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Perhaps the best indicator that the on-officer camera is an idea whose time has come is that business journals are now producing whole articles about the market gains of the companies that provide them. TASER International, Digital Ally, and GoPro have all seen dramatic gains in their valuations as the police surveillance market quietly begins to pick up momentum. Pending Congressional approval, one key driver of this potential windfall will be a new funding initiative from the Obama administration to provide $263 million to improve community relations with police through cameras.
While the crystal ball deep inside ExtremeTech’s technology bunker wasn’t designed for picking stock winner’s, we can provide some analysis of the products already in use by police forces across the country. Between TASER and another company called VieVu, over 70,000 cameras have already been sold to 5000 police agencies. The new funding would potentially equip an additional 50,000 officers with video capability, as well as training in exactly how this new technology should be used.
Pebble set a Kickstarter record when it launched the original Pebble Smartwatch way back in 2012. That’s like the smartwatch stone age. Now it’s back with a new campaign for the Pebble Time, a smartwatch with a color e-paper screen and a somewhat more refined design than the original watch. If you think the internet might react negatively to a second Kickstarter from this company after the first one netted a whopping $10 million, you’d be wrong. It took only 17 minutes for the campaign to smash the $500,000 goal, and it’s now well into the millions.
The Pebble Time seems to have more in common with the original Pebble than the slightly more premium Pebble Steel. It looks nice, but not something you’d get away with wearing at a formal event. The body is plastic and the bezels are fairly large in relation to the screen. The back is curved to allow for a more ergonomic fit on your wrist. It still has physical buttons on the side for control rather than a touchscreen as most other smartwatches rely on. There’s also a microphone for voice interaction, but it’s not clear how that will tie into your phone yet.
If, like me, you watched Google’s demonstration of Glass and Now, I have a humbling thought for you: You were watching the future of ubiquitous, omniscient, always-on, wearable computing; you were watching the future of Google; you were watching the future of mankind.
If you didn’t watch the Google I/O keynote presented by Vic Gundotra, Hugo Barra, and Sergey Brin, let me quickly bring you up to speed. Google Now is an Android app that uses your location, behavior history, and search history to display “just the right information at just the right time.” For example, if you regularly search for a certain sports team, Now will show you a card with the latest scores for that team. When Now predicts or detects that you’re leaving home in the morning, it will display a card with any relevant traffic information. If you have a lunch meeting in your Google Calendar, Now will show you the route you need to take to get there — and when you need to leave to get there on time. If you search Google for an airline flight, Now will show a card with the flight details (and any delays).
German material scientists from Kiel University and the Hamburg University of Technology have created the world’s lightest material, dubbed aerographite. One cubic centimeter of aerographite weighs just 0.2 milligrams, which is four times lighter than the previous record holder, 5,000 times less dense than water, and six times lighter than air.
Aerographite, as you can see from the picture above, is a mesh of carbon tubes, each around 15nm in diameter, interwoven at the micro- and nano-scale level. It is electrically conductive, ductile, jet black (non-transparent), and can withstand high compression and tensile loads. Aerographite can be compressed to a 30th of its original size, gaining extra strength and conductivity in the process, and spring back without any damage to its structure — or it can carry up to 40,000 times its own weight.
In 10 years, tablets computers will be archaic and obsolete. You will look back at the early 2000s, perhaps with an inquisitive child sitting on your knee, and laugh at how you carried around a cumbersome, neck-straining, gorilla arm-inducing, larger-than-pocket-size computer. “It made sense at the time…”
Desktops and laptops too, having already begun their slide into outmoded antiquity, will soon be nothing more than dusty cupboard-dwelling relics and museum exhibits.
The one form factor that will remain — the last and only bastion of consumer computing — will be the smartphone.
Over the last five years, smartphones have proven that they’re immensely capable. Through the continuing miniaturization of tech and Moore’s law, smartphones are now almost as powerful as a desktop or laptop PC. In a few years, everything you do on your laptop today will be achievable on a smartphone. So why continue to use a laptop?
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.
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.
So many of the things we do with smartphones burn through the battery at an alarming rate, and taking pictures is one of the most draining. This limits the utility of having a super-high-resolution image sensor attached to your mobile device. Wearable computing and augmented reality will never be as helpful if you need to manually turn on the camera feed, but that might be about to change. A chip startup called Movidius is working on a chip that could allow mobile devices to keep the camera running at all times.
Movidius has been working on computer vision for eight years, but has just received a new round of funding to make the proposed chip a reality. It’s a big task, though. Movidius isn’t simply tweaking current chip designs — this is going to be an entirely new architecture as distinct from current ARM chips as ARM is from x86. The company believes it can build a co-processor capable of delivering several teraflops of computing on only a few hundred milliwatts of power.
A few teraflops is a big number. For instance, the top-of-the-line Nvidia Titan GPU is only capable of about 4.5 teraflops. This could just be a theoretical ceiling for the Movidius architecture, with phones needing much less actual power. A scaled down version of the chip may offer more than enough computational muscle to keep the camera going.