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The US May Have Just Pulled Even With China in the Race to Build Supercomputing’s Next Big Thing

The two countries are vying to create an exascale computer that could lead to significant advances in many scientific fields.

Martin Giles writes:

… The race to hit the exascale milestone is part of a burgeoning competition for technological leadership between China and the US. (Japan and Europe are also working on their own computers; the Japanese hope to have a machine running in 2021 and the Europeans in 2023.)

In 2015, China unveiled a plan to produce an exascale machine by the end of 2020, and multiple reports over the past year or so have suggested it’s on track to achieve its ambitious goal. But in an interview with MIT Technology Review, Depei Qian, a professor at  Beihang University in Beijing who helps manage the country’s exascale effort, explained it could fall behind schedule. “I don’t know if we can still make it by the end of 2020,” he said. “There may be a year or half a year’s delay.”

Teams in China have been working on three prototype exascale machines, two of which use homegrown chips derived from work on existing supercomputers the country has developed. The third uses licensed processor technology. Qian says that the pros and cons of each approach are still being evaluated, and that a call for proposals to build a fully functioning exascale computer has been pushed back.

Given the huge challenges involved in creating such a powerful computer, timetables can easily slip, which could make an opening for the US. China’s initial goal forced the American government to accelerate its own road map and commit to delivering its first exascale computer in 2021, two years ahead of its original target. The American machine, called Aurora, is being developed for the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Supercomputing company Cray is building the system for Argonne, and Intel is making chips for the machine. Read the rest of this entry »

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Student Charged with University of Chicago Threat Released to Mother’s Custody 

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The 21-year-old charged with posting threats to kill white students or staff members at the University of Chicago and was motivated by the police shooting of a black teenager was released from jail Tuesday and put under house arrest.

Authorities said Jabari Dean was responsible for a mass shooting threat that forced the University of Chicago to cancel classes Monday at the prestigious college to avenge the shooting death of a black teenager at the hands of a Chicago police officer last year. Read the rest of this entry »


MIT Technology Review: Inexpensive Electric Cars May Arrive Sooner Than You Think

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The Remarkable Plunge in the Cost of Electric Vehicles

A new study suggests that battery-powered vehicles are close to being cost-effective for most people.

Mike Orcutt writes: Electric cars may seem like a niche product that only wealthy people can afford, but a new analysis suggests that they may be close to competing with or even beating gas cars on cost.

The true cost of lithium-ion batteries in electric cars is a secret closely held by manufacturers. And estimates of the cost vary widely, making it tough to determine
just how much lower they must go before electric vehicles with long ranges can be affordable for most buyers. But a peer-reviewed study of more than 80 estimates reported between 2007 and 2014 determined that the costs of battery packs are “much lower” than widely assumed by energy-policy analysts.

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The authors of the new study concluded that the battery packs used by market-leading EV manufacturers like Tesla and Nissan cost as little as $300 per kilowatt-hour of energy in 2014. That’s lower than the most optimistic published projections for 2015, and even below the average published projection for 2020. The authors found that batteries appear on track to reach $230 per kilowatt-hour by 2018.

If that’s true, it would push EVs across a meaningful threshold. Depending on the price of gas, the sticker price of an EV is expected to appeal to many more people if its battery costs between $125 and $300 per kilowatt-hour. Because the battery makes up perhaps a quarter to a half of the cost of the car, a substantially cheaper battery would make the vehicle itself significantly cheaper too. Alternatively, carmakers could maintain current EV prices but offer vehicles with much longer ranges. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] A Nanotech Skylight That Looks Just Like the Sun Shining Overhead

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 reports: As portions of the US are battered by snowstorms and shrouded beneath gray skies, a European startup is developing a light fixture that mimics the sun.

Each CoeLux fixture models the sunlight of a specific locale, be it the cool color and strong shadows of equatorial countries, the even glow of Mediterranean sunlight, or the slightly dimmer and warmer, but more striking patterns found along the Arctic Circle.

CoeLux fixtures use traditional LEDs, calibrated to the same wavelengths as the sun. However, accurately recreating sunlight also requires mimicking subtle variations caused by the atmosphere, which varies in thickness and composition depending upon where you are on earth. CoeLux uses a milimeters-thick layer of plastic, peppered with nanoparticles, that does essentially the same thing in your living room. CoeLux’s inventor, Professor Paolo Di Trapani hasn’t made any disclosures about how the nanotechnology works in practice, but an impressive list of peer-reviewed publications, industry awards, and testimonials from customers provide comfort that these devices actually work as advertised.

Despite the dynamic nature of the light, the fixtures feature no moving parts. Different qualities of light are created by manipulating the size and placement of the LED “hot spot”—the portion of the fixture meant to represent the sun—within the fixture’s two-foot wide and 5-foot long frame. The tropical unit has the largest hot spot, the Nordic unit the smallest. The thickness of the plastic sheet varies as well, thicker for the Nordic light than the equatorial light, to mirror the atmosphere. The light doesn’t emit any ultraviolet rays, so it won’t give you a tan or ease your seasonal affective disorder, but it will make the darkest basement, warehouse, or subterranean dwelling feel like a solarium.

Shining a New Light on an Old Problem

For thousands of years, man has tried to bring sunlight into dark spaces. Egyptians used complex arrays of mirrors to bring natural light deep within the pyramids, but this is labor intensive and difficult to achieve without a huge slave-labor force.

Northern European palaces from the 18th century feature bright Trompe l’oeil frescos of sunny skies, designed to bring cheer during long winters. Las Vegas casinos use similar techniques, augmented with LEDs and other technologies, to make you think you’re outdoors, not frittering away your money in the soulless confines of a casino. Read the rest of this entry »