Tag Archives: laser

Laser beam fired through keyhole can see what’s moving behind the door

Credit: Stanford Computational Imaging Lab.

One of the amazing things about modern technology is that we can use things such as cameras, remote sensors, and even Geiger counters to augment our five senses, which could be more like 100 nowadays. Imaging and tracking tech is so far out nowadays that it is now possible to see objects around corners or behind low-opacity obstructions. In a new study, engineers at Stanford’s Computational Imaging Lab have invented a new technique that enables them to see what physical objects are moving inside a room using a single laser beam.

Peephole vision

Imaging the shape or position of objects around corners is known as non-line-of-sight (NLOS) imaging. This emerging technology could, for instance, help autonomous cars see a pedestrian making a dangerous street crossing just around the corner and react in time.

To gain ‘eyes’ around the corner, you only need a laser that shoots laser pulses. These laser beams bounce around the corner of the wall and off any objects that obstruct it, eventually finding their way back to the source, where they hit a detector. Algorithms can then reconstruct the paths the captured photons took based on the time required to make their way back to the detector.

Researchers at the Stanford Computational Imaging Lab have been experimenting with this sort of “see-around-the-corner” system for the last decade, with great results to show. The problem is that NLOS requires scanning a large area of the visible surface in order to deconstruct indirect light paths.

In new research, the Stanford researchers outdid themselves and managed to make NLOS work using a single optical path.

Credit: Stanford Computational Imaging Lab.

Aptly named ‘keyhole imaging’, the technique involves shining a laser beam through a small hole in a box or room. The photons from the laser beam bounce off the walls of the room and any object inside, eventually being reflected back through the hole.

Because the field of view is so tiny, this method cannot image static objects inside the room. Nor is the resolution too great. However, the data is just enough to construct an image that is usable and makes sense, as you can see in the example below. Sure, that wooden mannequin doesn’t look too great, but the researchers believe they can refine their AI algorithms to such an extent that they should be able to distinguish the shape of a human moving inside a room.

Credit: Stanford Computational Imaging Lab.

“Assuming that the hidden object of interest moves during the acquisition time, we effectively capture a series of time-resolved projections of the object’s shape from unknown viewpoints. We derive inverse methods based on expectation-maximization to recover the object’s shape and location using these measurements. Then, with the help of long exposure times and retroreflective tape, we demonstrate successful experimental results with a prototype keyhole imaging system,” the researchers wrote in their technical paper.

These interventions could prove useful for law enforcement and military applications where assessing dangerous risks before entering a room could prove life-saving. Alternatively, this sort of technology could prove useful in some scientific fields. Archaeologists, for instance, may find keyhole imaging useful in mapping tombs or caves.

Protesters in Chile bring down police drones using simple laser pointers. Lots and lots of laser pointers

In Chile, protesters are using lasers en masse to bring down hapless police drones.

https://gph.is/g/E0lDMQ5

Videos of Chilean protesters bringing down police drones using nothing but green laser pointers have been hitting social media since Wednesday, attracting quite a large helping of attention. Still, how is it possible for what are essentially toy lasers to bring police-grade technology to the ground?

To kill a spying bird

Chile is in the grip of public protests after a proposed increase in subway fares sparked nation-wide demonstration over low wages and economic inequality. And, in a very fitting allegory of their cause, the protesters have started using cheap laser pointer pens to bring down police drones (which can cost up to several tens of thousands of dollars apiece).

Footage of these protesters hit Reddit late Tuesday, showing how, as more and more light beams found their unmanned aerial mark, the drone begins slowly drifting towards the ground. At one point the UAS (unmanned aerial system) almost escapes, until more beams are trained on it bringing it down for good. Here it is in all its glory (turn the volume down, headphone users, you’ve been warned):

The collective cheer at the end is the best part. So now, the question that’s been plaguing Reddit — how did the humble laser pointer do it?

Christopher Williams, CEO of Citadel Defense Company (a company working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deploy anti-drone “bubbles” along the border) told Aaron Boyd, Senior Editor at Nextgov, that one of two things likely happened.

First, if the drone was piloted by a human operator, they likely used a camera for the pilot to navigate through; in this case, the bright massed beams of several laser pointers could very easily have ‘blinded’ the camera, making navigation extremely difficult if not downright impossible.

Alternatively, in the case of an autonomous drone, Williams says, the laser beams could have caused its onboard sensors to go haywire: its infrared landing sensors would give false altitude and proximity readings, and the craft’s downward-facing cameras (used to spot obstacles) would also give out false readings — all in all, this would cause the drone to either flay about or even perform a forced safety landing.

The Reddit hivemind also proposed that the combined heat of the laser pointers melted the drone’s circuitry or caused the battery to give out; personally, I am strongly inclined to disagree. There just isn’t enough energy in a single laser pointer beam that, even en-masse, it could melt wiring.

What the humble pointer may lack in sheer power, however, other lasers don’t. A recent collaboration between U.S. defense contractor Raytheon and the Air Force resulted in a laser weapon that does just that — melt internals and explodes batteries — in drones.

Laser technology study reveals 1,000 monuments on ancient Scottish Isle

A cutting-edge archaeological laser scan (lidar) has revealed up to a thousand previously unknown monuments on the Scottish Island of Arran, which has been continuously inhabited since the early Neolithic period.

Temporary huts from the post-medieval period were identified for the first time. Image credits: Historic Environment Scotland.

Archaeologists have been interested in the Arran Island (which lies relatively close to Glasgow) ever since they discovered a remarkable concentration of early Neolithic Cairns — chambered funeral monuments consisting of a sizeable (usually stone) chamber and a structure of stones around it. The island also featured an important monastery and was involved in the Viking wars of the medieval age.

However, although the island is riddled with monuments and artifacts, actually mapping and discovering all of them remains challenging. Archaeological digs take a lot of time and are a delicate procedure so more and more, researchers are turning to remote sensing.

Arran Island as seen from above. Image credits: L. J. Cunningham.

Arran was scanned with Lidar — a remote sensing technology which uses the pulse from a laser to map distances with very high accuracy. It works something like this: a drone is flown above the area of interest. The position of the drone is measured very carefully and constantly monitored. The lidar equipment is on the drone, and it produces a detailed topographical map of the ground. But thankfully for archaeologists, Lidar goes even beyond that: it can reveal features which are indistinguishable from the ground level or with the naked eye.

The remains of a hut circle as seen with Lidar. Image credits: Historic Environment Scotland.

This is not nearly the first time Lidar has been used in archaeology. The approach has been successfully used multiple times (for instance to discover Maya or Roman features). However, archaeologists from Historic Environment Scotland (HES), who carried out the work, said this was the largest survey of this type ever undertaken in Scotland. It’s also a good example of how useful Lidar can really be in archaeology.

“As this technology becomes more widely available, we expect to find tens of thousands more ancient sites across the rest of Scotland – working at a pace that was unimaginable a few years ago,” says HES rapid archaeological mapping manager Dave Cowley.

He also added that the survey revealed far more ancient monuments than they knew about, allowing them to undertake a rapid survey within days, rather than wait months or years for a classic archaeological study — which probably wouldn’t have revealed as many features anyway.

Ceramic welding lasers

A new laser welding technique is expanding the field of applications for ceramic materials.

Image credits Igor Ovsyannykov.

A team of engineers at the University of California San Diego and the University of California Riverside have developed a welding technique that can bind together ceramic materials. Previous methods of encasing in ceramics would destroy most electronic components.

The team says their technique could lead to devices that don’t scratch or shatter, metal-free pacemakers, or electronics for harsh environments.

Potweld

“Right now there is no way to encase or seal electronic components inside ceramics because you would have to put the entire assembly in a furnace, which would end up burning the electronics,” explains Javier Garay, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at UC San Diego, and one of the paper’s co-lead authors.

Ceramic materials are drawing more and more interest because of their physical and chemical properties. They are extremely hard, shatter resistant, and biocompatible, making them ideal for biomedical implants and protective casings for electronics. However, we still have some issues processing them properly.

The problem with ‘welding’ ceramics is that they only melt at very high temperatures. If you’d try to only heat up the joint between two ceramic plates, this would expand the material there, causing it to crack towards cooler areas.

Together with Guillermo Aguilar, UC Riverside professor and chair of mechanical engineering, Garay led a team that aimed to use a laser to bind ceramics together. Their method involves sending ultrashort laser pulses at the intersection of two ceramic parts. This leads to heat building up very quickly in a small area, causing localized melting. They call their method ultrafast pulsed laser welding.

“The sweet spot of ultrafast pulses was two picoseconds at the high repetition rate of one megahertz, along with a moderate total number of pulses. This maximized the melt diameter, minimized material ablation, and timed cooling just right for the best weld possible,” Aguilar said.

“By focusing the energy right where we want it, we avoid setting up temperature gradients throughout the ceramic, so we can encase temperature-sensitive materials without damaging them,” Garay adds.

Welds are made using low laser power (less than 50 watts) at room temperature, they report. As a proof of concept, the researchers welded a cylindrical cap inside a ceramic tube; the bind was strong enough to hold a vacuum, the industry-standard test.

So far, however, the process can only be applied to small ceramic parts that are less than two centimeters in size. In the future, the team plans to scale it up for larger sizes, as well as for different types of materials and geometries.

The paper “Ultrafast Laser Welding of Ceramics” has been published in the journal Science.

MIT technique can shrink objects down to the nanoscale

Researchers at MIT have figured a way to create nanoscale structures by shrinking down existing objects by up to 1,000 times their original volume.

MIT engineers have crafted a new technique to create 3-D nanoscale structures by first making a larger structure and then shrinking it. The image shows a complex structure prior to shrinkage. Credit: Daniel Oran.

Producing nanoscale objects smaller than the width of the human hair can be very tricky. Existing technique involve etching patterns with lasers, for instance, but most only work for 2-D surfaces or are very slow and prone to errors when it comes to stacking 3-D objects. There are so challenging limitations as to what materials you can use.

The research team led by MIT professor Edward Boyden found a creative solution. Instead of painstakingly raising a new structure from scratch, the researchers took existing structures and shrunk them down to the desired size.

The technique is based on a process for imaging brain tissue called expansion microscopy. Used by thousands of researchers in biology labs around the world, expansion microscopy involves embedding tissue into a hydrogel and then expanding it. This then enables a high-resolution imaging with a regular microscope. When the process is run in reverse, something which scientists call “implosion fabrication”, relatively large objects can be scaled down to one-thousandth their original size.

First, the process starts with creating a scaffold out of polyacrylate. Then, the scaffold is soaked into a solution that contains certain molecules that attach to the frame when activated by a laser’s light. The fluorescein molecules can be coaxed to attach to certain points of the structure with a high degree of precision.

“It’s a bit like film photography,” co-author Daniel Oran, an MIT graduate student, said in a statement. “A latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards. In this way implosion fabrication can create all sorts of structures, including gradients, unconnected structures, and multi-material patterns.”

Finally, the object is bathed in an acid, which blocks the negative charges in the polyacrylate, causing the whole structure to shrink.

The biggest limitation of this kind of approach is the inherent trade-off between size and resolution. For instance, an object that’s 1 cubic millimeter can have a resolution of 50 nanometers, whereas a 1 cubic centimeter object has a 500-nanometer resolution.

But even so, the technique’s potential applications are numerous, from optics to medicine to robotics.

“There are all kinds of things you can do with this,” said Edward Boyden, an associate professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. “Democratizing nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”

“With a laser you can already find in many biology labs, you can scan a pattern, then deposit metals, semiconductors, or DNA, and then shrink it down,” Boyden added.

The findings were described in the journal Science

Femtosecond laser pulses can distort the properties of matter and generate electricity. Credit: University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw.

Ultrafast laser bursts generate electricity faster than anything we know

Femtosecond laser pulses can distort the properties of matter and generate electricity. Credit: University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw.

Femtosecond laser pulses can distort the properties of matter and generate electricity. Credit: University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw.

In a remarkable story where theory led to an experiment that no one really understood at the beginning, scientists have demonstrated the fastest way to generate electricity. The experiment involved firing an ultra-fast laser pulse onto a glass thread a thousand times thinner than a human hair, which worked as a wire between two metal junctions.

When the laser pulsethat lasts only a millionth of a billionth of a secondhit the glass, it completely changed its properties, coaxing the material to behave like a metal for a fraction of time.

The laser generates a burst of electricity across this very tiny electrical circuit — it does so faster than any other method for producing electricity, and in the absence of an applied voltage to boot.

Simply by varying the shape of the laser (its phase), Ignacio Franco, assistant professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Rochester, was able to control the direction and magnitude of the current.

“This marks a new frontier in the control of electrons using lasers,” the researcher said in a statement.

Previously, in 2007, Franco published a paper theorizing that ultrafast electrical currents could be generated in molecular wires exposed to femtosecond laser pulses, creating a nanojunction. He hypothesized that the electrical current would be generated due to a phenomenon called the Stark effect, in which the energy levels of matter are shifted by the external electric field of the laser.

In 2013, another research group at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics was able to generate ultrafast currents by exposing glass, connected to two gold electrodes, to laser pulses. At the time, no one really knew how to explain the exact mechanisms involved, until Franco entered the picture.

Along with colleagues, Franco embarked on a four-year-long simulation that involved millions of computing hours on the Blue Hive supercomputing cluster.

“We were able to recover the main experimental observations using state-of-the-art computational methods, and develop a very simple picture of the mechanism behind the experimental observations,” he said.

Franco claims the new method can generate currents far faster than ever before.

“This is a wonderful example of how differently matter can behave when driven far from equilibrium. The lasers shake the nanojunction so hard that it completely changes its properties. This implies that we can use light to tune the behavior of matter,” he said.

“Theory led to an experiment that nobody really understood, resulting in better theories that are now leading to better experiments” he says.  “This is an area in which we still have a lot of things to understand,” he added.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

World’s first continuous room-temperature maser open door to new applications

Credit: ICL.

A maser is just like a  laser, only it shoots electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range. If this doesn’t sound familiar, you’re not alone. Despite being the precursor to the laser, the maser is rather obscure because of the difficulty of manufacturing and operating one. Usually, they’re confined to ‘esoteric’ niches like astrophysics. That’s mostly because a maser needs to be cooled down to almost absolute zero to function, making it extremely bulky and expensive. But now, scientists at Imperial College London (ICL) have unveiled the world’s first continuous room-temperature solid-state maser, opening up a myriad of new opportunities in research.

Maser stands for “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” It fires higher frequency photons in the ultraviolet or visible light spectrum — a beam of microwaves, essentially, instead of a beam of light, as a laser does. Masers were invented in the 1950s and laid the groundwork for the invention of the laser in the early 1960s, but soon enough the two technologies drifted apart significantly. Today, it’s not uncommon at all to find half a dozen lasers in the typical American household embedded in various technological items, from DVD players to optical cables. Masers, on the other hand, have remained confined mainly to astrophysical labs, far away from the public’s perception.

What the ICL researchers led by Dr. Jonathan Breeze managed to do was to devise a new maser that is solid state, operates at room temperature and doesn’t require a magnetic field. In 2012, the same team built such a maser that used the organic molecule pentacene, instead of a hard, inorganic maser crystal. However, this maser was not able to work continuously, as the radiation would have eventually melted the crystal molecules.

Now, the scientists found a solution by using a different material: a synthetic diamond grown in a nitrogen-rich atmosphere.

A high-energy electron beam was used to knock carbon atoms out of the synthetic diamond, which left very tiny holes or vacancies in the diamond’s atomic structure. When the scientists heated the diamond, the nitrogen atoms and the carbon vacancies paired off, forming so-called nitrogen-vacancy defect centers. The final step was placing the diamond inside a sapphire ring. When a green laser light was shone on it, a continuous stream of laser light was emitted — and all at room temperature.

“This breakthrough paves the way for the widespread adoption of masers and opens the door for a wide array of applications that we are keen to explore,” Breeze explained in a press release. “We hope the maser will now enjoy as much success as the laser.”

Masers are employed in radio astronomy observatories and deep space communication. This latest breakthrough could significantly expand the range of their application, allowing the use of masers in a diverse range of fields from medical imaging to quantum computing.

“This technology has a way to go, but I can see it being used where sensitive detection of microwaves is essential,” said Neil Alford, a professor of material science at ICL.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature.

Credit: NASA.

China deems blasting space junk with a laser station is feasible

Credit: NASA.

Credit: NASA.

It’s no secret that humans have made a mess out of our planet — literally. The most plastic-riddled place on Earth, for instance, is an island in the middle of the freaking Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, our litter problem has grown to cosmic proportions. NASA estimates that there are millions of fragments of man-made debris zipping in Earth’s orbit at more than 17,500 mph. At such velocities, even a tiny piece of junk like a nut or bolt can wreak havoc on our satellite infrastructure as well as threaten the lives of astronauts. 

Since we began sending satellites into space in the late 1950s, we’ve been leaving behind trash with every launch. Every major power has contributed to this growing space junk problem, with China chiefly amongst them most recently. In 2007, some Chinese general had the bright idea to actually test an anti-satellite missile in the field — that is, in Earth’s low-orbit. When China used this test to destroy their own Fengyun-1C weather satellite, the event was one of the worst single contributors to orbital debris, creating some 3,300 fragments. But at least China is trying to make amends.

Scientists at the Air Force Engineering University in China completed a computer simulation that found it feasible to blast orbiting junk with space-based lasers. This kind of solution was first suggested in 2014 when the space junk crisis was becoming more evident. The present simulation confirms this concept can work by calculating how long they would have to target debris and the best angles to do so.

According to the team’s calculations, a space laser would have to emit 20 bursts of light/second for two minutes to destroy debris up to 10 cm in length. Larger debris can also be broken down into more manageable bits or deflected so the new trajectory sends the junk crashing down Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Space junk is an ever growing problem. Credit: Quark Mag.

Space junk is an ever growing problem. Credit: Quark Mag.

Quan Wen and colleagues at the Air Force Engineering University wrote that a “laser station with the same inclination and RAAN as debris has the highest removal efficiency”, and concluded space debris removal by using a space-based laser is theoretically feasible.

Not everyone is happy about the prospect of having a giant laser system deployed in space, however. Gen. John Hyten, the head of US Strategic Command, warned in March last year that the Chinese are “building weapons to operate from the earth in space, jamming weapons, laser weapons” and they’re developing “those capabilities to challenge the United States of America.” The general concluded that “WE cannot allow that to happen.”

Indeed, a laser weapon in space, even if deployed as a janitor, wont be taken well by the rest of the international community. Luckily, there are other groups working on other ideas. RemoveDebris, a project based at the University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Centre and funded by the European Union, wants to remove debris with instruments akin to a fishing net and harpoon. The European Space Agency (ESA) is toying with using magnets for the same purpose.

New 3D Radar mapping system could revolutionize rescue missions

If there’s one thing this year has shown us — with the hurricanes, forest fires, and earthquakes — is that we have great need of rescuers. When something happens, you need someone on the ground to save survivors from the rubble, and their mission can be significantly aided by technology.

After it has been corrected using algorithms, the structures are rendered visible in the radar image. Image credits: Lehrstuhl für Hochfrequenzsysteme, Jan Barowski.

With this in mind, researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) have developed a real-time radar system that scans its surroundings. The idea is to have a flying platform capable of generating a 3D image around it (through a combination of radar and laser). Firefighters could send it into a burning building for instance, or through unstable rubble.

The technology isn’t novel in itself, but having the system work in real time is a massive breakthrough, says Prof Dr. Ilona Rolfes, who worked on the project. “When I first started out, such corrections used to take us ten hours,” she says. Today, the analysis is performed in real time via a laptop graphics card. Converting the radar signal into intelligible images requires complex algorithms and massive computing power, so fitting it all in a mobile platform is impressive.

Basically, it functions like this: electromagnetic waves go in all directions, and whenever they encounter an object they bounce back, while some of the energy still continues. A material parameter, the so-called relative permittivity, describes a material’s response to the electromagnetic field and allows researchers to both locate and characterize the material. So if an object is identified in a real situation (let’s say a burning box) it can be localized and identified.

The green radar antenna that transmits radar signals and receives returning signals, is very well visible in the picture. Image credits: Credits: Roberto Schirdewahn.

So far, the system has worked in a lab setting, but there’s room for improvement, especially when it comes to a real-life situation.

“Using our system as it is today, we are able to determine the position of an object – and ascertain that it must be made from a different material than, for example, the surface on which it lies,” he says. “In the next step, we will attempt to identify what kind of object we are dealing with.”

The engineers are already capable of identifying the permittivity of synthetic materials. “However, we cannot exactly specify the synthetic material in question as yet, because some of the values are close together,” the researcher continues.

At the University of Duisburg-Essen, fires can be created in the lab. Image credits: Roberto Schirdewahn.

The system also needs to be able to locate itself within the room to the millimeter, and it needs to do all of this in dangerous conditions. Now, the teams plan to test it in a more realistic setting, like a fire lab. Yes, an actual fire lab.

Laser gun Navy.

First operational laser weapon set to safeguard US ships from menacing drones

The world’s first operational laser weapon will be protecting US Navy ships from drone attacks, other vessels.

Laser gun Navy.

Image via CNN.

Something named the (arguably not very creative) Laser Weapons System, or LaWS for short, may seem to be pulled out of the realm of hard sci-fi, but it’s actually very real. The weapon is entirely functional and fully capable of shooting down rapid targets such as drones. LaWS is currently deployed aboard amphibious transport ship USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, the US Navy told CNN.

“It works just like a laser pointer,” explained Lt. Cale Hughes, one of the officers operating LaWS, for CNN.

“There’s a chamber inside with special materials that release photons.”

Somewhat like your average laser pointer, the LaWS beam is invisible and completely silent. Similarly, it also travels at the speed of light, some 300,000 km (186,000 miles) per second. What sets it apart from your run of the mill laser pointer is what happens when the beam hits something. Instead of a harmless red point on a powerpoint slide you’re not going to pay attention to anyway, the LaWS’ beam will heat a target to thousands of degrees in a fraction of a second, turning it into a fireball that’s guaranteed to capture your full attention.

It’s also quite cheap on a ‘per pop’ basis. The whole system costs a bit over US$40 million, needs a crew of three, a small generator for power, and will destructify stuff for “about a dollar a shot,” according to Lt Hughes.

Its prey includes airborne threats as well as water-borne foes. Because it’s so accurate, the US Navy hopes that the weapon will help keep combat casualties low on both sides. For example, when engaging a boat, the LaWS can pinpoint the engine and disable it, something conventional weapons can’t do as they tend to cause quite a lot of collateral damage.

Which comes in very handy as the rules set down at the Geneva Conventions preclude armed forces from using laser weapons directly against people, Optics.org reports. Limiting collateral damage will allow navy forces to abide by that protocol, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, said in 2014 at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Now, work is underway on second-generation laser weapons systems which could be used against even more varied targets.

 

Red Laser Diffraction.

Computer chip can mimic human neurons using only beams of light

Researchers at the MIT have constructed a brain-mimicking chip that uses light instead of electricity, which could provide a significant boost in processing power and enable the wide-scale use of artificial neural networks.

Red Laser Diffraction.

Image via Wikimedia.

As far as processing power goes, nature’s designs still beat ours fair and square. Thankfully, we’re not above copying our betters, so designing a computer that uses the same architecture and functions similarly to the human brain has been a long-standing goal of the computer industry.

We have made some headway on these types of computers using algorithms known as artificial neural networks. They’ve proven themselves on tasks that would swamp traditional computers, such as detecting lies, recognizing faces, even predicting heart attacks. The catch is that such algorithms require solid processing power to work, and most computers can’t run them very well, if at all.

Follow the light

To address this shortcoming, one team of researchers has swapped the ubiquitous transistor for beams of light which mimic the activity of neurons on a chip. These devices can process information faster and use less energy than traditional chips and could be used to put together “optical neural networks” making deep learning applications many times faster and more efficient than today.

That’s because computers today rely on transistors, tiny devices that allow or cut off the flow of electricity through a circuit. They’re massively better than the vacuum tubes of yore, but still limited in what they can do. Scientists have figured out for some time now that light could speed up certain processes that computers have to perform since light waves can travel and interact in parallel so they can perform several functions at the same time. Another advantage is that once you generate light, it keeps going by itself, whereas transistors require a constant flow of energy to operate — meaning higher energy costs and the need for greater heat dispersal.

Still, one issue in particular stemmed research into optical neural networks. The first photonic processors put together by scientists using optical equipment were massive, requiring tabletops full of mirrors and precision lenses to do the same job a modest computer processor could pull off. So for a long time, light processors were considered to be a nice idea but impractical for real applications.

But in the classic MIT fashion, a team of researchers from the Institute has managed to prove everyone wrong and condense all that equipment into a modest-sized computer chip just a few millimeters across.

Thinking with lasers

Artificial neural network.

Artificial neural networks layer neurons and have the first group do a preliminary analysis, pass their results on to the next layer and so on until the data is fully crunched.,br /> Image via Wikimedia.

The device is made of silicon and simulates a network of 16 neurons in a 4 neuron by 4 layer configuration. Information is fed into the device using a laser beam split into four smaller beams. Each beam’s brightness can be altered to encode a different number or information, and the brightness of each exiting beam represents the problem’s solution (be it a number or other type of information.)

Data processing is performed by crossing different light beams inside the chip, making them interact — either by amplifying or tuning each other out. These crossings points simulate how a signal from one neuron to another can be intensified or dampened in the brain depending on the strength of the connection between them. The beams also pass through simulated neurons that further adjust their intensities.

The team then went to work testing the optical network against a traditional counterpart in vowel sound recognition. After training on recordings of 90 people making four vowel sounds, transistor-powered computers simulating a 16-neuron network got it right 92% of the time. The optical network had a success rate of just 77%, but performed the task much faster and with greater efficiency — however, the team reckons that they can get the device’s performance up to speed after they solve all the teething problems.

One of the best parts about the new network is that it relies on components made of silicon, which is already massively employed in making computer components. In other words, the optical chips could be implemented for very low costs since there’s already an infrastructure in place to allow for their production. So once the team gets works out all the kinks and upgrades it with some more neurons, we may be poised to supply very fast, very energy efficient neural networks to for a wide variety of applications — from data centers, autonomous cars, to national security services.

The study’s primary authors, Yichen Shen, a physicist, and Nicholas Harris, an electrical engineer, are starting a new company towards that end and hope to have a product ready in two years.

The paper “Neuromorphic Silicon Photonic Networks” has been published in the e-print archive ArXiv.

Spiders are just like cats: they too like chasing laser pointers

Spiders get a lot of bad rep, and most of it is completely unwarranted. After all, they’re much more like pets than we’d care to consider. They’re small and fluffy most of the time, and like a guard dog, they keep intruders out of your house — intruders, in this case, being unwanted insects. As it turns out, they have something in common with cats too: they love chasing laser pointers!

I could watch this on repeat for hours.

We have scientists on Twitter to thank for this discovery, which as it turns out, was common knowledge for some (completely new to me though).

It all started with Jamie Lomax, an astronomer from the University of Washington. Lomax spends most of her work time looking at massive objects far outside our solar system, but one time, she found herself interrupted by something much smaller, and much closer.

Like many other people, she didn’t really like the new presence in her office and she took to Twitter to express it.

“I’m not scared of spiders but if someone else wants to take care of the spider in a room, I’ll gladly let them do it over me. And I don’t really want them raining down on my head,” she told The Atlantic.

She identified the species as a zebra jumping spider, a common jumping spider of the Northern Hemisphere. Like other jumping spiders, it does not build a web, instead relying on its eight large, keen eyes to scout prey. Zebra spiders are rather unusual in that they have often been noted for noticing human presence and reacting to it. You could see them lifting their head towards you and behaving completely different afterward.

But for Lomax, the problem was that there were plenty of tiny spiders around, and not much to do about it (by the time a university exterminator came, they were gone, indicating that a nest had probably hatched and the spiderlings had scoured in the meantime). But someone had a different idea of dealing with the spiders: laser.

No, no, I don’t mean “nuking” the spiders with lasers, I mean using lasers to distract them and direct them in the direction you want. It all happened when fellow astronomer Alex Parker chipped in.

 “Have you tried lasers?” he replied. “Seriously though, some jumping spiders will chase laser pointers like cats do.”

You could almost imagine Lomax sitting in her office, reading the tweet and going “Woaw.”

By this point, Emily Levesque — Lomax’s colleague, with an office two doors down — joined in. She tried the same thing using a red laser pointer, but the spider seemed much more attracted to the green one.

Now, they were really intrigued. What makes spiders first attracted to laser pointers, and second, more attracted to green lasers than red lasers?

“Do all zebra spiders react more to green vs red laser pointers?” Levesque tweeted. “We need some kind of ‘science Twitter bat signal that we can put up when different fields need input from one another.”

But on the internet, you don’t need a bat signal, and Twitter worked its magic once more. Spider researcher Catherine Scott saw the thread and looped in her friend Nate Morehouse, who specializes in spider vision at the University of Cincinnati. It was pretty late at the time, but Morehouse was up watching the Stanley Cup (ice hockey). He was upset to see his favorite team, Pittsburgh Penguins, losing to the Nashville Predators, so he randomly checked his Twitter to see if something was up.

“I was all bummed out, and I decided to check Twitter before I went to bed,” he says. “I had like 150 notifications.”

Like a true science Batman, he swooped in and explained the whole thing. It’s all about the spiders’ eyes, Morehouse explained. Their retinas contain two type of light-detecting cells: one sensitive to green light, and another sensitive to ultraviolet. They can also see red light, but they probably see it as a fainter shape of green rather than a new color. Since they rely on vision to find prey and they have to act fast, it makes a lot of sense for the spiders to chase the pointers.

As it turns out, you can find lots of similar clips on the internet.

But if you have to appreciate the power of the internet. Late night, a Cincinnati biologist heard the call of two Washington astronomers who were using laser pointers to play with spiders. He explained the thing to the entire world, and now you’re reading about it from wherever you may be. I don’t know about you, but that sounds better than Batman to me.

Sci-fi buffs everywhere, rejoyce! The UK military is developing laser weapons

The UK military is betting a lot of money on lasers. The Ministry of Defence has officially signed a £30m contract to produce a prototype directed energy weapon, to be tested by the end of the decade.

Image credits Patrice Audet / Pixabay.

Why go through the effort of producing bullets, boxing, transporting, then shooting them, when you can fire pure science at the enemy? That’s a question the UK Ministry of Defence is willing to pay £30m to answer. A consortium led by Stevenage-based missile company MBDA which includes QinetiQ, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall has been awarded the contract to build the prototype for the laser weapon system, named “Dragonfire”.

Ahead of the curve

The contract has been in the making for a few months now, but the MoD has finally put the seal of approval on the consortium. Delivery of the prototype is expected for 2019, when the military will test its ability to lock onto and track targets at various distances in all weather conditions for land and water applications.

The MoD’s endgame goal, however, is loftier than “Dragonfire” alone — they want to know if ‘energy’ could become the next ‘ammo’. As Peter Cooper of the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) said:

“This is a significant demonstration program aimed at maturing our understanding of what is still an immature technology.”

“It draws on innovative research into high power lasers so as to understand the potential of the technology to provide a more effective response to the emerging threats that could be faced by UK armed forces.”

MBDA spokesman Dave Armstrong said that the project will propel the UK to “the forefront of high energy laser systems”.

“Furthermore, it advances the UK towards a future product with significant export potential, as well as providing opportunities for partnerships with other nations’ armed forces that have similar requirements,” he added.

Harriet Baldwin, the Minister for Defence Procurement, thinks projects such as this one will “keep this country ahead of the curve”. But this isn’t the first time a country has toyed with the idea of directed energy weapons. The US has been experimenting with laser weapons for decades now. Their efforts culminated with the testing of a weapon dubbed ‘Laws’ on the USS Ponce in the Arabian Gulf in 2014. The system successfully targeted a small boat directed towards the ship and shot down a small drone. Still, no-one has had the technological oomph to bring such guns on the front line up to now.

If it proves itself reliable, weapons such as the Dragonfire could be used to take down drones, jets, or strategic missiles, as well as point defense systems against mortar shells, missiles, roadside bombs and various other threats.

Bringing a laser to a knife fight

Laws Gun

The Laws system during tests in 2014.
Image credits John F. Williams / US Navy.

The MoD said that the weapon isn’t being developed to counter any specific threat, only to see what advantages such weapons could bring to their armed forces. But with growing global instability, tensions rising in eastern Europe, and Russia’s much publicized recent improvements in armament and weapon systems (such as the RS-28 ICBM, dubbed ‘Satan 2’), the Dragonfire could have a more specific purpose in mind than simple research.

I’ve always been a military technology buff, and I nerd out over anything from copper daggers to tanks, battleships, and Star Destroyers — and the Dragonfire is bound to be a solid piece of technology and applied science. But no matter how much I’ve enjoyed the laser-drenched dogfight scenes in Star Wars, I can’t help but feel saddened to see science twisted into destroying things and killing people. Especially in a time when disarmament and working together to solve greater problems should come at the forefront.

But the contract is signed and the proverbial wheels are turning. Time will tell if the Dragonfire will turn out to be just another straw, or a lit match, thrown in the haystack.

High-power lasers create ‘smoke rings’ that travel along the beam with the speed of light

The thin, gray ringlike objects are Spatiotemporal optical vortices (STOVs), 3D light structures that are time dynamic and travel along the central laser pulse. Credit: Howard Milchberg

If you ever shone a cheap laser onto a distant building then you surely noticed the ‘dot’ gets bigger the farther away your fire it. That’s because laser light will gradually expand its size in a cone-shape due to the wave nature of light while losing energy. A high-power laser is totally different, though. In the right conditions, it can act like its own lens to self-focus and create an ever tighter, intenser beam. Strangely enough, a group of researchers discovered that these high-power laser beams also generate swirls of optical energy that engulf the beam sort of like smoke rings. Like the laser beam, the swirls or vortices travel at the speed of light.

Smoke under our noses

The laser smoke rings were dubbed  “spatiotemporal optical vortices,” or STOVs, by the University of Maryland physicists. Given the right conditions, any powerful laser will create them, which makes it kind of odd we’re only now discovering them.

“Lasers have been researched for decades, but it turns out that STOVs were under our noses the whole time,” said Howard Milchberg, professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering at UMD and senior author of the paper published in Physical Review X.

“This is a robust, spontaneous feature that’s always there. This phenomenon underlies so much that’s been done in our field for the past 30-some years.”

There’s another type of optical vortices made by lasers called “orbital angular momentum” (OAM) vortices. Known for decades, OAM vortices are light energy that circles the beam around the direction of propagation much like water spins around a drain’s center of gravity.

Shown as cute pink rings are OAM vortices — 3-D laser light structures that rotate around a central beam, like water circles a drain. This property is exploited by high-resolution microscopy. Credit: Howard Milchberg

Unlike OAM vortices which are stationary, the optical smoke rings are time dynamic, meaning they move along the beam.

OAM vortices have proven very useful in certain optical applications like telecommunications or microscopes due to their ability to create small structures in the light itself. This way, you can control what gets illuminated and what doesn’t.Though there’s no immediate practical application to STOVs, the University of Maryland scientists are fascinated by their ability to manipulate particles moving near the speed of light. There’s still much to be done before we can unravel all of these optical smoke rings’ secrets.

“All the evidence we’ve seen suggests that STOVs are universal,” said Nihal Jhajj, a physics graduate student who conducted the research at the UMD Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics (IREAP). “Now that we know what to look for, we think that looking at a high-intensity laser pulse propagating through a medium and not seeing STOVs would be a lot like looking at a river and not seeing eddies and currents.”

femtosecond laser hologram

What touching Fairy Holograms in mid-air looks like

femtosecond laser hologram

Most people would love to have a holographic display in their room, and seriously you might not have to wait too long for this to happen. For instance, the HoloLens is definitely impressive and will be out soon be commercially available to the public. Granted, it’s not quite holographic technology – more like virtual reality. What about holograms which you can touch?

Femtosecond laser

That definitely sounds innovative, and honestly I couldn’t expect anything less considering this was achieved by the Digital Nature Group, a lab which previously demonstrated 3D mid-air acoustic manipulation or graphics generated by levitating objects. Using a femtosecond laser which shoots ultrashort laser pulses, with durations approaching the timescales of fundamental atomic and molecular processes, the Japanese researchers excited matter to emit light at an arbitrary 3D position.

The  “Fairy Lights” system fires every millionth of a billionth of a second, and these pulses are responsive to human touch. Effectively, by swiping your hand, for instance, across a hologram’s pixels you can manipulate and control it.

“You can’t actually feel the videos or pictures, and although you can project a video, you can’t interact with it by touching it. So, if we can project an image in a three dimensional form, and if you can touch it, then you can make something where you’ll think that there actually is something there,”  said Dr. Yoichi Ochiai from Tsukuba University of the touchable hologram.

holograms spatial

“There are two methods of rendering graphics with a femtosecond laser in air: Producing holograms using spatial light modulation technology, and scanning of a laser beam by a galvano mirror. The holograms and workspace of the system proposed here occupy a volume of up to 1 cm^3; however, this size is scalable depending on the optical devices and their setup,” the researchers write.

laser razor

Forget about razor blades – it’s time to welcome the laser razor

laser razor

Image: Morgan Gustavsson MBBS

Despite manufacturers have tirelessly designed new types of razor blades for a cleaner shave, the process has stayed virtually unchanged for thousands of years. The difference between a modern razor blade and an ancient roman shaving knife isn’t that large, on a fundamental level at least. This may set to change if the Skarp Laser Razor makes its way into the shaving kit market. The gadget is basically a high-tech razor – named so only by function – that uses a highly focused laser beam instead of a blade.

Replacing skin rashes and irritations with a laser burn might not sounds like a good idea, though. Luckily, the Skarp engineers found a way to fire the laser only at a particular frequency which destroys the  chromophore molecules found in all types of hair. Thus, only hair and nothing else is eliminated.

The solution also promises to be more environmentally friendly. Razor blades quickly wore out and are immediately dumped to the trash. It’s estimated   2 billion razors end up in landfills each year in the US alone. While the laser razor will also breakdown at some point, it should work for 50,000 hours or so.

Excited? Well, hold your horses. One Skarp razor costs $159 and can go up to $189. Furthermore, you won’t be able to order one until Morgan Gustavsson MBBS, the company behind the product, reaches its target set at KickStarter. So far, so good: $1,855,505 raised so far as I type. The first pre-orders as expected to ship in March 2016. Check out the laser razor’s presentation video below.

Lockheed demoed a high power laser which destroyed a vehicle's engine (seen above), rendering it useless. Image: Lockheed

The world’s most powerful laser weapon — blasts a car from a mile away!

A 30KW high-power laser was showcased by Lockheed Martin. The company used it to disable a vehicle more than a mile away showcasing not only the impressive power of laser weapons but also their phenomenal accuracy. To prove this, the weapon was directed specifically on the hood of the vehicle, where it fried the engine. The beam from the Advanced Test High Energy Asset, or ATHENA, is believed to be most powerful laser weapon.

Lockheed demoed a high power laser which destroyed a vehicle's engine (seen above), rendering it useless. Image: Lockheed

Lockheed demoed a high power laser which destroyed a vehicle’s engine (seen above), rendering it useless. From a mile away. Image: Lockheed

“Fiber-optic lasers are revolutionizing directed energy systems,” said Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin chief technology officer. “We are investing in every component of the system — from the optics and beam control to the laser itself — to drive size, weight and power efficiencies.

“This test represents the next step to providing lightweight and rugged laser weapon systems for military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks.”

The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) onto which ATHENA was mounted. Image: US ARMY

The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) onto which ATHENA was mounted. Image: US ARMY

ATHENA is actually made up of several lasers. The weapon combines multiple fiber laser modules to form a single, powerful, high-quality beam. This is only a prototype, and Lockheed Martin intends on scaling it to 60 KW as agreed under the $25 million contract it signed with the US Army in early 2014. The 60 KW version is due in 2016 and expected to be mounted on an adapted army truck, essentially putting the laser on wheels. According to Next Big Future, multiple fiber lasers could be scaled to up to 500 KW, which should provide an extraordinary punch and dramatically alter the course of the battlefield. There would be no need for ammunition (just a very powerful energy source) and since laser beams travel virtually instantaneous they would provide a significant tactical advantage. Tanks, aircraft, battleships could all become seriously challenged in the future.

We’re entering a new age of warfare — the time for futuristic laser weapons is almost upon us.

This schematic puts ATHENA's power in perspective. Image: Next Big Future

This schematic puts ATHENA’s power in perspective. Image: Next Big Future

Of course, the weapon’s main focus is defensive rather than offensive. Lockheed says the laser can defend against small rockets, artillery shells and mortars, small unmanned aerial vehicles, small attack boats and lightweight ground vehicles that are approximately a mile way. It’s still a bit too close for comfort, but this is just a stepping stone for even greater things to come. As fiber laser power levels increase, our systems will be able to disable larger threats and do so across greater distances.

In December 2014, the US Navy demonstrated its own laser weapon, a slightly less powerful version than Lockheed’s, standing at 30KW. Called the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), it fired from aboard the USS Ponce (LPD-15) to destroy a moving boat.

most powerful laser

The world’s most powerful laser could put the Death Star to shame

Japan just powered up the world’s most powerful laser, a monster that shines  a 2-petawatt pulse of light. The pulse lasted only one picosecond, or a trillionth of a second, but during this brief time frame the laser definitely concentrated a phenomenal amount of power.

most powerful laser

Image: Osaka University

The laser was designed by Japanese researchers at  Osaka University. It measures 300 feet long and is known as the LFEX, or Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments.

In the United States, the most powerful laser is a one-petawatt laser at the University of Texas at Austin. But the energy contained in a LFEX pulse is 100 times higher than that at Austin. Speaking of which, despite the enormous power, the laser eats up little juice. That’s because, as mentioned earlier, the laser was only fired for a fraction of a second. In fact, LFEX used as much energy as your microwave does over the course of two seconds.

To generate that much power that fast, the LFEX makes us of a series of glass lamps that amplifies the incoming pulse with each pass.

most powerful laser

Image: Osaka University

Previously, ZME Science reported about a laser weapon that could blast a car a mile away. The beam was so intense that the car’s metal was vaporized. Consider now the weapon in question was only a 30 KW laser, albeit it fired for a lot longer than a trillionth of a second. Nevertheless, this two petawatt laser could rival the freaking Death Star itself. What’s more, the Japanese aren’t intending to stop here. “With heated competition in the world to improve the performance of lasers, our goal now is to increase our output to 10 petawatts,” Junji Kawanaka, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Osaka University, said in a statement.

Well, damn! At least, the laser is being used for scientific purposes. For everyone’s sake.

 

ISS astronauts could use laser cannon to blast off hazardous space junk

Astronauts onboard the ISS may soon get a new “toy” – a space laser cannon to blast off space debris that might threaten the space station. Even a tiny scratch or dent could cause massive problems, and with us putting more and more stuff in space, the risk of damage constantly increases too.

There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris in orbit. Image via Wikipedia.

“Our proposal is radically different from the more conventional approach that is ground based, and we believe it is a more manageable approach that will be accurate, fast, and cheap. We may finally have a way to stop the headache of rapidly growing space debris that endangers space activities. We believe that this dedicated system could remove most of the centimeter-sized debris within five years of operation,” said project Toshikazu Ebisuzaki.

We’re dealing with air pollution, water pollution, ground pollution… but a lesser known issue is space pollution. Even though we’ve only started exploring outer space for decades, we’ve put out a staggering amount of stuff in orbit. As of 2009 about 19,000 pieces of debris larger than 5 cm (2 in) are tracked, with 300,000 pieces larger than 1 cm estimated to exist. Most junk sources are shuttle components, lost equipment, boosters or anti-satellite weapons put up by the US and Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s. Although most of these pieces orbit at a different distance from Earth than the ISS, many of them still have the potential to pose threats.

Up until now, the ISS had no other option than to try to change its trajectory to avoid space junk, but now, Japanese researchers believe they have found the solution to that problem. They developed a laser system that can vaporize bits of debris way before they can harm the ISS. The entire system was actually created to monitor the atmosphere for ultraviolet emissions from cosmic rays, but it could double as a precision space junk tracking system. In other words, you have the tracking system, and all you need is a space laser – an instrument that focuses intense beams of energy onto very specific targets, vaporizing them, or if the junk is hard metal, changing their trajectory so they aren’t dangerous anymore.

“We realized,” says Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, who led the effort, “that we could put it to another use. During twilight, thanks to EUSO’s wide field of view and powerful optics, we could adapt it to the new mission of detecting high-velocity debris in orbit near the ISS.”

The laser could zap targets from 60 miles away (100 km), and it could be installed as soon as 2017. Meanwhile the European Space Agency is testing fishing-style nets to catch larger pieces of space junk which can’t be handled otherwise.

“We may finally have a way to stop the headache of rapidly growing space debris that endangers space activities. We believe that this dedicated system could remove most of the centimeter-sized debris within five years of operation,” says Ebisuzaki.

 

This rice grain-sized laser powers quantum dots one electron at a time. Credit: Jason Petta, Princeton University

Rice grain-sized laser helps build the first quantum computer

Princeton researchers demonstrated a novel type of microwave laser – called a maser – so small that’s the size of a grain of rice. The laser is powered by individual electrons that tunnel through artificial atoms known as quantum dots.

A tiny microwave laser

Quantum dots, among other things, have the potential to revitalize the LCD screens in our phones, tablets, TVs and laptops. For instance, it’s widely rumored that Apple’s new iPhone 6 will exploit these, but what are quantum dots? Quantum dots are incredibly small particles that range between 2 to 10 nanometers in diameter or the equivalent of 50 atoms. Simplifying things further, quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals  with unique properties, including the ability to emit light at very specific wavelengths. Sort of like microscopic pieces of glitter that glow green, red, or blue depending on their size.

This rice grain-sized laser powers quantum dots one electron at a time. Credit:  Jason Petta, Princeton University

This rice grain-sized laser powers quantum dots one electron at a time. Credit: Jason Petta, Princeton University

Princeton physics associate professor and lead researcher for the study Jason Petta says that the new microwave laser – or maser – is about as small as one can possibly go with a single-electron device. The laser only uses a billionth of the electrical power used by a hair drier and was made to explore the possibility of using quantum dots as potential viable components for next generation quantum devices. Ultimately, the Princeton researchers aim to merge doubled quantum dots to make quantum bits or qubits – the fundamental unit of information of quantum computers or the equivalent of bits for classical computers.

Where traditional computers perform their calculations in binary – using 1s and 0s – quantum computers exploit the odd characteristics of the quantum state of particles at the atomic scale. Like Schrödinger’s cat, the value of a qubit isn’t definitely 1 nor 0, but both at the same time.  To “solve” a calculation, the quantum state is ended, so that the qubits take a classic 1 or 0 value. Setting the quantum states and superposition up correctly should mean a quantum computer will reach the same answer as a normal one. Unlike a conventional computer that needs to reach an answer sequentially, a qubit will instantly collapse to find the answer. This means that brute force operations that can take months for even today’s fastest supercomputers could be quickly and effortlessly solved by a quantum computer, or so the theory goes.

“These double quantum dots are zero-dimensional as far as the electrons are concerned — they are trapped in all three spatial dimensions,” Petta explains.

This sort of communication, vital for quantum computers, is envisioned to work by entangling light photons, so the Princeton team built quantum dots that emit a photon when a single electron drops from higher energy state to a lower one, thus migrating across the dot. This is why they build their maser, which directs electrons one at a time through each double quantum dot. The laser itself emits energy in the microwave range, and researchers say it’s an excellent way to demonstrate how light and moving electrons interact.

A double quantum dot as imaged by a scanning electron microscope. Current flows one electron at a time through two quantum dots (red circles) that are formed in an indium arsenide nanowire. (Photo courtesy of Science/AAAS)  Read more: Rice-sized laser, powered one electron at a time, bodes well for quantum computing

A double quantum dot as imaged by a scanning electron microscope. Current flows one electron at a time through two quantum dots (red circles) that are formed in an indium arsenide nanowire. (Photo courtesy of Science/AAAS)
Read more: Rice-sized laser, powered one electron at a time, bodes well for quantum computing

This maser and quantum dot system is yet another step in the long stride towards building the first truly functional quantum computer – the kind that is set to revolutionize the way computing as we know it being made.

“I consider this to be a really important result for our long-term goal, which is entanglement between quantum bits in semiconductor-based devices,”  study co-author and research collaborator Jacob Taylor of the University of Maryland says.

“This is the first time that the team at Princeton has demonstrated that there is a connection between two double quantum dots separated by nearly a centimeter, a substantial distance,” he says of the latest work.

Findings appeared in the journal Science.