2007 saw millions of innovations shoot from the minds of tech heads into the world of reality -- here are a few ZDNet Australia thought were pretty cool.
- DSL up to 250Mbps
Aussie Dr John Papandriopoulos from Melbourne University stunned the world by working out how to increase the speeds of DSL over copper to speeds up to 250Mbps. By creating a model looking at the crosstalk interference effects between coupled lines and transforming it into a mathematical optimisation problem, Papandriopoulos discovered a spectrum for each user can be calculated which can minimise interference and maximise data rates.
- Move your hand, charge your mobile tech
Charging your mobile using a plug socket may become an infrequent event in the future, with US power generation firm M2E Power working on a mobile phone battery which recharges itself as its user moves, using the principle of induction. Not only does this lengthen battery life from three to seven times more than normal, but the inertia-powered batteries will use 30 to 40 percent less heavy metals in their manufacture.
- Cheap and not so nasty solar
US Solar technology company Nanosolar has used a number of innovations to manufacture thin film solar cells -- new solar cells based on a stack of layers 100 times thinner than silicon wafers -- in a roll instead of on wafers or glass plates, leading to a significant cost reduction.
The innovations include printing the solar cell's semiconductor in the form of an ink, developed by the company, onto a metal foil backing instead of onto glass or stainless steel. The metal foil conducts better than stainless steel, allowing it to achieve a current five to 10 times that of other thin films. The foil also allows the solar cells to be produced as a continuous roll.
According to Popular Science, this will lead to low prices of US$0.30 per Watt of electricity instead of US$3 per Watt.
Developments such as these are important for Australia, following the release of a map showing that the island continent has plenty of sun to spare.
- Intel: Change your insulation for innovation!
Intel has produced more efficient transistors by using a new insulating material called hafnium to reduce gate leakage -- current escaping from a transistor electrode called the gate.
A transistor works by only allowing current to pass through it if a voltage is applied to the gate. As transistors become smaller and smaller, the insulating material also has to become less thick to maintain the functionality of the transistor. However, the thinner the insulating material, the more chance current will leak from the gate.
By using hafnium -- which has a high dielectric constant -- as the insulating material at the gate, rather than the silicon dioxide used for 40 years, the transistor's functionality will remain even with a thicker gate insulation layer. This reduces leakage by more than 10 times, according to Intel.
It has been known for some time that an insulator with a higher dielectric constant would result in lower leakage, but it is Intel's ability to manufacture the transistors with the hafnium gate insulators which is the real innovation. To do this, it has had to change the gate material from silicon to an as yet undisclosed combination of metals.
As they say, a change is as good as a holiday.
- Get all of You Tube on an iPod?
IBM has taken a step towards making magnetic storage the size of atoms, by creating the first molecular switch -- or a device which can create 0s or 1s.
The switch is based on a molecule called naphthalocyanine with two hydrogen atoms in the molecule's interior. The atoms have two possible orientations: when the orientation is changed, the molecule's conductivity also changes, moving from 0 to 1 or vice versa.
This is not the first molecular switch, but is important because the shape of the molecule does not change, allowing it to be linked to other molecular switches and make something more complicated, such as magnetic storage.
Unfortunately they only work at very low temperatures, making molecular storage still a thing of the future.
- Quantum computing
In the race to build a computer which can find the primes of any number and thus crack modern data encryption, quantum computing has been a buzz word of the year.
Australian research group the Centre for Quantum Computing has taken a major step towards creating a working quantum computer, by embedding phosphorous in silicon and thereby creating a single quantum bit, or "qubit".
Qubits are not only much smaller than conventional bits, but also have enhanced computing power, due to quantum phenomena that occur at a sub-atomic scale.
This has also been tried using light rather than silicon.
- Submarines now always on call
Previously submarines could only communicate with commanders when they had initiated communication or at prearranged times.
An innovation by US defence contractor Raytheon allows communication by deploying disposable buoys in the area of the submarine's operations. Communications are relayed via satellite from the commanding centre to the buoys which convert them into sonar. The sonar signal travels through the water to the submarine, where equipment translates it into a written signal.
- If the shirt doesn't fit then heat it
Phillips has lodged a patent in which clothes will automatically fit themselves to the wearer. The garments have "muscle wires" which are woven into the usual fabric. When a current is applied to the garment, resistors cause certain sections to heat, which deforms the wires, bringing the clothing to a perfect fit.
- Carbon nanotubes for cooling
To reduce high temperatures within electrical devices, heat sinks -- finned devices made of conductive metal -- are attached to the back of the chips to draw thermal energy away from the microprocessor and transfer it into the surrounding air.
According to Science Daily, the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center has developed a process to integrate carbon nanotube structures -- which dissipates heat as well as the best and most expensive alternative, copper -- on a chip.
Thick films consisting of 1.2-millimetre long multi-walled carbon nanotubes were grown, and a laser was used to carve out freestanding blocks. The bottoms of the nanotube cooler blocks were then soldered onto the backside of a test chip mounted on silicon.
- Beware the mobile phone swarm
Swiss researchers have developed software called Focus which can turn ordinary mobile phones into a surveillance swarm. Each mobile phone takes a stream of images using its camera and analyses them to see objects entering and exiting its field of view -- creating a surveillance network and sending the details back to an interested party over a cellular connection, such as GPRS.
Surveillance of a moving object is made possible by many mobile phones linking in an ad hoc network via short-range communication such as Bluetooth. When a phone witnesses an object entering or exiting its vision, it broadcasts this event to all the phones in the surveillance network.