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Virtual Kitchen form the AI2-THOR

AI2-THOR Interactive Simulation Teaches AI About Real World

Training a robot butler to make the perfect omlette could require breaking a lot of eggs and throwing out many imperfect attempts in a real-life kitchen.

That’s why researchers have been rolling out virtual training grounds as a more efficient alternative to putting AI agents through costly and time-consuming experiments in the real world.

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Images showing 21.3: 32GHz Resonant-Fin Transistors  in 14nm FinFET Technology

FinFETs Shimmy to 5G’s Frequencies

Engineers at Purdue University and GlobalFoundries have gotten today’s most advanced transistors to vibrate at frequencies that could make 5G phones and other gadgets smaller and more energy efficient. The feat could also improve CPU clocks, make wearable radars, and one day form the basis of a new kind of computing. They presented their results today at the IEEE International Solid-States Circuits Conference, in San Francisco.

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Photograph of the personal GPS boot created at the University of Utah.

Accurate Navigation Without GPS

The global positioning system can locate you within 5 to 10 meters anywhere on Earth—as long as your receiver is in the line of sight of multiple satellites. Getting location information indoors is tricky. A team at the University of Utah has now put the solution underfoot: A suite of sensors and circuits mounted to a boot can determine position with an accuracy of about 5 meters, indoors or out, without GPS.

The navigation system, installed in a very hefty prototype boot, could help rescue workers navigate inside buildings, and show firefighters where their team members are. It might also be integrated with virtual or augmented reality games. The Utah researchers presented their GPS-free navigation system on Tuesday at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

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Back of emulator showing wires

MilliLabs Ignores Industry Skepticism to Build Emulator for Millimeter Waves

5G report logo, link to report landing page

Throughout its development, 5G has been plagued by a simple problem: Is there a way for engineers to test millimeter wave propagation without committing to expensive and complex methods? The founders of one startup, MilliLabs, say they’ve found a solution.

“Everyone was doing over-the-air testing and we’re saying, ‘Dude, that’s nuts,’” says Aditya Dhananjay, the co-founder and president of MilliLabs. It was widely assumed that emulating millimeter waves was, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

Prior to 5G development, standard industry procedure was to use channel emulators to quickly gather a large amount of general data on the technologies being developed, before conducting more refined, over-the-air tests.

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Microscope image of the integrated HEMT-LED device

New Device Could Drive MicroLED Displays, Li-Fi

A new device could make upcoming microLED displays easier to engineer and visible light communications systems, like LiFi, faster.

As IEEE Fellow Kei May Lau sees it, the problem with conventional LEDs, which are current controlled devices, is that turning them on and off rapidly to control brightness or using them for Li-Fi takes careful engineering and a bunch of circuitry.

“Most IC designers would rather work with voltage control device, but LEDs are current controlled devices,” says Lau. The combination of an LED’s high current and low voltage requirements makes designing drivers for them troublesome.

So she and her students invented a device, the HEMT-LED, that makes it much easier. The HEMT-LED, which is a bit like a light emitting transistor, lets you switch light emission on and off and control brightness with voltage signals.

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Photo of bunnie Huang in front of computers.

How to Design a New Chip on a Budget

We recently had an interesting exchange with bunnie Huang, hardware guru and creator of Chumby, NetTV, and the Novena laptop, among other things. He’s also the author of Hacking the Xbox, The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen, and not one but two feature articles in IEEE Spectrum.

We were interested in Huang’s views about whether a small, modestly funded team—say a college-dorm startup—could produce a custom chip, just the way such groups now create board-level products and software with ease. 

Software ventures in particular benefit from the vast amount of open-source code that is available for use in building commercial products. (One study found that the average commercial application contains 35 percent open-source code.) We wanted to get a sense of whether chip designers also enjoyed a rich ecosystem of open-source building blocks.

Or is chip design still so closed and so challenging that it’s really just for large, established companies?

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Pivotal Commware's holographic beamforming technology installed on a cell tower.

Pivotal Commware Will Start Selling Its Software-Defined Antenna for Holographic Beamforming This Year

5G report logo, link to report landing page

Today’s cell towers serve as beacons of mobile service, screaming their signal out in all directions for any devices close enough to benefit. This approach has worked fine for the most part, but in a future with more advanced phones packed more tightly together on a 5G network, towers will need to make better use of their allocated radio frequencies.

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NICER Payload onboard the International Space Station

What If GPS Stood for “Galactic Positioning System”?

At the American Astronomical Society’s 231st meeting, in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, Keith Gendreau, principal investigator for NASA’s Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission described something remarkable: the first successful demonstration of a system to use pulsars for navigation in space.

The basic idea is similar to what is done with the Global Positioning System (GPS) or other global satellite navigation systems. When you use GPS to find your way to Starbucks, you are depending on transmissions from an array of satellites whose positions are precisely known. The timing of the signals you measure can thus be used to deduce the position of the receiver. That works only if the receiver is on Earth or near Earth, however. If you wanted to visit a Starbucks in deep space, you have to find it by some other means.

Right now, deep-space navigation mostly depends on using radio signals sent from Earth to the distant space probe—signals that must be sent with giant antennas. The probe responds by sending a signal back. So it’s not hard to figure out range—overall distance—with good precision from how long a signal traveling at the speed of light takes to get to the probe and back. But angles are tougher to nail down. As a result, such position fixes degrade as you move away from Earth. Indeed, for critical operations, like insertion into orbit at the distances beyond Jupiter, space navigation done this way is especially challenging.

How then can spacecraft traveling far from Earth navigate precisely through the heavens? One possibility is to use pulsars as natural GPS beacons of a sort. To understand how that would work, though, you first need to know a little something about pulsars.

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Prototype of mobile device with the proposed phased array antennas.

A Beam-Steering Antenna for 5G Mobile Phones

5G report logo, link to report landing page

The final architecture of 5G cellular networks has yet to be carved in stone. However, it looks as though millimeter waves, with their ability to obtain wider bandwidths, will play an important role in 5G—the next generation of mobile phones. The combination of these bands along with directional phased-array antennas, in which radio waves can be steered electronically in a desired direction, will constitute one of the key technologies in future 5G cellular systems.

While there have been a number of research efforts that have demonstrated that these phased-array antennas can be added into mobile phones using low-cost substrate boards, no one had demonstrated that it’s possible to build these antennas into phones with full metallic casings, as can be found in the high-end mobile devices from numerous manufacturers.

Now researchers from the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Communication and Data Science at Shanghai University in China have developed a 28 Gigahertz (GHz) beam-steering antenna array that can be integrated into the metallic casing of 5G mobile phones.

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Photograph of Alexandre Dumas with an inset of The Count of Monte Cristo.

What the Count of Monte Cristo Can Teach Us About Cybersecurity

What can a 174-year-old French novel possibly have to say about cybersecurity? Quite a lot, it turns out. Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo was published in 1844, and so he of course knew nothing about the Internet and probably little about electricity. But the writer had a keen understanding of human nature and how people interact with technology, and he saw how technological attacks could by engineered by exploiting personal foibles.

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