Ars Technica: CERN’s original data center for handling the data created by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is located in Geneva and is limited to 3.5 MW of power because of the amount the LHC itself draws. The 11 000 servers are primarily used to provide virtual machines to CERN scientists working with LHC data. To expand capacity, CERN opened a second data center, with 700 servers, in Budapest in January. Tim Bell, CERN’s infrastructure manager, expects the 2.7-MW data center will hold 5000 of the servers by 2015, which will bring CERN’s total to 16 000. The final goal will be to have 150 000 virtual machines using OpenStack, an open-source platform for developing infrastructure-as-a-service cloud networks. The new infrastructure will greatly speed the creation of custom virtual machines for CERN scientists. OpenStack will allow both data centers to be managed from a single location and automate a lot of the customization and configuration tasks.
MIT Technology Review: Most video display systems use light-emitting backplanes covered with filters that create the individual pixels. That system requires that the light source remain on, which drains battery power. In addition, the filters reduce the brightness of the screen’s light. Lumiode, a startup in New York, has developed a display technology that uses an array of LEDs as individual pixels, with each LED covered by a layer of silicon to control the amount of light emitted. The company’s prototype is a 50 x 50 array of LEDs just 1 mm2. Lumiode claims that the display is 30 times brighter and 10 times more efficient than other displays. However, the display is currently limited to just a single color, although the company plans to add a color-controlling layer on top of the LED wafer. Lumiode CEO Vincent Lee says that he expects his company to develop a 320 x 240 pixel prototype within the next year. Lee hopes that his company can partner with electronics makers to incorporate the display in heads-up devices such as Google Glass or to create displays on car windshields.
BBC: Invisibility cloaks have already been designed to be undetectable by specific wavelengths of light and sound, and now there is a similar device for heat. Robert Schittny of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and his colleagues have used copper and PDMS, a silicon-based material, to create a pattern of thermally conducting and insulating rings that leaves a 5-cm disk at its center untouched by heat. Heat entering the pattern takes the paths of least resistance, following the rings of high thermal conductivity, avoiding the rings of low conductivity, and passing around the central disk before exiting the pattern. To mask the fact that the heat is being diverted, the rings are further designed to compensate for the extra distance the heat has to travel so that the distribution of the heat and temperature on the far side of the pattern matches what would have been there if there were no pattern in the material. Schittny suggests that the technique could be useful in electronics where thermal energy needs to be directed to or away from specific areas.
Scientific American: The Hanford Site in Washington State began storing nuclear waste created by the Manhattan Project and continued stockpiling waste until its last reactor shut down in 1987. Of the 177 underground tanks holding 208 million liters of waste, 60 have leaked in the past, though only 6 are currently leaking. The US Department of Energy began construction of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant in 2000, with a plan to separate the various types of waste and store them via vitrification—turning each radionuclide into stable glass rods and wrapping them in steel. However, the methodology of that process was not fully established when construction began, and many difficulties have arisen. Because the waste has self-separated into solids, liquids, and gases of varying densities, each type has to be handled differently, and some of them pose significant safety concerns. Until the safety issues are addressed, construction of the plant is at a standstill. It will likely not begin operating until at least 2022.
Daily Mail: Amanda Ghassaei, a software engineer from California, has previously shown how to use 3D printers to make vinyl music records. Now she has posted online instructions for an alternative method that uses a laser cutter to cut records out of wood. The process involves converting an MP3 into a digital waveform, which is then saved as a pdf. The pdf becomes the “vector cutting path” that the laser cutter follows to carve the pattern into the wood. Because the laser’s resolution is relatively low, the groove is twice as thick as a normal record groove. Hence, only about three minutes of music will fit on a standard-sized record, and the sound fades to static the closer the needle moves to the center as the sampling rate decreases. If no laser cutter is available, Ghassaei says that a computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill or CNC razor-blade paper cutter could also be used. Because of the lower resolution, the technique works best with songs that are dominated by low- to mid-range sounds. Ghassaei provided a video of one of the records playing Radiohead’s “Idioteque.”
Science: President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal included $105 million for a robotic spacecraft to capture a small asteroid and move it closer to Earth so that astronauts could visit it. However, the plan is receiving criticism from asteroid researchers, including the head of NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group. The plan, based on studies by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at Caltech, visualizes capturing the asteroid by 2017 and using an ion drive to push it toward Earth. To be able to do that, some advances in technology will be necessary, including better solar panels and improved ion engines. However, the real problem will be identifying enough suitable candidate asteroids that one will actually be reachable when the spacecraft is finally able to launch. To do that, monitoring capabilities need to be significantly improved so that asteroids’ sizes and shapes, as well as orbital paths and times, can be determined. The claimed benefits of the mission have also been criticized. In particular, in terms of preventing an asteroid from colliding with Earth, none of the target asteroids would be large enough to penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, so the program will likely not be very useful for developing impact prevention policies.
New York Times: What defines a quantum computer is not particularly clear, but one of the usual characteristics is that a machine that make use of quantum mechanical effects will be much faster than a traditional computer. D-Wave Systems has developed, marketed, and even sold what they claim is the first commercial quantum computer, which has now outperformed a traditional computer in an algorithm processing test. While working as a consultant for D-Wave, Catherine McGeoch of Amherst University tested the machine’s capabilities. She presented the machine with three optimization problems—ones that require finding the best possible solution, such as the shortest path in a map—and compared the speed of the results with those of a conventional computer. In two of the three tests, the D-Wave computer only slightly outperformed the traditional computer, but in the third, it returned a result 3600 times as quickly.
Ars Technica: Conjunction assessment (CA) is the jargonistic term for monitoring satellites and debris in orbit around Earth and identifying likely major collisions. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center began monitoring for potential collisions in 2004, and NASA formalized a policy in 2007: All hardware with maneuver capability in low Earth orbit (LEO) or geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) must have CA performed regularly. To do that, NASA partnered with the Department of Defense’s US Strategic Command, which tracks objects in Earth orbit as part of its missile launch detection and monitoring mission. Goddard’s CA system is now heavily automated. Downloads of updated tracking data are processed daily, with analyses of future paths run forward 7 days for LEO and 10 days for GEO. The system uses Matlab to perform two-dimensional, Monte Carlo, and nonlinear analyses to determine collision probabilities, which are flagged for monitoring. If a probability doesn’t decrease, the system can also calculate the necessary maneuvers to move the threatened satellite.
MIT Technology Review: Streaming video, which requires large amounts of data, could account for 90% of the data transferred to mobile devices this year. Long-term evolution (LTE) is one of the dominant standards for mobile data and phone signals. An alternative version of LTE is in development that could make it possible to transmit a TV-like signal alongside the current LTE signal. Dubbed LTE Broadband, the system would reduce normal data congestion by broadcasting its signals, but it would likely be limited in the number of channels of video it could broadcast. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has suggested that his company would like to provide video streaming of events like the Super Bowl in an à la carte fashion, where a large number of users pay to view a particular event. Qualcomm, which develops chip technologies for mobile devices, says that the hardware and software necessary for LTE Broadband will likely be available by early 2014.
MIT Technology Review: The Highway Loss Data Institute has shown that autonomous braking systems, which detect potential collisions and apply a vehicle’s brakes automatically, have reduced the number of insurance claims. However, the systems are still only available in a small number of new cars. Of the 2013 model year, 29% had optional forward-collision warning systems, and only 12% of those included autonomous braking. One of the latter is the Lexus LS, which can slow down enough to avoid a collision if it is moving at 25 mph (40 kph) or less. The system uses millimeter-wave radar, a technology introduced for collision warning systems 10 years ago. As the radar’s range of detection is limited, software improvements are what have allowed for the development of automatic braking systems. Because 90% of rear-end collisions occur at speeds of 37 mph or less, Toyota, which owns the Lexus brand, hopes to improve its braking system to handle that range. More-advanced collision-avoidance systems have been developed for driverless cars manufactured by Google and Toyota, but they are extremely expensive. Nevertheless, the falling costs of forward-collision avoidance systems and side- and rear-impact warning systems are leading to greater availability and safety in newer vehicles.