The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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DEMOSpring2010 featured a lot of variations of social networks; in fact, it got so I was relieved when a technology being unveiled didn’t tweet, text, or update its Facebook status. (For one of those, see my videoblog on General Inspection, an automatic parts identification system for hardware stores.)

Two examples—Everloop and KarmaKorn.

Everloop is a social media site for kids who too old for Club Penguin (a website for early elementary schoolers) and are too young for Facebook (thirteen is Facebook Legal). There is an obvious niche here—plenty of tweens, including my 11 year old—are counting the days until they can get their own Facebook pages. Many aren’t waiting—they’re just lying about their ages.

Everloop presents itself as a safe-from-creepers place for tweens to go on the Internet. Unfortunately, Everloop has filled that space with commerce—the kids are given points to buy and sell things, like access to games and video content. And much of what they’re offered to “buy” is intended to be branded—send your friend a Coke, not a generic soda. After watching the Everloop demo, I realized that every niche doesn’t need to be filled. On the plus side, Everloop coined a great description of a demographic--the post-Penguin set.

KarmaKorn has also bought into the points mentality of social network—it calls its points “kernels”, but thinks it can turn a passion for virtual commerce into a force for social good. Folks who sign on with KarmaKorn will start out with some number of kernels in their bank accounts; they can use those kernels to encourage other people to do good things, for themselves or society (take your kids for a walk or give a homeless person a sandwich and I’ll pay 10 kernels), or earn kernels from others. The company plans to keep itself in business by charging large companies who want to position themselves as socially responsible to participate (earn 100 kernels from Weyerhaeuser if you go plant a tree). I don’t totally get the impulse to collect virtual goods on social media, but when I see how many people I know got sucked into Farmville, I have to admit that I know it exists. And if KarmaKorn can get people away from their computers and out helping society, they’re pointing this impulse in the right direction.

Everloop's Demo:

KarmaKorn's Demo:

The Conversation (0)

Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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