05/04/11 — Modern computing has a looming data traffic problem. Sometime in the next decade, experts say, processors will not be able to deliver better performance, because integrated circuits will have reached their capacity. Commonly described as interconnect bottleneck, this phenomenon means that computers, regardless of their processing speed, will be incapable of moving data any faster. But Berkeley engineers, led by Connie Chang-Hasnain, have recently developed a groundbreaking process that could solve the vexing problem of interconnect bottleneck and lead to a new class of faster, more efficient microprocessors.
Devices & inventions
02/02/11 — In the south India city of Hubli, turning on the tap is no easy task. Residents frequently skip work, postpone errands or keep children home from school in anticipation of the precious-but notoriously unreliable-arrival of water along urban pipelines. Missing a delivery can translate into days without household water. “Literally, people wait around their house until the water comes on,” says Anu Sridharan (B.S'09, M.S'10 CEE). Sridharan is part of a Berkeley-based student team pursuing a novel-but surprisingly simple-fix to what is a common occurrence in the developing world. Their project, called NextDrop, deploys ubiquitous mobile phones to alert residents when water is flowing in a neighborhood.
09/08/10 — What's the best device for dispensing a dollop of hand sanitizer? At Berkeley, it's one that also prompts the famous Bellagio fountain to erupt, Evel Knievel to crash his motorcycle and a house of cards to spring up before your eyes. The magic and mayhem were part of a winning, Las Vegas-themed contraption built by a team of engineering students for Berkeley's first-ever Rube Goldberg Machine Contest in April. The competition challenged Cal student teams to build a six-foot by six-foot machine in the spirit of popular cartoonist Rube Goldberg, a 1904 Berkeley Engineering graduate who died in 1970 and is best known for his comic drawings of outrageously complicated machines performing simple tasks.
02/03/10 — Their ingenious designs integrate mechanical and electrical systems into working prototypes that may zoom, zing, fly, agitate, pull, dispense or write their way into engineering glory. At the end of every semester, students in ME 102 "Mechatronics" demonstrate their final mechanical engineering design projects for the public during an open house in Etcheverry Hall. "It was almost overwhelming to see what the students could not only dream up but also fabricate and test in such a short amount of time," says graduate student instructor Sarah Wodin-Schwartz.
02/03/10 — Berkeley Engineering alumna Michelle Khine, now an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UC Irvine, has discovered an inventive scientific approach to fabricating cheap microfluidic devices using Shrinky Dinks. When her method of printing microfluidic patterns on Shrinky Dink sheets -- using a laser-jet printer, then heating them in a toaster oven to create patterns of channels and microwells -- was featured and published online in Lab Chip, it had more downloads in one month than any other paper previously posted by the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry.
12/15/09 — Some economists attribute about 50 percent of the annual rise in health care costs to medical technology. Technological advances have allowed doctors to treat previously untreatable conditions and prolong both the duration and quality of life. However, as engineers, we believe that new technology opens up greater access and that scalability holds the power to drive down costs. Witness, for example, Moore's Law at work in the area of information and communications technology.
10/08/09 — With its estimated 137 million objects, artifacts, works of art and natural specimens, the Smithsonian Institution is known to some as "the nation's attic." On the contrary, says Secretary G. Wayne Clough (Ph.D.'69 CEE), the world's largest museum and research complex is a vibrant, "happening" place. "We care about much more than just the objects or the facts. Much of our search is for meaning based on connections and relationships. These relationships between humans and the tangible objects in our immediate world of everyday life, over time, constitute our identity and make our culture what it is."
09/04/09 — "Practice makes perfect" is the maxim drummed into anyone struggling to learn a new motor skill, be it riding a bike or developing a killer backhand in tennis. New research by UC Berkeley assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences Jose Carmena and colleagues now reveals that the brain can also achieve this motor memory with a disembodied device. The study provides hope that physically disabled people could one day master control of artificial limbs with greater ease.
08/03/09 — A new generation of inexpensive programmable thermostats with the capacity to communicate may provide a simple and versatile tool for addressing California's complex, billion-dollar summer peak energy demand problems. Engineering professor David Auslander - working with utility companies, engineers and policy wonks - has created a new set of design rules for the programmable communicating thermostat (PCT) that could help pave the way for greater energy efficiency in homes. Energy specialists have long known that programmable thermostats (PTs) have the potential to save homeowners money, reduce the need for new power plants and shrink the amount of pollutants and climate-altering carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. But unfortunately, fewer than 20 percent of Californians take the time to program their thermostats.
05/02/09 — Roughly the size of a matchstick, a slender titanium tube could become a pint-sized weapon against chronic hepatitis C and a host of other debilitating diseases. Three UCSF/UC Berkeley doctoral students are designing a tiny implantable device capable of delivering steady and minute quantities of potent drugs into the bloodstream. The Nano Precision Pump could reduce serious side effects caused by injections of far larger doses of medicine-improving patient quality of life, compliance and cure rates, the students say.
03/02/09 — In the quest for smarter cars of the future, Hunter Mack (M.S.'04, Ph.D.'07 ME) is putting a new spin on the internal combustion engine. Mack's focus as a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Engineering is an innovative system called HCCI that behaves like a cross between a gas and a diesel engine. HCCI, shorthand for homogeneous charge compression ignition, delivers up to 30 percent better fuel economy than gas engines, emits far fewer emissions than a typical diesel and isn't fussy about what's pumped in its tank. And because HCCI is a modification of a conventional engine, the system as a whole or elements of it could be installed in new cars within 5 to 10 years.
02/02/09 — With Enhanced GPS, cell phones will soon be able to pinpoint a user's location down to a specific street address. For users, this new capability will improve directions, mapping and other location-based phone services. Meanwhile, marketers plan to use the data to track consumer preferences and personalize recommendations shown onscreen. While improved recommendations are nice, so is personal privacy, and having some company tracking your every move poses risks, no matter what the information is used for. Engineering professor John Canny is developing a privacy-protection scheme called Ant Club Trails that will let companies personalize your recommendations while preventing them from determining your identity.
02/02/09 — Individuals with diabetes live by the numbers. Glucose levels. Insulin dosages. Carbohydrate consumption. Dates. Times. Amounts. By writing each number in a logbook, they help their doctors manage the disease so they can stay healthy. The recordkeeping is onerous; yet, without complete data sets, doctors may miss trends and recommend ineffective treatments. Without tightly controlled day-to-day management, diabetes can lead to serious complications. As a side project to his research in mechanical engineering, recent graduate Chris Hannemann (M.S.'08 ME) began developing a system to help automate the process. His proposal harnesses Web-based applications and popular mobile devices to make it easier to live with the disease.
01/01/09 — Light interacts with glass, water and other transparent materials in long-understood ways that define the capabilities of traditional optical devices. But Professor Xiang Zhang's lab is engineering materials with fundamentally new optical properties that could enable far more powerful microscopes and microchips, denser optical storage, and even -- disclaimers in place -- the very beginnings of an invisibility shield that camouflages objects by bending light around them.
01/01/09 — Tim Jacobi adores hurtling through the air, whipping around hairpin turns and feeling his stomach do loops. The Berkeley Engineering master's candidate in mechanical engineering is a roller coaster junkie. "It's such a rush, basically," explains Jacobi, who traces his passion to his early teens. These days, Jacobi is experiencing a new thrill: He designs amusement park rides. His latest assignment involves devising the launch system for what is expected to be the world's fastest pneumatically launched roller coaster.
11/02/08 — Paul Jacobs (B.S. '84, M.S. '86, Ph.D. '89 EECS) sees no limits to what next-generation cell phones will do. As a development engineer, an executive and now CEO of Qualcomm, the San Diego-based wireless technology company, Jacobs has played a major role in the transformation of the mobile phone. Along with their original function in voice communications, the devices have evolved into wireless computers, music players, digital cameras, navigational tools, and medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment. And, says Jacobs, still more advances are on the way. "Innovation comes from being open to diverse ideas," says Jacobs, who holds more than 35 patents for his inventions. "The world changes and you change."
10/02/08 — Most people hope to live healthy, independent lives through their elderly years. But that's not always the case because, as people age, they and their loved ones have to worry about not only illnesses, but also injuries, especially from falls. For seniors, falling is the leading cause of injury deaths, nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions. But one team of researchers is working to enable the elderly to live independently through a network of body sensors. The project could allow computers to remotely monitor and analyze the activity of seniors so that, if they fall or stop moving, help can arrive quickly.
09/02/08 — Pilotless aircraft let the military quickly gather intelligence about hot spots without having to put pilots at risk or wait for the next imaging satellite flyover. But many tasks, both military and civilian, can be accomplished better by teams of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) programmed to collaborate. Multiple autonomous UAVs can cover more ground than a single plane, and with their own smarts, they demand less human attention. To develop this technology, mechanical engineering professor Karl Hedrick co-directs the Center for Collaborative Control of Unmanned Vehicles.
08/02/08 — The topic has become a persistent one in engineering and entrepreneurial circles: Is the United States losing its technological edge? Reports like last month's “America's engineering crisis” on CNBC's Street Signs, on which I had the opportunity to appear with my esteemed colleague Jim Plummer of Stanford, fuel the perception that U.S. engineers are becoming extinct.
08/02/08 — As a student, Chandrakant Patel (B.S.'83 ME) rode the bus every day from the low-income Graystone Hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin, where he lived, to the verdant UC Berkeley campus, where he studied. Today, a lot has changed for Patel, now a fellow at HP Laboratories in Palo Alto, leading the charge to develop a new generation of energy-efficient data centers.