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Research & Design

All engineers have an immediate need for a product or solution, but it is equally important that they keep an eye on the future to identify new technologies or methodologies which may enable their next designs.

In this section, New Electronics takes a look over the horizon, pointing out to visitors the developments in research and design which will impact the electronics industry in the next few years, as well as the processes which are being developed to manufacture those products.

Smart materials get even smarter

There are applications where it would be beneficial to have a self-sustaining, fully embedded monitoring system as part of a structure in order to ensure that structure's integrity. Examples include wind turbines, tidal blades, aeroplane wings, ship propellers and hulls. A project set up under the European Framework 7 has been looking at the possibility of developing such monitoring systems.

Smart transport: Why integrating systems is key to improving mobility

Traditionally, transport – and passenger transport in particular – has been provided in a non integrated way. The Transport Systems Catapult has been set up to change this. "We call the market we focus on intelligent mobility," stated Paul Zanelli, chief technical officer, "which is the efficient and cost effective movement of goods and people."

Camera pill technology set to ease cancer diagnosis

Colonoscopies can be an uncomfortable procedure for patients who may already be worried about what the results may find. The process involves probing the large intestine with a tiny fibre optic camera, known as an endoscope, embedded in a 4ft long, flexible tube.

Graphene's growing family: The successor to silicon turns up some interesting new materials

Since its discovery, graphene – the atom thick carbon material – has been hailed as the heir apparent to silicon. It has much to commend it; an unusual chemical structure means electrons move freely along the plane of the graphene sheet, encountering practically no resistance. But that's also where graphene's problems start. Unlike silicon, it is simply too good a conductor to operate effectively as a switch without some circuit design and materials processing gymnastics.

DSL technology could allow data to be sent to the home at 1Gbit/s

Once the plain old telephone service, the role of the telephone wire continues to be refashioned. The latest digital subscriber line (DSL) standard being developed – G.fast – uses 106MHz of phone wire spectrum to deliver gigabit broadband, a far cry from its original purpose of carrying a 3kHz voice call. The developments (see fig 1) complement fibre getting ever closer to the home.

Graphene based products become a commercial reality

Graphene is starting to filter onto the market. HEAD claims its tennis racquets that feature graphene in the shaft are lighter, have better weight distribution and offer more power. Flexible security tags are also starting to be used using graphene circuitry.

Carbon nanotubes find real world applications

No one disputes that carbon nanotubes have the potential to be a wonder technology: their properties include a thermal conductivity higher than diamond, greater mechanical strength than steel – orders of magnitude by weight – and better electrical conductivity than copper.

Researchers a step closer to chips that mimic the brain

The human brain is the most efficient computer there is and creating a hardware equivalent has long been close to the top of many technological wish lists for decades. Yet, despite the efforts of researchers from all corners of the globe, that goal has yet to be achieved.

UK researchers in race to develop 5G technology

Mobile device users in the UK are about to be offered mouth watering deals to entice them to shift to faster data rate services as competition finally comes to the 4G market. 02 has just launched its LTE based (Long Term Evolution) services, while Vodafone and 3G UK – the other operators with 4G licences – will follow on shortly as they try to make up ground on Everything Everywhere, which was allowed to use its 1800MHz spectrum last October.

Nanotechnology prepares to hit the mainstream

Dr Sian Fogden was a researcher at Imperial College, studying nanotubes for her PhD, when Linde Electronics became interested in her work. Now Linde Nanomaterials, part of Linde Electronics, is pursuing this line of work in California with Dr Fogden at the helm. The resulting product, a nanotube ink, was launched at NT13 – the international nanotube conference held in Helsinki in the closing days of June 2013.

GaN reference designs set to play central role in power electronics applications

Gallium nitride (GaN) has been touted as 'the next big thing' in power electronics applications for some time now. In speed, temperature, efficiency and power handling, various implementations of the technology are set to take over as silicon power devices reach their limits, and the hottest topics at recent power exhibitions in the US and Europe have surrounded the introduction of GaN devices.

Lithium sulphur cells set to change the battery landscape

Since the invention of the battery by Volta in the early days of the 19th Century, users have been looking for more performance. Volta's device was superseded in 1859 by the lead acid battery – a device still in widespread use today. By the end of the 19th Century, the nickel cadmium battery had been developed.

LEDs have green fingers

Research has long shown that plants respond better to particular wavelengths of light, specifically in the 400 to 500nm (blue) and 600 to 700nm (red) spectra. Now, the advent of high output, low power, more affordable LED modules configured at specific wavelengths is beginning to revolutionise the horticulture sector.

Embedding computer vision systems

How easy is it to design a camera that can read or that can decide whether a person's eye is open or shut? This is an important question for design engineers, since computer vision is set to become a required function in many applications which today contain no cameras.

How vacuum tube technology is being deployed at the nanoscale

Nothingness might not sound very useful. In fact, the opposite is the case because nothingness – in the form of a vacuum – has played a major role in the history of electronics. Until the invention of the transistor, vacuum tubes were the industry's critical component because they made it possible to amplify, switch and modulate electrical signals.

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