Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Having a slow connection is always frustrating, but just imagine how supercomputers feel. All those cores doing all kinds of processing at lightning speed, but in the end they’re all waiting on an outdated network interface to stay in sync. DARPA doesn’t like it. So DARPA wants to change it — specifically by making a new network interface a hundred times faster.

The problem is this. As DARPA estimates it, processors and memory on a computer or server can in a general sense work at a speed of roughly 10^14 bits per second — that’s comfortably into the terabit region — and networking hardware like switches and fiber are capable of about the same.

“The true bottleneck for processor throughput is the network interface used to connect a machine to an external network, such as an Ethernet, therefore severely limiting a processor’s data ingest capability,” explained DARPA’s Jonathan Smith in a news post by the agency about the project. (Emphasis mine.)

That network interface usually takes the form of a card (making it a NIC) and handles accepting data from the network and passing it on to the computer’s own systems, or vice versa. Unfortunately its performance is typically more in the gigabit range.

That delta between the NIC and the other components of the network means a fundamental limit in how quickly information can be shared between different computing units — like the hundreds or thousands of servers and GPUs that make up supercomputers and datacenters. The faster one unit can share its information with another, the faster they can move on to the next task.

Think of it like this: You run an apple farm, and every apple needs to be inspected and polished. You’ve got people inspecting apples and people polishing apples, and both can do 14 apples a minute. But the conveyor belts between the departments only carry 10 apples per minute. You can see how things would pile up, and how frustrating it would be for everyone involved!

With the FastNIC program, DARPA wants to “reinvent the network stack” and improve throughput by a factor of 100. After all, if they can crack this problem, their supercomputers will be at an immense advantage over others in the world, in particular those in China, which has vied with the U.S. in the high performance computing arena for years. But it’s not going to be easy.

“There is a lot of expense and complexity involved in building a network stack,” said Smith, the first of which will be physically redesigning the interface. “It starts with the hardware; if you cannot get that right, you are stuck. Software can’t make things faster than the physical layer will allow so we have to first change the physical layer.”

The other main part will, naturally, be redoing the software side to deal with the immense increase in the scale of the data the interface will have to handle. Even a 2x or 4x change would necessitate systematic improvements; 100x will involve pretty much a ground-up redo of the system.

The agency’s researchers — bolstered, of course, by any private industry folks who want to chip in, so to speak — aim to demonstrate a 10 terabit connection, though there’s no timeline just yet. But the good news for now is that all the software libraries created by FastNIC will be open source, so this standard won’t be limited to the Defense Department’s proprietary systems.

FastNIC is only just getting started, so forget about it for now and we’ll let you know when DARPA cracks the code in a year or three.


Flying cars, or at least their functional equivalent, edge closer to reality every day – and startup Kitty Hawk wants you to know it’s putting in the flying time to make it happen. The company, led by former Google self-driving car visionary Sebastian Thrun, has now flown its first aircraft, the one-person Flyer, over 25,000 times. That includes both its excursions as a prototype that resembled a flying motorcycle or ATV, and in its current, more refined, mostly enclosed cockpit design.

Flyer is now one of two aircraft that Kitty Hawk is working on bringing to market, alongside its Cora two-person, autonomous taxi built in collaboration with Boeing. Flyer is a one-person, human piloted aircraft designed primarily for recreational use, and Kitty Hawk has said it’s refined the vehicle to the point where someone with no experience can learn to fly it in 15 minutes. The company is currently looking for applications for potential partners who want to deploy it in their communities, and it does seem like the type of thing that might do well as an organized excursion activity at a travel destination or resort.

There’s no info on pricing or actual availability yet, but there was a limited Founder Series pre-order for individual purchasers with deep pockets. The aircraft features pontoons and is designed for use over water, and it can fly between three and 10 ft above the surface with vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

Personally, I’d probably opt for the flying jet-ski over paragliding if it was on offer at a vacation spot, so here’s hoping this actually finds a path to commercialization somewhat soon.


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