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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Tele-Immersion at UC Berkeley
Tele-immersion is a technology which allows cooperative interaction between groups of distant people working in the same virtual environment. At the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Berkeley, interdisciplinary teams are deploying this technology.

It involves three real-time steps: taking images of a subject with 48 cameras, transmitting the images over a network, and implanting them in a virtual world. For example, it will allow students and professors on different campuses to meet -- virtually -- and discuss -- lively -- while being in ancient sites of Greece or Italy.

The technology offers more promises than academics discussions. Imagine a nurse telling a diabetic how to make an insulin injection while being far away from him. Of course, this technology is facing some hurdles, such as the cost involved to model you with so many cameras. This summary shows you some details about the image processing involved in this project.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:33 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, October 29, 2004

Gimli, A Robot with Insect-like Vision
Robotic speech recognition has made huge advances in recent years, allowing for easy voice interaction with robots. But robotic vision processing is still very rudimentary. Some robots "see," but they need powerful computers and are not very mobile. A team of researchers at the University of Arizona wants to change all this by mixing biology and electronics to create robotic vision.

The team has designed a visual navigation system by mimicking insect vision and demonstrated the concept by building a robot named Gimli. Instead of using standard microprocessors, the team devised electronic vision circuits based on a bunch of slower analog processors working in parallel.

The next step will be to develop a microchip-based vision system able to do specific tasks, such as following "a moving object like a soccer ball without getting confused by similarly shaped or colored objects." The team thinks the first such microchip might cost $30,000 to produce. But when the price goes down to $20, the market will be huge. This summary contains more details and pictures from Gimli.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:47 AM Comments (0)
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Great Pictures of a Small World
For 30 years now, Nikon has run its Small World Photomicrography Contest, reserved to photographs using light microscopes. In "The accidental artist," the MIT writes that one of its Ph.D. candidate is the winner of the 2004 edition. Seth Coe-Sullivan "is studying the uses of light emission from the quantum dots in devices such as light bulbs and cell phones."

And the quantum dot nanocrystals he filmed showed such elaborate patterns that some of his colleagues suggested him to enter the contest. Not only he won, but his work will be part of an itinerant exhibit in galleries throughout the U.S. in January 2005. This mini-gallery contains four of my favorite pictures of the 2004 edition, such as those of differentiating neuronal cells or a 25-days old turbot.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:44 AM Comments (0)
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Monday, October 25, 2004

U.S. Passports to get RFID
The U.S. State department confirmed today that starting next spring they plan to introduce RFID-equipped passports. The chips may feature biometric data such as fingerprints to go along with a photo and other identifying information included. The European Union has adopted a similar requirement for their passports. Will we see automatic checkout at customs before the grocery store?
:: posted by Brian Hamman, 10:46 PM Comments (1)
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Using RFID Tags to Make Teeth
If you live in France, and soon elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S., and if you need a dental prosthesis, chances are good that RFID tags are involved in the manufacturing process, according to this article from the RFID Journal.

The tag is embedded by the dental lab in the cast which will be used to make the prosthesis. Then it is used to record the whole history of the crown, a process requested by a European sanitary regulation. Before delivering the bridge to your dentist, all the data is copied to a smart card that will be given to you.

The company is also studying the idea to put directly the tag inside the prosthesis. Maybe one day, when your dentist installs your new bridge, you'll also be the owner of a deactivated RFID tag inside it. This summary contains more details and a picture of the RFID tag used to record the life of your next crown.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:44 PM Comments (0)
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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Robot Helps Paralysized Patients
There are almost 250,000 paralyzed people in the U.S. because of spinal cord injury. Most of them are using electric wheelchairs to move around. But now, Hocoma, a Swiss company, has designed a robotic device, named Lokomat, which can help paralyzed people to walk on treadmills, reports the Associated Press. After training, some of the patients, who rebuild confidence by using the Lokomat, have also regained muscle power and can walk over short distances.

Today, the Lokomats are available at a price of about $250,000, which certainly explains why there are only 14 Lokomats in use in the U.S. But prices will certainly decrease in the future. This summary contains more details, pictures and references about these robotic devices.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 9:56 AM Comments (0)
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Michelin Reinvents the Wheel
Michelin sells tires, not cars. But its engineers occasionally build some. And at the recent Challenge Bibendum 2004, held in Shanghai, China, the company introduced two models, according to this article from the Detroit News.

While the CONCEPT demonstrates the multiple benefits of electric power, the other concept car, the Hy-Light, is a light vehicle that weighs just 850 kg and is fuel cell propelled. Besides being an almost pollution-free car, the Hy-Light integrates active wheels. The idea is remarkably simple. There is plenty of empty space in a tire, so why not fill it with something useful? So the active wheels of the Hy-Light contain a traction motor to turn the wheel and all suspension components such as springs.

Michelin intends to share this technology with car makers and expects it should be integrated in our cars within ten to fifteen tears. This summary contains more details, pictures and references about this concept car and its active wheels.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 9:52 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, October 22, 2004

Sirius Blogging
R.U. Sirius has a new book coming out, Counterculture Through the Ages, and he's just launched a website and blog to promote it.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 11:22 PM Comments (1)
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Robot Census
In further evidence we are living in the future, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has released its 2004 World Robotics Survey. According to the UNECE, there are over 600,000 household robots currently in use and several million more expected in the next few years.
(via Clive Thompson)
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 1:47 PM Comments (0)
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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Students Design a Satellite via Internet
A group of 250 students from many European universities has collectively designed a satellite by using a dedicated news server and weekly chats on Internet. By using the Web, the virtual team was able to move from design to construction in less than a year.

The SSETI Express is currently under integration in one of the technology centers of the European Space Agency (ESA) in the Netherlands. Only a few selected members of the team will attend the launch which will be part of the Russian mission Cosmos DMC-3 in May 2005. The SSETI Express will embark three mini 'cubesats' for specific experiments while the main satellite will test a propulsion system and act as a transponder for amateur radio users.

I sure hope that this collaborative action will be successful. Read this summary for more details.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:56 PM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Jet Engine on a Chip
Today, our handheld devices are powered by batteries, which are heavy and inconvenient. Fuel cells are just arriving on the market as a replacement. But there is a new contender: micro gas turbine engines under development at the MIT.

Engineers there shrunk jet engines to the size of a coat button. And their blades which span an area smaller than a dime can spin a million times per minute and produce enough electricity to power your PDA or your cell phone. While there are still a few hurdles to overcome, these micro turbine engines should be operational in two or three years, with commercial products available four years from now. These micro jet engines also have the potential to free soldiers or travelers to carry heavy batteries.

The engineers even think their engines on a chip could be used in poor countries to bring electricity there. This summary gives you the essential details about a technology which promises to free us to carry batteries and rechargers.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:34 PM Comments (0)
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Monday, October 18, 2004

Viral Marketing with Online Games.
Wired News has an interesting article today about I love bees, an "alternative reality game." Players of the game were seen on major networks following the final U.S. Presidential debate, an indication of their reach.

The game requires players to coordinate to answer payphones in order to receieve clues and pieces of an ongoing story. Sometimes, players need to meet challenges that include odd public displays incorporating dozens of participants, and which often require the use of GPS and other technologies.

While I Love Bees has attracted an international following of its own, the game was intended as a viral marketing campaign for the release of Halo 2, set for mid-November. It remains to be seen how well the success of I Love Bees will translate into sales of Halo 2, but a massively collaborative scavenger hunt seems an excellent way to cut through the noise of online advertising and increase traffic to the websites and stores of participating businesses.
:: posted by Brian Hamman, 8:56 PM Comments (0)
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A Million Wind Turbines to Support an Hydrogen Economy?
In recent years, many people wrote that as oil reserves are diminishing, we should use hydrogen to power our cars. Before going further, it is important to remember that hydrogen is not itself a source of energy, but a carrier of the energy produced by fuel cells. And if we want a greener world, all this hydrogen needs to be produced by renewable sources of energy.

In "Hydrogen economy looks out of reach," an article which invites controversy, Nature mentions the paper of two UK authors, a professor of economy and an energy consultant. They say that to convert all cars and trucks in the UK to use hydrogen would require 100,000 wind turbines or 100 nuclear stations. And these numbers would have to be multiplied by 10 for the U.S.: one million wind turbines or 1,000 nuclear plants.

By looking at their calculations, I have the feeling that the authors forgot that technology evolves at a rapid pace. Wind turbines will be more powerful and more efficient twenty years from now. This should significantly reduce the above numbers. Also, the two authors didn't take a look at other alternative energies.

So, even if an hydrogen economy is not for tomorrow, it will not be necessary to spoil our landscapes with huge wind farms. This analysis looks at the authors' calculations.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:51 PM Comments (0)
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Sunday, October 17, 2004

First Unmanned Spacecraft Rendezvous in Space
NASA plans to organize a demonstration of unmanned spacecraft rendezvous in space on October 26, 2004. The technology behind the demonstration is called DART, which stands for Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology. The DART vehicle will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

DART was successfully tested on Earth, but now, we'll have to see if it also works in space. While in orbit, the DART spacecraft will make its rendezvous with its satellite target, the Multiple Paths, Beyond-Line-of-Site Communications experimental satellite (MUBLCOM). Both the DART spacecraft and the MUBLCOM satellite will be guided by video cameras.

What is even more interesting is that the mission will not involve any human intervention. It will totally be under control of computers programmed to perform functions such as guidance. This overview includes selected excerpts, pictures and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:32 PM Comments (0)
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Mongolia's Monks: One Fish Equals 999 Souls
Scientists and American sport fishermen are working to save the giant Siberian salmon, the taimen, which can reach two meters in length and weigh up to 100 kilograms. Its existence is threatened by poaching and habitat destruction. The Wall Street Journal (via this link) says the group has persuaded Mongolian Buddhist monks to help them to preach preservation by using their moral authority to persuade the locals to stop poaching and to start to protect their wildlife.

They showed the monks that they were not killing the taimen. Instead, they are practicing catch-and-release fishing. And to gain monks' support, they promised to restore a monastery destroyed 70 years ago. Will the plan work? I don't know. But at least it's a very unusual combination of people decided to save a river and its wildlife. This overview contains some selected excerpts and includes pictures.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:29 PM Comments (0)
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Friday, October 15, 2004

Media Center Webcast About Participatory Media and Politics
The Media Center has posted the archive of their recent webcast concerning the role of participatory media on the 2004 U.S. elections. The conversation ranges from discussion about problems of credibility and readership of online news to the impact that weblogs will have on the election, but ultimately asks: "Will society be better with the broad range of views available online, or is it all just noise?"

The archived webcast is free and worth a listen. It features, among others, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, and Stephen Bromberg, executive editor of FoxNews.com. While you're at it, you can also check out We Media a report by the Media Center on the role of audience in a digital news world.
:: posted by Brian Hamman, 7:57 PM Comments (0)
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Ray Kurzweil about IT -- and our Future
In this interview with CIO Magazine, Ray Kurzweil says that one day, software and computers will reside inside us. He adds that by 2020, "we will be placing millions or billions of nanobots -- blood cell-size devices -- inside our bloodstream to travel into our brains and interact with our neurons."

He also says that if we're not enhanced by machines, they will surpass us. But he doesn't think it will happen. According to him, machines and humans will merge. In the mean time, he's pursuing his anti-aging quest and takes about 250 supplements to his diet every day! With this regime, he says his biological age is 40 while he's 56 years old. By 2030, there will be very little difference between 30-year-old and 120-year-old people, says Kurzweil.

He's certainly a bright person, but I'm not sure that I agree with someone taking daily such an amount of pills. What do you think? This summary contains some selected -- and biased -- excerpts to help you forge your opinion.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 4:19 PM Comments (0)
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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Phoning Home from the Bottom of the Ocean
The National Science Foundation in the U.S. recently awarded $130 million to tackle information technology research (ITR) for national priorities. One of these awards went to the University of Washington and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to design the cyberinfrastructure required to use and automate undersea sensor networks.

With this $3.9 million award, "oceanographers will soon be able to sit in their labs ashore and communicate with instruments in the water at ocean observatories around the world," says the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

The University of Washington adds "that infrastructure will be a prototype for the use and automation of undersea sensor networks -- both delivery of data from sensors and the control of sensors and networks from land -- and will assist in designing sensor networks for conducting research in other remote and hostile environments." This summary contains other details and illustrations.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:50 PM Comments (0)
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Google Googles Your Desktop
Google has just made available for download Google Desktop Search (beta), which promises to let you "search your personal items as easily as you search the Internet using Google". It's only for Windows XP or Windows 2000 SP 3+ at the moment, however, so I haven't had a chance to try it out yet. Feel free to post your own impressions in the comments area.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 3:04 PM Comments (0)
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Gibson Blogs Again
Cyberpunk progenitor William Gibson has started blogging again after a year-long hiatus.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 3:01 PM Comments (0)
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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

50 'Nanosats' for Sputnik's 50th Anniversary
Europe will launch 50 ultra-small satellites in 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of the Earth launched in October 1957. BBC News Online writes that each nanosatellite will weigh only about 1 kilogram and represent a single nation. Arianespace will launch all 50 of the nanosats in a single payload.

The nanosats will stay in orbit for about 2 years and will perform experiments chosen and designed by each individual country. For the first time in history, 50 different countries will have the opportunity to do space research, and probably at little cost.

In the future, similar clusters of nanosats could be launched for collaborative missions, acting as groups and having a single goal. Imagine today a swarm of a thousand of nanosatellites checking Mount St. Helens! Read more for selected excerpts and pointers to this future but historic mission.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:45 PM Comments (0)
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The New 'Spirit' at NASA
No, it's not another Mars rover. SPIRIT is an acronym standing for "Space Infrared Interferometric Telescope." In fact, it will consist of two telescopes moving back and forth on a 40-meter long beam, acting like cars on a space railway, according to this news release from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The images of the two telescopes will be combined by a fixed instrument located at the center of the beam. If everything goes well, the angular resolution of SPIRIT will be of only 1 second of arc, allowing for far more accurate exploration of distant stars and galaxies than ever before.

However, the project still needs to be approved. If it is, in early 2005, SPIRIT will be launched around 2014. Read either the full news release to be reminded -- once again -- that "looking farther into space is equivalent to seeing back in time" and why, or just look at this summary for selected excerpts and images.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:41 PM Comments (0)
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Monday, October 11, 2004

Biomimetic Robots: A Photo Gallery
Once again, technology is imitating nature with a new class of biologically inspired robots called "Biomimetic Robots." In this very long article, IEEE Computer Magazine looks at several projects currently underway. All these projects will have practical applications a few years from now.

They include robotic lobsters for underwater mine research or flying insect-based robots for future spatial missions. Other projects are about cricket-inspired robots to be used in rescue missions or scorpion-like robots to be deployed in hostile environments for humans. and of course, there are the now famous and robust "sprawling" robots based on cockroaches.

For more information, read the whole very well documented article. Or read this summary for a photo gallery and direct links to all the projects.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:01 AM Comments (0)
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Click 2 Touch: 'Feeling' Clothes Online Before Buying
Only 3% of online shoppers for CDs or books return them to the senders. By contrast, about 40% of the people who purchase clothes on the Net return them, mainly because they're not satisfied with the fabrics. Why this disparity? Because you can't 'feel' the fabrics on line. This led to the creation of a software and a small U.K. company carrying the same name, Click 2 Touch. This software will become commercially available next year for retailers. But you can see demos on the site. With it, you'll be able to use interactive virtual reality animations to look at various fabrics and their respective qualities, such as smoothness or elasticity.

For more information, you can read two short articles from e4engineering.com or BBC News Online. Or you can check this summary which includes a screenshot of the software.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:59 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, October 08, 2004

A Watch Smarter Than You
Computer scientists from the University of Washington (UW) have built a working prototype of a 'smart watch' that warns you if you forget your wallet or your keys when leaving home.

The system is based on RFID tags attached to your car keys or your cell phone while RFID readers are installed in your home or your office. When an object is pinged by a reader, the information is transmitted to a personal server that you carry in your pockets. If the server 'thinks' that you're missing an important object, it tells the watch to alert you. Now the team wants to add a wireless location system to the personal server to improve its decision-making process. It seems useful, but what happens if you forget the server?

This summary contains more details and references, plus a picture of a user walking through a doorway with several tagged objects and carrying the 'smart watch' system.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:02 PM Comments (0)
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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Browsing Reality with Sensor Networks
Welcome to the world of 'Reality Mining'! The billions of networked sensors that exist today are generating humongous streams of data. What about 'data mining' this big flow of data and discover our environment in a way that never existed before? Suddenly, sensors would look like pixels and we would start to browse reality as easily as we browse web pages today. Fascinating concept!

Some fellows at Accenture Technology Labs are thinking about this and they already have designed some demos of reality mining software. Their demos include web agents, data modeling, GIS systems and much more. They also show how you could detect fires or how you would do virtual shopping.

Please read their long article or this shorter summary for a couple of examples.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:32 PM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

'Smart' Clothing Imitate Pine Cones
When pine cones fall from the trees, their scales open, allowing the seeds to be released. This is because these scales are made of two layers of fibers acting in different directions. Stealing this idea from nature, a team of U.K. researchers has designed a new material to make 'smart' clothing which adapts itself to changing temperatures.

Like the scales of pine codes, this 'smart' material has two layers. The top one has small spikes, which open or close to let the outside air flow to cool you or to protect you. And as the second layer is waterproof, you should always feel comfortable wearing these clothes imitating nature. Prototypes will be shown next year at EXPO 2005, in Aichi, Japan. And you should be able to buy this kind of 'smart' clothes in a few years from now. Read more for other details and references about this project.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:14 PM Comments (0)
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Monday, October 04, 2004

Another Earthquake Prediction Tool?
I've always been skeptical about earthquake predictions, but this new Israeli study, which focuses on friction movement, says it could improve these predictions. The researchers looked at the waves (or fronts) of detachment between two surfaces. And they found that even if the two traditional fronts, which propagate at sonic and supersonic velocities, are present at the time of rupture, a recently discovered much slower wave is the dominant force leading to the rupture.

These slow waves are not felt before or during an earthquake, but can be measured and used to prevent future ones. However, this implies that their method of microscale measurements in the lab can successfully be adapted at the macroscale of earth subsurface. So even if this study is interesting, I doubt it will be used for accurate earthquake prediction before a long time.

Read more to see the experimental device they used and post a comment if you think this method has a real potential to predict future earthquakes.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:06 PM Comments (0)
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SpaceShipOne Wins X Prize
CNN just reported that Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne has won the $10 million Ansari X Prize. They also broke the altitude record set by the X-15 in the 60s.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 12:12 PM Comments (0)
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Sunday, October 03, 2004

Smart Cars Tell You About Road Signs
There are many systems designed to help car drivers and to improve safety. In this article, New Scientist focuses on a system developed by the National ICT Australia lab (NICTA). This new driver assistance system uses three cameras, one to look at road signs ahead and two to check what the driver is looking at. The images are transmitted to a computer which decodes the road signs and the driver's reactions to them.

If you're driving above speed limits, you will be alerted. Same thing if you're about to pass a stop sign without reducing speed. You still can choose to ignore the warnings, but if you're caught speeding, you'll have to tell the police officer why you refused to slow down. This system is currently being tested and appears to perform well especially in poor lighting conditions.

Read more for other references about similar helping systems and to see how the road signs are analyzed.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 2:40 PM Comments (0)
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Virtual Tourists Are Helping the Swiss to Plan their Landscape
Farmers in Switzerland receive money from their government for letting their cows eat young trees in the Alps. But why? Because this is improving the mountain views for tourists who might return year after year and spend their cash in the country. As the Swiss government wants to wisely spend its money, it is using a computer model of the mountains populated by virtual tourists -- or software agents -- which tirelessly take the same roads again and again and give their appreciation about the best spots.

The Economist reports about these virtual tourists in this very cleverly-titled article, "Computer browsers." What will be the next logical step? Pay more the farmers with the strongest potential to improve the views for real tourists? Wrong. Instead, real hikers will be invited to explore the virtual Alps to give their feedback. Their observations will be then integrated into the software managing the virtual travelers. Read more for pictures and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:10 AM Comments (0)
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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Nanomechanical Memory Outstrips Chip Technology
This sounds almost too good to be true -- at least for some time. Physicists from Boston University have fabricated nanomechanical switches which promise fantastic advances in data storage. Their nanodevices will have densities exceeding by orders of magnitude existing storage devices.

They will deliver data at speeds in the megahertz (and possibly gigahertz) range, also exceeding by far the few hundred kilohertz of our current hard drives. And finally, they will only use some femtowatts of power each, leading to hard drives consuming maybe a million times less electricity than existing devices.

So, where's the catch? Will we ever see hard drives built with these nanomechanical switches? Honestly, I don't know, but read more for other details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:38 AM Comments (0)
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