Technology Bulletin

By: 
June 24, 1996

Technology packs 125 million transistors on a chip

Next year, Texas Instruments' new TImeline Technology will be packing more than 100 million transistors on a 19-mm2 piece of silicon using a 0.18-micron CMOS process technology. This density is double that possible with 0.25-micron technology and would make it possible to put all the electronics needed for a PC--including the microprocessor, modem, sound card, glue logic, and 16 Mbytes of DRAM--on one chip. "Today's most complex chips range from 5 to 7 million transistors. This dramatic increase in transistor count will create systems and applications that we haven't even started to imagine," says Rich Templeton, TI Semiconductor Group senior vice president and worldwide manager of its application-specific products business. Initial quantities of the 0.18-micron chips will be available in the first half of 1997, with full-scale production slated for the end of the year. The first applications are expected to be in engineering workstations and high-end telecom equipment, where TI officials say the technology could produce single chips that could replace 100 of today's modem boards. In addition, TI expects that communications, computer, and consumer OEMs can half their time to market by using its comprehensive library of DSPs, systems cores, memories types, and mixed-signal and application-specific modules. For details, visit http://www.ti.com.


Prototype automotive device may replace catalytic converters

Treating automotive exhaust with electric current may enhance the efficiency of cars' catalytic converters--or replace them altogether. Electrical corona discharges similar to what makes neon signs glow can cause reactions that break down harmful components in automotive exhaust. The technique was developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to treat harmful vapors released during soil decontamination. It's now being tested by the laboratory and "Big Three" engineers to assess its potential for treating vehicle emissions. For more information, FAX the PNNL at (509) 375-2242, visit http://w3.pnl.gov:2080/news .


Flat-panel displays offer paper-like resolution

Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center has developed displays and image-capture devices that provide resolutions an order-of-magnitude greater than those currently found in laptop computers, say company officials, delivering a level of image clarity available today only by using paper or film. PARC researchers have demonstrated page-size flat panels with 7 million pixels; laptop computers commonly have half-million-pixel displays. Applications include aircraft cockpits, where clear display of flight and tactical information is crucial, and workstations, where resolution of minute details in a complex CAD image is a necessity. "We've created a dynamic medium that communicates with more richness and dimension than a paper document and with more definition than today's digital documents on the desktop," claims Dr. Malcolm J. Thompson, CEO of dpiX (pronounced "depicts"), the company Xerox has launched to develop and market the new technology. Initially, dpiX will introduce state-of-the-art active-matrix liquid-crystal displays for military aircraft cockpits, with the first displays scheduled for introduction late this year. For details, e-mail chihuang@parc.xerox.com .


CFC replacement handles demanding applications

Due to U.S. and international environmental regulations, the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances is being phased out. After learning from customers that many CFC replacements didn't meet industry needs in demanding applications, 3M researchers began developing HFE (hydrofluoroether) technology. Performance of 3M's HFEs closely resembles that of the ozone-depleting substances they will replace, but the substances have zero ozone-depletion potential, say company officials. Other HFE properties include: short atmospheric lifetime, low toxicity, and nonflammability. HFEs suit such commercial and industrial applications as precision cleaning of complex parts used in electronic, computer, aerospace, and medical products and equipment. Other key applications are in heat-transfer and low-temperature cooling systems, as a carrier for specialty lubricant deposition on computer hard disks, and as a component in spray contact cleaners for electrical maintenance and repair. For more information, FAX (612) 733-1659.


Aircraft navigation system to aid global climate-change studies

A low-cost aircraft navigational system developed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Wallops Island, VA, will allow scientists to make precise maps of ice sheets. The maps should yield valuable data on the potential effects of global climate change. Less than six months in the making, the navigation system uses a 486-based PC. A receiver in the aircraft tuned to Global Positioning System satellites acquires precise position data, which the computer compares to a predetermined flight path. The system then generates steering signals that it sends to the autopilot to direct the aircraft toward its optimal flight path. A position display lets the pilot determine if the aircraft is right or left of the flight path centerline to within one foot. This capability lets scientists map the icy terrain below to an accuracy of 4 inches. "The system can be used on other aircraft-based Earth science missions to map varied terrain such as volcanoes and coastlines," says system developer Wayne Wright. For more information, e-mail keith.koehler@ccmail.gsfc.nasa.gov .


Tiny memory card to cost half as much as conventional ROM

About the size of a matchbook, the MultiMediaCard from Siemens Components Inc. will initially offer 16 or 64 megabits of solid-state read-only memory (ROM). The card is 40% the size of a credit card or smart card due to the use of "record-on-silicon" technology, which lets the company store more than one bit in each memory cell. Applications for the card include storing such data as software programs, reference works, street maps, travel guides, games, and music. Users can stack MultiMediaCards into one playing unit, which could address the cards selectively. For software applications, the card could plug into the PC card slot in computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) via a PCMCIA card adapter. Plans are in the works for a one-time-programmable (OTP) version for archiving documents and images and for a flash-memory version that would function as "film" for digital cameras. Production of the 16- and 64-megabit versions is planned for the end of 1997; the 256-megabit version should be available in 1999. The company expects the MultiMediaCard to cost half as much as conventional ROM. For details, visit http://www.sci.siemens.com .


World record achieved for solar-cell efficiency

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have achieved a sunlight-to-electricity efficiency of 17.7%--a world record for solar-cell technology. The solar-cell material, a compound semiconductor called copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), is a thin-film photovoltaic technology NREL researchers are investigating as a next-generation replacement for existing photovoltaics. The new record is about 60% higher than the equivalent efficiency of commercial thin-film photovoltaics made of amorphous silicon. While the achievement is significant, says Jim Rannels, acting director of the DOE's Office of Photovoltaics and Wind Technologies, it will take 10 to 15 years for the CIGS technology to become commercially available. For additional information, FAX (303) 275-4091.


Electric buses on loan for 1996 Olympics

Ten all-electric buses have been ordered by the Santa Barbara, CA, Metropolitan Transit District for use during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Electric-vehicle battery manufacturer Saft America and electric bus manufacturer APS Systems will produce the buses, which are funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration. The electric buses will be constructed of lightweight fiber-glass composite materials to increase both the vehicles' range and rider capacity. Length will be 26 feet, passenger capacity 37, and range between charges 120 miles. Low floors make the buses handicapped-accessible without lifts. After the Games, the buses will join six other nickel cadmium battery-powered buses in Santa Barbara's fleet. For further details, FAX Saft at (912) 245-2810.


Colored conductive ink zaps life into toys

Interactive toys that sing, books that actually "tell" a story, and T-shirts that play music with the touch of a finger. These are just a few products that would be possible with the colored conductive ink being developed by a joint venture between Englehard Corp. and Ferber Technologies called Englehard/Colortronics. The technology lets manufacturers conduct electrical current across a range of rigid substrates, such as fabric, paper, and plastics, without the use of wires. Previously, non-wire conductive systems have lacked vivid color and the ability to maintain electrical continuity when flexed or washed. The Englehard/Colortronics technology features nontoxic colored conductive materials that the companies say are easy to apply, washable, flexible, and provide for customized electrical properties. The first commercial application of colored conductive ink will be on novelty T-shirts, expected out later this year. To get more information, FAX Lisa Karasic at (908) 205-6711.


Artificial skin minimizes scarring

An artificial skin developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can now be used on burn patients. The material, says Ioannis Yannas, professor of polymer science and engineering, results in less scarring than from ungrafted burns or even autografts (skin transplants from donor sites on a person's body). Chemically bonding collagen taken from animal tendons with glycosaminoglycan (GAG) molecules from animal cartilage creates a simple version of the extracellular matrix that provides the basis for a new dermis, the underlying skin layer that does not regenerate when damaged. The collagen-GAG material has pores that permit cells to grow through the scaffold, making a new dermis as the scaffold is broken down by enzymes. Epidermis then grows over the area or is autografted. For details, e-mail Elizabeth Thomson at thomson@mit.edu .

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