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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Five reasons why we won't see IBM's holographic display in five years - video

By Nick Flaherty

IBM has released its prediction of five key technologies for the next five years, and on the whole they are pretty sound: fuel cell batteries are here and making headway in a number of markets, the smart grid will take existing technologies and apply them to wide area power systems, sensors will be everywhere (absolutely!) and smart algorithms can take the pain out of commuting - so far, so good. But the one that IBM has chosen to headline is holographic phone calls (and mobile ones at that).

IBM says:
In the next five years, 3-D interfaces – like those in the movies – will let you interact with 3-D holograms of your friends in real time. Movies and TVs are already moving to 3-D, and as 3-D and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturized to fit into cell phones, you will be able to interact with photos, browse the Web and chat with your friends in entirely new ways.

Scientists are working to improve video chat to become holography chat - or "3-D telepresence." The technique uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs a picture of that object, a similar technique to the one human eyes use to visualize our surroundings.

This is nonsense for a number of reasons:

  1. Photonics doesn't scale. We haven't been able to make photonics scale like silicon - researchers have been trying for 20 years to make the photonic computer, and are still trying. It will take more than 5 years to make commercial, large scale photonic technology small enough for the home, let alone the mobile
  2. Photonics won't be cheap enough. As it doesn't scale, it's also going to be hard to make it cheap enough. There are LED projectors now but there's some large steps to take to make this a consumer product
  3. It's too power hungry for mobile. And not low cost enough. Or small enough. It won't make the home, let alone the mobile.
  4. Video calling is only just taking off. It has taken 20 years for the idea of 2D video calling to take off. A lack of standards and a social resistance is only just being overcome with Skype in the office (not in the living room even now) and Facetime on the Apple 4. There is still a lot of resistance to installing a projector in the home that will take a lot to overcome. 
  5. It's the face, stupid. Apple is driving video calling through the face - being able to see the other person's expression. That's not what the 3D system provides. 
That's not to say it won't be incredibly useful, just not in the home. The key is that the engineers at IBM Research are working on new ways to visualize 3-D data, working on technology that would allow engineers to step inside designs of everything from buildings to software programs, running simulations of how diseases spread across interactive 3-D globes, and visualizing trends happening around the world on Twitter – all in real time and with little to no distortion. 
This is where the technology will take off, where size, cost and power are less important than visualising large amounts of data. From there it make its way into the home office with new projectors, but this will take more than five years to happen.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

World's smallest Christmas card in nanotech

By Nick Flaherty

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have built what they claim is the world's smallest Christmas card etched on a piece of glass. 
"We decided that producing this Christmas card was a simple way to show just how accurate our technology is," said Professor David Cumming of the School of Engineering. "The process to manufacture the card only took 30 minutes. It was very straightforward to produce as the process is highly repeatable – the design of the card took far longer than the production of the card itself.
"The card is 200 micro-metres wide by 290 micro-metres tall. To put that into some sort of perspective, a micro-metre is a millionth of a metre; the width of a human hair is about 100 micro-metres. You could fit over half a million of them onto a standard A5 Christmas card – but signing them would prove to be a bit of a challenge."
The process used was plasmon resonance in a patterned aluminium film made in the University's James Watt Nanofabrication Centre.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

EU project to build a molecular computer

Nottingham University part of collaboration
By Nick Flaherty

The University of Nottingham is the UK's representative in a major new European project to build a computer that uses molecules as switches rather than transistors.
The four year AtMol project stats on the 1st January with ten research groups in Europe working together with the IMRE Institute from A*A*STAR inSingapore on atomic scale technologies, new quantum architectures with multi-scale interconnection and packaging techniques for a single molecule to compute and be packaged into a molecular chip.
However, the research builds the devices individually, and mass production will be needed to make molecular computers a reality.
AtMol had already established a detail process flow for fabricating  the molecular chip with a single calculating molecule unit connected  via external nano-electrodes to preserve its integrity down to the atomic level  even  after  its encapsulation.  On a surface,  the  required  logic functions  are embedded in a single molecule but can also be implanted within an atomic scale circuit. AtMol will explore and demonstrate how the combination of classical and quantum  information inside the same atomic scale circuit increases the computing power of the final  intramolecular logic circuit.
Atomic scale logics will be constructed using atom-by-atom manipulation, on-surface chemistry, and lab tested using a unique UHV transfer printing technology.
The AtMol research needs state-of-the-art UHV atomic scale interconnection machines comprising, a UHV surface preparation chamber, a UHV transfer printing device, an LTUHV-STM (or a UHV-NC-AFM) for atomic scale construction, a FIM atomic scale tip fabrication device and a multi-probe system with its companion SEM or optical navigation microscope. At the starting of AtMol, only three of such machines exist worldwide and they are each housed within  AtMol laboratories  (Toulouse, Krakow and Singapore).  They will be used  to interconnect molecule logic gates one-by-one in a planar atomic scale multi-pad approach on the top, atomically reconstructed, surface of the wafer. For this molecular chip, the back face of the wafer will incorporate nano-to-micro-scale interconnections using nanofabricated vias. The  AtMol patented  hybrid micro-nano back interconnect approach will enable the full packaging of the molecular chip preserving the surface atomic scale precision of the design.

The AtMol partners are dominated by centres in Germany and Spain, as well as the state-funded French research institutes:

  • CEMES-CNRS (Toulouse, France), 
  • LETI-CEA (Grenoble, France),  
  • Phantoms Foundation (Madrid, Spain), 
  • ICIQ (Tarragona, Spain), 
  • CSIC (Barcelona, Spain), 
  • Fritz Haber Institute (Berlin, Germany), 
  • Humboldt University (Berlin, Germany), 
  • Dresden Technical University (Dresden, Germany), 
  • Nottingham University (Nottingham, UK),  
  • Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland), 
  • IMRE A*STAR (Singapore)

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

First video of working invisibility cloak

R&D project demonstration
By Nick Flaherty

A video by Fractal Antenna Systems of Waltham, Massachusets (just down the road from Analog Devices) is showing that the 'invisibility cloak' is becoming a realistic project.
The company has been working on the system for two years using fractal antennas and resonators to make an 'object', or wearer, disappear into the background.
"The invisibility cloak we have has unique characteristics that have not been achieved by others, because others have not used our fractal approach," said Nathan Cohen, CEO at Fractal Antenna Systems. "Our invisibility cloak DOES allow the object to look to the outside, is wideband, and has minimal shadow and scattering. There is NO mirror of any kind. And there is no power needed to make it work. So we meet that heady requirement of making something slip into the background but also let that something ‘see out’ at the same time. This is exactly what the world sees as exciting about invisibility cloak research. Not new attempts at fun-house mirrors.”
The firm's approach was first reported in March 2009 and since then key measurements of scattering, reproducibility, bandwidth and fidelity, as well as ability to 'see-out' have been quantified on the fractal invisibility cloak, which operates at a wide range of microwave frequencies, including those used by cell phones.
"We have an invisibility cloak, wideband at microwaves, you can see out of and melds into the background. We made careful measurements of the invisibility cloak against controls for a comparison, as any thorough experiment requires. The results are compelling and irrefutable," said Cohen, mentioning that the results will be published and that the fractal invisibility cloak is an R&D device, not a practical application. “I am not going around wearing one to hide from microwaves, but this does show that it is feasible. It also shows a path to visual light versions, which have more serious fabrication challenges than the longer wavelength microwaves. I’d give Harry Potter 30 more years of waiting for a visual light invisibility cloak. But at least, from a technology standpoint, he can now put the order in.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Top five postings on The Embedded Blog

By Nick Flaherty

As we approach the end of the year, it's time to look back on what have been the most popular stories on The Embedded Blog in 2010.

  1. True gesture multitouch for large LCDs
  2. Open Android API to drive NFC 
  3. TI's 1GHz Cortex A8
  4. The battle of names with iPad and iNemo
  5. USB3 moving into digital cameras

But there has to be a mention of a story from 2009 that is still in the chart this year, with Atmel's 34cent RFID chip.

Happy New Year!

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Nottingham researchers etch the periodic table on a hair - video

By Nick Flaherty

Not strictly an embedded story but great nonetheless - researchers at the Nottingham Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Center have etched a tiny periodic table onto a hair belonging to chemistry Professor Martyn Poliakoff. This is part of their collection of Periodic tables at  The Periodoc Table of Videos.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Moving multicore to embedded is key to US competitiveness

By Nick Flaherty

The rapid advances in information technology that drive many sectors of the US economy could stall unless there is significant fundamental research and development of parallel computing, says a new report by the National Research Council -- which will drive the move to embedded multicore systems.
Better options for managing power consumption in computers will also be essential for continued improvements in IT performance.
Advances in single-processor, sequential computer microprocessors have enabled computing performance to increase dramatically -- on the order of 10,000 times in the last 20 years but power management and other technological limitations have made it impractical to continue improving computer performance in this way much longer. Parallel computing, therefore, is the only known alternative for improving computer performance without significantly increasing costs and energy usage, the report says.
"The societal and economic impact of computer technology is undeniable, increasing productivity and efficiency and fostering innovation in medicine, defense, entertainment, and communications," said Samuel Fuller, chief technology officer and vice president of research and development for Analog Devices and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "To ensure that computing systems continue to double in performance every few years, we need to make significant changes in computer software and hardware. Investing in research and development of parallel computing offers a clear path forward."
Despite some mainstream successes in parallel computing -- such as the MapReduce programming framework used by Google to process large data sets using thousands of computers -- most parallel computing in use now is limited to comparatively narrow scientific and engineering applications. To enable parallel computing for broader use, new algorithms, programming models, operating systems, and computer architectures will be required, the report says, and research and development in these areas should be pursued.
In particular, advances are necessary to develop new parallel programming methods and supporting computing systems. Although computing hardware such as semiconductor chips that contain eight or more microprocessors have already been developed, software that can keep that many or more processors busy in parallel is not available for most computing applications.
Research and development should also focus on making computer systems more energy efficient, the report says. Power constraints now affect systems ranging from handheld devices to the largest computing data centres. Most computer chips are designed with silicon-based complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology. While the number of devices per CMOS chip continues to double every few years, the technology has essentially reached its limits with regard to power efficiency. Even as new parallel computing models and solutions are found, most future performance will ultimately be limited by energy constraints, the report notes.
It cautions that while parallel computing is the best alternative for improving future performance, there is no guarantee that it will bring rapid advances like those experienced in recent decades, and a number of uncertainties still need to be addressed. Therefore, research and development should also explore fundamentally different alternatives to today's CMOS technology.
The report also recommends developing open interface standards for parallel programming to promote cooperation and innovation in the industry, designing tools and methods for transferring today's sequential computing to parallel applications, and emphasizing parallel computing as part of computer science education.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Google multi-source deal drives down cost of 100G optical transceivers

By Nick Flaherty

10X10 Multi-Source Agreement established to encourage broad adoption of 100G networks based on 10G signaling specifications

Google has teamed up with leading suppliers Brocade, JDSU and Santur to form a Multi-Source Agreement (the 10X10 MSA) for low cost, low power, pluggable 100G optical transceivers based on 10 optical lanes at 10G.
“The 10X10 MSA is exciting because it provides a roadmap for cost reduction of 100G optical interconnects. Using parallel optics that runs at the same rate as electrical lanes avoids the excess cost and power associated with gearbox devices and brings significant cost relief to 100G equipment.”
The 2km reach goal of the 10X10 MSA bridges the gap between 100m multi-mode and 10km single-mode solutions enabling the roll-out of new networks capable of delivering exponentially higher bandwidth at a significantly lower cost per bit. Unlike 100m multi-mode based on ribbons of fiber, this solution operates on a conventional Single Mode Fibre (SMF) enabling extended reach of 2Km. Compared with other single-mode 100G implementations, this approach does not require 25G electronics such as gearbox ICs to convert 10G data streams to intermediate 25G lanes.
The purpose of the 10X10 MSA is to deliver the industry’s lowest cost 100G solution over 2Km SMF. The 10X10 MSA enables 100G implementation today in modules compliant to the published CFP MSA specifications. Other 10X10 MSA implementations will leverage existing 10G electronics and optics to deliver higher density 100G modules.
“The 10X10 MSA is ready to define a new price and performance trajectory for 100GbE that will significantly accelerate the adoption and economics of 100G deployment," said Scott Kipp, Brocade standards representative and Chair of the 10X10 MSA. "Leveraging 10G technology helps the 10X10 MSA provide the lowest cost solution in terms of bandwidth per meter and bandwidth per Watt.”
“The 10X10 MSA is exciting because it provides a roadmap for cost reduction of 100G optical interconnects. Using parallel optics that runs at the same rate as electrical lanes avoids the excess cost and power associated with gearbox devices and brings significant cost relief to 100G equipment,” said Santur CTO Milind Gokhale.
Users and developers who are interested in joining the 10X10 MSA are encouraged to contact MSA members at

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NFC Forum Publishes Four Technical Specifications; Brings Total Number of Available Specifications to 15 | Business Wire

NFC Forum Publishes Four Technical Specifications; Brings Total Number of Available Specifications to 15 | Business Wire: "NFC Forum Publishes Four Technical Specifications; Brings Total Number of Available Specifications to 15"

By Nick Flaherty

Renesas and green Hills team up for virtualisation for real time control

By Nick Flaherty

Renesas Electronics and Green Hills Software are to jointly develop basic software supporting CPU virtualisation technology for real-time control applications as well as a software development environment.
Through the collaboration, Renesas Electronics will develop added functions necessary for the efficient operation of virtualization software enabling high-speed real-time control and improving the usability of the software development environment, incorporating these functions into microcontrollers (MCUs) with V850 CPU core.
Green Hills Software will port the MULTI Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which includes components such as a compiler and a debugger that already support Renesas Electronics’ V850 core. The new CPU virtualisation technology will provide support for software that enables multiple applications to run independently and simultaneously on a single CPU, such as the INTEGRITY real time operating system (RTOS).
The Green Hills IDE will generate compact and high-speed instruction code optimized for the CPU virtualization technology provided by Renesas Electronics’ V850 core. When combined with virtualization software such as INTEGRITY Secure Virtualization, which support safety standards such as IEC 61508, the software development environment will deliver the means to develop and implement with high efficiency applications with excellent functional safety. There are also plans to include support for the emerging ISO 26262 functional safety standard.
Renesas Electronics has been developing CPU virtualisation technology for the V850 architecture to enable control of multiple systems with a single CPU core without mutual interference, allowing high-speed and composite control in fields such as industrial machinery and automotive systems, where real-time control is essential.
Green Hills Software has made a contribution to facilitating design procedures in virtualised environments through its virtualization software and the software development environment.
Renesas Electronics considers a full-fledged software development environment incorporating basic software that allows efficient use of virtualization technology to be essential.
The software development environment will be available through Green Hills Software as part of the MULTI product family.
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