The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Researching shifts in computing in a data abundant world

I mentioned that I was giving a presentation this week at the New Horizons Forum at the AIAA conference. Since it may provide some useful insight about the research underway at HP labs in a larger context, here is the content of one slide from that presentation:line picture.png

1 datum is a point

2 data are a line

3 data are a trend

100 data are a picture


Having sensors to generate the data that fuels a more proactive business is important, but there is more to sensing than the sensors and the data collected. A holistic ecosystem view is needed. Unfortunately, this means that the tools of today may not be up to the tasks required.


You may have heard about HP’s efforts to place a million node sensor network in the ground for Shell, gathering seismic information. Traditionally, this kind of information was just a flash of perspective taken in the dark from a few locations. Instead, this sensing effort with Shell generated a much more fine-grained view, taken from a myriad of angles, to understand in-depth what was underground. 


In order to do implement the system, HP not only had to invent the sensors (relatively cheap and yet very sensitive MEMS devices), but we also create the networking and management techniques to make it useful. Building upon what we’ve learned, we’ve been researching whole new approaches to information storage and computation that will be required to generate value from massive amounts of information.


HP has many of the foundational patents on memristor devices and sensing techniques and we should soon see the shift in storage and computing that the implementation of these techniques should enable. The whole concept of computing will likely need to bow to the onslaught of information from sensing and the related metadata, changing how information is transferred within the computing environment -- shifting from computing on bits to analyzing information in graphs on highly parallelizes computing platforms: Cog Ex Machina


In addition, research is underway to understand how information can be analyzed, automated and displayed. New techniques can be applied to focus attention on the areas needing the creativity that people can provide.


In the marketplace, last year was the year of Big Data as a buzzword with its primary focus on generating insight from the massive amounts of information being collected. Frankly, that will not be enough for the future envisioned – we need to shift the focus to time-to-action, not insight and that is what many of our research efforts underway will enable.

Relays instead of transistors?!

This month’s IEEE Spectrum had an interesting feature about the use of MEMS switches instead of transistors for low power computing.


“It turns out that the best way to design a digital relay circuit block is to take a page from the first half of the 20th century, when large discrete relays were still used to build computers. Instead of grouping the nanorelays into discrete simple gates, as you would do with transistors, the best approach is to arrange many of them in series and in parallel to make as few gates as possible. If all the devices can be arranged into one single gate, all the nanorelays can be switched simultaneously, and the time required to perform any function is reduced to a single mechanical delay.”


They are not nearly as fast, but they consume significantly less power, one of the constraints that prevents putting computing and sensing into many situations. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

Smallest electric motor ever

I always have an interest in MEMS and nanotechnology, so I had to share this story about the tiniest electric motor ever – a single molecule. Here is another story about the same tiny motor. This will likely have many applications in chemical sensing and analysis using low cost standalone devices.

Tags: MEMS| Nanotech
Labels: MEMS| Nanotech

Is the power shortage over for sensors?

In a recent IEEE Spectrum there was an article about Wireless Sensors that Live Forever. Sensing is one of the low hanging fruit of nano-tech. There is an ever increasing ability to gather information and even have it analyzed on the edge of enterprises, to the point where almost every business can gain value from some form of sensing. One of the issues though is how to allow that device to communicate what it's gathered, since that takes power -- power on an on-going and regular basis. Until now, being able to gather or store that power has been a limiting factor, since even the best long term batteries that were small enough to imbed didn't last more than a year. With new sensing techniques it will be possible to embed sensors for the long term - like in the concrete of bridges.

This article talks about a couple of techniques to generate power over the life of a sensor:

Both use a MEMS based cantilever, piezoelectric power generator.

Peter Hartwell, a senior researcher at HP Labs, in Palo Alto, Calif., says the technology is "definitely a step forward."

"Energy harvesting research is important to HP Labs, which is developing sensors for its Central Nervous System for the Earth project, a vision of peppering the world with minuscule sensors. Power is one of the remaining obstacles in making the vision a reality; HP Labs' accelerometers require about 50 mW."

This abundance of low current power will definitely help enable the age of abundance of data.

Hundreds of Thousands of Sensors Make CeNSE for Shell

Hundreds of thousands of sensors,
thousands of wireless points and petabytes of data make CeNSE for Shell

At 0800 GMT today, Shell and HP announced
the first major project that will demonstrate the fundamental concepts behind

(Central Nervous System for the Earth) was
conceived by Stan
, Senior HP Fellow and director of HP' Information and Quantum
Systems Lab (IQSL) where
revolutionary technology is being developed in anticipation of trillions of
sensors that will eventually be an integral part of every aspect of our lives,
our work, and eventually our earth.

The collaborative
project announced by Shell and HP
focuses the fundamentals of CeNSE on the
practical application of finding and producing petroleum.  Together, the
two companies are bringing together complementary capabilities to drive
innovation by developing a wireless sensing system to acquire extremely
high-resolution seismic data on land.  The result will be a significant
leap forward in oil and gas exploration & production.

The system begins with a very small MEMS accelerometer created in the IQSL
lab by Pete
and announced
last November.  (Check out the Scientific American article, "World
Changing Ideas" in the December 2009 edition, page 58, featuring Pete and
his sensor.)  Not only is this sensing device small, rugged, low power and
inexpensive, it is also sensitive - 1000 times more so than the sensor in the
accelerometer in your Wii controller or the air bag of your car.  And that
makes it perfectly suited to measure very minute vibrations with extreme
accuracy - which in turn makes it the perfect sensor upon which to build an
entirely new seismic imaging device.

The resolution of a seismic image is greatly impacted by the quality and the
density of data retrieved during a seismic survey.  Because of their MEMS
heritage, Shell will be able to deploy hundreds of thousands of sensor nodes
(compared to tens of thousands for current systems) within the same weight,
cost, and crew size constraints of current seismic surveys.  That,
combined with the superior sensing range and accuracy, will result in
subsurface images that will be vastly superior (think HDTV compared to a
standard TV picture) and will transform Shell's ability to pinpoint abundant
new oil and gas reserves.

But just as the CeNSE vision encompasses a system of capabilities, the
sensor in the HP-Shell system will be only one part of the total HP-Shell
solution.  All of those sensors need to communicate with a
state-of-the-art monitoring and control system - and in this next-generation
approach the answer is "lose the cables" and "take to the
air".  Traditional seismic sensors are connected by cables that snake
across the survey area.  The HP-Shell solution being pursued uses wireless
communications to tie it all together, not only creating a much more flexible
and resilient solution, but also one that is safer for the employees who deploy
it (less weight to heft and fewer 'cable trips').

Then there is the data collected.  Hundreds of thousands of sensor
nodes will generate orders of magnitude more data than the massive amounts now
collected resulting in petabytes of data, each byte needing to be validated,
stored and then sent to data centers where high performance computers turn the
raw data into better decisions.  Watch this video to understand
how these sensing solutions can open our eyes to a new world of possibilities.

And this system for land-based seismic imaging won't be effective without
the innovations in seismic survey methods and processes being brought to the
collaboration by Shell.  It takes a systems view with a critical
rethinking or everything conventional to create outcomes that are
revolutionary, not evolutionary. 

CeNSE is a terrific vision of the future.  It knits together technology
advancements, emerging personal and business demands, and new skills and
thinking to create a vision that is not only plausible, but highly
probable.  The HP-Shell collaboration to build the next generation of
land-based, seismic sensing capabilities demonstrates that the CeNSE vision can
be translated into a practical solution which will produce superior, high value
business outcomes.  For Shell, this means gaining a competitive advantage
in exploring difficult oil and gas reservoirs and fully realizing the potential
of Shell's processing and imaging technology on land-based exploration and

Welcome to the brighter energy future of sensors and seismic imaging - it
all makes good CeNSE.




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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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