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Lessons from Northstar's botched study of a brain implant

northstarbrain_white.jpg I spoke with John Bowers, the chief executive of Northstar Neuroscience, about the electric brain stimulation trial Northstar will launch this year for the treatment of depression. This small medical device company hopes to soon market its brain implant, which sends pulses of electricity from a device inserted in the neck to an electrode that sits on the outside of the brain, just underneath the skull.

Up to one-third of patients fail to respond to conventional antidepressant drugs, and a number of medical device companies are exploring the use of brain stimulators--both implanted and external--to help correct problematic electrical activity inside mood-controlling regions of the brain. But Northstar started off 2008 on the wrong foot: a study of the same device used in stroke rehabilitation showed it wasnâ''t any better than intensive physical therapy.

Ever a fan of neural prostheses, I asked Bowers what we could learn from the stroke trial to improve the one for depression. Here's what he had to say.

1. Include more patients. â''Youâ''ll probably see us do a much larger number of implants than we did with stroke,â'' Bowers says. Itâ''s not uncommon for a number of severely depressed patients to equally fail to respond to antidepressant drugs but to each exhibit different sets of symptoms and behaviors, meaning that depression doesnâ''t follow along one simple pathway in the brain.

2. Pay extra attention in choosing the comparison group. The durations of these clinical trials are usually several months, often a year--far too long for patients to go without any treatment. So whatâ''s the best therapy for the group that doesnâ''t receive electric stimulation? The choice is always difficult.

3. Make sure the chosen patients are really, truly resistant to antidepressants before getting into the heart of the study, by building in an 8-week pre-trial period, during which patients will receive other treatment. If they improve, the subjects should be excluded. Once the subject pool has been refined, the chances of observing a placebo effect are much slimmer. â''These patients will have already failed 9 or 10 therapies, so their hope in a new one is already low,â'' Bowers reasons.

4. Donâ''t take the stroke trial too seriously: â''Weâ''ve always said that the stroke trial couldnâ''t be a predictor for the others, even before it started,â'' he says. â''The basic hardware is similar, but the treatment algorithm and stimulation parameters are different.â''

I have my own reservations about the upcoming study, but Iâ''m not a medical device company, so I donâ''t really know. [[CORRECTION APPENDED]] Northstar believes the outcomes of the depression trial will be positive enough to enable them to apply for FDA approval for the device. But you may wonder how they configured the device, given that they were, presumably, equally confident in the stroke trial. The settings of the depression treatment algorithmâ''stimulation frequency, duration, target location, and so onâ''were refined in the lab and tested on 11 patients in a preliminary human study.

But is data from 11 people really enough to work out all the kinks? To be sure, a solid body of research supports the company's choice of the brain region to stimulate, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. But to me, basing a companyâ''sâ''and a therapyâ''sâ''success on results from 11 people seems like quite a gamble.

CORRECTION: A Northstar rep tells me that the depression study will not culminate in FDA approval and is a more preliminary study of the technique's feasibility.

Thermoelectrics take center stage and nanotech can play a part

In a feature article in this monthâ''s Spectrum, which can be found online here, inventor Lonnie Johnson, who was previously best known for his invention of a high-powered squirt gun, has developed a thermoelectric generator that could operate as an entirely self-contained system, recirculating hydrogen within the generator to be cooled and then heated again in a continuous loop. The beauty of the system is that its design is all-solid-state thereby eliminating the moving parts such as turbines and pistons that result in parasitic losses.

With thermoelectric systems, the basic principle is that the difference between temperatures generates electricity, and in Lonnie Johnsonâ''s proposed system the difference in temperatures could be extreme with the hot side reaching 1100 °Celsius while the cool side remaining at room temperature, 25 °Celsius. This extreme temperature difference imparts high conversion efficiencies for changing the heat difference to electricity of 78 percent Carnot efficiency. This compares rather favorably to both photovoltaic devices that have net conversion efficiencies in the teens and thermionic (or thermoelectric) chips reach only a little higher than 20 percent of Carnot.

This story coincides with recent reports (which can be found here in Spectrum online and was originally reported in the journal Science) of two researchers from MIT and Boston College, Gang Chen of MIT and Zhifeng Ren of BC, who employed the low-tech process of ball milling to the common thermoelectric material bismuth antimony telluride (BiSbTe) and were able to break up the material into random nanostructures that increased the materialâ''s figure of merit, or ZT of the alloy, by 40% from 1 to 1.4.

US Government laboratories over the last 10 years have been focusing on research to develop and improve thermoelectrics, and the results of this work seems to be coming fast and furious.

Everything from computers that power themselves from their own heat generation to automobiles that can power their electrical systems through exhaust heat are being discussed as possibilities. And perhaps most importantly, a technology that can more efficiently than photovoltaics turn the energy from the sun into electricity.

Richard Smalley in his final years took it upon himself to see if nanotechnology could be used to fend off the worldâ''s developing energy crisis. If he could see recent developments, he certainly would be encouraged in general and pleased to see the role nanotechnology is playing.

Endeavour Returns Safely; Jules Verne Approaches Space Station

As the space shuttle Endeavour touched down safely on the tarmac at Cape Canaveral last night, NASA was telling the media about plans to broadcast the approach and docking of the newest vehicle to work with the International Space Station (ISS), the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).

Wrapping up an intensive 16-day mission to the ISS, Commander Dominic Gorie (Capt, USN) aimed the Endeavour orbiter toward the Kennedy Space Center from the other side of North America and hit its landing strip on schedule, following a short delay for clouds to clear.

The flight of the STS-123 mission taxed its crew with the delivery of two vital components to the bulging space station: the first component of the Japanese Experiment Module known as the Kibo and the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator known as the Dextre robot (please see our prior entry "Work Finished, Space Shuttle Heads for Home").

In the meantime, the new Jules Verne ATV, launched on 9 March 2008 on a mission to deliver supplies to the ISS and help boost the orbital platform to a higher altitude, began its long docking approach. The unmanned cargo vessel is on a proof-of-concept flight to test its automated systems, designed by the European Space Agency. NASA-TV will provide live coverage of the vehicle's test approach to the ISS on 31 March at 10:00 am EDST and docking maneuver on 3 April at 10:40 EDST.

According to an item from United Press International, the Jules Verne will remain at the space station until early August, when it will undock and burn up after entering the Earth's atmosphere (please see our entry "Two Spacecraft Prepare for Space Station Meetings").

Moto Rola

Motorola announced today that it would split into two companies, one for handsets, the other for, well, everything else. You can be forgiven for not knowing which of those two parts isn't doing well -- it's the one you see every day in people's hands as they walk down the street making phone calls. The everything else part, which Bloomberg (â''â''Motorola to Split Into Two After Phone Sales Slideâ'') summarized as "network equipment, cable TV set-top boxes and two-way radios," is doing fine.

Handset manufacturing is the most visible part of Motorola, but it's hardly the biggest.

Motorola's handset business will probably have a value of $1.69 a share next year, while the other divisions could be worth $7.49, Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Tal Liani in New York said today in a note to clients.

The handset business lost $388 million last quarter. The networks and set-top box unit had a profit of $192 million on 11 percent sales growth, while the unit making radios and scanners had a profit of $451 million and a 35 percent revenue increase.

Motorola hit a home run in the super-slim Razr in 2005, but there are no real home runs in telecommunications manufacturing. Within a year or so, competitors like Samsung had their own super-slim phones. Everything that looks like a home run is really a ground-rule double, and you need to keep them coming.

What's really happened are two things.

Apple entered the market with its iPhone and grabbed market share from everybody, including Motorola. And corporate investor and raider Carl Icahn, the closest thing to a real-life Gordon Gekko (the financial vulture from the movie Wall Street), swooped in last year to do his "preserve shareholder value" thing. He's now up to 6.3 percent of Motorola's stock, and of course by â''improving value,â'' he means â''improving the price-per-share.â'' Today.

As it happens, Motorola had the ear of tech journalists and analysts this morning for an entirely different reason. In advance of next week's annual CTIA conference, the company had a web-and-phone briefing of the technologies and products it would touting there. CTIA is the main trade association for manufacturers of wireless products.

And as luck would have it, some of the announcements were pretty interesting. For example, Motorola said it had demonstrated packet-switched handoffs between LTE and CDMA base stations. That's a pretty big deal.

CDMA is the wireless standard used by Verizon, Sprint, and a handful of other important carriers around the world. LTE is the next-generation wireless standard for GSM-based carriers, but several CDMA carriers have said they too will switch over to it as well. Handoffs between older GSM base stations and LTE ones will be easy; LTE is being designed as a smooth upgrade from GSM. Carriers like Verizon can't possibly move to LTE unless old and new phones and base stations work together.

Two other interesting announcements concerned WiMax, the 4G wireless standard that LTE will compete with over the next few years. Motorola announced the CPEi 150, a terminal device for homes that's fully compliant with the latest version of IEEE 802.16, the underlying standard for WiMax. Importantly, the 150 is "plug-and-play," meaning that someone in the household need only plug it in -- no technician housecall is needed. A technician's "truck run," as it's called, can triple the cost of an end-user device.

The other WiMax announcement concerned a broad range of products offering automotive support for WiMax. For reasons that I outlined back in January ("Ford in Sync, But Out of Step"), automotive systems like GM's Onstar and Ford's Sync need high-speed bi-directional wireless networks exactly like WiMax. If Motorola is in the lead providing products for them, it will pay off.

Given that LTE and WiMax will the two dominant wireless standards for the next generation of cellphones and cellular services, it's also pretty important that Motorola also announced a common platform for them. Though the two are competing standards, they are both based on the same underlying air protocol, orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing, or OFDM. Motorola said it has been able to reuse "about 75 percent" of its WiMAX development for LTE.

It's crazy to make all those advances on the network side, and not parlay them into accompanying innovations on the handset side. There's an entire new generation of handsets coming -- handsets that are will work on more than one carrier's network. Sprint's new WiMax network is a bring-your-own-device one (see "Sprint's Broadband Gamble").

Similarly, Verizon announced last fall a policy called "open access," allowing compatible phones onto its networks. (I liked Scott Fulton's BetaNews story, "Verizon Wireless' open access move: The historic details," but the best-titled article about it had to be Wired's "Pigs Fly, Hell Freezes Over and Verizon Opens Up Its Network -- No, Really.")

Announcements like these are opening the door what we can expect to be waves of innovation coming at us at a furious pace. Another door to innovation was opened last summer by Apple and its iPhone. While that hurt Motorola in the short run, it convinced changephobic carriers that had, for years, resisted touchscreens and the like, that they were wrong.

Motorola is already shipping phones with touchscreens and announced one on a new Mobile TV device today. Back in January, at CES, Motorola showed some phones with soft keypads that do the one on the iPhone one better by providing haptic feedback. So in the same way Motorola wasn't able to hold the Razr advantage for very long, neither can Apple -- to Motorola's benefit, this time around.

This is, in other words, exactly the wrong time for a company with good ideas to get out of the handset business. Unfortunately, those ideas don't produce the "shareholder value" -- today -- that some shareholders want .

Samsung Buys Pioneering Display Technology Firm

About a year and a half ago, we published a feature on the latest advances in flat-panel displays -- please see "Displays of a Different Stripe". It was penned by Joel Pollack, the president and chief executive officer of Clairvoyante Inc., a display-architecture firm in Cupertino, Calif. In it, Pollack discussed in detail how today's new display technologies work in relation to human visual perception.

Now, we've received word that his company's patents have been purchased by Samsung Electronics, the world's leading maker of high-definition televisions.

In today's announcement, Samsung said that it had bought the intellectual property of Clairvoyante, including its proprietary PenTile subpixel rendering display technology and associated gamut mapping algorithms for an undisclosed amount. It noted that PenTile technology offers a significant reduction in power consumption for high-resolution mobile liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and for extending the lifetime of high-resolution mobile organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays.

"Samsung recognized the potential of Clairvoyante's PenTile technology to improve display performance more than seven years ago when we became the first company to license the IP," Dr. Seung-Ho Ahn, vice president of external affairs for Samsung, said today. "This new business relationship will afford us the opportunity to guide this technology in support of a wide range of markets and applications."

After the acquisition of its patents, Clairvoyante will be dissolved, the statement read. A new entity, Nouvoyance, has been formed. It will be led by Candice Brown Elliott, a co-founder of Clairvoyante, and staffed with the old firm's engineers. Together with Samsung, Nouvoyance will carry forward the future development of PenTile technology.

"The acquisition of Clairvoyante's IP assets by Samsung ensures the long-term development of PenTile technology to support growing demand for high-resolution devices," Pollack said during the announcement. "The transaction also validates the ability of PenTile technology to enable best-in-class displays with greater performance and functionality for emerging designs."

In his article from the August 2006 issue of IEEE Spectrum, Pollack wrote that the secret to improving display performance -- achieving power savings of as much as 50 percent -- lies in redesigning the display to provide no more information than the eye can absorb and the brain can digest, using techniques from what is known as biomimicry.

Our eyes have a great preponderance of red and green cones, rather than blue ones, to process color information from the outside world. Yet, color-display devices have traditionally used straight 1:1:1 ratios of red, green, and blue color elements, or subpixels. Pollack explained that, because blue subpixels do almost nothing to help the eye resolve images, most of their information goes to waste.

In the 1970s, the Eastman Kodak Co. came up with a new architecture called the Bayer pattern, featuring a 1:2:1 ratio of red, green, and blue subpixels, with the green subpixels linked diagonally, as in a checkerboard (please see Pollack's sidebar "Primary Colors"). Clairvoyante's technology, Pollack stated, improves upon the Bayer pattern basically by "going easy on the green" and rotating the pattern 45 degrees, as well as resizing the subpixels with respect to each other. These and other enhancements result in sharper images and reduced energy use to achieve high-definition resolution.

Toward the end of his article for us, Pollack noted that several major manufacturers, such as LG Innotek and Samsung, have licensed the PenTile technology and its affiliated algorithms for use in new displays.

Now, there will be only one manufacturer who will control the development and use of this pioneering display know-how. Today's deal for Clairvoyante should give Samsung a significant edge over its international competitors fighting for the lion's share of the lucrative flat-screen monitor and television market in the future.

But, of course, you already know this, because you read about it here first.

As for Pollack, his position going forward is unclear from today's announcement. This longtime research engineer, however, likely has come into a handsome windfall from his work on improving the way electronics can trick our eyes into seeing what we want to see more clearly.

Wind Power Turbines Spin In the Galapagos Islands


Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to the Galápagos Islands to experience its exquisite natural attractions. Last September, I traveled to San Cristóbal, the easternmost island in the archipelago, to see something entirely made by humans.

I was there to watch a team of engineers building three 800-kilowatt state-of-the-art wind power turbines. Now the turbines are ready. Last Tuesday, a dedication ceremony took place on the hills of San Cristóbal to mark the end of the construction and testing phase and celebrate the beginning of the wind system's commercial operation.

But why do the Galápagos need wind power anyway?

Contrary to what most people imagine, the Galápagos Islands, a rarefied ­ecosystem where Charles Darwin drew inspiration for his theory of evolution, is not a deserted paradise whose sole inhabitants are giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and other native species. We, humans, are a big presence on the islands.

In addition to the 120,000 tourists that visit every year, the Galápagos are also home to more than 20,000 people. And both numbers continue to grow rapidly. One result of all this human activity is a higher demand for electricity. To produce electric power, the islands have relied on diesel generators. The fuel for the generators, and also for cruise ships and auto­mobiles, arrives by oil tanker from mainland Ecuador.

But bringing oil to paradise is not an ideal situation. In 2001, the Ecuadorian tanker Jessica took a wrong turn near San Cristóbalâ''s harbor, rammed into a reef, and ran aground, leaking more than 500,000 liters of diesel and bunker fuel. The incident served as a wake-up call.

Before long, the Ecuadorian government teamed up with the United Nations Development Programme and the e8â''a consortium of electricity companies from the G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States) that supports energy projects in the developing worldâ''to launch the US $10.8 million San Cristóbal Wind Project.

The dedication last week was the culmination of more than six years of intense work involving a rather diverse group of people. In fact, the group gathered for the ceremony included Ecuadorian ministers and politicians, United Nations officials, American engineers, French and German executives, the Russian ambassador to Ecuador, and many locals who participated in the project.

(Fortunately for those traveling from abroad, the San Cristóbal airport had recently reopened after months closed for construction. When I visited I had to take a three-and-a-half-hour stomach-churning boat ride from nearby Santa Cruz to get to the island, and more than once I though of jumping into the cold Pacific waters.)

Attending the ceremony last week, Jim Tolan, the project manager, reports that the weather was just perfect. Sunny, blue sky, no clouds. As the crowd of 150 people convened near the turbines, with cocktails and ceviche floating around, the wind wasn't blowing strongly, but it was enough to turn the blades for all to see. (Watch a video of the turbines above.) "Everyone, especially the local people, were incredibly happy," he says.

Tolan, who lives in Portland, Maine, and traveled to the Galápagos more than a dozen times, believes this was his last trip for now. "I said my goodbyes," he says. "Unless, well, we start another project there."

UPDATE: Paul Loeffelman, director of environmental public policy at American Electric Power, the e8 member company that led the San Cristóbal project, sends us this brief report on the dedication ceremony:

The March 18 Galapagos Wind Project Dedication Ceremony was a celebration of the hard work by many persons to bring the first commercial scale wind park in Ecuador on line with all of its environmental benefits. The e8 project team needed to overcome great challenges and did so with the help of the UNDP, UNF and many other institutions and organizations in Ecuador. We were humbled by the warmth and appreciation that we were shown by the local community, true partners that were willing to embrace new technology to improve their quality of life and environment.

Approximately 300 residents, contractors, local power company staff and agency representatives were at the wind park, toured the wind-diesel control room with its solar panels, and attended the formal convention center speeches. We recognized a few with certificates at the convention center. The e8 received a plaque and sculpture from the Mayor and Prefect as well. In addition, the Ecuadorian Post Office issued a stamp on March 18 in honor of the project. The National Park officially opened its new renewable energy exhibit in the Interpretation Center with permanent photos of the e8 wind turbine, control room computer screen and solar panels.

Photo and video by Diego Añazco

Work Finished, Space Shuttle Heads for Home

With their complex mission objectives accomplished, the crew of Endeavour has climbed back into the space shuttle and prepared to undock from the International Space Station (ISS) this evening.

According to NASA, the STS-123 shuttle astronauts sealed the hatches linked to the ISS at 5:13 pm EDT and began procedures to pull away from the orbiting outpost about three hours later. Behind them, they will leave: the newly installed Japanese Logistics Module's pressurized section, the first component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agencyâ''s Kibo laboratory; and the completed Canadian Space Agency's Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, also known as the Dextre robot.

In addition, they have bidden farewell to their fellow crewmate, Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who will remain aboard the ISS as part of the station's Expedition 16 team. In return, they are welcoming the European Space Agency's Gen. Léopold Eyharts to Endeavour for a one-way ride back to Earth, after six weeks in space working on the Columbus European laboratory module, delivered by the last shuttle mission (STS-122).

"We've had a really great time up here," astronaut Michael Foreman said today. "But, yeah, I think a few of us are thinking about getting back to planet Earth."

Eyharts said he had mixed emotions about returning. "Of course, I would have loved to stay longer in the station, but I think it's time for me to go back," he said.

The STS-123 crew performed five spacewalks over their 12-day stay at the ISS, largely to carry out work on Dextre, which proved to be somewhat difficult to assemble in zero gravity.

Endeavour is scheduled to land at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday night.

More about Sun's big win

I just got off the phone with Ron Ho, a distinguished engineer at Sun research. Here's some further details about their $44-million darpa optical interconnects project.

First, some shocking frankness: Ho gives Sun about a 50-50 shot at meeting Darpa's goals. The upside to that, is that the goals are so outrageous, that Sun would probably be very, very happy to commercialize the failure.

Here's the goal, by the way: today's copper-based interconnect technology, say Rambus or DDR, costs you 10-20 mw per gigabit per second. For otpical systems, it's little higher than that, says Ho. "We intend to get that down by a couple orders of magnitude," he says. Bandwidth, would then be free, and system architects and software guys would go berserk.

My first question was why do you think Sun's team won? Ho qualified his answer with: "Darpa is pretty opaque; you don't often know what pushes their buttons." That said, he was convinced that Sun's team won because it brought a complete top to bottom approach, from the individual components to the large-scale systems. Ho is a circuits guy and the other two leads, Ashok Krishnamurthy [apologies for any spelling errors] and John Cunningham [same apologies], are fundamental optics guys. So together they brought the device-level view, but Ho says they brought in their systems architects, too. They were able to look at the question at the level of "How would we modify Solaris [Sun's servers] to take advantage of this?"

OK, OK, HP/Intel and IBM are also teams that could bring the device to systems view, too. So maybe it was Sun's proximity communications technology? Well, maybe. "We know that Darpa likes proximity communications." They did fund it in the first place.

Ho says that in thinking about the question, they started with the proximity technology linking two chips and then asked how it would work if you had a 10 x 10 grid of chips. "Sending a bit of data from one corner to other the latency might add up to a couple 100 clock cycles." Well, that's no good.

So the idea is to make a sort of optical proximity connection. The chips would shine and detect light from their edges without the need to string an optical fiber or other waveguide between them.

So what's the plan, Sun? Well, there's 4 or 5 different plans, according to Ho. They and all their partners will be trying lots of versions of this basic idea and the technologies that would enable it and choosing the best combination they can find. By the way, the team members are: Sun, Kotura, Luxter, Stanford University, and UC San Diego. I left out the last two because the New York Times did (and Sun's press release left out everybody but Sun).

The universities, says Ho, are important for providing the "whacky and crazy ideas."

I'm going to talk to Luxtera tomorrow.

NSF Gives $1.4 million Grant to Study Peopleâ¿¿s Preconceived Notions on Nanotechnology

Depending on which scientific toxicological paper you read, you may discover that nanoparticles are toxic, or they arenâ''t at all. Even if youâ''re a scientist, sorting out the data on the toxicity of nanoparticles is no easy matter.

But you can be sure that the general public is not going to sit down to a nice read of the latest issue of Applied Toxicology to find its answer on nanotechnology: Pro or Con.

They will make the decision based on the same foundation they make most of their decisionsâ'¿well no foundation at all unless you call uninformed, knee-jerk reactions a foundation.

But to the rescue is a new study that is aimed at getting to the bottom of how people use their biases to determine whether something is safe. According to the recipient of the NSF research grant, Dr. David Berube, the project will focus on how the public interprets information about the potential health risks of nanotechnology.

The four-year, $1.4-million research project should produce a fascinating read when completed. Letâ''s see, maybe something like, â''Corporations are killing us, corporations make nanotechnology, nanotechnology is killing us.â''

Without a doubt, people develop entire world-views without the slightest bit of evidence or proof, and the same will likely happen with nanotechnology.

But one could argue that at this point we donâ''t even have the scientists quite sure on whether nanoparticles are toxic or not. Maybe funding into getting a better handle on the science, like some agreed upon standards and testing, would be more beneficial at this point then developing strategies for how scientists should communicate the findings to John Q. Public.

Sun team wins $44-million optical interconnect grant from Defense Department

A team lead by Sun Microsystems has won a $44.29-million, five and a half-year research grant "focused on microchip interconnectivity via on-chip optical networks enabled by silicon photonics and proximity communication." According to the New York Times Sun's team includes silicon photonics startups Luxtera and Kotura. (Sun's own press release doesn't mention either of those firms. Nice.) According to the Times, the Sun team beat out a joint proposal from Intel and HP, as well as proposals from IBM and MIT.

The money comes from a program called Ultraperformance Nanophotonic Intrachip Communications (UNIC. Really. Didn't anyone at Darpa try to pronounce this before they came up with the program name?). Darapa's site has updated UNIC's status from solicitation to program so don't bother looking in the program section under UNIC (ugh).

In Sun's press release the Darpa program manager described the goals like so: "DARPA's UNIC (Ultraperformance Nanophotonic Intrachip Communications) program will demonstrate high performance photonic technology for high bandwidth, on-chip, photonic communications networks for advanced (â'¥ 10 trillion operations/second) microprocessors. By restoring the balance between computation and communications, the program will significantly enhance DoD's capabilities for applications such as Image Processing, Autonomous Operations, Synthetic Aperture Radar, as well as supercomputing." That was a mouthful.

It's interesting to note that nowhere in Darpa's solicitation (even in the long form--I checked) is the word "proximity" used. Sun has made much in the past of its (still not commercial) technology that allows two chips placed next to each other to communicate via inductive coupling. We covered it back in 2003, but I'm afraid we haven't gotten that far in our archival postings; so no link, sorry.

Anyhow, a casual glance at the teams makes me think that it was really Intel vs. Luxtera the whole time. I think it's been that way all along. Every time Intel had some great breaktrhough, such as back in 2005 when Intel managed to make a silicon laser (but one that needs input from another laser to work). Luxtera has had some "anything you can do I can to do better" come back.

Intel was kind enough to lay down its vision of silicon photonics a couple of years ago. Anyone wanting to understand all the components you'd need for a working silicon photonics system should check out that link. It'll make a lot more sense than Sun's press release (which wasn't bad, really).

Intel has long appeared to be in the camp of folks who think an electrically pumped silicon laser is pointless to pursue. As demonstration they later with a UC Santa Barbara team, pioneered a way of making said "other laser" by bonding an indium phosphide light source to a silicon structure. I think Luxtera is in that camp as well; so perhaps Darpa wasn't keen on throwing more money at that problem too.

By the way, there's gobs of research about bonding exotic semiconductors to silicon being reported this week at the Materials Research Society's spring meeting. We'd hoped to have a story about that for this, week, but in light of the DoD grant, I think we're going to refocus the story. Look for it later this week or early next week.


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