Computers usually take a few moments to boot up, some longer than
others. That seems to be the nature of the beast, but scientists
at Cornell University think they have an answer. They've added ferroelectric
capability to silicon, which could lead to completely ferroelectric
transistor. Darrell Schlom, lead researcher on the project, explained
that ferroelectric transistors would be able to be turned on and
off instantly, no waiting required.
If you've used smart cards, you've already used ferroelectric materials.
They can be found in ATM cards, where their low-power, high-efficiency
electronic memory make them ideal. Ferroelectric transistors might
provide not only an instant-on capability, but also faster speed
and lower power consumption. These features could make them competitive
with flash technology.
The scientists' approach is unusual because it tries to deliver
instant-on capability with hardware; most computer makers try to
achieve it with software, making the operating system faster or
more lightweight. Combining ferroelectric material with silicon
is tricky; the team had to start with a non-ferroelectric variant
of the ferroelectric material used in smart cards. The material
became ferroelectric after it was deposited on the silicon. Researchers
have been attempting to achieve this for decades. While a complete
ferroelectric transistor is still a ways off, this is an important
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Tweeting Via Brain Alone
The newest computer/human interface may be the most natural, and
could help completely paralyzed patients communicate better. It
involves sending a message simply by thinking about it. University
of Wisconsin-Madison biomedical engineering doctorate student Adam
Wilson demonstrated it by using an EEG to sent a “tweet,” a short
message on Twitter, the popular microblogging site.
The message was only 23 characters long, and he had to think about
each letter, but it's only the first step. Wilson hopes his work
will help those whose brains are still functioning even though their
bodies no longer work. These include those suffering from certain
kinds of spinal cord injuries, brain-stem strokes, and amyotropic
lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
The interface measures brain activity in response to flashing letters
on a screen. Wilson notes that it is unfortunately a slow process,
though practice can improve a user's speed. He says that he has
seen speeds as fast as eight characters a minute. Paralyzed patients
could use the interface to send tweets to family and friends, letting
them know how they're doing; what's more, other followers of the
patient need not even know that they're disabled, since Twitter
encourages brevity. Tweets cannot exceed 140 characters.
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Robots Change Everything, Even Billiards
Billiards is normally a slow, relaxed, thinking person's game that
also requires a certain amount of dexterity and understanding of
geometry, force, and related factors. You'd be amazed at how much
this changes when you add robots to the mix. Carl Seguin came up
with BilliardBots, remote-controlled mobile robots that take the
place of the cue stick in this game; these simple-but-elegant machines
promise to be more successful than his HockeyBots and soccer-playing
robots. He even has a patent on them.
The three-inch by three-inch robots feature a bumper on one side
and two short, stationary arms on the other. The robots can either
hit the balls backward with the bumper or grab it between its arms
and push it into pockets. Player's remotes (modified PlayStation
controllers) control the bot's direction and speed, which of course
affects the force of the hit.
Players decide who is colored and who is striped after the opening
triangle is broken. After that, there's one more change in the rules:
nobody takes turns. Both players try simultaneously to get all their
balls in the pockets. Seguin notes that this makes the game very
competitive and fast. Needless to say, it plays rather differently
from the traditional game; players need the same kind of dexterity
they'd use for playing a video game. Seguin thinks his bots could
find a home in arcades, billiard rooms, amusement parks, and other
venues such as private corporate events, fairs and festivals.
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