Heat sinks and fans could go the way of the Dodo

dodo The current method of cooling computers is about to get a rethink.

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is supporting new research to provide on-chip liquid cooling in field-programmable gate array (FPGA) devices and it looks like the technology could be easily adapted for CPUs and GPUs.

This has the potential to reduce the size of devices, allow for chip stacking, dispense with heat sinks and fans and significantly extend the life-span of chips.

Speaking at the IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference, Thomas Sarvey, from Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) presented the paper with the catchy title “Embedded Cooling Technologies for Densely Integrated Electronic Systems.”

What they managed to do was get rid of the heat sink atop the silicon die by moving liquid cooling just a few hundred microns away from the transistors.

The technique involves cutting microfluidic channels into the die of FPGA devices, which were chosen for the research and trials because of their flexible configuration and extensive use in the military.

This locates the cooling just microns from the problem, and even allows for the possibility of chip-stacking, which very few devices currently have the room or efficiency to achieve, given the necessity to dissipate heat from a central locus of adjacent chips.

The group successfully developed a standard demonstration test, including one for DARPA officials, in which a converted FPGA with bespoke Altera-supplied architecture operated, with no other cooling, at less than 24 degrees Celsius, and was compared to an analogous air-cooled device operating at 60 degrees Celsius.

On-chip liquid cooling also opens up the possibility for a new level of compactness in device design, which frequently has to use available surface space for dissipation purposes.


MIT imagines self-forming "smart sand"

A team at MIT has come up with a vision of what it calls self sculpting sand – “smart sand” – theorising that using a new algorithm, by placing a model in a box of sand, the sand could one day assemble itself into a large scale replica. 

A research project at the Distributed Robotics Laboratory, at MIT’s Computer Science and Aritificial Laboratory, is announcing a paper including algorithms which could eventually enable such a technology. This smart sand would be using a “subtractive method”, similar to chipping away at a stone carving, rather than an additive method. 

MIT says that the equivalent example would be the starting steps of a sculptor – turning a block of stone into a final product. The researchers theorise that individual grains could talk to each other to make themselves into a 3D object, while unneccessary grains would fall away. When that 3D object had served its purpose, it could then be returned to the sand heap – with the grains then detaching from one another, ready to make a new shape altogether.

According to MIT, the biggest challenge so far in developing such technologies is that individual grains of sand do not have enough computational resources. However, co-author of the paper Daniela Rus said that if each grain was able to store a digital map of the final object, it takes some challenges away from coming up with the algorithm. “We would like to solve the problem without that requirement, because that is simply unrealistic when you’re talking about modules at this scale – we’d like to not have to know ahead of time what our block looks like,” Rus said. 

To imagine the algorithm, MIT suggests picturing each grain as a square in a 2D grid. If some of those squares are missing, such as in the shape of a footstall, this is where the physical model is embedded. The grains can pass messages to each other to figure out where there are missing neighbours. Missing neighbours will either be in the perimeter of the sand heap, or the perimeter of the embedded shape. Then, the grains which surround the embedded shape are able to identify themselves, passing messages to other grains, which can identify themselves as the perimiter of a duplicate object.

So, if the duplicate is supposed to be a large version of the shape, the square surrounding the embedded shape will map themselves to 10 squares of the duplicate’s perimeter. The grains outside the duplicate’s perimeter can then disconnect from neighbouring grains. 

It would be possible by tinkering with this algorithm to create multiple copies of a sample shape, or to scale up to produce a single large copy of an object. 

MIT student and paper author Kyle Gilpin used a car as an example: “Say the tire rod in your car has sheared – you could duct tape it back together, put it into your system and get a new one”.

The paper authors used smart pebbles to test the algorithm, which work as a simplified, 2D version. These cubes have all four faces studded with electropermanent magnets, or materials that can be magnetised or demagnetised with an electric pulse. They can be turned on and off, and the pebbles use magnets to communicate and share power as well as for connecting with one another. Each of the smart pebbles has a microprocessor inside it which can keep 32 kilobytes of program code, and has just two kilobytes of memory. 

To test their algorithm, the researchers designed and built a system of ‘smart pebbles’ — cubes about 10 millimeters to an edge, with processors and magnets built in.
Photo: M. Scott Brauer

To attach to each other, to communicate and to share power, the cubes use ‘electropermanent magnets,’ materials whose magnetism can be switched on and off with jolts of electricity. Each cube has magnets — recognisable by the reddish wires wrapped around them — on four of its six faces.
Photo: M. Scott Brauer 


The researchers said there wasn’t room for more magnets on the cube, however, they did run computer simulations which demonstrated that their algorithm would be able to work with 3D blocks of cubes – by treating the layer of each block as its own 2D grid. In the simulation, cubes discarded from the final shape would disconnect from surrounding cubes. 

At the moment, the researchers are outlining the possibilities of the algorithm. They will present the final paper at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation this May. 

Driverless cars on our roads by 2020

Intelligent car technology is ready to go – and is just waiting to be implemented, according to leading engineers. 

Driverless car s areexpected by the end of the decade. According to experts at IEEE, nearly all of the prangs caused by driver error could be eliminated by introducing a wide range of semiconductor-based technologies in our cars.

In-vehicle machine vision and sensors that can detect drivers about to nod off at the wheel are just some of the devices that will be made available to motorists.

The problem so far has been that the technology has been too expensive to kit out the average Fiat Punto with embedded systems, sensors, microprocessors and control technologies.

However, Dr Azim Eskandarian believes that it is only a matter of time before that kind of vehicle safety is standard.

This means that there will likely be less deaths on the road each year as chip technologies come to fruition.  And this is likely to be particularly pertinent in developing parts of the world, where there are more motoring accidents, and where high end sensor-covered cars are extremely rare, as Freescale’s engineering director mentioned at IEF.

However, as technology costs continue to fall and implementation of these technologies increases, we could see significant improvements in vehicle safety, efficiency, and energy conservation within 10 years.

The spectre of liability has been to blame for manufacturers holding back on using smart sensors, such as lane departure warnings or vehicle to vehicle communications.

But if Eskandarian is right then within ten years collision detection features could be as ubiquitous as the seatbelt or airbags. 

Another IEEE professor, Alberto Broggi, believes that autonomously driven vehicles are also just on the horizon.  He recently completed a 13,000 kilometre journey of a driverless van from Italy to China, which we presume must have freaked out a fair few motorists along the way.

He reckons that such vehicles will be ready to use in no-urban areas within the next five to eight years.  As he mentions, the first applications will likely be in agricultural equipment, such as self-driving tractors that can “maximise land use, increase crop output, and decrease injuries”. 

However, it won’t be long before driveless cars become common on our streets too, he says.

Cutting down on fuel consumption is another expected benefit. IEEE predicts that fuel use could be cut by 20 to 30 percent using intelligent technologies such as ‘eco-routing’.

Ed Vaizey calls for BBC backing on computer sciences

The UK has faced a barrage of criticism recently over its lack of computer science education.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt was withering in his summation of a British system which has forgone the teaching computer programming in schools.

“I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools,” Schmidt said recently. “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made.”

And Schmidt is not the only one. IEEE president Moshe Kam told TechEye that there were systematic failures in UK education too.  And this has serious knock on effects for the economy as he mentions. 

Many are in fact beginning to highlight the need to move away from the consumption of technology as is common in UK school’s IT lessons, and back to its creation.  As Schmidt pointedly observes it is in the UK where the first computer was both conceived and created.

It was interesting then that Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey brought up the prospect of trying to engage a younger generation in the prospect of computer programming.

Responding to a question in the Commons about the runaway success of mop-topped physics expert Brian Cox, Vaizey called for a similar approach to computer sciences.

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake highlighted that the ‘Cox-effect’ had led to a 20 percent rise in the numbers taking physics as an A-level subject. 

And according to Vaizey this is something that could be replicated by BBC in order to promote interest in computer sciences.  Quite who would present such a show is unclear. But following Cox’s success, finding any beardy IT engineer and giving him an armful of albums by the Charlatans and a Britpop circa 1995 makeover should do the trick.

The BBC’s power to make a difference in this area is significant,” Vaizey said, “and I hope now that it will find a charismatic presenter for a history of computer science, so that we can increase interest in computer science education.”

So should the BBC be doing more to promote the computer sciences?  It certainly used to anyway.

Though a bit before this writer’s time, the BBC Micro Live show ran for a number of series, broadcasting information about computer science.  Other programmes such as The Computer Programme followed a similar vein, and the BBC had its name attached to a range of computer products.

Of course a cursory glance at a Youtube clip shows how horrendously dated such programmes are now. 

TechEye approached the BBC to find out if it would listen to the calls of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport minister, and offer an updated version with so many calls for computer sciences to be put back on the agenda.

The BBC however told us that no consideration is given to politicising in its commissioning of programmes, and so would seemingly not be taking up the minister on his recommendation.

“The BBC doesn’t have a policy role,” we were told. “We commission on the basis of quality for our viewers.”

The BBC pointed us to its ‘Virtual Revolution’ series, but while this appears to be inclusive and collaborative with its audience, it again appears to lean more to the consumption of material rather than creation.

An official statement read:

“Virtual Revolutions (the BBC’s first open-source documentary) is a great example of the type of computer science programming that interests our audience, and we’re always looking for opportunities to promote the subject across the channels.”

We were also told that in terms of instructive computer science programming this is more of a “niche” topic. So though we are informed nothing is off the table in terms of programming there was nothing to say that anything would be in the pipeline.

So unless there is a groundswell of opinion it appears that significant broadcasting of computer sciences is off the cards.

But David Braben, known for computer games such as Elite and Rollercoaster Tycoon believes that such programming would be welcomed.  Braben has an interest in the teaching of computer programming and was in the news for his development of the RaspberryPi ‘$25 PC’ educational tool.

 “Anything that motivates people in this area is fantastic,” he told TechEye.  “Learning about computer programming is a fascinating activity and can be very creative.”

“The BBC would certainly be a great way to ignite interest as a public service broadcaster.”

“The BBC once ran the BBC Micro live and got kids engaged through that.  I would certainly like to see this brought up to date with the RaspberryPi, and call it ‘BBC Nano’.  It is important to get in touch with a younger generation.”

Of course there is a wider issue here than the merely commissioning a few TV shows, as Braben points out too. 

“The role of government is to steer and encourage, unfortunately there are relatively few speaking out for the support of tech.  The silence from David Willetts especially is deafening.”

 “We have become a nation of consumers rather than creators in terms of technology in education, and this has implications further down the line.”

TechEye also approached the Department for Education for its chance to explain what is being done to support the education of computer engineers at school level, as recommended by Google’s boss and Vaizey.  At this point we have received no reply.

One point is that prospects must be improved for those leaving with qualifications in subjects computer science.  Employment levels are said to be extremely low.

And despite a tradition of success in game design, such as with Rockstar, there are serious misgivings over how the games industry is treated.

Just yesterday Labour MP Jim McGovern called for a Commons debate on the way in which the industry is being treated. 

So it seems that to ensure that the UK is to recapture the days of innovation that Schmidt discusses, it will take one just organisation or faction to bring about change.

IEEE publishes long range wireless standards

New standards for long range wireless networks have been published today by the IEEE.

The 802.22 standard for Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRANs) means that broadband access can be provided over long distances, up to 100 kilometres.

This will mean that rural areas could more easily benefit from broadband access, with developing countries targeted by the IEEE.

Of course, as Ofcom has been reminded of lately, even in little old England there are many areas which cannot be reached.

The engineers at the IEEE have very cleverly managed to use the VHF and UHF bandwidths usually used for TV, accessing the “white-spaces between TV channels” at the 54 MHz to 862 MHz spectru,.

This is possible by using cognitive radio capabilities. These include dynamic spectrum access, incumbent database access, accurate geolocation techniques, spectrum sensing, regulatory domain dependent policies, spectrum etiquette, and “coexistence for optimal use of the available spectrum”.

Essentially this means that it will be possible to send wireless broadband access without interfering with TV signals, achieving delivery of up to 22 Mbps per channel.

According to Andrew Ferguson at Thinkbroadband.com such wireless networks could potentially be for connecting areas that are without access.

“Wireless would certainly be easier than fibre connections to areas where ground would actually be dug up to provide a connection,” he told TechEye.

“But whether the speeds would be high enough is unclear, with many looking above the 25 Mbps mark.”

Virgin Media told us that while it was looking to support access in rural communities, it places more emphasis on the higher speeds of cable broadband, with the IEE spec not necessarilty high enough for a full range of services.

According to Alex Buttle, marketing director at uSwtich telecoms, the publishing of the standards is a positive step for net equality.

“It is a hugely positive new technology, and it is good for equality of connectivity across the world,” he told us.

“The standard across the world has been quite poor so far so this would certainly be raising the bar of what is available, so is definitely a positive step.”

“Wireless networks are good way to bridge the gap where it is difficult to cable broadband.”

“So in terms of bringing rural communities up to speed it would definitely be worth Ofcom’s investment to help roll out the technology.”

IEEE outlines the future of robots – part two

On Friday we published the first part of TechEye’s ‘future of robotics’ feature, below is the final part of our interview with IEEE robot expert, Antonio Espingardeiro.

As well as the role that robotics will have to play in search, rescue and space travel, the IEEE’s robotics expert Antonio Espingardeiro outlines further ways in which robots will benefit and influence our lives, and indeed the planet, over the coming years.



According to Espingardeiro, one of the ways in which robotics will aid challenges such as climate change will be increasingly seen in the application of robotics into automobiles.

“The future of transports systems encompasses a lot of robotics and automation capabilities,” he tells us.

“As vehicles become fully electric, powered by renewable sources, the trend is to equip them with sensors that could help the human drivers.”

Not only will vehicles assist humans with driving by reading electrical road signals – downloading information in real time to the car’s main computer – he provides renewed hope for Total Recall style taxi drivers, predicting that “cars in certain situations will actually drive autonomously in areas classified as extra dangerous”.

“Currently, according to the Next Generation Health, 1.3 million people die on the roads every year. Technology could soon drop those values by making our journeys safer.”

As more proof that we will soon be living out scenes from sci-fi films in the not too distant future, it seems that Wall-E’s trash collecting escapades could be introduced to our streets with Espingardeiro predicting recycling robots as a “promising area” for environmental robotics.

“Basically, machines such as “Dustbot” or “Dustcart” can be deployed for collecting rubbish at your doorstep almost 24 hours a day,” he explains.

“I foresee a future where millions of robots are deployed in our big cities. Such systems will work with the help of GPS coordinates to track the ‘rubbish’ clients and collect the matter.

“These systems could become more engaging as the levels of interaction could become mainly powered by Kinect type systems as I have mentioned previously.

“Interacting with a street robot in the future could become like a ‘game of gestures’.”

If keeping our streets nice and tidy wasn’t enough, Espingardeiro believes that us humans will also be able to put our feet up while our robot underlings grow our food.

With the 8.7 billion inhabitants currently scurrying about the earth’s surface, and the figure set to pass the 10 billion mark halfway through the century according to UN figures, Espingardeiro contends that it will be necessary to employ robotics to help feed the world population.

“We have to use new technologies to produce higher quantities of food and with better quality,” he says. “This means bringing robots to the picture. Robots equipped with new types of sensors could, for example, measure the height of individual plants over say 500 hectares of crops.

“Such a system can moderate the percentages of water, fertilisers and pesticides to administrate according to the development of every single plant.”

Espingardeiro believes this will be translated into a reduction of farming costs and “inevitably it will reduce the final prices of food”.

“So the agriculture of the future is pretty much a technological playground for robots,” he continues. “It’s likely that such machines will work continuously under human supervision and management for longer periods of time, whilst humans dedicate their attention into other types of tasks.”



The World Health Organisation highlights that by 2020, 25 percent of Europe’s population will be over 60. Espingardeiro sees a substantial role for robotics in “supervision, entertainment, companionship and cognitive assistance” for humans.

Again, in the near future, he thinks it will be cheap and accessible motion sensor technology that will drive the revolutionary ways in which we will interact with machines.

“The new forms of interfacing with computers and robots will open a new set of opportunities for elderly care.

“People can use robots and virtual environments to entertain themselves whilst such systems work as therapeutic tools for keeping them mentally healthy and physically fit.

“Robot companions are a potential scenario.”

Espingardeiro believes that this could mean machines which help to remember medications, tasks, shopping list, and so on becoming “prominent in the household of the future”.

In terms of going under the knife, use of robotics is also likely to increase, as research into less invasive technologies continues.

“Robotic surgery will become common somewhere in the future,” says Espingardeiro, claiming that surgeons will increasingly control machines such as the Da Vinci robotic surgery system for operating “on patients remotely”.

However, with delays in communication a problem, with a necessity for surgeons to be as precise as possible to avoid hacking at the worng organ, Espingardeiro believes that more control will be given to robots.

“Beyond the domain of telerobotic surgery I think some degree of autonomy will be given to these machines for performing certain tasks that were extremely difficult for humans to execute with the same level of precision.

“Again, advancements in the domain of sensors and software will become crucial.”



For military applications, Espingardeiro thinks that to a point, robotics have already taken hold.

“Robots at war is no longer part of science fiction,” he says, highlighting that by 2013 one third of the US’ military ground vehicles will be semi-autonomous.

“More than 12,000 aerial drones or UAVs were used in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he continues.

“It’s basically the use of teleoperated vehicles by the human infantry that makes these robots lethal weapons.

“In my perspective, the war of the future is fought by machines.

“It will be a complete change of paradigm in the culture of war. It seems to me that the rules of war have to change, and maybe be adapted to the new era of robotic weapons.

“Such elements have to be agreed by representatives of all nations.

“Unfortunately wars are part of human biology and I don’t see them disappearing from the map,” Espingardeiro concludes.

IEEE explains the future of robotic applications

Robots have long captured the public imagination. From Rocky’s house cleaning robot to trash compactor Wall-E there has been a fascination with the way that robots can aid humans for decades.

In many instances, it’s clear that robotics are already providing significant benefits to society, for example performing a significant aid role in the Japan crisis.

Antonio Espingardeiro, an expert in robotics at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), believes that uses for robots have much more to offer us in the future.

He spoke to TechEye about some of the ways in which robotics are set to revolutionise human life in the coming years.


Search & Rescue

Espingardeiro says that in terms of robotics used to aid recovery of humans and animals in inhospitable environments, the technology is already being used.

He points to hardware as an area that will make robotics more useful in applications such as field reconnaissance and monitoring and surveillance.

“In terms of hardware we could expect some degree of improvements over the next few years as ‘robotic modules’ will become more common and computing power cheaper.

“That means you could select and integrate your own modules in your own platform, like a giant Plug and Play Lego,” he says.

“As I also expect the prices of sensors and motors to go down over the next years, this will inevitably mean that more people can access and develop robots.”

Espingardeiro points to advancements in “locomotion systems”, which will enable significantly greater mobility, moving away from a Dalek-like phobia of steep inclines.

“Also, improvements in sensors and inclusion of high res cameras with wider fields of view are expected to make the role of robot operator more easy and efficient.

“Such machines could also be prepared with higher levels of dexterity for performing some kind of physical effect in the remote location, for example a robot with an arm for clearing a path for humans to pass, and so on.”

In terms of software, Espingardeiro expects “big changes”. We’re already on our way, partially thanks to a certain Microsoft console.

“With the new Microsoft Kinect system it’s now possible for a robot to detect humans on unstructured environments. The software gets updated information from the sensor and it can determine the distance from the robot to the humans. 

“Another feature is that the Kinect system allows you to reconstruct the 3D environment around you – for in the region of £150. In the past, the sensors and software for doing such a task were commercially too expensive, around £5,000, for the outcome produced,” he explains.

“Thereby in terms of vision systems this is just the beginning of a revolutionising journey into the world’s robotics perception.

“As vision and sound become more accurate, the inputs given to a computer to perform actions become more close to human reality, and this of course opens a new area of applications.”

Espingardeiro highlights cooperation between robots as an area which will see significant advancements: “The latest research in swarm optimisation tries to apply algorithms for robot coordination in scenarios where you want to achieve a common objective.”

“So swarm robotics,” he says, “inspired from flock of birds and fish, is an area that will allow computing systems to communicate different types of knowledge with each other and act more intelligently.

“In sum we are talking purely about telerobotics applications. Basically a human operator is in a remote location controlling a robot on the other side of the city or in another location around the planet.

“Usually these robots are equipped with onboard cameras, microphones and network systems to communicate through wireless signals, Internet or dedicated networks, which need strong signals.”

Espingardeiro predicts that such robotics will likely be widely used in, amogst other applications, fire services and in civil protection.

However the main stumbling block for use is not ncessarily having sufficient numbers of robots available, but actually having enough trained humans with expertise to use them.


Space Exploration

Telerobotics will play an even bigger part in space travel, according to Espingardeiro.

“Machines such as Robonaut 2 by NASA represent the future of space teleoperations,” he says.

“We could expect robots to be able to maintain space stations for longer periods of time. Robots could stay there and do their job for a long time.

“Latest advancements in robotic torsos and dexterity devices such as hands and grippers allow a robot to perform a wide range of tasks that astronauts performed in the past, such as opening and closing valves, or using human tools.

“A challenging concept here is the fact that as we continue to design our own facilities for human use – in space or on earth – it means robots have to regain more human skills.

“So in terms of ergonomy and architecture we might see some changes in the way facilities are built for allowing robots to easily navigate and interact with such environments.”

In terms of intelligence of the robots that will be rocketed into space, it is thought that greater autonomy will be necessary in forthcoming space explorations.

“One of the biggest problems with Mars Rovers such as the Opportunity and Spirit are the delays in communication between Earth and the robots.

“Meanwhile, AI algorithms are being developed for giving the robot enough degree of autonomy to explore certain areas whilst humans try to regain control of the machines back on earth,” Espingardeiro added.

“Satellite communications are primordial in these cases, however, as we experiment here on Earth, disruptions and interferences in the signals occurs quite frequently.

“Another aspect to bear in mind is that with relevant AI on board of a remote operated vehicle it can act as an advisor for the human operator back on earth, sensing things that would be biologically impossible to detect otherwise.

“So, new sensors and AI are expected in robots to be used in space exploration that will inevitably expand the frontiers of human knowledge.”

This is part one. Part two will discuss future trends in environmental, military and healthcare robotics.

IEEE prepares regulations for the cloud

The IEEE has announced that it will launch a new initiative which will aim to put in place a global set of standards for cloud computing.

According to the organisation, its Cloud Computing Initiative will be the first “broad-scope, forward-looking” scheme for cloud computing put forward by a standards development organisation (SDO).

The standards will be put forth in two standards development projects, IEEE P2301 and P2302, with the general aim of providing existing and in-progress standards in a number of important areas such as application, portability, management, interoperability interfaces, file formats and operation conventions.

Steve Diamond, leading the proposals at IEEE, believes that just as the early internet caused an upheaval in the way information was transformed, the cloud is similarly “disruptive technology and business model that is primed for explosive growth and rapid transformation”.

Diamond believes that to harness the potential of the cloud, and to ensure that its predicted proliferation as a fundamental tool works as planned, it is absolutely vital that a set of standards are put in place, stating that “without a flexible, common framework for interoperability,” innovation could become stifled.

The P2301 standards will provide an “intuitive roadmap” for firms such as HP, which is beginning to roll out cloud services, though with a steady approach that seeks to slowly move business over the technology which is in its infancy as far as uptake goes.

It is hoped that the P2301 standards give more clarity to users over what they are buying into as the move to cloud computing gathers pace.

P2302 meanwhile will define protocols and functionality that are required to enable the cloud-to-cloud interoperability demanded by users, which it claims will have the effect that for example, naming and routing protocols did for the internet.

Of course, how restrictive the regulations being put together by the IEEE will be is yet to be seen, though there has been talk in some quarters that an over regulated system would not be beneficial.

What is for sure is with giants such as IBM and Microsoft throwing their considerable weight behind cloud technologies and services, with Microsoft released details of responses among business leaders to cloud implementation today, the mass migration to cloud, and the potential need for regulation, will be happening sooner rather than later.

Lord demands funding for UK science breakthroughs

A House of Lords representative called for an increase in funding for the science sector in order to continue to attract the expertise that led to the Nobel prize-winning discovery of graphene’s properties.

Lord Rees of Ludley demanded that a four year decline in funding was reversed in order to continue to attract top talent like that of Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, the two Russians who came to the UK in 1999 to study at Manchester University, before making their famous discovery.

Now Lord Rees has demanded that more is done to continue to support scientists such as Geim and Novoselov, warning that while the initial experiment resulted in small costs, its subsequent development into a commercially viable material “will not be so cheap and it will be fully as intellectually challenging”.

The Lord went on to question whether the two Russians would now be attracted to a scientific environment in which the total UK funding does not even match that of the bonus pool for London’s bankers.

Indeed as England attempts to break away from dependence on its financial sector, Lord Rees suggested that by leading in scientific developments this would indeed be possible albeit if a welcoming environment is made, rather than a culture of cuts.

“Science and innovation are essential engines if we are to rebalance our economy away from an overdependence on the financial sector,” he said.

“Therefore, most crucial in enhancing value for money for taxpayers is not scraping a few per cent in efficiency savings; it is maximising the chance of big breakthroughs by attracting and supporting top mobile talent and sending positive signals to the young.”

Lord Rees called for a 10 to 15 year road map in which focus and support for innovation is guaranteed in order to “ensure that some of the key ideas of the 21st century are generated and, even more important, exploited here”.

The words of the Lords representative echoed that of IEEE president Moshe Kam, who, speaking to Techeye, highlighted his own concerns in the wider field of engineering and the decline that he perceived in the UK higher education system over the past few years.

Just like Lord Rees Kam highlighted the long term financial benefits of providing a positive environment and support network for engineers and scientists.

'Tech city' will benefit more than big business, says minister

The east London tech city is fast on its way to becoming a Silicon Valley rival according to minister David Willetts.

The Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) minister recently gave a parliamentary update on developments of the area as a centre of innovation and creativity at the heart of the UK’s technology industry with a raft of global names being bandied around so far as investors.

Indeed Willetts was able to offer various levels of insight into how the initiative is faring as far as large firms are concerned.

For instance the minister informed Labour MP Diane Abbott that Silicon Valley Bank has almost had its banking license given the nod of approval by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

He also confirmed that BT would be bringing forward the roll out of its high speed broadband for the area, though was unable to give any details as to job numbers resulting in Google’s presence or specific dates at this point, stating that to date it has been “strategic  business commitments” rather than concrete details.

While David Cameron spoke of the benefits for large scale enterprises back in November 2010, stating that “We’re not just going to back the big businesses of today, we’re going to back the big businesses of tomorrow,” it is certainly of equal importance that other areas benefit from the large investment that is going into continuing developments around the Olympic Park area.

This is something that Willetts has noted: “Of course, the challenge – United Kingdom Trade and Investment is working hard on this – is to convert the big decisions into practical jobs on the ground.”

And this is where the exciting project, which has generally been praised in terms of driving the economical well-being of the UK, could perhaps come under fire.

Certainly big international businesses are being looked after in the deal, establishing firm links with a pool of impressive talent, but what is being done to ensure that the money is being spread out further afield?

Willets points to the involvement of Cisco as one way where money will filter through.

According to Willetts, a recent top level meeting with Cisco chairman John Chambers and David Cameron saw details unveiled of a “$500 million innovation gateway” scheme that will see Cisco pledge a large amount of “technology and manpower to help boost entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom.”

Willetts also suggested that a portion of the investment by Cisco will go to the wider areas of the East End, where the tech city is situated – stating that the three “got into the practicalities of encouraging John Chambers to consider investment in the East End of London,” making a promise that this will be where a considerable amount of money will go.

However Willets was once again unable to provide any greater details as to what this investment might be.

As well as regenerative funds for the local area, the BIS minister has also promised that the tech city will be used to increase the amount of young people proceeding to a career in the IT sector having shown interest at school level.

TechEye recently spoke to Moshe Kam, head of the IEEE, who said that much more needs to be done in the UK schools system in order to enable better teaching of computer skills which can then be brought into the job market, if the UK is to remain competitive.

And Willetts recognised problems in the UK with regards to ensuring pupils who show interest in developing IT and computer science skills are ready to step into the job market.

 “Looking nationally, one of the things that I worry about is that, despite large numbers of students doing IT and computer science, we do not do very well on getting them into the right kinds of jobs that use their skills,” he said.

“If we can improve the links to entrepreneurial business leaders at an early stage, we could do better.”

Abbott also highlighted the problem and called on the Tory MP to ensure that more is done to forge such links.

“In Hackney, children are very much interested in IT, but they do not make the move from an interest in IT to the IT professions. I would welcome the challenge of trying to link young people with what is happening in tech city,” Abbott said.

According to Willetts this will be achieved by providing links with top companies and local schools, where children can become involved in hands-on experience, even highlighting the use of apprenticeship in the area.

“It should be possible to involve Hackney schools more, so that teenagers could meet the entrepreneurs in tech city, see what software programmers do and some of the apps that they are developing,” Willetts said.

“They could even come forward with ideas on apps for their mobiles and watch the software developers trying to rise to the challenge.

“As well as the high-tech software programmer type jobs that are on offer, we know that the local community wants to fill the technical jobs that can come through apprenticeships.”

While this all sounds mighty impressive from Willetts, and could certainly be great news for the area of Hackney, it is vital that benefits from the tech city are spread further.

It may serve as a solution in the microcosm of the tech city, but the IT industry needs more attention on a national scale, and perhaps only goes some way to making up for other areas such as the lack of promised tax breaks for the video games industry.

Also, while it is difficult not to get caught up the admirable aims of David Willetts, who appears to be genuine in his wish to utilise the exciting possibilities of the tech city in a way that is beneficial on a number of levels.

Indeed the minister even largely manages to placate former Labour leadership candidate Abbott in the Commons debate.

However, it should be noted that very little of what the minister has said is actually set in stone, with a noted lack of specifics at this point at least.

WIlletts does at least appear to be adamant that his promises will be fulfilled: “Having seen the commitments made by Cisco and Google, including when Google’s Eric Schmidt was in London recently, I have no doubt that the follow-up will happen and that we will get there.”

“Commitment has been made at the highest level.”