Tag Archives: communications

Biomimetics for universal radio

snailishResearchers at MIT have developed a software radio chip based on the operations of the cochlea (the seashell bit of the human ear):

The RF cochlea, embedded on a silicon chip measuring 1.5 mm by 3 mm, works as an analog spectrum analyzer, detecting the composition of any electromagnetic waves within its perception range. Electromagnetic waves travel through electronic inductors and capacitors (analogous to the biological cochlea’s fluid and membrane). Electronic transistors play the role of the cochlea’s hair cells.

Software radios are all kinds of awesome, and it’s interesting how biomimetics is being used in more and more contexts – no need to reinvent the wheel.

[via Technovelgy][image from POSITiv on flickr]

Quantum superposition breakthrough

theory_actualA rich seam of technological and science-fictional ideas seem ready to be mined with the development of the first light trap that can simultaneously store different numbers of photons:

“These superposition states are a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics, but this is the first time they have been controllably created with light,” Cleland said. Martinis added, “This experiment can be thought of as a quantum digital-to-analog converter.” As digital-to-analog converters are key components in classical communication devices (for example, producing the sound waveforms in cell phones), this experiment might enable more advanced communication protocols for the transmission of quantum information.

The research is funded by IARPA. Intelligence services are understandably keen to learn more about the potential for quantum computers to break conventionally encrypted communications.

[image and story from Physorg]

Internet to be an "unreliable toy" by 2012?

800px-Network_switches That’s the prediction of Nemertes Research, which will be publishing a report later this year warning that the Web has reached a critical point that could lead first to computers being disrupted and going offline for several minutes in a time, and eventually regular brownouts that will slow and even freeze their computers. (Times Online via KurzweilAI.net.)

The primary culprit is burgeoning demand for high-bandwidth video: the report notes that the amount of traffic generated each month by YouTube is now equivalent to the amount of traffic generated across the entire Internet in all of 2000, and new video applications such as BBC iPlayer, which allows viewers to watch high-def TV on their computers. (And I guess by providing links to those sites I’m contributing to the problem!)

Monthly traffic across the Internet is currently running at about eight exabytes (an exabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes), and a recent study at the University of Minnesota estimates its growing by at least 60 percent a year–and that study didn’t take into account growing demand in China and India.

Engineers are struggling to stay ahead of demand, and find other ways to deal with impending deadlock (such as the LHC Computing Grid, a parallel network designed to handle the massive amounts of data the Large Hadron Collider will produce), but it may be impossible.

In other words, we may be living in the Golden Age of the Internet. But if it all crumbles around us, at least we’ll have something to tell the grandchildren.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)


‘Hidden’ photons might be able to communicate instantly through anything

The older I get, the more I tend to consider science in general (and physics in particular) to be something like an erratic genius uncle who turns up to family gatherings every once in a while and tells me something that completely screws with my head.

Today’s example: ‘hidden’ photons, which are… well, they’re like normal photons, but they don’t really interact much with ‘conventional’ matter. Which means they might be able to go right through things that normal photons can’t penetrate, and, er… look, I’ll leave the explaining to the professionals:

Hidden photons are a class of particles predicted by so-called supersymmetric extensions to the standard model of particle physics. Unlike normal photons, hidden photons could have a tiny mass and would be invisible because they would not interact with the charged particles in conventional matter. This means hidden photons would flit through even the densest materials unaffected.

The only place to spot them is in a vacuum, where they should sometimes “oscillate” into normal photons. There are already experiments searching for this effect: the idea is to shine a laser at a wall in a vacuum and see if any of the photons make it through to the other side by transforming into their hidden counterparts and back again. According to Ringwald’s group, if these experiments succeed it should be possible to scale up the apparatus so that the hidden photons become signal carriers and the “wall” becomes any stretch of ground or water.

Pretty cool, huh? Don’t get too excited, though; a hidden photon-based communication system would probably not be much more use than a telegraph link:

… Malcolm Fairbairn, a physicist at King’s College London, points out that over the 12,700-kilometre diameter of the Earth, the signal capacity would be just 1 bit per second: “At that speed it would take about a year to download an mp3 file, so I’m not sure who would use it.”

Dang. Still, I’ve got a five-spot bill here that says hidden photons will crop up in a Greg Bear novel within the next half decade…

US government refuses support for Teh tubes… in 1908

From the possible future of the past: a report into the possibility of US government-support for the widespread adoption of pneumatic tubes for the delivery of mail, reported here in The New York Times in 1908:

That it is not feasible and desirable at the present time for the Government to purchase, to install, or to operate pneumatic tubes,” is one of the most important conclusions reached by a commission appointed by the Postmaster General to inquire into the feasibility and desirability of of the purchase and operation by the Government of pneumatic tubes in the cities where the service is now installed.

This reminds me of the story of the atmospheric railway as told in Paul Collins’ excellent book Banvard’s Folly in which he tells “thirteen tales of renowned obscurity, famous anonimity, and rotten luck.”

[via Slashdot][image from Jef Poskanzer on flickr]