Friday, November 20, 2015

SUNY Poly Utica Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C)

Yesterday before a meeting at SUNY Poly Utica I had the chance to go on a tour of the almost completed Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C) building located on campus. Here's a few specs on the facility:

  • 253,000 sq. ft. including 56,000 sq. ft. of Class 100 and Class 1000 capable cleanroom space.
  • Will host phase one public-private partnerships highlighted by a consortium spearheaded by SUNY Poly CNSE that includes leading technology companies such as Advanced Nanotechnology Solutions Incorporated (ANS), SEMATECH, Atotech and CNSE partners, including IBM, Lam Research and Tokyo Electron. 
  • Annual operating budget to exceed $500 million
  • Projected to result in the creation of 1,500 high-tech jobs, groundbreaking academic programs, and cutting-edge workforce training opportunities.
  • The cleanrooms are stacked - not something you see much of outside of highly populated places like Singapore.
Here's a few pics I took on the tour.

Shot of the new building between Library and Admin Buildings

Flexible space - could be used for cubicles, walled offices, etc or configured as cleanroom extension

Above each cleanroom air handlers, sprinkler system etc. These systems can be maintained, upgraded etc with contaminating cleanroom

One of the huge cleanrooms and yes those little specs are people doing a final cleaning

Workers adding the CNSE sign to the building

Those 1,500 new jobs will have an average annual salary of $91,000, and an estimated annual payroll of more than $136 million once full-scale production is achieved. I am a strong believer in public-private partnerships and the SUNY Poly CNSE effort is one of the most successful I've had the opportunity to see.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Automobile Collision Avoidance: Ultrasonic Sensors

It's been a while and I wanted to expand a little bit on my June intelligent car post and discuss collision avoidance technology in a little more detail. All collision avoidance technologies use sensors that collect information that is processed by onboard computers in the car. Let's talk about ultrasonic parking sensors today.

Ultrasonic parking sensors are typically mounted in the bumpers and used for parking systems. Effective distance for a transducers depends on the circuit and signal sequencing that is being used so the sensitivity varies across different devices. Parking sensors are designed for relatively short parking distances of 0-5 feet. 

You may have noticed them on car bumpers and wondered what they were. Here's a close-up picture of one on an Audi A4 (pic source: They are about the size of a nickel.

Distance is commonly indicated by a sequence of beeps and the closer the obstacle is to the sensor the faster the sequence of beeps until a continuous tone is emitted indicating that your bumper about one foot (or less) away from the obstacle. Here's a short 58 second demonstration video demonstrating BMW's Park Distance Control (PDC).

Ultrasonic means above the audio frequency range and these sensors typically operate somewhere between 40 kHz and 70 kHz. In future posts I'll describe camera, radar, and lidar systems.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An Experience With An Intelligent Car

Yesterday I attended an excellent advisory board meeting for a National Science Foundation funded eBook project called E-MATE at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. Mike and Kelly are doing some really cutting edge ground-breaking work in the development of electronic instructional materials and it was an excellent meeting. I need to do some writing here about the work they are doing. Today though – I want to write about cars.

Diane was away and I had the chance to drive her car (a 2014 Volvo XC70) back and forth to the meeting. We leased this car in December 2013 and she’s the primary driver.  Yesterday was my first opportunity to take this car solo (solo is the key word here) on a road trip of almost 500 miles. The car is loaded with just about every option including the technology package and I’ve been chomping at the bit to really give the technologies a test, especially after seeing one of the autonomous Google self-driving cars in downtown Mountain View a few weeks ago.

Volvo does not offer a self-driving package (yet) but my experience - it is pretty darn close to self-driving with the technology package that adds adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam control, frontal collision warning, automatic braking for frontal collision crash mitigation, a driver inattention monitor, blind-spot warning system, active xenon headlights, and lane-departure warning to an already incredibly safe and comfortable car.

Now - driving from Massachusetts to New Jersey on a weekday is always an experience – New York City cannot be avoided unless you want to add hours to the trip and that means bumper-to-bumper traffic, crazy drivers and lots of intense time behind the wheel.

I was so impressed with the car – stop and go for at least a couple of hours and no need to hit the brakes or the accelerator. It took some time to get used to – I had to “trust” the car but once I did – amazing! An alarm that goes off if the car starts to drift outside the lane (unless a directional has been used). Sensors that monitor and determine whether the driver is becoming tired and inattentive. Cameras that watch for speed limit signs and indicate when the speed limit has changed. A blind spot warning system that indicates a car is coming up from behind on either side. Sensors that monitor oncoming traffic and control high beams.

Does the car drive itself – no – not yet but it is pretty close. Did I push the technology? I don't think so. I let the car do what it is designed to do. What did I do? I pretty much steered and adjusted the cruise control up and down. I did not have to use the accelerator or brakes unless I wanted to on the highway, whether I was going 70 mph or in a stop and go traffic jam.

As an FYI Volvo in 2017 will start testing 100 "production-viable" autonomous self-driving cars in Sweden with real drivers like you and me. These test cars have 28 cameras, lasers, sensors, and radar units along with integrated computers and communications systems that make up the self-driving system.  How soon will we have the chance to purchase a self-driving car? Right now it is looking like 2020.

With my new position at the Center for Optics and Photonics Education and my past position at the Information and Communications Technologies Center, cars (and a lot of other devices) are really hitting a sweet tech spot for me. Infrared lasers, optical sensors, integrated GPS, radar and cameras collecting large amounts of data, onboard computers processing the data, communicating back to the car and driver and making intelligent "pretty-big-data" decisions. Super cool stuff and I’ll be writing over the summer about some of these individual technologies and how they work.

Now for me – it is back to my older Toyota product with none of the car sensor and intelligent technologies (it does have a back-up camera and Bluetooth). I have to remember when I’m driving my car all of the “intelligence” is up to the driver. Ohhhh Noooo :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

MS-DOS Mobile - Finally

Wayyyyyyy back in the early 1980's when the PC first came out I cut my teeth on a new operating system - MS-DOS. Sure there was something called CPM that ran on the PC earlier but (at least to me) it lacked in comfort, entertainment value and something else I could never really put my finger on. I do recall that when it came down to serious fun - CPM was a real downer.

Now MS-DOS on the other hand was an entertainment jackpot. So much fun right from the start. I recall so many late nights in the salad years of my mid-twenties writing code, smiling and laughing so hard I would often end up crying. The smell of the floppy disks (I'm not sure what the heck Microsoft put in them), the whirl of the drives.... it was all so very good.

Well. over the years things soured with Microsoft. Windows 3.1, 3.11 were really cool. Windows 95 - come on now that was just the best. XP was pretty good too. But then something happened. Maybe it was my age creeping up. It started for me with Vista - the laughing had stopped and it became just frustration and crying for me. Not good.

I longed for those salad days and found solace with Apple. The Mac OS's were so simple and comfortable and I found myself smiling and laughing again - sometimes so hard I would end up... yes... crying. It felt so good to be back. That Apple experience extended to other devices - phones, tablets, and in a few weeks there will be a watch.

Well - I never thought I would ever consider going back to Microsoft. That may have changed today though with the announcement of MS-DOS Mobile.

This has the potential to take me back to those salad days.... even better. Imagine MS-DOS always with me in my pocket, next to me in the car, on my nightstand. Comforting, entertaining. It sounds so nice. I'm thinking maybe I'll give it..... one more try :)

Friday, March 27, 2015

LED Light Bulbs That Repel Bugs

Most of us are familiar with those ultraviolet bug zappers. They're not as popular as they once were but I do still see (and hear) them around on hot summer nights here in New England. 

They operate on a basic principal - bugs (mosquitos, etc) are attracted to light in the ultraviolet and visible blue/green wavelengths. Once the bugs get inside they get electrocuted by making contact with high voltage wires surrounding the light source. Most of us have probably questioned the effectiveness, wondering if more bugs are being attracted than zapped.

A group of researchers at the University of Southern California Dornsife led by Professor Travis Longcore came up with the great idea of flipping things around. In a paper published by The Royal Society last week titled Tuning the white light spectrum of light emitting diode lamps to reduce attraction of nocturnal arthropods Longore and his group describe how to make LED bulbs that significantly reduce the amount of blue/green light and effectively repel insects. 

By mixing the right wavelengths, light can be made to still look white to humans while minimizing those attracting blue/green wavelengths, Longcore's group found that by doing this, approximately 20 percent fewer insects were attracted. Pretty cool stuff.

Longcore's group is doing additional testing and Longore is hoping they can further target specific wavelengths to repel even more of those pesky (and sometimes disease carrying) bugs away.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pushing Optics Closer to the CPU

There's something very important I forgot to tell you! Don't cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
—Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) on crossing proton streams, Ghostbusters

Well.... as we learned later in the movie, crossing streams is not always a bad thing.... As part of my work with the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC: I've been spending a lot of time learning new technical content while still staying current in the computing and communications field. I've been reading (and tweeting) recently about pushing optics closer and closer to the processor in computing systems. Here's more.

Last week, IBM announced the integration of a silicon photonic chip on the same package as a CPU. Why is this important? A couple of reasons -  if on-chip and chip-to-chip communications can use silicon as an optical medium, processing will be significantly faster, consume much less power and produce much less heat than the copper wires used today.

Extreme Tech published a nice diagram (below and based on the IBM announcement) last week showing the current state of silicon photonics technology. Notice the optical connection is currently at the board edge. With this IBM breakthrough, designers will begin to start moving the silicon photonics array closer and closer to the CPU, eventually building the optics into the CPU package itself.

The technology will initially be limited to the world of supercomputing but it will only be a matter of time before we see it trickle down to consumer level devices like PC's, tablets and smartphones. 

I love it when streams converge.