Thursday, October 25, 2007

Extremely Large Telescopes—Answering the Extremely Large Questions

One of the great things about National Instruments is the wide range of applications we encounter. I had the pleasure of seeing an overview of large telescope applications this week. Large telescopes are built by the same process and long-term considerations as accelerators and colliders. The design phase lasts five years, deployment another five years, and then ongoing usage for the next twenty years or more.

Large telescopes use highly complex systems to control the position of many mirrors to form an image of outer space. The control systems also apply to the positioning, tracking, and focusing of the telescope.

Dirk de Mol in a previous position worked on developing LabVIEW-based control for the SALT – South African Large Telescope project. The SALT project uses a single parabolic-shaped mirror with air locks to raise and move the telescope from one position to another. It cannot change altitude which limits its view of the sky to 70% but also cuts the cost by 90%. The mirror is 11 meters across and the entire telescope weighs 82 tons which is light compared to most telescopes of its size. Its design is based on the Hobby-Eberly telescope run by the University of Texas.

ESO is the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere which runs the VLT Very Large Telescope project located in the in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The VLT has four primary telescopes with eight meter mirrors and four movable auxiliary telescopes that are two meters in diameter.

They are now working on the EELT or Extremely Large Telescope which plans to use almost 1000 mirrors. The larger aperture of the proposed telescope will provide greater resolution and sensitivity. The purpose of the EELT is to answer such questions as,
“What is dark energy and dark matter?”

“Is there life anywhere else in the Universe? “

The questions don’t get much larger than this.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

ICALEPCS—Particle Accelerators & Colliders

The world of big physics is an ideal place for emerging technologies to thrive and mature given the size of the budgets and the skill of the practitioners. They push the state of the art, like no other set of users, I’ve seen. I attended the ICALEPCS show this week in Knoxville, Tennessee. ICALEPCS stands for International Conference on Accelerator and Large Experimental Physics Control Systems.

In the conference, the keynote speakers kicked off with an overview of particle accelerators. The LHC—Large Hadron Collider built at CERN seeks to discover the Higgs particle – the smallest particle suspected to exist.

The International Linear Collider or ILC works in collaboration with the LHC. It’s an accelerator that will help fill out the missing pieces from the LHC experiments and research. It’s known that we need the ILC, but not yet exactly how. The ILC consists of two linear accelerators that face each other. The resulting collision of particles generates over 500 billion-electron-volts (GeV). The ILC grew out of the SLC (Stanford Linear Collider) which pioneered the technique of two accelerators facing each other. This made the design simple yet powerful enough to create the collision forces required to generate the desired energy level. These colliders are by nature multinational in development and support due to the substantial financial requirements to design, deploy and maintain.

There are a number of “boutique” accelerator/colliders such as the Muon collider which seeks to generate high luminosity particles which are easier to generate and study compared to linear colliders. Also there are accelerators seeking to reduce the cost and distance required to generate high energy fields. One example here is the Laser Plasma Accelerator. Laser Plasma Accelerators fire a laser into a plasma beam to create high energy fields but with far less space and equipment.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mobile to PC Connectivity – It’s how it handles the Interaction that Counts

In looking at the mobile phone space, I continue to find evidence that it’s not how well the mobile phone works (making calls, surfing the web, etc) that counts, but how well the mobile phone plays with the PC and associated servers. I came across an example today called Skyward Mobile which lets users run applications on phones that may not be well adapted to the application. Some applications only run on the top range of phones and typically they are the latest and greatest. Skyward uses the PC to Mobile connection to expand the number of phones and application can run on. It does this by downloading from the PC additional software or applets to phones that don’t have the full capability required by the application.

A general search through the web reveals many examples of “Over the Air” wireless connectivity between mobile phone and PC. In this Craigslist entry shows the Nokia N95 as having “over the air synchronization”. As functions become standard on commercial products, they are ripe for implementation in virtual instrumentation systems, because the cost is low and the technology is sufficiently mature.

Over the Air download to a mobile phone from a PC is fast on its way to becoming the standard. In this article the author describes the changing consumer electronics landscape and shows how important mobile phone to PC connectivity will be. Updating the mobile phone’s application and even the hardware configuration will be done over the air.

Virtual Instrumentation can take advantage of this technology giving way to unwired solutions that can stay up to date through over the air downloads. Handheld devices can collect the data, and utilize the storage capabilities of PCs and servers. By shrinking the size of the data collection equipment (down to the size of a mobile phone), more measurements could be made and more experiments run.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mobile phone – What will it look like in Five Years?

A few weeks ago I blogged about the current growth rate of the mobile phone market. This week, I’m going to project out five years into the future to see what the phone will look like based on current trends. This is always a risky proposition—as someone once wrote, “never make predictions – especially about the future.”

Average memory size on a mobile phone in 2012 will be 32 Gb. There will be some that will go for 64 Gb, but for an additional price. Data rates will run around the 240 Gbps.

Today, the average mobile phone has about 10 applications. By 2012, 30 applications will be available. Applications will become more interdependent. Instead of one application trying to do everything, each application will rely upon another for some functionality. For example, several applications such as “Restaurant finder” will use the GPS application rather than embedding its own GPS function into it.

The physical dimensions could take quite a different shape including morphing into jewelry shapes such as rings or watches or even eye wear. To get an idea of what the phone may look like check out this contest in London where artists submitted designs that ranged from the fashionable to the practical.

Currently, mobile phones make use of data and WiFi connectivity tools. In this area, the phone will certainly see expansion of data services in both rate and QoS features. By 2012, the five 9’s of reliability seen with the landline telephone service will extend to the mobile phone. Dropped calls and scratchy reception will be replaced with crystal clear calls and quality of service metrics.

In general mobile phone usage will become less obvious in appearance but more critical in its usage. The phone will become the universal remote that some home AV vendors taut. The phone will start to blend in with it surroundings but will connect to more things such as becoming the remote for your television, your interface for your TIVO (when away from your living room). It could also replace your garage door opener, as well as become your interface for other home automation functions. Certainly, in the healthcare area, the mobile phone will be your monitor for heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, and more. In the business world, more functions will be interfaced through the mobile phone such as payment systems, and security access.

As a user once remarked to me the other day, “this phone has half my life in it.” In five years, he’ll say, “this phone has all my life in it.”

Best regards,
Hall T.