The Protogen Weekly Breakdown

Check out our breakdown of the latest technology news making headlines this week.

The Protogen Weekly Breakdown

Check out our breakdown of the latest technology news making headlines this week.

1. New technology reduces 30% chip area of STT-MRAM while increasing memory bit yield by 70%

Researchers from Tohoku University in Japan have successfully developed an innovative technology to stack magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJ) directly on the vertical interconnect access (VIA) without causing deterioration to its electric/magnetic characteristics. The VIA, with its integrated circuit design, is a made up of a small opening that allows a conductive connection between the different layers of a semiconductor device.

This amazing new discovery is a world first, and will be particularly significant in reducing the chip area of spin-transfer torque magnetic random access memory (STT-MRAM), making its much more practical to commercialise for the tech market.

The team at Tohoku University, led by Professor Tetsuo Endoh who is the Director of the Centre for Innovative Integrated Electronic Systems (CIES), achieved this feat by focusing on reducing the memory cell area of STT-MRAMs in order to decrease manufacturing costs, making them competitive with traditional semiconductor memories such as dynamic random access memory (DRAM).

Read more here

Image Source: Professor Tetsuo Endoh.

2. Satellite communication of the future

In event of a disaster, emergency respondents typically communicate via satellite when phone and mobile telecommunication is not available. However, this kind of communication has certain disadvantages; once the data lines are overloaded, the connection cuts off.

In response to this life depending issue, Fraunhofer researchers have developed a new antenna system which reliably transmits data via satellite with a high-bandwidth, conveniently suitable for mobile use.

As natural disasters are unavoidable, it is essential for regions to have reliable systems in place to ensure seamless communication to maximise hasty assistance to those affected. As was the case with the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, electricity and telephone lines were destroyed, rendering them useless. In most cases, mobile communications fail over large areas due to the damaged supporting infrastructure. Emergency services tend to turn to their own technology to communicate, generally operated over satellite systems. Data or phone calls are sent directly to a satellite in space and, from there, to receiving stations on Earth. As a result, the rescue workers are not dependent on the communications infrastructure on the ground.

Until recently, satellite communication has always had a number of problems. The connection is cut off when a large volume of data has to be transmitted or when a thunderstorm interrupts transmission. The satellite antenna requires precise alignment to the satellite. This makes it virtually impossible to communicate with broadband in a moving car via satellite, since the antenna constantly moves out of focus when in a moving vehicle.

A number of research institutions have developed a range of technologies to make satellite communications fit for mobile use in a joint project coined KASYMOSA (Ka-band systems for mobile satellite communications. The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen is involved with this revolutionary project. For mobile communications, researchers have to consider the following:

  1. Shifting and positioning the satellite antenna on a moving car quickly enough so that it always keeps the satellites in view
  2. High precision is needed as the satellite antenna can only move by a maximum of 0.2 degrees from the focus of the satellite

The partners have therefore developed algorithms for a mechanism which can move the antenna precisely and quickly. They control the movement of the antenna with extreme accuracy and speed so that it compensates for a change in direction within fractions of a second.

Image Source

3. Software turns webcams into eye-trackers

The use of eye tracking for web analytics isn't new, but many studies require standalone eye-tracking devices that often cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

A new software named ‘WebGazer’, developed by Brown University, is a cheaper and more efficient option and has been labeled as the future of web analytics. The software turns integrated computer webcams into eye-trackers that can infer where on a webpage a user is looking. The software can be added to any website with just a few lines of code and runs on the user's browser.

Graduate Alexandra Papoutsaki, explains that ‘anyone can add WebGazer to their site and get a much richer set of analytics, compared to just tracking clicks or cursor movements’.

The software code is freely available to anyone who is interested here.

Papoutsaki and her colleagues will present a paper describing the software in July 2016, at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. 

Image Source

4. Microsoft Windows Holographic OS Will Open to Developers

Microsoft plans to extend Its Window Holographic software to OEM, ODM, and hardware partners so they can create mixed-reality devices, PCs, displays, and accessories with the platform.

Microsoft’s Windows Holographic is a version of Windows 10 designed to power mixed-reality experiences (mixed reality is described as a fusion of augmented reality and virtual reality). It contains a holographic shell and interaction model, perception APIs, and compatibility with Xbox Live.

Windows Holographic will be compatible with devices that include technologies ranging from immersive VR to untethered holographic computing.

Prior to this announcement, Windows Holographic was limited to Microsoft HoloLens, HoloLens overlays interactive digital images on real-world objects; its apps range from productivity to gaming.


5. A Hand-drawn Search Image database

Computer scientists at the University of Basel have developed a new method for conducting image and video database searches based on hand-drawn sketches. 

The system is known as ‘Vitrivr’, which allows a search for images and videos by means of a sketch. The user creates a sketch of the desired object on a tablet or interactive paper, and the program delivers the images and video clips that most resemble it. The user can even specify on the sketch in which direction an object is moving in the searched sequence.

When designing the system, the researchers deliberately set a very broad similarity concept and adapted it to different types of sketch; for example, similar colours, shapes or directions of movement.

The ‘vitrivr’ system is entirely open source and is therefore freely available to the international research community. 

The system is currently being developed around the world with even Google’s ‘Summer of Code’, taking a keen interest. 

Read more here


6. Toyota said to be in talks to acquire two Google robotics companies

Toyota is close to acquiring two robotics companies from Google. The companies are rumoured to be Boston Dynamics and Shaft. These companies were acquired by Google years ago as a push into the robotics field…. which never quite got off the ground since robotics head Andy Rubin left the company in late 2014.

The companies are still in talks, but if the deal goes through it would see Boston Dynamics, a developer of advanced two- and four-legged robots for the U.S. military, and Schaft, a Tokyo-based developer of humanoid robots, transferred to the Toyota Research Institute. 

Toyota has been researching robotics for more than 10 years, and the acquisition of the Google companies would give Toyota access to a cutting-edge robotics development, especially in the field of humanoid robots.

Toyota already has ties to Google's robotics work through two key staff members it recently hired Gill Pratt used to run the robotics challenge contest at the U.S. Department of Defence's research and development arm, DARPA, in which both Google companies participated. He joined Toyota in late 2015 to launch and run the Toyota Research Institute. In January this year Google's then head of robotics, James Kuffner, left the company to join Pratt at the research centre.


Keep an eye out for our Protogen Weekly breakdown next week! 

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