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IEEE's Technology Winners & Losers of 2006 77

eldavojohn writes "As far as technologies go, there are clear winners and clear losers. This month's IEEE Spectrum issue contains an interesting list of winners and losers from 2006. Among the winners are a new radio technology, IP phone networks & memory technologies along with ethanol from sugarcane. Among the losers are tongue vision, LEDs in clothes, a flying car and ethanol from corn."
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IEEE's Technology Winners & Losers of 2006

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  • Losers (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:26AM (#17506438) Homepage
    Among the losers are [...] a flying car

    Hopefully the day they become reality won't involve Emmett Brown jumping of a DeLorean and taking us Back To The Future.

    An Aston Martin DB9 though...
  • Battery Life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by emmp ( 1032154 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:32AM (#17506474)
    From the article:
    A cellphone based on software-defined radio would be lighter, smaller, cheaper, and more power efficient.
    Would it really be more power efficient? I can't imagine having software cycling through wireless frequencies would be more efficient than a "hardcoded" hardware frequency, am I missing something here?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by deimios666 ( 1040904 )
      Software in this case probably means Firmware. As discussed previously firmware is a much cheaper alternative to specialised hardware. Besides it is more flexible than hardware.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Maybe, maybe not. Firmware requires an actual CPU such as an ARM or DSP to run the code. Those devices, while not ultra expensive, are not as cheap as FPGAs or ASICs. The cost in ASICs and FPGAs for the "dedicated hardware" phone is in the initial design, the cost to manaufacture is low. The cost for a "firmware phone" is also up front in design and development, and then the CPUs cost is added. For basic phones that do very little, I think the specialized hardware approach would be cheapest, for PDAs and hi
        • Firmware requires an actual CPU such as an ARM or DSP to run the code. Those devices, while not ultra expensive, are not as cheap as FPGAs or ASICs. The cost in ASICs and FPGAs for the "dedicated hardware" phone is in the initial design

          An ARM brand CPU core will often fit inside an ASIC, and an 8-bit microcontroller fits on FPGAs nowadays.

          • Thats true, but and ASIC with a CPU will be much more expensive. An 8-bit microcontroller is not enough, it can't do the signal processing and it can't address enough memory.
      • by wyo321 ( 733134 )
        Actually, the article predominately discusses the use of general-purpose processors in commodity servers for the processing power, shying away from more typical software-defined radios that often include special-purpose DSPs and FPGAs. Obviously, more apt for base stations than for handhelds unless you've been eating your Wheaties.

        The aim was to remove all the dedicated hardware except the RF front end and digitizer, and to make it trivial (5% of the code) to port from one platform to another. This makes
    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )
      Agreed , its highly likely to use far more power than specialised hardware which these guys might not think is an issue but when it means the different between 2 hours talk time on a normal cellphone or 20 mins talktime on theirs then they'll soon find out that perhaps the general public isn't as enthused about their technology as they are. Of course some major improvement in battery technology might offset this but I don't see any indication of this yet.
    • The hope, on a superficial analysis, is to reduce parts count on the analog side. The CPU is already there to drive the non-radio functions of the phone.

      But yes, the more you look at the claim the more doubtful you get. First, you really want a DSP chip and not a general CPU. Second, demodulating RF is not something that takes cabinets full of circuitry any more.

      Now, if cell phones use a heterodyne system to tune the RF (do they?), then you might get rid of the local oscillator, and save some power, savings
    • Er, how did you think cellphones worked? They - well, some - do cycle through a range of frequencies, searching for a free one.
    • Modern cellphones adjust the transmit power based on the Signal-Noise Ration. If there are a lot of cellphones around, then the noise is high, so the phone has to increase the transmit power (reducing battery life). If the cell phone is able to find a frequency with very little noise, it can transmit with very little power, and still have the same quality. If a software radio is used, the number of possible frequencies becomes much larger.
      The gains from using this method should more than offset the losses f
  • by Bob54321 ( 911744 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:42AM (#17506532)
    These [] have to be the best winner ever... I'm sure everyone else here wants a virtual flock of 16000 chickens.
  • Moonshiners have been doing that for hundreds of years. What is so new???

    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @08:00AM (#17506636) Journal
      They do it for the taste. Trying to make production levels is easy, but way too expensive. In fact, cane and corn is too expensive and is a batch process.

      A far cheaper approach will be ethanol from algae. The algae approach will allow for more of a continuous stream and can use waste water and non productive land. Interestingly, it could turn America and even Europe back to a large energy exporter, rather than major importers.
      • GreenFuel Technologies have been working on this idea of producing diesel fuel from oil-laden algae for a number of years by feeding them the exhaust from coal-burning plants. That could result in a huge leap upward in biodiesel fuel and heating oil production and likely far more ethanol production along the way, since the "waste" from extracting diesel fuel from that algae can easily be processed into ethanol. Also, the oil from that algae could be processed through a standard catalytic "cracker" found at
      • You get a lot more energy density out of making biodiesel from algae than you do making ethanol, not least because the energy density of biodiesel is something like half again higher than that of ethanol. You're better off separating the oils, then using the remainder as fertilizer, animal feed, or a burnable fuel.
      • Producing viable liquid fuels from biomass is expensive primarily due to distillation that almost invariably creeps into the process and consumes large amounts of energy, limiting the potential return.

        Recently, a group of researchers (with which I have no affiliation, btw) have demonstrated how to convert sugar derivatives into actual short- and medium-chain alkanes, i.e. gasoline. Check out the paper:

        Huber, G.W., et al. Science, 308, pp. 1446-1449 [].

      • With advances in solar power, one has to wonder what the energy output of algae per square meter is compared to that of solar, including energy costs for maintenance and parasitic losses in the conversion.
    • RTFA
    • Well, moonshiners didn't have to get all of the water out of it, you were just drinking it after all. Some of that stuff I'm sure was pretty dry but the ethanol shippers can't use fuel pipelines because even low water levels would cause expensive corrosion. It has to be moved in tankers. Ethanol likes water, one of the reasons distilling to near 100% purity is very difficult and only laboratory grade ethanol comes close.
  • by ulzeraj ( 1009869 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @07:57AM (#17506616) Homepage
    Nice to see "The Omnivorous Engine" in TA. There are a lot of brilliant minds here.
    Ethanol is cheap and it's very common here.

    The only problem comes from the use of natural gas, since most of it comes from Bolivia, and we're having some problems with their new government claiming that Petrobras (government-owned Brazilian oil) has no right over their natural gas.

    And of course... we're also self-sufficiency in petroleum. :)
    • Nice to see "The Omnivorous Engine" in TA. There are a lot of brilliant minds here. Ethanol is cheap and it's very common here.

      That's great, but didn't TFA cite ethanol as one of the losers? How exactly is ethanol a loser if an ethanol engine is a winner?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ulzeraj ( 1009869 )
        Ethanol from CORN is a bad idea. Here we make ethanol from sugarcane.
      • FTA: "According to Nathanael Greene, an ethanol specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in New York City, coal-produced ethanol shipped a long way to its final destination and derived from corn grown with techniques that release a lot of carbon dioxide from the soil can actually have carbon impacts that might be worse than gasolines.
      • by orasio ( 188021 )
        Ethanol from corn is a loser (duh!).
        Ethanol from sugar cane is, of course, a much better alternative, and has been used for decades now. It's cost effective too.

        It would be interesting to see some serious study about hemp. It could have yields comparable to sugar cane.
        When I say serious, it would at least be some study linked from a site without "Legalize it" banners.
        • The best route to research isn't the fermentation of corn (bad) or the sugar in sugar cane (better) but cellulose (corn stalks, grasses, sugar cane waste, etc). The problem though is seperating the lignin from it and the enzymes needed to break it down into sugars. The Jan 2007 Scientific American has a good article on this.
    • Nice to see "The Omnivorous Engine" in TA. There are a lot of brilliant minds here. Ethanol is cheap and it's very common here. The only problem comes from the use of natural gas

      No, the problem is that you Brazilians are continuing to destroy rainforest, and now you have a new reason to do so; ethanol fuel from sugar cane.

      Fuels based on topsoils will, if continued to their logical conclusion, lead to the complete and utter destruction of our environment. Agriculture has done more damage than all oth

      • by nwbvt ( 768631 )
        Hey, its not that bad. Fewer rain forests means more greenhouse gases. More greenhouse gases means a warmer climate. A warmer climate means we will be able to grow sugarcane in North America, from which we will be able to extract ethanol much easier than from corn.
  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) <tom@thomaslee[ ] ['cop' in gap]> on Monday January 08, 2007 @08:03AM (#17506650) Homepage
    The blurb on parallel constructs [] is well said. This has been said on Slashdot before, but with more and more computers getting multicore CPUs, it behooves us to figure out ways to get apps to use multiple threads of execution.

    We can do this by multithreading in a single process, which the latest release of PMD [] does. This is kind of complicated, although using a good concurrency library certainly helps. Or we can separate concerns, like moving the user interface into a separate process like we do with indi []. Either way, no sense in leaving CPU power on the table...
  • One of the largest issues with ethanol, especially derived from corn, is the fact that if widely adopted it will be so appealing to developing nations to start producing it that we will see some major environmental consequences.

    Many developing/3rd world nations will have two options: Convert current crop fields to corn fields or cut down rainforest for crop space. It's obvious why cutting down rainforest is bad, but converting current crop fields (or even using available crop land) for corn couls be disas
    • Corn will ruin farmland. It syphons more nutrients from the soil than practically any other crop. It renders the land it's grown on useless for years

      IANAF but where I grew up in Wisconsin you see the same fields growing corn every year for some 30 years. Never left fallow or even rotated to soybeans. Is that because of the level of fertilizers dumped on them or what?

      • by FatSean ( 18753 )
        Fertilizers in large doses, and a non-trivial ammount leeches out of the soil and is carried away to cause trouble in other areas.
      • by beowulf ( 12899 )
        Absolutely. After over 150 years of farming, if the soil here in Iowa isn't seriously augmented on an annual basis even bacteria won't grow.

        Oh, and IAAF. Got the corn/soybean monkey off my back about 5 years ago and put in an organic vineyard.

    • Actually, there may be a better solution than having to waste massive amounts of arable farmload to grow corn or sugar cane for ethanol.

      If you've read up on what GreenFuel Technologies is working on by growing oil-laden algae in vertical tanks fed by the exhaust gases of coal-fired/natural gas-fired powerplants, one nice thing is that the "waste" from the processing of the algae into diesel fuel/heating oil can be easily processed further into ethanol. This could make it possible to increase biodiesel and e
    • Not to mention that the massive increases now and coming soon in ethanol plants using corn will drive up corn prices which will affect things downstream such as meat and eggs (grain feed) and products made from them. Increasing corn production would come at the expense of other crops which would just pass price increases onto a different agricultural sector. I doubt new agricultural land is being added in any large amounts in this country to offset this. Instead, I think it is safe to say, from what I've
    • Both you and the article rightly take issue with the fact that fossil fuels are burned to power the ethanol conversion process. Clearly this is a stupid thing to do.

      What I wonder is why these plants can't skim a bit of their own ethanol to power the process? The answer, I take it, is that they can, but fossil fuels are still cheaper so, as usual, until CO2 is a controlled emission in the US is will be more cost efficient to burn dirty coal to produce ethanol than to make the process self-sustaining.

  • This was a winner during the Christmas Season in Portland and at Breitenbush! []
  • by Raindeer ( 104129 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @09:31AM (#17507220) Homepage Journal
    I couldn't disagree more with the choice of BT as the leading company because of its 21CN network. As such it is in interesting choice of BT to go to Ethernet IP for its entire network. There are at least two other incumbents who are doing the same thing. KPN has a project called ALL-IP and and Telstra has a project called the Common Network.

    However KPN is doing something more than just changing the backbone. KPN will roll-out VDSL2+ to the end-users as well. This will all be Ethernet/IP based for the backhaul and VDSL2+ for the last 450 meters, allowing 50/20mbit down/up. KPN will close 1350 swithch locations and roll out 28000 street cabinets to deliver the speeds to the end-user. 77-1212162_9475_1132326712652-Op_weg_naar_All-IP_1 81105.pdf [] 419&print=true []
    (the lightreading article forgets the vdsl2+ bit, see presentation for that)

    In contrast BT will only do ADSL in its network, they will not reach speeds above 24 mbit and in response to a question on access networks he says, that it is very hard to understand what a user will want to do with more than 24mbit. (hereby forgetting that most of the UK will not be living close enough to a dslam to actually get this 24mbit). He doesn't see a reason for fiber to the home or any other kind of access networks. This was said by its Chairman Ben Verwaayen at a recent Ofcom Event on convergence. n6 [] (minute 25 and onwards)

  • The process assumes the price of corn will be relatively cheap. What's going to happen over the next few years as many new ethanol plants come on line and suck up any surplus corn?

    There's also the fact that ethanol plants use *lots* of water. Many of them are being built in the midwest, where there's lots of corn, but unfortunately there's often not a lot of water.

    Since there are so many ethanol plants in the pipeline, I'll be surprised if everything in the planning stages gets completed. Out here in the
    • They also use lots of natural gas. In fact ethanol production uses more energy to produce than you get back from ethanol combustion. Plus you increase CO2 emissions in the end. Expect to see natural gas prices either go up or imports (and dependancy) to increase.
  • Did the real 21st century just arrive?
  • Imagine the diprod who cut you off yesterday, or the numbnut who almost hit you last week. Now imagine them flying overhead in a ton or so of metal contraption. No thanks.
    • by jo42 ( 227475 )
      Exactly. There are more than enough morons on the roads in oversized square boxes on wheels. Now imagine a sky full of them idjits flying into or falling on everything in sight.
  • Tongue Vision? Now I can watch a movie while performing oral sex! Does it come in high def or do I need seperate Tonsil Tuners?
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @02:20PM (#17511216)
    "LEDs in Clothes" is a loser? I'm guessing the authors haven't purchased young kids shoes recently; it's hard to find a pair of athletic shoes that DON'T come with LEDs.

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama