Thursday, November 10, 2011

MEDELEC 2011 - Embedded systems for medical devices

MEDELEC is the only technical event in the UK which focuses specifically on the increasingly important role that electronics components and embedded systems is playing in the design, development and manufacture of medical devices. 

MEDELEC 2011 will take place in Cambridge on the 29th November and expects to attract engineers from across Europe. The organisers have also announced Med-Tech Innovation as main media sponsor for MEDELEC 2011. Med-Tech Innovation is a brand new online and print media platform for the UK and Irish medical device research, design and manufacturing community, and is the only dedicated media of its type.

The MEDELEC one-day conference and exhibition will be of value to electronics engineers and technical managers working in the clinical and healthcare sectors. This event will be an opportunity for them to learn about the very latest advances in medical electronics through the technical seminar programme and workshops. They will also be able to view demonstrations of innovative software and hardware technologies, and network with peers.

The MEDELEC organisers have arranged for the conference programme to be set by an independent judging panel of experts to address the needs of medical device manufacturers, covering topics such as diagnostics, patient monitoring, miniaturisation, and remote monitoring to optimise patient care. This includes technologies used in operating theatres, hospitals, clinics, doctor's surgeries, and home devices.
More information and registration at

Friday, November 4, 2011

Climbing Robot Tank Can Corner Like a Gecko

This is not the first sticky-treaded robotank, but as far as I know, it's the first one that can manage to go around corners and make that tricky transition from horizontal to vertical. The somewhat unfortunately named "Tailless Timing Belt Climbing Platform" (or TBCP-11) comes from Simon Frasier University way up there in Canada. It weighs 240 grams, and has no problems climbing up whiteboards, glass, and other slick surfaces.
The sticking power of those treads comes from the same handy little Van der Waals forces that geckos use to effortlessly stick to, well, everything. Instead of tiny hairs, though, TBCP-11 uses tiny mushrooms, which provide a substantial amount of conformable surface area for the robot to use to adhere to walls.

Maximizing compliant surface area has been an issue for gecko-type (aka dry-adhesion) climbing robots for a long time; the material itself is spectacular, but the tough part is getting enough of the material to make contact with your climbing surface. For example, check out the picture of Stickybot III's toes in this article, and notice how little of the adhesive the robot is relying on to stick. This is one of the advantages of the TBCP-11: the continuous loops of adhesive material provide a lot of adhesion power.

While this robot does have some autonomous capability, it's still tethered for power, since batteries are heavy. It's going to take a little extra work to increase the strength of the adhesive so that the TBCP-11 can bring its power source onboard, and the SFU researchers are also trying to figure out how to get the thing to turn without the treads coming loose and causing the TBCP-11 to plummet to its doom.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

OSRAM Developers Reach New Milestone in LED Technology

OSRAM developers have achieved a milestone in LED technology by producing a 124,000 candelas rating for an LED flashlight with 7.5 degrees as the coverage angle. So, by combining a warm white colour temperature and an excellent colour rendering, LED spotlights can now achieve a power range that has been achieved till now only by high-intensity discharge lamps. 

 This type of spotlight is of special interest for shop illumination and architecture, where they can be used for novel applications. This breakthrough achieved by OSRAM has changed the focus of the lighting market towards semiconductor-based technologies.

Breakthrough for the researchers at OSRAM: for the first time ever an LED spot has achieved a rating of 124,000 candelas in a coverage angle of 7.5 degrees. Credit: OSRAM

Thus far, high-intensity discharge lamps have been predominant, however, the new OSRAM LED spotlight, when joined with a standard commercial reflector in continuous operation, can attain a rating of 124,000 candelas with a 7.5 º coverage angle. Nevertheless power consumption is only 60 W. When compared, a reflector with coverage angle of 9 ° and one spotlight with a standard 70 W high-intensity discharge lamp can achieve a rating of roughly 82,000 candelas. The phosphors and the connection technology were modified for maximum results to achieve these high ratings.
OSRAM Opto Semiconductors’ new generation of chip technology, the UX3, enables the functioning of the LEDs at a higher current. Here, the power supply does not flow through the chip surface, but it is combined within the chip itself. Therefore, the light is beam is focused uniformly and reaches the illuminated object more uniformly compared to other methods.
The new LED module exceeds the minimum rating of 3,000 Lux for flashlight illumination and it reaches a rating of 124,000 Lux from a distance of 1 m and 5,000 Lux from a distance of 5 m. Therefore, constructions and exhibits can be lighted from a greater distance without disturbing the visual effect.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ultrafast Semiconductor Lasers for High-Speed Optical Data Transmission

Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) researchers have conceptualized an ultrafast semiconductor laser to enable high-speed data transmission over the Internet. They have utilized the spin of electrons and their intrinsic angular momentum for overcoming the existing limits to modulation speed. 


 The global information society and the networked world require semiconductor laser-based optical data transmission. The highest speed achievable by semiconductor lasers has limited the speed of optical data transmission. The desire for transmitting higher volume of data and expanding networks have been the motivation for the development of faster transmission systems.

Current modulation frequencies of conventional semiconductor lasers are lower than 50 GHz. RUB researchers have used spin lasers for overcoming the modulation speed limits. In spin lasers, electrons whose spin state has already been determined are injected, but in conventional lasers the electrons’ spin is arbitrary.

The injection of the spin-polarized electrons forces the laser to work with different frequencies in two laser modes. Dr. Nils Gerhardt stated that the birefringence in the resonator can be used to tune the differences in the frequencies. This could be done by bending the microlaser. Coupling of the two laser modes within the microresonator leads to an oscillation with a frequency of over 100 GHz, theoretically.

The study has been conducted at the collaborative research centre 491 at the Universities of Bochum and Duisburg-Essen. The research has been published in the Applied Physics Letters journal from the American Institute of Physics.


Practical Quantum Computers Creep Closer to Reality

Physicists find quantum versions of both feedback control and classical computer architecture



16 September 2011—The long-promised arrival of practical quantum computers—machines that exploit the laws of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems much faster than conventional computers do—seems a step closer, thanks to two recent advances by physicists.

In the first development, reported in the 2 September issue of Nature by a group led by Serge Haroche of the École Normale Supérieure and the Collège de France in Paris, the researchers created a real-time feedback mechanism for a quantum computer. Control mechanisms, such as feedback loops, are central to the operation of large conventional computers.

In the second advance, reported the same week in Science by a group led by Matteo Mariantoni and John Martinis of the University of California, Santa Barbara, scientists created a quantum central processing unit (CPU) with memory. The rudimentary device is the first quantum computer based on the common von Neumann processor-memory architecture that conventional computers use.

Dick Slusher, director of the Quantum Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, and other experts unanimously praised the work of both groups. However, Slusher says that ”for quantum computing to be fault tolerant—a condition required to scale up to true applications like factoring useful coding keys—the error levels must be much lower than achieved so far.”

Quantum computing is an emerging field that has witnessed considerable advances in recent years, including progress toward silicon devices. However, it has proved difficult to create a practical quantum computer that would rival the processing abilities of a conventional machine. Part of the difficulty lies in the fragility of quantum states, which break down (or ”decohere,” in the parlance of quantum mechanics) rather quickly. So far, only rudimentary quantum computers with a handful of ”qubits” (quantum bits) have been built. (In May, D-Wave Systems sold Lockheed Martin a special type of computer that relies on a ”quantum annealing” processor, but many quantum computing experts remain skeptical that it is a true quantum computer.)

As they seek to create larger quantum systems, scientists have tried to incorporate some of the same systems-engineering concepts that are used in conventional computers, but the equivalent quantum systems have proved elusive—until now. ”These machines are very fragile,” says Haroche. ”The coupling to their environment causes decoherence, which destroys the quantum features required to achieve their tasks. Correcting the effects of decoherence is thus a very important aspect of quantum information. One possibility is to control the quantum machine by quantum feedback.”

Yet therein lies a challenge: In the quantum world, the mere act of observing photons or atoms perturbs their motion and changes their positions and velocities—and therefore the value the qubit holds. So for quantum feedback to work, one must be able to observe the system by performing ”weak measurements,” perturbing it only minimally, and the computer must take the perturbation into account before applying the correction.

Haroche and his colleagues use a small collection of atoms as a kind of quantum sensor to overcome this challenge. They pass atoms through a microwave cavity that contains the qubits as photons. The atoms obtain a detectable signal—a shift in their phase. This technique provides information about the state of the photons, but it does so by performing only a weak measurement and does not lead to a total collapse of the light’s quantum nature. Measuring changes in the final state of atoms that sequentially pass through the light field provides a signal that can be used to control the light.

”The work is a very impressive demonstration experiment showing that the many techniques developed in the systems engineering community can be translated to the quantum regime—if one is clever enough,” says Michael Biercuk, a quantum physicist at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

The challenge of translating a classical system, in this case the common von Neumann processor-memory architecture, into a quantum system also motivated the second team of researchers. To build a quantum CPU and RAM, the UC Santa Barbara group used two superconducting Josephson junctions—two pieces of superconducting metal separated by a thin insulating layer—as qubits. They connected the qubits using a bus made of a superconducting microwave resonator. Each qubit also had a separate resonator that acted as RAM. With the help of microwave pulses, the qubits could influence one another’s state in a way that performed calculations, and the results could be stored in the quantum RAM. They tested their CPU by allowing it to solve a few quantum algorithms, including the equivalent of the Fourier transform. The demonstration could quickly lead to a larger-scale quantum processor based on superconducting circuits, according to the UC Santa Barbara team.

The most complex algorithms performed so far have used a quantum computing system based on trapped ions, but Biercuk says the superconducting system is quickly catching up, and that’s ”extremely exciting.”

While no one expects a quantum computer to rival a conventional computer in the very near future, experts were pleased with these recent developments.

Raymond Laflamme, executive director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, said both experiments had ”very strong results,” and that they ”demonstrate an increasing amount of control of quantum processors.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Ford Focus PART III

BLind-spot Information System (BLIS)
One small but very useful part of the Driver Assistance Pack is the blind-spot information system (BLIS). Its job is to make sure that you don't change lane in front of another vehicle when driving down the motorway.

Using BLIS, the car detects when another vehicle is directly in the driver’s blind spot and lights up a yellow LED on the corresponding wing mirror. The LED stays lit for a short time after the other vehicle emerges out of your blind spot. We tested the system on the motorway, but it will also work when overtaking on any road. The yellow light is unobtrusive but still very noticeable when driving, making it perfect as a gentle reminder to check over your shoulder before you make a manoeuvre. 

Convenience Pack

While the Driver Assistance Pack is designed to make the car safer, the Convenience Pack (standard on the Titanium X and part of the £525 Convenience Pack on the Titanium model) is designed to make the car simpler to park and also comes with power-fold wing mirrors.
Auto Park Assist
The key feature of the Convenience Pack is Auto Park Assist, which lets the car automatically parallel park for you. The video below was filmed in 3D. To watch it on a 3D TV or monitor, click on the 3D button and select side-by-side. If you don’t have a 3D screen, you can still watch in 3D, but you'll need a pair of red and blue glasses. Click on the 3D button below the video and select the Red/Cyan option. Make sure the colours are round the right way using the options. If you prefer to watch in 2D, click on 'no glasses' then change the mode to 'left only'.

When the driver presses the parking button, sensors around the car start scanning the distance between parked cars. When a suitable space is found, a message appears on the screen in the centre console telling you to stop. With the accelerator and brake controlled by the driver, the car steers itself into the space, prompting when to change between reverse and first gear. Another message flashes up when parking is finished, which should help a lot of people get into spaces that they might otherwise avoid because of having to parallel park. Of course, driving out again is entirely up to the driver.

It worked flawlessly in our tests, but the downside of the system is that it needs a relatively large space to work - larger than a space that you could manually squeeze the car into yourself. This could mean that you could spend more time looking around for a suitable space than if you just parked the car yourself.

Rear Park Assist is included in the Convenience Pack, and helps you manually park the car, either parallel or straight into a space. Sensors in the front and rear bumpers detect how close the car is to objects such as cars, lampposts and bollards, and this information is relayed to the driver with ever-quickening beeps and a dashboard display showing where and how close the objects are. We liked the extra information on-screen, which is far better than the traditional audio-only warning. The system didn't pick up low kerbs, but for reverse-parking into a crowded car park we can certainly see the advantages of having it on board.
If you don't want to pay for Active Park Assist, you can get Rear Park Assist as part of the City Pack (£275 on the Titanium and £525 on the Edge and Zetec models).