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    A new way for quantum computing systems to keep their cool

    Heat causes errors in the qubits that are the building blocks of a quantum computer, so quantum systems are typically kept inside refrigerators that keep the temperature just above absolute zero (-459 degrees Fahrenheit).

    But quantum computers need to communicate with electronics outside the refrigerator, in a room-temperature environment. The metal cables that connect these electronics bring heat into the refrigerator, which has to work even harder and draw extra power to keep the system cold. Plus, more qubits require more cables, so the size of a quantum system is limited by how much heat the fridge can remove.

    To overcome this challenge, an interdisciplinary team of MIT researchers has developed a wireless communication system that enables a quantum computer to send and receive data to and from electronics outside the refrigerator using high-speed terahertz waves.

    A transceiver chip placed inside the fridge can receive and transmit data. Terahertz waves generated outside the refrigerator are beamed in through a glass window. Data encoded onto these waves can be received by the chip. That chip also acts as a mirror, delivering data from the qubits on the terahertz waves it reflects to their source.

    This reflection process also bounces back much of the power sent into the fridge, so the process generates only a minimal amount of heat. The contactless communication system consumes up to 10 times less power than systems with metal cables.

    “By having this reflection mode, you really save the power consumption inside the fridge and leave all those dirty jobs on the outside. While this is still just a preliminary prototype and we have some room to improve, even at this point, we have shown low power consumption inside the fridge that is already better than metallic cables. I believe this could be a way to build largescale quantum systems,” says senior author Ruonan Han, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) who leads the Terahertz Integrated Electronics Group.

    Han and his team, with expertise in terahertz waves and electronic devices, joined forces with associate professor Dirk Englund and the Quantum Photonics Laboratory team, who provided quantum engineering expertise and joined in conducting the cryogenic experiments.

    Joining Han and Englund on the paper are first author and EECS graduate student Jinchen Wang; Mohamed Ibrahim PhD ’21; Isaac Harris, a graduate student in the Quantum Photonics Laboratory; Nathan M. Monroe PhD ’22; Wasiq Khan PhD ’22; and Xiang Yi, a former postdoc who is now a professor at the South China University of Technology. The paper will be presented at the International Solid-States Circuits Conference.

    Tiny mirrors

    The researchers’ square transceiver chip, measuring about 2 millimeters on each side, is placed on a quantum computer inside the refrigerator, which is called a cryostat because it maintains cryogenic temperatures. These super-cold temperatures don’t damage the chip; in fact, they enable it to run more efficiently than it would at room temperature.

    The chip sends and receives data from a terahertz wave source outside the cryostat using a passive communication process known as backscatter, which involves reflections. An array of antennas on top of the chip, each of which is only about 200 micrometers in size, act as tiny mirrors. These mirrors can be “turned on” to reflect waves or “turned off.”

    The terahertz wave generation source encodes data onto the waves it sends into the cryostat, and the antennas in their “off” state can receive those waves and the data they carry.

    When the tiny mirrors are turned on, they can be set so they either reflect a wave in its current form or invert its phase before bouncing it back. If the reflected wave has the same phase, that represents a 0, but if the phase is inverted, that represents a 1. Electronics outside the cryostat can interpret those binary signals to decode the data.

    “This backscatter technology is not new. For instance, RFIDs are based on backscatter communication. We borrow that idea and bring it into this very unique scenario, and I think this leads to a good combination of all these technologies,” Han says.

    Terahertz advantages

    The data are transmitted using high-speed terahertz waves, which are located on the electromagnetic spectrum between radio waves and infrared light.

    Because terahertz waves are much smaller than radio waves, the chip and its antennas can be smaller, too, which would make the device easier to manufacture at scale. Terahertz waves also have higher frequencies than radio waves, so they can transmit data much faster and move larger amounts of information.

    But because terahertz waves have lower frequencies than the light waves used in photonic systems, the terahertz waves carry less quantum noise, which leads to less interference with quantum processors.

    Importantly, the transceiver chip and terahertz link can be fully constructed with standard fabrication processes on a CMOS chip, so they can be integrated into many current systems and techniques.

    “CMOS compatibility is important. For example, one terahertz link could deliver a large amount of data and feed it to another cryo-CMOS controller, which can split the signal to control multiple qubits simultaneously, so we can reduce the quantity of RF cables dramatically. This is very promising.” Wang says.

    The researchers were able to transmit data at 4 gigabits per second with their prototype, but Han says the sky is nearly the limit when it comes to boosting that speed. The downlink of the contactless system posed about 10 times less heat load than a system with metallic cables, and the temperature of the cryostat fluctuated up to a few millidegrees during experiments.

    Now that the researchers have demonstrated this wireless technology, they want to improve the system’s speed and efficiency using special terahertz fibers, which are only a few hundred micrometers wide. Han’s group has shown that these plastic wires can transmit data at a rate of 100 gigabits per second and have much better thermal insulation than fatter, metal cables.

    The researchers also want to refine the design of their transceiver to improve scalability and continue boosting its energy efficiency. Generating terahertz waves requires a lot of power, but Han’s group is studying more efficient methods that utilize low-cost chips. Incorporating this technology into the system could make the device more cost-effective.

    The transceiver chip was fabricated through the Intel University Shuttle Program. More

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    New chip for mobile devices knocks out unwanted signals

    Imagine sitting in a packed stadium for a pivotal football game — tens of thousands of people are using mobile phones at the same time, perhaps video chatting with friends or posting photos on social media. The radio frequency signals being sent and received by all these devices could cause interference, which slows device performance and drains batteries.

    Designing devices that can efficiently block unwanted signals is no easy task, especially as 5G networks become more universal and future generations of wireless communication systems are developed. Conventional techniques utilize many filters to block a range of signals, but filters are bulky, expensive, and drive up production costs.

    MIT researchers have developed a circuit architecture that targets and blocks unwanted signals at a receiver’s input without hurting its performance. They borrowed a technique from digital signal processing and used a few tricks that enable it to work effectively in a radio frequency system across a wide frequency range.

    Their receiver blocked even high-power unwanted signals without introducing more noise, or inaccuracies, into the signal processing operations. The chip, which performed about 40 times better than other wideband receivers at blocking a special type of interference, does not require any additional hardware or circuitry. This would make the chip easier to manufacture at scale.

    “We are interested in developing electronic circuits and systems that meet the demands of 5G and future generations of wireless communication systems. In designing our circuits, we look for inspirations from other domains, such as digital signal processing and applied electromagnetics. We believe in circuit elegance and simplicity and try to come up with multifunctional hardware that doesn’t require additional power and chip area,” says senior author Negar Reiskarimian, the X-Window Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and a core faculty member of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories.

    Reiskarimian wrote the paper with EECS graduate students Soroush Araei, who is the lead author, and Shahabeddin Mohin. The work is being presented at the International Solid-States Circuits Conference.

    Harmonic interference

    The researchers developed the receiver chip using what is known as a mixer-first architecture. This means that when a radio frequency signal is received by the device, it is immediately converted to a lower-frequency signal before being passed on to the analog-to-digital converter to extract the digital bits that it is carrying. This approach enables the radio to cover a wide frequency range while filtering out interference located close to the operation frequency.

    While effective, mixer-first receivers are susceptible to a particular kind of interference known as harmonic interference. Harmonic interference comes from signals that have frequencies which are multiples of a device’s operating frequency. For instance, if a device operates at 1 gigahertz, then signals at 2 gigahertz, 3 gigahertz, 5 gigahertz, etc., will cause harmonic interference. These harmonics can be indistinguishable from the original signal during the frequency conversion process.    

    “A lot of other wideband receivers don’t do anything about the harmonics until it is time to see what the bits mean. They do it later in the chain, but this doesn’t work well if you have high-power signals at the harmonic frequencies. Instead, we want to remove harmonics as soon as possible to avoid losing information,” Araei says.

    To do this, the researchers were inspired by a concept from digital signal processing known as block digital filtering. They adapted this technique to the analog domain using capacitors, which hold electric charges. The capacitors are charged up at different times as the signal is received, then they are switched off so that charge can be held and used later for processing the data.  

    These capacitors can be connected to each other in various ways, including connecting them in parallel, which enables the capacitors to exchange the stored charges. While this technique can target harmonic interference, the process results in significant signal loss. Stacking capacitors is another possibility, but this method alone is not enough to provide harmonic resilience.

    Most radio receivers already use switched-capacitor circuits to perform frequency conversion. This frequency conversion circuitry can be combined with block filtering to target harmonic interference.

    A precise arrangement

    The researchers found that arranging capacitors in a specific layout, by connecting some of them in series and then performing charge sharing, enabled the device to block harmonic interference without losing any information.

    “People have used these techniques, charge sharing and capacitor stacking, separately before, but never together. We found that both techniques must be done simultaneously to get this benefit. Moreover, we have found out how to do this in a passive way within the mixer without using any additional hardware while maintaining signal integrity and keeping the costs down,” he says.

    They tested the device by simultaneously sending a desired signal and harmonic interference. Their chip was able to block harmonic signals effectively with only a slight reduction in signal strength. It was able to handle signals that were 40 times more powerful than previous, state-of-the-art wideband receivers. More

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    Breaking the scaling limits of analog computing

    As machine-learning models become larger and more complex, they require faster and more energy-efficient hardware to perform computations. Conventional digital computers are struggling to keep up.

    An analog optical neural network could perform the same tasks as a digital one, such as image classification or speech recognition, but because computations are performed using light instead of electrical signals, optical neural networks can run many times faster while consuming less energy.

    However, these analog devices are prone to hardware errors that can make computations less precise. Microscopic imperfections in hardware components are one cause of these errors. In an optical neural network that has many connected components, errors can quickly accumulate.

    Even with error-correction techniques, due to fundamental properties of the devices that make up an optical neural network, some amount of error is unavoidable. A network that is large enough to be implemented in the real world would be far too imprecise to be effective.

    MIT researchers have overcome this hurdle and found a way to effectively scale an optical neural network. By adding a tiny hardware component to the optical switches that form the network’s architecture, they can reduce even the uncorrectable errors that would otherwise accumulate in the device.

    Their work could enable a super-fast, energy-efficient, analog neural network that can function with the same accuracy as a digital one. With this technique, as an optical circuit becomes larger, the amount of error in its computations actually decreases.  

    “This is remarkable, as it runs counter to the intuition of analog systems, where larger circuits are supposed to have higher errors, so that errors set a limit on scalability. This present paper allows us to address the scalability question of these systems with an unambiguous ‘yes,’” says lead author Ryan Hamerly, a visiting scientist in the MIT Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE) and Quantum Photonics Laboratory and senior scientist at NTT Research.

    Hamerly’s co-authors are graduate student Saumil Bandyopadhyay and senior author Dirk Englund, an associate professor in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), leader of the Quantum Photonics Laboratory, and member of the RLE. The research is published today in Nature Communications.

    Multiplying with light

    An optical neural network is composed of many connected components that function like reprogrammable, tunable mirrors. These tunable mirrors are called Mach-Zehnder Inferometers (MZI). Neural network data are encoded into light, which is fired into the optical neural network from a laser.

    A typical MZI contains two mirrors and two beam splitters. Light enters the top of an MZI, where it is split into two parts which interfere with each other before being recombined by the second beam splitter and then reflected out the bottom to the next MZI in the array. Researchers can leverage the interference of these optical signals to perform complex linear algebra operations, known as matrix multiplication, which is how neural networks process data.

    But errors that can occur in each MZI quickly accumulate as light moves from one device to the next. One can avoid some errors by identifying them in advance and tuning the MZIs so earlier errors are cancelled out by later devices in the array.

    “It is a very simple algorithm if you know what the errors are. But these errors are notoriously difficult to ascertain because you only have access to the inputs and outputs of your chip,” says Hamerly. “This motivated us to look at whether it is possible to create calibration-free error correction.”

    Hamerly and his collaborators previously demonstrated a mathematical technique that went a step further. They could successfully infer the errors and correctly tune the MZIs accordingly, but even this didn’t remove all the error.

    Due to the fundamental nature of an MZI, there are instances where it is impossible to tune a device so all light flows out the bottom port to the next MZI. If the device loses a fraction of light at each step and the array is very large, by the end there will only be a tiny bit of power left.

    “Even with error correction, there is a fundamental limit to how good a chip can be. MZIs are physically unable to realize certain settings they need to be configured to,” he says.

    So, the team developed a new type of MZI. The researchers added an additional beam splitter to the end of the device, calling it a 3-MZI because it has three beam splitters instead of two. Due to the way this additional beam splitter mixes the light, it becomes much easier for an MZI to reach the setting it needs to send all light from out through its bottom port.

    Importantly, the additional beam splitter is only a few micrometers in size and is a passive component, so it doesn’t require any extra wiring. Adding additional beam splitters doesn’t significantly change the size of the chip.

    Bigger chip, fewer errors

    When the researchers conducted simulations to test their architecture, they found that it can eliminate much of the uncorrectable error that hampers accuracy. And as the optical neural network becomes larger, the amount of error in the device actually drops — the opposite of what happens in a device with standard MZIs.

    Using 3-MZIs, they could potentially create a device big enough for commercial uses with error that has been reduced by a factor of 20, Hamerly says.

    The researchers also developed a variant of the MZI design specifically for correlated errors. These occur due to manufacturing imperfections — if the thickness of a chip is slightly wrong, the MZIs may all be off by about the same amount, so the errors are all about the same. They found a way to change the configuration of an MZI to make it robust to these types of errors. This technique also increased the bandwidth of the optical neural network so it can run three times faster.

    Now that they have showcased these techniques using simulations, Hamerly and his collaborators plan to test these approaches on physical hardware and continue driving toward an optical neural network they can effectively deploy in the real world.

    This research is funded, in part, by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. More

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    Deep learning with light

    Ask a smart home device for the weather forecast, and it takes several seconds for the device to respond. One reason this latency occurs is because connected devices don’t have enough memory or power to store and run the enormous machine-learning models needed for the device to understand what a user is asking of it. The model is stored in a data center that may be hundreds of miles away, where the answer is computed and sent to the device.

    MIT researchers have created a new method for computing directly on these devices, which drastically reduces this latency. Their technique shifts the memory-intensive steps of running a machine-learning model to a central server where components of the model are encoded onto light waves.

    The waves are transmitted to a connected device using fiber optics, which enables tons of data to be sent lightning-fast through a network. The receiver then employs a simple optical device that rapidly performs computations using the parts of a model carried by those light waves.

    This technique leads to more than a hundredfold improvement in energy efficiency when compared to other methods. It could also improve security, since a user’s data do not need to be transferred to a central location for computation.

    This method could enable a self-driving car to make decisions in real-time while using just a tiny percentage of the energy currently required by power-hungry computers. It could also allow a user to have a latency-free conversation with their smart home device, be used for live video processing over cellular networks, or even enable high-speed image classification on a spacecraft millions of miles from Earth.

    “Every time you want to run a neural network, you have to run the program, and how fast you can run the program depends on how fast you can pipe the program in from memory. Our pipe is massive — it corresponds to sending a full feature-length movie over the internet every millisecond or so. That is how fast data comes into our system. And it can compute as fast as that,” says senior author Dirk Englund, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and member of the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics.

    Joining Englund on the paper is lead author and EECS grad student Alexander Sludds; EECS grad student Saumil Bandyopadhyay, Research Scientist Ryan Hamerly, as well as others from MIT, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Nokia Corporation. The research is published today in Science.

    Lightening the load

    Neural networks are machine-learning models that use layers of connected nodes, or neurons, to recognize patterns in datasets and perform tasks, like classifying images or recognizing speech. But these models can contain billions of weight parameters, which are numeric values that transform input data as they are processed. These weights must be stored in memory. At the same time, the data transformation process involves billions of algebraic computations, which require a great deal of power to perform.

    The process of fetching data (the weights of the neural network, in this case) from memory and moving them to the parts of a computer that do the actual computation is one of the biggest limiting factors to speed and energy efficiency, says Sludds.

    “So our thought was, why don’t we take all that heavy lifting — the process of fetching billions of weights from memory — move it away from the edge device and put it someplace where we have abundant access to power and memory, which gives us the ability to fetch those weights quickly?” he says.

    The neural network architecture they developed, Netcast, involves storing weights in a central server that is connected to a novel piece of hardware called a smart transceiver. This smart transceiver, a thumb-sized chip that can receive and transmit data, uses technology known as silicon photonics to fetch trillions of weights from memory each second.

    It receives weights as electrical signals and imprints them onto light waves. Since the weight data are encoded as bits (1s and 0s) the transceiver converts them by switching lasers; a laser is turned on for a 1 and off for a 0. It combines these light waves and then periodically transfers them through a fiber optic network so a client device doesn’t need to query the server to receive them.

    “Optics is great because there are many ways to carry data within optics. For instance, you can put data on different colors of light, and that enables a much higher data throughput and greater bandwidth than with electronics,” explains Bandyopadhyay.

    Trillions per second

    Once the light waves arrive at the client device, a simple optical component known as a broadband “Mach-Zehnder” modulator uses them to perform super-fast, analog computation. This involves encoding input data from the device, such as sensor information, onto the weights. Then it sends each individual wavelength to a receiver that detects the light and measures the result of the computation.

    The researchers devised a way to use this modulator to do trillions of multiplications per second, which vastly increases the speed of computation on the device while using only a tiny amount of power.   

    “In order to make something faster, you need to make it more energy efficient. But there is a trade-off. We’ve built a system that can operate with about a milliwatt of power but still do trillions of multiplications per second. In terms of both speed and energy efficiency, that is a gain of orders of magnitude,” Sludds says.

    They tested this architecture by sending weights over an 86-kilometer fiber that connects their lab to MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Netcast enabled machine-learning with high accuracy — 98.7 percent for image classification and 98.8 percent for digit recognition — at rapid speeds.

    “We had to do some calibration, but I was surprised by how little work we had to do to achieve such high accuracy out of the box. We were able to get commercially relevant accuracy,” adds Hamerly.

    Moving forward, the researchers want to iterate on the smart transceiver chip to achieve even better performance. They also want to miniaturize the receiver, which is currently the size of a shoe box, down to the size of a single chip so it could fit onto a smart device like a cell phone.

    “Using photonics and light as a platform for computing is a really exciting area of research with potentially huge implications on the speed and efficiency of our information technology landscape,” says Euan Allen, a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow at the University of Bath, who was not involved with this work. “The work of Sludds et al. is an exciting step toward seeing real-world implementations of such devices, introducing a new and practical edge-computing scheme whilst also exploring some of the fundamental limitations of computation at very low (single-photon) light levels.”

    The research is funded, in part, by NTT Research, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the Army Research Office. More

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    Is it topological? A new materials database has the answer

    What will it take to make our electronics smarter, faster, and more resilient? One idea is to build them from materials that are topological.

    Topology stems from a branch of mathematics that studies shapes that can be manipulated or deformed without losing certain core properties. A donut is a common example: If it were made of rubber, a donut could be twisted and squeezed into a completely new shape, such as a coffee mug, while retaining a key trait — namely, its center hole, which takes the form of the cup’s handle. The hole, in this case, is a topological trait, robust against certain deformations.

    In recent years, scientists have applied concepts of topology to the discovery of materials with similarly robust electronic properties. In 2007, researchers predicted the first electronic topological insulators — materials in which electrons that behave in ways that are “topologically protected,” or persistent in the face of certain disruptions.

    Since then, scientists have searched for more topological materials with the aim of building better, more robust electronic devices. Until recently, only a handful of such materials were identified, and were therefore assumed to be a rarity.

    Now researchers at MIT and elsewhere have discovered that, in fact, topological materials are everywhere, if you know how to look for them.

    In a paper published today in Science, the team, led by Nicolas Regnault of Princeton University and the École Normale Supérieure Paris, reports harnessing the power of multiple supercomputers to map the electronic structure of more than 96,000 natural and synthetic crystalline materials. They applied sophisticated filters to determine whether and what kind of topological traits exist in each structure.

    Overall, they found that 90 percent of all known crystalline structures contain at least one topological property, and more than 50 percent of all naturally occurring materials exhibit some sort of topological behavior.

    “We found there’s a ubiquity — topology is everywhere,” says Benjamin Wieder, the study’s co-lead, and a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Physics.

    The team has compiled the newly identified materials into a new, freely accessible Topological Materials Database resembling a periodic table of topology. With this new library, scientists can quickly search materials of interest for any topological properties they might hold, and harness them to build ultra-low-power transistors, new magnetic memory storage, and other devices with robust electronic properties.

    The paper includes co-lead author Maia Vergniory of the Donostia International Physics Center, Luis Elcoro of the University of Basque Country, Stuart Parkin and Claudia Felser of the Max Planck Institute, and Andrei Bernevig of Princeton University.

    Beyond intuition

    The new study was motivated by a desire to speed up the traditional search for topological materials.

    “The way the original materials were found was through chemical intuition,” Wieder says. “That approach had a lot of early successes. But as we theoretically predicted more kinds of topological phases, it seemed intuition wasn’t getting us very far.”

    Wieder and his colleagues instead utilized an efficient and systematic method to root out signs of topology, or robust electronic behavior, in all known crystalline structures, also known as inorganic solid-state materials.

    For their study, the researchers looked to the Inorganic Crystal Structure Database, or ICSD, a repository into which researchers enter the atomic and chemical structures of crystalline materials that they have studied. The database includes materials found in nature, as well as those that have been synthesized and manipulated in the lab. The ICSD is currently the largest materials database in the world, containing over 193,000 crystals whose structures have been mapped and characterized.

    The team downloaded the entire ICSD, and after performing some data cleaning to weed out structures with corrupted files or incomplete data, the researchers were left with just over 96,000 processable structures. For each of these structures, they performed a set of calculations based on fundamental knowledge of the relation between chemical constituents, to produce a map of the material’s electronic structure, also known as the electron band structure.

    The team was able to efficiently carry out the complicated calculations for each structure using multiple supercomputers, which they then employed to perform a second set of operations, this time to screen for various known topological phases, or persistent electrical behavior in each crystal material.

    “We’re looking for signatures in the electronic structure in which certain robust phenomena should occur in this material,” explains Wieder, whose previous work involved refining and expanding the screening technique, known as topological quantum chemistry.

    From their high-throughput analysis, the team quickly discovered a surprisingly large number of materials that are naturally topological, without any experimental manipulation, as well as materials that can be manipulated, for instance with light or chemical doping, to exhibit some sort of robust electronic behavior. They also discovered a handful of materials that contained more than one topological state when exposed to certain conditions.

    “Topological phases of matter in 3D solid-state materials have been proposed as venues for observing and manipulating exotic effects, including the interconversion of electrical current and electron spin, the tabletop simulation of exotic theories from high-energy physics, and even, under the right conditions, the storage and manipulation of quantum information,” Wieder notes. 

    For experimentalists who are studying such effects, Wieder says the team’s new database now reveals a menagerie of new materials to explore.

    This research was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. More

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    Meet the 2021-22 Accenture Fellows

    Launched in October of 2020, the MIT and Accenture Convergence Initiative for Industry and Technology underscores the ways in which industry and technology come together to spur innovation. The five-year initiative aims to achieve its mission through research, education, and fellowships. To that end, Accenture has once again awarded five annual fellowships to MIT graduate students working on research in industry and technology convergence who are underrepresented, including by race, ethnicity, and gender.

    This year’s Accenture Fellows work across disciplines including robotics, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and biomedicine. Their research covers a wide array of subjects, including: advancing manufacturing through computational design, with the potential to benefit global vaccine production; designing low-energy robotics for both consumer electronics and the aerospace industry; developing robotics and machine learning systems that may aid the elderly in their homes; and creating ingestible biomedical devices that can help gather medical data from inside a patient’s body.

    Student nominations from each unit within the School of Engineering, as well as from the four other MIT schools and the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, were invited as part of the application process. Five exceptional students were selected as fellows in the initiative’s second year.

    Xinming (Lily) Liu is a PhD student in operations research at MIT Sloan School of Management. Her work is focused on behavioral and data-driven operations for social good, incorporating human behaviors into traditional optimization models, designing incentives, and analyzing real-world data. Her current research looks at the convergence of social media, digital platforms, and agriculture, with particular attention to expanding technological equity and economic opportunity in developing countries. Liu earned her BS from Cornell University, with a double major in operations research and computer science.

    Caris Moses is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science specializing inartificial intelligence. Moses’ research focuses on using machine learning, optimization, and electromechanical engineering to build robotics systems that are robust, flexible, intelligent, and can learn on the job. The technology she is developing holds promise for industries including flexible, small-batch manufacturing; robots to assist the elderly in their households; and warehouse management and fulfillment. Moses earned her BS in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and her MS in computer science from Northeastern University.

    Sergio Rodriguez Aponte is a PhD student in biological engineering. He is working on the convergence of computational design and manufacturing practices, which have the potential to impact industries such as biopharmaceuticals, food, and wellness/nutrition. His current research aims to develop strategies for applying computational tools, such as multiscale modeling and machine learning, to the design and production of manufacturable and accessible vaccine candidates that could eventually be available globally. Rodriguez Aponte earned his BS in industrial biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

    Soumya Sudhakar SM ’20 is a PhD student in aeronautics and astronautics. Her work is focused on theco-design of new algorithms and integrated circuits for autonomous low-energy robotics that could have novel applications in aerospace and consumer electronics. Her contributions bring together the emerging robotics industry, integrated circuits industry, aerospace industry, and consumer electronics industry. Sudhakar earned her BSE in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University and her MS in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT.

    So-Yoon Yang is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science. Her work on the development of low-power, wireless, ingestible biomedical devices for health care is at the intersection of the medical device, integrated circuit, artificial intelligence, and pharmaceutical fields. Currently, the majority of wireless biomedical devices can only provide a limited range of medical data measured from outside the body. Ingestible devices hold promise for the next generation of personal health care because they do not require surgical implantation, can be useful for detecting physiological and pathophysiological signals, and can also function as therapeutic alternatives when treatment cannot be done externally. Yang earned her BS in electrical and computer engineering from Seoul National University in South Korea and her MS in electrical engineering from Caltech. More

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    A universal system for decoding any type of data sent across a network

    Every piece of data that travels over the internet — from paragraphs in an email to 3D graphics in a virtual reality environment — can be altered by the noise it encounters along the way, such as electromagnetic interference from a microwave or Bluetooth device. The data are coded so that when they arrive at their destination, a decoding algorithm can undo the negative effects of that noise and retrieve the original data.

    Since the 1950s, most error-correcting codes and decoding algorithms have been designed together. Each code had a structure that corresponded with a particular, highly complex decoding algorithm, which often required the use of dedicated hardware.

    Researchers at MIT, Boston University, and Maynooth University in Ireland have now created the first silicon chip that is able to decode any code, regardless of its structure, with maximum accuracy, using a universal decoding algorithm called Guessing Random Additive Noise Decoding (GRAND). By eliminating the need for multiple, computationally complex decoders, GRAND enables increased efficiency that could have applications in augmented and virtual reality, gaming, 5G networks, and connected devices that rely on processing a high volume of data with minimal delay.

    The research at MIT is led by Muriel Médard, the Cecil H. and Ida Green Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and was co-authored by Amit Solomon and Wei Ann, both graduate students at MIT; Rabia Tugce Yazicigil, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University; Arslan Riaz and Vaibhav Bansal, both graduate students at Boston University; Ken R. Duffy, director of the Hamilton Institute at the National University of Ireland at Maynooth; and Kevin Galligan, a Maynooth graduate student. The research will be presented at the European Solid-States Device Research and Circuits Conference next week.

    Focus on noise

    One way to think of these codes is as redundant hashes (in this case, a series of 1s and 0s) added to the end of the original data. The rules for the creation of that hash are stored in a specific codebook.

    As the encoded data travel over a network, they are affected by noise, or energy that disrupts the signal, which is often generated by other electronic devices. When that coded data and the noise that affected them arrive at their destination, the decoding algorithm consults its codebook and uses the structure of the hash to guess what the stored information is.

    Instead, GRAND works by guessing the noise that affected the message, and uses the noise pattern to deduce the original information. GRAND generates a series of noise sequences in the order they are likely to occur, subtracts them from the received data, and checks to see if the resulting codeword is in a codebook.

    While the noise appears random in nature, it has a probabilistic structure that allows the algorithm to guess what it might be.

    “In a way, it is similar to troubleshooting. If someone brings their car into the shop, the mechanic doesn’t start by mapping the entire car to blueprints. Instead, they start by asking, ‘What is the most likely thing to go wrong?’ Maybe it just needs gas. If that doesn’t work, what’s next? Maybe the battery is dead?” Médard says.

    Novel hardware

    The GRAND chip uses a three-tiered structure, starting with the simplest possible solutions in the first stage and working up to longer and more complex noise patterns in the two subsequent stages. Each stage operates independently, which increases the throughput of the system and saves power.

    The device is also designed to switch seamlessly between two codebooks. It contains two static random-access memory chips, one that can crack codewords, while the other loads a new codebook and then switches to decoding without any downtime.

    The researchers tested the GRAND chip and found it could effectively decode any moderate redundancy code up to 128 bits in length, with only about a microsecond of latency.

    Médard and her collaborators had previously demonstrated the success of the algorithm, but this new work showcases the effectiveness and efficiency of GRAND in hardware for the first time.

    Developing hardware for the novel decoding algorithm required the researchers to first toss aside their preconceived notions, Médard says.

    “We couldn’t go out and reuse things that had already been done. This was like a complete whiteboard. We had to really think about every single component from scratch. It was a journey of reconsideration. And I think when we do our next chip, there will be things with this first chip that we’ll realize we did out of habit or assumption that we can do better,” she says.

    A chip for the future

    Since GRAND only uses codebooks for verification, the chip not only works with legacy codes but could also be used with codes that haven’t even been introduced yet.

    In the lead-up to 5G implementation, regulators and communications companies struggled to find consensus as to which codes should be used in the new network. Regulators ultimately chose to use two types of traditional codes for 5G infrastructure in different situations. Using GRAND could eliminate the need for that rigid standardization in the future, Médard says.

    The GRAND chip could even open the field of coding to a wave of innovation.

    “For reasons I’m not quite sure of, people approach coding with awe, like it is black magic. The process is mathematically nasty, so people just use codes that already exist. I’m hoping this will recast the discussion so it is not so standards-oriented, enabling people to use codes that already exist and create new codes,” she says.

    Moving forward, Médard and her collaborators plan to tackle the problem of soft detection with a retooled version of the GRAND chip. In soft detection, the received data are less precise.

    They also plan to test the ability of GRAND to crack longer, more complex codes and adjust the structure of the silicon chip to improve its energy efficiency.

    The research was funded by the Battelle Memorial Institute and Science Foundation of Ireland. More