New Tech – November 2014 Part I

microscopic cryltalI ran across so many cool new technologies recently that I will have to stretch talking about them over two blogs this month.

Twisted Lasers. Physicists at the University of Vienna have been able to transmit a twisted laser signal through the air. This is a fairly common practice in fiber optic cables where multiple beams of lights are sent through the fiber simultaneously and which twist around each other as they bounce off the walls of the fiber.

But this is the first time that this has been accomplished through the air. The specific technology involved is called orbital angular momentum (OAM) and refers to the ability to bend light. In this case the scientists were able to make light transmit in a corkscrew pattern and they were able to intermingle two different colored beams through the air for over two miles. The technology is important because it would result in the ability to pump more data through a single microwave path. It also increases security by having multiple light paths to untangle.

Terabit Fiber. A team of scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and the University of Central Florida have developed a technology that vastly increases the bandwidth on fiber. Today the fastest commercially available fibers can transmit at 100 Gbps, but this team has demonstrated a fiber that transmits 2,550 faster than that, or 2.55 Terabits per second.

They accomplished this by combining several different existing technologies. First, they used multi-mode fiber. Normal long-haul fibers are single-mode fiber, meaning that each fiber can only support a signal from one laser source. But they used a multi-mode fiber that contained seven separate ‘cores’ or available laser paths. For now, this kind of multi-mode fiber is expensive, but the cost would drop through mass production.

The team of scientists also used several data transmission techniques to boost the speed even faster. They leveraged a technique called spatial multiplexing (SM) where data signals from multiple sources are transmitted in parallel and which can boost the speed up to 5.1 terabits per path. This is somewhat akin to time division multiplexing used for T1s that open a slot for each data bit so that everything can be packed tightly together. The team also used wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) which separates and transmits different data streams using different wavelengths of light. Together these techniques allowed them to create 50 separate paths through the fiber. This kind of breakthrough is probably a decade or more away from commercial deployment, but it lets us foresee fiber paths that can handle vast amounts of data when that is really needed such as in undersea fiber routes and inside supercomputers.

Frozen Light. Another team of researchers from Princeton report that they have been able to freeze light into a crystal. They have been able to stop light and gather it into a crystalline form. This is the first time that anybody has ever been able to stop photons.

This was accomplished by building a structure made of superconducting materials which acted like an artificial atom. They placed the artificial atom close to a superconducting wire containing photons. By the rules of quantum mechanics, the photons on the wire inherited some of the properties of the nearby atom and they began interacting with each other, a bit like particles. So far this has only been done to create very tiny crystals. But the hope is that the technology might be used to create larger crystals which would lead to a whole new category of exotic materials that will have weird properties. And who knows what that might lead to?

Personal RFID. One a more down to earth note, Robert Nelson decided to implant an NFC RFID chip into his hand. After it healed he programmed it to unlock his cell phone. All he has to do is hold the phone near his hand and it unlocks. He is investigating adding more chips and is working towards implementing activities like opening the garage door with a wave of the hand or unlocking and starting his car. He sees this technology as the ultimate in personal security since only your own chip would be able to control your devices.

Smartphone Spectrometer. Finally, I saw a device that creates a spectrometer for your cellphone. A company called Public Lab has introduced a product called the Homebrew Oil Testing kit, and the first use for this device is to find if your drinking water has any contaminants from fracking. It consists of a refractor that connects over the camera lens on a cellphone. The device uses a Blu-ray laser to shed light on the water sample you want to test. Shining the light into your water sample creates a spectrometer image which is captured by your phone.

Of course, unless you are a chemist you don’t know how to read spectrometer images, but there is an on-line database that can be quickly used to identify any contaminants in your water. Over time the device can be used to test a far wider range of pollutants and other substances, but for now the manufacturers seem to be concentrating on the fear that many people have about fracking.

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