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Top 10 Computer Engineering Marvels

World’s Largest Computer SAGE

World’s Largest Computer SAGEOne of the first wide-area networks, Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) was one of the key factors in the genesis of the Internet. Its construction began in 1957 and it became the part of the ARPANET (which evolved into the Internet we know today) in 1969.

IBM built it as to strengthen the radar and missile air defenses of the US during the Cold War. SAGE is made up of acre-sized computers at 20 different locations (known as Direction Centres) which are connected together by about 1,300 baud modems. Each of the Direction Centre was a window-less concrete cube that housed 2 CPUs operated one at a time. Each CPU weighed about 250 times and could execute about 75,000 instructions per second. Each Direction Centre was connected to each other, few Command Centres, hundres of radar centres, microwave towers & AT&T telephone lines that ran through a central underground bunker.

SAGE was used to analyse the huge amount of data generated by radar installations across North America for timely action in case of Soviet missiles or bombers are spotted anywhere near the US. The sheer size of the United States, high speeds of the modern jet aircrafts, and huge number of possible attack vectors made SAGE quite useful for the US military. SAGE was also equipped with the technology to launch and control interceptor planes and air defense missiles, including the nuclear warhead CIM-10 Bomarc.

SAGE used the first mass-produced modem at the end of the telephone lines (Bell 101 modem which was the first device to use ASCII codes).

World’s Faster Supercomputer Tianhe-2

World’s Faster Supercomputer Tianhe-2Supercomputer Tianhe-2 was developed by the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in Changsha, China. Top500, bi-annual ranking of the fastest computers on Earth, has ranked it as the world’s fastest supercomputer for the third year in a row in 2014. Top10billion, a similar ranking, also ranked Tianhe-2 as the fastest supercomputer of the world for fourth time in a row. It is capable of 33.86 petaflops (quadrillion calculations per second) and is expected to reach 100 petaflops by 2018. In 2010, the top spot in the ranking was held by the Tianhe-1A.

Developed by a team of 1,300 scientists and engineers, the Tianhe-2 is located at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. The supercomputer was envisioned to be used for simulation and analysis of government security applications.

TH-2 is the world’s largest installation of Ivy Bridge Xeon processors and Xeon Phi co-processor chips. The system has 16,000 computer nodes and each node has 2 Ivy Bridge processors and 3 Xeon Phu chips. It runs on Kylin Linux operating system which is developed by NUDT based on Simple Linux Utility for Resource Management (SLURM). The total computer complex would ultimately occupy 720 sq m of space.

World’s Smallest Computer is just 1 mm in size

World’s Smallest Computer is just 1 mm in sizeMichigan Engineers have designed the world’s smallest computer. Programmed with a flashing light, this computing unit has a size of just 1 mm – smaller than a regular-sized pill. Dennis Sylvester (Professor of Electrical Engineering) and David Blaauw (Professor of Computer Science) at the University of Michigan have developed tiny computers that are capable of using solar power for wireless communication, still image and video processing and to make temperature and pressure sensors work. Millimeter sized computing designs by ME can perform on many alternating platforms. Each unit is assembled in layers and can be customized for a particular function.

Research work is on to reduce the size of these computers to a third of a millimeter so that they can be placed inside biological cells and enable broadcasting and monitoring of cellular-level activities. The testing has already been developed to place such computing units on top of tumours in cancer patients and record effectiveness of chemotherapy sessions.

Virtual Assistant Cortana

Virtual Assistant CortanaA breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Microsoft used speech recognition and language comprehension research to create virtual assistant Cortana. This app beauty is built into the mobile version of Windows 10 and tries to hold dialogues with people. It also learns from its mistakes. Apart from MS’s Cortana, Google Now and Apple’s Siri are other virtual assistants that personify operating systems of today.

In the early interface prototypes, Cortana on your laptop and desktop can process voice commands to call Skype contacts, set reminders and read out your Calendar just like you do on your phones. Virtual Assistants are believed to be next wave of software revolution in the near future.

Cancer Treatment Assistant Watson

Cancer Treatment Assistant WatsonWatson, developed by the IBM, is an artificial intelligence masterpiece known for answer questions through techniques like natural language processing, automated reasoning, information retrieval, knowledge representation and machine learning technologies. Developed by a research team led by David Ferruci, it was named after the first CEO of the company – Thomas J Watson. It won a quiz Jeopardy! against the former champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. During the game, it was not connected to the Internet.

Today, it helps cancer doctors to use genomic data to prescribe personalised treatment plans for patients. According to Manoj Saxena, Business Chief of IBM Watson, 90% of nurses use the guidance of Watson for cancer patients.

Based on the DeepQA software of the IBM and the Apache UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture) framework, Watson runs on the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 operating systems and use Apache Hadoop framework. It was written in various languages such as C++, Java and Prolog.

Supercomputer K Computer

Supercomputer K ComputerK computer is named after the Japanese word 'kei', which means 10 quadrillion. This supercomputer is housed in the campus of the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science situated in Kobe, Japan. Fujitsu manufactured it. It has a distributed memory architecture with more than 80,000 computer nodes. Each of these nodes has a single processor and 16GB memory. Its operating system is based on Linux kernel and additional drivers have been installed to enable it to use all the hardware associated with it.

K computer is used for a number of things – disaster prevention, medical research and climate research. This supercomputer uses a proprietary 6D torus interconnect called Tofu. The computer uses water cooling system to reduce power consumption and bring down failure rate.

K was ranked as the world’s fastest computer in June 2011 with a speed of 8.16 petaflops. Its computing efficiency ratio was 93%. By November that year, K became the first supercomputer to exceed 10 petaflops with a computing efficiency ratio of 93.2%. Yet by 2013, it had slid to the position of the world’s fourth-fastest computer.

BrainGate for Thought-Controlled Computing

BrainGate for Thought-Controlled ComputingDesigned by Cyberkinetics, BrainGate is a brain implant system built for people who suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or spinal cord injury and are paralysed. This sensor, implanted into brain, monitors the brain activity of the patient and translates it into computer commands. At present, the sensor uses an external decoder device connected to a prosthetic limb. It has about 100 hair-thin electrodes that sense the electromagnetic activity of neurons related to specific brain areas. For example, the decoder device can decode electrical signals about arm movement going on in brain and make the robotic arm respond to it.

With the help of BrainGate, paralysed people can operate wheelchair or even a computer just with the help of their thoughts. In May 2012, Cathy Hutchinson – who had been paralysed for 15 years, was able to use the robotic arm through BrainGate to drink coffee from a bottle without any human intervention.

Not commercially available yet, clinical trials for BrainGate 2 are still going on.

Cost-effective 3D Virtual Reality System VuePod

Cost-effective 3D Virtual Reality System VuePodAt Brigham Young University, students of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have created a 3D immersive visualization environment called the Vuepod under Professor Dan Ames. The Vuepod has a massive 108 square feet screen (with 12 HD 55-inch 3D televisions) connected to a computer meant to support high-end graphics-intensive gaming. Images are controlled by a Wii remote that interact with a Bluetooth device called SmartTrack.

Low-cost drones equipped with LIDAR (Radars with lasers) scan the landscape and dispatch point data images which can be seen on the Vuepod.

This real-life computer-powered mega TV allows engineers to fly over or wander through 3D environments that are difficult to tread otherwise. With data sets taken of a particular area over various years, engineers will be able to see changes in natural landscape easily. Besides, it can also assist infrastructure monitoring (to check condition of highways over time or see affect on buildings due to earthquakes and weather).

The Vuepod is highly cost-efficient too. While similar systems cost about $10 million, the cost of Vuepod is just about $30,000.

Google Glass

Google GlassWearable computer by Google, Google Glass looks like a regular pair of glasses. An evolution of the smartphone, it is a super example of Optical Head-Mounted Display (OHMD) and Augmented Reality (AR) available in the open market. Google Glass allows you to browse Internet, make calls, send text messages, download apps, read news, click photos and use Google Maps navigation without need of a handheld device.

You may also video chat with your friends using Google Hangouts and show them what you are seeing. Isn’t it all so futuristic?

Google Glass has voice recognition system that allows you to execute tasks with the help of voice commands. Hardware of Google Glass is still on the modest side with 640X360 pixel display screen, 5 MP camera, and a battery life that lasts for only about 5 hours.

Time Magazine chose Glass as ‘Best Inventions of the Year 2012’.

Obsfucation to End Hacking & Viruses

Obsfucation to End Hacking & VirusesProfessor Amit Sahai from the University of California has developed an ‘Obsfucator’ which is a breakthrough in cryptography. It obscures information by mixing random elements with files and making them meaningless for general public except for the end-user who runs the program in a certain way. Thus, hacking, infecting software and cyber crimes will become virtually impossible.

Referred to as ‘obsfucation’ or ‘beclouding’ in general, Sahai’s technology turns software into ‘multi-linear jigsaw puzzles’. Some companies had added obfuscating features to their software earlier but hackers got through them eventually. Till now, Sahai’s system has proved itself to be impenetrable.

The technology needs more work before it is introduced in the market for commercial software producers but it is expected to be an important step in the direction of data privacy and online security.