Category Archives: Product

How to Avoid a Tech Counterrevolution

By Leonid Bershidsky – It’s easy to laugh at a juice squeezer produced by a relatively small startup, whose real competence is in making fancy fruit-and-vegetable packets. It’s not really problem-solving tech; it’s a money-raising gimmick.

The problem is deeper though. Musk, a slicker marketer than Zuckerberg, talks about initially releasing a technology that would help people with brain damage — from strokes, for example.

Facebook is talking about “sharing thoughts,” hitting precisely on the most worrying aspects of the nascent technology: Who wants to share uncensored thoughts, especially with a company that collects information about its users without explaining to them exactly what is harvested? Who wants to give a machine built by a corporate entity access to one’s brain?

Tasks that desperately need automation and tech solutions are narrow. Thinking smaller and applying resources and energy to narrow, specific problems could be a good chance to build trust before it disappears entirely. more>

Updates from GE

Game On: Augmented Reality Is Helping Factory Workers Become More Productive
By Tomas Kellner – As chief engineer for advanced manufacturing at GE Healthcare, Jimmie Beacham, 43, is in charge of a futuristic laboratory in Waukesha, Wisconsin, experimenting with new ways to make things. He and his team are using the Xbox and a connected Kinect motion tracker to bring augmented reality (AR) into the factory and help workers become more efficient. “We are projecting the work instructions onto the parts and use sensors to monitor the assembly and give feedback to the operator,” Beacham says.

Specifically, the Kinect and a camera are following the worker’s movements and feeding them to a computer that stores the assembly instructions. The computer controls an overhead projector that displays the manufacturing steps on the workbench. Based on the visual and sensory feedback, the system signals the operator immediately if an error occurs or guides them to the next step.

The system currently at the Waukesha lab came from Light Guide System, a Detroit-area maker of augmented reality tools for industry. The first applications are focusing on guiding workers through “the critical steps where we can’t afford to make a mistake,” Beacham says. But his team has already started expanding its scope and connecting it to face recognition technology, collaborative robots, or cobots, and Predix, GE’s software platform for the Industrial Internet. more>

If US trade with China is so unfair, why is GM the best-selling car there?

By Tim Fernholz – While the US taxes imported cars and cars parts at a maximum of 2.5%, China charges tariffs of between 21% and 30%. This gives foreign automakers who want to sell in China a big incentive to manufacture there to avoid the import charge. But China also requires foreign subsidiaries to operate as 50-50 joint ventures with Chinese companies. These, of course, then become classrooms for Chinese engineers to gain foreign know-how.

This isn’t exactly anyone’s definition of “fair” trade, but there is a logic to the situation. The system came into play in 2001, after China joined the World Trade Organization. At the time, Chinese industry was much further behind America’s. The idea was that future rounds of WTO negotiations would lower China’s trade barriers further, but global trade talks have stagnated completely.

Ironically enough, therefore, this “unfair” situation for America is a product of globalization’s stumbles, not the unyielding march forward that the Trump administration portrays it as.

And any attempts to convince China to drop its protections will now be coming from the most protectionist American administration in recent memory. more>

Updates from GE

School’s In: GE’s New “Brilliant Learning” Program Will Train Workers For Jobs Of The Future
By Tomas Kellner – Jesse Schrimpf didn’t study additive manufacturing in school. But when a 3D printer showed up at his plant in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the GE Healthcare engineer decided to give the machine a whirl.

Normally, Schrimpf would design a new master mold, order a wooden mold prototype costing as much as $20,000 from a supplier and wait as long as four weeks for the delivery. He would test it, make tweaks and repeat the process. The costs quickly added up.

But with the 3D printer at his disposal, he could print a mold that performed better than the wooden kind in just two days on-site and for $1,000. The printer, which creates 3D objects directly from a computer file, enabled him to incorporate changes into the next design version with his keyboard and a mouse.

Schrimpf is in many ways the poster child for GE’s new “brilliant learning” program the company is launching for employees around the world this week. It includes “massive open online courses” in several languages, workshops, “immersion boot camps on lean manufacturing” and other training designed to help employees get ready for the arrival in the factory of 3D printing, big data, robotics, digital and lean manufacturing and other advanced technologies.

GE is launching “brilliant learning” to change things. The model feeds into the company’s idea of the Brilliant Factory, a plant that uses big data, software sensors, new manufacturing methods and robotics to increase productivity. GE businesses are busy rolling out the concept at 17 sites in Japan, India, Italy, Mexico and also the U.S, and more are in the pipeline. more>

How Ethernet Will Get to 400Gbps

By Lynnette Reese – The IEEE 802.3bs standard for 400Gbps is on track to be ratified and released late this year. Higher speed technologies tend to get driven to adoption as soon as they are available.

In 2004, 10Gbps was the leading edge. In 2010 40Gbps Ethernet and 100Gbps were introduced. How did we get this far, so fast?

The present group is leveraging a parallel lane structure to get to 400Gbps. For electrical interfaces the fastest speeds in the spec will be 50Gbps. When discussing optical fiber transmission, then the variation depends on the distance that one requires.

Technically, 400Gbps is not possible without switching away from non-return-to-zero modulation (also known as NRZ-type) encoding, the encoding scheme that everyone thinks of when they visualize Ethernet communication and other serial data transmission schemes.

NRZ data is encoded into a binary pattern with fixed voltage levels. A binary 0 is represented by the lower voltage level; the higher voltage level indicates binary 1. In 1000base-T Ethernet, the stream of 0s and 1s is driven at a 1000 bits per second (1Gbps) transmission rate.

At present, the physical “wall” of streaming 0s and 1s for single lane electrical interfaces is 25 Gbps, found in the standards as 802.3bj across backplanes and cables, and 802.3bm across chip-to-chip and chip-to-module interfaces.

In May 2016, an IEEE 802.3 task force formed to develop a single-lane 50 Gbps Ethernet standard. The 802.3bs standard, which defines 400Gbps in aggregate, will use an encoding scheme called PAM4 (4-Level Pulse Amplitude Modulation) to reach 50Gbps per channel. PAM4 is an encoding scheme that doubles the bit rate by providing four signal levels in the space of the two that NRZ presently provides. PAM4 cleverly divides the least significant bit (LSB) signal level in half and adds it to the signal of the most significant bit (MSB). more>

Staying Rich Without Manufacturing Will Be Hard

By Noah Smith – One common assertion is that while manufacturing jobs have declined, output has actually risen. But this piece of conventional wisdom is now outdated. U.S. manufacturing output is almost exactly the same as it was just before the financial crisis of 2008:

It isn’t just manufacturing employment and the sector’s share of gross domestic product that are hurting in the U.S. It’s total output. The U.S. doesn’t really make more stuff than it used to.

And, more troubling, the U.S. is now losing computer manufacturing. Susan Houseman et al. show that U.S. computer production began to fall during the Great Recession. In semiconductors, output has grown slightly, but has been far outpaced by most East Asian countries. Meanwhile, trade deficits in these areas have been climbing.

Faced with this evidence, many skeptics will question why the sector is important at all.

Why should a country specialize in making things, when it can instead specialize in designing, marketing and financing the making of things? more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

New Projects Create a Foundation for Next-Gen Flexible Electronics
By Josh Brown – Four projects set to move forward at the Georgia Institute of Technology aim to lay the groundwork for manufacturing next-generation flexible electronics, which have the potential to make an impact on industries ranging from health care to defense.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are partnering with Boeing, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, General Electric, and DuPont as well other research institutions such as Binghamton University and Stanford University on the projects.

Flexible electronics are circuits and systems that can be bent, folded, stretched or conformed without losing their functionality. The systems are often created using machines that can print components such as logic, memory, sensors, batteries, antennas, and various passives using conductive ink on flexible surfaces. Combined with low-cost manufacturing processes, flexible hybrid electronics unlock new product possibilities for a wide range of electronics used in the health care, consumer products, automotive, aerospace, energy and defense sectors.

“Flexible electronics will make possible new products that will help us address problems associated with food supply, clean water, clean energy, health, infrastructure, and safety and security,” said Suresh Sitaraman, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, who is leading Georgia Tech’s flexible electronics activities. more>


The Electric Car Rush Started Too Early

By Leonid Bershidsky – The hyped-up electric vehicle revolution, driven by a fear of being left behind and overzealous regulation, may be forcing car companies to make expensive mistakes. The modern electric vehicle is conceptually inconsistent with how people want to use cars, and in many countries the environmental effect of switching to EVs is negligible.

To spend heavily on electrification, companies have to believe forecasts from experts who don’t have skin in the game. McKinsey, for example, recently put out a report arguing that consumer interest in electric cars is growing. All automakers need to do is keep up incremental improvements and advertising more to increase awareness.

That could turn out to be wishful thinking, because the modern EV caters to a specific-use scenario that increasingly doesn’t work for today’s consumers. more>

Updates from Boeing

737 MAX 9 Factory Rollout
Boeing – Following on from 737 MAX 8 rollout and flight test, we are now rolling out the first new 737 MAX 9, right on schedule.

737 MAX 9 is the perfect answer to the need for growth while maintaining maximum airline profitability. As well as 16 more seats than the incredibly popular 737 MAX 8, it offers lower trips costs than the competition, the lowest trip costs, which minimizes the risk airlines take on as they grow. And yet provides more than enough additional seats to deliver consistently higher profits through all market conditions.

What’s more, 737 MAX 9 enables airlines to reach farther than almost every single-aisle route they operate today. It has the longest range in its sector without the investment in any auxiliary fuel tanks, and with one auxiliary tank, matches the versatility of the 737 MAX 8 with a range of 3,515 nautical miles. more>

Apple vs Qualcomm. It Is More Than Money

By Gabe Moretti – I t would be impossible to grow an industry without standards that make it possible for various portion of the industry to cooperate and allow tools and methods to work together. To this end that are organizations that develop, distribute, and manage such standards. The IEEE is the one most familiar in the US.

Qualcomm and Apple are both members of ETSI, an SSO based in Sofia Antipolis, France, which includes more than 800 members from countries across five continents. ETSI produces globally accepted standards for the telecommunications industry. For example, ETSI created or helped to create numerous telecommunication standards, including the 2G/GSM, 3G/UMTS, and4G/LTE cellular communication standards.

Developing a standard requires the contribution of Intellectual Property (IP) by entities, usually corporate entities, universities, or other research organizations. Offering IP without restrictions would, almost always, hurt the offering entity financially, so a legal tool that protects it has been developed. For patents that companies have declared “essential” to the standard, patent law is reinforced by contractual obligations to license such patents on Fair, Reasonable, And non-Discriminatory commitments. The legal wording of the tool is called a FRAND (or RAND) commitment. The entire issue revolves around the definition of the term “Reasonable.”

The first thing to be realized is that this claim is about how to share revenue, not about standard making processes. Apple wants a larger share of revenue from the sale of its product, while Qualcomm wants to protect what it gets right now by re-defining how royalties are computed. Yet, there are other issues raised that may impact the electronics industry and EDA vendors.

Should royalties be fixed at a certain amount regardless of the sale price of the unit that use the licensed IP? Or, as Qualcomm contends, should royalties be a percentage of the price charged to the customer? more>