Tag Archives: smartphones

Affordable desktop nanocoating system makes devices water repellent

I like the idea of having a waterproof smartphone, unfortunately, that day has not yet arrived but this Feb. 24, 2014 news item on Azonano hints at an acceptable alternative in the shorter term,

DryWired™ announced today that it is expanding its customized surface modification product portfolio to include the DryWired™ Nebula and the Nebula Junior. These revolutionary patent- pending desktop nanocoating systems are low cost, compact, and ideal for electronic retailers looking to offer invisible water repellent nanocoatings directly to their customers.

There’s more about the Nebula and Nebula Junior (which are being introduced at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona from Feb. 24 – 27, 2014,) from their product page on the DryWired website,

The DryWired™ Nebula and Nebula Junior are revolutionary patent pending bench top nanocoating systems that are affordable, compact and ideal for electronic retailers looking to offer invisible water repellent nanocoatings directly to their customers.The Nebula systems are a perfect solution for consumer facing mobile phone retailers, repair/service centers, mobile phone accessory providers and other small businesses due to their small footprint and performance reliability.The award-winning Nebula systems are designed and manufactured in California.

Nebula systems can be used to Nanocoat:

•Mobile phones
•iPads and other tablets
•Gaming consoles
•Headsets, headphones and ear buds
•Hearing Aids
•Cameras
•Electronic assemblies

•Other high value items

Nebula Features:

• Two tiered configuration in the chamber allowing flexibility for multiple applications.
• Larger chamber size
• Can accommodate approximately 28 smartphones per cycle at full capacity.

• Process time cycles under 95 minutes at full capacity, including vacuum pump down.

Nebula Jr. Features:

• Single tier configuration.
• Smaller chamber size
• Can accommodate approximately 5 smartphones per cycle at full capacity.
• Process time cycles under 45 minutes including vacuum pump down.

The Nebula and Nebula Jr.Advantage:

• Repeatability: within-batch, and batch-to–batch uniformity.
• Lowest Cost-of-Ownership systems in the industry.
• Efficient and minimal chemical usage featuring single-use or multiple dose cartridges.
• Compact design with no restrictive ancillary requirements.
• Safe and user friendly with programmable settings.
• Ideal for retailers, repair/service centers, mobile ventures, and kiosks.
• Our chemical cartridges are non-hazardous, non-toxic and can be shipped worldwide without restrictions.
• Optional self-contained customized cart for consumer facing operations

Getting back to the news item, which notes some opportunities to see the products,

DryWired™ will present the Nebula systems to the public this week in Barcelona, Spain at the 2014 Mobile World Congress. The systems will be available for viewing and live demonstration by appointment only at the DryWired meeting room from Monday February 24th through Thursday February 27th, and thereafter at DryWired’s Los Angeles & Miami showrooms. DryWired is now taking pre-orders on its Nebula systems for shipment beginning March 1st. To schedule a meeting or place a pre-order on either system, please contact Alex Nesic at [email protected].

Almost Human (tv series), smartphones, and anxieties about life/nonlife

The US-based Fox Broadcasting Company is set to premiere a new futuristic television series, Almost Human, over two nights, Nov. 17, and 18, 2013 for US and Canadian viewers. Here’s a description of the premise from its Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

The series is set thirty-five years in the future when humans in the Los Angeles Police Department are paired up with lifelike androids; a detective who has a dislike for robots partners with an android capable of emotion.

One of the showrunners, Naren Shankar, seems to have also been functioning both as a science consultant and as a crime writing consultant,in addition to his other duties. From a Sept. 4, 2013 article by Lisa Tsering for Indiawest.com,

FOX is the latest television network to utilize the formidable talents of Naren Shankar, an Indian American writer and producer best known to fans for his work on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as well as “Farscape,” the recently cancelled ABC series “Zero Hour” and “The Outer Limits.”

Set 35 years in the future, “Almost Human” stars Karl Urban and Michael Ealy as a crimefighting duo of a cop who is part-machine and a robot who is part-human. [emphasis mine]

“We are extrapolating the things we see today into the near future,” he explained. For example, the show will comment on the pervasiveness of location software, he said. “There will also be issues of technology such as medical ethics, or privacy; or how technology enables the rich but not the poor, who can’t afford it.”

Speaking at Comic-Con July 20 [2013], Shankar told media there, “Joel [J.H. Wyman] was looking for a collaboration with someone who had come from the crime world, and I had worked on ‘CSI’ for eight years.

“This is like coming back to my first love, since for many years I had done science fiction. It’s a great opportunity to get away from dismembered corpses and autopsy scenes.”

There’s plenty of drama — in the new series, the year is 2048, and police officer John Kennex (Karl Urban, “Dr. Bones” from the new “Star Trek” films) is trying to bounce back from one of the most catastrophic attacks ever made against the police department. Kennex wakes up from a 17-month coma and can’t remember much, except that his partner was killed; his girlfriend left him and one of his legs has been amputated and is now outfitted with a high-tech synthetic appendage. According to police department policy, every cop must partner with a robot, so Kennex is paired with Dorian (Ealy), an android with an unusual glitch that makes it have human emotions.

Shankar took an unusual path into television. He started college at age 16 and attended Cornell University, where he earned a B. Sc., an M.S. and a Ph.D. in engineering physics and electrical engineering, and was a member of the elite Kappa Alpha Society, he decided he didn’t want to work as a scientist and moved to Los Angeles to try to become a writer.

Shankar is eager to move in a new direction with “Almost Human,” which he says comes at the right time. “People are so technologically sophisticated now that maybe the audience is ready for a show like this,” he told India-West.

I am particularly intrigued by the ‘man who’s part machine and the machine that’s part human’ concept (something I’ve called machine/flesh in previous postings such as this May 9, 2012 posting titled ‘Everything becomes part machine’) and was looking forward to seeing how they would be integrating this concept along with some of the more recent scientific work being done on prosthetics and robots, given they had an engineer as part of the team (albeit with lots of crime writing experience), into the stories. Sadly, only days after Tserling’s article was published, Shankar parted ways with Almost Human according to the Sept. 10, 2013 posting on the Almost Human blog,

So this was supposed to be the week that I posted a profile of Naren Shankar, for whom I have developed a full-on crush–I mean, he has a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Cornell, he was hired by Gene Roddenberry to be science consultant on TNG, he was saying all sorts of great things about how he wanted to present the future in AH…aaaand he quit as co-showrunner yesterday, citing “creative differences.” That leaves Wyman as sole showrunner, with no plans to replace Shankar.

I’d like to base some of my comments on the previews, unfortunately, Fox Broadcasting,, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to block Canadians from watching Almost Human previews online. (Could someone please explain why? I mean, Canadians will be tuning in to watch or record for future viewing  the series premiere on the 17th & 18th of November 2013 just like our US neighbours, so, why can’t we watch the previews online?)

Getting back to machine/flesh (human with prosthetic)s and life/nonlife (android with feelings), it seems that Almost Human (as did the latest version of Battlestar Galactica, from 2004-2009) may be giving a popular culture voice to some contemporary anxieties being felt about the boundary or lack thereof between humans and machines and life/nonlife. I’ve touched on this topic many times both within and without the popular culture context. Probably one of my more comprehensive essays on machine/flesh is Eye, arm, & leg prostheses, cyborgs, eyeborgs, Deus Ex, and ableism from August 30, 2011, which includes this quote from a still earlier posting on this topic,

Here’s an excerpt from my Feb. 2, 2010 posting which reinforces what Gregor [Gregor Wolbring, University of Calgary] is saying,

This influx of R&D cash, combined with breakthroughs in materials science and processor speed, has had a striking visual and social result: an emblem of hurt and loss has become a paradigm of the sleek, modern, and powerful. Which is why Michael Bailey, a 24-year-old student in Duluth, Georgia, is looking forward to the day when he can amputate the last two fingers on his left hand.

“I don’t think I would have said this if it had never happened,” says Bailey, referring to the accident that tore off his pinkie, ring, and middle fingers. “But I told Touch Bionics I’d cut the rest of my hand off if I could make all five of my fingers robotic.” [originally excerpted from Paul Hochman's Feb. 1, 2010 article, Bionic Legs, i-Limbs, and Other Super Human Prostheses You'll Envy for Fast Company]

Here’s something else from the Hochman article,

But Bailey is most surprised by his own reaction. “When I’m wearing it, I do feel different: I feel stronger. As weird as that sounds, having a piece of machinery incorporated into your body, as a part of you, well, it makes you feel above human. [semphasis mine] It’s a very powerful thing.”

Bailey isn’t  almost human’, he’s ‘above human’. As Hochman points out. repeatedly throughout his article, this sentiment is not confined to Bailey. My guess is that Kennex (Karl Urban’s character) in Almost Human doesn’t echo Bailey’s sentiments and, instead feels he’s not quite human while the android, Dorian, (Michael Ealy’s character) struggles with his feelings in a human way that clashes with Kennex’s perspective on what is human and what is not (or what we might be called the boundary between life and nonlife).

Into this mix, one could add the rising anxiety around ‘intelligent’ machines present in real life, as well as, fiction as per this November 12 (?), 2013 article by Ian Barker for Beta News,

The rise of intelligent machines has long been fertile ground for science fiction writers, but a new report by technology research specialists Gartner suggests that the future is closer than we think.

“Smartphones are becoming smarter, and will be smarter than you by 2017,” says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. “If there is heavy traffic, it will wake you up early for a meeting with your boss, or simply send an apology if it is a meeting with your colleague. The smartphone will gather contextual information from its calendar, its sensors, the user’s location and personal data”.

Your smartphone will be able to predict your next move or your next purchase based on what it knows about you. This will be made possible by gathering data using a technique called “cognizant computing”.

Gartner analysts will be discussing the future of smart devices at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013 in Barcelona from November 10-14 [2013].

The Gartner Symposium/Txpo in Barcelona is ending today (Nov. 14, 2013) but should you be curious about it, you can go here to learn more.

This notion that machines might (or will) get smarter or more powerful than humans (or wizards) is explored by Will.i.am (of the Black Eyed Peas) and, futurist, Brian David Johnson in their upcoming comic book, Wizards and Robots (mentioned in my Oct. 6, 2013 posting),. This notion of machines or technology overtaking human life is also being discussed at the University of Cambridge where there’s talk of founding a Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (from my Nov. 26, 2012 posting)

The idea that robots of one kind or another (e.g. nanobots eating up the world and leaving grey goo, Cylons in both versions of Battlestar Galactica trying to exterminate humans, etc.) will take over the world and find humans unnecessary  isn’t especially new in works of fiction. It’s not always mentioned directly but the underlying anxiety often has to do with intelligence and concerns over an ‘explosion of intelligence’. The question it raises,’ what if our machines/creations become more intelligent than humans?’ has been described as existential risk. According to a Nov. 25, 2012 article by Sylvia Hui for Huffington Post, a group of eminent philosophers and scientists at the University of Cambridge are proposing to found a Centre for the Study of Existential Risk,

Could computers become cleverer than humans and take over the world? Or is that just the stuff of science fiction?

Philosophers and scientists at Britain’s Cambridge University think the question deserves serious study. A proposed Center for the Study of Existential Risk will bring together experts to consider the ways in which super intelligent technology, including artificial intelligence, could “threaten our own existence,” the institution said Sunday.

“In the case of artificial intelligence, it seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology,” Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price said.

When that happens, “we’re no longer the smartest things around,” he said, and will risk being at the mercy of “machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don’t include us.”

Our emerging technologies give rise to questions abut what constitutes life and where human might fit in. For example,

  • are sufficiently advanced machines a new form of life,?
  • what does it mean when human bodies are partially integrated at the neural level with machinery?
  • what happens when machines have feelings?
  • etc.

While this doesn’t exactly fit into my theme of life/nonlife or machine/flesh, this does highlight how some popular culture efforts are attempting to integrate real science into the storytelling. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Cosima Herter, the science consultant and namesake/model for one of the characters on Orphan Black (from the March 29, 2013 posting on the space.ca blog),

Cosima Herter is Orphan Black’s Science Consultant, and the inspiration for her namesake character in the series. In real-life, Real Cosima is a PhD. student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Program at the University of Minnesota, working on the History and Philosophy of Biology. Hive interns Billi Knight & Peter Rowley spoke with her about her role on the show and the science behind it…

Q: Describe your role in the making of Orphan Black.

A: I’m a resource for the biology, particularly insofar as evolutionary biology is concerned. I study the history and the philosophy of biology, so I do offer some suggestions and some creative ideas, but also help correct some of the misconceptions about science.  I offer different angles and alternatives to look at the way biological science is represented, so (it’s) not reduced to your stereotypical tropes about evolutionary biology and cloning, but also to provide some accuracy for the scripts.

- See more at: http://www.space.ca/article/Orphan-Black-science-consultant#sthash.7P36bbPa.dpuf

For anyone not familiar with the series, from the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Orphan Black is a Canadian science fiction television series starring Tatiana Maslany as several identical women who are revealed to be clones.

Looking at nanoparticles with your smartphone

Researcher Aydogan Ozcan and his team at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a device which when attached to a smartphone allows the user to view viruses, bacteria, and/or nanoparticles. (Yikes, I understood nanoparticles were perceptible with haptic devices and that any work on developing optical capabilities was pretty rudimentary). From the UCLA Sept. 16, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and his team have created a portable smartphone attachment that can be used to perform sophisticated field testing to detect viruses and bacteria without the need for bulky and expensive microscopes and lab equipment. The device weighs less than half a pound.

“This cellphone-based imaging platform could be used for specific and sensitive detection of sub-wavelength objects, including bacteria and viruses and therefore could enable the practice of nanotechnology and biomedical testing in field settings and even in remote and resource-limited environments,” Ozcan said. “These results also constitute the first time that single nanoparticles and viruses have been detected using a cellphone-based, field-portable imaging system.”

In the ACS [American Chemical Society]  Nano paper, Ozcan details a fluorescent microscope device fabricated by a 3-D printer that contains a color filter, an external lens and a laser diode. The diode illuminates fluid or solid samples at a steep angle of roughly 75 degrees. This oblique illumination avoids detection of scattered light that would otherwise interfere with the intended fluorescent image.

Using this device, which attaches directly to the camera module on a smartphone, Ozcan’s team was able to detect single human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) particles. HCMV is a common virus that can cause birth defects such as deafness and brain damage and can hasten the death of adults who have received organ implants, who are infected with the HIV virus or whose immune systems otherwise have been weakened. A single HCMV particle measures about 150–300 nanometers; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers thick.

In a separate experiment, Ozcan’s team also detected nanoparticles — specially marked fluorescent beads made of polystyrene — as small as 90-100 nanometers.

To verify these results, researchers in Ozcan’s lab used other imaging devices, including a scanning electron microscope and a photon-counting confocal microscope. These experiments confirmed the findings made using the new cellphone-based imaging device.

For some reason I’m completely gobsmacked by the notion that I could look at nanoparticles on a smartphone at sometime in the foreseeable future.

Here’s a citation and a link to the paper,

Fluorescent Imaging of Single Nanoparticles and Viruses on a Smart Phone by Qingshan Wei, Hangfei Qi, Wei Luo, Derek Tseng , So Jung Ki, Zhe Wan, Zoltán Göröcs, Laurent A. Bentolila, Ting-Ting Wu, Ren Sun, and Aydogan Ozcan. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn4037706 Publication Date (Web): September 9, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall. Ozcan’s work was last mentioned here in a Jan. 21, 2013 posting about self-assembling liquid lenses.

 

Nano Nails and fashion at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show

The ‘Nano Nails’ from Tech Tips (based in Helena Montana) have more in common with the Tata Nano (a car), i.e., nano in name rather than a nanotechnology-enabled product but they did garner some attention at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES, Jan. 8 -11, 2013). Here’s more about Nano Nails and Tech Tips from the company’s About page,

Tech Tips, LLC was founded by Cleveland Clinic trained dermatologist, “Sri” Vellanki.  She wanted to be more accurate with her smartphone.  A mobile touchscreen device is not the same as a piece of paper.  Steve Jobs revolutionized the smartphone by creating the iPhone touch interface.  Panning, pinching, and scrolling multi-touch gestures are all needed to work with touchscreens.   Instead of trying to replicate a fingerpad on a writing utensil, Tech Tips brand styluses were developed to work with your hand on a touchscreen.  Multi-touch gestures are unimpeded.  Selections are accurate since the touchscreen display is more fully visualized.  Frustration and errors are reduced for individuals that find touchscreens difficult to use.

There are 2 products that Tech Tips, LLC has developed.  The first is the Tech Tips brand precision stylus, the other is a [sic] an artificial fingernail stylus branded as Nano Nails that replicates the motion of tapping on an object with your fingernails.  As many women are aware, longer fingernails do not work on most currently available touchscreens.  This makes it difficult to be quick and accurate.  Nano Nails solve this problem in an aesthetic and ergonomic way.

Both will be introduced at Eureka Park at the Consumer Electronic Show 2013.

Here’s a video which was taken at the 2013 CES demonstrating how one of Tech Tips’ stylus products can be used for drawing,

Over at the Scientific American website, Larry Greenemeir has posted (Jan. 14, 2013) a CES 2013 slide show of various interesting gadgets including the Nano Nails stylus (slide no. 9 of 10).

Crowdfunding Qii, a foldable, soft keyboard made of a carbon nanotube/fullerene hybrid

Canatu Ltd. is a Finnish company that’s trying to crowdfund its foldable, soft keyboard, Qii, on indiegogo. Here’s more about Canatu’s keyboard project from the Nov. 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Canatu Ltd., a developer of a new class of versatile carbon nanomaterial based custom films and sensors for flexible and formable touch devices, is launching Qii – the world’s first, truly mobile, rollable touch accessory.

The company appears to be creating a new class of product under the Qii brand name. From the indiegogo campaign description,

With Qii, your smartphone and your imagination, any surface can be effectively turned into a touch surface and any “dumb” object can be turned into a “smart” object. Nanotechnology and organic electronics make it possible. The idea is simple, but the applications are endless.

As our first Qii product, we’re offering a full QWERTY computer keyboard, including a number pad and function keys, wirelessly connected to your smartphone. Because its ultra thin and flexible, Qii is both full sized and pocket sized, so you’ll be able to effortlessly type and surf anywhere you go, be it in a café, the woods, or a car, train, bus or plane. It has an anti fingerprint coating to keep it clean and a textured surface for easy touch typing. It’s dirt and water resistant, so you don’t have to worry about spilling and it’s easily washable with soap and water. And, since Qii’s rollable electronics are printed, it’s tough.

Qii’s case is also a touchpad, allowing you to point, tap and scroll for easy surfing and graphical editing. You can use Qii on most any surface, so you can check your email on your friend’s belly, update your Facebook on your pet, or write your next novel on your pillow.

Some keyboards claim to be rollable, but you can’t roll them up and fit them in your pocket. We use a new kind of flexible transparent electronic film together with a new kind of touch sensing technology that can sense both position and force to create a compact and portable and programmable touch surface.

Qii will work with iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone, and Palm phones according to each platform’s available QWERTY keyboard and pointer standards.

Intriguing, non? You might want to watch this video for a demonstration,

There is a very brief description of the technology in the campaign material,

Our team has been working for years with our partners to bring Qii to life. Together we have developed new carbon based nanomaterials, new dry printing manufacturing techniques and now new, ultra-high transparency, flexible, bendable, stretchable, rollable and foldable touch technologies and unique touch algorithms to make Qii possible. It starts with our flexible, transparent, electrically conductive film made with a new carbon nanomaterial connected to state-of-the art sensing electronics to make a flexible, transparent touch sensing surface that determines both your finger’s position and force.

We’ll introduce the Qii in pliable hard coated plastic, but, in the future, the sensor can be printed on most anything, even paper, rubber or fabric.

I took a look at the Canatu website and found this information about a material they’ve developed and named, NanoBuds® and which I believe forms the basis for the company’s proposed Qii keyboard,

Canatu has developed a new material, the Carbon NanoBud®, which is a hybrid of Carbon Nanotubes and fullerenes. The hybridization is achieved directly in the material synthesis process and the resulting material combines the best features of both fullerenes and nanotubes.

Canatu’s first products focus on taking advantage of the high conductivity, high aspect ratio, low work function, chemical stability and mechanical flexibility of NanoBuds® to make the world’s highest performance carbon based transparent conductive film for transparent conductors in touch, haptics, displays and photovoltaics. These films, consisting of randomly oriented deposits of NanoBuds on polymer or glass substrates, are flexible, bendable, stretchable and have excellent transparency conductivity performance as shown below. [emphasis mine]

David Brown, the company’s Chief Technical Officer (CTO) originally announced the crowdfunding Qii campaign would take place on Kickstarter in Dan Rogers’s Oct. 10, 2012 article for Plastic Electronics,

An accessory using a novel nanomaterial touchscreen will be launched via the Kickstarter project in the coming weeks, according to nanotechnology developer Canatu.

Based in Finland, Canatu supplies carbon NanoBuds that can be used as a conductive layer alternative to indium tin oxide, which is considered too brittle for flexible electronics.

I’m not sure what happened with the ‘Kickstarter’ plans but the indiegogo campaign has 41 days left as Canatu tries to raise $1,850,000 by Jan. 6, 2013. The company must raise the entire amount requested or it receives nothing.

Good luck to the folks at Canatu. Qii looks like a product which would make moving around much easier. Imagine not having to lug your laptop or tablet around while enjoying the benefits of a full size keyboard.

UN’s International Telecommunications Union holds patent summit in Geneva on Oct. 10, 2012

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) patent summit being held today (Oct. 10, 2012) in Geneva, Switzerland was announced in July 2012 as noted in this July 6, 2012 news item on the BBC News website,

A rash of patent lawsuits has prompted the UN to call smartphone makers and others mobile industry bodies together.

It said the parties needed to address the “innovation-stifling use of intellectual property” which had led to several devices being banned from sale.

It said innovations deemed essential to industry standards, such as 3G or Jpeg photos, would be the meeting’s focus.

It noted that if just one patent holder demanded unreasonable compensation the cost of a device could “skyrocket”.

Microsoft and Apple are among firms that have called on others not to enforce sales bans on the basis of such standards-essential patents.

However, lawyers have noted that doing so would deprive other companies of way to counter-attacking other types of patent lawsuits pursued by the two companies.

Here’s a sample of the activity that has led to convening this summit (excerpted from the BBC news item),

“We are seeing an unwelcome trend in today’s marketplace to use standards-essential patents to block markets,” said the ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Toure.

Motorola Mobility – now owned by Google – managed to impose a brief sales ban of iPhone and iPads in Germany last year after Apple refused to pay it a licence fee. The dispute centred on a patent deemed crucial to the GPRS data transmission standard used by GSM cellular networks.

Samsung has also attempted to use its 3G patents to bar Apple from selling products in Europe, Japan and the US.

However, industry watchers note that Apple has used lawsuits to ban Samsung products in both the US and Australia and attempted to restrict sales of other companies’ devices powered by Android.

Mike Masnick commented briefly about the summit in his July 12, 2012 posting on Techdirt,

The UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) — the same unit looking at very questionable plans concerning taxing the internet — has apparently decided that it also needs to step in over the massive patent thicket around smartphones. It’s convening a summit … it looks like they’re only inviting the big companies who make products, and leaving the many trolls out of it. Also, it’s unclear from the description if the ITU really grasps the root causes of the problem: the system itself. …

There’s more information on the ITU summit or patent roundtable webpage,

This Roundtable will assess the effectiveness of RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) – based patent policies. The purpose of this initiative is to provide a neutral venue for industry, standards bodies and regulators to exchange innovative ideas that can guide future discussions on whether current patent policies and existing industry practices adequately respond to the needs of the various stakeholders.

I was particularly interested in the speakers from industry (from the Patent Roundtable programme/agenda),

Segment 1 (Part II: Specific perspectives of certain key stakeholders in “360 view” format):

Moderator: Mr. Knut Blind, Rotterdam School of Management [ Biography ]

Perspectives from certain key stakeholders:

  • Standard Development Organizations:
    Mr. Antoine Dore, ITU
    [ Biography ]
    Mr. Dirk Weiler, ETSI
    [ Biography ]
  • Industry players:
    Mr. BJ Watrous, Apple
    [ Biography ]
    Mr. Ray Warren, Motorola Mobility
    [ Biography ]
    Mr. Michael Fröhlich, RIM [emphasis mine]
    [ Biography ]
  • Patent offices:
    Mr. Michel Goudelis, European Patent Office
    [ Biography ]
    Mr. Stuart Graham, United States Patent and Trademark Office
    [ Biography ]
  • Academic Institution:
    Mr. Tim Pohlmann, Technical University of Berlin

I was surprised to note the presence of a Canadian company at the summit.

In general, hopes do not seem high that anything will be resolved putting me in mind of Middle Eastern peace talks, which have stretched on for decades with no immediate end in sight. We’ll see.

Anti-fogging, self-cleaning, and glare-free: glass

They raise my hopes then dash them to the ground; still, this is very exciting news for anyone wanting self-cleaning windows. The April 26, 2012 news item on Nanowerk features some of the latest work from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) on nanotextures and ‘multifunctional’ glass,

One of the most instantly recognizable features of glass is the way it reflects light. But a new way of creating surface textures on glass, developed by researchers at MIT, virtually eliminates reflections, producing glass that is almost unrecognizable because of its absence of glare — and whose surface causes water droplets to bounce right off, like tiny rubber balls.

The new “multifunctional” glass, based on surface nanotextures that produce an array of conical features, is self-cleaning and resists fogging and glare, the researchers say. Ultimately, they hope it can be made using an inexpensive manufacturing process that could be applied to optical devices, the screens of smartphones and televisions, solar panels, car windshields and even windows in buildings.

Here’s what they mean by ‘conical features’,

Through a process involving thin layers of material deposited on a surface and then selectively etched away, the MIT team produced a surface covered with tiny cones, each five times taller than their width. This pattern prevents reflections, while at the same time repelling water from the surface. Image: Hyungryul Choi and Kyoo-Chul Park

David Chandler in his April 26, 2012 news release for MIT explains,

The surface pattern — consisting of an array of nanoscale cones that are five times as tall as their base width of 200 nanometers — is based on a new fabrication approach the MIT team developed using coating and etching techniques adapted from the semiconductor industry. Fabrication begins by coating a glass surface with several thin layers, including a photoresist layer, which is then illuminated with a grid pattern and etched away; successive etchings produce the conical shapes. The team has already applied for a patent on the process.

Since it is the shape of the nanotextured surface — rather than any particular method of achieving that shape — that provides the unique characteristics, Park and Choi [MIT mechanical engineering graduate students Kyoo-Chul Park and Hyungryul Choi] say that in the future glass or transparent polymer films might be manufactured with such surface features simply by passing them through a pair of textured rollers while still partially molten; such a process would add minimally to the cost of manufacture.

If you’re guessing that nature inspired some of this, read on (from Chandler’s MIT news release),

The researchers say they drew their inspiration from nature, where textured surfaces ranging from lotus leaves to desert-beetle carapaces and moth eyes have developed in ways that often fulfill multiple purposes at once. Although the arrays of pointed nanocones on the surface appear fragile when viewed microscopically, the researchers say their calculations show they should be resistant to a wide range of forces, ranging from impact by raindrops in a strong downpour or wind-driven pollen and grit to direct poking with a finger. Further testing will be needed to demonstrate how well the nanotextured surfaces hold up over time in practical applications.

The chief excitement seems to centre around applications with solar panels (from Chandler’s MIT news release),

Photovoltaic panels, Park explains, can lose as much as 40 percent of their efficiency within six months as dust and dirt accumulate on their surfaces. But a solar panel protected by the new self-cleaning glass, he says, would have much less of a problem. In addition, the panel would be more efficient because more light would be transmitted through its surface, instead of being reflected away — especially when the sun’s rays are inclined at a sharp angle to the panel. At such times, such as early mornings and late afternoons, conventional glass might reflect away more than 50 percent of the light, whereas an anti-reflection surface would reduce the reflection to a negligible level.

While some earlier work has treated solar panels with hydrophobic coatings, the new multifunctional surfaces created by the MIT team are even more effective at repelling water, keeping the panels clean longer, the researchers say. In addition, existing hydrophobic coatings do not prevent reflective losses, giving the new system yet another advantage.

More testing is needed and while they do fantasize about wider applications (car windows, microscopes, cameras, smartphones, building windows, etc. mentioned earlier in this posting)  for this technology there are no immediate plans to fulfill my dream of self-cleaning apartment windows and mirrors.

Bending and twisting at Ceatac

CEATEC (Cutting Edge IT [Information Technology] and Electronics Comprehensive Exhibition) Japan, Oct.4-8, 2011 is a large technology fair being held in Chiba, near Tokyo. Some 800 companies are showcasing their latest and greatest according to the Oct. 4, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Around 600 firms unveiled their innovations at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (Ceatec) exhibition in Chiba, near Tokyo, expected to draw 200,000 visitors during its five-day run, organisers said.

The impact of Japan’s March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster gave added resonance to technologies on display, particularly those aimed at improving urban infrastructure and energy efficiency.

State-of-the-art radiation counters and power-saving technologies are in high demand after Japan’s disasters sparked fears over contamination and led to power shortages, requiring cuts to energy consumption this summer.

Japanese telecom giant NTT [Nippon Telegraph and Telephone] DoCoMo showed off a smartphone with changeable sensor-embedded shells that can detect bad breath, vital body signs and even be used to measure background radiation levels.

One item that particularly interested me is a transparent organic film from Murata Manufacturing. From the news item,

Electronics parts maker Murata Manufacturing unveiled devices using a newly developed transparent organic film that can deliver instructions via twisting motions or pressure.

One of its gadgets, a light-powered plate called the Leaf Grip Remote Controller, has no buttons but is instead operated by the user bending and twisting it.

Another application of the film is as a touch panel which responds to left-right and up-down finger swipes but also senses how strongly it is being pressed, unlike conventional touchscreen glass used on smartphones.

“Currently we give commands two-dimensionally on touch panels in smartphones and tablet computers but this invention would give us another dimension — how hard they are pressed,” Murata spokesman Kazuhisa Mashita said.

“This could enable users to scroll screens slowly by touching the screen lightly and move images faster by pressing it harder,” he told AFP [Agence France-Presse] ahead of the exhibition.

Earlier this year when CHI (computer-human interface) 2011 was taking place in Vancouver, Canada, I wrote about Roel Vertegaal and his team’s work on their PaperPhone and bending and twisting gestures (May 12, 2011 posting).

Bending and twisting a flexible screen doesn’t seem all that complicated but when you think about making those gestures meaningful,  i. e., ‘slowing a screen image by pressing more softly’, you realize just how much effort and thought are required for features, that if successful, will not be noticed.

Nanocoating for LED lighting, smartphones, etc.

Coatings may not sound exciting but nanotechnology is have a big impact in that area. P2i, a UK-based company that’s been mentioned here before, will be bringing a nanocoating for LED lighting and smartphones to IFA 2011, the largest consumer trade show for electronics and home appliances in the world. From the August 31, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

P2i brings its award-winning liquid repellent nano-coating technology, Aridion™, to IFA for the first time in 2011. Show visitors will be able to witness the ‘magic’ of Aridion™ in action at P2i’s booth – water simply forms beads and rolls off protected items, leaving no trace.

Aridion™ technology creates a complete nanoscopic protective coating for consumer electronics devices such as smartphones and MP3 players. By providing superior liquid repellency Aridion™ effectively fights corrosion, thus substantially reducing warranty failure and repair costs.

While the news item mentions smartphones, the company’s big announcement seems to be focused on LED lighting,

As IFA opens, P2i also announces it has entered into an exclusive worldwide license agreement to protect LED lighting solutions with SavWatt USA, Inc. Aridion™ technology will transform the reliability of the lights through reduced failure and repair rates.

For anyone who’d like more details about the Aridion™ coating,

Aridion™ is applied using a special pulsed ionized gas (plasma), which is created within a vacuum chamber, to attach a nanoscopic polymer layer, one thousand times thinner than a human hair – to the lighting system. This dramatically lowers the product’s surface energy, so that when liquids or moisture come into contact with it, they form beads and simply roll off.

Plus, because Aridion™ coats every aspect of a finished product at the nanoscopic level, it protects much more thoroughly than alternative approaches where individual components are treated prior to assembly. The result is a truly durable liquid repellent coating that does not affect the working components of electronic devices, maintaining the look, feel and functionality of the product.

My previous mentions of  P2i, a company, which supplies nanocoatings for Nike and to the military amongst other customers, are in a November 17, 2009 posting, a January 5, 2010 posting, and an April 20, 2010 posting. (You will need to scroll through the postings.)

Surveillance by design and by accident

In general, one thinks of surveillance as an activity undertaken by the military or the police or some other arm of the state (a spy agency of some kind). The  Nano Hummingbird, a drone from AeroVironment designed for the US Pentagon, would fit into any or all of those categories.

AeroVironment's hummingbird drone // Source: suasnews.com (downloaded from Homeland Security Newswire)

You can see the device in action here,

The inset screen shows you what is being seen via the hummingbird’s camera, while the larger screen image allows you to observe the Nano Hummingbird in action. I don’t know why they’ve used the word nano as part of the product unless it is for marketing purposes. The company’s description of the product is at a fairly high level and makes no mention of the technology, nano or otherwise, that makes the hummingbird drone’s capabilities possible (from the company’s Nano Hummingbird webpage),

AV [AeroVironment] is developing the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) under a DARPA sponsored research contract to develop a new class of air vehicle systems capable of indoor and outdoor operation. Employing biological mimicry at an extremely small scale, this unconventional aircraft could someday provide new reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities in urban environments.

The Nano Hummingbird could be described as a traditional form surveillance as could the EyeSwipe iris scanners (mentioned in my Dec. 10, 2010 posting). The EyeSwipe allows the police, military, or other state agencies to track you with cameras that scan your retinas (they’ve had trials of this technology in Mexico).

A provocative piece by Nic Fleming for the journal, New Scientist, takes this a step further. Smartphone surveillance: The cop in your pocket can be found in the July 30, 2011 issue of New Scientist (preview here; the whole article is behind a paywall),

While many of us use smartphones to keep our social lives in order, they are also turning out to be valuable tools for gathering otherwise hard-to-get data. The latest smartphones bristle with sensors …

Apparently the police are wanting to crowdsource surveillance by having members of the public use their smartphones to track licence plate numbers, etc. and notify the authorities. Concerns about these activities are noted both in Fleming article and in the August 10, 2011 posting on the Foresight Institute blog,

“Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute based in Palo Alto, California, warns that without safeguards, the data we gather about each other might one day be used to undermine rather than to protect our freedom. ‘We are moving to a new level of data collection that our society is not accustomed to,’ she says.”

Peterson’s comments about data collection struck me most particularly as I’ve noticed over the last several months a number of applications designed to make life ‘easier’ that also feature data collection (i. e., collection of one’s personal data). For example, there’s Percolate. From the July 7, 2011 article by Austin Carr for Fast Company,

Percolate, currently in its “double secret alpha” version, is a blogging platform that provides curated content for you to write about. The service taps into your RSS and Twitter feeds, culls content based on your interests–the stuff that “percolates up”–and then offers you the ability to share your thoughts on the subject with friends. “We’re trying to make it easy for anyone to create content,” Brier says, “to take away from the frustration of staring at that blank box and trying to figure out what to say.”

It not only removes the frustration, it removes at least some of the impetus for creativity. The service is being framed as a convenience. Coincidentally, it makes much easier for marketers or any one or any agency to track your activities.

This data collection can get a little more intimate than just your Twitter and RSS feeds. Your underwear can monitor your bodily functions (from the June 11, 2010 news item on Nanowerk),

A team of U.S. scientists has designed some new men’s briefs that may be comfortable, durable and even stylish but, unlike most underpants, may be able to save lives.

Printed on the waistband and in constant contact with the skin is an electronic biosensor, designed to measure blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs.

The technology, developed by nano-engineering professor Joseph Wang of University of California San Diego and his team, breaks new ground in the field of intelligent textiles and is part of shift in focus in healthcare from hospital-based treatment to home-based management.

The method is similar to conventional screen-printing although the ink contains carbon electrodes.

The project is being funded by the U.S. military with American troops likely to be the first recipients.

“This specific project involves monitoring the injury of soldiers during battlefield surgery and the goal is to develop minimally invasive sensors that can locate, in the field, and identify the type of injury,” Wang told Reuters Television.

I realize that efforts such as the ‘smart underpants’ are developed with good intentions but if the data can be used to monitor your health status, it can be used to monitor you for other reasons.

While the military can insist its soldiers be monitored, civilian efforts are based on incentives. For example, Foodzy is an application that makes dieting fun. From the July 7, 2011 article by Morgan Clendaniel on Fast Company,

As more and more people join (Foodzy is aiming for 30,000 users by the end of the year and 250,000 by the end of 2012), you’ll also start being able to see what your friends are eating. This could be a good way to keep your intake of bits down, not wanting to embarrass yourself in front of your friends as you binge on some cookies, but Kamphuis [Marjolijn Kamphuis is one of the founders] sees a more social aspect to it: “On my dashboard I am able to see what the ‘food match’ between me and my friends is, the same way Last.FM has been comparing me and my friend’s music taste for ages! I am now able to share recipes with my friends or hook up with them in real life for dinner because I notice we have similar taste.”

That sure takes the discovery/excitement aspect out of getting to know someone. As I noted with my comments about Percolate, with more of our lives being mediated by applications of this nature, the easier we are to track.

Along a parallel track, there’s a campaign to remove anonymity and/or pseudonymity from the Internet. As David Sirota notes in his August 12, 2011 Salon essay about this trend, the expressed intention is to ensure civility and minimize bullying but there is at least one other consequence,

The big potential benefit of users having to attach real identities to their Internet personas is more constructive dialogue.

As Zuckerberg [Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook executive] and Schmidt [Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO]  correctly suggest, online anonymity is primarily used by hate-mongers to turn constructive public discourse into epithet-filled diatribes. Knowing they are shielded from consequences, trolls feel empowered to spew racist, sexist and other socially unacceptable rhetoric that they’d never use offline. …

The downside, though, is that true whistle-blowers will lose one of their most essential tools.

Though today’s journalists often grant establishment sources anonymity to attack weaker critics, anonymity’s real social value is rooted in helping the powerless challenge the powerful. Think WikiLeaks, which exemplifies how online anonymity provides insiders the cover they need to publish critical information without fear of retribution. Eliminating such cover will almost certainly reduce the kind of leaks that let the public occasionally see inconvenient truths.

It’s not always about whistleblowing, some people prefer pseudonyms.  Science writer and blogger, GrrlScientist, recently suffered a blow to her pseudonymity which was administered by Google (from her July 16, 2011 posting on the Guardian science blogs),

One week ago, my entire Google account was deactivated suddenly and without warning. I was not allowed to access gmail nor any other Google service until I surrendered my personal telephone number in exchange for reinstating access to my gmail account. I still cannot access many of my other accounts, such as Google+, Reader and Buzz. My YouTube account remains locked, too.

I was never notified as to what specifically had warranted this unexpected deactivation of my account. I only learned a few hours later that my account was shut down due to the name I use on my profile page, which you claim is a violation of your “community standards”. However, as stated on your own “display name” pages, I have not violated your community standards. I complied with your stated request: my profile name is “the name that [I] commonly go by in daily life.”

My name is a pseudonym, as I openly state on my profile. I have used GrrlScientist as my pseudonym since 2000 and it has a long track record. I have given public lectures in several countries, received mail in two countries, signed contracts, received monetary payments, published in a number of venues and been interviewed for news stories – all using my pseudonym. A recent Google search shows that GrrlScientist, as spelled, is unique in the world. This meets at least two of your stated requirements; (1) I am not impersonating anyone and (2) my name represents just one person.

GrrlScientist is not the only writer who prefers a pseudonym. Mark Twain did too. His real name was Samuel J. Clemens but widely known as Mark Twain, he was the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and many more books, short stories, and essays.

Minimzing bullying, ensuring civility, monitoring vital signs in battle situations, encouraging people to write, helping a friend stay on diet are laudable intentions but all of this leads to more data being collected about us and the potential for abusive use of this data.