The Future is Here: Flexible, Paper Thin Ultra-HD Screens

amoledThe explosion in computing and personal devices in recent years has led to a world where we are constantly surrounded by displays. Whether they belong to personal computers, laptops, smartphones, LCDs, PDAs, or MP3 players, there is no shortage to the amount of screens we can consult. In turn, this proliferation has led computer scientists and engineers to address a number of imperfections these displays have.

For instance, some of these displays don’t work in direct sunlight or are subject to glare. Others are horridly energy-inefficient and will drain their battery life very quickly. Some don’t have high-definition, rich color, and can’t display true black color. Just about all of them are rigid, and all can be broken given a solid enough impact. Luckily, a new age of flexible, ultra-HD screens are on the way that promise to resolve all of this.

amoled-display-3The first examples of this concept were rolled out at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, where Samsung unveiled its revolutionary new AMOLED display on a number of devices. This was followed up in September of 2012 when Nokia unveiled its Kinetic Device at the World Nokia Conference in London. Both devices showcased displays that could bend and flex, and were followed by concept videos produced by electronic giants Sony, 3M and Microsoft.

Since that time, numerous strides have been taken to improve on the technology before it hits the open market. In research published earlier this month in Nature, scientists describe what may be the first steps toward creating a new type of ultrathin, superfast, low-power, high-resolution, flexible color screen. If successful, these displays could combine some of the best features of current display technologies.

ultra-thin-displayThe new displays work with familiar materials, including the metal alloy already used to store data on some CDs and DVDs. The key property of these materials is that they can exist in two states – when warmed by heat, light, or electricity, they switch from one state to the other. Scientists call them phase-change materials (PCMs); and as Alex Kolobov, a researcher at Japan’s Nanoelectronics Research Institute who was not involved in the new work, explains:

It is really fascinating that phase-change materials, now widely used in optical and nonvolatile electronic memory devices, found a potentially new application in display technology.

A PCM display would work similar to the electronic paper used in products like Amazon’s Kindle reader. Both are made by sandwiching a material that has two states, one lighter and one darker, in between layers of transparent conductors. The inner material is a viscous black oil filled with tiny white titanium balls. To make a pixel black or white, a current is run through a tiny area of the glass to either pull the reflective balls to the front, or cause them to recede.

gst-phase-change-nanopixel-display-640x352In a PCM display, the inner material is a substance made of silicon’s heavier cousins: germanium, antimony, and tellurium. The two states of this material (known as GST) are actually two different phases of matter: one an ordered crystal and the other a disordered glass. To switch between them, current pulses are used to melt a tiny column, and either cooled gently to make the crystal or rapidly to make the glass.

This cycle can be done remarkably quickly, more than 1 million times per second. That speed could be a big advantage in consumer products. While scrolling on a Kindle can be terribly slow because the screen only refreshes once per second, the refresh rate on a PCM display would be fast enough to play movies, stream videos, and perform all the tasks people routinely do with their devices.

https://i1.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/nanopixelspr.jpgTo make the new displays, the research team – led by Harish Bhaskaran, a nanoscale manufacturing expert from Oxford University – used a 35-year-old machine developed by the semiconductor industry. They then laid down three layers that were a few nanometers thick of conducting glass, GST, and another layer of conducting glass. Then they used current from the tip of an atomic force microscope to draw pictures on the surface.

These images included everything from a Japanese print of a tidal wave to fleas and antique cars – each one smaller than the width of a human hair. With this sort of flexible, ultra-high resolution screen, a PCM display could be made into everything from a bendable laptop and personal device to a programmable contact lens — like Apple’s Retina Display, except that it would actually fit on your retina.

https://i2.wp.com/images.gizmag.com/gallery_lrg/lg-display-oled-2.jpgTurning this technology into products will require years of labor and hundreds of millions of dollars. Nevertheless, Bhaskaran and his colleagues are optimistic. The electronics industry has lots of experience with all the components, so there are plenty of well-known tricks to try to improve this first draft. And they are hardly alone in their efforts to bring flexible displays to market.

For instance, LG unveiled their new line of flexible OLED TVs at CES earlier this year. Now, they are taking things a step further with the unveiling of two new 18-inch OLED panels, the first of which is a transparent display, while the second can be rolled up. Although both fall short of the 77-inch flexible TV on show at CES, the company says the new panels prove that it has the technology to bring rollable TVs with screens in excess of 50 inches to market in the future.

lg-display-oledUnlike their 77-inch flexible TV that has a fairly limited range of changeable curvature, LG Display’s latest flexible OLED panel can be rolled up into a cylinder with a radius of 3 cm (1.18 in) without the function of the 1,200 x 810 pixel display being affected. This is made possible though the use of a high molecular substance-based polyimide film to create the backplane, rather than conventional plastic .

The transparent OLED panel, on the other hand, was created using LG Display’s transparent pixel design technology. With transmittance of 30 percent, the company says the panel is superior to existing transparent LCD panels that generally achieve around 10 to 15 percent transmittance. LG Display claims to have also reduced the haze of the panel, caused by circuit devices and film components, to just 2 percent.

https://i0.wp.com/images.gizmag.com/gallery_lrg/lg-display-oled-1.jpgAs In-Byung Kang, Senior Vice President and Head of the R&D Center at LG Display, explained:

LG Display pioneered the OLED TV market and is now leading the next-generation applied OLED technology. We are confident that by 2017, we will successfully develop an Ultra HD flexible and transparent OLED panel of more than 60 inches, which will have transmittance of more than 40 percent and a curvature radius of 100R, thereby leading the future display market.

Granted, it will be still be a few years and several hundred million dollars before such displays become the norm for computers and all other devices. However, the progress that is being made is quite impressive and with all the electronics megagiants committed to making it happen, an age where computing and communications are truly portable and much more survivable is likely just around the corner.

Sources: wired.com, gizmag.com, extremetech.com

Computex 2014

https://download.taiwantradeshows.com.tw/files/model/photo/CP/2014/PH00013391-2.jpgEarlier this month, Computex 2014 wrapped up in Taipei. And while this trade show may not have all the glitz and glamor of its counterpart in Vegas (aka. the Consumer Electronics Show), it is still an important launch pad for new IT products slated for release during the second half of the year. Compared to other venues, the Taiwanese event is more formal, more business-oriented, and for those people who love to tinker with their PCs.

For instance, it’s an accessible platform for many Asian vendors who may not have the budget to head to Vegas. And in addition to being cheaper to set up booths and show off their products, it gives people a chance to look at devices that wouldn’t often be seen in the western parts of the world. The timing of the show is also perfect for some manufacturers. Held in June, the show provides a fantastic window into the second half of the year.

https://i0.wp.com/www.lowyat.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/140602dellcomputex.jpgFor example, big name brands like Asus typically use the event to launch a wide range of products. This year, this included such items as the super-slim Asus Book Chi and the multi-mode Book V, which like their other products, have demonstrated that the company has a flair for innovation that easily rivals the big western and Korean names. In addition, Intel has been a long stalwart at Computex, premiered its fanless reference design tablet that runs on the Llama Mountain chipset.

And much like CES, there were plenty of cool gadgets to be seen. This included a GPS tracker that can be attached to a dog collar to track a pet’s movements; the Fujitsu laptop, a hardy new breed of gadget that showcases Japanese designers’ aim to make gear that are both waterproof and dustproof; the Rosewill Chic-C powerbank that consists of 1,000mAh battery packs that attach together to give additional power and even charge gadgets; and the Altek Cubic compact camera that fits in the palm of the hand.

https://i1.wp.com/twimages.vr-zone.net/2013/12/altek-Cubic-1.jpgAnd then there was the Asus wireless storage, a gadget that looks like an air freshener, but is actually a wireless storage device that can be paired with a smartphone using near-field communication (NFC) technology – essentially being able to transfer info simply by bringing a device into near-proximity with it. And as always, there were plenty of cameras, display headsets, mobile devices, and wearables. This last aspect was particularly ever-present, in the form of look-alike big-name wearables.

By and all large, the devices displayed this year were variations on a similar theme: wrist-mounted fitness trackers, smartwatches, and head-mounted smartglasses. The SiMEye smartglass display, for example, was every bit inspired by Google Glass, and even bears a strong resemblance. Though the show was admittedly short on innovation over imitation, it did showcase a major trend in the computing and tech industry.

http://img.scoop.it/FWa9Z463Q34KPAgzjElk3Tl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9In his keynote speech, Microsoft’s Nick Parker talked about the age of ubiquitous computing, and the “devices we carry on us, as opposed to with us.” What this means is, we may very well be entering a PC-less age, where computing is embedded in devices of increasingly diminished size. Eventually, it could even be miniaturized to the point where it is stitched into our clothing as accessed through contacts, never mind glasses or headsets!

Sources: cnet.com, (2), (3), computextaipei.com

Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014

https://i0.wp.com/oyster.ignimgs.com/wordpress/www.ign.com/1587/2014/05/e3-logo.jpgThis past week, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (commonly referred to as E3) kicked off. This annual trade fair , which is presented by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), is used by video game publishers, accessory manufacturers, and members of the computing industry to present their upcoming games and game-related merchandise. The festivities wrapped up this Friday, and was the source of some controversy and much speculation.

For starters, the annual show opened amidst concerns that the dent caused by Massively Multilayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and online gaming communities would start to show. And this did seem to be the case. While the annual Los Angeles show normally sets up the expectations for the rest of the year in video games – and that certainly did happen – but E3 2014 was mainly about clearing the runway for next year.

https://i2.wp.com/oyster.ignimgs.com/mediawiki/apis.ign.com/e3/thumb/f/f3/E32014-Inline1.jpg/468px-E32014-Inline1.jpgNowhere was this more clear than with Nintendo, which was the source of quite a bit of buzz when the Expo began. But it was evident that games – particularly for the Wii U – were not going to materialize until 2015. The company got a jump on the next-generation console battle by launching its Wii U in late 2012, a year ahead of Sony and Microsoft, but poor sales have led to big game developers largely abandoning it.

And while the company did announce a number of new games –  including an open-world Legend of Zelda; the new Mario game that allows players to create custom levels, called Mario Maker; and Splatoon, where teams of players shoot coloured ink at each other – none are scheduled for release until next year. That dearth of blockbusters for the rest of 2014 is mirrored at Microsoft and Sony, which are also light on heavyweight first-party titles for the rest of this year.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn1-www.craveonline.com/assets/uploads/2014/04/PS4WiiUXboxOne.jpgThe companies have some respective big guns in the works, such as Halo 5: Guardians and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but they’re also scheduled for release in 2015. However, with the brisk sales of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, both companies have the luxury of taking their time with big games. Nintendo is not so fortunate, since the jump they made with the Wii U leaves them with a big gap that they aren’t apparently filling.

Nintendo’s comparatively under-powered Wii U, in contrast, will look even less capable than its rivals as time passes, meaning it can’t afford to wait much longer to get compelling titles to market, especially as financial losses mount. Even long-time Nintendo supporters such as Ubisoft aren’t exactly sure of what to make of the Wii U’s future. The other big question heading into E3 was whether Microsoft could regain its mojo.

https://i1.wp.com/sourcefed.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/e3BLOG.pngThe software giant bumbled the Xbox One launch last year and alienated many gamers, mainly by focusing on TV and entertainment content instead of gaming and tying several unpopular policies to the console, which included restrictions on used games. The company eventually relented, but the Xbox One still came bundled with the voice- and motion-sensing Kinect peripheral and a price tag that was $100 higher than Sony’s rival PlayStation 4.

The result is that while the Xbox One has sold faster than the Xbox 360 at five million units so far, it has still moved two million fewer units than the PS4. Changes began to happen in March when Microsoft executive Phil Spencer, known as a champion of games, took over the Xbox operation and wasted no time in stressing that the console is mainly about gaming, and made the Kinect optional – thus lowering the Xbox One’s price to match the PS4.

https://i0.wp.com/www.highscorereviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/xbox-e3-booth.jpgThat was certainly the focus for Microsoft at E3. TV features weren’t even mentioned during the company’s one-and-a-half-hour press conference on Monday, with Microsoft instead talking up more than 20 upcoming games. As Mike Nichols, corporate vice-president of Xbox and studios marketing, said in an interview:

We didn’t even talk about all the platform improvements to improve the all-out gaming experience that we’ve made or will be making. We wanted to shine a light on the games.

Another big topic that generated talk at the show was virtual reality, as this year’s E3 featured demonstrations of the Oculus Rift VR headset and Sony’s Project Morpheus. The latter has been the source of attention in recent years, with many commentators claiming that it has effectively restored interest in VR gaming. Though popular for a brief period in the mid 90’s, interest quickly waned as bulky equipment and unintuitive controls led to it being abandoned.

https://i2.wp.com/www.stuff.co.nz/content/dam/images/z/s/5/p/0/image.related.StuffLandscapeSixteenByNine.620x349.zs5ol.png/1402551049990.jpgBut this new virtual reality headset, which was recently bought by Facebook for $2 billion, was undeniably the hottest thing on the show floor. And the demo booth, where people got to try it on and take it for a run, was booked solid throughout the expo. Sony also wowed attendees with demos of its own VR headset, Project Morpheus. And while the PlayStation maker’s effort isn’t as far along in development as the Oculus Rift, it does work and adds legitimacy to the VR field.

And as already noted, the expo also had its share of controversy. For starters, Ubisoft stuck its proverbial foot in its mouth when a developer from its Montreal studio admitted that plans for a female protagonist in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity had been scrapped because it would supposedly have been “too much work”. This lead to a serious fleecing by internet commentators who called the company sexist for its remarks.

https://i2.wp.com/guardianlv.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/assassins-creed-650x365.jpgLegendary Japanese creator Hideo Kojima also had to defend the torture scenes in his upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, starring Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland (man loves torture!), which upset some viewers. Kojima said he felt the graphic scenes were necessary to explain the main character’s motivations, and that games will never be taken seriously as culture if they can’t deal with sensitive subjects.

And among the usual crop of violent shoot-‘em-up titles, previews of Electronic Arts upcoming Battlefield: Hardline hint that the game is likely to stir up its share of controversy when it’s released this fall. The game puts players in the shoes of cops and robbers as they blow each other away in the virtual streets of Los Angeles. Military shooters are one thing, but killing police will undoubtedly rankle some feathers in the real world.

https://i1.wp.com/allthingsxbox.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Call-of-Duty.jpgIf one were to draw any conclusions from this year’s E3, it would undoubtedly be that times are both changing and staying the same. From console gaming garnering less and less of the gamers market, to the second coming of virtual reality, it seems that there is a shift in technology which may or may not be good for the current captains of industry. At the same time, competition and trying to maintain a large share of the market continues, with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo at the forefront.

But in the end, arguably the most buzz was focused upon the trailers for the much-anticipated game releases. These included the trailers for Batman: Arkham Knight, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Farcry 4, Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, and the aforementioned Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Assassins Creed Unity. Be sure to check these out below:

Assassins Creed Unity:


Batman: Arkham Knight


Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare


Halo 5: Guardians


Sources:
cbc.ca, ca.ign.com, e3expo.com, gamespot.com

Drone Wars: Protecting Endangered Animals

WWF_droneDespite anxieties associated with drone use – most of which have to do with domestic surveillance and warfare – there are numerous positive uses for the technology. Whether it is keeping an eye on oil rigs, monitoring underground cables, spying on drug or human traffickers, or ecological surveillance, there are plenty of uses for unmanned aerial vehicles beyond warfare and invading privacy.

In Namibia, for example, where poaching remains a problem, drones may be the key to protecting the endangered rhino and elephants. Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, along with the World Wildlife Fund and funding from Google, have partnered to invest in drones that can track rhino and elephant herds. Through the use of these drones, the researchers were able to follow herds and alert law enforcement in the event the animals were being targeted by poachers.

WWF_drone_graphicIn field tests conducted in two national parks in November 2013, drones with 2-metre wingspans flew day and night missions to video black rhino herds and send live footage to poacher-tracking rangers on the ground. Smart radio tags attached to rhinos allowed the drones to home in on each herd’s current location. Crawford Allan, leader of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project at WWF, put it as follows:

We broke new ground using technologies that have never been integrated before to provide powerful wildlife protection.

The MET says it will now press ahead and deploy drones in areas of Namibia where rhinos and elephants roam. WWF estimates that illegal poaching in Africa nets criminals $10 billion each year – with some 22,000 elephants killed annually and 1000 rhinos killed last year in South Africa alone. Their efforts are also thinning out elephant and rhino populations and putting the entire ecosystem at risk.

conservation_rhinoAlthough the drone program should help prevent poaching in Namibia, the issue is widespread across Africa. It’s not clear whether a similar program will be rolled out elsewhere, but any success incurred in Namibia to stop poaching will set a precedent others are sure to follow. And, it should be noted, this country and the WWF are hardly alone in wanting to adapt UAV technology to the goal or ecological or species conservation.

In many ways, MET’s use of high-tech to protect wildlife echoes that of Technology For Nature (TfN), a joint venture of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, University College London and the Zoological Society of London. Led by Lucas Joppa and Siamak Tavakoli at Microsoft, TfN is getting similar drone and animal-tagging projects off the ground in the Republic of the Congo, the Seychelles and Zambia.

conservation_drones_inlineAnd then there’s Conservation Drones, a non-profit organization co-founded by Serge Wich – a professor in primate biology at John Moores University. Made up of researchers and technologists, the group’s mandate is to spread drone use around the world for the sake of conservation. So far, they have worked with conservation groups and governments in Nepal, Indonesia, Gabon, and Greenland, and Wich hopes to visit more countries later this year.

According to Wich, the challenges to conservation go beyond simply monitoring endangered animals, which may be in too few number to accurately keep track of. There’s also the matter of the rough and vast terrain, which can be very difficult to physically cover. Drones are a big game changer in this game. By covering large areas in surveys, doing it repeatedly, and automating some of the analysis, aerial vehicles can track wildlife in a more comprehensive and efficient way.

conservation_dronesThanks to the growth of commercial aerial drones in recent years and the significant reduction in price, the technology is becoming much more affordable and user-friendly. The kits Conservation Drones uses cost no more than about $3,000, and the latest version has an open-source autopilot platform from California, along with a GPS tracker and altimeter. It’s then fitted with still cameras or video. As Wich himself put it:

The potential is huge to allow people to do very efficient data collection on a variety of issues that are important for conservation. We often struggle determining how many animals there are, where human encroachment is occurring. There are an enormous amount of ecological questions we can address with these systems.

To set a flight path, Wich simply plugs in a few points on a Google Map, then launches the drone by hand. The battery-powered module can fly for up to an hour, and cover a maximum distance of about 40 km (25 miles). The drones offer an aerial view, allowing Wich and his colleagues to get a close-up view unobscured by clouds. The next step is to improve the analysis of the images that come back.

conservation_drone_mosaicConservation Drones is now working to automate the counting process, and build up picture-maps by stitching hundreds of images together (like the one above). It also wants to create 3-D model environments, providing a sort of living inventory of what’s been destroyed and what remains. Long-term, it is hoped that governments all over the world with conservation problems will used the detailed software and aerial drones to keep tabs on their endangered animals and habitats to ensure their protection.

Several other groups are also pioneering drones-for-conservation, notably the World Wildlife Fund working with Google, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, led by Iraq War veteran Damien Mander, and ShadowView, a group out of the Netherlands. Poachers beware. In addition, the Zambian Carnivore Program will be testing a pair of VHF-radio-equipped quadcopter drones in the US soon and he hopes to begin testing the miniature aircraft in Kafue National Park in Zambia in May.

In the meantime, check out this video of the MET/WWF drone survey:


And learn more about Conservation Drones from this TED talk by Wich’s partner Lian Pin Koh:


Sources:
news.cnet.com, fastcoexist.com, newscientist.com

Crypto Wars: The Tech World vs. the NSA

cyber_securitySix years ago, something interesting took place at Microsoft’s Windows annual Crypto conference in Santa Barbara. In the course of the presentations, two members of the company’s security group (Dan Shumow and Niels Ferguson) gave a talk that dealt with internet security and the possibility that major systems could be hacked.

They called their presentation “On the Possibility of a Back Door in the NIST SP800-90 Dual Ec Prng”. That’s a name few people outside of the techy community would recognize, as it refers to a pseudorandom number generating program that is used extensively in cryptography. And thought the presentation was only nine slides and a few minutes long, they managed to capture the attention of the crowd with some rather stark observations.

cyber_security1Basically, they laid out a case showing that the new encryption standard, given a stamp of approval by the U.S. government, possessed a glaring weakness that made one of the program’s algorithms susceptible to cracking. But the weakness they described wasn’t just an average vulnerability, it had the kind of properties one would want if one were intentionally inserting a backdoor to make the algorithm susceptible to cracking by design.

At the time, no one thought much of it. But today, that’s all changed, thanks to Edward Snowden. Apparently, cryptographers and journalists are seeing a connection between the talk given by Shumow and Ferguson and the classified NSA documents Snowden leaked. Apparently, some of that information confirms that the weakness in the Dual_EC_DRBG algorithm might be indeed a backdoor.

nsa_aerialEarlier this month, an article appeared in the New York Times that implied that the backdoor was intentionally put there by the NSA as part of a $250-million, decade-long covert operation by the agency to weaken and undermine the integrity of a number of encryption systems used by millions of people around the world.

Naturally, these allegations not only stoked the fires over the NSA’s long history of spying on databases, both domestic and foreign, it has also raised questions over the integrity of the rather byzantine process that produces security standards in the first place. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) approved Dual_EC_DRBG and the standard, is now facing criticism alongside the NSA.

nist_aerialbigAnd while NIST has since been forced to re-open the program to examination and public discussion, security and crypto firms around the world are scrambling to unravel just how deeply the suspect algorithm infiltrated their code, if at all. Some even went so far as to publicly denounce it, such as corporate giant RSA Security.

But of course, a number of crypto experts have noted that the Times hasn’t released the memos that purport to prove the existence of a backdoor. What’s more, the paper’s direct quotes from the classified documents don’t mention a backdoor or efforts by the NSA to weaken it or the standard, only the efforts of the agency to push the standard through NIST’s committees for approval.

nsasecurity_primary-100041064-largeOne such person is Jon Callas, the CTO of Silent Circle – a company that offers encrypted phone communication. Having attended the Crypto conference in 2007 and heard the presentation by Shumow, he believes that the real problem may lie in the fact that the algorithm was poorly made:

If [the NSA] spent $250 million weakening the standard and this is the best that they could do, then we have nothing to fear from them. Because this was really ham-fisted. When you put on your conspiratorial hat about what the NSA would be doing, you would expect something more devious, Machiavellian … and this thing is just laughably bad. This is Boris and Natasha sort of stuff.

Sources at Microsoft agree. In addition to the presenters – who never mention the NSA in their presentation and went out of their way to avoid accusing NIST of any wrongdoing – a manager who spoke with WIRED on condition of anonymity believes the reporters at the Times saw the classified documents dealing with the program, read about the 2007 talk, and assumed their was a connection.

cryptographyBut Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research, says that regardless of the lack of evidence in the Times story, he discounts the “bad cryptography” explanation for the weakness, in favor of the backdoor one:

Bad cryptography happens through laziness and ignorance. But in this case, a great deal of effort went into creating this and choosing a structure that happens to be amenable to attack.

Personally, I find it interesting that the NSA would be so committed to making sure a program passed inspection. Especially one that had a fatal flaw that, when exploited properly, could be used to give someone who knew about it access to encrypted information. But of course, it’s not like the NSA has been known to invade people’s privacy, right? RIGHT?

Clearly, all there is at this point is speculation. One thing is certain though. In the coming weeks and months, the NSA is going to be the recipient of even more flak over its monitoring and cryptographic activities. Whether this effects any change in policy remains to be seen, but I doubt anyone will be holding their breaths.

Sources: wired.com, nytimes.com

IFA 2013!

IFA2013There are certainly no shortages of electronic shows happening this year! It seems that I just finished getting through all the highlights from Touch Taiwan which happened back in August. And then September comes around and I start hearing all about IFA 2013. For those unfamiliar with this consumer electronics exhibition, IFA stands for Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, which loosely translated means the Berlin Radio Show.

As you can tell from the name, this annual exhibit has some deep roots. Beginning in 1924, the show was intended to gives electronics producers the chance to present their latest products and developments to the general public, as well as showcasing the latest in technology. From radios and cathode-ray display boxes (i.e. television) to personal computers and PDAs, the show has come a long way, and this year’s show promised to be a doozy as well.

IFA-2013Of all those who presented this year, Sony seems to have made the biggest impact. In fact, they very nearly stole the show with their presentation of their new smartphones, cameras and tablets. But it was their new Xperia Z1 smartphone that really garnered attention, given all the fanfare that preceded it. Check out the video by TechRadar:


However, their new Vaio Tap 11 tablet also got quite a bit of fanfare. In addition to a Haswell chip (Core i3, i5 or i7), a six-hour battery, full Windows connectivity, a camera, a stand, 128GB to 512GB of solid-state storage, and a wireless keyboard, the tablet has what is known as Near Field Communications (NFC) which comes standard on smartphones these days.

This technology allows the tablet to communicate with other devices and enable data transfer simply by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity. The wireless keyboard is also attachable to the device via a battery port which allows for constant charging, and the entire thin comes in a very thin package. Check out the video by Engadget:


Then there was the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, an exhibit which was equally anticipated and proved to be quite entertaining. Initially, the company had announced that their new smartwatch would incorporate flexible technology, which proved to not be the case. Instead, they chose to release a watch that was comparable to Apple’s own smartwatch design.

But as you can see, the end result is still pretty impressive. In addition to telling time, it also has many smartphone-like options, like being able to take pictures, record and play videos, and link to your other devices via Bluetooth. And of course, you can also phone, text, instant message and download all kinds of apps. Check out the hands-on video below:


Toshiba also made a big splash with their exhibit featuring an expanded line of tablets, notebooks and hybrids, as well as Ultra High-Definition TVs. Of note was their M9 design, a next-generation concept that merges the latest in display and networking technology – i.e. the ability to connect to the internet or your laptop, allowing you to stream video, display pictures, and play games on a big ass display!

Check out the video, and my apologies for the fact that this and the next one are in German. There were no English translations:


And then there was their Cloud TV presentation, a form of “smart tv” that merges the best of a laptop to that of a television. Basically, this means that a person can watch video-on-demand, use social utilities, network, and save their files via cloud memory storage, all from their couch using a handheld remote. Its like watching TV, but with all the perks of a laptop computer – one that also has a very big screen!


And then there was the HP Envy Recline, an all-in-one PC that has a hinge that allows the massive touchscreen to pivot over the edge of a desk and into the user’s lap. Clearly, ergonomics and adaptability were what inspired this idea, and many could not tell if it was a brilliant idea or the most enabling invention since the LA-Z-BOY recliner. Still, you have to admit, it looks pretty cool:


Lenovo and Acer also attracted show goers with their new lineup of smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. And countless more came to show off the latest in their wares and pimp out their own versions of the latest and greatest developments. The show ran from September 6th to 11th and there are countless videos, articles and testimonials to still making it to the fore.

For many of the products, release dates are still pending. But all those who attended managed to come away with the understanding that when it comes to computing, networking, gaming, mobile communications, and just plain lazing, the technology is moving by leaps and bounds. Soon enough, we are likely to have flexible technology available in all smart devices, and not just in the displays.

nokia_morphNanofabricated materials are also likely to create cases that are capable of morphing and changing shape and going from a smartwatch, to a smartphone, to a smart tablet. For more on that, check out this video from Epic Technology, which showcases the most anticipated gadgets for 2014. These include transparent devices, robots, OLED curved TVs, next generation smartphones, the PS4, the Oculus Rift, and of course, Google Glass.

I think you’ll agree, next year’s gadgets are even more impressive than this year’s gadgets. Man, the future is moving fast!


Sources:
b2b.ifa-berlin.com, technologyguide.com, telegraph.co.uk, techradar.com

News From Space: IAU Revises Stance on Naming Planets

alien-worldGood news everyone! According to the International Astronomic Union, the public can now participate in the naming of new exoplanets. What’s more, they can be popular names like kinds found in science fiction, assuming they are appropriate and the public is behind it. This represents a big change in terms of IAU policy, which previously reserved the right to give names to newly discovered bodies outside of our Solar System.

As recently as late March, 2013, the IAU’s official word on naming exoplanets was, “the IAU sees no need and has no plan to assign names to these objects at the present stage of our knowledge.” Their rationale was since there is seemingly going to be so many exoplanets, it will be difficult to name them all.

IAU_exosBut then, on March 24th, the IAU added on their website:

…the IAU greatly appreciates and wishes to acknowledge the increasing interest from the general public in being more closely involved in the discovery and understanding of our Universe. As a result in 2013 the IAU Commission 53 Extrasolar Planets and other IAU members will be consulted on the topic of having popular names for exoplanets, and the results will be made public on the IAU website.

This new decision follows from an event earlier this year where the SETI Institute and the space company Uwingu organized their own campaigns for creating popular names of objects in space. Both events were wildly popular with the general public, but generated some controversy. For one, the IAU issued a statement regarding the contests saying that while they welcomed the public’s interest, the IAU has the last word.

Pluto-System_720-580x344For example, the SETI institute’s contest, “Space Rocks”, was intended to name two newly discovered moons around Pluto. Though the name “Vulcan” was the top contender for one of them, and even got a nod from William Shatner, the IAU overruled their decision and went with the name “Styx” instead. Additionally, the IAU took issue with the “selling” of names, referring to the fact that Uwingu charged a fee to take part in their contest.

However, given public interest in the process and the fact that other bodies might begin privatizing the process, the IAU has altered its position on these matters and opened up the naming process to the public. The new rules, which were passed this summer, now allow individuals to suggest names of exoplanets and planetary satellites (moons) via email to the IAU.

gliese-581.jpgThose looking to make a contribution to naming newly discovered planets and moons are asked to abide by the following criteria:

  1. Prior to any public naming initiative the IAU should be contacted from the start by Letter of Intent sent to the IAU General Secretary
  2. The process should be submitted in the form of a proposal to the IAU by an organization
  3. The organization should list its legal or official representatives and its goals, and explain the reasons for initiating the process for naming a particular object or set of objects
  4. The process cannot request nor make reference to any revenues, for whatever purpose
  5. The process must guarantee a wide international participation
  6. The public names proposed (whether by individuals or in a naming campaign) should follow the naming rules and restrictions adopted for Minor Bodies of the Solar System, by the IAU and by the Minor Planet Center.

Among other rules cited in their new policy are that proposed names should be 16 characters or less in length, pronounceable in as many languages as possible, non-offensive in any language or culture, and that names of individuals, places or events principally known for political or military activities are unsuitable. Also, the names must have the formal agreement of the discoverers.

KeplerThis about face has its share of supporters and critics alike. Whereas people who support it generally see it as a sign that we are entering into an era of open and democratic space exploration. the critics tend to stress the contradictions and ambiguities in the new policy. Whereas the IAU previously claimed it had the final word on the naming process, their new stance appears to indicate that this is no longer the case.

In addition, companies like Uwingu are now free to participate in the naming of planetary bodies, which means that their contest to name Pluto’s moon “Vulcan” would now be legitimate under the new framework. Many people, such as astronomer and Uwingu CEO Alan Stern, are wondering if the new rules will apply retroactively since they were previously forbidden from having any input.

kepler22b.jpgAs for me, this puts me in mind of my own attempts to name real or fictitious exoplanets. Sadly, since it this was done for the sake of writing fiction, they would have no legal standing, but the process was still fun and got me thinking… If we are to begin exploring and colonizing planets outside of our Solar System, how will we go about naming them?

Now it seems there is a process in place for just such a thing, one which will assign actual names instead of bland designations. And it appears that this process will be a trade off between scientific organizations and public input, either through campaigns or contests. And I imagine once we start breaking ground on new worlds, settlers and shareholders will have a thing or two to say as well!

Planet Microsoft… Planet Starbucks… Planet Walmart… I shudder to think!

Sources: universetoday.com, uwingu.com. phl.upr.edu