New Tech – July 2015

light beamsAs I do periodically, I’ve compiled a roundup of some of the coolest new technology that might be affecting our industry in the near future.

Light-Based Computers: Researchers at Stanford University have finally found an efficient way to transmit data between computer chips using light. This might finally enable light-based computers.

Light-based computing has two advantages over electricity-based computing. First, light transmissions are faster, meaning that data can be moved more quickly where it’s needed and will vastly increase the capacity of a chip. The other big advantage is that it will be greener and will not generate much heat. Today about 80% of the power poured into a chip is converted to heat, which is why you need a fan for your home computer and why data centers need huge amounts of power to keep them cool.

The breakthrough was done by taking advantage of the tiny imperfections found in any chip. They have developed an algorithm that will work with each unique chip to design the exact place where light gateways should be placed. This is a very different concept than today where chips are all uniform and the goal is to make each chip exactly the same. The architecture of the chip then uses many extremely thin layers of silicon, perhaps 20 layers in the width of a hair, and the creation of light gateways that work in 3-dimensions.

Faster Fiber: Scientists at the Qualcomm Institute in San Diego have been able to increase the power of optical signals in long-haul fiber by a factor of 20. They were able to send a signal 7,400 miles through fiber without amplification.

Long-haul fibers today use a whole range of different light spectrums in order to carry more data. However, as you cram in additional light paths you also increase interference between light paths which we call crosstalk. This eventually distorts the signal and requires the signal to be regenerated and re-amplified. The Qualcomm scientists have found a technique they call ‘combing’ that conditions the light stream before it is sent to greatly reduce the crosstalk.

This breakthrough means that existing fiber signals can be sent a lot farther without regeneration in applications like undersea fibers. But in normal fiber applications this technique means that about twice as much data can be crammed into the same light path – effectively doubling the capacity of fiber.

Biodegradable Chips: Engineers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have developed a chip made almost entirely out of wood cellulose. The advantage of this technology is that we can create chips for many uses that will be disposable or recyclable with other trash. We have a huge worldwide waste problem with current electronics that should not be put into landfills due to containing heavy metals and other unhealthy compounds.

While these chips probably won’t be used for high-density computing like in data centers, this could become a standard way to make chips for the many things we use that are eventually disposable. One can certainly envision this as the basis of many chips for the Internet of Things.

A Replacement for GPS: DARPA is working on a replacement for GPS. GPS was developed by DARPA just a few decades ago, but there are already a lot of places where GPS doesn’t work, such as underground. Since GPS is satellite-based, DARPA is also worried about it being jammed in combat situations.

The new location system will be based upon self-calibrating gyroscopes that will always ‘know’ where they are at. This would create a location technology that is not satellite-based and not subject to outside interference. It also would work better than current GPS in three dimensions, meaning that it would more accurately be able to measure changes in altitude.

While the technology doesn’t need an external reference to calibrate itself or know its locations, they are also building in what they call ASPN (All Source Positioning and Navigation). This means a device would be able to pick up radio, television signals, or other spectrum to double-check their position so as to be able to confirm their location and recalibrate as needed.

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