Not just speed: 7 incredible things you can do with 5G

You can’t walk around Mobile World Congress  without 5G slapping you in the face. If there’s a phenomenon that’s dominated this week’s trade show besides the return of a 17-year-old phone, it’s the reality that the next generation of cellular technology has arrived. Well, at least it’s real in the confines of the Fira Gran Via convention center in Barcelona.

Above the Qualcomm booth flashed the slogan: “5G: From the company that brought you 3G and 4G.” If you took a few more steps, you could hear an Intel representative shout about the benefits of 5G. If you hopped over to Ericsson, you’d find a “5G avenue” with multiple exhibits demonstrating the benefits of the technology. Samsung kicked off its press conference not with its new tablets, but with a chat about 5G.

Remote surgery via a special glove, virtual reality and 5G

(click on the image to enjoy the video)

The hype around 5G has been brewing for more than a year, but we’re finally starting to see the early research and development bear fruit. The technology promises to change our lives by connecting everything around us to a network that is 100 times faster than our cellular connection and 10 times faster than our speediest home broadband service.

But it’s not just about speed for speed’s sake. While the move from 3G to 4G LTE was about faster connections, the evolution to 5G is so much more. The combination of speed, responsiveness and reach could unlock the full capabilities of other hot trends in technology, offering a boost to self-driving cars, drones, virtual reality and the internet of things. “If you just think of speed, you don’t see the magic of all it can do,” said Jefferson Wang, who follows the mobile industry for IBB Consulting.

The bad news: 5G is still a while away for consumers, and the industry is still fighting over the nitty-gritty details of the technology itself. The good news: There’s a chance it’s coming sooner than we thought. It’s clear why the wireless carriers are eager to move to 5G. With the core phone business slowing down, companies are eager for new tech to spark excitement and connect more devices. “We are absolutely convinced that 5G is the next revolution,” Tim Baxter, president of Samsung’s US unit, said during a press conference.


Memristors Retain Data 10 Years Without Power

The internet of things ( IoT) is coming, that much we know. But still it won’t; not until we have components and chips that can handle the explosion of data that comes with IoT. In 2020, there will already be 50 billion industrial internet sensors in place all around us. A single autonomous device – a smart watch, a cleaning robot, or a driverless car – can produce gigabytes of data each day, whereas an airbus may have over 10 000 sensors in one wing alone.

Two hurdles need to be overcome. First, current transistors in computer chips must be miniaturized to the size of only few nanometres; the problem is they won’t work anymore then. Second, analysing and storing unprecedented amounts of data will require equally huge amounts of energy. Sayani Majumdar, Academy Fellow at Aalto University (Finland), along with her colleagues, is designing technology to tackle both issues.

Majumdar has with her colleagues designed and fabricated the basic building blocks of future components in what are called “neuromorphiccomputers inspired by the human brain. It’s a field of research on which the largest ICT companies in the world and also the EU are investing heavily. Still, no one has yet come up with a nano-scale hardware architecture that could be scaled to industrial manufacture and use.

The probe-station device (the full instrument, left, and a closer view of the device connection, right) which measures the electrical responses of the basic components for computers mimicking the human brain. The tunnel junctions are on a thin film on the substrate plate.

The technology and design of neuromorphic computing is advancing more rapidly than its rival revolution, quantum computing. There is already wide speculation both in academia and company R&D about ways to inscribe heavy computing capabilities in the hardware of smart phones, tablets and laptops. The key is to achieve the extreme energy-efficiency of a biological brain and mimic the way neural networks process information through electric impulses,” explains Majumdar.

In their recent article in Advanced Functional Materials, Majumdar and her team show how they have fabricated a new breed of “ferroelectric tunnel junctions”, that is, few-nanometre-thick ferroelectric thin films sandwiched between two electrodes. They have abilities beyond existing technologies and bode well for energy-efficient and stable neuromorphic computing.

The junctions work in low voltages of less than five volts and with a variety of electrode materials – including silicon used in chips in most of our electronics. They also can retain data for more than 10 years without power and be manufactured in normal conditions.

Tunnel junctions have up to this point mostly been made of metal oxides and require 700 degree Celsius temperatures and high vacuums to manufacture. Ferroelectric materials also contain lead which makes them – and all our computers – a serious environmental hazard.

Our junctions are made out of organic hydro-carbon materials and they would reduce the amount of toxic heavy metal waste in electronics. We can also make thousands of junctions a day in room temperature without them suffering from the water or oxygen in the air”, explains Majumdar.

What makes ferroelectric thin film components great for neuromorphic computers is their ability to switch between not only binary states – 0 and 1 – but a large number of intermediate states as well. This allows them to ‘memoriseinformation not unlike the brain: to store it for a long time with minute amounts of energy and to retain the information they have once received – even after being switched off and on again.

We are no longer talking of transistors, but ‘memristors’. They are ideal for computation similar to that in biological brains.  Take for example the Mars 2020 Rover about to go chart the composition of another planet. For the Rover to work and process data on its own using only a single solar panel as an energy source, the unsupervised algorithms in it will need to use an artificial brain in the hardware.

What we are striving for now, is to integrate millions of our tunnel junction memristors into a network on a one square centimetre area. We can expect to pack so many in such a small space because we have now achieved a record-high difference in the current between on and off-states in the junctions and that provides functional stability. The memristors could then perform complex tasks like image and pattern recognition and make decisions autonomously,” says Majumdar.


The Ultra Smart Community Of The Future

Japan’s largest electronics show CEATEC – showcasing its version of our future – in a connected world with intelligent robots And cars that know when the driver is falling asleep. This is Omron‘s “Onboard Driving Monitoring Sensor,” checking its driver isn’t distracted.


We are developing sensors that help the car judge what state the driver is in, with regards to driving. For example, if the driver has his eyes open and set on things he should be looking at, if the driver is distracted or looking at smartphones, and these types of situations,” explains Masaki Suwa, Omron Corp. Chief Technologist.

After 18 years of consumer electronics, CEATEC is changing focus to the Internet of Things and what it calls ‘the ultra-smart community of the future‘ A future where machines take on more important roles – machines like Panasonic‘s CaloRieco – pop in your plate and know exactly what you are about to consume.

By placing freshly cooked food inside the machine, you can measure total calories and the three main nutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrate. By using this machine, you can easily manage your diet,” says Panasonic staff engineer Ryota Sato.

Even playtime will see machines more involved – like Forpheus the ping playing robot – here taking on a Olympic bronze medalist – and learning with every stroke.
Rio Olympics Table Tennis player , Jun Mizutani, Bronze Medalist, reports: “It wasn’t any different from playing with a human being. The robot kept improving and getting better as we played, and to be honest, I wanted to play with it when it had reached its maximum level, to see how good it is.”

Green Electronics

A team of University of Toronto chemists has created a battery that stores energy in a biologically-derived unit, paving the way for cheaper consumer electronics that are easier on the environment.

The battery is similar to many commercially-available high-energy lithium-ion batteries with one important difference. It uses flavin from vitamin B2 as the cathode: the part that stores the electricity that is released when connected to a device.


We’ve been looking to nature for a while to find complex molecules for use in a number of consumer electronics applications,” says Dwight Seferos, a professor in U of T’s department of chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Polymer Nanotechnology. “When you take something made by nature that is already complex, you end up spending less time making new material,” says Seferos.

The team created the material from vitamin B2 that originates in genetically-modified fungi using a semi-synthetic process to prepare the polymer by linking two flavin units to a long-chain molecule backbone. This allows for a green battery with high capacity and high voltage – something increasingly important as the ‘Internet of Things’ continues to link us together more and more through our battery-powered portable devices.

It’s a pretty safe, natural compound,” Seferos adds. “If you wanted to, you could actually eat the source material it comes from.” B2’s ability to be reduced and oxidized makes its well-suited for a lithium ion battery.


Nanotechnology Key Driver for the Global Internet of Things Market

Analysts from Technavio,  a leading market research companyforecast the global internet of nano things (IoNT) market to grow at a annual growth rate of more than 24% during the 2016/2020  period, according to their latest report. The rise in the number of connected nanoscale devices in industries has led to generation of large data sets. These data can be used to optimize costs, deliver better services, and boost revenues. Also, the interconnection of nanoscale devices has enabled efficient data communication between disparate devices over the network. Thus, IoNT helps organizations to reduce the complexity in communication and increase the process efficiency using data collected from nanoscale devices.


Even governments have realized the importance of IoNT technology in the healthcare sector that can be used to treat cancer and other genetic diseases at the molecular level. This has further increased the demand and awareness of IoNT among multiple industries,” says Amit Sharma, a lead analyst at Technavio for research on IT professional services.

The report also highlights the US government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) that supports the adoption of nanotechnology in industries, such as healthcare, defense, and textiles, due to its vast applications. This initiative has been awarded over USD 22 billion since 2001 to promote the adoption of nanoscience and nanotechnology by states, universities, and companies.

The rise in demand for miniaturization of electronics products coupled with increased consumer demand for smaller and more powerful devices at affordable prices has made nanotechnology more popular among industries. Both private and public sectors are investing heavily in R&D to tap the potential benefits of nanotechnology.

Also, the rise in commercialization of nanomaterials, such as nanocatalyst thin films for catalytic converters, nanotechnology-enhanced thin-film solar cells, and nanoscale electronic memory, is shaping the growth of the global nanotechnology market. Thus, there is an increase in the number of interconnected nanodevices. IoNT provides a communication infrastructure for interconnected nanodevices to share information and coordinate multiple activities over the Internet.

“The Internet revolution is fueling global connectivity by bringing unconnected devices, such as nanoscale devices, on the network. The nanonetwork technology is evolving to meet the needs of various applications. Such technologies provide an effective communication infrastructure for the rapid pace of communication among nanoscale devices,” comments Amit.

The scope of Internet has been extended due to increased interconnection of nanosensors with consumer devices and other physical assets. IoNT enables data collection, processing, and sharing with end-users. It finds application in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, energy and utilities, and other services.


Super Capacitor for NanoComputer

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland developed an extremely efficient small-size energy storage, a micro-supercapacitor, which can be integrated directly inside a silicon microcircuit chip. The high energy and power density of the miniaturized energy storage relies on the new hybrid nanomaterial developed recently at VTT. This technology opens new possibilities for integrated mobile devices and paves the way for zero-power autonomous devices required for the future Internet of Things (IoT).

Supercapacitors resemble electrochemical batteries. However, in contrast to for example mobile phone lithium ion batteries, which utilize chemical reactions to store energy, supercapacitors store mainly electrostatic energy that is bound at the interface between liquid and solid electrodes. Similarly to batteries supercapacitors are typically discrete devices with large variety of use cases from small electronic gadgets to the large energy storages of electrical vehicles.

The energy and power density of a supercapacitor depends on the surface area and conductivity of the solid electrodes. VTT‘s research group has developed a hybrid nanomaterial electrode, which consists of porous silicon coated with a few nanometre thick titanium nitride layer by atomic layer deposition (ALD). This approach leads to a record large conductive surface in a small volume. Inclusion of ionic liquid in a micro channel formed in between two hybrid electrodes results in extremely small and efficient energy storage.
nano capacitor 2

The new supercapacitor has excellent performance. For the first time, silicon based micro-supercapacitor competes with the leading carbon and graphene based devices in power, energy and durability.

Micro-supercapacitors can be integrated directly with active microelectronic devices to store electrical energy generated by different thermal, light and vibration energy harvesters and to supply the electrical energy when needed. This is important for autonomous sensor networks, wearable electronics and mobile electronics of the IoT.

VTT‘s research group takes the integration to the extreme by integrating the new nanomaterial micro-supercapacitor energy storage directly inside a silicon chip. The demonstrated in-chip supercapacitor technology enables storing energy of as much as 0.2 joule and impressive power generation of 2 watts on a one square centimetre silicon chip. At the same time it leaves the surface of the chip available for active integrated microcircuits and sensors.

VTT is currently seeking a party interested in commercializing the technique.