Photos: Inside IBM's Zurich research lab

Photos: Inside IBM's Zurich research lab

Summary: The scanning tunnelling microscope is one of the Nobel prize-winning technical breakthroughs to come out of IBM's Zurich laboratory. ZDNet UK went to have a peek at what the lab is working on now, as it gears up to celebrate its 50th birthday

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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  • Another area under examination is "the I/O bottleneck". As Dr Christian Menolfi who specialises in I/O links explained, you can see the issue simply by looking at the back of an I/O processor.

    "Pin counts are getting very large," Dr Menolfi said. "We are looking at needing 1,000 just for I/O. The complications of the I/O pins are growing faster than the number of pins. This is the package bottleneck."

    The answer, according to Dr Menolfi, is advanced, multi-channel signalling (shown in the top-left display). By arranging the I/O channels in the optimum configuration the Zurich researchers hope to guarantee maximum data throughput.

  • Optical technology could also be used to improve signalling performance. Dr Christoph Berger, a Zurich specialist in this area, demonstrated the theories and practice of optical devices.

    This is a four-way, optical interconnect unit. Mountings for two processors are shown with space for two more.

    The processors sit on the mounts. If you attach a microprocessor to a mounting and optical cables to both the input and an output, it is possible to look down one cable and see through the other.

    Showing the capability to see one's own hand through a cable that compresses down to run across a microprocessor is one of the more eye-catching (no pun intended) demonstrations at the IBM Zurich laboratory.

  • The more practical side of advanced scientific research can also be seen at the Zurich centre, where a range of practical, leading-edge products were on display.

    This included projects for ID cards that use the most complex engraving technology so that a picture is not ON a card, but part of the card's physical structure; a health monitoring system that uses a mobile phone to keep a doctor aware of a patient's essential health data and sound an alarm if the parameters change; and a security system that can track people at room level -- for situations where it may be OK for someone to walk into the room but not a particular part of it.

    One practical system undergoing final testing with an unnamed transportation company will track containers anywhere in the world and can raise a flag if the container is opened, even if it's 2,000 miles away.

    This particular project users wireless, RFID and related technologies for monitoring and tracking.

    The challenge for Zurich scientists has been not so much how to track containers, but how to produce a tracking system that can monitor 10,000 containers individually. Monitors and sensors will have to be powered off batteries for a year or two, keep in contact with a base anything up to 2,000 miles away and still come in at a reasonable cost.

Topic: Emerging Tech

About

Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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