Light-Headed Circuits

Decoding Some of the Bizarreness That Is Photonics

by Bryon Moyer

It’s coming to a piece of silicon near you.

You may not create it; you may remain microns away from it. But there’s a good chance that, someday, it will be on your chip. And you might want to know something about it, because it will be your neighbor.

Exactly who is moving into your ‘hood? Just a few bizarre-looking circuits. Ones that look nothing like the circuits you’re used to. At all.

That’s because they don’t conduct electricity; they conduct light. We’re talking silicon photonics* here. And there’s been talk about it for a while, but, I don’t know, it feels to me like we’re starting to near the time when this becomes a reality for commercial chips. Call it a hunch.

My senses were first jarred when I saw some of the components used in a photonic circuit. They. Made. No. Sense. Whatsoever. So I’ve been doing some poking around, trying to figure stuff out based on the rather extensive amount of research on the web.

 

Shootout at the MEMS Corral

MEMS Executive Congress 2014 Preview

by Amelia Dalton

This week's Fish Fry celebrates the wild west of electronics - MEMS and sensor-based technology. Ridin' shotgun with me is none other than Karen Lightman of the MEMS Industry Group. Karen gives us a special sneak peek into the upcoming 10th annual MEMS Executive Congress. I do hope you have your spurs locked on tight, your saddle equipped with the newest context-aware sensors, and your o-scope spit cleaned and polished. We're riding straight into the MEMS corral. This may get messy...

 

Holey SuperCap!

“Holey Graphene” Stores More Energy in Less Space

by Bryon Moyer

There’s this meeting of technologies subtly underway. On one side we have batteries, which store more energy. On the other, we have supercaps, which deliver higher power. As we’ve mentioned in the past, technology seems to be evolving to bring the two together, blurring the distinction. The best combination is one of high energy storage and high power, and, while we’re not necessarily there yet, a team at UCLA has published some results for a supercapacitor with storage properties approaching that of a lead-acid battery.

First, though, a couple of figures of merit. Absolute energy capacity and power are important, but they can be applied only to a given supercap or battery. A bigger unit will store more energy, for example. There are two measures for evaluating the storage capacity normalized for either weight or size, generically known as the specific capacitance, and they’re properties of the energy-storing material.

 

Is It Time for Post-ARM Already?

New APS23 and APS25 Processors Designed for “Third Wave” of Computing Devices

by Jim Turley

If you could sell 700 million units of the product you’re designing right now, would that be a success?

Seven hundred million is a big number. That’s about the total number of cars sold by all the automakers in the world combined over the past ten years. Or more than double the number of copies of Windows 8, or the number of hamburgers McDonald’s flips out in four months. As I said, a big number.

You’d think that any company responsible for such impressive product movement would be well known, right? Especially if it’s a microprocessor company? We must be talking about Intel or ARM or Freescale or Renesas?

Keep guessing.

The responsible party is a 28-person group in Montpellier, France, overlooking the blue Mediterranean. They make a 32-bit CPU for low-power devices. It’s synthesizable. It’s licensed as IP. It’s used in a lot of mobile and handheld devices.

 

Tabula Tames Verification

DesignInsight Brings Unique Debugging Superpowers

by Kevin Morris

I have to prepare myself any time I go to meet with Steve Teig from Tabula. Steve is a bona-fide genius, and any time I talk with him I feel like I have to have my mental running shoes tightly laced. Steve brings a level of creativity and insight to the table that one seldom encounters, and when he’s telling you about a new thing, you can bet it will be something you didn’t expect.

So, when I went to Tabula for a briefing with Steve on what has now been announced as the new DesignInsight technology, I knew it wouldn’t just be another one of your typical hum-drum, “we added a completely predictable new feature to our chips” kinda deal. I wasn’t disappointed.

Tabula, for those of you who haven’t been following along, makes programmable logic chips that are probably most closely related to FPGAs. They are similar in that they feature an array of logic cells based on look-up-tables (LUTs) that can be programmed and interconnected to perform a variety of logic functions.

 

Sensor Arrays

How You Can Detect Substances With or Without Electronics

by Bryon Moyer

OK, so you’ve got this hole. A really deep hole. I mean, reaaaaally deep: some miles, perhaps. And you’d really like to know what’s down there, at least gas-wise.

Problem is, there could be lots of different things down there. You want to cover a wide range of substances – say, a hundred of them – with a single sensor to get some answers faster.

Oh, and there’s one more thing: as your sensor drops down into the hole, it’s going to pass through all kinds of materials and metals and whatnot. That’s going to play havoc with any electrical signals coming back up telling you the answers. Besides, it’s hot down there – most electronics won’t do well anyway. So… yeah, no electronics. How’s that going to work?

Contrived problem? Perhaps, but only because it abstracts a real problem that real companies have sensing the environment in areas hostile to electronics. This down-hole scenario could definitely apply to mining and oil-exploration applications with little added context.


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