AI designed Chips, Autonomous Ships and DNA data storage

June 17

This week we will examine an AI that develops Floor plans for computer chips in 6 hours. This is a surprisingly difficult task that currently takes several months. We also discover advances in using DNA as a data storage mechanism and better inflight wifi. Finally we revisit the autonomous recreation of the Mayflower’s journey from England to the US and the US Navy’s latest autonomous achievement.

AI designing new Chipsets

Google is one of the leaders in using AI techniques to develop new capabilities. You may recall Alpha Fold which was able to determine how proteins folded (the story is here). Researchers at Google have now developed a way of using deep reinforcement learning to create computer chip floor planning in just six hours. This usually takes humans months to achieve.

The chips are on par or superior to the products that humans can create. The research is being used for the upcoming tensor processing unit chips which are optimized for AI computation.

This breakthrough will save thousands of hours of human effort for each next generation of chips. Despite 5 decades of research, chip floor planning has defied automation. When this capability is combined with the breakthrough 1 nanometer semiconductor design covered in May the future for new faster computer chips for specialized applications is very bright indeed.

In-Flight Internet access

We have previously spoken about SpaceX and their Starlink satellite internet service. A quick recap, SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company that pioneered reusable rockets, is releasing up to 60,000 small satellites that will be able to provide internet access anywhere on the planet. The deployment is still in the early stages however in the next few years internet access will be universal.

SpaceX has now confirmed that they are in talks with several airlines to provide in-flight internet access. Some demonstrations have been completed and a finished product will be put into aircraft in the very near future. Currently airlines work with Viasat and Intelsat to provide limited internet capabilities on flights (e.g. Delta, American and United). The current satellites are geostationary in distant orbits. SpaceX will provide a mesh network across the globe, closer to the earth, boosting the speeds that passengers see inflight.

For those of us that can remember the pre-covid days when we flew internationally. The joy that we felt once the plane’s doors were closed, of disconnecting from the internet and therefore the office, may soon be a thing of the past.

DNA Data Storage

It is possible to encode and decode binary data to and from synthesized strands of DNA. The medium has significant promise due to its’ high storage potential however it is very high cost and very slow to read and write. Additionally the only way to know what file you are downloading is to download the file. There is no preview capability for you to know if you have the correct file.

In June 2019 the 16 gigabit file of the English language version of Wikipedia was encoded into DNA. The current technique for storing data is immobilizing a single strand of DNA on a solid support and labeling the individual DNA bases with complementary bases tagged with fluorescent markers.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have now developed a way for users to preview stored data files. The process allows for a much smaller portion of the stored data on the DNA to be sequenced. This smaller portion provides a preview to the larger file.

The system uses a specific naming convention when naming a file or a subset of the file. This is more complex than naming a file whatever you want, however the system is more data efficient and substantially more user friendly. The system is broadly comparable with all file types.

Autonomous Navy

We have previously spoken about autonomous ships. Avid readers will remember the story about the Mayflower, an autonomous ship that is going to recreate the journey of the original Mayflower across the Atlantic 400 years after the original. The ship left England on Tuesday 15 June and is due to land in the US in approximately 2 weeks.

The US Navy has just announced the results of their most ambitious autonomous trial to date. An unmanned vessel traveled 4,421 nautical miles (5,100 land miles), 98% of which was autonomous. The Navy is experimenting with unmanned ships to add capability to their fleet without the need for additional manpower. The ships can operate for days on end without human intervention.

Amazon will share your internet access

For those that have an Alexa, Amazon will soon start to share your internet access with other Amazon products that it can find in your neighborhood. Their new Sidewalk feature was launched on June 8. Sidewalk creates a mesh network with other Amazon devices such as Ring doorbells, Echo’s and security cameras. Sidewalk will also pair with several tracking devices to make it easier to find lost items. The mesh network will then share your internet connection as required.

If you have a Sidewalk capable device you need to opt out (or allow your neighbors to use a small portion of your internet). Sidewalk is only currently activated in the United States however better to opt out now if you can before they quietly activate the capability elsewhere.

Paying it Forward

If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.

If you have any questions or comments please email me via my website or comment below.

I would also appreciate it if you could forward this newsletter to anyone that you think might be interested.

Till next week.