Do you enjoy gangs of tiny, spider-like robot insectoids swarming all over your house, car, or personage? If you answered “yes,” you’re going to love what BAE Systems is cooking up. The company recently received an infusion of $38 million from the US Army Research Lab to fund the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) consortium; a team of scientists and researchers hell-bent on developing an “autonomous, multifunctional collection of miniature intelligence-gathering robots that can operate in places too inaccessible or dangerous for humans.” Sure, that description (and accompanying photos, straight from BAE) does give you the impression that whoever came up with this really liked Minority Report, but won’t it make you feel safer at night knowing a swarm of metallic spiders are looking out for you? No? Huh, weird.
[Via The Register]
Just hold on a little while longer, Canadian Zune-lovers — it seems that your wait is almost over. A job listing just popped up on the Vancouver Craigslist, looking for a “Microsoft Zune Program Coordinator” who will “represent our client Microsoft on their launch of Zune in the Canadian marketplace.” The job calls for applicants to be available between May 12 and June 20, so if it’s legit — and we hope it is, just because we prefer to believe no one is sad enough to fake this — it looks like the Zune will finally roll into Canada in just a few weeks.
It might be in a slightly smaller posse, though: the crew over at ClicZune recently took a gander at Microsoft’s Canadian Zune promo page and noticed that the Zune 30 and the green flash Zunes are conspicuously absent. (Also missing is the recently released red Zune 80, but that was announced after the pages in question were made.) It’s hard to tell what this means — do Canadians hate green things? Are the 30 and green on their way out in the US as well? — but hopefully we’ll get some answers in just a couple weeks.
[Via ClicZune, thx Penny]
Now that AT&T has full control of wireless hotspots like Starbucks and Barnes and Nobles, it looks like they’re doling out freebies to their favorite customers: iPhone users. Apparently, if you’ve got one of Apple’s devices, you can hop on the WiFi networks for exactly zero dollars provided you enter your phone number at a login screen. Great for iPhone owners, but a raw deal for everyone else, right? Not so fast, apparently a dumb hack gets you the service on the house too — just switch your browser’s user agent to Mobile Safari, and presto! Free internet. We can’t imagine this is a hole that won’t get plugged real fast, so get it while the gettin’s good.
C’mon, we know there are a few of you out there who couldn’t keep a potted plant alive if a botanist was holding your hand, but there’s hope for you all yet. At least, there is if QianJun Gao’s masterpiece ever makes it past the drawing board. This eloquently dubbed Practice Plant features a trio of “flowers” that display barometric readings and turn colors depending on status, and the surrounding leaves will droop to signify their need for attention. Thankfully, even the brownest of thumbs could always restart this puppy and try again, and with enough trial runs, maybe one day those hanging baskets wouldn’t sway out of your way as you waltz by.
For all of Microsoft’s denial, the Xbox 360 Blu-ray console rumors just will not die. In fact, they are getting more and more specific. The Chinese language Economic Daily News is reporting that Pegatron, an OEM subsidiary of ASUS, has won the order from Microsoft to assemble the Xbox 360 with Blu-ray Disc ROM drive — shipments are expected to being in Q3 of this year. Now come on Microsoft, just come clean on the matter, we won’t tell anyone.
According to Look Around You, an investigative scientific program appearing on the BBC’s Channel 3, a new atomic element that may revolutionize semiconductor fabrication has been successfully formulated in laboratory conditions. This element is Intelligent Calcium (see above) which may replace sodium ion implantation in the near future and thereby increase both digital and analog circuit performance.
From a design standpoint, ion implantation is one of the crucial steps in integrated circuit manufacturing as it allow the designer some freedom to set the threshold voltage for a MOSFET transistor as well as negate some of the potential problems with manufacturing. The basic idea is that by applying a positive or negative voltage at the gate terminal, we can attract either negative or positive charges (pairs of which are constantly thermally generated) to the “top” of the device respectively. If enough of these charges accumulate, we can form a conducting channel through the substrate. By implanting immobile ions in the gate oxide region, we can change the voltage at which this channel formation begins to occur and thereby the required bias for transistor operation. It is not hard to imagine that some chemical process steps may add undesired ions at the silicon-oxide interfaces in addition to dangling bonds in the oxide, so this same technique may sometimes be used to balance the parasitic ion concentration due to processing and return the device to the designed activation threshold.
Typically, the positive ion of choice is sodium. Ions are generated by electrically heated metal and are then accelerated by electromagnetic fields until the impact the target. Upon impacting the crystal lattice, the sodium looses momentum and typically does not move from its resting position unless the device is severely heated (can happen!). The sodium’s only action is to interact with the charges around it and modulate the effective threshold voltage for the device. The main downside is that the sodium ion cannot ‘decide’ when to act, so its effects are constant throughout time.
This is where the concept of intelligent calcium comes in. Unlike the ‘dumb’ sodium, the intelligent calcium’s higher atomic weight allows it higher flexibility with its charge configuration and thereby more freedom to ‘decide’ when to act as a 2+ valence ion and when to pretend to be neutrally charged. By using intelligent calcium as a positive ion throughout an integrated circuit, a calcium network is formed where each atom becomes a node and can communicate with both adjacent and far-away atoms to get a general feel for the situation and the activity of the device. It can then modulate its charge to increase (or decrease) the individual transistor thresholds as needed. From an analog perspective, the transconductance of the device goes up tremendously as well as the frequency response (due to intelligent calcium’s rapid activation). From a digital perspective, the speed of information propagation in the intelligent calcium network exceeds the mobilities of both holes and electrons, even in a strained silicon lattice. For this reason, the transistors adjust their threshold in advance of the gate voltage changes and thereby increase their switching speeds. This in turn translates to quicker gates and overall quicker devices.
The future is bright for intelligent calcium as it has many desirable properties for semiconductor fabrication. Scientists are presently pushing the bleeding edge of technology as they investigate the possibility of using the intelligent calcium network as a means to communication between transistors and a total replacement for the metal interconnects. The progress is slow, however, I have full confidence that I will one day have the opportunity to image an metal-less, intelligent calcium powered device in the weekly IC Friday column.
Rogers wireless has just officially launched the Nokia N95 8GB, making them the first North American carrier to official support Nokia’s flagship handset. The phone will be available starting May 6th, which is next Tuesday for all you calendar-challenged folks, for $399 with a 3-year contract. Just shy of $400 isn’t too bad, but we wouldn’t sign a 3-year contract unless someone was holding us at gun point, so proceed at your own risk. Then again, this is one hell of a handset, and if official carrier support is your thing then this is pretty much your only option. For our readers up North, will you be scooping this thing up next week?