Top Tech Day 10: Quantum Computers & Humanoid Robotics

Unfortunately we missed posting a technology yesterday due to a technical failure here at the office (primarily, our power was out due to the snow). So today we’re covering TWO technologies, and we’re picking some exciting ones at that. The technologies we’re updating you on today are quantum computing, and humanoid robotics.

Quantum computing is a technology that has dazzled the minds of futurists for years-and for good reason. Being able to address certain computational problems that are currently intractable or effectively intractable is alluring, and different types of quantum computers do just that. You can expect a more thorough writeup on them from us at some point in the future regardless, but for the point of this article, we’ll note that there’s a difference between the quantum computing currently most discussed in the news (D-Wave’s adiabatic quantum annealer) and what we’re talking about today. The qubits discussed today are not yet in a quantum computer, but would be more appropriate for use in one of the other types of quantum computer. While the full scale of the applications of such a system would take significantly more space and time than we have available here today, quantum computers are useful for cryptography, mathematics, physics and chemistry simulations, and any set of problems that has the properties:

  1. The only way to solve the problems is to guess answers and check them
  2. The number of answers is proportional to number of inputs
  3. Every possible answer takes the same time to check
  4. There is no benefit to a particular order of checking answers (ie random is as good as sorted).

There are two major advances we wanted to discuss today-one on the lifetime of entangled qubits, and one on the number of entangled qubits.

Australian scientists at the University of Sydney, Australian National University, and Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo have had a breakthrough in the number of qubits created. The previous record for entangled qubits, set in 2011, was 14. The team of scientists led by Dr Nicolas Menicucci (a world renowned quantum computation expert) managed to create a ‘continuous variable clustered state’ containing more than 10,000 modes. In addition, the paper also laid out a method of using this system for quantum computation using sequential applications of quantum teleportation. The researchers said that further breakthroughs in precise control of the devices are required to take advantage of the increased scale. Further information can be found in the paper itself, here.

The other major advance was the increased longevity of a quantum bit. A team at Simon Fraser University managed to create a qubit stable at room temperature for 39 minutes, as well as remaining stable after repeated heating and cooling processes. Information was only able to be read at under 10 kelvin, but this is a significant advance over previous efforts. The next step for the researchers is to allow multiple qubits, as well as reading at room temperature. More information can be found here.

 

Our second topic today is humanoid robotics. Humanoid robotics is one area of robotics that receives a huge amount of attention-not only does it fulfill some of the greatest dreams of futurists and sci-fi fans alike, but it also invokes some of their deepest fears. In the ideal case for developers, humanoid robots would be able to do everything a human could do (at least in their area of specialization), and every year we get closer to achieving that dream…though it’s still a ways off.

There are three articles of note this year that we feel capture how humanoid robotics is advancing. DARPA’s Robotics Challenge (DRC) will be taking place on the 20th and 21st of this month, where robots designed by a number of schools and institutes will be competing on emergency worker tasks. Tasks include driving a vehicle, navigating complicated terrain, climbing a ladder, moving debris, opening a door, cutting through a wall, shutting off a valve, and moving a hose into place. The ‘A Track’ teams received funding from DARPA and developed their own robots. ‘B Track’ teams received funding from DARPA and competed in a software only competition with unfunded ‘C Track’ teams for the rights to a limited number of ATLAS robots (developed by Boston Dynamics). ‘D Track’ teams produced their own robots and software, unfunded. A total of 17 teams will be competing at the DRC later this month.

INRIA Flowers, a robotic team at the French research institute, have used 3d printing to build a miniaturized humanoid robot for only $11,000 including servos and electronics. The 33 inch, 7.7 pound robot is powered by a Raspberry Pi and equipped with force sensing resistors, two cameras, a stereo microphone, an inertial measurement unit, and an LCD for a face. Custom designed from the ground up to be bio-inspired, it has a number of uncommon design choices (an articulated spine, additional leg springs, heel to toe gait) to enable the researchers to study bipedal walking. More can be found at the Flowers lab and Poppy Project homepage.

The final item for today’s blog post is news from just last week that some may not be familiar with-Google is getting into the robotics market. They’ve made 7 core acquisitions in the last year: Industrial Perception (computer vision), Autofuss (robot enabled cinematography), Bot & Dolly (robot enabled cinematography), Schaft (humanoid robotics), Meka (possibly humanoid robotics), Redwood Robotics (possibly robotic arms), and Holomni (omnidirectional robotic wheels). Powered by these technologies, Andy Rubin (former head of Android) has been tasked with leading a division to design and build a fleet of Googlebots. What for? Everything in the Google horizontal-from manufacturing, to packing, to home delivery. More information can be found at the New York Times and Singularity Hub.

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech Day 8: Graphene Supercapacitors

Today’s post was written by Jason Ganz, formerly of the Millenium Project. Jason Ganz is a highly capable emerging technology analyst and Prokalkeo is grateful for his perspective on Top Tech 2013. His twitter can be found @jasnonaz.

Over the past few years, one of the most exciting areas of potential innovation has been the creation of new super materials. These supermaterials have a wide variety of applications across a number of disciplines, including manufacturing, energy & medicine. The breakaway star of current supermaterials has undoubtedly been graphene. Graphene is a two-dimensional, crystalline form of carbon with some astounding physical properties. It is so strong that James Hone, a mechanical engineering professor at Columbia once claimed that “it would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap”.

Graphene is also one of the best conductors of energy ever discovered. Graphene has been hailed as a wonder material that has the potential to revolutionize everything from solar panels to transistors. In 2013, however, the largest breakthrough with graphene was the steps taken towards creating a commercially viable supercapacitor out of graphene.

A capacitor is a device commonly used in electronics that is similar to a battery, but is able to absorb and release energy many times faster. One common application of capacitors is the bulb used in camera flashes. Traditionally, capacitors have been significantly limited in their functional applications due to their inability to store large amounts of energy – the energy density of a capacitor is between 1/5th& 1/10th that of a battery. Thus, capacitors have traditionally had only niche applications. In recent years however, scientists have been attempting to make a capacitor out of graphene. By utilizing the unique physical properties of graphene, the amount of energy stored in a capacitor could be improved by many orders of magnitude. This has led these potential graphene capacitors to be dubbed “supercapacitors”.

Supercapacitors are extremely exciting because they combine the large amounts of energy storage found in traditional batteries with the extremely rapid energy absorption of capacitors. Consider the possibility of a smartphone which charges in mere seconds, or an electronic vehicle which can be fully powered up in under ten minutes. Those are just some of the eventual possible uses of graphene supercapacitors.

Graphene is extremely difficult to produce in significant quantities. There has been steady progress over the past several years towards increasing grapheme yields. Until recently, however, the prevailing sentiment was that graphene supercapacitors were far from becoming prevalent.

In 2013, graphene supercapacitors made drastic leaps towards becoming a commercial reality. In December of this year, Lomiko Metals & Graphene Laboratories Inc, announced that they had created a prototype graphene supercapacitor. The prototype achieved a specific capacitance of 500 Farad per gram, and was created by converting natural graphite flakes into graphene through Hummers method. The final product attained a specific surface area of 500 square meters per gram with an electrical conductivity of 4 S per centimeter.

While no one can yet say whether this particular method will be the one which brings supercapacitors out of the laboratory & into the living room, the fact that Lomiko Metals managed to create a working prototype is quite exciting. Only a few years ago, graphene supercapacitors were seen as a distant possibility. Today, although it is far from assured that they will make it to market, recent discoveries make this seem far more likely.

Further Resources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPResi9p5uU

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/lomiko-graphene-labs-and-stony-brook-university-project-produces-graphene-supercapacitor-prototype-2013-12-04-9173336?reflink=MW_news_stmp

http://gigaom.com/2013/07/15/what-is-graphene-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-a-material-that-could-be-the-next-silicon/

http://www.dvice.com/2013-5-3/supercapacitors-near-ish-future-batteries

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech Day 7: Flexible OLED Screens

Flexible OLED screens have been promised for a number of years now, with earliest prototypes showing up as early as 1992 in academic papers. The dream of using them for lightweight, flexible, flat panel displays goes back to at least the mid 1990s, but the first OLED TVs didn’t show up on the market until 2013. Manufacturing processes needed to be developed to a sufficient point, as did a number of other supporting technologies.

The first two OLED screens to the market in the United States were the LG 55″ OLED Smart TV with a 4K resolution, and the the Samsung 55″ OLED Smart TV with 4K resolution. Both TVs are curved-it is not clear if this brings additional benefit, or if it is a ‘statement’ to make it more attractive to early adopters who are showing off with it. All the same, it means that these screens will begin entering the market, and the price is likely to drop over time.

In addition to the big screen TVs, both companies have announced smartphones using the technology as well. Samsung has announced the Galaxy Round, and LG has announced the G Flex. While they will still have mostly rigid frames, there are a number of benefits to these phones using OLED screens. Non-rigid screens mean that hitting the ground won’t shatter the screen, whether on a corner or face down. Samsung has released that the 5.7″ Round will have 1920×1080 resolution, though other specifications are unknown.

There are any number of reviews of both the TVs and the phones around the internet as well as on youtube, so we’ll refrain from giving our impressions. All four items are seeing positive reviews on Amazon-for what few units have been sold.

And if that’s not enough for you, here’s a video of a Samsung AMOLED screen getting hit with a hammer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k6r2HQY9Ws&noredirect=1

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech 2013 Day 6: Hobbyist 3d Scanning

3d scanning is another technology that doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserves. Despite being a larger market with broader usage, it receives little attention compared to its sibling technology, 3d printing. 3d scanning is a 4 billion dollar + market with a reasonably fast growth rate, with applications in heavy industry (aeronautical, automotive, defense, etc.), 3d asset generation (cinema, videogames, toysWP Lynx), fashion, and healthcare.

While 3d scanning has been around for some time, it has primarily been an industrial technology. An entry level setup for industrial scanning is $18,000, and more expensive setups (such as isolated rooms for white light scanning of very large objects) can cost more than $100,000.

Distinct from photogrammetry (which creates 3d objects from a number of 2d images, such as in the Autodesk 123D Catch app), there are four primary 3d scanning technologies:

  • Laser triangulation – most common technology, projects a laser point or line for point cloud generation.
  • Structured light scanning – second most common technology, requires minimal movement of the object being scanned. Higher resolution, but much more expensive.
  • Conoscopic holography – Very expensive and very difficult to use technology, but only requires a single ray path.
  • Laser time of flight scanning – Similar to LIDAR. Uncommon in close range 3d scanning.

Early desktop setups began emerging in 2012, but it can be said that 2013 was the year of the desktop 3d scanner, with a number of companies entering the market directly or posting kickstarters. A short list of these new desktop 3d scanners, and the kickstarters or company page covering them:

 

Makerbot’s Digitizer, designed for usage with Makerbot’s 3d printer. Makerbot is owned by Stratasys, one of the largest 3d printer manufacturers.

 

3D Systems’ Sense, a handheld 3d laser scanner. Slightly cheaper than the Digitizer, it is designed for slightly larger objects that require movement of the scanning system itself to scan. Also has the ability to choose between scanning people and objects in the software. 3d Systems is famous for developing stereolithography and the STL file format.

 

Fuel3D was kickstarted in August/September, reaching its $75,000 goal, and breaking through to reach a stretch value of $325,000. The Fuel3d , designed by Oxford researchers, is meant to be a near-industrial level 3d scanner for less than $1,000.

 

Rubicon is another desktop style 3d scanner, meant for scanning objects up to 160mm in diameter and 200mm in height. The camera is movable, meaning that it is theoretically possible to scan in larger objects. Rubicon asked for ~$8000, and ~$50000 was pledged.

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech 2013 Day 5: Topological Insulators

Today’s topic is one that we pay some attention to at Prokalkeo, despite the fact that only a couple of our experts know precisely how it works. Topological insulators (or topological semiconductors) are, at the most ‘high level’ description, semiconductors that conduct on the outside, but insulate on the inside. Asking how they do that is more complicated-wikipedia has to say this about them:

topological insulator is a material with time reversal symmetry and trivial topological order, that behaves as an insulator in its interior but whose surface contains conducting states,[1] meaning that electrons can only move along the surface of the material. Although ordinary band insulators can also support conductive surface states, the surface states of topological insulators are special since they are symmetry protected[2][3][4] by particle number conservation and time reversal symmetry. (Wikipedia)

Well.

Regardless, they’ve seen a huge amount of development in 2012 and 2013, as concepts that were only speculated on for years finally came to fruition as new materials and metamaterials blossomed. Originally predicted in 2005 and 2006 via topology and material science theory, the first examples showed up in 2008. Topological insulators/semiconductors could theoretically allow for much faster computers by creating arbitrarily shaped robust 2-D devices that can easily manipulate the spin of an electron-the first step on the path to ‘spintronics’.  Topological insulators have a number of properties that are exceptionally desirable: electrons pass through them rapidly, their ‘doping’ (which controls the number of charge carriers) can easily be reversed, and they are exceptionally robust due to their topological properties. All of these together, they could prove to be revolutionary in electronics and possibly even quantum computing.

Just two months ago, researchers in the US and China have successfully grown topological insulators on industry standard substrates using an ultra-high vacuum chamber. While they still need to improve manufacturing processes, and the theory behind how exactly topological insulators grow is still confused, researchers can now start to try to build ‘fundamental’ level devices with them (such as simple logic gates and transistors). Last month, a topological insulator was discovered that carried electrical currently differently on top than on the bottom, allowing for even more possibilities.

 

If you’d like to know more, with links to original research and mind bending math, look at the resources linked below:

IEEE Spectrum Article: http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/materials/topological-insulators

PhysOrg: http://phys.org/news/2013-10-topological-insulator-materials-future-semiconductor.html

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech 2013 Day 4: Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are a personal favorite of the staff here at Prokalkeo, for a variety of reasons. Exoskeletons appeal to the same sense of the future drove us into academics and then starting Prokalkeo, but also have a massive market just waiting to be tapped as they develop. From commercial, to medical, to military-the ability to increase raw human physical ability will fundamentally change many industries, and we can only speculate on the overall effect.

Unlike previous years, it’s hard to point at two or three specific massive advances in the development of exoskeletons-so much is happening now that it’s more useful to try to find a couple advances that characterize how we feel the market is developing, and give an idea of the future.

While it didn’t happen this year, we think it is important to point at an important development from 2012, the paraffin/carbon nanotube synthetic muscle fibers. While these have not yet matured sufficiently to be integrated in any sort of servos or non-lab technology at all, they are still an incredibly important development that indicate what future capacities may look like. More information on the development and links to the work can be found here:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=artificial-muscle-advance

http://phys.org/news/2013-05-hybrid-carbon-nanotube-yarn-muscle.html

However, 2013 has been a great year for proponents of exoskeletons. Companies like Ekso, which have previously primarily been restricted to working within medical devices, have announced their intention to move into industrial/commercial robotics, and more information can be found here, and a video here.

Italy continues to be a vanguard of cybernetic research with the development of Mindwalker at the Santa Lucia Foundation hospital in Rome, Italy. The Mindwalker project sounds like something out of science fiction, but is very real. An exoskeleton designed to support individuals with weak or paralyzed legs is combined with a virtual reality training environment and an EEG headset for neural control of the setup. It’s a mind-controlled exoskeleton, and it shows strongly what the future will hold. Video here.

NASA has announced that it is working on the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton, which would allow for strength amplification of astronauts-while they wouldn’t be subjected to the same rigors as the military, it would help them deal with the body decaying effects of microgravity. NASA is partnering with IMHC and Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, Texas.

While no major announcements have been made this year, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have both been working on military exoskeletons for some time (the XOS and the HULC, respectively). US SOCOM has been working to develop the ‘Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit’, or TALOS, which would be a light exoskeleton for special forces, designed for augmenting their capabilities and improving their survivability.

 

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech 2013 Day 3: 3d Printed Firearms

3d printing is one of the most talked about emerging technologies of our time, and for good reason. While it isn’t the universal cure-all to manufacturing and technology that some tout it as, it is absolutely a game changer. Additive manufacturing is more efficient in materials and energy than standard manufacturing, as well as being able to produce complicated internal structures. It’s much slower, but that doesn’t change the capabilities that it adds.

Since the dawn of 3d printing people have been wondering: how long until someone prints out a gun? It’s a nightmare for proponents of gun control at first glance, although in reality it wouldn’t be that much easier than producing a very rudimentary WWII style ‘zip-gun’. In January of this year, after a number of setbacks in mid through late 2012, Defense Distributed printed out an ammunition magazine for an AR, and successfully fired 86 rounds before it suffered mechanical failure.

This immediately caused engineers, policy-makers, and the public to sit up and take note. In May, Defense Distributed released the STL files for the first 3d printed gun on their website-and were immediately challenged by the U.S. Department of State.

The real difference between a 3d printed gun and a home manufactured gun isn’t in the here and now-3d printers still require knowledge to set up and use. But in future years, it won’t be rare for there to be 3d printers that require minimal engineering knowledge to use with the printing capabilities necessary to print out a gun. Policymakers are taking it into account, and there have been uneasy murmurs about the legal status of 3d printers.

Prokalkeo is of the opinion that informed policy decisions need to be made, and we’ve done research on this field (if you wish to contact us for more information). Until then, we will track what’s happening and predict what will happen next in this fascinating evolution of DIY manufacturing, and weapons policy.

More information can be found at

Defense Distributed: http://defdist.org/

Forbes:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/01/14/gunsmiths-3d-print-high-capacity-ammo-clips-to-thwart-proposed-gun-laws/

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech 2013 Day 2: Visible Molecular Bonds

It’s Day 2 of Prokalkeo’s month reviewing the top technologies of 2013. After leading off strongly yesterday with Watson, we’re going to take a different tack today. Not AI, not robotics, not even computer science.

Material Science

Not even the main drive of the project, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and UC Berkeley used an atomic force microscope to examine the graphene nanostructures they were attempting to produce. Part of a larger effort to allow graphene to be mass produced, the researchers were seeing which of a number of possible reactions was happening.

 

Sometimes confirmation of theory is beautiful.

Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley

After a scanning tunneling microscope proved insufficient, they moved to a non contact Atomic Force Microscope (nc-AFM), which works like a phonograph needle at the atomic level. Not only did it allow them to check what structure was being produced, but it also showed the bonds themselves in an astounding manner that showed that sometimes reality does look like a highschool science textbook.

The journal article itself can be found at: “Direct Imaging of Covalent Bond Structure in Single-Molecule Chemical Reactions,” by Dimas G. de Oteyza et al. Science Express, 2013.

More information can be found at: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-first-ever-high-resolution-images-molecule-reforms.html

 

Come back tomorrow another awesome advancement from 2013!

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Top Tech 2013 Day 1: Watson

At Prokalkeo, we track a lot of tech. We don’t post about it as much as we would like, because we’re busy building tools to track it and doing the actual evaluation. But we do a lot of tracking.

This year, we’re going to start a new tradition in honor of the sheer number of amazing advancements that are happening, and we’re going to post a cool new technology or fundamental advance that happened over the course of the previous year every day. Then, leading up to New Years, we’ll post the coolest stuff of the end of the year.

Check back every day for another awesome advancement from 2013.

 

A personal favorite technology is Watson. We’re starting with Watson because it feels right-as it develops, it and other technologies like it will speed up the rate new discoveries are made-and they’are already coming fast enough. I got to see and talk to the developers of everyone’s favorite Jeopardy champion at my alma mater a couple years ago, and I’ve been entranced since. The implications of what a natural language analytics engine can do are incredible, and I’ve been impressed with just how far IBM is pushing it.

In November, IBM announced that they would be opening the Watson API to developers and partners. Already working with a variety of medical institutes and online marketplaces, this means that a number of other industries might benefit-legal, financial, even engineering.

Current Watson partners and clients include:

  • Fluid, Inc.
  • MD Buyline
  • Welltok
  • Healthline
  • Elance
  • Sloan Kettering
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Citi
  • Scripps Research

Next year, IBM will be opening the Watson Developer Cloud, linked at the bottom of the article. IBM has stated that future goals of Watson ‘2.0’ and ‘3.0’ include the ability to take in audio, visual, and video data, followed by the ability to ‘converse’ with users and make inferential jumps.

 

If you want to sign up, you can sign up at http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/getting_started.shtml.

Posted in Top Tech 2013

Announcing Publication of ‘Picoprojectors: Technologies and Global Markets’ via BCC Research

Prokalkeo is happy to announce the establishment of a working relationship with BCC Research, a division of Eli Research. BCC Research is one of the world’s largest syndicated market research firms, and publishes on a wide variety of emerging and established technology categories.

The report ‘Picoprojectors: Technologies and Global Markets’ includes:

  • An overview of the global market for standalone, embedded, and integrated picoprojectors
  • Analyses of global market trends, with data from 2012, estimates for 2013, and projections of compound annual growth rates (CAGRs) through 2018.
  • Discussion of increased portability of standard projection uses, improved social sharing of smart-multimedia, and industrial integration of projection.
  • Reviews of industry structure, trends in price and price/performance, market restraints and challenges, and technologies, including a patent evaluation.
  • Comprehensive company profiles of picoprojector suppliers.

The report can be found at and purchased from BCC Research here.

Please contact Colin Popell (Chief Executive Manager) at cpopell@prokalkeo.com for further information on the report or related markets.

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