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Sneak peek at techs that could change the world

Posted: 19 Mar 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:emerging technology? biometrics multimode? power wireless? computing intelligent?

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) recently assembled a panel of technology experts to discuss emerging research technologies that have the potential to change the world. Among them are multimode biometrics, intelligent computing and wireless power.

"For 125 years, IEEE and its members have influenced the creation of nearly all the technologies we now cannot imagine life without," said 2008 IEEE president Lewis Terman at an event here. Terman, IBM Research Emeritus, predicted that development of emerging technologies will be "for the betterment of humanity."

Wireless power
Katie Hall, chief technology officer of startup WiTricity Corp., said the company's goal is to make its wireless electricity technology "as commonplace as batteries and extension cords."

WiTricity is an exclusive licensee of Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the technology, which takes off where today's inductive systems utilizing "charging cradles" fall short. Even though the inductive systems eliminate the need for a power cord, current systems require that the device being charged be in close proximity to the power source.

By contrast, WiTricity technology, based on resonant magnetic coupling, can operate over a broad range of distances and power levels.

Typically, a power source will wirelessly transfer electricity to a cellphone or laptop that has a wireless power-capture device built into it and is tightly integrated with its rechargeable battery. WiTricity is also working on wireless charging of electric vehicles and lighting. Products expected to reach the market as soon as next year. "It is designed to bring the benefits of wireless power to consumer, industrial, #LINKKEYWORD0#, military and transportation markets," said Hall.

Intelligent computing
IBM Almaden Research Center researchers detailed their work on the SyNAPSE project. Dharmendra Modha, manager of cognitive computing, described how his team has engineered computers that simulate the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition.

A $4.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is enabling IBM researchers to reverse engineer the computational function of the brain while leveraging advances in supercomputing and nanotechnology. "My team seeks to build intelligent business machines that rival the small size and low power consumption of the human brain," said Modha.

Modha added that IBM's research has the potential to greatly improve the functionality and response rate of everyday computers.

A team under professor Rangachar Kasturi at the University of South Florida has established a framework for evaluating algorithms that detect and track text, faces and vehicles in images and video. "The algorithms are building blocks for smart video analytic software for various applications," explained Kasturi.

For instance, they can be used to automatically detect unattended baggage or uncover power lines and other hard-to-detect obstacles. "Experts have barely scratched the surface of the potential world-changing technologies and associated economic opportunities that pattern recognition is poised to deliver in the next few decades," Kasturi claimed.

Roy Want, senior principal engineer at Intel Corp., described research on Dynamic Composable Computing (DCC), which promises to move the technology beyond the limitations of current mobile devices and enable wireless sharing of computing resources.

For example, if a mobile phone user does not have a camera phone, the use of DCC technology would provide the ability to wirelessly access the camera of another nearby device.

Want expects DCC to become a reality in the next five years. "The core technologies necessary for such a vision are already here," said Want. "We need standards that enable all devices to participate in this sharing regime and we need to design user interfaces that are sufficiently simple so that people can understand how the system works."

Meanwhile, a team led by Miguel Nicolelis, co-director at the Center for Neuroengineering at the Duke University Medical Center have developed a microchip that allows two-way communications between the human brain and robots without the use of sight or touch. "This will allow communication from human brain to human brain," said Nicolelis. His team is part of a global effort to enable quadriplegic patients to walk. The "Walk-Again Project" aims to achieve this feat by 2012.

Ray Liu's team at the University of Maryland at College Park has developed an eigenvalue pattern that could enable medical professionals to predict whether a patient is predisposed to cancer, the type of cancer and at what stage it will likely appear. "Using signal processing and engineering tools will improve the performance of computational system biology so that perhaps in the next five to ten years, some digital testing of cancer can supplement the traditional biological testing to offer as a reliable second opinion to improve cancer detection accuracy rate and reduce false alarms," said Liu.

The year-long IEEE celebration includes the first IEEE Presidents' Change the World Competition for students and the IEEE Engineering the Future Day on May 13.

- Nicolas Mokhoff
EE Times

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