Category Archives: Networks

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

Local Tech Companies Nominated for Awards

It’s almost May, and you know what that means:  The NewVa Corridor Technology Council has announced a list of companies nominated for the various awards handed out at the annual awards banquet.  You can find a link to the NCTC website to register for the awards ceremony here.

Awards are handed out in the categories of Rising Star, Educator, Entrepreneur, Leadership, and Innovation.  Sometimes they hand out another special award for a local technology leader whose contributions don’t fit exactly into any of the single categories.  It’s a fun networking opportunity and a chance to reward the technology leaders who help drive the local economy.  This year it will be at the Hotel Roanoke, in beautiful downtown…er, …..Roanoke.

The list of nominees is provided by the local newspaper here.

Now, a comment about the NCTC name.  I liked it better before, when it was the New Century Technology Council.  Apparently they decided that once the New Century had cut it’s first teeth, it would seem passe’ to keep that reference.  So instead, they decided to use the terribly expensive “NewVA” brand (I don’t know who paid for it, or who came up with it – it wasn’t the NCTC as far as I know, but a regional re-branding.).  NewVA is sort of short for New Virginia, as if Old Virginia would be something distasteful, or old fashioned, maybe.  I’m not going to gripe about it too much, except to note that “NewVA Corridor Technology Council” does not roll off the tongue as smoothly as “New Century Technology Council”.

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

Futurama!

When I was a kid, one of my least favorite things was to sit in the barber shop on a Saturday morning for what seemed like hours waiting my turn for a two-minute haircut.  My father didn’t allow any of those new-fangled haircuts where it actually looked like you had some hair.  No, sir, we got the standard, GI type of haircut where all your personality was left on the floor to be swept up later.

But, one good thing that came of this experience, aside from the presumed character-building aspect, was that I got to read issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.  Even though these issues were worn and tattered from handling by the army of ten-year-old boys who frequented the establishment, and were in fact possibly older than any of us, it was fascinating to imagine the world we would live in as adults where lasers and robots and other mechanical and electrical marvels would make life much more interesting than it was at that time.  Of course, we had not discovered girls yet.

But all of us in that age bracket agreed, flying cars were going to be so cool, and what’s more, they should have been ready for market by the time we got our driver’s licenses.  Ohhhh, yeaaaah.

Unfortunately, the flying cars never came, even though one was featured later in a James Bond movie.  It was my first great life disappointment.  I mean the lack of flying cars, not the movie, although that, too, was a disappointment.

So, all these many years later, I have come to accept that visions of the future rarely match the actual future.  Sometimes the actual future turns out to be pretty cool anyway, but reality has a way of spoiling the dreams of preteen boys who possess, at last accounting, approximately 99% of the world’s total creativity.

But hold on, I may have found an actual example of how prophetic Popular Science truly was.  Take a look at this website that describes a concept for next-generation living.  It’s called the Lumenhaus and it’s Virginia Tech‘s entry into the Solar Decathlon competition.  It’s chock full of cool materials like aerogel panels, solar panels and anti-hurricane roof vents, and it thinks for itself!  It opens and closes panels to heat or cool as necessary, and it can be operated from an iPhone application.  Dude.

OK, so it looks pretty small, and it is.  But it’s just a concept house.  However, built into the concept is the idea of living more efficiently in less space by using technology and futuristic Star Trek social ideas.  Imagine a house that reconfigured the space for the temporary use to which it was being put.  You really have to take a look at the flash animations on the site, which was apparently designed by up-and-coming web advertising company Modea.  Not only is the house itself cool, I really love the website.  Like the house, the site is just what it needs to be.

So, even though I have still not totally given up on the flying cars, until they come along I can dream about the next generation house.

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Filed under Communications, Energy, Materials, Networks, Robotics, Sensing, software, Wireless

Tiny antennas could replace home wiring

If you’re like me, on the back of your television is a mangled mass of knotted electrical cables so dense I suspect that small rodents might actually be living in there.  In fact, there are so many cables running from DVRs, DVDs, audio systems, etc., that once I get it working properly, I’m afraid to touch any of it.

Well, technology in the form of tiny antennas may soon come to my rescue.  Researchers in the Wireless Technology and Antenna groups at Virginia Tech are researching ways to reduce the size of wideband antennas for use in handheld devices.  One potential commercial application of these new antennas could be in connecting all of your home entertainment equipment through short-range broadband communications links rather than the wires that we currently use.  Imagine connecting your Tivo and  BlueRay player to your television wirelessly!

One version of such an antenna is shown here.  While this test unit is only about the size of a quarter, newer prototypes are smaller still.  The small size means that such features would not only be easily integrated into various devices, but they would also be inexpensive enough to fit into current price ranges of home entertainment systems, for example.

Since I no longer have any teenagers around to explain how all my fancy electronics work, I am for anything that will simplify life and allow me to watch NCAA football…er, I mean…technology shows on the Discovery Channel or PBS.  Yeah, that’s it.

So, you folks in Electrical Engineering need to pull those thinking caps down a little tighter on your heads and move this stuff into the marketplace ASAP, because my man-cave is going to be ready for the 2010 fall football season at the end of August, and I am NOT going to try to connect all that stuff up again…

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Filed under Communications, Networks, Wireless