LEDs bring high-efficiency lighting to Kansas City streets

Late last month, we wrote about the potential safety implications of a new LED lighting system being planned by NASA that would make it easier for astronauts in space to sleep, reducing the possibility of life-threatening sleep deprivation. Closer to home, urban planners are also leveraging LED technology to promote safety on city streets.

KCTV-5 News in Kansas City reports that the city has installed 5,000 new street lights that rely on cost-efficient light-emitting diodes in an effort to curb municipal expenses and improve outdoor lighting. LED street lights can last up to three times longer and consume between 40 to 60 percent less energy than their traditional counterparts, the report says. Best of all, bright white lights replace the murky orange hue most pedestrians would expect to see while walking down a dark city street, promoting safer avenues for the city’s residents.

And for local residents who find the lights too bright, an easy fix is available.

“We’ve put up over 5,000 lights and have only had about 15 complaints, and we’ve been able to take care of 13 out of 15 just by readjusting the lights or putting a shield on them,” Roger Kroh, lead project manager, told the news source.

Of course, the energy-efficient nature of LED lighting is possible largely because of state-of-the-art thermal management technologies that mitigate risks such as overheating. Much of the electricity produced by LEDs results in heat rather than light, so it is critical that a heat sink or other type of thermal management technology is applied to lower the unit’s temperature.

When properly managed and deployed, LEDs produce more light,reduce the burden on energy producers and require less maintenance. Whether you’re in space or have both feet firmly planted on the ground, those are significant benefits.

CES 2013 features new, more powerful processors and other technologies

Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), companies unveil the latest and greatest products and technologies they hope will catch on like wildfire in the consumer and business markets.

With such a dramatic shift toward mobile computing in the last few years, manufacturers are looking to usher in game-changing innovations that average individuals and business professionals alike will flock to stores to purchase.

But, with every improvement made to the processing power of tablet computers, smartphones, laptops and other devices, they must be matched by thermal management technologies that prevent overheating and allow them to handle the tasks they were designed for.

At this year's CES, currently taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, chipmaker Nvidia officially announced its Tegra 4 mobile processor. This latest offering boasts 72 GPU cores and six times the graphics processing power of its predecessor, the Tegra 3. Additionally, combined with a new quad-core ARM Cortex-A15, users will see a 2.6x boost to Web browsing speeds and mobile application performance.

"Tegra 4 provides enormous processing power and efficiency to power smartphones and tablets, gaming devices, auto systems and PCs," Phil Carmack, senior vice president of the Tegra business at Nvidia, said in a release. "Its new capabilities, particularly in the area of computational photography, will help improve a whole range of existing products and lead to the creation of exciting new ones."

Nvidia has just provided one of the many electronics innovations that will be featured throughout CES 2013. And with each of these new designs, there will come a renewed focus on thermal management of electronics so that companies can design tablets and smartphones equipped to take full advantage of such breakthroughs.

Manufacturers are trying to pack in as much power as possible inside lighter, thinner, more portable products. That means more powerful processors in more confined spaces. As a result, leading ways of joining dissimilar metals and thermal management technologies must be strategically used in concert with one another.

NASA to build LED lighting system to help astronauts sleep

Insomnia and sleep deprivation on Earth can be annoying, but in space it can be life-threatening. That's why NASA has launched a plan to replace the fluorescent lights on the U.S. section of the International Space Station (ISS) with solid-state lighting modules.

These new systems will be made up of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that can transition between red, white and blue hues. While those colors happen to match the American flag, the idea behind this move is less patriotic and more about helping astronauts get adequate sleep while on extended missions in space.

"The effects of insomnia, such as irritation and depression, not to mention the tendency to make mistakes, are extremely dangerous in the space station, due to its closed and pressurized quarters," reads an article for Ubergizmo.

A NASA study conducted in 2001 showed that roughly 50 percent of astronauts had to take sleeping pills while in space. But, these new LEDs will help them get some much-needed shuteye by mimicking the different times of day we experience here on Earth. Blue, for example, is supposed to promote energy and represent daytime, while red signals the transition from day to evening and helps them fall asleep.

According to NASA officials, the new lighting system will be tested in 2016 and will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.2 million to install on the ISS. LEDs require state of the art thermal management technologies in order to run properly without overheating. Getting a replacement while in space is obviously more complicated than it would be on Earth, so these systems must be meticulously designed.

If executed properly, American astronauts will be better equipped to deal with the rigors of long-term space deployments.

Supercomputing sheds light on the future of multiple industries

Earlier this month, the world's leading minds in the field of supercomputing gathered to share ideas at SC '12, the annual supercomputing conference. Collaboration in this industry has the potential to revolutionize countless others in the next few decades, from regenerative medicine to clean energy.

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), supercomputing will spur creativity and breakthroughs around the world, leading to a myriad of technological and quality of life improvements.

"As supercomputing reaches new levels of advancement, it will play an increasingly critical role in driving innovation and impacting the well-being of society over the next 20 years," the IEEE said in a statement "For example, supercomputing is at the heart of intensive research that will allow for near perfect weather forecasts. With such a development, weather damage, such as destruction inflicted by devastating hurricanes and other natural disasters, could be significantly minimized."

The IEEE suggests that supercomputing will also lead to breakthroughs in alternative energy technologies that produce no harmful waste, as well as smartphones 20 times faster than today's leading mobile devices.

However, in order for all these possibilities to become realities, we must continue to develop new techniques for the thermal management of electronics. And as consumer products evolve, cutting-edge methods of joining dissimilar metals will be pivotal in manufacturing processes.

The internet practically revolutionized every industry on the planet and created a large number of new ones. Innovation in a single field can bring about a ripple effect where countless others are impacted. When such creativity is combined with the latest in industrial science knowledge, the entire world changes.

World’s oldest working digital computer on display at English museum

In this day and age, six months could be the difference between what is considered state-of-the-art and that which has faded into obsolescence. Thus is the nature of the modern electronic lifecycle.

There is little nostalgia for a five-year-old laptop that has been surpassed by countless newer models. However, a 61-year-old computer the size of one's living room has proven to be awe-inspiring, even though it's processing power pales in comparison to anything consumers can buy online today.

The Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell, or WITCH, has undergone a three-year restoration process at The National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, England. It is now the world's oldest operational digital computer, according to the museum.

WITCH was designed to automate calculations that, up until that point, had been done by individuals using mechanical calculators. It wasn't even meant to handle more complex computations faster than humans could. It was simply built to do them at the same pace but for days on end without error.

"In 1951 the Harwell Dekatron was one of perhaps a dozen computers in the world, and since then it has led a charmed life surviving intact while its contemporaries were recycled or destroyed," Kevin Murrell, trustee of the museum said in a statement. "As the world's oldest original working digital computer, it provides a wonderful contrast to our Rebuild of the wartime Colossus, the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer."

More than six decades of advancements in manufacturing sensors and developing innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals have led to smartphones that fit in the palm of the hand and boast more power than the WITCH ever could. Thermal management technologies allow us to have computers and tablets today handling tasks that the WITCH would have caught on fire for even attempting.

But, it is nonetheless a piece of modern computing history and is certainly awe-inspiring to behold.

DARPA incorporates smartphone technology in warfighter heads-up-display

What are the most desirable features of smartphones and other consumer mobile electronics? Let's run through the checklist. Lightweight. Long battery life. Low cost. High functionality. Ease of use.

These are the criteria used by millions of people to determine consumer purchases. They also happen to be the top priorities of a new government program meant to improve the tools and intelligence information available to U.S. warfighters.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Pentagon, is developing technology that would incorporate Android smartphones strapped to an individual's forearm, head-mounted cameras, state-of-the-art sensors and a heads-up-display (HUD) to to improve battlefield readiness.

According to an agency release, the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization program, or PIXNET, will allow small combat units to detect and identify threats, and communicate that information with other team members and commanding officers at forward operating bases. Current technologies deployed in the field are of little benefit to anyone other than the individual user because they are not networked with similar equipment used by others in the field.

"Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability," said Nibir Dhar, program manager for PIXNET, in a statement. "What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science. Success will be measured as the minimization of size, weight, power and cost of the system and the maximization of functionality."

In first-person shooter video games, players have the benefit of HUDs that help them identify enemy threats, nearby teammates and other resources. In real life, men and women serving in the American military don't have the same advantage … yet.

But, with the innovative thermal management technologies and methods of joining dissimilar metals that allow smartphones to be made smaller, lighter and more powerful every day, that could soon change.

Building satellites with cell phone technologies

Satellites and space telescopes made from spare cell phone parts? The wonders of technology.

According to a recent Popular Mechanics article, Louisville, Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corporation is building a "new breed of spacecraft." So, what makes them so special? Rather than constructing them with custom-made, extremely expensive components, they are being assembled with more affordable and easier-to-procure parts commonly used in consumer electronic products.

As the article points out, drastically reducing the manufacturing cost will hold significant appeal for communications companies that are used to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on satellites, only to lose them in risky launches that cannot guarantee success. It also means that manufacturers can build more satellites at a faster pace than ever before.

Planetary Resources is a company building the first commercial space telescopes. Chris Lewicki, its chief engineer, told the news source about the benefits of using components that are already part of the latest and greatest mobile devices.

"It just so happens that everything that the computer-makers are innovating for a smaller cell phone that does more in a smaller spot, and the batteries last longer – those are exactly the same problems that you always have in space . . . It’s wonderful to be on the back side of all that innovation in the consumer world and be able to pick the best pieces and send them off to space."

By using commercially available sensors and thermal management technologies, the impact of satellites on a myriad of industries could be staggering. Billions of dollars can be saved while at the same time opening up a whole new source of revenue for companies developing the latest manufacturing techniques and methods of joining dissimilar metals.

It sounds far-fetched to think that the technology that makes your iOS, Android and Windows devices so popular could soon find a new home on satellites in space. But science fact always starts out as science fiction. It just takes someone with the drive and innovative spirit to make the necessary leap.

48-core chips could power mobile devices in five to 10 years, says Intel

Currently, smartphone and tablet computers run on processors that have up to four cores, or brains. As powerful as today's top-of-the-line mobile electronic devices are, what do you think you could do with one operating on a 48-core chip?

That is what Intel is working on at the moment – developing a chip more powerful than what we are even using on desktop computers – and hopes to put it in the hands of consumers in the next five to 10 years, according to Computerworld.

As Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, told the news source, having that many cores could spread out the tasks each one handles at any given time, drastically improving overall computing power. Individual applications could run on their own dedicated cores, making multitasking significantly easier.

"I think the desire to move to more natural interfaces to make the interaction much more human-like is really going to drive the computational requirements," Rattner said. "Having large numbers of cores to generate very high performance levels is the most energy efficient way to deliver those performance levels."

As these and other technologies related to mobile electronics continue to forge onward, manufacturing processes must provide the foundation for their success. Innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals and the thermal management of electronics is essential for equipment power to increase while overall size scales downward.

Considering the leaps made in the last decade, it's not unreasonable to think Intel will be able to make a 48-core processor in the next 10 years. If successful, the world of computing could soon resemble that of what we see in science fiction films.

Hybrid drives make devices smaller but pack bigger punch

Consumers and industry analysts alike anticipated Apple's press event Tuesday morning with bated breath. The iPad Mini was the highlight of the day for many, as it had been a source of constant rumors and speculation for months. But, there were several other new product iterations announced as well.

One of the more impressive revamps came in the form of a new iMac desktop computer. Practically as thin as a tablet, this elicited an audible reaction from the crowd attending the event. Among the new features of the updated iMac is what Apple calls a "Fusion Drive."

Each computer in the series will have a solid state drive (SSD) starting at 128GB and a standard mechanical hard disk in either a 1TB or 3TB configuration. Both drives will show up as one volume on the computer, however the SSD will hold the operating system and preloaded software, while the traditional hard drive will be home to documents and other large media files. This allows for greater operational efficiency, reduced boot times and a substantial amount of local storage space.

Now, while impressive, the idea here is not new. As a PC World article from earlier this week explains, other companies like Seagate and Samsung introduced various hybrid drives as much as two years ago. But, the technology is improving, thanks to a combination of techniques used in the thermal management of electronics and joining methods for metal.

These innovative manufacturing processes enable companies like Apple, Google and Samsung to build thinner, lightweight products that pack a bigger punch in a smaller physical space than their predecessors. For example, cutting-edge ways of bonding aluminum have become a priority over the last several years as aluminum becomes more popular in the design of various electronic devices.

Whenever a new electronic device hits store shelves and wows consumers, it's manufacturing ingenuity that made it possible.

DOD partners with Boston’s Allied Minds to fund technology breakthroughs

According to a recent VentureBeat article, the U.S. Department of Defense spends $100 billion annually to fund the research of more than 50,000 scientists across 100 facilities – and soon, fruits of that labor will find its way into consumer markets.

The DOD has partnered with alternative investment company Allied Minds. The Boston-based organization will license technologies developed for and used in military applications and create startup companies with the goal of integrating these innovations into consumer products. That includes projects related to cyber security, data analytics and other networking hardware.

But, the applications stretch far beyond that. Advanced materials, energy and power storage are also major focuses of the partnership and the subsequent startup companies that will emerge in the coming years. In fact, an estimated 20 businesses will be formed in the first year, with a goal to start 100 new ones each year after that – all based off technology licensed from the DOD.

As the VentureBeat article points out, these innovations have already been used in military applications. This eliminates a common problem facing new organizations: wondering whether or not a technology actually works. Now the challenge lies in developing ways to combine them with affordable products that will serve consumer and business needs.

A unique partnership like this presents a wealth of opportunities for energy, consumer electronics and other industries. Combined with the right thermal management technologies and methods of joining dissimilar metals, the results could be truly revolutionary.

"Federal research labs have long been a rich source of invention and innovation and we believe that their intellectual output represents an underutilized national asset," Allied Minds CEO Chris Silva said in a release. "Through our unique collaboration, [we] will facilitate the successful transfer of new technologies to the commercial marketplace, keeping the U.S. at the forefront of technological innovation and creating new opportunities to build businesses and jobs."

DOD research led to the internet, GPS and countless other groundbreaking innovations. Now, with this partnership, who knows what will be next.