Members of Nonlinear Matrerials’ leadership team line up in the lab. From left: Delwin Elder, director of maerials development; Bruce Robinson, senior adviser; Paul Nye, chairman and president; Lewis Johnson, chief scientific officer; and Gerard Zytnicki, CEO. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) It’s taken 20 years, but executives at Seattle-based are finally putting the pieces in place for what they say could be a revolution in electro-optical processing. “Everything in tech is about timing,” said Nonlinear Materials CEO , a Microsoft veteran who’s served as a consultant for a wide range of tech ventures. “And we think that from all perspectives, the timing is right for this technology to basically take off.” NLM’s technology aims to turbocharge chip processing speeds by taking advantage of optical computing, which manipulates photons of light rather than electrons. That, in turn, could open up new frontiers for a field in which progress seems to be slowing down. The classic formulation to describe that progress is Moore’s Law — the observation that processing speed tends to double over the course of two years or so. That doubling curve is now leveling out, due to the physical constraints of electronic chips. “Moore’s Law is not dying, it’s actually dead,” Zytnicki told GeekWire. He and other NLM executives say switching from electrons to photons would change the equation. “When you look at the history of the computer business, it has been driven by big jumps in speed of processors, which enable next generations of applications. Great companies have been created when those big jumps have occurred,” said NLM Chairman and President , who has 35 years of experience with technology startups. In the past, great companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have all capitalized on the upside of Moore’s Law. “Now that Moore’s Law has died, the only option is optics,” Nye argued. “People have been waiting for years for optics to make sense. It hasn’t made sense because the materials haven’t been there. But now they are.” Nye said he expects the computer-chip marketplace to shift rapidly to optics over the next five years. We’ve heard that before: Back in 2000, that they said could come into wide commercial use within five years. They expected the chip to speed up processing times by more than an order of magnitude, into the range of hundreds of gigahertz (compared with today’s best electronic performance of ). The researchers assumed that they’d be able to shrink down the optical circuitry to mesh with electronics and create smoothly working electro-optical hybrid devices. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. “Performance improved rapidly over the first few years, and hit a wall around 2007,” said, NLM’s chief scientific officer and a research scientist at UW’s Department of Chemistry. “It took a number of years for people to figure out how to integrate even the second-generation materials onto small components on a chip.” Now NLM and its research partners at UW and other institutions are seeing the light at the end of the plasmonic tunnel. Over the past couple of years, UW researchers have reported a of in the development of electro-optic modulators that can transform electronic signals into optical signals with low signal loss. At the same time, the materials used in optical chips have been improving. This artistic rendering magnifies a electro-optic modulator. (Virginia Commonwealth University Illustration / Nathaniel Kinsey) Working in league with UW’s , researchers like Johnson and electro-optic technology pioneers and joined forces with tech veterans like Zytnicki and Nye to incorporate Nonlinear Materials last year. NLM operated in stealth mode until last month, when it relating to electro-optical materials. Johnson said advances in materials science have boosted the theoretical capabilities for optical computing well beyond what was predicted a couple of decades ago. “The material itself is capable of potentially 10 to 15 terahertz,” he said. “If anything, the biggest limiting factors with speed are the drive electronics, not the optical components.” Nye said NLM aims to sell the materials for optical processing to device manufacturers. “We want to be able to show people how to make devices, and in some cases joint-venture with them going into some of these markets,” he said. Johnson said the model would be similar to the way Microsoft built up a wider software ecosystem, or the way ARM created a hardware ecosystem. Toward that end, NLM has a pilot fabrication facility on the UW campus and is working on a product development kit, or PDK. The company is about halfway through a , “mostly with local investors, angels and those kinds of people,” Zytnicki said. Even though Nye is giving out the standard five-year prediction for commercializing the technology, neither he nor anyone else at NLM expects the rollout to come all at once. Zytnicki said optical computing is more likely to , perhaps starting with internet trunk networks, network hardware for data centers and electro-optical connections embedded in computer chips. Zytnicki said optical computing will eventually find its way into telecommunications, cloud computing and healthcare data processing, as well as military and aerospace applications. But he acknowledged that it’s likely to take significantly more than five years to get to that point. So what will be the “aha moment” for the optical revolution? “These are all aha moments, right?” Zytnicki said. “Our first aha moment was, ‘Hey, we signed with the UW.’ The second aha moment was, ‘Hey, we raised half the money we said we were going to raise.’ … The next aha moment is going to be, well, obviously, finishing the round, that’s a big one. Then it’ll be our first contract.” Meanwhile, Johnson said he and other researchers are preparing for the next set of technical aha moments — on a time frame that’s much shorter than 20 years. “It’s all happening at once,” he said.
Juul Labs is today launching a pilot for its new Track & Trace program, which is meant to use data to identify exactly how Juul devices wind up in the hands of minors. Juul vaporizers all have a serial number down at the bottom, by the Juul logo. However, it wasn’t until recently that Juul had the capability to track those serial numbers through every step of the process, from manufacture to distribution to retail to sale. With Track & Trace, Juul is calling upon parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to come to the when they confiscate a device from a minor and input the serial number. Each time a device is input in the Track & Trace system, Juul will open an investigation to understand how that minor wound up with that device. In some cases, it may be an issue with a certain retail store knowingly selling to minors. In others, it may be a case of social sourcing, where someone over 21 years of age buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors. Juul will then take next steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. It may also enhance its secret shopper program around a certain store or distributor where it sees there may be a spike in sale/distribution to youth to identify the source of the problem. To be clear, Track & Trace only tracks and traces the devices themselves, and does not use personal data about customers. It’s also worth noting that Juul Labs has increased Juul isn’t yet widely publicizing Track & Trace (thus, the “Pilot” status), but it is focusing on Houston as a testing ground with banner ads targeted at older individuals (parents, teachers, etc.) pointing them to the portal. Of note: the ad campaign is geofenced to never be shown in or around a school, hopefully keeping the program a secret from young people illegally using Juul. The company wants to learn more about how people use the portal and test the program in action before widening the campaign around Track & Trace. That said, the Report portal is not limited to Houston residents — anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the portal and trigger an investigation. “It’s important to note that the pilot is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.” According to Juul, every device in production will be trackable in the next few weeks. In other words, Juul vapes that are years old are likely not fully traceable in the program, but those purchased more recently should work with the system. Juul has been under scrutiny from the FDA and a due to the device’s rise in popularity among young people. Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called it “an epidemic” and . Juul has also made its own effort, , enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure online buyers are 21+ and not buying in bulk, posing as Juul products, and exiting its Facebook and Instagram accounts. But Juul Labs also committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth use of the product. Cofounder and CPO that the company is working on Bluetooth products that would essentially make the Juul device as smart as an iPhone or Android device, which could certainly help lock out folks under 21. However, the Track & Trace program is the first real technological step taken by the e-cig company. And it’s been an expensive one. The company has spent more than $30 million to update its packaging, adjust printing standards, changing manufacturing equipment, and integrate the data and logistics software systems. For now, Track & Trace is only applicable to Juul vaporizers, but it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the company was working on a similar program for its Juul Pods.
The Global Positioning System time epoch is ending and another one is beginning, an event that could affect your devices or any equipment or legacy system that relies on GPS for time and location. Most clocks obtain their time from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). But the atomic clocks on satellites are set to GPS time. The timing signals you can get from GPS satellites are very accurate and globally available. And so they’re often used by systems as the primary source of time and frequency accuracy. When Global Positioning System was first implemented, time and date function was defined by a 10-bit number. So unlike the Gregorian calendar, which uses year, month and date format, the GPS date is a “week number,” or WN. The WN is transmitted as a 10-bit field in navigation messages and rolls over or resets to zero every 1,024 weeks. Since that time, the count has been incremented by one each week, and broadcast as part of the GPS message. The GPS week started January 6, 1980 and it became zero for the first time midnight August 21, 1999. At midnight April 6, the GPS WN is scheduled to reset, which could be problematic for legacy systems and impact time and the time tags in location data. Utilities and cellular networks also use GPs receivers for timing and controlling certain functions. For instance, the uses timestamps embedded in GPS. The U.S. Department of Energy says that “GPS supports a wide variety of critical grid functions that allow separate components on the electric system to work in unison.” It should be noted that the WN restart date could be different in some devices, depending on when the firmware was created. The bug, which some has described as the Y2K of GPS, will cause problems in some GPS receivers such as resetting the time and corrupting location data. The GPS WN rollover event may hurt the reliability of the reported UTC, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. HDS said an GPS device that conforms to the latest IS-GPS-200 and provides UTC should not be adversely affected. The agency also provided a word of caution: However, tests of some GPS devices revealed that not all manufacturer implementations correctly handle the April 6, 2019 WN rollover. Additionally, some manufacturer implementations interpret the WN parameter relative to a date other than January 5, 1980. These devices should not be affected by the WN rollover on April 6, 2019 but may experience a similar rollover event at a future date. If you own a newer commercial device with updated software, it’s most likely fine. But double check and make sure the software is up-to-date. The U.S. Naval Observatory suggests contact the manufacturer of your GPS receiver if you have been effected by the GPS week number rollover. Some GPS receiver manufacturers can be found at the website. Work has been done to avoid this kind of rollover issue — or at least punt it down the line. The modernized GPS navigation message uses a 13-bit field that repeats every 8,192 weeks.
Apple devices continue to lead the wearables market, according to a out today, which claimed the Cupertino-based company shipped a total of 46.2 million wearables for the year. The firm also reported the worldwide market for wearable devices grew 31.4 percent during the fourth quarter of 2018, to reach 59.3 million units shipped, while shipments for the year grew 27.5 percent for a total of 172.2 million. Apple retained its No. 1 position in wearables again in Q4, with 16.2 million wearables shipped — 10.4 million of which were Apple Watches, the report said. Smartwatches together grew 54.3 percent in 2018, and accounted for 29.8 percent of all wearables. Apple Watches accounted for nearly half that market, the report said. IDC forecasts that Apple’s growth in wearables will continue, thanks to a strong start for the newer Apple Watch Series 4. In addition, IDC noted it recently revised its “ear-worn” category of wearables to include wireless headphones that allow users to call upon a smart assistant through either a touch of a button or hot-word detection. That means devices like Apple’s AirPods, Google’s Pixel Buds, Bose’s QC35II and others are now being counted among the wearables category. Much of the growth in wearables was also attributed to the increasing number of these sorts of ear-worn devices, like Apple AirPods. In Q4, for example, ear-worn devices grew 66.4 percent from the year-ago quarter to capture at 21.9 percent market share. The firm said the growth was due to a combination of factors, including the increasing popularity of smart assistants and the ditching of the smartphone’s headphone jack, led by Apple. “The market for ear-worn wearables has grown substantially this past year and we expect this to continue in the years to come,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, in a statement. “It is the next battleground for companies as these types of headphones become a necessity for many given the exclusion of headphone jacks from modern devices. Add to that the rise of smart assistants and in-ear biometrics and companies have the perfect formula to sell consumers on a device that’s complimentary to the device ecosystem that lives on their wrist and in their pocket,” he added. Meanwhile, smartwatches grew 55.2 percent to capture a 34.3 percent share. Wristbands reached a 30 percent market share, thanks to launches from Xiaomi, Huawei and Fitbit. Xiaomi was in second place for the quarter, behind Apple, with a 12.6 percent market share compared with Apple’s 27.4 percent. The company remains strong in its home country of China, but sales of its Mi Band 3 have also done well. Of note, its Mi Band 3 accounted for more than 30 percent of all wristbands shipped during Q4. Behind Xiaomi was Huawei, which grew by a sizable 248.5 percent thanks to Huawei and Honor phones being bundled with wearables, along with other product launches. Fitbit and Samsung rounded out the top 5, with the former returning to growth thanks to the Charge 3 and promotions around its Versa, and the latter also by bundling wearables with its smartphones. Samsung shipped 4 million wearables in Q4, compared with Apple’s 16.2 million.
Encryption is an important part of the whole securing-your-data package, but it’s easy to underestimate the amount of complexity it adds to any service or device. One part of that is the amount of processing encryption takes — an amount that could be impractical on small or low-end devices. wants to change that with a highly efficient new method called Adiantum. Here’s the problem. While encryption is in a way just transforming one block of data reversibly into another, that process is actually pretty complicated. Math needs to be done, data read and written and reread and rewritten and confirmed and hashed. For a text message that’s not so hard. But if you have to do the same thing as you store or retrieve megabyte after megabyte of data, for instance with images or video, that extra computation adds up quick. Lots of modern smartphones and other gadgets are equipped with a special chip that performs some of the most common encryption algorithms and processes (namely AES), just like we have GPUs to handle graphics calculations in games and such. But what about older phones, or cheaper ones, or tiny smart home gadgets that don’t have room for that kind of thing on their boards? Just like they can’t run the latest games, they might not be able to efficiently run the latest cryptographic processes. They can still encrypt things, of course, but it might take too long for certain apps to work, or drain the battery. Google, clearly interested in keeping cheap phones competitive, is tackling this problem by creating a special encryption method just for low-power phones. They call it Adiantum, and it will be optionally part of Android distributions going forward. , but the gist is this. Instead of using AES it relies on a cipher called ChaCha. This cipher method is highly optimized for basic binary operations, which any processor can execute quickly, though of course it will be outstripped by specialized hardware and drivers. It’s well documented and already in use lots of places — this isn’t some no-name bargain bin code. As they show, it performs way better on earlier chipsets like the Cortex A7. The Adiantum process doesn’t increase or decrease the size of the payload (for instance by padding it or by appending some header or footer data), meaning the same number of bytes come in as go out. That’s nice when you’re a file system and don’t want to have to set aside too many special blocks for encryption metadata and the like. Naturally new encryption techniques are viewed with some skepticism by security professionals, for whom the greatest pleasure in life is to prove one is compromised or unreliable. Adiantum’s engineers say they have “high confidence in its security,” with the assumption (currently reasonable) that its component “primitives” ChaCha and AES are themselves secure. We’ll soon see! In the meantime don’t expect any instant gains, but future low-power devices may offer better security without having to use more expensive components — you won’t have to do a thing, either. Oh, and in case you were wondering: Adiantum is named after the genus of the maidenhair fern, which in the Victorian language of flowers (floriography) represents sincerity and discretion.