Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gate leakage, down and out?

R. Colin Johnson (12/04/2007 10:09 AM EST)

PORTLAND, Ore. — A high-k dielectric process for CMOS transistors promises to turn the International Semiconductor Roadmap into a freeway by eliminating the gate-leakage problem at advanced nodes down to 10 nanometers.
Overheating due to excessive gate leakage is the number one hurdle to reaching advanced semiconductor nodes below 45 nanometer. Now, a process with 1 million times less gate leakage could enable rapid migration to advanced nodes, according to Clemson University researchers.
The rapid-thermal process of atomic layer deposition achieved an effective gate oxide thickness (EOT) of 0.39 nanometers with only 10-12A/cm2.
"This is a process that is robust and manufacturing tools could be developed for it without any fundamental barriers. We are using standard CVD techniques and the same precursors as everybody else," said Rajendra Singh, director of the Center for Silicon Nanoelectronics at Clemson University. "The difference comes from our optimized process chemistry and our use of different kinds energy sources—that's what our patent covers."
As gate oxide thickness were slimmed for 45-nm nodes and below, the industry has moved to using high-k dielectrics. For instance, Clemson's hafnium gate oxide high-k dilectric measured 2.4 nanometers in thickness, but had an EOT of 0.39 nanometers when compared to conventional silicon dioxide.
The semiconductor roadmap calls for high-k dielectrics at the 65-nm node, but most manufacturers, including Intel Corp., have delayed going to high-K dielectrics until the 45-nm node. The reason is that manufacturers would have to solve the problem of higher gate leakages through dielectrics that insulate less well than silicon dioxide.
Clemson's results indicate that such high-k dielectrics were the right way to go, and should take the industry down to the 10-nm node.
"It has signiĆ½cant impact on silicon IC manufacturing industry," said Singh. "Semiconductor manufacturers are currently debating whether its worth the cost to change to larger 450-millimeter wafers, but using our invention eliminates several processing steps resulting in an overall reduction in costs at advanced nodes."

100+ Lumens/watt LED bulbs

LLF claims efficiency record from high-CRI warm-white LED lamp LED Lighting Fixtures Inc (LLF) of Morrisville, NC, USA, which develops LED-based light fixtures for general illumination, says that its LRP-38 lamp has set a new standard for energy-efficient lighting by producing 659 lumens while consuming just 5.8W of wall-plug power (113.6 delivered lumens per watt), compared with 60W for an equally bright incandescent bulb, according to results of steady-state tests by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on LLF’s prototype PAR 38 self-ballasted lamp.
The lamp uses less than 9% and 30% of the energy consumed by incandescent and fluorescent sources, respectively. The lamp emitted a warm-white incandescent-like color of 2760K with a high color rendering index (CRI) of 91.2.
“The results of this prototype clearly demonstrate that LLF’s LED technology will surpass all existing forms of lighting in terms of performance,” says chief technology officer Gerry Negley. “The prototype lamp verifies that the LLF platform can be deployed in any form factor, which will allow full penetration of the global lighting market,” he adds. “We used Cree Inc XLamp and Osram Opto Semiconductors Golden Dragon products in the lamp, which we believe are the best LEDs available to maximize our proprietary system performance.”
The LRP-38 demonstration is the most energy-efficient, high-CRI white lighting solution ever developed, claims LLF’s Hong Kong managing director, Tony van de Ven. “While there is currently no timetable for a production release, this result shows that LLF’s technology with LED light sources has the ability to surpass 100 lumens per watt from a fixture, which is a revolutionary milestone.”
Currently, via 65 lighting sales agents across the USA and Canada (representing over 300 distributors), LLF sells its LR6 six-inch downlight product (designed for 50,000 hours of lifetime) in warm (2700K) and neutral (3500K) white colors.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Death of the cell phone charger

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- How much money could you make from a technology that replaces electrical wires? A startup called Powercast, along with the more than 100 companies that have inked agreements with it, is about to start finding out. Powercast and its first major partner, electronics giant Philips, are set to launch their first device powered by electricity broadcast through the air.
Picture your cell phone charging up the second you sit down at your desk, and you start to get a sense of the opportunity. How big can it get? "The sky's the limit," says John Shearer, Powercast's founder and CEO. He estimates shipping "many millions of units" by the end of 2008.
For years, electricity experts said this kind of thing couldn't be done. "If you had asked me seven months ago if this was possible, I would have said, 'Are you dreaming? Have you been smoking something?'" says Govi Rao, vice president and general manager of solid-state lighting at Philips (Charts). "But to see it work is just amazing. It could revolutionize what we know about power."
World's 11 coolest products
So impressed was Rao after witnessing Powercast's demo last summer that he walked away jotting down a list of the industries to which the technology could immediately be applied: lighting, peripherals, all kinds of handheld electronics. Philips partnered with Powercast last July, and their first joint product, a wirelessly powered LED light stick, will hit the market this year. Computer peripherals, such as a wireless keyboard and mouse, will follow in 2008.
Broadcasting power through the air isn't a new idea. Researchers have experimented with capturing the radiation in radio frequency at high power but had difficulty capturing it at consumer-friendly low power. "You'd have energy bouncing off the walls and arriving in a wide range of voltages," says Zoya Popovic, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado who works on wireless electricity projects for the U.S. military.
That's where Shearer came in. A former physicist based in Pittsburgh, he and his team spent four years poring over wireless electricity research in a lab hidden behind his family's coffee house. He figured much of the energy bouncing off walls could be captured. All you had to do was build a receiver that could act like a radio tuned to many frequencies at once.
"I realized we wanted to grab that static and harness it," Shearer says. "It's all energy."
Entrepreneur finds 'suite' dreams
So the Powercast team set about creating and patenting that receiver. Its tiny but hyperefficient receiving circuits can adjust to variations in load and field strength while maintaining a constant DC voltage. Thanks to the fact that it transmits only safe low wattages, the Powercast system quickly won FCC approval--and $10 million from private investors.
Powercast says it has signed nondisclosure agreements to develop products with more than 100 companies, including major manufacturers of cell phones, MP3 players, automotive parts, temperature sensors, hearing aids, and medical implants.
The last of those alone could be a multibillion-dollar market: Pacemakers, defibrillators, and the like require surgery to replace dead batteries. But with a built-in Powercast receiver, those batteries could last a lifetime.
"Everyone's looking to cut that last cord," says Alex Slawsby, a consultant at Innosight who specializes in disruptive innovation. "Think of the billion cell phones sold last year. If you could get Powercast into a small percentage of the high-end models, those would be huge numbers."
Could Powercast's technology also work for larger devices? Perhaps, but not quite yet. Laptop computers, for example, use more than 10 times the wattage of Powercast transmissions.
But industry trends are on Shearer's side: Thanks to less energy-hungry LCD screens and processors, PC power consumption is slowly diminishing. Within five years, Shearer says, laptops will be down to single-digit wattage--making his revenue potential even more electrifying.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rapid-fire pulse brings Sandia Z method closer to goal of high-yield fusion reactor

An electrical circuit that should carry enough power to produce the long-sought goal of controlled high-yield nuclear fusion and, equally important, do it every 10 seconds, has undergone extensive preliminary experiments and computer simulations at Sandia National Laboratories� Z machine facility.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Practical Holographic Video

The tyranny of two-dimensional computer and TV displays could soon be over. A team of MIT researchers has proposed a way to make a holographic video system that works with computer hardware for consumers, such as PCs with graphics cards and gaming consoles. The display, the researchers say, will be small enough to add to an entertainment center, provide resolution as good as a standard analog television, and cost only a couple hundred dollars.
A holographic video display could provide another way to view medical images such as MRIs and CT scans, as well as sets of complex, multidimensional data and designs for furniture and cars, says V. Michael Bove Jr., director of the consumer electronics program, CELab, at MIT. And the system would be a natural fit for displaying video games and virtual worlds. Most games now have sophisticated three-dimensional models sitting deep within their software, "but you don't see them because [the images are] rendered as a two-dimensional picture," Bove says.
The new system, called Mark III, is the third generation (following Mark I and Mark II) of MIT-designed holographic video displays that date back to the late 1980s. These earlier systems were "loud, finicky, required specialized computing hardware to generate a video signal, and were a general pain in the neck to work with," says Bove. A few years ago, he wondered if he could turn a laboratory-based holographic display system that cost tens of thousands of dollars into an affordable consumer product.
Bove and his team currently have a fourth generation of system lined up, which will be able to display an image as large as a desktop PC monitor; in contrast, the current system's displays are only about the size of a Rubik's Cube. Also, the current display is only capable of monochromatic holograms, but the fourth generation will have a full range of colors, Bove says.

Daily pill to beat genetic diseases

A pill that can correct a wide range of faulty genes which cause crippling illnesses should be available within three years, promising a revolution in the treatment of thousands of conditions.
The drug, known as PTC124, has already had encouraging results in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. The final phase of clinical trials is to begin this year, and it could be licensed as early as 2009.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Plastic solar cell efficiency breaks record at WFU nanotechnology center

The global search for a sustainable energy supply is making significant strides at Wake Forest University as researchers at the university�s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials have announced that they have pushed the efficiency of plastic solar cells to more than 6 percent.
In a paper to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters, Wake Forest researchers describe how they have achieved record efficiency for organic or flexible, plastic solar cells by creating �nano-filaments� within light absorbing plastic, similar to the veins in tree leaves.  This allows for the use of thicker absorbing layers in the devices, which capture more of the sun�s light.
In order to be considered a viable technology for commercial use, solar cells must be able to convert about 8 percent of the energy in sunlight to electricity.  Wake Forest researchers hope to reach 10 percent in the next year, said Carroll, who is also associate professor of physics at Wake Forest.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Scientists are creating artificial bones using a modified version of an inkjet printer.

The technology creates perfect replicas of bones that have been damaged and these can then be inserted in the body to help it to heal.

The process will revolutionise bone graft surgery, which currently relies on either bits of bone taken from other parts of the body or ceramic-like substitutes.

Original Aritcle

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

neuroArm: Exploring the Depths of Neurosurgery

neuroArm is an MRI-compatible, ambidextrous robot capable of performing the most technically challenging surgical procedures. Its dextrous components are two image-guided manipulators with end-effectors that mimic human hands and are capable of interfacing with new microsurgical tools. It has tremor filters that eliminate unwanted hand tremors seen under the microscope.
Each end-effector is equipped with a three-dimensional (3D) force-sensor providing the robot with its sense of touch. A surgeon, seated at a surgical workstation, controls the robot using force feedback hand-controllers. Combined with a 3D visual display of the surgical site and 3D MRI displays with superimposed 'virtual' tools, the workstation recreates the sight and sensation of microsurgery. Surgical simulation software on the workstation allows the surgeon to calculate the optimal incision site, plan a path that avoids critical structures and permits risk-free rehearsal of rare or complex procedures. To ensure safety, redundant computer systems continuously monitor and control neuroArm's movements.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Geordi come home

Software that can be taught to refine the information sent from a bionic eye to its wearer is being trialled in Germany.
Retinal implants can restore some vision to blind or partially blind people by taking over the job of turning light into signals transmitted to the brain. So far, about 10 people in Germany and 15 in the US have been fitted with such implants although expanded US trials are planned.
Eckmiller says the secret to improving these implants is to match the signals they produce with the signals that a healthy eye sends to the brain. One team in California, US, is trying to do that by building a copy of the retina's neurons in silicon. Eckmiller, along with colleagues Oliver Baruth and Rolf Schatten, plan to use learning software instead.

Original Article

Monday, April 09, 2007

Flexible Batteries That Never Need to Be Recharged

Mobiles phones, remote controls, and other gadgets are generally convenient--that is, until their batteries go dead. For many consumers, having to routinely recharge or replace batteries remains the weakest link in portable electronics. To solve the problem, a group of European researchers say they've found a way to combine a thin-film organic solar cell with a new type of polymer battery, giving it the capability of recharging itself when exposed to natural or indoor light.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Building the Bionic Man

Once the realm of science fiction, bionics is slowly but surely becoming a reality. Advances in medical prostheses and computer technology are making the dream of building a bionic human a reality.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ways to Lure Viruses to Their Death

There are only a few basic ways to fight viruses. A vaccine can prime the immune system to attack them as soon as they invade the body. If a virus manages to establish itself, a doctor may be able to prescribe a drug to slow down its spread. And if all else fails, a doctor may quarantine a patient to head off an epidemic.
Now some scientists are exploring a fundamentally different strategy to fight viruses. They want to wipe them out by luring them to their destruction, like mice to mousetraps.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fantastic Voyage: from science fiction to reality

Under the direction of Professor Sylvain Martel, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Micro/Nanosystem Development, Construction and Validation, and in collaboration with researchers at the Centre hospitalier de l'Universit� de Montr�al (CHUM), the Polytechnique team has succeeded in injecting, propelling and controlling by means of software programs an initial prototype of an untethered device (a ferromagnetic 1.5- millimetre-diameter sphere) within the carotid artery of a living animal placed inside a clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system.

Encouraged by these results, staff at the Polytechnique NanoRobotics Laboratory are currently working to further reduce the size of the devices so that, within a few years, they can navigate inside smaller blood vessels.

Original Article

Friday, March 23, 2007

Search engine spawned from antiterrorism efforts finds place in business

The strength of the system, added Fetch Chairman and CTO Steve Minton, emanates from the machine learning focus of the search engine's agent-based tools. The system can recognize types of data based on a pattern and can apply what is learned about that pattern to future searches, Minton said.
In addition, the tool can mimic human behavior by automatically filling out a form without human intervention, using data from search results, according to Minton, a member of the original development team at the University of Southern California.

Technology Review's 10 Emerging Technologies of 2007

Technology Review has their 10 Emerging technologies of 2007 series of articles up.  Go take a look at

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Robot that roams the body to seek and destroy cancer

The idea of a beetle moving around inside your body may be the stuff of horror films. But scientists believe an insect-shaped robot could be a major weapon in the fight against cancer.
The device, just under an inch long, is designed to be inserted into the body through a small incision.
Once inside, doctors can control its movements and direct it to areas where investigations are needed.
However, unlike the plot of the 1966 Raquel Welch film Fantastic Voyage - which featured a microscopic crew and submarine travelling through a scientist's bloodstream - this device could not be inserted into blood vessels because it is too big.
I don't think devices that can do precisely that will be long in coming, and they won't need cables connecting them to the outside world either.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Nano tech in batteries

A123 Systems is delivering a new generation of batteries that deliver up to 10 times longer cycle life, five times more power and dramatically faster charge times over conventional high-power battery technology.

Connecting Your Brain to the Game

Emotiv Systems, an electronic-game company from San Francisco, wants people to play with the power of the mind. Starting tomorrow, video-game makers will be able to buy Emotiv's electro-encephalograph (EEG) caps and software developer's tool kits so that they can build games that use the electrical signals from a player's brain to control the on-screen action.
Emotiv's system has three different applications. One is designed to sense facial expressions such as winks, grimaces, and smiles and transfer them, in real time, to an avatar. This could be useful in virtual-world games, such as Second Life, in which it takes a fair amount of training to learn how to express emotions and actions through a keyboard. Another application detects two emotional states, such as excitement and calm. Emotiv's chief product officer, Randy Breen, says that these unconscious cues could be used to modify a game's soundtrack or to affect the way that virtual characters interact with a player. The third set of software can detect a handful of conscious intentions that can be used to push, pull, rotate, and lift objects in a virtual world.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Artificial Retina

Patients who have gone blind are a step closer to perhaps one day regaining some of their sight.

Researchers at the USC Doheny Eye Institute announced today the next step in their efforts to advance technology that hopefully will help patients with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration regain some vision using an implanted artificial retina.

The announcement by Mark Humayun, professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and associate director of research at the Doheny Retina Institute, came at a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

From Science Daily

Article from USC

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Research integrates photonic circuitry on a silicon chip

In work that could lead to completely new devices, systems and applications in computing and telecommunications, MIT researchers are bringing the long-sought goal of "optics on a chip" one step closer to market.
In the January 2007 inaugural issue of the journal Nature Photonics, the team reports a novel way to integrate photonic circuitry on a silicon chip. Adding the power and speed of light waves to traditional electronics could achieve system performance inconceivable by electronic means alone.
The MIT invention will enable such integrated devices to be mass-manufactured for the first time. And, depending on the growth of the telecom industry, the new devices could be in demand within five years, said co-author Erich P. Ippen, the Elihu Thomson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics.
The new technology will also enable supercomputers on a chip with unique high-speed capabilities for signal processing, spectroscopy and remote testing, among other fields.

New analog circuits could impact consumer electronics

Advances in digital electronic circuits have prompted the boost in functions and ever- smaller size of such popular consumer goods as digital cameras, MP3 players and digital televisions. But the same cannot be said of the older analog circuits in the same devices, which process natural sights and sounds in the real world. Because analog circuits haven't enjoyed a similar rate of progress, they are draining power and causing other bottlenecks in improved consumer electronic devices.
Now MIT engineers have devised new analog circuits they hope will change that. Their work was discussed at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco Feb. 11-15.
"During the past several decades engineers have focused on allowing signals to be processed and stored in digital forms," said Hae-Seung Lee, a professor in MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). "But most real-world signals are analog signals, so analog circuits are an essential part of most electronic systems."
Analog circuits are used to amplify, process and filter analog signals and convert them to digital signals, or vice versa, so the real world and electronic devices can talk to each other. Analog signals are continuous and they vary in size, whereas digital signals have specific or discrete values.

Friday, February 02, 2007

MIT-led panel backs 'heat mining' as key U.S. energy source

A comprehensive new MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States has found that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth's hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

An 18-member panel led by MIT prepared the 400-plus page study, titled "The Future of Geothermal Energy" (PDF, 14.1 MB). Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, it is the first study in some 30 years to take a new look at geothermal, an energy resource that has been largely ignored.

The goal of the study was to assess the feasibility, potential environmental impacts and economic viability of using enhanced geothermal system (EGS) technology to greatly increase the fraction of the U.S. geothermal resource that could be recovered commercially.

Although geothermal energy is produced commercially today and the United States is the world's biggest producer, existing U.S. plants have focused on the high-grade geothermal systems primarily located in isolated regions of the west. This new study takes a more ambitious look at this resource and evaluates its potential for much larger-scale deployment.

Original Article

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

U.S. university to build 'soft-bodied' robots

Forget the humanoid Asimo and Roomba, the roaming vacuum. The next generation of robots will be soft-bodied, providing more flexibility than their stiff-jointed cousins, according to researchers at Tufts University.
The Medford, Mass. university launched the new initiative focused on the science and engineering of a new class of soft-bodied robots with the announcement of $730,000 in funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles, Calif.
The new field will combine biology, bio-engineering and nanotechnology to create a flexible breed of robots capable of performing tasks requiring greater mobility, such as search and rescue missions or repair and maintenance during space exploration missions.
"Our overall goal is to develop systems and devices — soft-bodied robots — based on biological materials and on the adaptive mechanisms found in living cells, tissues and whole organisms," said co-director David Kaplan, a professor of biomedical engineering.
While Honda's Asimo robot is meant to resemble a humanoid, it is made mostly of stiff materials incapable of the kinds of flexible actions common in biology, said Kaplan's co-director, biology Prof. Barry Trimmer.
It is Trimmer's work in studying caterpillars that first provided insights into how to build a soft-bodied robot. The caterpillar is unique in that its fluid and flexible movements are controlled with a simple brain and without the use of joints. Kaplan's work has focused on engineering strong yet flexible fibres.
The two hope the new class of robots will be continuously deformable and capable of collapsing into small volumes. Their work will focus on control systems, bionic materials, robot design and construction, and the development of operating systems to run the robots.
Roboticists have long tried to emulate animal motions such as walking, but only recently has the idea of softer materials begun to play a role in robot design.
In 2005 researchers at the University of California Berkeley began work on a robot modelled after the octopus, which is capable of walking underwater on two of its arms despite having no joints in its limbs.

Original Article

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Terminator cometh

At 3 feet tall and a whopping 200 pounds, it wouldn't pass a physical, but it fires a machine gun with half-mile accuracy and doesn't flinch.

The latest infantryman is electronic -- a gun-toting robot developed at Picatinny Arsenal.

Engineers at the Army weapons research post in Rockaway Township hope to send the machine, the first of its kind, into combat this year.

They envision the robot rolling through city streets in search of the enemy, while troops operate it from a half-mile away.

Unlike its human counterparts, it doesn't run out of breath, and it can hit a pie plate from about 900 yards. A soldier might need to be about 600 yards closer to boast the same level of accuracy.

It goes "places you don't want to send a soldier," said Rudy Roehrich, a Picatinny engineer who helped design and test the machine.

Picatinny has been working on the $3.2 million program for several years, wrestling with how to ensure the robo-soldier fires only when it's commanded.

It's also taken some time to convince Army brass of the remote-controlled machine's potential.

"The Army is not used to machines doing their work," Roehrich said. "When you put a gun on it, they say, 'What's a soldier going to do? I don't trust that too much.' It's a culture change."

One of the biggest tests has been ensuring the robot does only what it's told. Troops operate the machine from a suitcase-size computer that lets them peer through the robot's five cameras and drive it by tilting a joystick.

Soldiers must stay in constant communication with the robot and give it a series of computerized commands before the M249 machine gun fires.

"It can't arm and fire if everything is not exactly right," Roehrich said. The robot soldier also is said not to be invincible, although Picatinny engineers would not specify exactly how it could be destroyed in combat.

Arsenal engineers see the $250,000 robot -- known as Special Weapons Observation Remote Reconnaissance Direct-Action System, or SWORDS -- as a way to keep troops out of harm's way.

It also may be a harbinger of things to come.

The idea for the gun-toting robot developed about three years ago when troops in Afghanistan asked for a device that could crawl through caves.

Picatinny engineers attached several weapons to the TALON robot, which the military has used for several years to disarm roadside bombs and mines. But it was the machine-gun version that troops found most helpful because of its ability to fire fast and far.

Contractor Foster-Miller in Massachusetts is making 10, and 83 more are planned to be built.

The Army is still reviewing the robot, but engineers hope to get it to U.S. units this year and, after training, to Iraq, said Picatinny project officer Kim Jones.

So far, a SWORDS prototype has been a hit, said retired Sgt. 1st Class Dave Platt, who runs robot training sessions at Fort Benning, Ga.

While some older troops are hesitant about using it and can be "set in their ways," the younger ones are excited to learn how it works, Platt said.

"They'd rather use this than stand in 130-degree heat with 100 pounds of armor and ammunition," said Platt, who works for the U.S. Special Operations Command in Florida.


Engineers are racing to unveil the world’s first robot capable of building a house at the touch of a button.

The first prototype — a watertight shell of a two-storey house built in 24 hours without a single builder on site — will be erected in California before April.

A rival design, being pioneered in the East Midlands, with £1.2m of government funding, will include sunken baths, fireplaces and cornices. There are even plans for robots to supplant painters and decorators by spraying colourful frescoes at an affordable price.

By building almost an entire house from just two materials — concrete and gypsum — the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.

Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.

“The architectural options will explode,” predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m (£940,000) robot. “We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls.

“Your shoes, clothes and car are already made automatically, but your house is built by hand and it doesn’t make sense.”

At Loughborough University’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, the technology is being backed by a £1.2m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

It involves computer-controlled robotic nozzles which pipe quick-drying liquid gypsum and concrete to form walls, floors and roofs.

Inspired by the inkjet printer, the technology goes far beyond the techniques already used for prefabricated homes. “This will remove all the limitations of traditional building,” said Hugh Whitehead of the architecture firm Foster & Partners, which designed the “Gherkin” skyscraper in London and is producing designs for the Loughborough team. “Anything you can dream you can build.”

The robots are rigged to a metal frame, enabling them to shuttle in three dimensions and assemble the structure of the house layer by layer. The sole foreman on site operates a computer programmed with the designer’s plans.

The researchers in Los Angeles claim their robot will be able to build the shell of a house in 24 hours. “Compared to a conventional house, the speed of construction will be increased 200-fold and the building costs will be reduced to a fifth of what they are today,” said Khoshnevis.

The rival British system is likely to take at least a week but will include more sophisticated design features, with the computer’s nozzle weaving in ducts for water pipes, electrical wiring and ventilation within the panels of gypsum or concrete.

Jala El-Ali, structural designer at Buro Happold — the firm that helped design Arsenal’s new football stadium, which is shaped like a flying saucer — said future homes could carry features borrowed from ant hills, honeycombs or sea shells.

Dr Rupert Soar, in charge of the project at Loughborough, has travelled to Namibia to seek inspiration from termites, which construct giant mounds by regurgitating earth in intricate designs.

“If you ask a bricklayer to lay bricks in anything other than a straight line, you’ll run into problems,” said Soar. “But if you ask the robot to make a squiggly line it really doesn’t care.”

The robots will also create a smaller “carbon footprint” than conventional building methods; and, theoretically, a family could grind down a spare room when the children leave home.

Original Article

However, the robot appears to be afflicted by all-too-human obstacles. While the Americans’ first robot-built home is predicting a completion date of April, the Loughborough prototype is unlikely to be built for at least five years.

A Better Artificial Skin

A patient's skin cells, genetically modified and grown in a test tube, could provide the next generation of artificial skin. As a first step in creating such replacement skin, scientists in Cincinnati have engineered bacteria-resistant skin cells in the lab and are now testing them in animals. Ultimately, they hope to produce a type of artificial skin that can sweat, tan, and fight off infection.

"We're using genetic modification to try to get the cultured skin to behave more like normal skin," says Dorothy Supp, a researcher at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital for Children who led the project.

Original Article

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Researchers Use Wikipedia To Make Computers Smarter

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have found a way to give computers encyclopedic knowledge of the world to help them “think smarter,” making common sense and broad-based connections between topics just as the human mind does.

The new method will help computers filter e-mail spam, perform Web searches and even conduct electronic intelligence gathering at a much more sophisticated level than current programs, according to researchers Evgeniy Gabrilovich and Shaul Markovitch of the Technion Faculty of Computer Science. The findings will be presented next week in Hyderabad, India during the Twentieth International Joint Conference for Artificial Intelligence.

The program devised by the Technion researchers helps computers map single words and larger fragments of text to a database of concepts built from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which has over one million articles in its English-language version. The Wikipedia-based concepts act as “background knowledge” to help computers figure out the meaning of the text entered into a Web search, for instance.

Giving computers this deeper knowledge has been a long-standing problem in artificial intelligence, according to Markovitch. “Humans use a significant amount of background knowledge” to understand text, “but we didn’t know how to have computers access such knowledge,” he said.

Most Web search and e-mail filter programs appear smart by calculating how often certain words appear in two texts, Markovitch explained. “But what is common to all these applications is that the programs that actually do this kind of thing don’t understand text. They treat text as a collection of words, but they don’t understand the meaning of words.”

This shallow understanding is what makes an e-mail spam filter block all messages containing the word “vitamin,” but fail to block messages containing the word “B12.” “If the program never saw “B12” before, it’s just a word without any meaning. But you would know it’s a vitamin,” Markovitch said.

“With our methodology, however, the computer will use its Wikipedia-based knowledge base to infer that "B12" is strongly associated with the concept of vitamins, and will correctly identify the message as spam," he added.

Or, computers could look at a chunk of text about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction and know that it is conceptually related to topics such as the Iraq war and U.S. Senate debates on intelligence—even if those terms do not appear anywhere in the original text.

The method also helps computers figure out ambiguous terms—deciding, for instance, whether the word “mouse” refers to the computer device or the fuzzy animal. This can be especially important in translated documents, Markovitch said.

In the near future, the Technion researchers hope to improve their method by adding information from the Web page links inside Wikipedia articles. They are already pursuing a patent on their work, which they say will be of interest to the intelligence community and Web search engine companies, among others.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country’s winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 17 offices around the country.

January 4, 2007
Contact: Kevin Hattori (212) 407-6319
Original Article

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An ATM for books

By Emily Maltby, FSB Magazine
December 14 2006: 9:36 AM EST

(FSB Magazine) -- Buying a book could become as easy as buying a pack of gum. After several years in development, the Espresso - a $50,000 vending machine with a conceivably infinite library - is nearly consumer-ready and will debut in ten to 25 libraries and bookstores in 2007. The New York Public Library is scheduled to receive its machine in February.

The company behind the Espresso is called On Demand Books, founded by legendary book editor Jason Epstein, 78, and Dane Neller, 56, but the technology was developed six years ago by Jeff Marsh, who is a technology advisor for New York City-based ODB (

The machine can print, align, mill, glue and bind two books simultaneously in less than seven minutes, including full-color laminated covers. It prints in any language and will even accommodate right-to-left texts by putting the spine on the right. The upper page limit is 550 pages, though by tweaking the page thickness and type size, you could get a copy of War and Peace (albeit tough to read) if you wanted.

Neller says that future versions of the machine will accommodate longer works with fewer hassles. Prices for the finished product will vary depending on locations, but the production cost is about a penny per page. (At right, FSB's interpretation.)

Some 2.5 million books are now available - about one million in English and no longer under copyright protection. On Demand accesses the volumes through Google and the Open Content Alliance, among other sources. Neller predicts that within about five years On Demand Books will be able to reproduce every volume ever printed.

Epstein says that the larger obstacles are consumer preference - the machine can't make you a latte - and convincing skeptics in the industry. But some early adopters are already sold on the idea.

Niko Pfund, a publisher at Oxford University Press, says the evolution away from traditional bookstores is only natural. "For hundreds of years the industry was unchanged," Pfund says. "Then audio came out. Now it's time for digital."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Research Could Lead to "Invisible" Electronics

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Imagine a car windshield that displays a map to your destination, military goggles with targets and instructions displayed right before a soldier's eyes or a billboard that doubles as a window.

Only in science fiction you say? Northwestern University researchers report that by combining organic and inorganic materials they have produced transparent, high-performance transistors that can be assembled inexpensively on both glass and plastics.

The results of this breakthrough, which brings such futuristic high-quality displays closer to reality, were published in the November 2006 issue of the journal Nature Materials.

Researchers have long worked on developing new types of displays powered by electronics without visible wires. But, until now, no one was able to develop materials for transistors that could be “invisible” while still maintaining a high level of performance.

“Our development provides new strategies for creating transparent electronics,” said Tobin J. Marks, the Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor in Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research. “You can imagine a variety of applications for new electronics that haven't been possible previously -- imagine displays of text or images that would seem to be floating in space.”

Transistors are used for all the switching and computing necessary in electronics, and, in displays, they are used to power and switch the light sources.

High-performance, transparent transistors could be combined with existing kinds of light display technologies, such as organic light-emitting diodes, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and electroluminescent displays, which are already used in televisions, desktop and laptop computers and cell phones.

To create their thin-film transistors, Marks' group combined films of the inorganic semiconductor indium oxide with a multilayer of self-assembling organic molecules that provides superior insulating properties.

The indium oxide films can be fabricated at room temperature, allowing the transistors to be produced at a low cost. And, in addition to being transparent, the transistors outperform the silicon transistors currently used in LCD screens and perform nearly as well as high-end polysilicon transistors.

Prototype displays using the transistors developed at Northwestern could be available in 12 to 18 months, said Marks. He has formed a start-up company, Polyera, to bring this and related technologies to market.