Power Over WiFi Might Not Be A Unicorn After All

There have been a few reports of power over WiFi (PoWiFi) on the intertubes lately. If this is a real thing it’s definitely going to blow all of the IoT fanboys skirts up (sorry to the rest of you *buzzword* fanboys, the IoT kids flash-mobbed the scene and they mean business).

All of the recent information we found points to an article by [Popular Science] titled “Best of What’s New 2015”. The brief write up includes a short summary lacking technical info, and fair play to [PopSci] as it’s a “Best Of” list for which they hadn’t advertised as an in-depth investigation.

However, we tend to live by the “If you’re gonna get wet, you might as well swim.” mentality, so we decided to get a little more information on the subject. After a bit of digging around we came across the actual article on [Cornell University]’s e-print archive where you can download the PDF that was published.

USB energy harvesting dongle.
USB energy harvesting dongle.

The paper goes into detailed explanation of the power harvesting theory including a schematic of the receiving end hardware. They had to create a constant transmission for the harvester to get over its minimum required voltage of operation. This was done with one of the wireless router’s unused channels to fill the voids of packet-less silence between normal WiFi communication.

As you can imagine PoWiFi is currently limited to powering/charging very low power devices that are used intermittently. The research team was able to charge a Jawbone headset at a rate of 2.3mA for 2.5 hours which resulted in the battery going from 0-41%. The punchline here is the distance, the device being charged was only 5-7cm from the PoWiFi router which is getting close to inductive charging range. The researchers stated in the paper that they were looking into integrating the harvesting circuitry and antenna into the headset while working towards a larger charging distance.

At the time of writing this article it seems that PoWiFi is best suited for devices such as: low powered sensors and motion activated cameras that have increased energy storage capacity, which the team mentioned as one of the continued research possibilities.

We’ve covered numerous wireless power projects before, some legit and some we still get a kick out of. Where do you think this one falls on that spectrum? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks to [ScottVR] for the tip.

The $5 Raspberry Pi Zero

Rumors about a new Raspberry Pi have been circulating around the Internet for the past week or so. Speculation has ranged from an upgraded Model A or compute module to a monster board with Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, SATA and a CPU that isn’t even in production yet. The time is now, and the real news is even more interesting: it’s a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s the smallest Pi yet, while still keeping the core experience.

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New Magnetic Semiconductor

When you think of South Dakota you generally think of Mount Rushmore and, maybe, nuclear missiles. However, [Simeon Gilbert] will make you think of semiconductors. [Simeon], a student at South Dakota State University, won first place at the annual Sigma Xi national conference because of his work on a novel magnetic semiconductor.

The material, developed in collaboration with researchers from the nano-magnetic group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a mix of cobalt, iron, chromium, and aluminum. However, some of the aluminum is replaced with silicon. Before the replacement, the material maintained its magnetic properties at temperatures up to 450F. With the silicon standing in for some of the aluminum atoms, the working temperature is nearly 1,000F.

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DOE Announces a High Performance Computing Fortran Compiler Agreement

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its three national labs this week announced they have reached an agreement for an open-source Fortran front-end for Higher Performance Computing (HPC). The agreement is with IBM? Microsoft? Google? Nope, the agreement is with NVIDIA, a company known for making graphics cards for gamers.

The heart of a graphics card is the graphics processor unit (GPU) which is an extremely powerful computing engine. It’s actually got more raw horsepower than the computer CPU, although not as much as many claim. A number of years ago NVIDIA branched into providing compiler toolsets for their GPUs. The obvious goal is to drive sales. NVIDIA will use as a starting point their existing Fortran compiler and integrate it with the existing LLVM compiler infrastructure. That Fortran, it just keeps chugging along.

You can try out GPU programming on your Raspberry Pi. Yup! Even it has one, a Broadcom. Just follow the directions from Raspberry Pi Playground. You’re going to get your hands dirty with assembly language so this is not for the faint hearted. One of the big challenges with GPUs is exchanging data with them which gets into DMA processing. You could also take a look at [Pete Warden’s] work on using the Pi’s GPU.

Still wondering about the performance of CPU vs GPU? Here’s Adam Savage taking a look…

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ON Semiconductor Acquires Fairchild

In the continuing process of semiconductor companies buying each other up, ON Semiconductor has acquired Fairchild Semiconductor for $2.4 Billion.

ON Semi and Fairchild’s deal is only the latest in a long line of mergers and acquisitions. We’ve recently seen Dialog’s buyout of Atmel, Avago’s purchase of Broadcom,  NXP and Freescale’s merger, and soon might see TI buy Maxim. We’re currently in the great time of acquisition, with nearly $100 Billion flowing from company to company in just a few months.

Companies have cash to spend and costs to cut. This latest deal is expected to save $150 Million in annual costs.

Fairchild has a long and storied history in the semiconductor industry, with the first integrated circuit produced in a Fairchild lab in Palo Alto. [Bob Widlar] made Fairchild his home until famously leaving for National Semiconductor in 1965. Somewhat ironically, Fairchild Semiconductor was bought by National Semiconductor in 1987.

ON Semiconductor’s history is not nearly as interesting, being spun off of Motorola’s semiconductor business in 1999. Although ON’s main line of business was discrete components, ON also has a catalog of quite a few power management ICs.

Unfortunately, because ON Semi bought Fairchild and not the other way around, we’re stuck with what is probably the worst logo in the entire semiconductor industry: drop-shadowed balls are so mid-90s!

Eyedrivomatic Wins the 2015 Hackaday Prize

Update: We’ve published an in-depth article about The Gaze-Controlled Wheelchair that Won the Hackaday Prize.

Eyedriveomatic are the Grand Prize winners of the 2015 Hackaday Prize. The winners were just announced on stage at the Hackaday Superconference, and awarded by the prize Judges. Eyedriveomatic is a non-invasive method of adding eye-control to powered wheelchairs. Many times these wheelchairs are rented and permanent alterations cannot be made. This inexpensive and easily adaptable hardware has the power to improve life for those who need more options for controlling powered wheelchairs.

We will be publishing more information about this year’s winners in the coming week. The full standings are listed below. Please check out all of the 2015 Hackaday Prize Finalist and the Best Product Finalists.

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FCC Clears The Air With Wi-Fi Software Updates

A few months ago, the Internet resounded with news that the FCC would ban open source router firmware. This threat came from proposed rules to devices operating in the U-NII bands – 5GHz WiFi, basically. These rules would have required all devices operating in this band to prevent modification to the radio inside these devices. Thanks to the highly integrated architecture of these devices, Systems-on-Chips, and other cost cutting measures from router manufacturers, the fear was these regulations would ultimately prevent modifications to these devices. It’s a legitimate argument, and a number of the keepers of the Open Source flame aired their concerns on the matter.

Now, the FCC has decided to clear the air on firmware upgrades to wireless routers. There was a fair bit of confusion in the original document, given the wording, “how [its] device is protected from ‘flashing’ and the installation of third-party firmware such as DD-WRT.” This appeared to mandate wholesale blocking of Open Source firmware on devices, with no suggestion as to how manufacturers would accomplish this impossible task.

[Julias Knapp], chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology has since clarified the Commission’s position. In response to the deluge of comments to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the phrase, ‘protected from flashing… Open Source firmware” has been removed from the upcoming regulation. There’s new, narrow wording (PDF) in this version that better completes the Commission’s goal of stopping overpowered radios without encroching on the Open Source firmware scene. The people spoke, and the FCC listened — democracy at work.