GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon

by / January 6, 2004
Juggling Packets: Floating Data Storage
Polish researchers hope one day to provide virtual storage by juggling bits of information across the Internet. Through a technique dubbed distributed parasitic data storage, the researchers intend to exploit the delay between sending a piece of information and receiving a reply.

It works much like juggling oranges. Just as a juggler keeps at least one orange in the air at all times, distributed parasitic data storage would keep a certain amount of data continually in transit between Internet nodes.

Researchers Wojciech Purczynski and Michal Zalewski presented the idea in a paper that discusses several storage techniques. The full text can be found at Web site.

By establishing a mechanism for cyclic transmission and reception of data packets to and from a number of remote Internet hosts, it is possible to maintain an arbitrary amount of data constantly 'on the wire,' thus establishing a high-capacity volatile medium, the researchers say. That medium could be used as regular storage for memory-expensive operations, or for handling sensitive data that are expected not to leave a physical trail on a hard disk or other nonvolatile media.

Although researchers have used parasitic computing to perform simple operations, the results so far have been impractical. But distributed parasitic data storage may prove more useful.

Unlike traditional methods of parasitic data storage -- such as P2P abuse, open FTP servers, binary Usenet postings -- this method does not noticeably tax any single system, according to the researchers, and therefore, the chance of being detected and considered an abuse is lower.

Move over Segway
Commuters may soon drive to work in a one-wheeled, eco-friendly machine. The EMBRIO Advanced Concept recreational and commuting vehicle uses a complex series of sensors and gyroscopes to balance one or more human passengers on a single wheel. The 360-pound vehicle is partly made of recycled aluminum and polyethylene, and uses a hydrogen fuel cell as the main power source.

In standby configuration, the vehicle's front wheels deploy to the ground like jet plane landing gear to increase longitudinal stability. With a riding position similar to a motorcycle, the bike is approximately 4 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet.

A digitally encoded key starts the engine, and to move forward, the rider activates a trigger on the left handlebar. The landing gear retracts when the speed reaches 20 km per hour. To turn, the rider leans in the desired direction, and a trigger on the right handlebar activates the brake. When the speed drops to 20 km per hour again, the landing gear redeploys automatically. Even without the landing gear, a gyroscope will keep the vehicle stable when motionless, according to Bombardier, EMBRIO's manufacturer.

Other features include a high-performance braking system, active suspension, night vision and robotic assistance.

Bombardier, which manufactures a range of recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and ATVs, asked its engineers and designers to come up with a concept of a recreational vehicle to meet the needs of people in the year 2025. EMBRIO was one of several concepts proposed by the company's design teams. -- Bombardier

Researching Reversible Computing
A group of University of Florida (UF) researchers is working to make computers more energy efficient, smaller and faster.

The goal is to re-engineer the integrated circuits that perform all computing operations to reuse most of the large amount of wasted energy currently thrown off in the form of heat.

"Reversible computing" would not only reduce computer chips' power consumption, it could boost their speed because chips now work so fast their generated heat causes chips to overheat and malfunction.

Computers are estimated to consume as much as 10 percent of electricity in the United States, said Michael Frank, a UF assistant professor of computer and information science, and engineering.

"The fastest processors available today dissipate on the order of 100 watts of power in the form of heat," he said, comparing that heat to what a large light bulb dissipates. "The main reason you can't run them faster is because they get too hot. If you could make them produce less heat in the first place, you could run them faster overall, especially if you want to pack a lot of chips together."

Frank, who first worked on reversible computing as a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, heads the UF's Reversible & Quantum Computing Research Group.

The reversible computing concept dates back to the early 1960s and involves creating logic operations -- which manipulate the zeros and ones at the core of digital computation -- so they can be undone or reversed. The process differs from the current approach, which performs operations but later discards the result.

When a computer "erases" something, it physically grounds one part of a circuit that holds a charge, in effect converting the stored energy -- and the information it represents -- into heat, Frank said.

Reversible computing seeks to configure integrated circuits in such a way that they can use their current state to recover previous states. Rather than building up and throwing away unwanted information, the chips "uncompute" data fluidly, with little power expenditure or heat generation.

Researchers hope to achieve such results by incorporating tiny oscillators, or springlike devices, in the circuits. In theory, these oscillators could recapture most energy expended in a calculation and reuse it for other calculations.

Without reversible computing, computer chips are expected to reach their maximum performance capabilities within the next three decades, effectively halting the rapid advances in speed that have driven the IT revolution, Frank said.

"Reversible computing is absolutely the only possible way to beat this limit," he said.

Frank currently is trying to persuade major chipmakers to direct more research-and-development resources toward reversible technologies. He recently delivered a talk on the subject at IBM's research facility in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. A number of managers there agreed that IBM should take a closer look at reversible computing, he said. -- Aaron Hoover, University of Florida

Gimme Some Skin
Applied Digital Solutions' CEO told attendees of the ID World 2003 in Paris held in late November, that the company's newest subdermal radio frequency identification (RFID) application is nearly ready for market.

VeriPay, a secure, subdermal RFID payment technology for cash and credit transactions, could make physical money obsolete. The payment technology relies on the company's VeriChip, which is about the size of a grain of rice. VeriChip is a subdermal RFID microchip already used in a variety of security, financial, emergency identification and other applications.

Currently the company sells RFID chips to people with medical conditions, such as diabetes or allergies to common medications. Since the chips are implanted under the skin, emergency response personnel have a nearly foolproof way to access data about a person's medical needs.

The company said VeriPay's unique, subdermal format offers a much more secure, tamper-proof and loss-proof RFID solution to payment technologies. Applied Digital Solutions said the company is working with banking and credit companies to develop specific commercial applications -- beginning with appropriate pilot programs and other market tests -- for the VeriPay subdermal RFID solution.
Shane Peterson Associate Editor