Monday, April 22, 2013

A Flat Panel Camera

A smartphone is more than just a phone. The platform has grown by accreting the functions of other platforms: watch, calculator, MP3 Player, PDA, and now even the laptop. This has been done in part by miniaturizing the components but also in large part by consolidating functions within components. Although display technology continues to produce visually better display one of the biggest advancements in display has been the consolidation of the keyboard and mouse function within the display. In looking to future development in display technology, much of the focus is rightly on better displays; visually better and flexible OLEDs. However, much is to be gained by considering further functional accretion into the display. Specifically, as touch technology moves to optical (non-touch) versions touch panels take on the capability of flatbed scanners. Perhaps they could also take on the role of camera.

Current cell phone cameras are limited by the size of their optics. Obviously this limits light input (low light capability) but it also means that they are diffraction limited in terms of resolution. Though phones may boast resolutions of 10 megapixels or more in their CMOS sensor, the optical resolution may be much smaller than this, as small as 2 megapixels. Flat panel cameras currently exist. They work by using folded optics to break up and compress the optical path. This is a workable but inelegant and is not a technique that could be integrated into the display. A solution involving synthetic aperture imaging could conceivably be integrated into the display and would give resolutions much higher than the human eye. Current tablets are much thinner than just the lid of laptops from not so long ago and have every bit of the functionality. Increasingly, the display is the device. Ultimately, this may be literally true.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Minority Report" and the Hunt for the Boston Marathon Bomber

Clearchannel is, rightly, touting their role in dealing with the crisis. In the movie, "Minority Report" the entire town is looking for Tom Cruise using its ubiquitous digital signage. In banks, the screens showing the feed from the security cameras are not referred to or counted as digital signage. However combine the two and you may have start to finish video monitoring of the next race with both the contest and the crowd being widely shown up and down the rout. Image from "Digital Signage Today"

In addition to fixing the highway system so that it connects to the airport logically, the "Big Dig" left Boston with an all-new data infrastructure. It would be the ideal place to implement ubiquitous digital signage.


Apple will reportedly pay $53 million to settle a class action lawsuit concerning wet iPhones. The Apple warranty does not cover dropping the phone in the toilet... which seems to be a common occurrence, so Apple placed a Liquid Contact Indicator (LCI) on the phone to determine which phones had been submerged. However, it seems the LCI also reacts to humidity. The settlement begs the question whether humidity can disable a phone as well and whether folks in Louisiana and Central Florida can routinely expect shorter life from their devices. There are tried and true remedies to this type of problem.

As discussed in another post, CRTs routinely lasted 20 years or more. They had a few things going for them that mobile electronics did not have. They maintained an internal vacuum, they were built from two pieces of completely hermetic glass, the glass was joined together by an equally hermetic frit seal, the inside was “gettered” to scavenge up any stray oxygen and, the power and data conduits to the tube were hermetic glass-to-metal seals. All of this was done very cheaply and the tubes were physically robust. In CRT manufacturing plants the tubes were occasionally dropped. Not only would a well-made tube not necessarily break, they would sometimes bounce. Made with non-strengthened glass, the combination of the Implosion band and the vacuum imparted sufficient surface compression that the tubes were able to survive indefinitely in most homes where their treatment was not always as gentle as one would want for a big glass bottle.

Many of these same solutions could be applied to smartphones and tablet. It would involve some re-thinking of the I/O but is certainly doable. The result would be not only a longer lived device, one that is susceptible to neither humidity or to actual submersion, but one that is physically more robust as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The First Nanomaterial: CorningWare and Controlled Nucleation Grain Growth

Wikipedia, “Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach on nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions.

The recent hub-bub over the sapphire lens cover on the iPhone 5 and proposed use of sapphire as a “coverglass” has the display industry rushing to rediscover the difference between a glass and a crystal, both transparent but not the same thing. In addition to transparent polymers, there is also a class of ceramics that can be transparent as well. The most well-known pyro-ceramic (also called glass-ceramic) is CorningWare. CorningWare is usually visibly white but comes in a transparent version that is trademarked as Visions. In its white version, CorningWare is transparent to radio waves and is commonly used to make “transparencies” for the military and space programs in the form of radomes. Other forms of pyro-ceramics include infrared polarizers widely in use in the telecommunications industry, and two forms of photochromics: one lightens and darken depending on ambient light levels, a second undergoes permanent color changes depending on it's optical exposure during manufacture. All of these products are made possible by a process called controlled nucleation grain growth.

Controlled nucleation grain growth is a process by which a glassy liquid converts to a crystalline form by precise control of the crystallization process. Nano-Crystals are formed in a very controlled manner giving very specific properties to the finished body. This includes extreme hardness and very specific optical properties. These crystals can even be oriented by subsequent processing making the formed part birefringent and enabling its use as a polarizer. Some effort was made to employ the photochromic version as a color filter; however, the process was never able to produce the saturated colors that were necessary. However, this did not stop IBM from filing multiple patents in the area. In addition to cookware and optical products, pyro-ceramics have been investigated as armor for military vehicles and high temperature molds for metal casting. The process was invented in the 1950’s.

That' the ticket Ladie.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A New Korean War?

My father (bottom row, second from right) and I both spent considerable time in Seoul, he as a soldier in the Korean War, myself as a marketing person in the display industry. The Korean War, as is any civil war, was a great tragedy with 1/6th of the Korean population dying. When my father was in Seoul, there were virtually no buildings standing. Today it is the home to millions of people and millions more in the immediate surroundings. Though no one can say what is in the heads of the North Korean leaders, or even our own leaders some times, most of the threats coming out of the north have been directed at the US rather than at the south. One can only hope that any linger sense of Korean nationalism keeps the north from targeting south and rolling back 60 years of recovery.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Decline in Engineering Job Creation

Both as part of the debate on immigration reform and independently per request from west coast technology firms, the congress is considering increasing the number of those on technical visas and immigrants with technical skills admitted to the US as there seems to be a shortage. But is the shortage real? is one of those web sites that consolidates information from other sites into one interface. In the case of Indeed, it consolidates employment solicitations. It also has a number of tools to help the job searcher, one of which is a Trend chart that shows how many or what percentage of employment solicitations mention a particular skill. This facility of shows some peculiar results regarding engineering.

For most of the current century 10% of employment ads mentioned engineering. During the 2008 collapse, this number had been approaching 15% but fell back sharply coinciding with a renewed loss of manufacturing jobs. Since the collapse, there has been a slight recovery in the percentage of job solicitations mentioning engineering. However in mid 2012 that number collapsed again, falling below 10% and reaching levels of pre-2006.

The general trend of the above graph is repeated by plotting individual engineering specialties (electrical, mechanical,chemical), "civil engineering" is relatively stable for now but only because it could not get any worse. Although there has been some recovery in manufacturing jobs, the chart tends to indicate a continued hollowing out of the country's technological base. The decline in percentage of engineering jobs being created lead the overall decline in job creation and may be something of a leading indicator. It highlights the need to grow manufacturing to return the US to economic health.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When Your Business Model Expires (The End of Broadcast TV Pt II)

I have written before that broadcast TV is not long for this world. They are not going to go away tomorrow, but they are going away. Now, these septagenerian networks are acting their age and asking the world around them to contmplate life without them. Aereo is a service offered in NYC that provides both live and recorded broadcast TV over the internet. Each customer is assigned two antenaes that both capture live TV and and record selected shows. Three copies are made of each for streaming to mobile, wifi, and standard broadcast recievers. Effectively it is like the consumer purchasing their own TV antenae and exercising their public access rights. With such a business model, per two previous court challenges, Aereo can capture broadcast content for their consumers without paying any royalties to the broadcasters.

Per ZDNet, "While advertising was once the life's blood for broadcast TV, over the last few years, cable and satellite operator retransmission fees has become vital to their business... So it is that CBS and Fox are threatening to turn off OTA broadcasts in NYC if Aereo continues to stream broadcast TV without paying retransmission fees. " Of course, they won't do that. Per my earlier blog post, the spectrum that the networks occupy in large metropolitan areas is worth more than those local stations. As the internet continues to grow and the diversity of content sources grows as well, the value of their content will only decline while the value of their spectrum continues to grow. The value of the broadcast spectrum is as the real estate value of a apple orchard nestled in the heart of Manhattan. Someone walks by and picks an apple or two off of a limg that happens to extend over the edge of the property and the land owner react by threatening to cut down the trees and abandon the property.... We can only dream that this would actually happen.