Daaa-da-da-daaaaa … I Give You the Memristor!

HP announced in April 2008 that they had developed a switching memristor. This is supposedly an electronic device that falls under the fourth, previously unknown and now debated, fundamental circuit element. In 1971 a link between charge and flux was missing from the four fundamental electromagnetic quantities (charge, voltage, current, and magnetic flux), and the element that linked them was named “memristor”, but was not developed.

It is an interesting technology due to the fact that it could create non-volitile memory that is both cheap and many can fit in a tiny space. Part of the discovery is due to the new capabilities with regard to nano-technology. The uses are not fully known, but it might never see the light of day due to the domination of the transistor and other non-volatile memory that already exists.

Basically a memristor is fundamental a charge-dependent resistance element. This means that the magnetic flux over the element is a function of the amount of charge that has passed through it, simply changes resistance as it is “(dis)charged”. However, don’t take my word for it, as I understand the subject, but have done no research. Instead take a look at some other reports:

When Robots Attack, er, I Mean Help You

The future of robotics is entering the present. As an Engineer and Computer Scientist finishing up school I have had an increasing interest in the technology behind robotics and artificial intelligence.

DARPA Challenge – Robocars

I recently read up on the DARPA challenge, an autonomous vehicle challenge where teams build real cars capable of navigating the course setup for the competition without the aid of any human presence. This isn’t your standard remote vehicle operation, but instead the vehicles have brains (computers and software) which perform all functions such as acceleration, braking, navigating, etc. fully autonomously. The major feat of the most recent competition is that six of the contestants actually finished the race. This is a huge step in the field of robotics and control systems. It is something I’d love to work on myself.

Wired Report on the DARPA Challenge
Driverless Cars

RoboCup’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) – RoboRescuers

Good Samaritan (CSU)

For my senior design project we attempted to create a robot that could navigate a disaster arena according to the rules for the RoboCup USAR competition. The goal of this competition is to develop robots that can search for victims in a building collapse or other disaster while mapping out the area as it searches. This would enable the rescuers to know exactly where to dig, or remove large amounts of debris. Studies have shown that 90% of rescuers time is spent searching for the victims, while only 10% of the time is actually used to get the victims to safety. This is the reason for the interest in these types of robots. The ultimate goal for the robots is to become fully autonomous while being able to relay video and other information such as states of victims and the surroundings back to a control center.

ResRobo

Along with this competition is a robotic soccer competition which is the reason the organization created this competition. This is their mission as stated on their homepage: “By the year 2050, develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world soccer champion team.” It might seem like a daunting task since it’s well known among the robotic community that imitation of the human form is much more difficult than just designing the best possible form and capabilities. However, there’s something intriguing to me with developing something from scratch that could play in the same league of a sport as the world champions.

RoboCup

Doctor Doctor – RoboDoc
In the near future mechanical robotic arms and tools might be used to work on you during surgery.

Robot Doctor

There is some fear of using the internet which is amazingly robust, but still highly problematic in connection quality and guarantees. Especially in crucial situations such as performing a surgery where even a 30 second connection loss could be fatal. I’m not sure how long it will be before risky surgery or even anything related to health that has any very short term risks will be common place. However, for diagnostic checkups, non-invasive surgery, as well as assisting roles will probably be conducted in the near future, and in fact are currently being tried in a number of hospitals in North America.

So far this remote presence is mostly restricted to allowing doctors to check up on lab work, performing diagnostic activities, communicating with patients, and watch over surgeries and other labs. I’m excited to see where this is heading, even though many feel that this borders on creepy. It is only going to get more “creepy” because it will become increasingly difficult to understand especially as nano-technology including nano-bots enter into the mix.

Detroit hospital rolls out robotic “doctors”
Robotic doctor marks breakthrough
Robot doctors may shorten hospital visits

The Other Robot Overlords
The Roombot – A sort of silly device to be discussing, since it does not work very well yet, but I thought it would be fun to research and think up some ideas on robotics entering our lives in the near future.

Asimo

ASIMO – This humanoid robot can walk, talk, understand gestures, climb stairs, and even run (albeit slowly) just like a human. It has the shape of a human in a space suit. It is quite fun to see in action.

Killer Robots from Silicon Valley – Soon these robots will replace the front lines, or soldiers on guard duty. Just hope that these robots will understand and have the knowledge to not shoot our own troops, innocent people, nor our allies.

Sarcos

ExoSkeleton – Do you want to have super-strength? I know I would. Well the Sarcos‘ robotic system will allow you to life more weight than you could possibly lift. It could help you run faster, jump higher, and perform similar human functions with extraordinary ease and endurance.

Lego’s Mindstorm – These legos come to life with the use of a computer chip, sensors, and actuators. I used to love playing with legos and even had the set we used in school which was the earliest form of this modern product. I used battery powered motors along with the standard legos, gears, and a few other simple devices in order to create mechanical models that could move. No there is a computer brain, sensors, and even an SDK and easy programming environment to enable a “sky is the limit” toy.

E-Ink Kindles Books Into a Paperless Future

Disclaimer:
I do not own either of these products, and thus my review is based on other reviews, along with the product information found at the company websites, and through other sources.

Update 11/28/07: So I’ve been thinking about this new kindle, and I have to say that I like the concept and am still excited about the technology. However the economic aspects of the device as well as the design are much to be desired as many have stated in their reviews.

Update: Cali Lewis gives her first hand review of the Kindle on her GeekBrief podcast #262.

Update: Tech crunch has two interesting first hand posts about the Kindle, and a short Jeff Bezos interview.

E-Ink is the future!
People have been talking about the paperless office for years, and now the book industry is taking interest. New paper book size devices using an electronic ink technology are entering your personal time and space. Sony and Amazon have finally hit on products that should stimulate the growth in this market shift. The technology and experience of electronic ink systems will be akin to science fiction newspapers, or those similarly found within the Harry Potter universe. We will soon have cereal boxes, newspapers, and then clothing that have embedded e-Ink allowing the reader or publisher to update the content in real-time. Especially with this new partnership between Amazon and Sprint, things are looking to advance into the area of what used to be found only in fiction.

The Shift
The entire printed media industry will be moving to this new electronic format and form-factor. Newspapers, Books, Magazines, and even the written word that already exists online and in electronic form like blogs will invade your space on that plush reclining chair that you curl up in next to a fire in to enjoy the relaxing and intimate relationship with that special book.

The Hardware
Sony has delivered a 2nd generation product with their e-reader. It is light, small, and sleek. It uses the newest e-ink technology to deliver a high contrast display that looks like a real paper page while also allowing a long usage period between charges. Amazon is using a similar technology (seems to use the same e-Ink technology) with their new Kindle service and e-Reader. The reader has a keyboard and looks like an oversized PDA designed by IBM, it is white, plain, and a little too square. However,

Amazon

  • Storage: 200 books
  • Weight: 10.3 ounces (lighter than typical paperback)
  • Battery: 1.5 days / 7 days (wireless on / off)
  • Charge Time: 2 hours
  • Display: 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 4-level gray scale
  • Other: Keyboard

Sony

  • Storage: 64MB internal (memory card slot for “unlimited” # of books)
  • Weight: 10 ounces
  • Battery: Read 7500 pages on single charge (~15 500pg books)
  • Charge Time: 4 / 6 hours (AC / USB)
  • Display: 6″ diagonal E-ink(tm) with 4-level grayscale
  • Other: plays mp3 (not sure why – i guess for audio book – just get an iPod/Zune)

The Services
Sony does offer a service to purchase books from, but it isn’t as grand a scheme as Amazon has devised and just recently released details of their new Kindle e-reader and service. Amazon will utilize Sprint’s national EVDO network in order to bring books and other content to the device from almost anywhere in the US.

Amazon

  • 88,000 books, Top Newspapers, 250 blogs
  • No Computer Necessary (all downloads are free and wireless)

Sony

  • Thousands of books
  • Windows XP or Vista

What does the future look like?
As I mentioned before this has more profound consequences than what lies on the surface in relation to how we interact and communicate. Sure you can get books anytime and anywhere you want, however think about other uses and you’ll quickly realize that the always connected everywhere we go future is actually something possible in the near future. Obviously it won’t be perfect, but this is sort of like 1995 with the internet coming into existence. We didn’t know then that we’d be watching video on a little pocket touchscreen phone. We have no idea yet, or just a small idea, of what is to come. People are probably think of the new advertising models, and the ability to get other types of content. However, that’s really already been done as the iPhone is probably currently the best overall e-book of its time. Battery drain is the main problem that the e-Ink technology attempts to fix.

Imagine being able to highlight in the books, have multiple bookmarks, sync this information online, download personal documents to the device, utilize an integrated search both within a book as well as across many different books. Just like we carry around our personal contacts, our music, and our photos (camera phone), we will soon carry around all our paper content including homework, textbooks, novels, magazines, newspapers, references, dictionary, translation books, study guides, DIY guides, etc.

There are so many things that can be done with technology when it is used in new ways along with inventions, and innovations. The e-Book was an innovation in the way we read printed materials, Kindle is an innovation in how we get that printed material. I’m only more excited about the future now, and hope I don’t become disinterested as I get older in the exciting innovations that the world brings to us each and every day.