Japan hangs hat on Android, sensors 12
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October 11, 2010 Electronic Engineering Times 3
U.S. must fast-track policy patents do not expire until 2014.
One hopeful sign is a recent contract
on rare earth materials
between Boeing and U.S. Rare Earths
Inc. under which Boeing will use a ver-
sion of its remote sensing technology to
identify and confirm rare earth deposits
at sites for which USRE owns the min-
eral rights. USRE will use the Boeing
findings to expand its exploration and
incorporate large-scale mapping of con-
firmed and suspected rare earth
The U.S. House of Representatives has deposits.
USRE holds the rights to significant
approved H.R. 6160, the Rare Earths and Criti- deposits of rare earth elements in the
United States, according to the U.S. Geo-
cal Materials Revitalization Act of 2010, author- logical Survey.
izing development of a domestic rare earth Meanwhile, Molycorp Inc., currently
acknowledged to be the Western Hemi-
materials program to address short-term scarci- sphere’s only producer of rare earths,
this month rehired Stan Trout as direc-
ties and ensure long-term supply for the tor of magnet manufacturing to
nation’s security, economic and industrial advance its “mines to magnets” strategy
of modernizing and expanding its
requirements. The nod comes none too soon. Mountain Pass., Calif., processing facili-
ty. Trout is considered a leading expert
According to a Bloomberg report, tronic components that use rare earth in the design and manufacture of per-
China in July reduced rare earth export elements—could hold consequences for manent rare earth magnets. For the past
quotas for the rest of the year by 72 per- producers of electronics. 10 years, he ran industry consultancy
cent, inflating prices more The GAO report states Spontaneous Materials. Before that, he
than sixfold for some rare that the fate of materials worked for Magnequench—one of the
earth materials vital to the based on such elements as last companies to make neodymium-
energy, military, electronics neodymium, dysprosium iron-boron permanent rare earth mag-
and manufacturing sectors. and terbium is largely in nets in the United States—as well as for
The U.S. Government the hands of Chinese sup- Hitachi Magnetics, Crucible Magnetics
Accountability Office, in a pliers. China has adopted and Recoma, in addition to his first stint
briefing to congressional domestic production quotas at Molycorp.
committees on “Rare Earth on rare earth materials Trout helped pioneer the use of per-
Materials in the Defense while slashing export quo- manent rare earth magnets in early MRI
Supply Chain,” warns that tas. It has increased export equipment as well as in other applica-
while rare earth ore Rebuilding taxes on all rare earth mate- tions. He “is one of the few individuals
deposits are geographically the supply rials to a range of 15 to 25 in the United States who has the knowl-
diverse, current capabili- percent. edge and practical experience necessary
ties to process rare earth
chain for Still think China’s indus- to lead our rebuilding of this manufac-
metals into finished mate- these critical trial ambitions are purely turing capacity in the U.S., which Moly-
rials are limited mostly to resources benevolent? corp is on track to accomplish in 2012,”
Chinese sources. The Unit- Rebuilding the U.S. sup- Molycorp CEO Mark Smith said when
ed States can no longer could take ply chain for rare earth Trout’s rehiring was announced.
claim a role in all stages of 15 years materials to a level that will But it’s going to take a lot of blood,
the supply chain for mate- ensure sustainability could sweat and tears to revive the long-
rials based on the rare take 15 years. Development neglected rare earth materials manufac-
earths, the GAO notes . is dependent on new technologies that turing industry. Molycorp has a long
China’s dominance not only has some experts believe will not be avail- history, having discovered the rare
implications for global availability and able on a production scale for up to four earth metal bastnasite in Mountain Pass
pricing of rare earth-based materials years and will require high startup back in 1949, but it has undergone
but also could jeopardize U.S. defense costs. There is also an intellectual prop- many organizational changes in its bid
readiness. In a concern closer to the erty rights issue: Japanese and other for- to be an effective producer. The compa-
industry, ceding control of both mag- eign companies own key technology ny currently manufactures approxi-
netic polarities of the world’s magnets patents for manufacturing neodymium mately 3,000 tons of commercial rare
to China—magnets being the key elec iron boron magnets, and some of those earth materials per year. By 2012, it
4 Electronic Engineering Times October 11, 2010
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expects to be producing at a rate of Can our elected officials not overcome come to fruition. It needs to start
20,000 tons of rare earth oxide equiva- the Chinese lobbies and all the dollars opening the mines it closed earlier
lent per year and to offer a range of rare being thrown at them thanks to all the to catch up. — Nic_Mokhoff
earth products, including high-purity extra profits being generated by this
oxides, metals, alloys and permanent false scarcity? Boycott Chinese goods Rare earth metals are needed
magnets. until they reverse this, or impose an for electric motors [used in
China’s export and tariff rule changes equal tax rate on all Chinese imports. products] including hybrid electric
for the rare earths are a wakeup call for — new2coding vehicles, commercial wind turbines
nations that have let their own capabili- and high-speed
ties lapse. The U.S. government must Unfortunately, [exerting pressure on trains. With ‘Yet another
fast-track its policy on rare earth miner-
al exploration, development and com-
the Chinese] is unlikely to be possible.
The U.S. and EU . . . are addicted to
to corner the
mercialization. cheap Chinese labor and have moved market on rare no nation
The rare earths are critical ground. p almost everything to China. Now the earth elements, should
Chinese have secured power over it is trying to
By Nicolas Mokhoff (nicolas.mokhoff@ production and, gradually, resources. become a
ubm.com), editor in chief of EE Times’ We should focus on new technologies major manu- production
all-digital editions and executive editor
of EE Times
that won’t require China’s involve-
ment, and [rethink] globalization.
in the above
— Baolt technology another’
I heard China is soon going to become A recent PBS news segment
READERS RESPOND the world’s strongest economy. May be stated there was only one U.S. rare
this is one way [it’s getting there]. earth metal mining operation and that
Just issue fast-track visas to scientists — Sheetal.Pandey it needed help to get production up.
and engineers specialized in rare earth A recent U.S. Geological Survey report
refinery technologies. Wow, an export tariff. I haven’t heard found deposits of minerals including
The time frame could be cut down of that happening since the 19th cen- rare earth in Afghanistan may be
to less than 10 years. — pixies tury. Anybody still think that the worth $1 trillion.
Chinese believe in free trade? It seems only fair that U.S. compa-
‘Wow, an I would ask — Kaiser Silicon nies should have mining rights to the
export tariff the President Afghan deposits. — Davewav
how he plans I just read an article on eetimes.com
. . . Anyone to overcome that talks about the development of China is also investing heavily in Africa
still think this huge prob- an electric motor that doesn’t rely on and in South America to access natu-
lem, since he rare earth magnets (“Japan develops ral resources such as rare earth mate-
that the mentions all electric motor sans rare earth metals,” rials. A monopoly or near-monopoly
Chinese the time how http://tiny.cc/flhay). Perhaps the rest on these resources is not in the inter-
believe in important it is
to focus on
of the world should follow suit.
It seems that we are being sur-
est of anybody. I do not think the
Chinese officials are stupid [enough]
free trade?’ renewable prised by this development [in China], to use these materials as economic
energy and to but should we have been surprised? weapons. I believe they are simply
stop paying huge amounts of [energy] It makes great business and political trying to secure their own supplies,
dollars to the Middle East . . . oh, and sense to control these high-tech met- like any other major power [would do],
let’s not forget about bringing industri- als; why would we in the U.S.—or any including the U.S.
al jobs back to the U.S. other country—not already be engaged — KB3001
In this case it seems the United in securing supplies?
States will pay lots of [materials] dol- It makes me wonder . . . This is yet another lesson that no
lars to China, or IP costs to South — Robotics Developer nation should cede its manufacturing
Korea and Japan. — Baolt power to another. Too many times, U.S.
Our infatuation with low-cost labor companies and the government have
Since it will take us quite a few allowed China to call the shots in rare let industries and key technologies
years to start getting to the point of earth metals used by the electronics slip away because of financial short-
producing these metals, the patents industry. Japan and the U.S. cannot sightedness and failure to support
don’t become an issue until they are afford to be cut off. So yes, while national imperatives. — kdboyce
being used. Sounds like we are Japan is trying to find alternate solu-
already behind in getting started, if tions to using rare earth elements in
they expire in 2014! — JLS its motors, the U.S. cannot afford to lJOIN THE CONVERSATION ONLINE
wait for this kind of development to http://tiny.cc/96tn5
6 Electronic Engineering Times October 11, 2010
News OF THE TIMES
Microsemi continues its
buying spree with a bid that
exploits mil/aero ‘synergies’
but rocks the longstanding
FPGA status quo
Microsemi’s play for Actel appeal of Actel products is not sufficient
to command high margins.
raises questions for FPGA market Garcia said Microsemi would instead
focus engineering, marketing and sales
By Dylan McGrath resources on applications in which
Actel’s low-power, mixed-signal and
radiation-hardened FPGAs offer the
most value to customers and thus the
MICROSEMI CORP. last week logic market leaders Xilinx Inc. and most potential profits to Microsemi.
launched a $430 million tender offer for Altera Corp. “We will not continue to “These products are so differentiated
programmable logic vendor Actel Corp. dilute profitability by chasing the two in the marketplace,” Garcia said. “We
to leverage synergies in the military, big competitors in the marketplace,” he want to take full advantage of that and
aerospace and industrial markets, said. “That’s not Microsemi’s game.” continue to grow and build on it.”
according to executives. But Microsemi Many interpreted Peterson’s com- Many observers were caught off
also plans to stop marketing Actel prod- ments to mean that Microsemi would guard by the proposed acquisition, but
ucts into some applications, they said. discontinue some Actel products. Russell Microsemi executives said the two com-
James Peterson, Microsemi’s presi- Garcia, Microsemi’s executive vice presi- panies’ common strengths in the mili-
dent and CEO, said the company would dent of marketing and sales, later said tary and aerospace segments promise an
“disengage” Actel from “nonproductive” his company would not kill any Actel ideal match. “The purpose of this deal is
businesses aimed at commercial mar- product lines, but neither would it seek not to enter an FPGA market,” Garcia
kets in which Actel lags programmable- further design wins in sockets where the said. “The purpose is to add breadth and
October 11, 2010 Electronic Engineering Times 9
NEWS OF THETIMES
scale to the markets we both play in very well.” Last year, Microsemi made several acquisitions, snapping
The acquisition is part of Microsemi’s strategy to “move up up Electro Module Inc., Endwave Corp., Nexem Inc. and a
the value chain,” he said. Spectrum Microwave power product line.
Craig Berger, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, echoed According to Garcia and Steven Litchfield, executive vice
that comment in a report issued late last week, saying that president and group president of Microsemi’s High Perform-
the acquisition would allow Microsemi “to move up the val- ance Analog and Mixed Signal Group, the moves are part of
ue curve and supply its defense and aerospace customers the evolution of Microsemi from a vendor of discrete compo-
with more sophisticated systems-level solutions.” nents to a supplier of integrated system solutions.
Berger noted that the deal would bring Microsemi capabili- Berger said Microsemi “is building meaningful scale with
ties in aerospace-targeted flash FPGAs, low-power FPGAs, suppliers and customers as the firm approaches the $200 mil-
radiation-hardened FPGAs, FPGAs with integrated ARM Cor- lion-per-quarter revenue level.”
tex microcontrollers (Actel’s SmartFusion line), and other
anti-tamper technologies. Small player, minimal impact
Peterson said Microsemi and Actel have 80 percent overlap Actel is ranked fourth in the FPGA market, with a total share of
in common customers and that Actel dominates in many about 6 percent. It reported revenue of $191 million for fiscal
mil/aerospace markets. 2009, slightly below Lattice Semiconductor’s $194 million.
The Actel acquisition, which is pending the results of a Those results place both companies far behind Xilinx and
$20.88 per share cash tender offer in place for 30 days, would Altera, which reported revenue for their most recently con-
be the most expensive and ambitious in a string of transac- cluded fiscal years of $1.8 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively.
tions Microsemi has made in recent months. Last month, Ian Ing, an analyst for Gleacher & Co. in San Francisco, said
Microsemi acquired the assets of VT Silicon, a maker of that because of Actel’s relative size, the impact of its acquisi-
multiband RFIC solutions for the mobile wireless broadband tion on the FPGA market would be small. He said the compa-
market. In April, it paid roughly $100 million for White Elec- ny has “tried to make a go” of competing with Xilinx and
tronic Designs Corp., a specialist in ICs and modules for Altera in commercial markets with its flash-based FPGAs.
defense and aerospace applications. Nonetheless, he expects Microsemi to pull back on those
efforts, concentrate on Actel’s strengths in military/aerospace
and treat Actel as a “cash cow,” though he added that Microse-
mi would probably maintain some level of investment in
Actel’s antifuse FPGAs.
While an acquisition of Actel wouldn’t have much of a
material impact on the programmable logic market, it would
shake up a status quo that has been entrenched for many
years. Actel, founded in 1985, has never been a dominant sup-
plier, but it has been one of only four standalone companies
to survive in a market in which dozens have failed. Roughly
50 companies have made plays for FPGA market share since
the devices were invented in the late 1980s; nearly all have
exited the field, folded or been acquired.
In addition to the four established programmable-logic
vendors, there are several promising startups, including
Achronix Corp., SiliconBlue Technologies Corp. and Tabula
Inc. Some established semiconductor vendors, such as Atmel
Corp. and Cypress Semiconductor Corp., hold slivers of the
On news of the tender offer, Actel’s stock gained nearly
31 percent last Monday, closing at $20.95. Peterson said
Microsemi was not the only suitor for Actel, though he did
not identify the other interested parties.
FBR analyst Berger said he was aware of two other bidders
for Actel, including a private equity firm. He said he did not
expect the other interested parties to raise their bids for Actel,
noting that the other suitors would have had ample time to
raise their existing bids before Actel’s shares went higher
Peterson said the terms of Microsemi’s definitive agree-
ment with Actel call for the latter company to pay a “breakup
fee” of about 3 percent, or about $17.5 million, if the acquisi-
tion is not completed. p
10 Electronic Engineering Times October 11, 2010
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NEWS OF THETIMES
Japan hangs hat
on Android, sensors
By Junko Yoshida
MAKUHARI, JAPAN — CEATEC, Japan’s premier consumer
electronics show, spotlighted three trends that the Japanese
industry appears to have embraced as guiding principles:
• When in doubt, go with Android. Most Japanese CE ven-
dors are in survival mode against Apple and are hanging their
hats on Google’s open-source OS for platforms such as smart-
phones and media tablets.
• Sensors rule. Japanese engineers might have found their
true calling: developing products, from robots to home health bThrowing displays a curve
care devices, that leverage the power of sensors. Many of the Fujitsu showed curved displays made of thin, lightweight
sensor-packed offerings at CEATEC were pretty creative; some materials that can be wrapped around pillars.
were pretty strange. The bendable structures consist of glass tubes, filled
• Don’t take your eyes off displays. Most Japanese compa- with phosphor and xeon gas, that are vertically aligned in
an array. Images are controlled using electrodes attached
nies realize they will never be the next Intel or ARM, but they to the back of the tubes. The tubes emit light using the
also know that hammering away at display innovations will same principle applied in plasma displays.
keep the door open to novel apps and markets.
bYour lovin’ teddy bear
These high-tech teddies, shown at Fujitsu’s bCybernetic songstress
booth, embed a CMOS image sensor, several Japan continues its love affair with robotics, and the objects
motors, voice sensors and 13 touch sensors. of its affection grow ever more weirdly realistic. The HRP-4C
They wave back when waved at, respond to a entertained a crowd at Yamaha’s booth. Loaded with Yama-
smile, and coo and wiggle when touched. ha’s Vocaloid singing synthesis software, she belted out
Smarter than the average bear? tunes on request, moving in rhythm with the music and
even subtly changing her facial expressions—blinking coyly
12 Electronic Engineering Times October 11, 2010
and smiling—as she sang. What stage presence!
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NEWS OF THETIMES
You might want to hold tight to this heart-shaped device when
you’re away from your loved one. It lets you transmit your body
temperature and heartbeat to a waiting digital heart back home, bStaking a claim for Galapagos
according to NTT Docomo. Japanese mobile handsets have often been light-years
Think of it as a mood ring on steroids. ahead of the competition, so why have they so rarely
The digital heart is embedded with sensors and an LED to meas- found a global market? The stock answer is “Galápagos
ure your heartbeat, body temperature and grip pressure. The device syndrome,” a metaphor for Japan’s increasing techno-
translates information into vibrations, warmth and LED colors, then logical isolation from the rest of the world.
transmits the data to your mobile phone via Bluetooth. Your phone Japanese mobile phones, the theory goes, are like
sends the information via a 3G wireless network to your loved one’s the endemic species that Darwin discovered on the
handset, which transmits the data via Bluetooth to his or her own Galápagos Islands: so highly adapted to their environ-
digital heart. That device then vibrates, glows red or blue and ment that they bear little resemblance to their mainland
warms up in response. Once the two hearts are in perfect sync, cousins. Packed with bells and whistles that make
they flash in rainbow colors. Ain’t love grand. sense only in the local market, Japanese cell phones
have evolved to the point that they have no relevance to
users outside Japan.
Now Sharp has chosen to wear the Galapagos label
as a badge of honor, using it as the brand for a series of
media tablets. The 5.5-inch mobile version features a
1,024 x 600 LCD touchscreen and a trackball; the
home version has a 1,366 x 800 display.
Both come with 802.11/b/g Wi-Fi, and, of course,
fMEMS shutter display ditches the filter
Hitachi Displays demonstrated a MEMS shutter display co-developed with
Pixtronix Inc. MEMS shutter displays, unlike LCD displays, need no color
filter or polarizer and are said to use light very efficiently.
The device adjusts color tones by opening and shutting the MEMS
shutter at high speed, nimbly changing the amount of light coming from
the LED backlight as well as natural light.
The specs show that the prototype display has a screen size of 2.5 inch-
es, pixel counts of 320 x 240 (QVGA), a pixel pitch of 163 micrometers
and a 120 percent color gamut based on NTSC standards.
Hitachi claims that the device can display images in reflective mono-
chrome mode with very low power consumption, suiting e-reader applica-
tions, and that it can display moving pictures at lower temperatures
compared with LCDs.
16 Electronic Engineering Times October 11, 2010
NEWS OF THETIMES
DC-DC Buck Converter
and POL Applications
Praise, pans for Logitech’s Revue
By Rick Merritt
Part V nC m
SAN FRANCISCO — The first Google Dish Network, thus far the only serv-
IRF8252PBF 25 35 2.7
TV device, the $300 Logitech Revue, ice provider supporting Google TV,
IRF8788PBF 30 44 2.8 premiered here to mixed reviews. helped create a special protocol to let
IRF8721PBF (Cntrl) 30 8.3 8.5 The product scored kudos for integrat- users search content stored on a Dish
IRF7862PBF (Sync) 30 30 3.7 ing broadcast and Web video on any DVR and schedule recording. APIs for
HDMI-capable HDTV and for support- the protocol will be made available
ing personal media playback and 720- when a Google Android Web site for
progressive videoconferencing. But its Google TV apps goes live early next year.
PQFN (5x6) $300 price tag—plus another $149 for Dish will sell the Revue set-top and
Part V nC m an HDTV camera—will dampen sales, keyboard for $179 plus a $4/month acti-
IRFH7928TRPBF 30 40 2.8 analysts said. vation fee to new and existing cus-
IRFH7921TRPBF (Cntrl) 30 9.3 8.5 The Revue integrates the functionali- tomers. The unit can access electronic
IRFH7932TRPBF (Sync) 30 34 3.3 ty of Logitech’s Harmony
IRFH7934TRPBF 30 20 3.5 Remote universal A/V
IRFH7914TRPBF (Cntrl) 30 8.3 8.7 controllers, which cost as
IRFH7936TRPBF (Sync) 30 17 4.8 much as $200 and are not
widely used. Meanwhile,
Roku and Apple are sell-
PQFN (3x3) ing set-tops that bring
Part V nC m Web content to the TV
IRFH3702TRPBF 30 9.6 7.1 for as little as $99. The Logitech offering Logitech’s pricey set-stop will
IRFH3707TRPBF 30 5.4 12.4 will also compete with a growing array compete with an array of choices
for bringing Web content to TV.
of TVs, game consoles and Blu-ray play-
ers that bring Web content to the TV. program guide data from any cable or
“If Logitech sells a million of these, satellite service, but it will not provide
D-PAK they will be doing very well,” said Colin interactive services such as searching or
Part V nC m Dixon, senior partner at market watcher automating recording on DVRs from
IRLR8743PBF 30 39 3.1 The Diffusion Group (Frisco, Texas), other service providers.
IRLR8726PBF 30 18 8.4 which predicts “steady but not spectacu- The Revue keyboard uses Logitech’s
lar growth” overall for Web TV set-tops. 2.4-GHz wireless technology running
The Revue is nonetheless a com- on two AA batteries to link to the set-
Your FIRST CH
pelling alternative to Cisco Systems’ top. A smartphone-sized remote con-
e Umi, a $599 device that delivers HDTV troller sells as a $129 option.
for Performanc videoconferencing at 1080-progressive Logitech’ s $149 TV cam is its first
resolution using an Intel Canmore excursion outside PC Webcams. It will
For more information call 1.800.981.8699 processor and other dedicated hardware. also sell indoor and outdoor security
or visit www.irf.com “It will be hard for Cisco to compete cameras that can be controlled using
with the Revue,” said Dixon. “Logitech’ s Google TV for $299 and $349.
video quality is clearly not as good as Logitech CEO Gerald Quindlen said
the Umi’s, but it is good enough.” the Revue is the first of many products
The Revue uses the Intel CE4100 in the works for Google TV. But the
Sodaville; the same processor will power company’ s focus will continue to be on
an upcoming Sony TV integrating the keyboards, remotes and other peripher-
Google TV software. The code that als, not set-tops, he added.
THE POWER MANAGEMENT LEADER enables searches across broadcast TV and “Today is just the beginning of this
Web content requires at least 1 Gbyte of platform and what we intend to do
DRAM and 4 Gbytes of NAND flash. around it,” Quindlen said. p
18 Electronic Engineering Times October 11, 2010