Archive for the ‘Computers and the Internet’ Category


June 10, 2012

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Nokia Sensing X Challenge

May 30, 2012

The X PRIZE Foundation and Nokia have announced the launch of the Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE – a $2.25 million global competition aimed at developing a new generation of health sensors and sensing technologies that can drastically improve the quality, accuracy and ease of monitoring a person’s health.

Improvements in these technologies will empower individuals to effortlessly monitor and collect their own real-time health data, providing both consumers and healthcare providers convenient access to critical information whenever and wherever they need it.

The announcement was made by X PRIZE Foundation Chairman and CEO Dr. Peter Diamandis and Nokia Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Henry Tirri during their keynote address at the Wireless Health Convergence Summit in San Diego.

“Partnering with Nokia is a natural fit for this competition. Health sensing technologies enabled by artificial intelligence, lab-on-a-chip, and digital imaging are advancing exponentially and will ultimately integrate with your phone. We need to expand sensor and sensing technology beyond disease management to areas such as public health and fitness,” said Dr. Diamandis.

“The Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE will bring about radical innovation in health sensors and sensing technologies, which paves the way for better choices in when, where, and how individuals receive care. Ultimately, healthcare will be more convenient, affordable, and accessible to consumers worldwide through these integrated digital health solutions.”

The inefficiencies and total cost of the U.S. healthcare system (and healthcare systems around the globe) has been a pressing social and political issue for many years. In the U.S., the total spent annually on the healthcare system is more than $2 trillion, which accounts for more than 15 percent of the nation’s GDP. Health sensors have the capacity to stem this trend. Consumer use of sensors and sensing solutions has the potential to improve, extend and ease delivery of healthcare services, as well as reduce costs to the benefit of health providers and patients.

“Nokia engages in Open Innovation on many different levels; this type of ‘grand challenge’ is not only a unique method of driving significant progress in a short space of time, but one which can also help to create an entire ecosystem,” said Dr. Tirri.

“This competition will enable us to realize the full potential of mobile sensing devices, leading to advances in sensing technology which can play a major role in transforming the lives of billions of people around the world.”

Say goodbye to your mouse and keyboard

May 24, 2012

Leap Motion is a California-based startup developing advanced motion sensing technology for human-computer interaction.

This week, they publicly announced their first product – the Leap.

Leap is a small iPod-sized USB peripheral that creates a 3D interaction space of 8 cubic feet to precisely interact with and control software on your laptop or desktop computer.

The Samsung Galaxy S III

May 7, 2012

Samsung has announced its third generation Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy S3. A direct competitor to the iPhone, the device will launch in Europe on 29th May and in America some time in June.

The S3 is Samsung’s first quad-core smartphone, with four 1.4 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processors and Mali-400 MP GPU. It boasts a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution for ultra-sharp 1080p video playback. Alongside this, it has an 8-megapixel camera and 3.3fps burst mode capable of 20 shots.

Available in two colours – marble white and pebble blue – the S3 has numerous new software features and hardware accessories. These include Smart Stay (the screen remains on when the user looks at the screen, otherwise it sleeps), Direct Call (which allows the user to call a person whose text is currently on screen by simply raising the phone to the ear), Pop Up Play (allows a video and other activities to simultaneously occupy the screen), S Voice intelligence, Buddy Photo Sharing, Allcast Share Dongle, Group Cast (documents collaboration), wireless charging, S Pebble MP3 player (a portable music controller), dock/charger, C-Pen, slimline case, and a car mount.

The phone comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants. This is expandable by an additional 32GB thanks to a microSD card slot, for a massive 96GB of total storage. Furthermore, an additional 50GB of space is offered via the online Dropbox service for purchasers of the device for two years (doubling rival HTC’s 25GB of storage for the same duration).

Samsung has now overtaken Nokia to become the world’s largest maker of mobile phones. You can read more about the S3 at the official website.

Google’s futuristic, Internet-connected glasses

April 8, 2012

Google this week announced “Project Glass” – a research and development program which aims to prototype and build an augmented reality (AR) head-mounted display.

Although this technology is not a new idea, the project is gaining media attention due to its backing by such a high-profile company, as well as the design concepts which are smaller and slimmer than previous versions of head-mounted displays. These early demos appear to more closely resemble normal eyeglasses, where the lens is replaced by a heads-up display, and may be integrated into people’s day-to-day eyewear in the future.

Project Glass is part of Google X Lab, a secret facility which has worked on other futuristic technologies including a self-driving car. The project’s intended purpose is to allow hands-free displaying of information currently found on smartphones, while providing interaction with the Internet via natural language voice commands, in a manner similar to the iPhone application Siri.

The New York Times reports that the glasses will be available for “around the cost of current smartphones” – $250 to $600 – by the end of 2012.

Flexible touch sensors could revolutionise mobile device design

April 8, 2012

Atmel, a semiconductor manufacturer, this week announced the release of “XSense” – a revolutionary, highly flexible, film-based touch sensor. This will not only enable a new generation of smartphones and tablets, but will also extend touch capabilities into a wider array of new consumer and industrial products.

Based on a proprietary roll-to-roll metal mesh technology, XSense provides a high-performance alternative to existing touch sensors. Larger, lighter, sleeker, curved and edgeless designs could now be developed for smartphones, tablets, Ultrabooks and a host of new touch-enabled devices.

Thinner sensor stacks with flawless touch performance, excellent optical clarity, low sheet resistance and low power consumption will enable designers to turn unique, futuristic concepts into functional designs at lower total system costs compared to current market alternatives.

The first products to feature XSense will appear in Q4 2012, and the company expects “significant volume ramp” in 2013.

Driverless cars can be licensed in Nevada

February 27, 2012

Nevada has become the first state in the US to allow self-driving autonomous vehicles on public roads.

The newly approved regulations, which come into effect on Thursday 1st March, require two drivers in every car – one in the front seat, to take back control in an emergency. The vehicles must also be fitted with a data recorder, to collect information in the event of a crash.

In creating the regulations, the Department of Motor Vehicles partnered with Google, auto manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement, all with a common vision of saving lives.

Several other states currently have bills in front of their legislators that will follow Nevada into the future.

You will be able to distinguish an autonomous test vehicle by the red license plate it displays. When the technology is ready for general public use, a green license plate will be displayed on vehicles using it.

Augmented-Reality Contact Lenses

February 12, 2012

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), together with Washington-based Innovega, is reported to be developing contact lenses that enhance normal vision, by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus. Instead of using oversized helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-colour displays that are very near the eye. These novel contact lenses allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away.

In other words, this could enable the use of tiny portable displays while still interacting with the surrounding environment. Developed as part of DARPA’s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, the objective is to give wearers better situational awareness in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities – greatly enhancing their security and survivability. Innovega plans to begin low-volume production for the defence community in 2014.

Consumer versions may become available later this decade. Imagine the number of applications you’d get from such a device – especially when utilising the vast power of cloud computing. Terminator-style vision would give you access to a wealth of information about your surrounding environment. It would also enhance gaming and movie experiences.

Credit: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

2011 – A look back (part 2)

January 7, 2012

Computers & the Internet

2011 saw chipmaker Intel unveil its latest generation of microprocessor technology, codenamed Ivy Bridge. These chips – due for retail launch in April 2012 – will be the first to use a 22nm manufacturing process, packing transistors even more densely than the previous 32nm system. For comparison, the width of an average human hair is about 90,000nm.

Later in the year, the company showed off a new accelerator chip running at speeds of 1 teraflop (a trillion calculations per second). This device, dubbed Knights Corner, combined 50 individual processor cores onto a single chip.

British chipmaker ARM – whose designs are used in 95% of the world’s smartphones – revealed a new processor and graphics card, paving the way for cheaper, faster mobiles. The company believes that smartphones could be produced for under £60 ($100) by 2013 or 2014.

In the world of supercomputers, Japan achieved first place on the Top 500 list, ending China’s reign at the top after just six months. Capable of operating at 8.16 petaflops, the K computer was more powerful than the next five systems combined. It later received an upgrade and became the first computer to exceed 10 petaflops.

In Germany, a new physical phenomenon was found that could yield transistors with greatly enhanced capacitance — a measure of the voltage required to move a charge. This may lead to a revival of clock speed as the measure of a computer’s power.

Meanwhile, the first graphene integrated circuit was developed by scientists at IBM. If commercialised, this should continue the exponential trend of Moore’s Law for decades to come.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers designed a computer chip that mimics the way a human brain’s neurons adapt in response to new information.

At the University of Illinois, engineers developed self-healing electronics that restore conductivity to damaged circuits.

The first millimetre-scale computing system was developed in 2011 – in the form of a prototype, implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients. This ultra-compact device packs a microprocessor, pressure sensor, memory, solar cell, thin-film battery and wireless radio into just over a cubic millimetre. It is expected to be commercially available several years from now.

2011 saw breakthroughs in quantum computing. These included the successful controlled entanglement of 14 quantum bits (qubits) – the largest quantum register yet produced. A single chip holding a total of nine quantum devices was also developed.

D-Wave systems claimed to have developed a 128-qubit machine, which they labelled “the world’s first commercially available quantum computer”. However, this claim was disputed by others and received heavy criticism from a number of scientists.

The number of Internet users worldwide reached 2 billion in 2011, with mobile phone users reaching 5 billion. Most of this growth came from emerging economies such as China. The UN declared that Internet access should be a human right.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media continued to grow in popularity and reach. They played a significant role in the organisation and broadcast of protests, riots and other unrest – especially in the Middle East.

The tablet market surged in 2011, with almost 73 million units shipped globally, a staggering 256 percent increase over 2010. Tablets now account for 25.2 percent of the mobile PC market, with market share dominated by the iPad.

The tech world also mourned the loss of Apple pioneer Steve Jobs.

The first complete millimetre-scale computing system. Credit: Gyouho Kim

Energy & the Environment

Climate change received surprisingly little coverage in the mainstream media last year. This was despite the United States facing the most billion-dollar climate disasters ever, with at least 12 distinct disasters costing $52 billion to the economy. Texas, Arizona and New Mexico all experienced the biggest wildfires in recorded history, with Texas being ravaged by an “off the charts” drought and extreme heat.

2011 was an exceptionally destructive and deadly year for tornadoes with 522 fatalities in the US alone – the second highest figure on record. The worst affected city was Joplin, Missouri, which was devastated by winds peaking at 250 mph (402 km/h).

Meanwhile, torrential flooding along the Mississippi River resulted in many counties being declared federal disaster zones. Army Corps were forced to blow up a levee, sacrificing 130,000 acres of farmland to save a small town.

Hurricane Irene left extensive flood and wind damage along its path through the Caribbean, the US East Coast and as far north as Atlantic Canada.

In Africa, extreme drought caused a severe food crisis across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya – affecting 13 million people. The UN described it as “the worst humanitarian disaster in the world”.

Europe’s second largest river, the Danube, was reduced to a trickle in places, with shrinking water levels exposing bombs and debris from the Second World War. The UK had its second warmest year on record, parts of Norway in November were 5.3°C (9.5°F) above normal, and much of northern Europe had the driest end to a year since records began in 1881.

In Australia, there were record floods, with freak weather causing six inches of rain to fall in just 30 minutes in places.

Thailand suffered major floods – with 12.8 million people affected and nearly 800 fatalities. Thailand is the 2nd largest producer of computer disk drives, accounting for 25% of global production; the resulting disruption to industry led to a worldwide supply shortage and rocketing prices.

In the Philippines, Tropical Storm Washi caused 1,257 fatalities and left over 300,000 homeless.

In the Arctic, sea ice reached its second-lowest extent on record – both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. Arctic ice may be thinning up to four times faster than the IPCC’s earlier predictions, according to a new study by MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences.

Global CO2 emissions jumped by a record amount, more than in the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 now stand at 392 parts per million, or about 40% higher than pre-industrial levels.

2011 also brought worrying news from Siberia, where scientists reported seeing vast plumes of methane bubbling upward.

The Earth’s surface is undeniably warming – according to a detailed new analysis called the Berkeley Earth Project (which was, ironically, funded by the Koch brothers).

Furthermore, new research suggests that at least three-quarters of the rise in average global temperatures since the 1950s is due to human industrial activity.

According to an American Physical Society report, technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are unlikely to offer an economically feasible way to slow human-driven climate change for several decades.

2011 was also notable for continuing high food prices, though they declined slightly towards the end of the year.

Aside from climate change, 2011 was also an exceptional year for earthquakes. By far the most damaging was the 9.0 magnitude quake in Japan, triggering a tsunami which caused the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. 15,844 were confirmed dead, with 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed, around 4.4 million households left without electricity and 1.5 million without water. The World Bank put the economic cost at $235 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in world history.

All in all, 2011 was an extremely bad year for the environment. There were reasons to be positive, however, as global deployment of solar PV continued to grow exponentially. In fact, solar is now the fastest growing industry in America. One prominent futurist, Ray Kurzweil, has even gone so far as to claim that solar will continue on this exponential path and could solve all our energy and environmental needs by 2028. Whether this bold and almost utopian prediction has any merit remains to be seen.

Self-healing electronics could work longer and reduce waste

December 24, 2011

When one tiny circuit within an integrated chip cracks or fails, the whole chip – or even the whole device – is a loss. But what if it could fix itself, and fix itself so fast that the user never even knew there was a problem?

Engineers at the University of Illinois have developed a self-healing system that restores electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit in less time than it takes to blink. Led by aerospace engineering professor Scott White and materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos, the researchers published their results in the journal Advanced Materials.

“It simplifies the system,” said chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, a co-author of the paper. “Rather than having to build in redundancies or to build in a sensory diagnostics system, this material is designed to take care of the problem itself.”

As electronic devices are evolving to perform more sophisticated tasks, manufacturers are packing as much density onto a chip as possible. However, such density compounds reliability problems, such as failure stemming from fluctuating temperature cycles as the device operates or fatigue. A failure at any point in the circuit can shut down the whole device.

“In general there’s not much avenue for manual repair,” Sottos said. “Sometimes you just can’t get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It’s true for a battery too. You can’t pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure.”

Most consumer devices are meant to be replaced fairly regularly, adding to electronic waste issues, but in many important applications – such as instruments or vehicles for space or military functions – electrical failures can’t be replaced or repaired.

The Illinois team previously developed a system for self-healing polymer materials and decided to adapt their technique for conductive systems. They dispersed tiny microcapsules, as small as 10 microns in diameter, on top of a gold line functioning as a circuit. As a crack propagates, the microcapsules break open and release the liquid metal contained inside. The liquid metal fills in the gap in the circuit, restoring electrical flow.

Click to enlarge.

“What’s really cool about this paper is it’s the first example of taking the microcapsule-based healing approach and applying it to a new function,” White said. “Everything prior to this has been on structural repair. This is on conductivity restoration. It shows the concept translates to other things as well.”

A failure interrupts current for mere microseconds as the liquid metal immediately fills the crack. The researchers demonstrated that 90 percent of their samples healed to 99 percent of original conductivity, even with a small amount of microcapsules.

The self-healing system also has the advantages of being localised and autonomous. Only the microcapsules that a crack intercepts are opened, so repair only takes place at the point of damage. Furthermore, it requires no human intervention or diagnostics, a boon for applications where accessing a break for repair is impossible, such as a battery, or finding the source of a failure is difficult, such as an air- or spacecraft.

“In an aircraft, especially a defense-based aircraft, there are miles and miles of conductive wire,” Sottos said. “You don’t often know where the break occurs. The autonomous part is nice – it knows where it broke, even if we don’t.”

Next, the researchers plan to further refine their system and explore other possibilities for using microcapsules to control conductivity. They are particularly interested in applying the microcapsule-based self-healing system to batteries, improving their safety and longevity.