Mud Fueled Smart Sensors for the Bottom of the Ocean

ghIf you put tiny electrodes in the mud on the ocean floor, you can harvest enough energy to power a tiny sensor platform that can monitor what’s going on at those depths.

So say researchers from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, in a recent issue of IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems I. Together with collaborators from Korea and California, they have designed a self-sustaining sensor platform for oceanic sensing applications that is powered entirely by small-scale benthic microbial fuel cells.

“We wanted a platform that could run off very small harvesting sources,” Michigan electrical engineering professor and IEEE Fellow David Blaauw tells IEEE Spectrum. “If you can get power consumption down enough, there are all sorts of things you can use. Even plants produce little bits of voltage,” he says.

When benthic bacteria are in an anaerobic environment, their metabolism produces electric current. “It’s been well studied,” says Blaauw, “but in the past, people have struggled to get enough current to run something.”

 According to Blaauw, laboratory experiments confirmed that if a microbial fuel cell sits in the sediment, with the cathode floating in a water column

Car Camera Network Could Produce Virtual Maps of Pedestrians

poiA growing fleet of smart cars may add their street camera views to those of the surveillance camera networks already covering many major cities. That could open the door for a new technology that enables different video cameras to “talk” with one another and track the same individual person across many different camera views—possibly giving rise to Google Earth style maps that can display pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

The technology is based on a computer algorithm that can compare different camera views of the same person and learn to recognize the same individuals across many camera views by focusing on body color, texture and movement. Researchers envision a large-scale version of the system tracking pedestrian traffic on a virtual map—perhaps displayed on a car’s GPS screen—or enabling police to easily track fleeing suspects across multiple surveillance camera views.

“Our idea is to enable the dynamic visualization of the realistic situation of humans walking on the road and sidewalks, so eventually people can see the animated version of the real-time dynamics of city streets on a platform like Google Earth,” said Jenq-Neng Hwang, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, in a news release.

Hwang’s team of

Metasurface Optics for Better Cellphone Cameras and 3D Displays

gfEngineers at the California Institute of Technology have created a metasurface out of tiny pillars of silicon that act as waveguides for light. The way they arrange the pillars allows them to control the phase of light passing through the surface; this ability gives them control over how the light is focused, as well as its polarization, which is important for uses such as liquid crystal displays and 3-D glasses. Metasurfaces are structured planes so thin that they count as being two-dimensional; their periodic designs manipulate light in unusual ways.

“We’re trying to create kind of a new platform for optics,” says Amir Arbabi, a postdoc in Andrei Faraon’s Nanoscale and Quantum Optics Lab. The team described their work in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

The silicon pillars have to be somewhat shorter than the wavelength of light they’re designed to manipulate. In the case of the metasurface described in the paper, the pillars are 715 nanometers tall, to handle infrared light with a wavelength of 915 nm. But they could easily be made shorter for visible light, Arbabi says. The pillars range in diameter from

Tardis Memory Could Enable Huge Multi Core Computer Chips

Future generations of computer chips could become much more powerful, with processors containing hundreds or even thousands of cores. But these huge multi-core processors will also require loads of memory so their directories can keep track of data on each individual core and coordinate updates to shared data. A new MIT technique promises to greatly reduce the required memory for such coordination as multi-core processors scale up in the coming years.

The new MIT system, called Tardis, coordinates the shared data on multi-core processors much more efficiently than existing directory techniques, according to an MIT press release. As a result, the required memory increases according to the logarithm of the number of cores instead of in direct proportion to the number of cores. So, a future 128-core chip might need only one-third the memory of a comparable chip based on an existing directory system. Memory savings become even greater as the number of cores increases: 80 percent in memory savings for a 256-core chip and 96 percent for a 1,000-core chip.

MIT’s group plans to present a paper on its new technique at the International Conference on Parallel Architectures and Compilation Techniques in October.

So how does Tardis improve on the existing system? Today’s multi-core chips have directories to make

Sharing Content Wirelessly with Apple AirDrop

Not too long ago, my mother called me in a panic. “Tim, I lost all the contacts on my iPad! Will I have to manually re-create them all again?”

The good news for my mom is that I already knew that (a) she had a copy of her contacts database on another iDevice at her home, and (b) we could use AirDrop to copy those missing contacts back to her iPad with no muss or fuss.

In just a few minutes, you too will understand how easy and convenient AirDrop makes copying content between iDevices without the hassle of wires or complicated setups.

What Exactly Is AirDrop?

AirDrop is an Apple-only technology that uses wireless, peer-to-peer networking to support near-range file transfers. Do you remember how we used infrared (IR) to swap data in the “bad old days” of early cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs)? Think of AirDrop as a 21st century counterpart.

Whereas infrared required line-of-sight and very close ranges (I remember my colleagues and I literally bumping our Palm Pilots against each other to catch a signal), AirDrop has a much more reasonable 30-foot range. Because AirDrop uses Wi-Fi

Intel and Micron Announce Revolutionary Mystery Memory

This week, Intel and Micron announced 3D XPoint (“crosspoint”), a new form of nonvolatile memory that the companies say is 1000 times speedier than NAND Flash and ten times denser than DRAM. But what exactly is it? Good luck trying to figure it out.

“They’re being pointedly vague,” says Jim Handy, a memory analyst of Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif.

A press release on Intel’s website touts this as “the first new memory category since the introduction of NAND flash in 1989”. But I’m sure a number of companies would disagree with that characterization. There’s been plenty of work done on phase-change memory and other companies are pushing hard on resistive RAM. Everspin Technologies, a Freescale Semiconductor spin-off based in Arizona, has been shipping MRAM for years.

That said, Intel and Micron are big players in the semiconductor industry. Regardless of how unique 3D Xpoint is, their backing could really help launch alternative memory from the sidelines into mainstream adoption.

Engineers have long hoped for a memory that could replace the mix we have now, something that could be speedy, dense, cheap, high endurance, and low power. Joel Hruska at ExtremeTech does a good job explaining how 3D Xpoint compares with existing memories based on the information currently available (he notes the 1000x-faster-Flash claim is somewhat vague

Five Innovative Ways to Use an iPhone or iPad When You Travel

Almost anywhere you travel in the world these days—especially to any First World country or popular tourist destination—a strong cellular signal and Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, restaurants, Internet cafes, shopping centers, and airports are readily available.

So even though you may be on the opposite side of the world from where you live, your iPhone or iPad can still serve as a powerful communication, organization, and productivity tool, as well as an interactive entertainment device.

The following five sections discuss ways you can use your iPhone or iPad while you’re traveling in order to be more productive; stay in contact with friends, family, and coworkers; save time; and make the information you need readily available at your fingertips.

1: Use Your iPhone or iPad to Make and Receive Skype Calls

As soon as you leave the United States, your unlimited voice plan for making and receiving calls from your iPhone (or any smartphone) no longer applies. With most cellular service providers, each time you engage in a call, you wind up paying extremely costly international roaming fees. To avoid these charges and to be able to make and receive calls from your iPhone or

Introduction to the New Pebble Time Smart Watch

When the original Pebble smart watch was first announced in 2012, it was introduced as a concept that the inventors needed to raise funds in order to build. They turned to crowd funding via, and quickly became the online service’s biggest success story, after raising more than $10 million.

Since then, Pebble has sold more than one million first generation smart watches, but has also been focusing on innovative ways to improve upon the product. In late March 2015, Pebble completed a second crowd funding campaign in preparation for the launch of its second-generation smart watch, called Pebble Time. This time, the company quickly raised in excess of $20.3 million, thanks to almost 79,000 crowd funding backers.

Pebble Time Offers Greatly Expanded Features and Functions

Within days after announcing Pebble Time, hundreds of third-party app developers began developing cutting-edge apps for this new smart watch, which boasts a full color e-paper display and a seven day battery life. It also contains a built-in microphone, accelerometer, can communicate wirelessly with a smartphone via Bluetooth 4.0, and it runs using a re-designed operating system (Pebble OS).

Plus, in addition working in conjunction with the iPhone,