Category Archives: electronics

How will new patent law affect tech sector?

The America Invents Act was signed on Sept 16, and it makes sweeping changes to the way patents work in the US.  Widely seen as pro-business and possibly detrimental to small time inventors, the new law will phase in over the next 18 months and change the way the technology field is implemented.

VTIP, the technology transfer office of Virginia Tech, is sponsoring an event to help sort out the facts from the myth.  Guest speakers will describe the effects on inventors and tech startups and answer questions.  The event is called “Making Connections” and will be held in 310 in the ICTAS building on Stanger Street on October 18 from 2-5 pm.  Anyone is welcome to attend, but seating is limited so register with Michael Miller using the information provided in the link.

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Filed under biotechnology, Communications, electronics, Energy, genetics, Materials, medical technology, Networks, optics, propulsion, Robotics, Sensing, software, Wireless

Smart phones, the return….

As promised in an earlier edition (see Smart phones to be even smarter), we will look at the use of cognitive engines in mobile communications.

Charles Bostian

Dr. Bostian

Several years ago, Dr. Charles Bostian of the Mobile and Portable Radio Group at Virgnina Tech came up with a way to make radios smart enough to adapt to a changing frequency environment.  That means tune themselves to different frequency bands depending on who is talking to them.  His concept resulted in a patent for the utilization of a cognitive engine in mobile radio communications.

And who uses mobile radio communication devices?  Well, you do, if you have a cell phone.  Cell phones are just two-way radios with some fancy shmancy software.  Even though Bostian initially envisioned communications such as for emergency services like police and fire being able to talk to each other in an emergency, the principles apply equally well to cell phones.

In fact, they may apply even better to cell phones.  Because cell phones not only have to adapt to a multitude of scheduling issues, such as handover from cell to cell, signal strength variations, and data types, but they also will have to be frequency agile in the future.  That’s because most of the contiguous band assigned to cell phone use has been, well, used.  Now they are scavenging bandwith wherever they can find it, and that may actually be in different bands as you travel around the country based on who is using what in each region.  Ay! Carumba!

So, how does this work?  Well, to borrow some info from the VT website, “Cognitive radios are aware of their environment and intelligently adapt their performance to the user’s needs. A CR is a software defined radio with a “cognitive engine” brain. Conceptually, the cognitive engine responds to the operator’s commands by configuring the radio for whatever combinations of waveform, protocol, operating frequency, and networking are required. It monitors its own performance continuously, reading the radio’s outputs to determine the RF environment, channel conditions, link performance, etc., and adjusting the radio’s settings to deliver the needed quality of service subject to an appropriate combination of user requirements, operational limitations, and regulatory constraints. We call these processes “reading the radio’s meters” and “turning the radio’s knobs” for short.”

So, yeah.  There you have it.  Most importantly, that patent that Bostian got a couple of years ago is looking to be very important in enabling this technology for the future.

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Filed under Communications, electronics, Networks, software

Holding it all together

microcircuit

When I was a kid, I loved tearing up stuff to see what was inside it.  I guess that’s just a normal guy thing, sort of like spitting off bridges or something.

Electronic devices had especially cool guts back in the day.  First there were tube radios that came with that eerie, 1950s sci-fi glow.  The tubes themselves were pretty cool, filled with all sorts of little metal screens and such.  Those were replaced by transistor radios which were less sci-fi but much more futuristic.

Today, I don’t get much pleasure out of tearing up stuff because all the innards are so integrated into modules that there is no longer anything interesting to look at.

Anyway, the point of this meandering reminesce is really to talk about what holds all those parts together.  In the old days, it was wires.  You could see them.  They were eventually replaced by printed circuit boards with flat metal traces instead of wires.  Now, even the connecting traces are often buried deep down in the circuit boards, or, even worse, designed into the silicon chips themselves.

But whether wires or traces or silicon pathways, something has to hold it all together, and that something has always been solder.  However, if VT Corporate Research Center company NBE Tech has it’s way, solder might be replaced by a new material made from silver nanoparticles.

Elimination of lead based solders has been a goal for many years.  Other types of solders can be used but the perfect combination of processing temperature and performance has not always been possible.  Investigation continues into other bonding methods, such as low temperature and pressure sintering of precious metals.  The new NBTech nanomaterial provides a way to bond semiconductor dice to substrates without solder, simply by applying a small pressure while simultaneously applying a relatively low temperature just over 200 degrees C.

NBE founder GQ Lu invented the material and then set up a company to commercialize it based on a license from Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties.  Since then he has worked to improve the performance and develop a manufacturing process suitable for commercial application.  He recently received an independent verification of the value of his invention by the Fraunhofer Institute.  Researchers there published a paper last fall that indicates sintered bonding using the nanomaterial paste produced stunningly better performance that solder-based attachments.  In one test, nanomaterial and solder bonded parts were subjected to heating/cooling cycles of 45-175 degrees C.  Using the data obtained, it was projected that the sintered parts would withstand up to 160 million cycles, where the soldered components failed after 40,000 cycles.

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Filed under Communications, electronics, Materials, Wireless