Every electronics company dreams of starting a new platform that other firms adopt and build on. It’s one of the few paths to riches in electronics (think: iPhone, Android, Blu-Ray, CDMA, Steam, Playstation). Check out extensive writing by my friend Michael Cusumano and his colleague Annabelle Gawer, such as this article in Sloan Management Review. (May be behind a paywall.) Although even if successful, the originator may have to make so many deals that it does not capture much rent. (Think: Android again, Blu-Ray again, Wi-Fi, 4G, HDTV, etc.) And doing it successfully is very hard, even for large companies.
A related dream is modularity without sacrificing performance. This has been discussed for cell phones for many years, although in the past I have been skeptical. This article, though, sounds as if Motorola has a chance at doing both. Technically, it sounds like a good concept, if they can pull it off as well as the article suggests. Of course, technical excellence is never sufficient to become a standard. And Motorola, with all its ownership turmoil in recent years, is not very credible. But I’m heartened to think that the goal of a modular smartphone may be technically realistic, which would be great for consumers. (It’s important that Moto is not talking about creating a new operating system or app platform. Just look at Nokia and Microsoft to see how hard that is.)
Video version of the Wired article.
The NY Times says nobody knows how the FBI decrypted the infamous iPhone. That is certainly true, but there is speculation about physically opening up one of its chips and reading its crypto key. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/03/29/us/politics/ap-us-apple-encryption.html Years ago, I looked at reverse engineering of chip designs by physically disassembling them. Here are some comments on how difficult this is, although it certainly may be possible.
Physically attacking a chip is an old, but difficult, method of breaking into a system that you control. In 2008, Ed Felton and others read DRAM chips that had been turned off, by freezing them in liquid nitrogen. But they were reading the outside pins of the chip package. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/technology/22chip.html Partly to prevent that, but mostly for speed and cost reasons, processors like those inside a smart phone now include modules like graphics, cache, and security on the same die and chip. So there is no way to read such data from outside the package, unless a design has a bug.
To read signals from inside a chip, you need to figure out the logical and physical layouts of the chip, which are proprietary and, with up to 100 million logic gates, very complex. Then you need to be able to inject and read signals with a physical separation of 100 nanometers(nm) or less. By comparison, the wavelength of light is 400 nm or greater. And the chip designers knew you might try, and perhaps did their best to make it impossible. Of course, companies still attempt to reverse engineer their competitors’ chips, so some expertise does exist.
Finally, if you are physically slicing up a unique device, I would guess that one slip and you may not be able to recover. You can’t just shut off power and start over the way you can with software attacks.
Here is one example of successfully dissecting a security chip, back in 2010. It was not easy!
Wired has a good article on fires from “hoverboards,” which are essentially very small hands-free electric scooters. Here is an example. Start at about the :30 mark to see how these devices explode, and can easily set a house on fire.
nor other news stories have much constructive advice about how to reduce the chance of fires. As they point out, buying a well-made model is important, but at present there is no way to distinguish the well-made ones from the knock-offs. And most are
cheap knock-offs by companies that will be gone in a year.
I have some experience with the underlying cause of these fires, their Lithium-based batteries, because I use them in radio controlled aircraft. Fires of these batteries are not common, but they happen. Two people in San Diego who I know directly have had major fires. One lost a 2-unit condo, the other a detached workshop. The second one happened to an expert in RC flying!
With the new A9 and A9X chips in its iPhones and iPads, Apple has mobile chips that are better than Intel’s. In fact Apple’s chip business is a very impressive technology story. I don’t have time to put together a full analysis, but I have collected some recent articles.
Many sources are suggesting that Apple’s current chip generation (A9 and A9X) is better than Intel’s in low-power (mobile) performance. I guess it’s not news that Intel is behind Qualcomm in mobile, but I still find it surprising that Apple’s own chips are apparently better than X86 for Macintosh low-end laptops!
I have gone up and down on the prospects for autonomous vehicles (AVs). There are a lot of technical hurdles, and probably as many social issues such as how liability laws will be written. The Google car has been over-hyped. But today I received a claim that AVs are not feasible until 5G wireless networks are ubiquitous.
Amazon Delivers Some Pie in the Sky – NYTimes.com.
I’m not impressed by Google’s “aerial delivery.” It’s easy to demonstrate a show system. But it will be very hard to create a safe system that can deliver loads of a few pounds, at a distance of even a few miles, much less the 10 that Jeff Bezos apparently claimed. Or to deliver to a specific person in an apartment building.
Here’s a quick response I wrote on Andrew McAfee’s page about this.
I’m skeptical. There are real safety issues here, as well as weight/payload/power issues. To deliver a 2kg package 30 km will take a vehicle gross weight > 6 kg (rough numbers). And helicopters, unlike fixed wing, are “fail-dangerous.” Not to mention problems of delivering to a specific person in an urban environment. So I call “pie-in-the-sky” on this.
I see others are being skeptical because of regulatory problems. Yet other countries are way ahead of U.S. on regulation, and I don’t think regulation is the fundamental problem. The real problems include safety and payload:
- Helicopters (actually, multirotors) have very limited endurance and therefore range. You can put a big battery on them, but then you need a bigger machine to carry the weight.
- They have limited payload. Four ounces is no problem; but 5 pounds requires, right now, a machine with a total span of about three feet.
- At least six motors and props will be needed (called a hexacopter). Otherwise, failure of a single engine would cause an immediate crash. Even with six or more rotors, a total power failure, or a guidance failure, causes a crash. In a crash, the operator has zero control on where the machine ends up. This is unlike an aircraft.
- A machine this size that crashes is big enough to kill someone underneath. Especially if some of the motors are still operating. Even professionals are very careful about what they fly over. You can see videos on Youtube of idiots flying over crowded beaches, but a few people have been badly hurt this way, and the number will grow.
- Navigation using programmed routes is straightforward in clear areas, by using GPS-based-autopilots. But with obstacles (trees, buildings) a lot of development work remains. This problem, unlike the others, will be solved eventually by Moore’s Law.
- If you use an aircraft (wings) instead of a copter, many of the safety issues get much better. But on the other hand, you need a much larger area to land in. You can’t land in someone’s back yard.
Most of these problems are due to laws of physics, not the capability of current electronics. In short, delivering packages is an active area of R&D, but it will be feasible only in situations where it is almost useless:
- When you will be flying in unpopulated areas
- When you can afford to crash, and lose, a few percent of your vehicles.
- When the load is small, and the range is short.
There may be some cases that fit this description, but very few. For the next 5+ years, using drones for that don’t have to land remotely – mainly for remote sensing – is going to be the only practical application. Unless you have a military budget, of course.
Million-Year Data Storage Disk Unveiled | MIT Technology Review.
This is impressive, although perhaps not too practical. They are using lines scribed on tungsten. The underlying data is expressed as QR codes (which will be forgotten in a few centuries at most, but that is a different problem.)
One problem is that they are using 100nm line width. While impressive, at that width it is invisible to optical devices (which have a limit of approximately 1 micron) without very complex optics and electronics. So they are going for high density, rather than long-term readability. On the other hand, it would be great for a 50 to 100 -year storage, which is longer than any existing technology can reliably handle.