Tag Archives: hardware

Self-assembling silicon circuits

Photolithography is running up against its limitations, as logic circuits become so small that the wavelength of light itself is too large to mask the patterns accurately. MIT boffins reckon they have a solution, though: self-assembling semiconductor circuits [via NextBigFuture].

Berggren and Ross’ approach is to use electron-beam lithography sparingly, to create patterns of tiny posts on a silicon chip. They then deposit specially designed polymers — molecules in which smaller, repeating molecular units are linked into long chains — on the chip. The polymers spontaneously hitch up to the posts and arrange themselves into useful patterns.

The trick is that the polymers are “copolymers,” meaning they’re made of two different types of polymer. Berggren compares a copolymer molecule to the characters played by Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in the movie Midnight Run, a bounty hunter and a white-collar criminal who are handcuffed together but can’t stand each other. Ross prefers a homelier analogy: “You can think of it like a piece of spaghetti joined to a piece of tagliatelle,” she says. “These two chains don’t like to mix. So given the choice, all the spaghetti ends would go here, and all the tagliatelle ends would go there, but they can’t, because they’re joined together.” In their attempts to segregate themselves, the different types of polymer chain arrange themselves into predictable patterns.

Clever stuff, though still very much in the developmental stages. Maybe another new lease of life for Moore’s Law?

Lo-fi wi-fi network springing up from junk in Jalalabad

Jalalabad FabLab wi-fi reflectorOffered here as an extension of the arguments made by the Prospect Magazine piece I linked to the other week about the lessons to be learned from the last-minute low-cost solutions of slum residents and other disadvantaged social groups, Free Range International hosts a report from an MIT team working in Jalalabad, Afghanistan that describes how an injection of knowledge and expertise can accelerate local progress far more effectively than an injection of externally-managed aid money:

… the irony of the graphic above is particularly acute when one considers that an 18-month World Bank funded infrastructure project to bring internet connectivity to Afghanistan began more than SEVEN YEARS ago and only made its first international link this June. That project, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, is still far from being complete while FabLabbers are building useful infrastructure for pennies on the dollar out of their garbage.

People are smart, adaptable; show them where they need to go, and they’ll find a way. What’s that old saw about giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day?

The post goes on to highlight the patient and painstaking work of showing the Afghanis that they need to work together to overcome their differences; a carrot and stick operation it may well be, but I’m guessing it’ll do more good than training up and arming local militias, and then expecting them not to fall back into old habits once your back is turned. All depends on whether you want to give these people their freedom or to take control of it yourself, I guess.

Sub-orbital launch budget: 50k Euros

Via Jason Stoddard (and originally found at the Something Awful forums – have that, top-down media channels!), here are some Danish dudes doing something that, on paper, seems somewhere between naively hubristic and charmingly Quixotic: they’re trying to build a sub-orbital rocket vehicle for under €50,000. A vehicle that can carry a human passenger, that is. YA RLY.

This is a non-profit suborbital space endeavor, based entirely on sponsors and volunteers. Our mission is to launch a human being into space.

We are working fulltime to develop a series of suborbital space vehicles – designed to pave the way for manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft.

Two rocket vehicles are under development. A small unmanned sounding rocket, named Hybrid Atmospheric Test Vehicle or HATV and a larger booster rocket named Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter or HEAT, designed to carry a micro spacecraft into a suborbital trajectory in space.

These guys aren’t just pipedreaming it up in the undergrad lounge, either; they just yesterday tested their HEAT-1x booster rocket. Got propulsion pr0n?

Maybe the top of the gravity well really is entrepreneurial turf from here onwards.

ZOMFG MosesTablet!

Jamais Cascio pretty much nails my feelings on the imminent sermon from Mount Cupertino:

Yes, I’m sure it will be wonderful, whatever it turns out to be. I’m also sure it’ll be overpriced, packed with glossy proprietary software and matched by more affordable (and more open) hardware within six months… but hey, I’m just one of the haterz, yo. I can live with that.

If you want a less partial and more sensible response, Charlie Stross has a post detailing what he hopes to see from Jeebus Jobs later today, including this important point:

Finally, if I’m going to ask for a pony, I’d like Apple to pursue a more enlightened policy towards folks who want to, er, compute on the computing device they just bought. The iPhone OS is locked down tight because under the hood it’s a kluge; if you jailbreak it you discover to your horror that everything runs as root, and there’s even a hopelessly weak root password (“alpine”) on what is actually a networked UNIX box as powerful as a mid-1990s Sun workstation. I’ll settle for a virtualized sandbox if inecessary, instead of a fully implemented security system — but please can I have a shell, a python interpreter, and some elbow room? (Not likely, but I can hope …)

Not likely, indeed. But hey, there’s only a last few hours left before the product specs get spuffed all over the intertubes like joyous geek ectoplasm, so there’s still time to get some dreaming done… feel free to catfight in the comments if you’re so inclined. 🙂

Head-mounted augmented reality computers: the budget hack versus the bespoke device

One of the more interesting things about the hardware hacking scene is comparing the results of different methodologies. Some folk prefer to develop gadgets that are as close to production-grade products as possible, while others are more focussed on the low-budget proof-of-concept kludge… and this week has seen examples of both approaches as applied to augmented reality visor-computers.

First up, the craftsman approach. Pascal Brisset was frustrated with wearable computer cooncepts that relied on some sort of back- or belt-mounted processor unit to drive the headset, so he decided to build the whole system onto an off-the-shelf visor VDU [via Hack A Day]. As you can see, the results are pretty compact:

Pascal Brisset's wxhmd wearable computer

It runs on Linux, too, but that probably went without saying. Of course, it’s just a proof-of-concept rather than something that Brisset could start building for consumers. As he states in his documentation disclaimers:

The systems draws 1 A with no power optimizations. This is acceptable since nobody would want to spend more than a few minutes with two pulsed microwave RF transmitters, an overheating lithium battery and eye-straining optics strapped to their forehead anyway.


Meanwhile, down at the other end of the brain-farm, Andrew Lim built himself a backyard VR helmet using nothing more than an HTC Magic handset and a few dollars worth of other gubbins [also via Hack A Day]. It’s quite obviously a much more lo-fi affair than Brisset’s contraption:

It does have a certain goofy charm, doesn’t it? But again, hardly the sort of thing you’d try selling for any practical purpose whatsoever – the point being proven here is that augmented reality (and other similar emerging technologies) are not necessarily the exclusive domain of big corporations or slick new start-ups; where there’s a will (and some ingenuity), there’s a way. Or, as I often end up saying here, Everything Can (And Will) Be Hacked.

Personally, I find that reassuring, because the battle for direct access to our retinas is just starting to heat up. The big tech corporations can see there’s money to be made with wearable tech in the very near future, and they’re preparing to roll out the hardware as soon as next year (if press releases are to be trusted, which they quite possibly aren’t)… and as Jan Chipchase pointed out, the way they’ll make the stuff affordable to you is by co-opting with companies who’re desperate for the direct pipeline to your brainmeat that said hardware will provide. They need to ride that augmented reality hype curve, after all – at least until it reaches the trough of disillusionment.