Tuesday, October 04, 2005

IEEE Spectrum Technology Tidbits from October 2005 issue

Exoskeletons, AKA Power Armor :)

Well, not quite, yet, but it's underway, and the Military is funding a lot of the research. Increasing functionality and reduces costs of robotics, which includes:
- Faster processors to allow more complex control algorithms
- Smaller, more powerful and robust electric motors.
- more advanced sensors to obtain motion and muscle reflex information from the human body.

is bringing this once science-fiction based idea closer to reality.

By "Power Armor" or exo-skeleton, it means:
- The system augments the users muscle commands.

Hence, for any control system to work, there needs to be a sensors that can pick up these muscle commands. Researchers in Japan have developed a "bio-cybernic" system that monitors electrical currents known as electormyogram, or EMG, signals in the wearer's muscles. By interpreting these signals, the motors in the robotic exo-skeleton joints can be given proportional commands to augment the human's muscle response. If the user has nerve problems, adaptive learning algorithms that store the user's walking pattern via motion sensors can also be utilized. Another alternate sensor system for exo-skeletons under development uses sophisticated force sensors at certain points, like underneath the feet or at the joints.

One such exo-skeleton let's a user pick up 84 kg without feeling barely a thing!

That's the interesting thing about control systems, especially robotics : a lot of the issues with them are closely tied to people's limitations and desires.

The first commercial application of this technology is the HAL-5, which will help elderly and disabled people walk, pictured below.

Replacing Copper Interconnects with Fibre-Optics
"Siliconizing" fibre-optics means that all the copper interconnects in microchips could be replaced with higher bandwith photonics. In fact, one of the current main limiting factors in chip design (especially high speed chips such as microprocessors) is the copper interconnects themselves.

However, the fibre-optic technology of today does not use silicon (CMOS) based technology that would make it suitable to manufacture as integrated circuits, but rather uses semiconductors such as gallium arsenide. To fully "integrate" fibre-optics onto a chip, you need to be able to make the following subcomponents with silicon using standard CMOS processes:

- an inexpensive light source.
- devices that route, split and direct light onto the silicon chip
- a modulator to encode or modulate data into the optical signal.
- a photodetector to concert the optical signal back into electrical bits.
-Low cost, high volume assembly methods
- Supporting electronics for intelligence and photonics control.

It seems, however, that much of this research into this technology is underway by Intel. Although relatively little research has went into this technoloogy over the past 20 years, it is ramping up. Metaphorically speaking, I believe Intel sees the brick wall ahead of it, speeding towards it, and must find a way to veer around it. ;)

Space Elevator

This one has been getting much attention. I sure hope it gets built. A relatively simple idea that just might work.

Pyramid Shaped Solar Collectors
Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute are using optical methods to focus light onto more efficient photovoltaic materials. I believe much research needs to be done in this area. Solar power could be utilized much more than it is now if the efficiency of the light to electrical power conversion could be significantly improved.

Transmitting Power with Fibre-Optics

Typically, fibre-optics have been used mainly to transmit information. However, there are numerous aerospace and military applications that would benefit from ridding of the fear of short circuits and sparks inherent in electrical power systems. For example, the prime suspect of a 1996 passenger plane crash is a spark in the central fuel tank.

Similar to the use of fibre-optics in chip interconnects, little significance has yet been placed on this. However, JDS uniphase has made a photovoltaic cell with a conversion efficiency of 50%. Typically, light to electrical transducers used in standard solar power systems are only about 15-20% efficient. This increased efficiency is possible because the lasers providing the power can operate at more efficient frequencies for this process, whereas solar power arrays must work with the frequency of radiation the sun provides.

7000-Ton Particle Accelerator with 8, 100 Ton 25 meter long superconducting magnets

Man, this European organization known as CERN loves thier proton accelerators. Pictured is one of their older models, which is humungous. The one I'm talking about was just recently built. The cost of those magnets for accelerating the protons themselves must have been like in the billions. Heck, even Dan Brown's "Angels and Demon's", a precursor to the Da Vinci Code, included CERN in it's fictional conspiracies.


At 4:12 p.m., Blogger Melanie Alamo said...

Does Shorter = Better?
I have converted Jason Salas into the a fan for the short blog post crowd . Where do the rest of you stand? Would you rather have fewer posts with more depth or frequent short posts with high value information? ...
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At 5:49 p.m., Blogger James said...

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Voice your opinion by buying some crap that I'm peddling.

At 1:58 p.m., Blogger Medieval said...

You show them spammers, James! :)


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