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Transparent transistors printed on transparent paper: Flexible, green computers incoming

Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park have printed transparent transistors on transparent paper. The finished device is flexible, up to 84% transparent, and in theory this could be the first step towards green, paper-based electronics.

As we’ve covered before, printing computer circuits isn’t overly difficult — you just need to find the right conductive and semiconductive inks (which can be tricky), and then print them out on a suitable substrate until you have a transistor. Because these ink-based printed circuits are very thin, though, the smoothness of the substrate is very important. When you’re dealing with layers of ink that are a few nanometers thick, any blemish on the substrate is enough to disrupt the flow of electrons and break the circuit.

Transparent transistors, on transparent nanopaper

In the case of regular old paper, bumps and blemishes are usually measured in micrometers — far too irregular to print circuitry on.  Not to be deterred, the researchers at the University of Maryland used nanopaper — paper created from wood pulp that’s been specially treated with enzymes and mechanically beaten. Nanopaper has a much more regular structure than normal paper, and is stronger (and transparent) as a result. More importantly, though, nanopaper is smooth to within just a few nanometers. “It’s as flat as plastic,” says Liangbing Hu, one of the researchers who worked on the project.

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Zero-energy-consumption magneto-optical storage for next-generation flexible plastic computers

Researchers at the University of Iowa have discovered a method of converting magnetic data into optical data for free, without external electricity. This is a very big step towards flexible, cheap, throwaway plastic computers, which are gaining in popularity due to society’s recent shift towards mobile computing and “quantified self” activity monitors.

Plastic computers are fundamentally very similar to normal, metal computers — but instead of being fabricated out of wafers of silicon, plastic computers consist of organic semiconductors (polymers) that are laid down on a flexible, plastic substrate, creating organic field-effect transistors (OFETs). These OFETs don’t have the same performance characteristics as silicon, but they’re good enough for ultra-low-power mobile and wearable computing. (These are the same kind of organic semiconductors used in OLED displays, incidentally.)

Flexible, organic NAND flash

While we mostly have the logic and computation side of plastic computers worked out, there are still big question marks hanging over the storage and power consumption parts of the equation. OFETs aren’t all that efficient, and current transistor densities are much too low to build usable amounts of RAM or non-volatile NAND flash on a plastic substrate. It is theoretically possible to use a thin magnetic foil that stores high-density data, much like a hard drive platter, but reading that magnetic data with organic semiconductors is hard and consumes a lot of power. Until now!

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IBM cracks open a new era of computing with brain-like chip: 4096 cores, 1 million neurons, 5.4 billion transistors

Scientists at IBM Research have created by far the most advanced neuromorphic (brain-like) computer chip to date. The chip, called TrueNorth, consists of 1 million programmable neurons and 256 million programmable synapses across 4096 individual neurosynaptic cores. Built on Samsung’s 28nm process and with a monstrous transistor count of 5.4 billion, this is one of the largest and most advanced computer chips ever made. Perhaps most importantly, though, TrueNorth is incredibly efficient: The chip consumes just 72 milliwatts at max load, which equates to around 400 billion synaptic operations per second per watt — or about 176,000 times more efficient than a modern CPU running the same brain-like workload, or 769 times more efficient than other state-of-the-art neuromorphic approaches. Yes, IBM is now a big step closer to building a brain on a chip.

IBM's TrueNorth chip, and a few friends, in an SMP setup

The animal brain (which includes the human brain, of course), as you may have heard before, is by far the most efficient computer in the known universe. As you can see in the graph below, the human brain has a “clock speed” (neuron firing speed) measured in tens of hertz, and a total power consumption of around 20 watts. A modern silicon chip, despite having features that are almost on the same tiny scale as biological neurons and synapses, can consume thousands or millions times more energy to perform the same task as a human brain. As we move towards more advanced areas of computing, such as artificial general intelligence and big data analysis — areas that IBM just happens to be deeply involved with — it would really help if we had a silicon chip that was capable of brain-like efficiency.

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Examiner: Wearable tech Google Glass brings a more personalized experience to flying

Virgin Atlantic is taking wearable tech to the skies. USA Today reports that concierges for the airline have today begun wearing Google Glass to aid in the process of checking in passengers. With the information closer than their fingertips, concierges will be able to offer passengers the latest flight, weather and event information. Glass will also offer the valuable ability to translate languages.

The articles states that at some point, the device will also be able to link a person will their food and beverage preferences. Director of information technology for Virgin Atlantic Dave Bulman said, “The whole industry needs to listen to what these passengers are calling for, and keep innovating to bring a return to the golden age of air travel. Flying should be a pleasure, not a chore.’

This project, which was launched with the help of SITA, an information technology company, will last for a six-week trial period. Should everything go well, the program could be extended to other airports.

Do you view this as a luxury experience for travel? Would it disturb you to be called by name by someone you’ve never seen before and have them know your flying preferences? It does give back a sense of importance to passengers but is it more important to recognize that all passenger information is being uploaded and shared by Virgin Atlantic concierges?

As wearable technology expands into use by various members of different professions, its great to see industries that don’t usually adopt technology quickly jump on the bandwagon. But it will also be interesting to see how privacy concerns are met.

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Technology: If the device fits, wear it…but only if the price is right

wearables will potentially increase the number of devices accessing networks by a hundred-fold over the next five to seven years.

THE technology rumour mills are, as ever, running hot. This time it’s all about wearable computing devices.

Google Glass controversial web-connected specs are due to hit the market some time this year; up to 10,000 pairs are said to be already on the faces of testers worldwide.

And an increasing number of feverish reports claim yet again that Apple is close to announcing a wrist-worn i-Watch.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has been sighted wearing one. It’s said to be a Pebble, mainly used for tracking fitness, but who knows? Perhaps it’s a prototype iWatch in disguise. DoubleClick doesn’t know whether the rumours are right or not.

But we do know the computing market hype machine has sprung into life in recent months, with just about every major manufacturer other than Apple announcing plans for a wearable gadget, and many more minor ones and wannabes bouncing ideas for similar gadgets on KickStarter, the website that helps raise funds for startups.

Some pundits are proclaiming the Year of the Wearable, but DoubleClick has some doubts, as do some of the more cautious IT trends-consulting firms.

Many wearable gadgets are on the way, but early acceptance may be restrained, and it could be next year before the market begins to take off, if then.

There are two types of wearable devices: things worn on your face, like Google Glass, and those worn on your wrist or arm, which include fitness-reading bands such as the Jawbone as well as e-watches like the Pebble.

Google Glass is certainly the most controversial of the moosh-mounted wearables. You wear a small headset that looks like a pair of very slim specs, but which has a little display device mounted just above your right eye.

It can take pictures of what’s around you and record conversations, sometimes unbeknown to those nearby. It can also display weather reports, phone messages and so-called “augmented reality” information about nearby objects, perhaps bars or restaurants or maybe supermarket items.

Wearing Google Glass in a bar or restaurant is strictly a no-no, and they’re also frowned on in company meetings. In the US, several people have been nabbed for wearing them while driving.

Current test versions of Google Glass sell to approved folk for about $US1500 ($1674), but this is expected to come down to $500 or so if and when the things come to market.

Google won’t have this market to itself. Other makers who already have head-mounted gear in the market, or are planning to, include Oculus, PivotHead, Epson, and Lumus.

Then there’s the Avegant Glyph headset, a heavyweight affair that wraps right around your eyes and ears. It doesn’t display information on a screen — it delivers movies, video games and video calls direct on to your retinas. Safe? Let’s hope so.

In the wristband wearable department, a typical example is the Jawbone Up, sometimes described as a pedometer disguised as a bracelet. It coils around your wrist and measures three matters: how you move, how you sleep, and what you eat.

Like most other wearables, you must plug it into a mobile phone to transfer data to an app that stores the figures. The Jawbone Up sells in Australia for about $150.

Other fitness trackers include Nike’s FuelBand and Garmin’s forthcoming Vivofit.

Samsung since September has been marketing the $369 Gear, an e-wristwatch that links to its Galaxy smartphone and Note phablets. It notifies users of incoming phone messages, displays weather reports, includes a tiny camera and captures voice recordings. Yes, it also tells the time.

Sony has been in the wearable market longer than most with its SmartWatch, which sells for about $240 in Australia.

But at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sony unveiled a forthcoming and completely different wrist device: the Core, a very slim band that is not so much a fitness tracker as a lifestyle logger. You wear it always, and it tracks your movements, your sleep patterns, your movie watching and even the weather on a particular day.

Linked to Sony’s LifeLog app, it gives a record of everything you’ve done, day in and day out, possibly even some things you don’t want to be reminded of. Pricing and release date are yet to be revealed.

US-based Pebble has produced a number of reasonably successful e-watches. The latest, dubbed the Steel, is good looking in steel and Gorilla Glass and has a growing number of apps that can be swapped on and off via iPhone or Android mobiles.

The Steel can be ordered from Pebble’s US-based online store at getpebble.com, $US249 ($278). Standard (ie, slow) shipping is free; courier delivery within five business days costs $28.

Other outfits that have announced plans to launch wearable gadgets in coming months, among them Taiwan’s Acer, Asus and HTC and South Korea’s LG, though details are sparse.

Is there a place for all. How big will the wearable market get?

Nowhere near as big as some of the wild estimates coming out of the US and Asia, according to Deloitte consulting.

At a media briefing in Sydney a few weeks ago, Deloitte executives suggested that the smart fitness-band market, while moderately healthy, would never go mainstream.

It estimated the total market for fitness bands and smart watches this year would be about four million bands and two million watches: pretty small beer compared with the booming markets for smartphones and tablets.

Deloitte suggested smart glasses would generate more revenue — especially from businesses and mining groups, where they might fill a niche for safety products — with sales of about four million at an average $US500 each.

DoubleClick’s advice: even if your interest in the wearable genre has been piqued, don’t rush to the stores just yet.

There’s hopefully better stuff -maybe even something that’s really useful — and lower prices yet to come.

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ITPRO: Google Glass: 10 use cases for wearable technology

As Virgin Atlantic and NYPD trial Google Glass, we look at the other potential business uses…

Google has yet to confirm a release date for Glass, but the technology is already being trialed by a variety of industries including airlines, hospitals and police forces.

Having tried the latest version of Glass, we can see the potential of the device. The ability to take photos and video as well as bring up information from the internet via the head-mounted display make Glass a powerful tool. Despite Glass still being in the beta phase, it’s real-world applications are there for all to see and we take a look at 10 scenarios where it will be a good fit.

1. Healthcare

Glass can make a huge difference in hospitals to increase the efficiency of staff and accuracy of treatment given to patients.

The camera will play a pivotal role – allowing nurses or doctors to scan barcodes and NFC tags to identify patients, bring up medical records and verify the correct medication and dosage is being applied. Below we can see how SAP envisages Glass could be used in combination with its HANA technology.

 

Surgeons have already used Glass during operations. Sharing videos via Hangouts allows them to impart knowledge to students and seek real-time assistance from specialists who may be halfway across the world.

 

During operations, the HUD can also provide important images to surgeons, meaning that they don’t have move away from the patient. On the compliance side, recording the surgery can be used to find out why something went wrong during the the procedure, and help settle any complaints.

 

2. Airports

 

This week, Virgin Atlantic commenced a six-week trial of Google Glass at Heathrow airport. The airline announced Glass will be used by concierge staff at the Upper Class wing, with the aim of providing a more personalised customer service.

 

Glass will be used to process check-ins and provide passengers with information about their flight, as well as details of the weather and suggested activities at their destination. It can also aid translation queries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virgin will consider a wide-scale deployment and will work on improving functionality if it deems the trial successful. Other potential applications include the ability to provide staff with details of passenger’s dietary requirements.

 

3. Augmented Reality 

 

Glass can superimpose information over real-world happenings, which will allow the tourism and leisure industry to enhance and support the customer experience.

 

City and museum tours can be brought to life by overlaying historicals buildings and artwork with key facts or audio descriptions. Users will also be able to take pictures and video and email the files to themselves so they can capture memories hands-free.

 

If Glass ends up being mainstream, as Google hopes, then a few years from now we will be living in an augmented reality world. Simple tasks like food and clothes shopping will be revamped. Apps could be developed allowing Glass to highlight the health benefits of foods and any promotions. Retail assistants will be able help customers with their queries on the shop-floor by providing information on products and checking stock levels.

Even the construction, retail and real estate agencies will benefit from augmented reality. When designing buildings, bridges and vehicles, the architects, builders and engineers will be able to pop on Glass and see what the finished article should look like, instead of relying on 2D blueprints or pictures.

Similarly, those selling or letting houses will be able to provide real-world tours without having to get clients to visits all properties. This could save the buyers/renters time as they would only need to visit houses in the real world they like the look of in the virtual world.

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Global Travel Industry News: Virgin Atlantic first in world to use wearable technology to serve passengers

Virgin Atlantic passengers will be the first air travelers to experience the benefits of pioneering Google Glass and Sony Smartwatch technology as they arrive at London Heathrow airport, in an innovative pilot scheme which starts today. Concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing will be using wearable technology to deliver the industry’s most high tech and personalized customer service yet.

Virgin Atlantic first in world to use  wearable technology to serve passengers

The cutting-edge technology is being introduced asVirgin Atlantic publishes the results of a major study of 10,000 airline passengers from across the world on the future of air travel. The results show that as the number of people travelling by plane has sky-rocketed in recent decades, the experience has lessened. Virgin Atlantic is joining with passengers and calling on the industry to introduce more innovations and radical fresh thinking to meet sky-high consumer expectations.

Virgin Atlantic, in collaboration with air transport IT specialist SITA, is the first in the industry to test how the latest wearable technology, including Google Glass, can best be used to enhance customers’ travel experiences and improve efficiency. From the minute Upper Class passengers step out of their chauffeured limousine at Heathrow’s T3 and are greeted by name, Virgin Atlantic staff wearing the technology will start the check-in process. At the same time, staff will be able to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination and translate any foreign language information. In future, the technology could also tell Virgin Atlantic staff their passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences – anything that provides a better and more personalized service. During the six-week pilot, the benefits to consumers and the business will be evaluated ahead of a potential wider roll-out in the future.

Virgin Atlantic’s new solution replaces an existing process for serving passengers traveling in the Upper Class Wing, the airline’s premium entrance at Heathrow dedicated to Upper Class passengers. Airline staff are equipped with either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch 2, which is integrated to both a purpose-built dispatch app built by SITA and the Virgin Atlantic passenger service system. The dispatch app manages all task allocation and concierge availability. It pushes individual passenger information directly to the assigned concierge’s smart glasses or watch just as the passenger arrives at the Upper Class Wing.

Dave Bulman, Director of IT, Virgin Atlantic, said: “While it’s fantastic that more people can now fly than ever before, the fact that air travel has become so accessible has led to some of the sheen being lost for many passengers. Our wearable technology pilot with SITA makes us the first in the industry to test how Google Glass and other wearable technology can improve the customer experience. We are upholding Virgin Atlantic’s long tradition of shaking things up and putting innovation at the heart of the flying experience.”

Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer, SITA said: “2014 is shaping up to be the breakout year for wearable technology, and Virgin Atlantic is the first to bring its vision to reality. At SITA Lab, we’ve taken the lead in testing and trialing this new technology for the air transport industry, and it’s been fantastic to work with Virgin Atlantic to launch the industry’s first wearable technology application.”

Virgin Atlantic continues to push the boundaries with other technological advancements with SITA, including testing iBeacon with its Upper Class passengers at Heathrow, a new low-powered Bluetooth transmitter that can notify nearby iOS Apple devices of nearby services, discounts and updates on their flight boarding schedules. In addition, Virgin Atlantic’s newly enhanced mobile site means passengers will be able to book flights, check in online and check their flight status on the move, while also having access to the vast range of information on the main website, including destination and airport guides as well as details of baggage allowances and much more.

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