How Wetware Can Help Hardware Makers Beat Moore’s Law, Save Energy

Humans may not use all of the brain’s computing capacity, but they do use most of the cranium for computing, according to biophysicist Bruno Michel at IBM’s Zurich research laboratory. Co-located cortices and capillaries keep our neurons powered and cooled with minimal fuss. Yet today’s computers dedicate around 60 percent of their volume to getting electricity in and heat out compared to perhaps 1 percent in a human brain, Michel estimates. Last week in Zurich, he told journalists about IBM’s long-term plan to help computers achieve human-like space- and energy efficiency. The tool: a kind of electronic blood.

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Internships Boost Postdocs’ Skills, Worldliness, and Marketability

20131021_LLaursenPostdocInternship_KellyAndringa_160x160When Kelly Andringa began to get calls from faculty anxious about their paperwork, she wondered whether she’d done her assignment right. As a 2-days-a-week intern on the conflict-of-interest review board at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), she had written a Web-based tutorial explaining to faculty how to properly fill out compliance forms. Her main job, however, was as a postdoc in environmental health at the same university; administration was new to her. But, as more calls came in, Andringa realized that the concerns of most of those faculty members were unwarranted: They had completed the forms correctly. “I was quite proud,” she recalls. “I felt good about communicating it well.”

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Ford Demos Emergency Autosteering

101013ford2-1381505418405Fall asleep at the wheel of the right prototype car and it will steer you around obstacles. That’s what Ford’s demonstration of an obstacle avoidance system at its proving ground near Lommel, Belgium, this week implies. But it won’t be ready for a long time. Ford took advantage of the attention its prototype drew to announce its full parking-assistance technology, which is mature enough that it might be in your next car and wins hands-down against the autosteering for clever advertising.

Both obstacle avoidance and the more mundane parking assistance are part of the larger trend toward greater autonomy in road cars, as IEEE Spectrum noted at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month. The technologies exist along a spectrum from the simplicity of 20th-century cruise control to features that take over momentarily from bad drivers to the sort of autonomy that would turn drivers into passengers, able to sleep or read an issue of Spectrum without worrying about traffic.

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Production of Solar Panels Outpaced Investments Last Year

Worldwide photovoltaic  (PV) solar panel production rose 10 percent in 2012 despite a 9 percent drop in investment, reports the European Commission (pdf). The numbers are imprecise, because solar panel makers use different types of production and sales figures, but the Commission authors estimate that producers added between 35 GW and 42 GW of PV capacity in 2012. The growth follows several years in which European governments have trimmed subsidies to solar power, prompting many private investors to shy away from the sector and driving some companies to bankruptcy.

Something about solar is special, though: investment in PV capacity still made up over half (57.7 percent) of new renewable energy investments, for a total of $137.7 billion, and analysts predict further growth through 2015.

Read the rest of this blog post at IEEE Spectrum’s Energywise blog: [html] [pdf]

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