can Now What-If Virtualization, Cloud Saving"

Using a new App Tracking, IT managers can now compare the cost of running applications on dedicated in-house servers versus virtualizing them and moving them to cloud computers. Look for a massive move to virtualization and cloud computing over the rest of the decade. R. Colin Johnson @NexGenLog

The new App Tracking capability of Sentilla Energy Manager tracks the cost, energy consumed, and carbon produced by individual applications on dedicated services, virtualized resources, and clouds.

Here is what my Smarter Technology story says about App Tracking: IT organizations often have to guess what potential savings they might gain from virtualizing applications and moving them to rented cloud computers, but now a new App Tracking capability can perform accurate what-if calculations of potential savings...
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