Tag Archives: Electronics

Updates from Georgia Tech

Pioneer of Modern Electronics
By Michael Baxter – The smartphone you peer into, the LED bulb in your desk lamp, the Blu-Ray player that serves up your favorite film – all are here largely because of Russell Dupuis, a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech.

That’s because an essential component of their manufacturing traces back to a process that Dupuis developed in the late 1970s, a process that ushered in a new breed of mass-produced compound semiconductors. These electronic components – particularly those forged of elements from columns III and V in the periodic table — can operate at extremely high frequencies or emit light with extraordinary efficiency. Today, they’re the working essence of everything from handheld laser pointers to stadium Jumbotrons.

The process is known as metalorganic chemical vapor deposition, or MOCVD, and until Dupuis, no one had figured out how to use it to grow high-quality semiconductors using those III-V elements. Essentially, MOCVD works by combining the atomic elements with molecules of organic gas and flowing the mixture over a hot semiconductor wafer. When repeated, the process grows layer after layer of crystals that can have any number of electrical properties, depending on the elements used. more> https://goo.gl/eG2G8e

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Make Chips Do More and Last Longer with Embedded FPGA


By Geoff Tate – The cost and the time to design ASSP/ASIC/SoCs keeps rising.

Also, customers are demanding more flexibility in chips so their systems can be upgraded for critical changes (such as protocols/standards), which increases the useful life of their systems and increases their ROI.

For example, in data centers, customers are now seeking reconfigurability. Rather than a fork-lift upgrade when standards evolve, data centers want programmable chips so they can upgrade the data center’s ability during the life of the center without touching the hardware. This also gives the data center the option to customize for added competitive advantage. As Doug Burger of Microsoft said at a recent talk at FPL 2016, (Re)Configurable Clouds will change the world with the ability to reprogram a datacenter’s hardware protocols: networking, storage, security. Adding FPGA technology into the mix is a key in doing this. Embedded FPGA technology is now available to increase performance while lowering cost and power.

Another example is microcontrollers. In older process nodes such as 90nm where mask costs are cheap, a line card can have dozens or hundreds of versions. This offers each customer the small differences in, for example, the number and types of serial interfaces (SPI, I2C, UART, etc). However, now that leading edge microcontrollers are moving to 40nm where masks cost $1M each, microcontroller manufacturers need a programmable way to customize their chips and offer multiple SKUs. Adding this capability also opens the path for their customers to customize the MCUs themselves, similar to how they now write C code for the on-board processors. There are a few microcontrollers today, such as Cypress’ PSoC, which offer some limited customizability. However, only embedded FPGA can provide more and scalable customizability. more> https://goo.gl/9xx7sC

Developing the APTitude to Design New Materials, Atom-by-Atom

By Paul Blanchard – Up to now, our technological progress has largely been a matter of trial and error. We make something new, evaluate its performance, then alter some part of the fabrication process and see whether it performs better or worse, all without direct knowledge of what is changing at the atomic level.

But if we could see what’s going on at that scale—if we could map out each individual atom and understand the role that it plays—we could create new and better materials not through blind experimentation, but through design.

For all that we’ve been able to accomplish while ignoring them, the fact is that individual atoms matter. The speed of a transistor, the efficiency of a solar cell, and the strength of an I-beam are ultimately determined by the configuration of the atoms inside. Today, new and improved microscopy techniques are getting us closer and closer to the goal of being able to see each and every atom within the materials we make—a very exciting prospect.

Over the past three years, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a team working with one such new and improved microscopy technique, a method called 3-D atom probe tomography, or APT for short. APT is very different from conventional microscopy—at least, the sort of microscopy that I’m accustomed to. In conventional microscopy, we shine a beam of light particles or electrons on our specimen, whatever it is we want to look at, and create a magnified image using lenses or by mapping how our beam bounces off it.

In atom probe tomography, on the other hand, we don’t just look at our specimen—we literally take it apart, atom-by-atom. more> https://goo.gl/c0VdE3

Updates from Georgia Tech

The Health Informatics Revolution
By John Toon – Using massive data sets, machine learning, and high-performance computing, health analytics and informatics is drawing us closer to the holy grail of health care: precision medicine, which promises diagnosis and treatment tailored to individual patients. The information, including findings from the latest peer-reviewed studies, will arrive on the desktops and mobile devices of clinicians in health care facilities large and small through a new generation of decision-support systems.

“There are massive implications over the coming decade for how informatics will change the way care is delivered, and probably more so for how care is experienced by patients,” said Jon Duke, M.D., director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Health Analytics and Informatics.

“By providing data both behind the scenes and as part of efforts to change behavior, informatics is facilitating our ability to understand patients at smaller population levels. This will allow us to focus our diagnostic paths and treatments much better than we could before.”

Georgia Tech’s health informatics effort combines academic researchers in computing and the biosciences, practitioners familiar with the challenges of the medical community, extension personnel who understand the issues private companies face, and engineers and data scientists with expertise in building and operating secure networks tapping massive databases.

“It takes all of these components to really make a difference in an area as complex as health informatics,” said Margaret Wagner Dahl, Georgia Tech’s associate vice president for information technology and analytics.

“This integrated approach allows us to add value to collaborators as diverse as pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, large private employers, and federal agencies.” more> https://goo.gl/63pIZd

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Updates from GE

By Mike Keller – After you land, you hire an autonomous taxi to take you home. Along the way, the vehicle slips through intersections without stoplights, a technology made obsolete when robotic systems started communicating with each other in real time to avoid collisions. Meanwhile, your smartphone alerts your smart home that you’re coming, engaging its high-efficiency battery banks to power your environmental, lighting and sound preferences.

This is, of course, the future. The key to making this scenario a reality isn’t about developing crazy new technologies — much of what we need already exists. It involves ultrafast telecommunications that can shuttle massive amounts of information between millions of wirelessly connected devices at the same time. It’s also about the ability to control power quickly, seamlessly and with extreme efficiency, as well as better battery management and machines made more intelligent by the liberal deployment of sensors that help them understand the world around them. And it turns out that the critical component to all of this could be something decidedly unsexy: a switch.

We are all familiar with switches. The best-known type of switch, when moved to the on position, completes a circuit between the power source and the bulb, allowing electrons to flow and the light to glow. This same current control — with varying levels of complexity — is used in every device that needs electricity, from computers and medical equipment to big industrial machines. It’s also critical to systems that transmit and receive radio frequencies such as cellphone networks.

Amazingly, though, these electrical relays’ fundamental operation has remained relatively the same over the last 50 years.

But that’s about to change. A new company says it has brought these switches into the 21st century. Using advanced metallurgy and tricks learned from the semiconductor industry, California’s Menlo Micro has shrunk the traditional device down to the width of a human hair. The company is a spinoff of GE with significant investments from semiconductor maker Microsemi, Corning and Paladin Capital Group. It is commercializing 12 years of research inside GE Global Research, whose engineers were originally tasked with re-inventing the electromechanical switches used inside GE’s machines. more> https://goo.gl/jMf1Rr

Updates from Boeing

Boeing – The mission of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system is to provide broadband communications connectivity for U.S. and allied warfighter s around the world. WGS is the highest – capacity military communications system in the U.S. Department of Defense arsenal, providing a quantum leap in communications capability for the U.S. military.

Boeing’s investments in phased array antennas and digital signal processing, combined with innovations in the commercial satellite market, have resulte d in a flexible WGS system that
delivers the capacity, coverage, connectivity and control required by the most demanding operational scenarios.

WGS is designed for coverage, capacity and connectivity, and can process more than 3.6 gigabits per second of data – more than 10 times that of the previous system. Operating at both X-band and Ka-band, the system will enable networks for tactical Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).

WGS supports communication links throughout the allocated 500 MHz of X-band and 1 GHz of Ka-band spectrum. Through frequency reuse and digital channelization, each WGS payload can exploit more than 4.8 GHz of usable communications bandwidth. more> boeing.com/innovation

Why the next 20 years will see a lot less technological disruption than the past 20

BOOK REVIEW

The Inevitable, Author: Kevin Kelly.
The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Author: Robert Gordon.

By Timothy B. Lee – “The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning,” writes Wired co-founder and Silicon Valley guru Kevin Kelly.

Kelly’s extreme optimism represents one pole of this debate. At the opposite pole is economist Robert Gordon, who believes the IT revolution is basically over. Kelly and Gordon don’t just have opposite predictions about the future — they represent opposite approaches to thinking about an uncertain future.

The rapid progress of the early 20th century depended on two factors. One was a series of technical breakthroughs in science, engineering, and medicine. But the other was the fact that in 1900, the human race had a bunch of big problems — dimly lit homes, slow transportation options, deadly diseases, a lot of tedious housework — that could be solved with new technologies.

The situation today is different.

Over the past four decades, manufactured products like clothing, toys, cars, and furniture have gotten more affordable. At the same time, services like education and medical care have gotten a lot more expensive.

But disrupting the education industry will be hard for the same kind of reasons it was hard for Redfin to disrupt the real estate business.

Much of the value people get from attending a four-year college comes from interaction with other people. People spend their college years forming a circle of friends and a network of acquaintances that often become invaluable later in their careers.

They gain value from group study and extracurricular activities. There is real benefit from mentorship by professors. The social experience of college also serves as a powerful motivator.

So as long as technologists are merely finding ways to make it modestly cheaper or more convenient to do things people have been doing for decades, their impact on the overall economy will be necessarily modest.

Outside the worlds of entertainment and communication, it’s hard to think of major new products in the recent past or likely in the near future. more> https://goo.gl/nkyhmP

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Updates from GE

Like A Diamond In The Rough, This Abrasive Material Finds Its Place In The Sun
By Mark Egan – In 1891, Edward Acheson was working at Thomas Edison’s famed Menlo Park laboratory, trying to make artificial diamonds by heating clay and powdered coke in an iron bowl with a carbon arc light. The result wasn’t pretty.

Instead of diamonds, he created silicon carbide—a hard and rough compound used for decades mostly as an abrasive in industrial sandpaper, grinding wheels and cutting tools, and later a grip tape for skateboard decks.

But Acheson’s accidental discovery is getting a second life as a miracle material for power management chips that could revolutionize everything from planes and locomotives to medical equipment. One of silicon carbide’s latest applications is inside solar inverters, the devices that switch direct current (DC) from solar panels into alternating current (AC) that flows from the wall outlet.

GE has been testing the first utility-scale prototype SiC inverter in the GE Power Conversion lab in Berlin for the past two years.

The technology included in the LV5+ Solar eHouse Solution solves another quandary facing solar plants—how to turn power plant transformers on and off safely. Shutting them down at night can cause voltage spikes, and reconnecting them to the grid produces a large inflow of current, putting mechanical stress on equipment and shortening its life.

As a result, many operators leave equipment on overnight, consuming a couple of kilowatts while the inverter is not producing power during the nighttime hours—a cost of $800,000 over a 100MW plant’s life.

Using intelligent controls, the LV5+ equalizes the voltage at the transformer and at the grid, allowing transformers to be connected or disconnected smoothly and cleanly.

The end result is more cost savings for customers, Schelenz says. more> https://goo.gl/OB1eYf

Wireless and Precise

By Anne Fisher and Luc Darmon – Earlier attempts to accomplish precise location used methods based on measuring the RF power at a point in space and assuming a correlation between the electromagnetic field and distance to the access point.

This method requires a lot of “fingerprinting” work because you have to measure the field in many areas of the room so that you build a 3D matrix of the field [thus allowing you to] correlate with the distance. But [with the method just described] there are a number of drawbacks. First, the precision is not there. Second, as soon as you have another person or another object in the room the fingerprinting is definitely wrong, and people have to find algorithmic ways to compensate, which are fairly heavy and power consuming.

For those transitioning from methods not based on Time-of-Flight to those based on Time-of-Flight and to using impulse radio ultra wide band (IR-UWB) to measure the signal’s time of flight, there are considerations related to the technology itself.

For example, if you measure the signal’s time of flight from one object to another object, if you have an obstruction like a wall or another person, you have to assume that signal is slowed down, so the distance displayed will be larger—so you have to architect your system in a way such that you take into consideration the elements of this new technology.

Now, though, people are past the point of questions such as “what is this new technology and how does it work?” I think the market now understands there is no way to do location precisely other than with IR-UWB.

The technology in the chip is very versatile in terms of configurations and architectures. One can do a lot of different things in different systems with it. It’s a building block that people can use for doing different things and different architectures. more> https://goo.gl/9rykVv

Updates from GE

Thought The Industrial Age And Information Age Were Something? Wait Until The Augmented Age
By Maurice Conti – One of the best things about artificial intelligence systems is that once one learns an area of expertise, they all know it through networked learning. With intelligence augmentation, consumers won’t have to leave reviews on products on Amazon anymore. Connected products will review themselves through data to inform not only other customers but the engineers who made them.

In 1962, one year after the first industrial robot joined a production line at General Motors, the animated sitcom The Jetsons debuted. For just one season, the show forecast a future when people could have whatever they wanted (a gourmet dinner, a clean house, a flying car that folds into a briefcase) by pushing a button.

It was fantasy then, and much of it still is today—progress is sometimes slow. The Hunter-Gatherer Age lasted a couple million years, the Agricultural Age lasted several thousand years and the Industrial Age lasted a couple of centuries.

Then the Information Age came along and dramatically accelerated the speed at which we evolve, at least technologically. Now humanity is on the cusp of the next great era: the Augmented Age.

In this age, our natural capabilities will be augmented by computational systems that help humans think, robotic systems that help them make and a digital nervous system that connects them to the world. more> https://goo.gl/s7vDZh