home |
About |
Contact Us |
Editorial Info |




Tech News Digest

Compiled By IEEE-USA Staff

The following is a roundup of technology-related news and notable developments with a focus on electrical engineering, computing and information technology and allied fields reported during April 2012. Items are excerpted from news releases generated by universities, government agencies and other research institutions. Highlighted topics include:

  1. Solution Seen to Critical Fusion Barrier

  2. Invention Helps Advance Reliability of Alternative Energy

  3. Report Finds Major Potential to Increase Hydroelectric Power at Existing Dams

  4. New Tool Facilitates Access To DOE-Funded Technology Patents

  5. Efficiency Controls Could Significantly Reduce Commercial Heating/Cooling Costs

  6. Faster, Cheaper Way Found to Cool Electronic Devices

  7. Programming Computers to Help Computer Programmers

  8. Quantum Computer Built Inside a Diamond

  9. Computing the Best High-Resolution 3-D Tissue Images

  10. New X-ray Technique Reveals Structure of Printable Electronics

  11. DARPA Announces Robotics Challenge With $2M Prize

  12. New Sensor Sought to Enable Military Missions in GPS-denied Areas

  13. DARPA Seeks Integration of Diverse Microsystems Components on Silicon Chips

  14. JILA Superradiant Laser Is 'A New Way of Lasing'

  15. NIST Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Changes to Digital Signature Standard

1) Solution Seen to Critical Fusion Barrier

Physicists have discovered a possible solution to a mystery that has long baffled researchers working to harness fusion. If confirmed by experiment, the finding could help scientists eliminate a major impediment to the development of fusion as a clean and abundant source of energy for producing electric power.  An in-depth analysis by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) zeroed in on tiny, bubble-like islands that appear in the hot, charged gases—or plasmas—during experiments. These minute islands collect impurities that cool the plasma. And it is these islands, the scientists report in the April 20 issue of Physical Review Letters, that are at the root of a long-standing problem known as the “density limit” that can prevent fusion reactors from operating at maximum efficiency.

For more information, see: http://www.pppl.gov/polPressReleases.cfm?doc_id=1242

2) Invention Helps Advance Reliability of Alternative Energy

A University of Minnesota invention could help make storage of solar and wind energy more efficient and economical. The invention was licensed to SustainX, a leading global developer of grid-scale energy storage solutions that use patented isothermal compressed air methods to store large amounts of energy cleanly and economically.

SustainX is developing isothermal (or near-constant temperature) compressed air energy storage (CAES) systems that provide bulk energy storage capacity while reducing carbon emissions and increasing the reliability of the electric grid. The conventional method of compressed air energy storage depends on the use of underground caverns, which greatly limits their available locations and practical use. The SustainX solution uses pipe-type air storage, which makes it possible to store energy virtually anywhere.

For more information, see: http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2012/UR_CONTENT_381728.html

3) Report Finds Major Potential to Increase Hydroelectric Power at Existing Dams

On 17 April, the Energy Department released a renewable energy resource assessment detailing the potential to develop electric power generation at existing dams across the United States that aren’t currently equipped to produce power. The report estimates that without building a single new dam, these available hydropower resources, if fully developed, could provide an electrical generating capacity of more than 12 gigawatts (GW), equivalent to roughly 15 percent of current U.S. hydropower capacity.

For more information, see: http://energy.gov/articles/energy-department-report-finds-major-potential-increase-clean-hydroelectric-power

4) New Tool Facilitates Access To DOE-Funded Technology Patents

The Department of Energy has released a new Visual Patent Finder tool through its Energy Innovation Portal, which allows users to easily browse the over 16,000 issued U.S. patents and published U.S. patent applications for Energy Department-funded technologies.  The tiered categories were created using the IN-SPIRE™ software developed by the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory which identifies word occurrence patterns across all patent records, and creates "clusters" of results -- and these “clusters” create technology areas. The result is a unique, visual means to easily search the DOE’s patent archive.  In addition to patents, users can also check out more than 600 marketing summaries that are available on the Portal, which explain the market opportunities, benefits, and possible applications of each technology

For more information, see: http://energy.gov/articles/easy-way-find-patents-innovative-technologies

5) Efficiency Controls Could Significantly Reduce Commercial Heating/Cooling Costs

U.S. commercial building owners could save an average of 38 percent on their heating and cooling bills if they installed a handful of energy efficiency controls that make their heating, ventilation and air conditioning, also known as HVAC, systems more energy efficient, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  The estimated savings were based on computer modeling and simulation of building energy usage. The controls that could provide these savings are not widely available commercially, but the report's authors hope their analysis will encourage manufacturers to expand their production.

For more information, see: http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=919

6) Faster, Cheaper Way Found to Cool Electronic Devices

A North Carolina State University researcher has developed a more efficient, less expensive way of cooling electronic devices – particularly devices that generate a lot of heat, such as lasers and power devices.  The technique uses a "heat spreader" made of a copper-graphene composite, which is attached to the electronic device using an indium-graphene interface film "Both the copper-graphene and indium-graphene have higher thermal conductivity, allowing the device to cool efficiently," says Dr. Jag Kasichainula, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and author of a paper on the research.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/ncsu-rff040912.php

7) Programming Computers to Help Computer Programmers

Computer scientists from Rice University and eight other institutions are teaming up to address one of the greatest ironies of the information age: While computers have automated the manufacture of thousands of products, the software that allows them to do this is still written by hand. Armed with a $10 million federal grant, the researchers hope to create intelligent software agents that can help human programmers after first observing and learning from them.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/ru-pct040312.php

8) Quantum Computer Built Inside a Diamond

A team that includes scientists from USC has built a quantum computer in a diamond, the first of its kind to include protection against "decoherence" – noise that prevents the computer from functioning properly.  The demonstration shows the viability of solid-state quantum computers, which – unlike earlier gas- and liquid-state systems – may represent the future of quantum computing because they can be easily scaled up in size. Current quantum computers are typically very small and – though impressive – cannot yet compete with the speed of larger, traditional computers.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/uosc-qcb040412.php

9) Computing the Best High-Resolution 3-D Tissue Images

Real-time, 3-D microscopic tissue imaging could be a revolution for medical fields such as cancer diagnosis, minimally invasive surgery and ophthalmology. University of Illinois researchers have developed a technique to computationally correct for aberrations in optical tomography, bringing the future of medical imaging into focus. The computational technique could provide faster, less expensive and higher-resolution tissue imaging to a broader population of users.

For more information, see: http://www.news.illinois.edu/news/12/0423optics_StephenBoppart.html

10) New X-ray Technique Reveals Structure of Printable Electronics

An innovative X-ray technique has given North Carolina State University researchers and their collaborators new insight into how organic polymers can be used in printable electronics such as transistors and solar cells. Their discoveries may lead to cheaper, more efficient printable electronic devices.  Printable electronics are created by spraying or printing inks containing conductive organic molecules onto a surface. The process is fast and much less expensive than current production techniques for items like solar cells or computer and television displays. Additionally, it holds potential for amazing new applications: picture a wearable interactive display that needs no batteries. In the solar industry, the ability to print solar cells on giant roll-to-roll printing presses – like printing a newspaper – could make the technology much more affordable and mass marketable.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/ncsu-nxt041312.php

11) DARPA Announces Robotics Challenge With $2M Prize

DARPA plans to offer a $2 million prize to whomever can help push the state-of-the-art in robotics beyond today’s capabilities in support of the DoD’s disaster recovery mission. The DARPA’s Robotics Challenge will launch in October 2012.  Teams are sought to compete in challenges involving staged disaster-response scenarios in which robots will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks corresponding to anticipated, real-world disaster-response requirements.  The DARPA Robotics Challenge consists of both robotics hardware and software development tasks.

For more information, see: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/04/10.aspx

12) New Sensor Sought to Enable Military Missions in GPS-denied Areas

Many U.S. Military systems, such as missiles, rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) to provide accurate position, orientation and time information while in flight. When GPS is inaccessible, whether as a result of a malfunction or as a consequence of enemy action, information critical for navigation must be gathered using the missile's on-board sensors.

DARPA’s Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator (C-SCAN) effort seeks an atomic inertial sensor to measure orientation in GPS-denied environments. Such a sensor would integrate small size, low power consumption, high resolution of motion detection and a fast start up time into a single package.  According to Andrei Shkel, DARPA program manager. “When GPS is not available gyroscopes provide orientation, accelerometers provide position and oscillators provide timing. The new C-SCAN effort focuses on replacing bulky gyroscopes with a new inertial measurement unit (IMU) that is smaller, less expensive due to foundry fabrication and yields better performance.”

For more information, see: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/04/16.aspx

13) DARPA Seeks Integration of Diverse Microsystems Components on Silicon Chips

DARPA’s Diverse Accessible Heterogeneous Integration (DAHI) program is launching the DAHI Foundry Technology effort to advance novel methods for combining a variety of devices and materials onto a single silicon chip. According to Thomas Lee, office director, DARPA Microsystems Technology Office, “Enabling the ability to ‘mix and match’ a wide variety of devices and materials on a common silicon substrate would allow circuit designers to select the best device for each function within their designs. This integration would provide DoD systems with the benefits of a variety of devices and materials integrated in close proximity on a single chip, minimizing the performance limitations caused by physical separation among devices.”

For more information, see: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/03/29a.aspx

14) JILA Superradiant Laser Is 'A New Way of Lasing'

Physicists at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) have demonstrated a novel "superradiant" laser that works on a subtly different principle than ordinary lasers. In principle, the new JILA laser could be 100 to 1,000 times more stable than the best conventional visible lasers. This superior stability could boost the performance of the most advanced atomic clocks and related technologies such as communications and navigation systems.  The new JILA laser is based on a powerful radio technique called phased arrays.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/pml/div689/laser-041712.cfm

15) NIST Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Changes to Digital Signature Standard

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced proposed changes to a standard that specifies how to implement digital signatures, which can be used to ensure the integrity of electronic documents, such as wills and contracts, as well as the identity of the signer. 

These proposed changes to the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 186-3, known as the Digital Signature Standard, were posted for public comment on April 10, 2012.  The proposed revisions provide clarification on how to implement the digital signature algorithms approved in the standard: the Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA), the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) and the Rivest-Shamir-Adelman algorithm (RSA). Included in the proposed revision is allowing the use of additional, approved random number generators, which are used to generate the cryptographic keys used for the generation and verification of digital signatures. The comment period on the proposal is open until May 25, 2012. Both FIPS 186-3 and a separate four-page document outlining the proposed changes are available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html. Electronic comments may be sent to: fips_186-3_change_notice@nist.gov, with ''186-3 Change Notice'' in the subject line.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/itl/csd/dss-041712.cfm


Comments on this story may be emailed directly to Today's Engineer or submitted through our online form.


Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.


Copyright © 2012 IEEE

 search archive


reader feedback
  search by date
also in this issue
Career Focus: Circuits & Systems
Cogent Communicator: How to Listen
Backscatter: Toys for Techies
Lessons of the Internet Age: The International Telecommunications Union and the Internet Society
NCEES Model Law Revisions Impact Professional Licensure Education and Experience Requirements
Free IEEE-USA E-Books for Members in December 2014 and January 2015
Your Engineering Heritage: Which Stimulates Innovation More, War or Peace?
World Bytes: American Ingenuity Awards
Tech News Digest: December 2014