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Terrifying Robots: Part 2

Ugh. Roaches.  

Osaka University & Tokyo University have created a fuel cell that uses the insides of the roaches to power sensors.  So what... they're going to release thousands of roaches into the sewers of New York?  I can't handle this information.  

The fuel cell uses trehalose, a sugar found in the roach's body to generate 50.2 microwatts of power.  As long as the roach secretes the fluid, the cell will have power.  The roach itself can live up to 3 years depending on the type used, but madagascar hissing roaches are most often used in research due to their cleaner nature, and can live up to 5 years, but cannot be released into the wild in some regions.  But don't worry, North Carolina has that covered; they're going to add a remote control system to the roach.  They're adding little sensors to the roach that will make it think a preditor is approaching from a certain direction in order to spur it in the direction the researchers want.  No veering off course for these little cyborgs.

Image from Techon and Osaka and Tokyo Universities

(Source)

Cycloramic App's Success Proves MEMS are Attractive to Investors

In a recent episode, the Cycloramic app had the Shark Tank investors practically falling over each other trying to “win” the investment in Egos Ventures, the app’s developer.  If you’re a fan of the show (as I obviously am), you’ll know that that almost never happens. 

I first heard about Cycloramic, from--where else--a teenager.  It was at a friend’s family get-together at the holidays, and people were sitting around a table that must have been 12 feet long.  He showed how you can prop an iPhone 5 or 5S (but not the 5C, because of the contoured edge) on its end, fire up the app, and tell it to take a picture.  The app uses the phone’s ability to vibrate to rotate the phone 360 degrees, taking pictures as it goes along, and then stitching them together for one panoramic.  I was stunned by how well it worked, but thought it was mainly a cool party trick. 

A month later, the app’s Shark Tank episode airs and the app jumps to number one on the paid charts.  When the episode was filmed (June 2013), the app had ~600,000 downloads.  The app now tops more than 8 million downloads, with more occurring due to the show’s airing. 

Beyond The CES Hype

Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to realistically assess all the activity at CES 2014. The big screen TVs, the shiny new cars and all the excitement over Internet of Things certainly dazzled the CES show floor. But how much of it is hype and what will really become sustainable products?

Smart lighting, smart refrigerators, smart cars, and a smart thermostat are all part of what is being touted as the Internet of Things. The IoT scenario goes something like this: You’re driving home from work, and a voice in your car tells you to buy some eggs because there are no more in the refrigerator. Then, when you’re five miles away, your home thermostat is activated to turn on the heat so the house is warm and cozy when you arrive. Sounds like the ideal butler and a lot of WiFi chips.

All the new fitness gadgets and home medical devices also are worth watching. Wireless medical devices that enable Aging in Place really appeal to an aging population. From Fitbits to the Neubac to thought-controlled prosthetics, medical electronics for personal use is a growing consumer segment.

Another CES item that deserves attention are the 3D printing displays. Producing toys to musical instruments to candy is just one button away. From consumer to industrial, medical and even art, the applications are endless.

Terrifying Robots: Part 1

Yes, I'm starting this list out with a toy.  But just look at it: 

They're bringing DISCO back.  In toy form.  

The robot actually looks like a pretty cool birthday or christmas gift for that kid with the parents you want to drive crazy.  It has apps for iOS, Windows and Android, which let the user choreograph new dance steps for the robot when the 56 preprogrammed dance moves start getting old.  It has 8 different facial expressions, and will dance to clapping or really, any sound at all.  Which means, better yet, get that kid 2 Disco Robos so the fun never ends!  

Actually though, what really brings this robot into the terrifying side is the commercial.  

And that I kind of want one.

CES 2014: Is the Internet of Things Connecting With You?

Every year there are a great many innovations, gizmos and gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  There are some interesting and notable products.  There were various robots that clean your home.  Famibot had Ecovacs for your floor and a Winbot for your windows.  There were numerous smart watches and wearables for health, fitness and medical.  The activity trackers drew attention from many vendors, not only the well known Fitbit, Jawbone, Withings, Polar and Nike, but also Tractive which offers activity trackers for your pets.  Even your kitty and doggie need to stay in shape not just you.  The floor space for wearables appeared to be double that of last year’s CES.

One can find the usual devices at CES such as the next generation of 4K TVs including those that bend and curve.  A plethora of smartphones and accessories could be seen.  Are you concerned for your safety?  There is the Yellow Jacket stun-gun case for the iPhone 5.  There were plenty of notebook PCs and tablets on display.  Many of the notebooks were the convertible 2-in-1 designs.  Some have detachable keyboards so you have essentially an extra large tablet.  There were more notebook models with touch screens and motion sensors so they will be able to compete with tablets.  Qualcomm was showing off the next Snapdragon 805 that will ship later this year.  Intel demoed tablets with the next generation Baytrail Atom CPU.  These tablets are already on the market

Semico’s Top 5 Technologies from CES

As usual, this year’s CES was dauntingly huge.  There were thousands of products and over 150,000 people registered.  Semico sent in four fearless analysts to brave the chaos for you and below we’ve laid out five technologies we think you should pay attention to as game changers. 

3D Printing

Over the past several months, Semico has been digging into the pros and cons of additive manufacturing, more commonly referred to as 3D printing.  The 3D printing companies represented at CES have convinced me that this is a revolutionary technology.  It’s my selection for best product at CES. 

A 3D printer is not just a tool for prototypes or a mere plaything for the hobbyist.  3D printers will change our lives.  Need a new set of plates or bakeware, make it with 3D Systems’ CeraJet that works with ceramic materials.  Need a hearing aid?  Make it with envisionTEC’s DDSP System that uses TI’s DLP technology.  And this isn’t just for small items.  The Stratasys Objet1000 features a large build tray of 1000 x 800 x 500 mm (39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 in.) capable of working with 14 different materials.  3DMonstr is a large, industrial-grade, quad-extruder 3D printer, with the capability of building an object up to 8 cubic ft.  3DMonster is currently on Kickstarter and has already surpassed its goal.   

The Healthcare Market is not Just a Mobile Semiconductor Fad

Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP) is facilitating tremendous growth in the semiconductor industry.  Jim Feldhan, President of Semico Research, delivered the kickoff address of the Semico IP Impact Conference, attended by over 150 people.

One of Feldhan’s key messages was that portability will continue to reshape technology and our lives.  Today, eight percent of resources are directed towards creating content while 91% are about using content.  This is especially prevalent in the mobile market, which surpassed the traditional computing market in 2008.  Tablets will outsell notebooks by the end of this year.  And, by 2017, Semico is projecting that the tablet and notebook form factors will become indistinguishable.

Another message was how the residential market will be impacted by the Internet of Things.  Today the average home has over 70 appliances and devices, which could be internet-connected in the future.  This will create an $18 billion market for internet-connected appliances in 2017 which will contain over $160 billion in semiconductors in those appliances.

Is the Internet of Things Driving Us Toward a Security Armageddon?

At the Semico Impact conference on November 6th, Kent Shimasaki of Infinitedge led a panel titled “Designing for New World Applications.” The panelists’ discussion revolved around system security and managing power efficiency. Panel participants included John O'Neill, Vice President of Marketing, Skyworks; Grant Pierce, CEO, Sonics; Ron Moore, Director of Strategic Accounts Marketing for PIPD, ARM; and Steve Singer, Director of Systems Engineering, Embedded Security Solutions, INSIDE Secure.

Mr. Shimasaki started things off by asking the panelists what are their customers’ biggest challenges in addressing the Internet of Things? Grant Pierce said that his customers look for the scalability of IP to support integration onto a single IC. With very personalized devices like wearables, you need to exploit every opportunity to extend battery life. For example, it’s not just delivering the most power efficient app, it also involves being able to control the total power budget of a device as it relates to the overall operation. Mr. Pierce said that security has to be raised to appropriate levels, depending on the device, to coincide with an application; the security level for a watch that tells you the time is vastly different from the security in a pacemaker.

Degrees of Freedom vs Axis

There are two common terms when describing sensors.  One is “degree of freedom” (DOF) and the other is “axis.”   They're often used synonymously, originating when accelerometers, vibration sensors and tilt sensors were first used in industrial and military applications for monitoring movement, such as a robotic arm or a space craft.  Yet, they don't mean the same thing.  Technically, a DoF is a parameter that determines the state of a physical system and it takes six numbers to characterize a movement. 

So, six degrees of freedom indicates the sensors track up and down, side to side, forward and backward, pitch, roll, and yaw.  A device can really only have a maximum of 6 DOF, because there are only 6 degrees of freedom in a 3D space.  When a company claims a higher DOF (like 9), they’re really implying a higher degree of accuracy within the linear and angular 3D space.

Which means the more accurate term when discussing sensors is "axis."

The axis term refers to the X, Y, and Z axis, so a 1-axis sensor most likely goes up and down on a Y axis or side to side on a X axis.  A 3-axis sensor would track on all three axes.  A sensor platform that is said to have 9, 10, or 12-axes indicates that it tracks multiple data points along the X, Y, and Z axes. The number of axes a device is said to have can be as high as the developer wants - as long as each additional axis tracks data along one of the x, y, or z axes, it can be added on to the total. 

Sand9 Rolling Out MEMS Timing Solutions

About a year ago Sand9 was a startup just coming out of stealth mode.  Little was known other than it had innovative MEMS timing technology.  The company is starting to roll out product to market.  On September 3, 2013 Sand9 announced the TM061 and TM361 touted as the “First precision MEMS Timing products for the Internet of Things and Mobile.”  On November 18, 2013 the company announced the TM651 to meet the rigorous requirements for precision timing in communications infrastructure, industrial and military applications.

Sand9 is using a platform strategy for its product lines.  The two platforms are MR (MEMS Resonator) and TSMR(Temperature Sensing MEMS Resonator).  The first device offered for MR is the TM061.  The first one for TSMR is the TM361.

Sand9 implements a piezoelectric MEMS technology.  Traditional MEMS use electrostatic technology which has issues with performance and low power.  According to the company, its piezoelectric resonator architecture has higher performance and lower power.  The temperature detection and compensation in the TSMR is achieved by sandwiching a layer of Si (silicon) between two layers of SiO2 (silicon dioxide).  As the temperature increases SiO2 stiffens while Si softens.  The two layers compensate each other.

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