NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful
Jul29

NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful

A collaborative team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCLA are making headway in the development of a new WiFi chip that would prolong the battery life of smartphones and wearable devices. The invention would have the potential to reduce the amount of power needed to send and receive data, allowing users to get more mileage out of their personal technology. The chip, developed by Adrian Tang of NASA and Mau-Chung Frank Chang, a professor at UCLA, would reflect an incoming WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, rather than the device generate a signal on its own. This would use 100 times less power than a traditional chip, thereby significantly extending battery life. For devices that are always on and always close at hand, like an Apple Watch or other personal device, holding a longer charge would be a powerful upgrade. “The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up),” Tang said in a statement. To transmit data, current personal devices send signals to a router, which subsequently responds with a brand new signal. In contrast, the new chip uses existing signals to reflect information back to any nearby router or cell tower, eliminating the need to send out a unique signal every time information is communicated. Not only does this save on battery power, but lab tests have achieved data transfer speeds of 330 megabits per second, up to the three times faster than traditional WiFi. Wearable devices and smartphones send and receive data in the same format that computers do: familiar strings of 1’s and 0’s. This chip utilizes a switch mechanism to transfer data. Incoming energy is absorbed by the circuit as a 0, and energy the chip reflects is sent as a 1. The switch mechanism inside the chip uses scant amounts of power and allows for fast transfer of information between wearable devices and other technology such as computers, tablets, and smartphones to receive data. The biggest remaining challenge for the team of researchers is to help the chip differentiate between communicated signals from the router or cell tower, and ambient background noise. In any application, the wearable device containing a wi-fi chip will not be the only object reflecting signals. Signals are bouncing off of walls, floors, ceilings etc., all the time. To combat this effect, Tang and Chang have developed a wireless silicon chip that will constantly sense, assess and suppress background reflections. The chip will have a...

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Digital Prototyping Drives Auto Makers to Build Faster and More Efficiently
Jul28

Digital Prototyping Drives Auto Makers to Build Faster and More Efficiently

For decades, vehicle manufacturers have used prototypes as a way to test and refine new models before putting them into full scale production. However, those test cars are an expensive part of the development process, with each taking as much as $1 million to create. Advances in digital simulation have motivated many manufacturers to take a closer look at a faster and less expensive way to evaluate new models. Jaguar Land Rover recently began mass production of the Jaguar XE, which was designed and developed without using any prototypes during aerodynamic testing—the first mainstream model to do so. The company wants to eliminate all physical prototypes from the process by 2020. Greater processing power has allowed more widespread use of computer-aided engineering in vehicle manufacturing, as computer simulations have increasingly replaced the physical testing process that is typically expensive, time consuming, and often inaccurate. Annually, car manufacturers spend about $10 billion on prototype construction. According to Exa, the software company that worked with Jeep Land Rover on the XE, General Motors constructed 170 prototypes during testing for its latest version of the Chevrolet Malibu. Manufacturers could reduce the amount spent on prototype testing by a third with the use of simulation technology. In addition to seeing the three-dimensional renderings of an initial design, engineers can take the vehicle around a virtual test track and place it in other situations such as a parking lot. Approximately 80 percent of problems found during physical testing can be eliminated through simulation. Car makers are under pressure to reduce cost in the manufacturing process as well as meet demands for reduced emissions, and to add innovative connected technologies, as well as autonomous driving features. Another advantage of digital prototyping is that the technology is expected to bring down the car industry’s snail-pace development process, that can take as long as four years, and keep up with rapid prototyping by new rivals such as Google, Tesla, and Apple. Not all vehicle manufacturers will immediately turn to virtual prototyping, as the technique is expected to meet resistance from engineers. Many purists feel that one cannot properly judge a vehicle’s performance until it can be physically seen. German manufacturer Daimler continues to pour huge amounts of money into wind tunnel testing its cars. Some automotive designers, such as Chrysler LLC,  are combining simulation technologies with clay models to satisfy the need to see a prototype in its physical form before committing to the design. Manufacturers must also prove that they have crash-tested at least 10 cars to satisfy safety requirements. The new digital design trend seems to be inevitable. As the technology advances, more manufacturers will...

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Save Your Computer Data With Raspberry Pi and a Mason Jar
Jul14

Save Your Computer Data With Raspberry Pi and a Mason Jar

When one thinks of a mason jar it is typically in the context of a Pinterest project, or a glass container filled to the rim with sweet, sticky raspberry jam. Some of us in the digital age have found a new and far less messy use for mason jars. Technically it still involves raspberries— not the delicious bright red berry, but the Raspberry Pi minicomputer. The Raspberry Pi has been touted by some as the worlds smallest computer. While this may not technically be correct it is easily one of the smallest, most accessible computers for do-it-yourself computer enthusiasts. This minicomputer innovation has allowed users to put computing power into increasingly smaller devices at a relatively low price point. Building a mason jar data storage center using Raspberry Pi is an easy and fun project to get in touch with your inner geek. Essentially, the end product is a Raspberry Pi, housed inside a mason jar, that is running BitTorrent Sync to keep files in sync between your devices. BitTorrent Sync works in a similar fashion to Dropbox, and the Raspberry Pi-compatible version is aptly named Raspberry Preserve. The developers chose to use BT Sync, which is free to use, due to the decentralized nature of the BT network, as well as to keep the price of the project as low as possible. The Pi can also be attached to optional LEDs which will blink or remain lit to signify when data is being transferred. BitTorrent Sync is a software program that functions much like a peer-to-peer network, except the peers are the various devices you would find in your home: cell phone, laptop, desktop and in some case, television set. Once the Raspberry Pi jar is complete, it is able to store any files that are wirelessly shared with it. Simply move your family vacation pictures to a synced folder on your device and it will be synced to the hosted node of the Pi. From there, it can be accessed on any device you choose. The Raspberry Pi data preservation device is a DIY project that digital enthusiasts are sure to love. It’s also a great reminder that there is still room for creative innovation in the modern...

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3D-Printed Electronics Are the Future
Jul09

3D-Printed Electronics Are the Future

Imagine printing a solar cell in a matter of minutes. Some business owners may think it sounds like something out of a science fiction story, but 3D printing is developing with ever-expanding capabilities including the possibility for 3D-printed electronics. The technology isn’t perfect yet, but researchers are hard at work developing ways for printers to create nanotech components from synthetics. These so-called organic electronics rely on highly conductive materials that break the production mold. A team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and Technische Universität München (TUM) in Munich have been working to identify and improve upon the electrical properties of synthetic films. The TUM team recently reported that razor-thin polymer electrodes can be created on 3D printers using enhanced synthetic films. Researchers in California can be thanked for these enhanced films. The team at Lawrence Berkeley used X-ray radiation to alter the molecular structure of freshly printed synthetic layers and worked in conjunction with the TUM researchers to determine how different post-printing processes affected the films. The international team plans to publish their results in Advanced Materials, an industry trade journal. These new printing technologies are exciting, but more research is on the horizon. Making organic electronics is incredibly complex. The process will need to be closely observed and understood so that custom applications are possible in the future. Researchers are also working to perfect techniques to create the various layers in electronic components using only one process. This will increase convenience for manufacturers and will allow the large-scale use of 3D printing to create designer electronics. There’s a great deal at stake here for businesses. Projected future markets for these technologies include solar cells, RFID tags, touch screens, glowing films and flexible displays. With future projects in development, such as wallpaper made of OLEDs, it is not surprising that organic electronics are expected to make a big impact on the consumer market thanks to this incredible range of applications. Of course, the ability to print designer electronics on a 3D printer also significantly increases prototyping and bespoke design capabilities for small businesses. Instead of blowing their research and development budgets on electronics manufacturing, businesses will be able to print components in house for immediate testing. It may seem a distant dream now, but the enthusiasm of researchers in California and Munich indicates that printed electronics are closer than many might...

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Apple Says You Can Never Go Home Again
Jun10

Apple Says You Can Never Go Home Again

Do you happen to be an Apple aficionado? If so, then you may want to read on because your favorite operating system interface for your smartphone is coming with quite a few new twists. Specifically, Apple, recently announced that they are doing away with the standard home screen for iOS 9 that users have come to know with the next iPhone update. According to the company, home screens—which were once an integral component of the user experience—have diminished in importance. In previous operating systems for Apple’s mobile devices, there already existed multiple shortcuts in order to skip the home screen all together and access the specific feature that you wanted. For example, the recent iPhones allow you to swipe the camera at the lock screen in order to access it, as opposed to navigating to the home screen and clicking the camera icon. The iOS 9 intends to replace the home screen with what they view as less obsolete methods to navigate the device—the home screen will still be present  but it will not be the primary navigation tool. Some of the specific features that are driving this change include a more personalized approach to the user interface, so that it will become easier for the user to access what they want based on personal details like the time of day it is being used or what they look up. Users will be provided with a list of shortcuts based in a variety of factors, including time of day and location with the “interactive hub.” The search panel will provide users a specific list of apps that are related to what the user may want to do or who you are talking to. Another new feature is the Proactive Assistant. Its purpose is self-explanatory: instead of passively waiting for the user to select an item, it will provide a new list of suggestions based on what the system has learned from the user’s history. If you end your day with some music, then the Proactive Assistant will suggest musical selections at the time of day. It will also suggest music as soon as you plug in your headphones. Moreover, the new search bar will deliver what you want immediately, so if you wanted to look up the radius of Pluto, you would get it immediately rather than having to sift through various search results. The home screen is still here to say, but get ready for it to be a secondary part of your iPhone...

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Quoc Le and His Quest for the Ultimate AI
Apr06

Quoc Le and His Quest for the Ultimate AI

Machines are very good at a great many things. Indeed, computers are better with numbers than human beings could ever hope to be. They can process and store vast quantities of data, but they can only use it to complete operations for which they’ve been programmed to perform. They can’t actually learn from the information they’re given. Quoc Le aims to change that. Machines don’t interpret the world in the same ways that we do. Their input consists entirely of numbers, and they simply aren’t capable of the sort of abstract thought that our brains use to learn about the world. We can take a symbolic representation of a cat – like a drawing or a description – and use that information to identify a real cat – even if we’ve never seen one before. Before Le came along, machines couldn’t do this. He worked as one of the main coders behind the Google Brain, a system that was able to teach itself to recognize images of cats on YouTube. It’s the search giant’s venture into the realm of deep learning – a field of artificial intelligence aimed at creating machines that work in ways that mimic the human brain – and it’s just the beginning of work that could revolutionize computing. In addition to his work on Google Brain, Le also developed a system that maps words to vectors, turning them into unique sets of numbers from which a computer can derive information. This system went on to become part of Word2Vec, a system that analyzes the relationships between words and helps to strengthen the “knowledge graph” that Google’s search engine uses to identify connections between related concepts in users’ searches. That’s just the beginning for Le. He and his colleagues at Google recently published a paper on advanced neural networks – software that’s designed to reflect the networks of neurons used by the human brain – that’s helping to advance another discipline in the field of artificial intelligence known as natural language processing, a discipline that may ultimately allow machines to understand human symbolism, subtlety and even sarcasm. Building upon Le’s word mapping, he hopes to develop systems that can translate more complex ideas into information that a computer can process in much the same way as our brains. Using things called “recurrent neural networks” – more advanced forms of traditional neural network software – machines could eventually translate entire sentences and paragraphs into numbers that it can sort, group and store. That is, they could acquire and use information just as humans do. This ability has virtually limitless potential. The world’s most powerful computers could do more...

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