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How Swarm Intelligence will Take Over our Lives

Swarm intelligence is a type of crowd intelligence, like what is seen in ant or bee colonies, where each member of the colony tends to work independently at a particular task and then contributes their particular knowledge to the collective, and the group reacts as a whole. 

For example, ants may have guards, health monitors, food gatherers, childcare monitors, etc.  When any one group hits an alarm, (Food is low! The Queen is dying!) the entire hive reacts appropriately because they come “programmed” with the knowledge of what their next task should be. 

In effect, this is where the Smart Home is going.  With lights, sockets, hubs, speakers, security, curtains, appliances, etc, the Smart Home is becoming a swarm of input sensors where each sensor will be able to react based on input from all other sensors. 

For example, in a Smart Home, if the sensors are activated, i.e.  a window is broken or the inside temperature is not ideal, then the entire home will react appropriately.  The alarm will go off and the security alerts will be sent, the heater may automatically go off to save energy, the lights may go on, and the home owner’s phone alarm alerts them to the situation.  Each segment of the home will come preprogrammed with the knowledge of how it should react based on the particular information supplied by the hundreds of sensors around the home. 

Sensor Fusion in a State of Flux as Companies Fuse Together

There has been a great deal of activity among companies within the sensor fusion ecosystem.  Mergers and acquisitions are changing the competitive landscape. 

As a quick background, sensor fusion is the technology of combining data from multiple sensors and deriving intelligence from that data.  It is the foundation for motion tracking, navigation, context awareness, location based services, augmented reality and more.  It is the basis for future innovative applications.  The brains behind sensor fusion is in the algorithms.  This is usually embedded in a 32-bit microcontroller core or similarly powerful processing device, known as a sensor hub.

In May 2014, Fairchild announced the acquisition of Xsens the Dutch company known for motion tracking software.  Xsens has been doing motion tracking for film and other such applications.  It has modules with low cost consumer grade inertial motion MEMS sensors from STMicroelectronics.  At the time of the acquisition, Fairchild also announced that it would be bringing MEMS sensors to market soon as well.

3D Printing: Can You Imagine the Possibilities?

3D printing is being used in many more applications than most people realize.  But the most exciting applications for 3D printing are the ones that haven’t even been conceived of yet.  It’s exciting to realize we are on the cusp of a manufacturing revolution that affects so many different industries already. 

If you have been to the movies lately, you’ve likely seen 3D printing in action.  Movies from “Iron Man” to “ParaNorman” used 3D printing, while Disney’s upcoming “Big Hero 6” features a main character designing and printing a robot armor suit.  What 3D printing has brought to Hollywood is the ability to quickly make designs for directors to approve, easily make iterative changes to the designs, add amazing detail, and create parts much more efficiently than doing it by hand. 

3D-Printed Glove Pieces for “Iron Man” 

Iron Man 2 costume

Source:  Fastcompany.com

3D-Printed Faces for “ParaNorman”

How 3D printing changed the face of 'Paranoman'

Source:  engadget.com

Biosensors: Perspiration is a Good Thing

Those of us who live in warm climates understand how important it is to stay hydrated, especially in a place like Phoenix, Arizona.  We emphasize this starting with youth sports.  We remind visitors who want to enjoy hiking our beautiful state the importance of staying hydrated.  But many people are not aware about how quickly they can become dehydrated and find themselves in distress.

Staying hydrated has been a top concern in sports for many years.  During the recent National Basketball Association finals, Miami Heat star, Lebron James, was unable to finish one game due to severe leg cramps.  The FIFA World Cup is being held in Brazil under extreme heat and humid conditions.  In a rare move, FIFA is allowing water breaks during the game.  The time is added on as stoppage time.

A water break during the FIFA World Cup was used during the USA v Portugal match.  This Sunday during the Netherlands v Mexico match the referee called for a water break during both halves.  However, the water breaks were left to the discretion of the referee.  He bases his decision on the air temperature, relative humidity and his own subjective observation of the players. 

Ethernet: The Highway for Automotive Electronics?

What happens when technology from the fast paced communication industry makes a move into the traditional automotive industry? Semiconductor marketers and even the automotive industry are talking about revolutionary changes inside and outside the vehicle. 

What kinds of changes?  Ethernet and sensors.  There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm over the prospect of cars with Ethernet networking capabilities and multiple ports for streaming video, driver-assist cameras, real-time diagnostics and autonomous driving.  Ethernet is touted as being a faster, and ultimately cheaper, network solution for the operational information collected by sensors as well as providing more bandwidth for the infotainment needs of each passenger.    

After attending DAC last week, I was quite bullish myself.  Companies such as Synopsys are reporting significant design activity focused on automotive applications.  Synopsys offers their DesignWare ARC SEP Processor for ISO 26262 safety compliant solutions as well as a sensor IP subsystem for small, low power devices. 

Ethernet is already ubiquitous in the communication world, providing not only experienced design knowledge but also large-volume manufacturing.  Large volumes lead to economies of scale and lower costs compared to other automotive network options.  Cadence has a long history of designing Ethernet IP and developing standards which will make adoption in the automotive industry much smoother.

IOT, Priming The Market

No matter who you talk to, from material vendors to OEMs, semiconductor equipment suppliers, designers, fabless companies, IDMs, or foundries, IoT is a popular subject. Every industry publication you may read or conference you attend, IOT is at the forefront of every discussion. This was certainly true at DAC last week. I was on a breakfast panel session sponsored by GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Synopsys on Tuesday morning. The big question is, will IoT be the next driver that will take the industry to its next growth phase? There was a lively discussion of the opportunities for IoT. Semico believes that IoT devices will exceed mobile connections by 2018. However, there are some significant caveats that should be pointed out. The main inhibitors that were discussed were:

Terrifying Robots: Part 8

The next robot is a lawn mower.  Of course.  Because what robots really need is a fast rotating 12” cutting blade

(source: CNET)

Like many of the robots in this series, this little LawnBott looks like a cute little toy on first glance.  In fact, it looks a little too small to be a useful tool, and at $2,800 its probably not going to be used by my neighbors.  

Thank goodness. 

As with other consumer-orientated robots, this little creature uses apps and a smartphone for controls and scheduling.  Though it seems a little sinister that its so quiet you can schedule it to mow your lawn at night.  As Tony said, the Tuilleries Garden in Paris uses goats to cut their grass.  If its good enough for them, its good enough for me.  

BTW, do you have some sheep?  My lawn needs a mowing.

Terrifying Robots: Part 7

What sorcery is this?  Watch this video, and see how fast these little robots can move.  If we were playing a game of capture the flag, I’d report this robot as, well, a robot.  (Flag capture and return in 5 seconds?! Hacking!)

What is our obsession with creating robots that can build things?  Have none of you seen The Terminator?

Now consider, I don’t know if you’ve read Google’s terms of service, but basically they’re creating Skynet.  Sooner or later, someone is going to combine Google’s Skynet with all these robots, and the next day we’re all going to wake up in the Matrix, in a perpetual state of 1999, because according to these bots, human civilization peaked before the rise of smart phones.  

Think about it, we’re going to live in a simulation without smart phones.  

Talk about terrifying.  

Crowd Funded: Seriously? A Toothbrush?

When most people talk about the connected home, they tend to scoff at different product ideas.  Take this Smart Toothbrush, on Kickstarter.com.  Most of us would probably roll our eyes at the idea of a connected toothbrush, yet it still has over 20 days to go to fundraise, and yet its already funded ($87K at the time of this writing). 

So what makes this product so special that people are willing to spend $99 - $200 USD on a toothbrush?  

Well, first of all, its sleek and minimal for an electric toothbrush.  There are no bulky parts that stick out, so for aesthetics alone, this is a winner.  Second, this company really focused on the application, or the “why” we need this type of product.  They created not just graphs that show our brushing habits, but games for children that make brushing more fun in general.  

And if you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve struggled with getting your kid to brush their teeth regularly

Third, if you’re in the market for an electric toothbrush, its relatively affordable.  While you can find some electronic toothbrushes for about $40, there are also many that are $100+.  

PG&E: Zero Net Energy

The second guest keynote speaker at Semico’s Smart Lighting IMPACT event  was Carolyn Weiner,  Manager, Core Products, from PG&E, where she spoke about the zero net energy goals PG&E has for California and what that means for the industry.  

Perhaps expected, PG&E is focused on a “greener” future.  Perhaps unexpectedly, their goal is to reduce power consumption in CA by 60% by 2020.  And even more astounding, they’re seeking to have all new residential construction in CA be zero net energy by 2020, and all new commercial buildings being zero net energy by 2030.  These are lofty goals, but if anything this conference showed us, they’re entirely possible with the right leaders behind the effort, because the technology is readily available today. 

And if you think this isn’t important, keep in mind that lighting alone in CA makes up about 25% of the energy load in the commercial building market. 

The road isn’t going to be easy.  There are several stumbling blocks along the way. 

A few challenges PG&E is investigating include: variability in energy savings across different types of buildings, interoperability, the technical expertise required to install, and proper commissioning. 

So what is one major aspect PG&E thinks builders should focus on in order to reduce energy?  Daylight. 

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