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   OCTOBER 2012



Tech News Digest

Compiled By IEEE-USA Staff

The following is a roundup of technology-related news and notable developments with a focus on electrical engineering, computing and information technology and allied fields reported during September 2012. Items are excerpted from news releases generated by universities, government agencies and other research institutions. Highlighted topics include:

  1. Game Bots Pass Turing Test on Turing’s Centenary

  2. NSF Funds $50M in Projects To Secure Cyberspace

  3. Cybersecurity Experts Researching Security of Networked Medical Devices

  4. Software Tool Helps Prevent Performance Disruptions in Cloud Computing Systems

  5. New Method Uses Light To Monitor Semiconductor Etching

  6. Needle Beam Could Eliminate Signal Loss in On-chip Optics

  7. 'Nanoresonators' Might Improve Cell Phone Performance

  8. 'Memristors' Based on Transparent Electronics Offer Technology of the Future

  9. Voice Verification Technology Provides Security Against Impersonators

  10. Study To Explore Teamwork on Complex Technical Project

  11. 'Transient Electronics' Dissolve in Body or Environment

  12. Thermoelectric Material Sets Efficiency Record for Converting Waste Heat to Electricity

  13. DARPA Sensor Microfabrication Program Focuses on Backup to GPS for Navigation

  14. A Clock that Will Last Forever

  15. Sandia Verifies Key Aspect of MagLif Nuclear Fusion Concept

  16. Study Explores Climate Impacts of High-Altitude Wind Power

  17. Study Confirms LEDs Most Environmentally Friendly Lighting

  18. DARPA Demonstrates Robotic “Pack Mules”

1) Game Bots Pass Turing Test on Turing’s Centenary

An artificially intelligent virtual gamer has won the BotPrize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half the humans it competed against. The victory comes 100 years after the birth of mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose "Turing test" stands as one of the foundational definitions of what constitutes true machine intelligence.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/uota-aig092612.php

2) NSF Funds $50M in Projects To Secure Cyberspace

On 25 Sept., the National Science Foundation (NSF)  awarded $50 million for research projects to build a cybersecure society and protect the United States' vast information infrastructure.  The investments were made through the NSF's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program, which builds on the agency's long-term support for a wide range of cutting edge interdisciplinary research and education activities to secure critical infrastructure that is vulnerable to a wide range of threats that challenge its security.  More than 70 new research projects were funded, with award amounts ranging from about $100,000 to $10 million. These SaTC awards aim to improve the resilience of operating systems, software, hardware and critical infrastructure while preserving privacy, promoting usability and ensuring trustworthiness through foundational research and prototype deployments.

For more information, see:  http://nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125453&org=NSF&from=news

3) Cybersecurity Experts Researching Security of Networked Medical Devices

A teach of researchers in computing and information sciences at Kansas State University — and their partners in industrial and regulatory agencies are developing the theory and software needed for safe operations of next-generation electronic medical devices that will be secure, interoperable and networked. With NSF support, the team will evaluate how to develop a flexible but standardized and secure communication network for medical devices — such as pulse oximeters, pacemakers and CT scanners — that would work anywhere from a small doctor's office to a multi-campus hospital.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/ksu-ir090512.php

4) Software Tool Helps Prevent Performance Disruptions in Cloud Computing Systems

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new software tool to prevent performance disruptions in cloud computing systems by automatically identifying and responding to potential anomalies before they can develop into problems.  The researchers designed software that looks at the amount of memory being used, network traffic, CPU usage and other system-level data in a cloud computing infrastructure to develop a definition of the wide range of behaviors that can be considered "normal."  The program can then look for deviations and predict anomalies that could affect the system's ability to provide service to users.  One advantage of this approach is that it does not require users to provide so-called "training data" about what constitutes abnormal behavior. Moreover, this approach is also able to predict anomalies that have never been seen before.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/ncsu-rcp091012.php

5) New Method Uses Light To Monitor Semiconductor Etching

 University of Illinois researchers have a new low-cost method to carve delicate features onto semiconductor wafers using light — and watch as it happens. The technique can monitor a semiconductor's surface as it is etched, in real time, with nanometer resolution. This allows the researchers to create complex patterns quickly and easily, and adjust them as needed.

For more information, see: http://news.illinois.edu/news/12/

6) Needle Beam Could Eliminate Signal Loss in On-chip Optics

 An international, Harvard-led team of researchers have demonstrated a new type of light beam that propagates without spreading outwards, remaining very narrow and controlled along an unprecedented distance. This "needle beam," as the team calls it, could greatly reduce signal loss for on-chip optical systems and may eventually assist the development of a more powerful class of microprocessors.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/hu-nbc090612.php

7) Nanoresonators' Might Improve Cell Phone Performance

Researchers have learned how to mass produce tiny mechanical devices that could help cell phone users avoid the nuisance of dropped calls and slow downloads. The devices are designed to ease congestion over the airwaves to improve the performance of cell phones and other portable devices.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/pu-mi083012.php

8) 'Memristors' Based on Transparent Electronics Offer Technology of the Future

 The transparent electronics that were pioneered at Oregon State University may find one of their newest applications as a next-generation replacement for some uses of non-volatile flash memory, a multi-billion dollar technology nearing its limit of small size and information storage capacity.  OSU researchers have confirmed that zinc tin oxide, an inexpensive and environmentally benign compound, has significant potential for use in this field, and could provide a new, transparent technology where computer memory is based on resistance, instead of an electron charge.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/osu-bo091412.php

9) Voice Verification Technology Provides Security Against Impersonators

Computer users have learned to preserve their privacy by safeguarding passwords, but with the rise of voice authentication systems, they also need to protect unique voice characteristics. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Language Technologies Institute (LTI) say that is possible with a system they developed that converts a user's voiceprint into something akin to passwords.   The system would enable people to register or check in on a voice authentication system, without their actual voice ever leaving their smartphone. This reduces the risk that a fraudster will obtain the person's voice biometric data, which could subsequently be used to access bank, health care or other personal accounts.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/cmu-cmv091712.php

10) Study To Explore Teamwork on Complex Technical Project

As scientists from different disciplines and regions help design a world-class nuclear research facility at Michigan State University, a team of MSU researchers will conduct one of the first major studies of how teams work together.  Using surveys, interviews and high-tech devices that monitor interaction, the researchers will study teamwork among the many groups of physicists, engineers and other scientists involved in the creation of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB.  The three-year study is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

For more information, see:  http://news.msu.edu/story/rewriting-the-rules-of-teamwork/

11) 'Transient Electronics' Dissolve in Body or Environment

Tiny, biocompatible electronic devices have been developed that dissolve harmlessly into their surroundings after a precise amount of time.  A magnesium oxide encapsulation layer and silk overcoat envelops the electronics, and the thickness determines how long the system will take to disappear into its environment. These new "transient electronics" promise medical implants that never need surgical removal, as well as environmental monitors and consumer electronics that can become compost rather than trash. The researchers successfully tested a thermal device designed to monitor and prevent post-surgical infection and also created a 64 pixel digital camera.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/tu-sas092512.php and http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/nu-da092412.php

12) Thermoelectric Material Sets Efficiency Record for Converting Waste Heat to Electricity

Northwestern University scientists have developed a thermoelectric material that is the best in the world at converting waste heat to electricity. The inefficiency of current thermoelectric materials has limited their commercial use. Now, with a very environmentally stable material that is expected to convert 15 to 20 percent of waste heat to useful electricity, thermoelectrics could see more widespread adoption by industry. Possible areas of application include the automobile industry (much of gasoline's potential energy goes out a vehicle's tailpipe), heavy manufacturing industries (such as glass and brick making, refineries, coal- and gas-fired power plants) and places were large combustion engines operate continuously (such as in large ships and tankers).

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/nu-wrh091712.php

13) DARPA Sensor Microfabrication Program Focuses on Backup to GPS for Navigation

Military missions of all types need extremely accurate navigation techniques to keep people and equipment on target. That is why the Military relies on GPS or, when GPS is unavailable, precise sensors for navigation. These sensors, such as gyroscopes that measure orientation, are bulky and expensive to fabricate. For example, a single gyroscope designed as an inertial sensor accurate enough for a precision missile can take up to 1 month to be hand assembled and cost up to $1 million. DARPA has made progress in developing less expensive fabrication methods for inertial sensors and is making them orders of magnitude smaller and less expensive.

For more information, see: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/09/20.aspx

14) A Clock that Will Last Forever

Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever, even after the heat-death of the universe. This is the “wow” factor behind a device known as a “space-time crystal,” a four-dimensional crystal that has periodic structure in time as well as space.A space-time crystal, however, has only existed as a concept in the minds of theoretical scientists with no serious idea as to how to actually build one – until now. An international team of researchers led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has proposed the experimental design of a space-time crystal based on an electric-field ion trap and the Coulomb repulsion of particles that carry the same electrical charge.  Because the space-time crystal is already at its lowest quantum energy state, its temporal order – or timekeeping – will theoretically persist even after the rest of our universe reaches entropy, thermodynamic equilibrium or “heat-death.”

For more information, see: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2012/09/24/a-clock-that-will-last-forever/

15) Sandia Verifies Key Aspect of MagLif Nuclear Fusion Concept

Magnetically imploded tubes called liners, intended to help produce controlled nuclear fusion at scientific "break-even" energies or better within the next few years, have functioned successfully in preliminary tests, according to a Sandia research paper.  Sandia testing of a concept called MagLIF (Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion), which will use magnetic fields and laser pre-heating in the quest for energetic fusion.  In the dry-run experiments just completed, the cylindrical beryllium liners remained reasonably intact as they were imploded by huge magnetic field of Sandia's Z machine, the world's most powerful pulsed-power accelerator. Had they overly distorted, they would have proved themselves incapable of shoveling together nuclear fuel — deuterium and possibly tritium — to the point of fusing them.  "The experimental results were consistent with results from earlier Sandia computer simulations, which predict MagLIF will exceed scientific break-even.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/dnl-dev091712.php

16) Study Explores Climate Impacts of High-Altitude Wind Power

Though there is enough power in the earth's winds to be a primary source of near-zero emission electric power for the world, large-scale high altitude wind power generation is unlikely to substantially affect climate according to researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The group found that wind turbines placed on the earth's surface could extract kinetic energy at a rate of at least 400 terawatts, while high-altitude wind power could extract more than 1800 terawatts. Current total global power demand is about 18 terawatts. At maximum levels of power generation, there would be substantial climate effects from wind harvesting. But the study found that the climate effects of extracting wind energy at the level of current global demand would be small, as long as the turbines were not clustered in just a few regions. At the level of global energy demand, wind turbines might affect surface temperatures by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit and affect precipitation by about 1 percent.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/dlnl-llr091012.php

17) Study Confirms LEDs Most Environmentally Friendly Lighting

Today's light-emitting diode light bulbs have a slight environmental edge over compact fluorescent lamps. And that gap is expected to grow significantly as technology and manufacturing methods improve in the next five years, according to a new report from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UK-based N14 Energy Limited.  The report examines total environmental impact, including the energy and natural resources needed to manufacture, transport, operate and dispose of light bulbs.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/dnnl-lwl090512.php

18) DARPA Demonstrates Robotic “Pack Mules”

On 10 Sept., DARPA’s Legged Squad Support System (LS3) program demonstrated two robotic “pack mule” prototypes for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, and DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar. The first platform underwent its initial outdoor test earlier this year and has matured through continual testing and improvements to the point that two functioning platforms have started to run through the paces similar to what they could one day experience carrying gear for a squad of Marines or Soldiers. The goal of the LS3 program is to demonstrate that a legged robot can unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands.

For more information, see:  http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/09/10.aspx


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Copyright © 2012 IEEE

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