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.

Overcoming visual impairment

In 2015, more than 2million people in the UK were living with some degree of sight loss. It affects people of all ages, but the older we get, the more likely it is that our vision will be impaired. According to statistics from RNIB, one in five people aged 75 and more are living with sight loss and nearly two-thirds of those living with sight loss are women.

The rise of the hyperscale data centre

The modern data centre is becoming more complex as it attempts to handle the proliferation in mobile devices and billions of newly connected devices, all of which are increasing the pressure on data infrastructure. Customer expectations have never been higher and they will expect a seamless level of service, even as the demand for data increases exponentially.

LabVIEW and CompactDAQ get the Skylon space plane project off the ground

An aircraft that takes off from a runway, travels to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and delivers its payload, or even travels into space, then heads back to earth and lands on the same runway it took off from. It sounds like science fiction, but Reaction Engines Limited (REL) has laid a solid foundation towards making this a reality. Using National Instruments LabVIEW design software and CompactDAQ, they created a test-bed that is both scalable and flexible in its implementation and allows for the test data to be viewed and logged simultaneously at high speed for further analysis.

Bioelectronics and biosciences could replace the drug industry as we know it

From bioelectronics to biosciences, the pace of change in life sciences is accelerating as companies look to microfluidics, micro- and nanotechnology to develop innovative medical treatments. Earlier this year, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced that it was a forming a bioelectronics firm with Verily Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Alphabet. The new company will research, develop and commercialise bioelectronics medicine, a relatively new scientific field in which miniaturised, implantable devices could treat illnesses ranging from bowel disease to arthritis, hypertension and diabetes.

Maximising the potential of fibre optic communications

The Electronic and Electrical Engineering department at University College London (UCL) has been linked almost inextricably with the development of the communications industry. Professor Polina Bayvel, head of UCL’s Optical Networks Group (ONG), pictured below, explained: “It’s a special department; the first electronic and electrical engineering department in any UK university.”

Collaboration is the centerpiece to push the limits of lithography

The continuation of Moore’s Law requires a combination of both physical and functional scaling, where our main challenge in lithography is to continue pushing the physical scaling limits in a controlled and cost-effective way. By serving as the collaboration hub of the industry in this area, imec is playing an important role in helping the industry to address the major technical challenges towards continued physical scaling. This is being done on multiple fronts.

The ‘blackest material yet’ could improve the performance of satellite based instrumentation

Carbon nanotubes have been seen as having a wide range of potential applications for many years, but their use in the ‘real world’ has been a long time coming. The first research into such structures was reported in 1952 by a Russian team, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the technology began to gain some traction. Even today, their use – particularly in industrial applications – remains the exception

Harnessing quantum technology for UK plc

November saw the opening of the Quantum Metrology Institute (QMI). Based at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington, it forms a key element in the UK’s efforts to exploit quantum technology commercially through the National Quantum Technologies programme.

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.

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