If you google “technology trends,” one of the companies that will appear in the top 10 hits will be Gartner. The research and advisory firm not only analyzes numerous markets in terms of technical innovations but also covers business aspects of technology for C-suite professionals.

For 2020, Gartner has produced a number of predictive reports, including those covering digital and strategic technologies. From those lists, I’ve selected three trends that appear vaguely familiar from the recent past, albeit with new names. Do you agree? Don’t hesitate to ping me with your take on these trends at: [email protected]

Trend: Hyper Automation

Gartner: “Automation uses technology to automate tasks that once required humans. Hyper automation deals with the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to increasingly automate processes and augment humans. Hyper automation often results in the creation of a digital twin of the organization. As no single tool can replace humans, hyper automation today involves a combination of tools, including robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent business management software (iBPMS) and AI, with a goal of increasingly AI-driven decision making. 

My Take: Do we really need yet another word or phrase to represent the ongoing digitization process that will eventually enable a complete digital twin? One might just as well say that the creation of a digital twin – from improved modeling, simulations, sensors, etc. – have accelerated the pace of automation thus creating a new hypeautomoation or superautomation reality.

It’s really a chicken and egg perspective. Which came first – the creation of hyper automation systems that eventually result in a digital twin? Or did the creation of a digital twin from a sensor-rich ecosystem lead to improved automation of tasks previously performed by humans?

Regardless of the answer, there seems to be little doubt about the movement toward a more complete digital twin within the next decade. Mordor Intelligence predicts that the digital twin market is anticipated to witness a CAGR of 35.0% over the forecast period 2019 – 2024. Growth in IoT and cloud-based platforms, the surge in adoption of 3D printing technology in the manufacturing industry, and the objective to reduce project cost are some of the major factors, driving the growth for the digital twin market. Mordor notes that IoT sensors have created a potential space for engineers to test and communicate with sensors integrated with the operating products, hence delivering real-time prescriptive of system functioning and timely maintenance.

Which came first: Hyper automation or the digital twin? It’s your call.


According to Statista, the Internet of Things (IoT) market is to reach $212 billion by the end of 2019 with an industry market value of $1.6 trillion by 2025. This technology will continue to impact the consumer, industrial, medical, agricultural, and pharmaceutical markets as big data demands drive the IoT industry. With such a demand, a variety of innovative and wireless technologies are being developed daily. One silicon device that has made inroads into this growing technology field is the ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller.  The small microcontroller’s system architecture provides a wealth of circuit peripherals and technologies that appeals to designers, developers, engineers, and makers of WiFi enabled products.

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The ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller. (Image source: Espressif)

The ESP8266 Specifications

The ESP8266 microcontroller developed by Espressif Systems is a 32-pin quad flat no-lead (QFN) WiFi system on a chip (SOC) package.  The ESP8266 integrates a radio circuit consisting of antenna switches, a power amplifier, a low noise receiver amplifier, filters, a power management module, and a RF balun. The RF balun is an electrical component capable of taking a balance signal and converting it to an unbalanced signal.

A balance signal has equal line impedances. An unbalanced signal has unequal impedances. The RF balun ensures the antenna works properly with the RF transmit and receive circuits through the internal network switch and proper impedance matching. The balanced and unbalanced impedances are achieved with the RF balun. At the heart of the ESP8266 is a 32-bit microprocessor manufactured by Tensilica. The Tensilica microprocessor manages the binary data and coding language information required to work with the ESP8266’s physical layer electrical interfaces. Such physical layer electrical interfaces include the general-purpose input/output (GPIO), the universal asynchronous receiver transmitter (UART), pulse width modulation (PWM), serial peripheral interface (SPI), and the analog to digital converter (ADC). With these physical layer electrical interfaces, the ESP8266 can be wired to external sensors, transistor driven actuators, discrete LEDs, and displays (LCD, OLED, and LED). In addition, the ESP8266 microcontroller supports the WiFi specification of 802.11 b/g/n and the 2.4 GHz operating frequency. Besides supporting a variety of electrical interfaces, the small QFN WiFi SoC microcontroller can be operated from a voltage supply range of 2.5V- 3.6V.  The average operating current of the SoC microcontroller is 80 milliamperes (mA).

Microcontroller, wifi, IoT, ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller, system block diagram
The System Block Diagram of the ESP8266 WiFi enabled microcontroller. (Image source: Espressif)

Creating an IoT Infrastructure

The design concept idea behind the ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller is to develop low cost wireless networks. These networks can assist in obtaining vital data from industrial machines on the plant floor and allowing wireless control of Mechatronics based systems found in manufacturing and process facilities. Also, home automation systems can easily be deployed using the wireless SoC architecture of the ESP8266. Such a wireless infrastructure can allow the creation of low-cost networks to send data to a variety of mobile and laptop devices assisted by the cloud. To allow access to these wireless nodes through the cloud requires a hosting webpage. A unique feature of the ESP8266 is the internal hosting webpage that can be configured using a programming language like MicroPython. Also, the ESP8266 SoC architecture provides a unique internet protocol (IP) address that works in unison with the Media Access Control (MAC) and network interface controller (NIC) subcircuit integrated within the microcontroller.

Microcontroller, wifi, IoT, ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller, system block diagram, IoT ionfrastructure
A low cost IoT network using the ESP8266. (Image source: Don Wilcher)

Ease of Prototyping A Wireless PoC

Espressif’s low cost wireless microcontroller chip has allow new development platforms for designers, engineers, makers, and developers to rapidly explore IoT product concepts. Popular prototyping platforms being used by designers and makers are the printed circuit board (PCB) module and the development board. Both prototyping platforms allow rapid Proof of Concept (PoC) product, system monitoring, and controller device ideas to fruition. The pcb module provides copper circular pads that allow soldering of external circuits and sensors to the WiFi microcontroller pins. The development board is an extension of the pcb, whereby the WiFi module is soldered to the prototyping platform. Also, male header pins are soldered to the development board’s pcb. These male header pins allow insertion into a solderless breadboard for ease of circuit prototyping.

Microcontroller, wifi, IoT, ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller, system block diagram, IoT infrastructure, ESP prototyping
ESP8266 development platforms: pcb module and the development board. (Image source: Don Wilcher)

An example PoC concept using the development board is the creation of a WiFi enabled Audio Signal Generator. With software created in MicroPython, a webpage hosting site for a simple user interface (UI) will allow the wireless operation of an audio signal generator. Such a device will aid in injecting signals into malfunctioning amplifier units remotely using a laptop computer, smartphone, or tablet accessing the ESP8266’s web hosting page through an IP address.

Microcontroller, wifi, IoT, ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller, system block diagram, IoT infrastructure, ESP prototyping, wed device server
 Simple UI hosted by the ESP8266’s webpage IP address: (Image source: Don Wilcher)

The ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller’s digital pin enables the audio signal generator upon receiving a wireless command from the simple UI. An LED provides a visual indicator of the device being enabled by the UI. Also, the measured range of audible tones measured with an oscilloscope is 657Hz – 1.70KHz.  

Microcontroller, wifi, IoT, ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller, system block diagram, IoT infrastructure, wifi enabled audio signal
A WiFi enabled Audio Signal Generator circuit schematic diagram. (Image source: Don Wilcher)

The development of this WiFi test gear was prototyped using a retro Radio Shack Science Fair 200-in-1 electronics project lab and an ESP8266 development board. This product concept scenario provides benefits for electronics troubleshooting in the field by a technician or service engineer. As illustrated in this example, a variety of IoT products can be rapidly developed using the ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller. Additional technical specifications of the ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller can be found at Espressif’s website.

Microcontroller, wifi, IoT, ESP8266 WiFi microcontroller, system block diagram, IoT ionfrastructure
A prototyped WiFi enabled Audio Signal Generator. (Image source: Don Wilcher)

Don Wilcher is a passionate teacher of electronics technology and an electrical engineer with 26 years of industrial experience. He’s worked on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules/systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances. He’s also a book author, writing DIY project books on electronics and robotics technologies.


If you’ve ever attended any optical or photonic conferences, you’ve likely seen demos of digital microscopes by Dino-Lite, a brand name for Omano Microscopes and others companies like Andonstar Microscopes, National Optical, OptixCam, and more.

Unlike traditional classroom or laboratory optical microscopes, digital versions replace the eyepiece with a digital camera that feed into a monitor. Thanks to advances in computer display resolution, digital microscopes can produce amazing visuals for everything from cells and micro-organisms to the details of integrated circuits and PCBs (see videos).

By digitizing optical images, users can calculate measurements in software, share results around the globe and often conduct real-time tests and diagnostics. Such advantages might be the reason that digital microscopes are used in multiple market sectors including academics, manufacturing, quality control, semiconductors, healthcare, and electronics.

Digital microscopes are great for displaying tiny objects like ants, gears and chips to even bacteria on a microscopic slide. However, the specimen on the slide must still be fixed and stained to be seen by a digital microscope. If a user needs to witness cellular structures and interactions in real time, then a new technology known as digital holographic microscopy is needed.

Digital holographic microscope, such as those from the Imec R&D center in Belgium, replace the traditional optical lens with a lens-free image sensor. Holographic image reconstruction algorithms then convert the image sensor data into a visual image of amazing interactive detail.

Check out the videos below to see live demonstrations of digital microscopes from the SPIE Photonics West events.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.


salary surveyThe American Mold Builders Association (AMBA; Indianapolis) has released its 2019-2020 AMBA Wage and Salary Report. This annual report represents the largest compensation study focused on the U.S. mold building industry. Now in its ninth year, AMBA’s Wage and Salary Report contains comprehensive analyses of 50 job classifications from mold manufacturing–related firms that serve a variety of end-use markets.

Participants in this year’s study included approximately 100 U.S. mold building companies reporting wage and salary information on employees in current positions. This year’s study revealed a slight 2% decrease in reported salaries, as well as a drop in intention to hire new employees over the next 12 months from 75% of respondents to 64%.

For reported roles needing to be filled, the number of technical positions significantly outweighed the availability of administrative leadership positions. Of the total jobs available, 76% represented technical positions.

The workforce age trend continues to reflect employment percentages similar to 2018 and 2019. While the percentage of workers under the age of 50 has risen to 61%, this is still a significantly lower percentage than the 70% of workers under the age of 50 reported back in 2006. For this reason, initiatives to attract youth into the mold building sector remain a top priority in 2020.

The 2019-2020 report allows mold building executives the ability to benchmark beginning and average wages for individual positions specific to the U.S. mold building industry by company size as well as region. For specific wage data analysis and other demographic trends, contact AMBA.


The 14 Most Efficient Hybrids You Can Buy in 2019 

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(Image source: Toyota)

Here are a group of new cars that will deliver more than 40 mpg without asking you to give up a thing.

15 Examples of the Past, Present, and Future of Battery Technology 

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(Image source: Exide Technologies)

Batteries are powering our world. It’s time to learn where they came from and where they are going.

EVs Are Made Of This- REDUX 

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(Image source: Tesla)

Here (once again) are 8 crucial parts that make up an electric vehicle (EV)

10 Green Principles For EV Sustainability 

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(Image source: University of Michigan)

Recently published guidelines could help ensure that new battery technologies are sustainable and environmentally sound.

9 Ways Electrons Can Carry You Across the Water 

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(Image source: Corvus Energy)

New electric jet skis, lake boats, super yachts, and marine ferries are using batteries and electric motors to revolutionize the maritime industry.

Tesla’s Megapack Aids In Renewable Energy Adoption 

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(Image source: Tesla)

Tesla has introduced a huge new battery system that will allow the integration of wind and solar power sources into large-scale utility grids.

The Batteries That Powered the Lunar Module 

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(Image source: NASA)

SPACE WEEK: Landing on the moon took a huge amount of engineering skill, not the least of which went into developing the batteries that would provide electricity on the lunar surface.

EV Disruption Goes Beyond Mere Numbers 

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(Image source: Tesla)

Sales volumes are still small, but electric vehicles are still having a large and growing effect on the overall auto industry.

Lamborghini and MIT double the energy density in super capacitors 

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(Image souce: Automobili Lamborghini)

Lamborghini’s exotic supercars will rely on capacitors for a jolt of electric boost, rather than moving to turbochargers.

The Battery Show Wrap-up 

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(Image source: Design News)

What we learned, what surprised us, and how the EV world is changing.

Heard At The Battery Show 

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(Image source: Design News)

Breaking news, new ideas, and the pulse of the industry from The Battery Show in Novi, Michigan.

Are We Ready For Autonomous Vehicles? 

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(Image source: Toyota)

A recent study examines 20 countries worldwide and finds both opportunities and potential potholes on the road to driverless cars.

What Are The Keys To EV Success? 

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 (Image source: General Motors)

Ahead of his Keynote address at The Battery Show in Novi, Michigan, General Motors’ Mark Verbrugge shares with us his thoughts on how EV progress will be made.

Opinion: How Toyota’s EVs May Save the Company 

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(Image source: Toyota)

Toyota has finally committed to building a range of electric vehicles (EVs)—but is it too late?

AI Can Sort Batteries 

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(Image source: Dean Deng)

A new machine-learning process can be used to predict lithium ion battery cycle life, based upon factors measured in just a few early charge and discharged cycles.

Six Electric Motorcycles That You Can Buy In 2019 

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(Image source: Energica)

2019 will be a breakthrough year for electric motorcycles—here are some two-wheel offerings from six companies for commuting, work, and play.

Could Solar-Powered Cars Become Practical? 

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(Image source: Toyota)

Toyota is working with solar-cell maker Sharp to explore solar-powered EVs using new, experimental, high-efficiency solar panels on a modified Prius.

5 Lessons learned from a smart home experiment 

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(Image Source: Honda Smart Home System – HEMS and EV in Garage)

These lessons along with years of data are available to all with an interest in smart home development thanks to the Honda and UC-Davis project.

Heard Around the Industry: Dyson cancels its electric car project 

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(Image source: Dyson)

Commentary on Dyson’s exit from the electric car business.


I’m watching a clip from the movie The Shining. Shelly Duvall is hiding from her crazed husband as he chops down the door with an axe. Jim Carrey sticks his head through the opening and cackles the iconic line: “Here’s Johnny!”

…Jim Carrey is not in The Shining.

What you’re seeing is not a Hollywood special effect. It wasn’t done with After Effects, green screen, or with costuming and makeup. The video is a fake created by deep learning artificial intelligence – a deepfake. And anyone with a powerful computer and enough time can make one.

You might have heard of deepfakes before, or glimpsed headlines discussing the technology. You might even have laughed at various YouTube videos on channels such as Ctrl Shift Face that have swapped faces of celebrities in iconic roles to some humorous and sometimes unsettling results (once you’ve seen any of the bizarre deepfakes involving Nicolas Cage you can never un-see them.)

But deepfakes, once confined to darker corners of the internet, are becoming a serious threat. In the US, particularly as the 2020 election season rapidly approaches, AI experts are warning that deepfakes could become a powerful tool for spreading misinformation and manipulating the public. With enough effort a bad actor could create a video of any political candidate saying nearly anything. And in today’s climate of social media outrage and algorithm-driven content distribution, there’s no telling how far it could spread before someone caught it.

It’s time engineers, developers, and technologists all had a serious discussion about deepfakes.

(Image source: Adobe Stock)

The Origin Of Deepfakes

There’s no one particular person that has taken credit for originally developing deepfakes. Their existence owes to a confluence of technologies ranging from ever-more sophisticated computer vision algorithms and neural networks, to increasingly powerful GPU hardware.

The first deepfakes to emerge on the internet seem to have emerged in 2017, when an anonymous Reddit user called “Deepfakes” began distributing illicit, altered videos of celebrities online. Other Reddit users followed suit and it wasn’t long before a community had sprung up around distributing both deepfakes themselves as well as tutorials and software tools to create them.

In an interview with Vice, [NSFW link] one of the first outlets to take an extensive look at deepfakes, the Reddit user outlined how comparatively easy the process is:

“I just found a clever way to do face-swap. With hundreds of face images, I can easily generate millions of distorted images to train the network. After that if I feed the network someone else’s face, the network will think it’s just another distorted image and try to make it look like the training face.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Far from it. When they first appeared, deepfakes had one particularly popular and disturbing use case – pornography. Much of the early deepfake content available was pornographic films created using the faces of celebrities like Gal Gadot, Scarlett Johansson, and Taylor Swift without their consent.

As the videos proliferated, there was an crackdown with Reddit itself shutting down its deepfakes-related communities, pornographic websites removing the content, and sites like GitHub refusing to distribute deepfake software tools.

If private citizens weren’t that concerned yet it was probably because sites got somewhat ahead of the problem. Left unchecked it wouldn’t have been long before deepfake pornography spread from celebrities to every day people. Anyone with enough publically available photos or video of themselves on a platform like Facebook or Instagram could potentially become a victim of deepfake revenge porn.

In 2018, Rana Ayyub, and investigative journalist from India, fell victim to a deepfakes plot intended to discredit her as a journalist. Ayyub detailed her ordeal in an article for The Huffington Post:

“From the day the video was published, I have not been the same person. I used to be very opinionated, now I’m much more cautious about what I post online. I’ve self-censored quite a bit out of necessity.

“Now I don’t post anything on Facebook. I’m constantly thinking what if someone does something to me again. I’m someone who is very outspoken so to go from that to this person has been a big change.

“I always thought no one could harm me or intimidate me, but this incident really affected me in a way that I would never have anticipated…

“…[Deepfakes] is a very, very dangerous tool and I don’t know where we’re headed with it.”

How Deepfakes Work

On the surface the process of creating a deepfake is fairly straightforward. First, you need enough images (hundreds or more ideally) of your target – showing their face in as many orientations as possible (the more images you can get, the better the results – hence why celebrities and public figures are an easy target). If you think it might be difficult to get hundreds or thousands of images of someone remember that a single second of video could contain 60 frames of someone’s face.

Then you need a target video. The AI can’t change skin tone or structure so it helps to pick a target and source with similar features. Once a deep learning algorithm is trained on a person’s facial features, additional software can then superimpose that face onto another person’s in your target video. The results can be spotty at times, as many videos online will attest to, but done right, and with enough attention to detail, the results can be seamless.

In an interview with Digital Trends, the anonymous owner of the Ctrl Shift Face YouTube channel (the channel responsible for the Jim Carrey/The Shining videos, among others) discussed how simple, yet time-consuming the process is:

“I’m not a coder, just a user. I don’t know the details about exactly how the software works. The workflow works like this: You add source and destination videos, then one neural network will detect and extract faces. Some data cleanup and manual extraction is needed. Next, the software analyzes and learns these faces. This step can sometimes take a few days. The more the network learns, the more detailed the result will be. In the final step, you combine these two and the result is your deepfake. There’s sometimes a bit of post-process needed as well.”

On one hand, the relative ease at which this can be done with little to no coding experience is certainly disconcerting. On the other however, deepfakes are an impressive demonstration of the sophistication of AI today.

At the core of deepfakes is a neural network called an autoencoder. Put simply, an autoencoder is designed to learn the important features of a dataset so it can create a representation of it on its own. If you feed a face into an autoencoder its job is then to learn the distinguishing characteristics that make up a face and then construct a lower-dimensional representation of that face – in this case called a latent face.

Deepfakes work by having a single encoder train to create a generalized representation of a face and then have two decoders share that representation. If you have two decoders – one trained on Person A’s face, the other on Person B’s – then feed the encoder either face you can transpose Person A’s face onto Person B’s (or vice versa). If the encoder is trained well enough, and the representation is generalized enough, it can handle facial expressions and orientations in a very convincing way.

Since faces in general are very similar in their overall shape and structure, a latent face created by an encoder using Person A’s face, can be passed to a decoder trained on Person B’s face to good effect. The result at the other end is a video of Person B, but with Person A’s face.

As long as you have two subjects similar enough and a computer with enough processing power, the rest just takes time. Faceswap – one of the more readily available deepfakes apps – can run on a Windows 10, Linux, or MacOS computer and recommends a newer Nvidia GPU for processing. “Running this on your CPU means it can take weeks to train your model, compared to several hours on a GPU,” according to Faceswap’s documentation.


Brembo six-piston monobloc caliper for the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Image source: Ford Motor Co.

Hydraulic disc brake technology has been pretty thoroughly developed over the decades since modern caliper-style disc brakes first appeared on the Jaguar C-Type race cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But that hasn’t prevented industry leader Brembo from finding areas where innovation can still improve this well-established technology.

Some of the changes have been pushed by fashion, as ever-larger wheels showcase the underlying brake hardware as a new styling element, while others are driven by performance and practicality.

Brembo’s smooth and shiny cast aluminum caliper housings look better and are easier to clean than the rough-cast iron. The brand’s signature red painted calipers have become a style accessory, like an automotive pocket square.

Some of that sleek appearance is the result of a functional difference. Brembo’s calipers are often a single casting, for maximum stiffness. That eliminates both the flex that can occur under hard braking and the unsightly bolt heads holding the caliper halves together.

The company is continuing to advance, as cars evolve and braking challenges change. Consider the massive six-piston monobloc calipers employed by the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. The three opposing cylinder bores in the casting of the front brake calipers have staggered diameters of 34 mm, 38 mm, and 40 mm. 

Brembo staggers the diameters to even out pressure and wear on the enormous 131.2 cm2 pads, explained engineer Ben Pohl. “You can optimize pressure across the pad by staggering,” he said. With calipers like those on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo having as many as ten pistons, the exact size and location of the cylinders becomes a complex math problem. “We do a lot of optimization of piston location and size,” he concluded.

The company is also pushing a shift to fixed calipers rather than floating ones that slide freely on pins. “A fixed caliper controls the clamping more precisely,” Pohl said. “There is hysteresis in floating calipers” that causes a lag in movement.

Flex of the caliper housing can be an issue, even for single-piece monobloc calipers, because of the large “window” opening in the top providing access to change brake pads. To compensate, the GT500’s front calipers have a “tie bar” over the window to reinforce the caliper. It must work, because Brembo says the GT500’s caliper is its stiffest.

Another way to improve the response of brakes in very high-performance models is to help them shed more of the heat that they generate while converting kinetic energy to thermal energy. Brembo’s new Dyadema caliper targets hypercar applications with a design that contains built-in air ducts in the caliper’s cast housing. Many high-performance and race cars duct cooling air to the brakes, but once there, the air simply blasts past the caliper. The Dyadema’s contains ducting that routs air directly past the pads, helping them transfer their heat to the air passing by.

Air is captured by the forward-facing intake scoop, blasted across the caliper through the pads, and pushed forward out the other side. This reduces the brake fluid temperature by 15 percent, according to Brembo. Brake fluid temperature is the key metric, because if the fluid gets hot enough to boil it introduces compressible gas to the non-compressible hydraulic fluid medium. This causes the brake pedal to feel soft and to travel further on each stroke, potentially leaving the driver to pump the pedal to achieve the necessary brake pressure.

The Brembo Dyadema’s air intake scoop is visible at the bottom of this photo. Image source: Brembo

Brembo recognizes that not all of us drive thousand-horsepower hypercars to work every day at race track speeds, however, so to boost the brand’s participation in mainstream market segments, it is introducing other new technologies.

For example, front-drive hybrids and electric vehicles have narrower wheels than performance models and employ negative offset wheels. These two factors leave less space at the wheel hub for Brembo’s thick-walled cast aluminum brake calipers. Cast iron calipers have thinner walls, so they can fit more easily into tight spaces.

Brembo’s Flexera caliper (left), compared to a conventional monobloc caliper (right) is visibly slimmer along its right side. Image source: Dan Carney

Brembo’s solution is the Flexera caliper, which is a hybrid aluminum/steel caliper that applies the ferrous material just to the part where the extra thickness of aluminum is a problem. The one-piece aluminum casting functions pretty much as before, but now there is a steel sleeve inserted on the back side of the cylinders where the pistons are, shaving some thickness from that key location.

“The real challenge is sealing all the hydraulics from the aluminum to the steel to the aluminum,” Pohl observed. How did they do it? “Through multiple iterations of each design,” he stated. Try, and try again, as it were.

Another detail included with efficiency in mind for EVs is a triangular spring that helps push the pads back from the rotor to reduce drag when the brake isn’t applied.

These are the kinds of detail improvements that have let us continuously improve something as seemingly simple as a hydraulic circuit applying pressure to squeeze friction material to a spinning rotor. Next stop, according to Pohl: electrically operated disc brakes that eliminate the hydraulic fluid.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

  • As the last year of the last decade, 2019 had a lot to live up to. Within the span of 10 short years, service apps like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and others on mobile phones became big business. Mobile phone companies introduced amazing personal features like voice assistance (e.g., Siri and Alexa), iCloud connections for fast video streaming, and very high-resolution HD cameras. Not to be outdone, the automobile was transformed with automation tech and electrification. A Tesla electric vehicle even made it into space.

    Space technology flourished in the last decade with the commercialization of space rockets, the launch of hundreds upon hundreds of communication satellites and the increasing popularity of Cubesats. Back on earth, homes and buildings became smarter while alternative forms of energy continued to improve in efficiency. And the list goes on.

    But there were several notable failures in the last decade, many seeming to culminate in 2019. Here is the short list of the 10 tech failures most worthy of mention, in no particular order.

  • #1 Glitchy Spacecraft Launch

    Boeing suffered several major setbacks this year. The first one was an incomplete demonstration flight of its new astronaut capsule. The mission of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft began successfully but suffered technical problems that prevented it from reaching the International Space Station (ISS). Many observers believe that the Starliner capsule on top of an Atlas rocket simply burned too much fuel as it climbed into space, leaving an insufficient amount to reach the ISS. Some have suggested the failure was from a glitchy timer system that turned off the rocket thrusters too soon.

    The demonstration test wasn’t a complete failure as the Starliner did land successfully in the deserts of New Mexico.

  • #2 Andromeda Strain revisited?

    Remember the Andromeda Strain? It was a techno-thriller novel from 1969 written by Michael Crichton that centered around the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism in Arizona.

    Fast forward to 2019. A company in Israel launched its first lunar lander that unfortunately crashed-landed on the moon. The small robotic spacecraft called Beresheet was created by the SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It failed just moments before landing on the moon.

    This was an unmanned operation, but not one devoid of life. A US-based nonprofit had added tardigrades, or water bears, to the capsule. These microscopic, eight-legged creatures could survive in a dormant state through harsh conditions, and maybe even on the moon.

    In other words, earth-based lifeforms have now been introduced to the moon’s ecosystem. Without some water, the tardigrades aren’t likely to revive and spread. But this failure highlights the need for planetary protections – both on the moon and earth.

    It should be noted that the goal of the Arch Mission Foundation was not to contaminate the moon but rather to, “create multiple redundant repositories of human knowledge around the Solar System.” The foundation tests out technologies for long-lasting archives, like securing information in DNA strands or encapsulating insects in artificial amber. In addition to water bears, the Arch’s payload included nickel sheets nanopatterned with thousands of pages of Wikipedia and other texts.

    One of Arch’s first missions was launched by SpaceX on the Falcon Heavy rocket and is now entering an orbit around the Sun for millions of years.  The first books in the Solar Library were Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Can you guess where they are located? The books containing Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy were placed in the glovebox of the Cherry Red Tesla Roadster that will soon be orbiting the Sun.

  • #3 Communication Failures (again)

    Both Boeing and the FAA have been cited for oversight breakdowns that contributed to 737 Max failure. But the actual cause of the tragedy that resulted in the crash of two Boeing 737 Max aircrafts seems to be broad failures in the automated system that controls the new planes. The report by the Joint Authorities Technical Review panel said that assumptions about critical aspects of the plane’s design were “not adequately reviewed, updated, or validated.”

    This lack of communication and incorporation of warnings from the engineering teams is a common problem with very complex, modern systems, e.g., the Challenger Space Shuttle and others.

  • #4 Disappearing Bitcoin Miners

    While 2019 was overall a profitable year for the semiconductor chip development market, there were a few noticeable declines. One was the system-on-chip (SoC) devices made specifically for bitcoin mining. The cost of mining for bitcoins dramatically increased in 2019, leading to a drop in the need for hardware SoC-based equipment.

    In essence, it took much more effort for bitcoin miners to solve the equations required to validate transactions on the Bitcoin network. This increase in mining difficulty reflects the increased competition.

    Another slowdown was in the market for automotive chips and electronics, as companies and drivers realized that autonomous car technology won’t really be ready for several more years. This corresponds well to Gartner’s famous “trough of disappointment” portion in its hype cycle for emerging technologies.

  • #5 Cloud Buckets

    A new type of cybersecurity issue has emerged in which millions of people have had their personal information exposed through file storage systems known as cloud buckets. Such storage areas typically consist of public resources that are easily accessed by a variety of web service applications. Cloud buckets are like public file folders which contain user information.

    Placing sensitive user data information in the cloud offers companies the capability to offload their security to big firms like Google, Apple, Amazon or Microsoft. The problem is that the buckets are not configured by these firms but rather by the companies who use their cloud networks.

    Not all of these companies are storing their customer information properly. This lack of security is easy pickings for identity thieves. It is an example of readily available information that doesn’t require any hacking.

  • #6 Hacks of the Year

    Speaking of hacks, this year experienced even more cybersecurity breaches. In 2018, there were 500 million personal records stolen, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. But that number was miniscule compared to the 7.9 billion records exposed in 2019 by over 5,000 breaches, as reported by Risk-Based Security. Compared to the 2018 Q3 report, the total number of 2019 breaches was up 33.3 percent and the total number of records exposed more than doubled, up 112 percent. Here’s just a small sampling of the more infamous breaches (more details here):

    > ElasticSearch Server Breach

    > Canva Data Breach

    > Facebook App Data Exposure 

    > Orvibo Leaked Database

    > Social Media Profiles Data Leak

    Sadly, the common theme in many of these data exposures is that data aggregators obtained and used personal information in a way the owners never imaged or gave their consented. This is a legal problem as much as a technical one.

  • #7 Google Glass

    In 2019, Google announced a new $999 Glass augmented reality headset that looked suspicious like the failed Google Glass from the past.

    Early in 2012, Google co-founder Sergey Brin debuted Google Glass. A year later, the founder and head of the Google Glass Project, Babak Parviz, delivered a keynote about the technology at the IEEE Hot Chips event at Stanford.

    One of the ongoing leading smart phone trends is the ever-improving screen resolution and larger screen size. During his keynote, Parviz argued that there was a physical limit to this trend, but glass offered the next display form factor evolution, i.e., immersion with one’s surroundings. This will be especially important in augmented reality applications.

    Originally, Google Glass was a standalone unit (not yet cloud-based) that included internet access, voice controls, and a camera for pictures and videos. It accomplished all of this with dual core processors running at more than 1 GHz. Five MEMS sensors capture all the environmental data. It had a two-dimensional touch panel on side of glass.

    Why was this technology a failure? It wasn’t because of the technology, but rather because it wasn’t clear to the customer what problem it solved or why they needed it. Additionally, many felt it was intrusive as a user of the device could take pictures and short film snippets of people without their knowledge.

    In January 2015, Google announced that they would no longer be developing Google Glass. But that wasn’t the end of the project. Instead, Google pivoted to the business sector by launching Glass Enterprise Edition for workplaces like factories in 2017. This year, Google announced the Glass augmented reality headset.

  • #8 Folding Phone

    Samsung’s Galaxy folding phone was billed as a new dawn in display technology. The phone levered open into a 7.3-inch dynamic AMOLED display.

    Unfortunately, the company had to postpone the launched of the folding phone after early review models broke, delaminated, and got filled with gunk. The problem seemed to be potential defects with a weak hinge as well as substances found inside the device.

    As with many new technologies, the price tag also presented a barrier to anyone but early adopters. A reengineered and improved version is now on sale for near $2,000.

  • #9 Machine-Bias or Garbage-in, Garbage-out

    The challenge of machine-bias came clearly into focus in 2019. Similar to human-bias, machine-bias occurs when the learning process for a Silicon-based machine makes erroneous assumptions due to the limitations of a data set and pre-programming criteria. One example of machine-bias was recently revealed in Apple’s new credit card, which contained an algorithm to decide how much trustworthy (or risky) a user might be. This evaluation used to be done by trained humans but now is often performed by AI based algorithms.

    Apple’s credit card was shown to have a gender bias. Males are more likely to get a higher credit line limit than females. This bias was highlighted when a male entrepreneur was assigned a spending limit 10 times higher than that of his wife, even though they have a common account.

    How does a machine get a bias? A report from IBM Research outlines two main ways AI systems could inherit biases. First, the AI software might contain errors and dependencies. Second, the data set from which AI learns its task may have flaws and bias. These data points come from the real world which contains many biases, e.g., favoring white men to the exclusion of women and minorities. Algorithms are only as smart as the data you feed them. This is a modern update of the old computer data expression, “garbage-in, garbage-out.”

  • #10 Software App Failures

    No list of tech failures would be complete without mention of the apps that didn’t make it. The range of the applications that failed is wide.

    Consider first British Airways (BA) glitch, whose computer system completely wend down during a peak travel season. Over a hundred flights of BA were cancelled and near to 300 delayed. Thousands of passengers were affected. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time the system had failed, which suggests a systemic problem that has not been properly addressed by management.

    Or how about the Facebook 2019 failure that prevented users from viewing or loading images form the newsfeed? Several other social media apps had a similar problem, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. In each case, users were prevented from sending messages, media files and the like.  Facebook claimed their problem was the result of an accident during routine maintenance.

    Several app failures or hacks from 2019 include Apple’s Facetime bug and the Ring security camera intrusions. The later may have been more of a customer problem as Ring notes that the system invasion was likely the result of the hacker gaining access to the family’s account through weak or stolen login credentials.


In the past materials tended to remain static. More and more, researchers are developing dynamic materials that can change their shape on the fly.

One of the latest breakthroughs in this type of technology comes from researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Ohio State University who have developed a magnetic shape memory polymer that can transform into a variety of shapes. Researchers believe the material can be used to create new capabilities in robotics and electronic applications.

shape memory polymer, robotics or electronics applications, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, Ohio State University
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and The Ohio State University have developed a magnetic shape memory polymer that can transform into a variety of shapes, paving the way for new capabilities in robotics and electronics, they said. (Source: Georgia Tech)

The material—a mixture of three ingredients, each of which contribute unique properties that are integral to its behavior—uses magnetic fields to transform itself, said Jerry Qi, a professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech.  The material is comprised of two types of magnetic particles—one that provides inductive heat and one with strong magnetic attraction—as well as shape-memory polymers that lock the shape changes in place, he said. This combination of materials is what provided researchers their unique result.

“This is the first material that combines the strengths of all of these individual components into a single system capable of rapid and reprogrammable shape changes that are lockable and reversible,” Qi said.

Creating freedom of movement

The new material builds on earlier research the team conducted that outlined actuation mechanisms for soft robotics and active materials, assessing the limitations in current technologies, said Ruike (Renee) Zhao, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Ohio State. “The degree of freedom is limited in conventional robotics,” she said. “With soft materials, that degree of freedom is unlimited.”

To create the material, researchers first distributed particles of neodymium iron boron and iron oxide into a mixture of shape memory polymers. Once the particles were fully integrated, they then create various objects from this mixture to test how the material would perform in various scenarios.

One example the team created to demonstrate their material was a gripper claw, which they fabricated from a t-shaped mold, researchers said. They applied a high-frequency, oscillating magnetic field to the gripper to cause the iron oxide particles to heat up through induction and warm the entire object. This rise in temperature than caused the material to soften, which made it pliable.

Researchers then applied a second magnetic field to the gripper to make its claws open and close, they said. Then, once the gripper cooled back down, whichever position it was in at the time remained locked.

Locking in the shape

The shape-changing process takes only a few seconds from start to finish, and the strength of the material at its locked state allowed the gripper to lift objects up to 1,000 times its own weight. “This process requires us to use of magnetic fields only during the actuation phase,” said Zhao. “So, once an object has reached its new shape, it can be locked there without constantly consuming energy.”

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Advanced Materials.

The team also tested other applications for the material, making coil-shaped objects that can expand and retract. This particular function simulates how an antenna could potentially change frequencies when actuated by the magnetic fields.

Other uses for the material are in robotics, Qi said, particularly for scenarios in which machines need to manipulate delicate objects, such as in the food industry or for chemical or biomedical applications.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!


The adoption of blockchain has indeed been widespread. But the realm of intellectual property protection could find blockchain particularly useful.

The industry of IP has plenty of its own problems. On average, infringement can cost a company around $102 million a year. And there’s little on the horizon that indicates any relief on that front. 

Blockchain, intellectual pro[perty, Cisco, Fortunly

Blockchain technology can address the issue of IP infringement. (Image source: Cisco)

But blockchain technology could address this issue. In fact, its radical approach to data storage lends itself kind of perfectly to solve much of the IP industry’s ills. And IP protection for engineering patents, in particular, could benefit from blockchain on its side.

But, first, let’s take a step back and look at why enforcing IP rights in general is so problematic.

Problems Plaguing Intellectual Property Protection

One of the greatest problems to IP protection comes from the Internet or, rather, how it helped proliferate content. The Internet has enabled us to easily copy, download, and share digital content. Not only that, but doing so is also near-instantaneous. Piracy is a great example of how IP owners lose out on profits.

You can see how that might make copyright protection a bit more difficult than before the Internet existed. With people being capable of copying, downloading, or otherwise distributing intellectual property owners’ content without breaking a sweat, protecting IP becomes next to undoable.

And that isn’t the end for owners’ woes. The systems that are supposed to enforce copyright protection are sorely out of date. DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is the most up-to-scratch safeguard, and that act is from 1998. It has done some good, but it isn’t enough, especially nowadays.

This isn’t due to it being fundamentally flawed. Rather, it’s simply down to the fact that, on its own, it cannot keep up with so many people violating its stipulations. It’s more of a technology problem than anything else.

And that’s where blockchain comes into play.

What Is Blockchain? A Brief Explanation

Blockchain, in a nutshell, is a digital ledger that distributes access to and control over data to all of its members. Its records cannot be erased or changed in any capacity, all the data is completely transparent, and hacking the system is nigh impossible.

Using blockchain to guard the rights of intellectual property has quite a few advantages. GoChain is a well-known example of a company that leverages this tech to make IP’s safer. 

But how does this translate to IP protection? These characteristics are applicable to the aforementioned problems in several ways.

Proving Patent Ownership

Patent ownership rights are a bit of a pain to prove sometimes. In creative fields (music, videos, and the like), whatever you create de facto belongs to you, but when someone (wrongfully) claims that creation is theirs, it’s difficult to prove you created said content when there’s little to no documentation pointing to the fact. 

And in these cases, the onus is normally on the creator to prove that they created the work in question. And that’s the tricky part. Patents are a tad easier to prove ownership over, but it can still prove difficult.

But blockchain, possessing indelible records of all data, can tell you exactly when what was created. This makes it easier to prove ownership whenever someone illegally uses your content. 

Monitoring Use of Content

Seeing that all the information on the blockchain is transparent, every piece of data is easily trackable. The network marks any instance of a patent being used, replicated, or otherwise, so users can track exactly what is done to it.

This would greatly improve the situation in regards to people infringing on IP rights willy-nilly. Creators could keep track of any instances of their work and how people utilize them. And if any of those instances violate ownership rights, you’ll know it.

Streamlining the Registration Process

Decentralization is blockchain’s main schick. The fact that the system doesn’t require third-party oversight means that all the red tape associated with such entities goes out the window.

This could come in handy indeed in the IP world. The journey to attaining patent rights can take as much as 22 months. Some exceptions, like utility patents, might be faster, usually wrapped up between six and twelve months, but it’s still a long wait.

The bulk of this time comes down to bureaucracy. And blockchain can go around this problem. Blockchain could greatly reduce this massive wait, leaving both individuals and businesses with more time for further innovation or other affairs.

Smart Contracts

The concept of smart contracts uses blockchain in a more innovative fashion. For those who don’t know, smart contracts are self-verifiable, self-enforceable contracts that don’t need any other entity other than those involved in the agreement.

This could facilitate much easier and smoother enforcement of licencing agreements. Creators that enter into these contracts can easily see if its stipulations are being respected or not. This is a more hands-on use of blockchain, and its potential applications are many. Nevertheless, it’s just as needed here.

Whenever a contract stipulation regarding patent use is being violated, the contract has the ability to respond by, for instance, terminating. This would do wonders to reduce IP abuse in the engineering world.


Blockchain technology has the potential to greatly improve the current situation of patent IP protection. Its triple-threat, that being decentralization, transparency, and immutability, would both smooth out and reinforce the systems that are currently in place. It would enable inventors to gain better control over their patents, while also having a better idea of what’s being done to them. As things stand right now, these would be welcome changes indeed.

Tamara Backovic is a content specialist at Fortunly with a background in computer sciences, tech research and IT.