Author: Matthew Finnegan

London's black cabs get free wi-fi next year

London’s famous black cabs are to provide free wi-fi to passengers, thanks to technology provided by a TechCity startup. Passengers using the CabWifi service will gain access to fifteen minutes of free wi-fi after watching a 15 second advert.

Startup firm Eyetease has been pushing the system for two years, aiming to offer internet usage without racking up huge fees. This is particularly true for tourists that have to pay increased costs for data usage abroad, but according to Eyetease founder Richard Corbett taxi drivers themselves have also seen data costs rising.

“With dwell times averaging 15 minutes in the back of a taxi, what better way to pass the time than to use your laptop, tablet, book reader or phone with guilt free internet access,” Corbett said.  “Tourists and business travellers can now access their emails, talk on Skype or surf the web without the fear of being hit with high data roaming charges when they return home.”

Eyetease is currently speaking to major brands to sponsor the scheme, in return for videos in the back of taxis across the capital when the service rolls out next year.

Wi-fi is becoming increasingly ubiquitous across London, with Virgin getting the contract to provide internet access at tube stations in time for the Olympics.

Apple and Google embrace for Kodak moment

Apple has joined forces with Google to offer bankrupt Kodak $500 million for its digital imaging patents.

The two companies had both led separate groups which had intended to purchase the patents which would aid them in developing smartphone technology.

Apple had sought to buy the patents along with a group of companies including Microsoft, while Google had teamed up with firms including some Android manufacturing partners in Asia.

However, sources cited by Bloomberg claimed that the pair had decided to join forces and attempt to get hold of the imaging patents for themselves.

The two have previously gone head to head on procuring patents, for example, when an Apple-led consortium snapped up Nortel’s IP for $4.5 billion last year, following an offer from Google and its partners.

Kodak is in the process of scaling down its operations following its filing for bankruptcy and has committed to raising at least $500 million through patent sales so it can continue operating, and move into printing and enterprise services.

The move shows that there is some effort to avoid confrontation on patents relating to smartphone technology.  In the past Apple and Google have come to blows over wireless patents.

Google is also indirectly affected by the legal battle that has engulfed Apple and Samsung over smartphones and tablets.

In a separate case, Google told a court that “abstract patents” are plaguing the technology industry. Along with other companies such as Facebook and Red Hat, Google told a court that software patents should not be granted where ideas are too abstract to be monopolised.

Valve confirms Steam console

Valve has confirmed that it will be making a foray into hardware, with its Steam set top box expected to debut next year.

Speaking with Kotaku, Valve boss Gabe Newell appeared to confirm the company will begin selling a hardware system that would link up to a TV, with games downloadable through its online store.

Newell’s comments follow months of speculation that Valve will begin to provide hardware for the living room. The company made a step towards this earlier this year by creating a Big Picture mode that allows content purchased through Steam to be optimised for larger screens.   

Steam has so far made its fortune selling PC games – enticing customers with tempting deals that has turned enormous software libraries into something of a meme.

Supporting PC gaming in the living room will be a very “controlled environment”, blurring the lines between a PC and a console. “In a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments,”  Newell said, adding that he expects other companies will do the same.

By throwing its hat into the ring, Valve could make life difficult for some of the big name console producers. Along with Valve’s open source platform, the Kickstarter funded Android console, Ouya, is also in development, priced at under $100. Ouya is expected to see a release in 2013.

Although these consoles might not have the power that could be expected from the typical console makers, the smaller price tag could tempt some gamers away from spending hundreds on a high end, marquee name console.  This would be bad news for the big console manufacturers which often have to sell hardware at a loss to begin with.

However, Microsoft appears to be preempting this with the rumoured development of its own TV compatible devices, with an Xbox style set top box said to be in development.

By the time the next generation consoles debut, the living room could be a lot more crowded than when the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were released.

IBM makes photonic chip breakthrough

IBM has made a breakthrough with commercialisation high speed photonics chips – using light to transmit data rather than electrons.

The advances in production mean that silicon photonics components will now be more easily integrated into conventional silicon electronics.

“This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM,” said Dr. John E. Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research. “This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications.” 

Researchers across the world have been attempting to integrate the two technologies into the same chip, but photonics components have been difficult to integrate onto the same piece of silicon, using the same foundry production methods.   

Now IBM has managed to house the nanophotonics components, such as wavelength division multiplexers, modulators and detectors needed transmit data communications using waves of light, fitting them alongside the electronics components.

This has been done using 90nm CMOS technology.   While this may be a higher process than the leading edge chips produced by semiconductor firms currently, the photonics components will allow much faster data transfers, at around 25Gbps per channel.

Scaling the technology will allow large data streams to be combined, delivering terabytes of data between large networks, IBM said.

This will have major benefits for servers supporting large amounts of data. IBM said that silicon nanophotonics “provides answers to big data challenges” by allowing huge amounts of information to be shifted across systems, whether they be centimetres or kilometres apart.

IBM has spent a decade attempting to create a production method that will allow commercialising photonic chips.  One of the problems has been in reducing the size of the photonics technology to fit with the transistors and other components.

Prior to its announcement today, IBM developed its proof of concept photonics technology back in 2010.

IBM is not the only major firm with its eye on photonics technology.  Intel is also looking to develop chips using optical interconnects.

Richard O'Dwyer welcomes end of extradition case

British student Richard O’Dwyer has welcomed the end of a US court case following charges over copyright infringement.

O’Dwyer had been threatened with a prison sentence in the US after setting the TVShack website, providing links to pirated films and other content. The 24 year old has now had charges dropped, though the Sheffield student has been ordered to pay a £20,000 fine after appearing in a New York court.

O’Dwyer said that he was relieved that the case had now drawn to an end, adding that he wished the UK government had prevented the legal proceedings from reaching this stage. 

“I am very happy that it is finally over with,” O’Dwyer commented to reporters.  “I still believe that I never committed any crime. I am very pleased the US government has decided to drop the case against me.”

He added:  “It is quite frustrating that [the UK government] didn’t put their foot down at all about the extradition proceeding. I just think they could have done this in the first place.”

His mother, Julia O’Dwyer, who has carried out a campaign to highlight her son’s case, also said that she wished the UK government had stopped proceedings from getting to this stage.

O’Dwyer had faced years in prison over TVShack.  It had been alleged that he had profited by over $230,000 from posting links to copyright infringing materials. It was agreed last month that he would voluntarily apear in a US court to face charges.

Another British citizen, Gary McKinnon, was told that he would remain in the UK following a ten year battle against extradition to the US after searching for evidence of aliens on classified American networks. Home secretary Theresa May made the decision to block extradition following a lengthy appeal to keep McKinnon in the UK on health grounds.

However, there has been fierce criticism over the extradition agreement that exists between the UK and the US. MPs have lambasted the arrangement, which is deemed unequal in allowing relatively easy extradition to the US, but not in the other direction.

Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock said that while the case against O’Dwyer has reached a positive conclusion, it shows that there are underlying changes that need to be made to prevent similar instances occurring in future.

“What is disturbing still is that he went under the threat of extradition,” Killock said. “We are still vulnerable to requests under UK law”.

Killock added that there need to be “firm rules” put in place to stop any similar situations.

“We need the law changed,” Killock said. “It is great that he has been able to resolve the case, but it doesn’t mean that others won’t face similar charges in future.”

Mobile chip sales to outpace PCs in 2013

Mobile phone chip sales are set to outpace total PC revenues for the first time next year, analysts house IC Insights has claimed.

Falling sales of desktops will contribute to mobile chips dominance in the demand for integrated circuits (ICs).  IC Insights classes total PC sales as all desktops, notebooks, fiddly hybrid devices, and thin client style systems like the Chromebook.

The report predicts that mobile chip sales, including smartphone chips, will outpace PCs for the first time next year.  Revenues for PC ICs and mobile ICs are expected to be $70.7 billion and $65.1 billion respectively in 2013.

For the past two decades, PCs have accounted for around a third of all IC sales.  This is expected to fall to a quarter of the market this year, before eventually accounting for less than a fifth by 2016.

At the same time mobile chip sales are going through the roof.  Sales are expected to account for 24 percent of the market this year, growing to 32 percent in 2016.

While there have been strong sales of smartphones in developed nations, it is widely expected that sales in emerging markets will see considerable growth in coming years.

The report forecasts that the total PC market will see growth in the years up to 2016. Total sales are expected to reach $348 billion from $268 billion in 2011, despite slow sales of desktops.  

Sales of desktop chips are expected to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 0.1 percent up to 2016.  Notebooks are forecast to grow by a CAGR of 7.4 percent.   

There is little optimism for sales of chips supporting Chromebook style devices, which are expected to decline by 0.4 percent over the period.

Tablets are set for significant growth over the period, with a CAGR of 33.9 percent.  

However the report notes that the IC content value of tablets is considerably lower than that of the PCs.  It is expected that it would take shipments of two tablets to generate the same amount of IC revenue as one desktop or laptop.

The forecasts are indicative of the shifting landscape for hardware sales. AMD announced yesterday that it would pay out $320 million to GlobalFoundries in order to reduce chip orders, to realign itself with declining PC sales.

Meanwhile, reports from IHS iSuppli earlier this week highlighted the strong growth that mobile chip firm Qualcomm has enjoyed, moving into third place place in terms of worldwide semiconductor sales, growing revenues by 27 percent during 2012.


Intel, Microsoft in global R&D spending top ten

Intel and Microsoft have been named as two of the top ten R&D spending companies worldwide in a European Commission report.

The “EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard” highlights the research and development spend by the top 1,500 companies in the world.  The latest report shows that Microsoft, Samsung and Intel are in the top ten, ranking second, fifth and eighth respectively.

Microsoft grew its R&D spending by 8.5 percent during 2011 to €7.5 billion, just below Toyota, at first place which spent €7.7 billion.

Meanwhile. Intel at eighth showed the largest growth in the top ten, with a 27 percent increase in R&D over 2011, resulting in a total of €6.4 for the year.

Both companies have been facing battles to retain their dominance in their respective markets in the face of increased competition as the PC landscape has continued to change, with ARM-based devices threatening the traditional leadership.

Outside of the top ten, one of the quickest increases in R&D outlay during the period was for Chinese firm Huawei. The telcosaw its expenditure rise by 48.5 percent to €2.9 billion during 2011.

Hewlett Packard was also found in the top 50, six places behind Huawei in 47th position, increasing spending to €2.5 billion.  HP CEO Meg Whitman vowed to double R&D spend earlier this year, as the company attempts to turn around its business as PC sales drop off.

Engineers enter fourth dimension with Christmas tree transistors

Scientists at the University of Purdue reckon they can give conventional silicon-based electronics a run for its money with the development of festive ‘4D’ transistors.

The researchers had previously completed plain old three dimensional structures using indium gallium arsenide, a material that is being developed as a potential successor to silicon in computer chips. However, the team’s endeavours into abstract space have revealed the contents of the fourth dimension – Christmas tree shaped transistors.

The Purdue researchers say they have created a system using three nanowires, progressively smaller, creating a tapered cross section that apparently resembles a Christmas tree shape.

Apparently the fourth dimension comes into play with the stacked nanowires also speeding up the operation of the transistors, in addition to the added height.

“A one-story house can hold so many people, but more floors, more people, and it’s the same thing with transistors,” Peide “Peter” Ye, one of the researchers, explained. “Stacking them results in more current and much faster operation for high-speed computing.

“This adds a whole new dimension, so I call them 4-D.”

By creating stacked transistors in this way, the continuation of creating smaller microchips can be continued Ye says.

Engineers are facing increasing difficulties in shrinking silicon based electronics to ever smaller nano-scale processes. Once chip designs pass the 7 nanometre process, creating workable designs becomes much tougher, and engineers are on the lookout for new technologies that can continue Moore’s Law.

Ye believes that the ‘4D’ transistors give a glimpse of the post-silicon world of chips. “It’s a preview of things to come in the semiconductor industry,” he said.

John McAfee thrown in Guatemalan jail

John McAfee has been detained in a Guatemalan jail after entering the country illegally, following three weeks on the run from police in Belize.

In a story that has given information security reporters sensational relief from writing about 0-day exploits, McAfee has been hiding from Belize authorities since reports of the death of his American neighbour emerged, with McAfee continually expressing his innocence of any wrongdoing through his blog.

In the latest update, McAfee confirmed that he is now in a Guatemalan prison, but appeared confident that he would be released soon.

“I am in jail in Guatemala,” he wrote. “Vastly superior to Belize jails.  I asked for a computer and one magically appeared.  The coffee is also excellent.”

He continued: “Only time will tell what will happen.  No one has a crystal ball.  However, I would be truly shocked if I did not conduct the press conference tomorrow as I had originally planned.”

Guatemalan interior minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla has said that McAfee could be expelled from the country, the Guardian writes.

In McAfee’s blog, it was claimed that a man had also been arrested in Mexico this week saying he was the millionaire entrepreneur, in what are thought to have been attempted diversionary tactics.

McAfee now claims that Guatemalan authorities have assured him that he will not be returned to neighbouring Belize, at least until his case is heard by a judge.

Since arriving in Guatemala McAfee has also spoken directly to reporters, stating how he has been “continually harassed” by the Belize government.  

“They have attempted to charge me with every crime, ranging from running an antibiotics laboratory without a licence, to hiring security guards without a licence, to having improper paperworks for my company, and most recently the murder of my neighbour,” he said. “I had to leave, but the story had to get out.”

McAfee has not been charged at this point, and Belize authorities have said that he is only wanted for questioning regarding the death of his neighbour.

Since going on the lam, McAfee has been accompanied by his girlfriend and two journalists at Vice magazine. Vice has published a video of McAfee being detained by Guatemalan authorities.

McAfee’s whereabouts were revealed earlier this week after a photo uploaded by one of the journalists was tracked using the GPS function.

LCD display fitted onto wearable contact lenses

Scientists have offered a vision of the future of augmented reality with a contact lens featuring an LCD display.

A team of researchers at the European research lab Imec and Ghent University in Belgium have developed a prototype contact lense featuring liquid crystal display (LCD) technology used in screens found in tablets, laptops and TVs.

The spherical display fits onto a contact lense and can overlay images directly onto a person’s field of vision.   

This has been achieved in the past using light emitting diode (LED) technology, but the display has been limited to just a few small pixels. By using LCD-based technology, it is possible to cover the entire field of vision, opening intriguing uses in medical and consumer applications.

Currently, the technology can only display small amounts of information, with an initial prototype displaying just a dollar sign on the lens. More elaborate images could be made possible in the future, according to the researchers.

For example, it may be possible to control the light transmission reaching a patient’s retina in the case of damage.

Companies such as Google and Microsoft have already been developing augmented reality devices for eyesight, with proof of concept devices generating large amounts of interest.

Overlaying heads-up displays (HUDs) using contact lenses would also be a possibility, and the market for wearable electronics is already forecast to reach $6 billion by 2016, according to analysts.

According to the scientists, devices suitable for consumer use could be available in just a few years now that the basic technology had been proven.

The main difficulty in producing the lenses has been to create a LCD that was not only flexible, but formed into a spherical shape.

“Normally, flexible displays using liquid crystal cells are not designed to be formed into a new shape, especially not a spherical one. Thus, the main challenge was to create a very thin, spherically curved substrate with active layers that could withstand the extreme molding processes,” said Jelle De Smet, the main researcher on the project. 

He added that thin polymer films had to be engineered to enable the necessary smoothness required to display an image on the curved display.

“By using new kinds of conductive polymers and integrating them into a smooth spherical cell, we were able to fabricate a new LCD-based contact lens display,” De Smet said.

Another researcher, Professor Robert De Smet, said that the research paves the way for the development and commercialisation of the technology.

“Now that we have established the basic technology, we can start working twoards real applications, possibly available in only a few years time,” he said.