Friday, February 6, 2009

Happy 50th to the Integrated Circuit Patent

On this day (February 6th) in 1959, Jack Kilby (November 8, 1923 - June 20, 2005) filed a patent for a "Solid Circuit made of Germanium", the first integrated circuit. Along with Robert Noyce (who independently made a similar circuit a few months later), Kilby is generally credited as co-inventor of the integrated circuit. He was a Nobel Prize laureate in physics in 2000 for his invention of the integrated circuit.

The transistor, invented at Bell Labs in 1947 had stimulated engineers to design ever more complex electronic circuits and equipment containing hundreds or thousands of discrete components such as transistors, diodes, rectifiers and capacitors. But the problem was that these components still had to be interconnected to form electronic circuits, and hand-soldering thousands of components to thousands of bits of wire was expensive and time-consuming. It was also unreliable; every soldered joint was a potential source of trouble, complex circuit designs were hampered by the unreliability of using numerous discrete devices. This problem was commonly called the "tyranny of numbers".

Texas Instruments (TI) was working on this issue via the Micro-Module program when Kilby joined the company in 1958. In mid-1958, Kilby finally came to the conclusion that this approach would not work and that manufacturing the circuit components in mass in a single piece of semiconductor material could provide a solution.

On September 12 he presented his findings to the management, which included Mark Shepherd, of Texas Instruments: he showed them a sliver of germanium, with protruding wires, glued to a glass slide. It was a relatively simple device that Jack Kilby showed to a handful of co-workers gathered in TI’s semiconductor lab — only a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium, but when Kilby pressed the switch, an unending sine curve undulated across the oscilloscope screen.

In addition to the integrated circuit, Kilby also is noted for patenting the electronic portable calculator and the thermal printer used in data terminals. In total, he held about 60 patents.

Appropriately enough for the occasion of this anniversary, the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, the foremost forum for presentation of advances in solid-state circuits and systems-on-a-chip runs next week from February 8th to the 12th in San Fransisco. Of particular interest to our industry will be sessions held on Radios for health services; Things all RFIC designers should know (but are afraid to ask); RF building blocks; Wireless connectivity; mm-wave devices and a forum on 4G front-ends.

The advance program is available at:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wireless Charging Coming This Year

While I did not attend CES 2009, one of the hot emerging products was wireless charging. Powermat was there showing off its family of charging mats (using inductive coupling) for mobile devices like cell phones, PDAs, etc. They are very efficient (like 93%) so charging is relatively fast and they should be available soon (maybe Q2 this year). These mats would would cost about $100 so they are reasonably priced for a first to market, high tech product.

Fulton is taking a different approach with their wireless charging technology dubbed eCoupled. They are working with large consumer product companies to integrate their product into various consumer applications including automobiles where you could sit your device in a box in the dashboard of your car for charging.

Leggett & Platt is part of the Fulton Partnership and was displaying a system that it says is more flexible than others. It can charge larger devices, with power tools being an early target market. Image shelves that you could set your power tools on that would charge them automatically or having you kitchen counter top capable of charging your blender, toaster, etc. There could come a day when we have no more power outlets in our home, just walls that inductively charge our electronics and run our lights, appliancies, etc.

One big application is TV sets and with wireless HD starting to evolve (there are currently 3 different standards), there would be no need for wires on your nice new flat screen HDTV. That would really simplify mounting them to a wall with wireless power and have your set top box transmit wireless HD signals to it. We might finally be able to use our high tech toys without wires!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Eight is Enough?

Gartner, Inc. has identified eight mobile technologies that will evolve significantly through 2010, impacting short-term mobile strategies and policies.

“All mobile strategies embed assumptions about technology evolution so it’s important to identify the technologies that will evolve quickly in the life span of each strategy,” said Nick Jones, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “The eight mobile technologies that we have pinpointed as ones to watch in 2009 and 2010 will have broad effects and, as such, are likely to pose issues to be addressed by short-term strategies and policies.”

Gartner’s eight mobile technologies to watch in 2009 and 2010

Bluetooth 3.0 —The Bluetooth 3.0 specification will be released in 2009 (at which point its feature set will be frozen), with devices starting to arrive around 2010. Bluetooth 3.0 will likely include features such as ultra-low-power mode that will enable new devices, such as peripherals and sensors, and new applications, such as health monitoring. Bluetooth originated as a set of protocols operating over a single wireless bearer technology. Bluetooth 3.0 is intended to support three bearers: "classic" Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and ultrawideband (UWB). It's possible that more bearers will be supported in the future. Wi-Fi is likely to be a more important supplementary bearer than UWB in the short term, because of its broad availability. Wi-Fi will allow high-end phones to rapidly transfer large volumes of data.

Mobile User Interfaces (UIs) — UIs have a major effect on device usability and supportability. They will also be an area of intense competition in 2009 and 2010, with manufacturers using UIs to differentiate their handsets and platforms. New and more-diverse UIs will complicate the development and support of business-to-employee (B2E) and business-to-consumer (B2C) applications. Organizations should expect more user demands for support of specific device models driven by interface preferences. Companies should also expect consumer interfaces to drive new expectations of application behavior and performance. Better interfaces will make the mobile Web more accessible on small devices, and will be a better channel to customers and employees.

Location Sensing — Location awareness makes mobile applications more powerful and useful; in the future, location will be a key component of contextual applications. Location sensing will also enhance systems, such as mobile presence and mobile social networking. The growing maturity of on-campus location sensing using Wi-Fi opens up a range of new applications exploiting the location of equipment or people. Organizations delivering business or consumer applications should explore the potential of location sensing; however, exploiting it may create new privacy and security challenges.

802.11n — 802.11n boosts Wi-Fi data rates to between 100 Mbps and 300 Mbps, and the multiple-input, multiple-output technology used by 802.11n offers the potential for better coverage in some situations. 802.11n is likely to be a long-lived standard that will define Wi-Fi performance for several years. High-speed Wi-Fi is desirable to stream media around the home and office. From an organizational perspective, 802.11n is disruptive; it's complex to configure, and is a "rip and replace" technology that requires new access points, new client wireless interfaces, new backbone networks and a new power over Ethernet standard. However, 802.11n is the first Wi-Fi technology to offer performance on a par with the 100 Mbps Ethernet commonly used for wired connections to office PCs. It is, therefore, an enabler for the all-wireless office, and should be considered by companies equipping new offices or replacing older 802.11a/b/g systems in 2009 and 2010.

Display Technologies — Displays constrain many characteristics of both mobile devices and applications. During 2009 and 2010, several new display technologies will impact the marketplace, including active pixel displays, passive displays and pico projectors. Pico projectors enable new mobile use cases (for example, instant presentations projected on a desktop to display information in a brief, face-to-face sales meeting). Battery life improvements are welcome for any user. Good off-axis viewing enables images and information to be shared more easily. Passive displays in devices, such as e-book readers, offer new ways to distribute and consume documents. Display technology will also become an important differentiator and a user selection criterion.

Mobile Web and Widgets — The mobile Web is emerging as a low-cost way to deliver simple mobile applications to a range of devices. It has some limitations that will not be addressed by 2010 (for example, there will be no universal standards for browser access to handset services, such as the camera or GPS). However, the mobile Web offers a compelling total cost of ownership (TCO) advantage over thick-client applications. Widgets (small mobile Web applets) are supported by many mobile browsers, and provide a way to stream simple feeds to handsets and small screens. Mobile Web applications will be a part of most B2C mobile strategies. Thin-client applications are also emerging as a practical solution to on-campus enterprise applications using Wi-Fi or cellular connections.

Cellular Broadband — Wireless broadband exploded in 2008, driven by the availability of technologies such as high-speed downlink packet access and high-speed uplink packet access, combined with attractive pricing from cellular operators. The performance of high-speed packet access (HSPA) provides a megabit or two of bandwidth in uplink and downlink directions, and often more. In many regions, HSPA provides adequate connectivity to replace Wi-Fi "hot spots," and the availability of mature chipsets enables organizations to purchase laptops with built-in cellular modules that provide superior performance to add-on cards or dongles.

Near Field Communication (NFC) — NFC provides a simple and secure way for handsets to communicate over distances of a centimeter or two. NFC is emerging as a leading standard for applications such as mobile payment, with successful trials conducted in several countries. It also has wider applications, such as "touch to exchange information" (for example, to transfer an image from a handset to a digital photo frame, or for a handset to pick up a virtual discount voucher). Gartner does not expect much of the NFC payment or other activities to become common, even by 2010, in mature markets, such as Western Europe and the U.S. NFC is likely to become important sooner in emerging markets, with some deployments starting by 2010.
Additional information is available in the Gartner report “Eight Mobile Technologies to Watch in 2009 and 2010.” The report is available on Gartner’s Web site at

Mr. Jones will provide additional analysis on the mobile and wireless scenario for 2009 and beyond at the Gartner Wireless & Mobile Summit taking place February 23-25 in Chicago. This Summit offers new concepts and best practices to increase ROI on wireless investment, insights on the future of wireless, and unbiased perspectives on devices, systems, integration and the latest trends. Gartner analysts and solution providers will help unravel the tangle of multiple generations of wireless technologies, evaluate new approaches to teleworking, assess the role of core technologies such as MIDs, RFID, and IP telephony and make sense of the looming platform battles for smartphones, and more. Additional information is available at Members of the media can register to attend the Summit by contacting

In Pursuit of Government Stimulus Dollars

While sales in technology have gotten off to a slow start this year, government spending may be the best hope for many in the communications industry. Federal spending by the US government is expected to be about $80.6 billion on information technology products and services this year, according to a December study released by Compass Intelligence. According to the report this is a 5.5% increase over last year. The report also noted that spending on software applications will be the fastest-growing segment, with an annual growth between 8.6% and 9.8%. Stephanie Atkinson, managing partner and principal analyst at Compass Intelligence offered the following tips when it comes to marketing to government agencies.

1. Register with the government. You can’t sell anything to a government entity without signing up in the Central Contractor Registration database ( But before you can do this, you’ll need a DUNS Number, a unique number assigned by Dun & Bradstreet Inc. Once you’re signed up, make your status known in e-mail marketing as well as paid search results. In fact, consider adding a new e-mail segment so you can disseminate government-specific deals and services.

2. Focus on the short-term return. Even though governments and government agencies are still spending, they must get approval and, most important, answer to constituents regarding their spending. Projects that show a quick ROI are most likely to happen first, since good ROI makes for good press, Atkinson said. This is where a strong, short-term case study or video customer testimonial can really help, she added.

3. Offer different purchase options. “In the past you bought equipment and paid a monthly services fee. Now we’re seeing monthly costs that include some of the equipment costs,” she said. Either way, be prepared to wait to get paid, Atkinson said, since government contract pay terms are definitely longer than your typical net 45 or net 60. “It’s very likely to see three- or six-month payment terms,” she said.

4. Consider marketing yourself as a subcontractor. There are plenty of companies already registered with the government that are getting contracts but may not have in-house expertise or products like the ones you sell. There are several sites that list the best sources to find such companies, and several firms that broker such partnerships, including FedSources,, FindRFP, and BidNet. Sites like let you advertise your company by posting a vendor profile so other companies can seek you out.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Star Trek Cloaking Device Becoming a Reality?

Metamaterials are a hot subject in microwave technology these days. Much of the work I see is going on with the design of antenna structures or substrate materials, but the researchers at Duke University have designed and tested a microwave cloaking device that can almost completely "hide" a small structure from microwaves. While this is not new news, they have more recent work going on to apply this technology to sound waves.

The Duke cloaking device is a structure made up of copper rings and wires patterned on a fiberglass composite. The structure is designed to route the microwaves around the hidden object inside and greatly reduces it reflection and shadow. The Duke team developed a small cloak (less than five inches across) that would provide invisibility in two dimensions, rather than three to simplify the design and prove out the concept. The cloak includes strips of metamaterial fashioned into concentric two-dimensional rings, a design that allows its use with a narrow beam of microwave radiation. The precise variations in the shape of copper elements patterned onto their surfaces determine their electromagnetic properties. The cloak design is unique among metamaterials in its circular geometry and internal structural variation, the researchers said. Up until that time all other metamaterials had been based on a cubic, or gridlike, design, and most of them have electromagnetic properties that are uniform throughout.

The researchers set out to prove the concept by aiming a microwave beam at a cloak positioned between two metal plates inside a test chamber, and used a detecting apparatus to measure the electromagnetic fields that developed both inside and outside the cloak. They first show a beam of microwaves hitting a 2 inch metal cylinder and then hide the cylinder within the cloaking structure. By examining an animated representation of the data, they found that the wave fronts of the beam separate and flow around the center of the cloak. Here is a video that demonstrates it:

So the Rumulans may have arrived on Earth but we may not be able to see them. What other interesting work have you seen using metamaterials???