Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the category “Chip Technology”

Exascale: The Faraway Frontier of Computing?

Those of you who follow this blog know that I write about technology trends that are, in general, not too far into the future.  This post is a departure in that it takes a peek at a technology at least 10 years away dubbed (for the moment) as “Exascale Computing.”  I’m writing about it now because the chances of my living long enough to see it come to fruition are somewhere between slim and none, and because I used to be very involved with the supercomputing industry and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Driving the development of this technology is a project known as SKA, which stands for Square Kilometer Array, a multibillion dollar radiotelescope 100X more sensitive than anything currently in existence.  Construction will begin in 5 years and will not be completed until 2024.  When it is operational, SKA will produce an Exabyte of data every single day.  To put that into perspective, that is twice the amount of data on the Internet worldwide – 1 quintillion bytes of information.

The SKA project is headed by ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.  To meet the vast computing requirements that will be needed to process that much information, ASTRON awarded IBM a $40+ million contract to begin developing what will be the world’s most powerful computer, equivalent to the combined computing power of 100 million high-end PCs.

There are three challenges that IBM will be addressing (see the graphic above):  transport (of data between computing elements), data storage and analysis.  Transport will be addressed using optical technology that is well-understood today.  Analysis will rely on massive parallel processing arrays with the power of a million+ Watsons.  Storage will rely on the development of new technology, most probably based on IBM’s research in nanotechnology applied to “phase-change memory.”.

If you are interested in this project, I urge you to view a short video about the SKA and IBM’s involvement in the project at this website.  Trust me, you will be amazed at the scope of the project and the technology challenges that will have to be overcome.


New Mini Temperature Sensor from TI to Extend Battery Life

Everybody knows that the Achilles heel of portable electronics is battery life.  While many researchers around the world are trying to find better battery technologies, Texas Instruments (TI) has come up with a miniature temperature sensing chip that may turn out to be a game-changer for devices like cellphones, tablets and laptops.

This tiny chip, designated the TMP006 reads temperatures without having to be wired into a circuit.  It merely has to be near it.  It detects infrared (otherwise known as “heat”) energy over the range -40 to 125 degrees Centigrade.  All this work is contained in a chip that measures 1.6 mm square, tiny enough to be adaptable to virtually any portable electronic device.  TI claims it is 95% smaller than any competing solution and uses 90% less power.

When it was first announced last year, TI had the QTY 1000 price pegged at $1.50 each.  I did a quicky online search and found prices today as low as $.10!  At that price, almost any product you can think of could incorporate the chip.

Contactless temperature sensing of course has many applications outside of the computer/phone businesses.  It doesn’t take much imagination to think of applications in motors, automobiles, medicine, etc., etc.  Virtually any application that can benefit from thermal management or thermal protection is fair game.  Looks like TI has hit another winner.

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