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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Express yourself: Wear flexible, organic electronics

June 4, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Creating flexible, “wearable electronics” is the goal of Professor Ana Claudia Arias.

Professor Arias joined the University of California, Berkeley in January 2011.

“Flexible electronics are thin, lightweight, and conformal, and can allow new form factors not currently available with established technologies,” she explained.

Professor Arias hopes to soon have information-providing flexible, electronic displays woven into our clothing.

Before coming to Berkeley, Professor Arias led the semiconductor group at Plastic Logic in Cambridge, UK, where she focused her research on the development and use of flexible, printed organic electronic materials.

Professor Arias also spent eight years at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where she used inkjet-printing techniques to produce organic, active-matrix display backplanes for paper-thin displays and flexible sensors.

Professor Arias Berkeley lab group is working on finding a way to use printed electronics for flexible displays, wearable memory, and electronic sensors as thin as a piece of tape.

Using organic electronic materials has its advantages: They can be produced at a low cost, and require minimal power to operate.

Professor Arias is working to directly “print” the organic electronics onto various substrates which would produce the desired chemical reaction – and then layer them onto surface materials such as clothing.

Developing systems to directly print electronics is formidable, from an engineering perspective.

Today, we have a variety of flexible electronics; from ultra-lightweight, flexible, plastic color displays as thin as a sheet of paper, to disposable electronic Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

Professor Arias group at Berkeley has developed an organic, inkjet-printing technique to produce flexible, small-area electronic displays that make use of positively-and negatively-charged electrical particles suspended in a liquid somewhat similar to e-ink technology.

Most electronic circuits contain a transistor component, which is a solid-state switching device, containing three electrical contacts (base, collector, and emitter), that controls the electrical current passing through it. A negative or positive voltage can trigger this component.

Creation of complex circuitry was achieved by Arias’s group by combining both positive and negative voltage-enabled switching components.

Arias research produced special sensors which are able to detect surrounding ambient light through photosensitive inks and pressure.

These special sensors use a slice of an organic polymer (molecule compound) between two electrical conductors, which change their electrical characteristics when various pressures are applied to the said organic polymer. Similar sensors can be found in car airbags.

Altering the thickness of the polymers and the materials used, changes pressure sensitivity. One use for this type of sensor is a wearable electronic device that detects shocks and stores its informational data; it is called a blast dosimeter.

The PARC website describes the military use of a blast dosimeter as a printable, polymer pressure sensor. PARC went on to say the blast dosimeter senses “. . . blast events due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) [which] are a major cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the battlefield. The tape-like blast dosimeter is designed to measure and record the severity and the number of [blast] events during one week in order to enable early administration of medical care.”

Recognizing the power of these blasts provides a much better understanding of the causes of TBI, and allows for earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Printed with electronic memory processors, sensors, and thin-film batteries, the disposable blast dosimeter can be affixed (like tape) to a soldier’s helmet.

Professor Arias group was able to construct a type of flexible electrophoretic informational display that creates visible images.

Electrophoretic displays are regarded as examples under the electronic paper classification because of their low power consumption, and thin, paper-like look.
High-resolution, active-matrix displays used in today’s popular e-book readers are a type of electrophoretic display.

These special displays need memory to store their information, and so, Arias lab created a special processing technique to hold their non-volatile memory.

As with most computers, a continuous trickle of electricity is needed to keep its current memory state constant. However, Professor Arias organic material maintains previous memory states, using no power. This is achieved by using components that rely on magnetism (not electricity) to store its data. Although the memory is retained for just eight hours using this method, the technology could be used in applications which require intermittent changes on a display screen.

Professor Arias is currently in the process of adapting wearable electronics to include a variety of uses – such as wearable medical sensors.

“This is just the beginning; wearable sensors that measure environmental and biological signals can open up many applications for people who play sports, are in the hospital, or just want to monitor their daily health,” said Professor Arias.

In addition to her current project, biosensors and wearable medical devices, Professor Arias is also involved with flexible photovoltaics, and printed flexible magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) Coils.

In the not-too-distant future, many of us may be sporting a personal health monitoring sensor, or an environmental measuring device, or an entertainment or social media interface, or some other type of application on a flexible, organic, electronic video display screen – wearable or interwoven onto our clothing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

IBM’s predictions from ‘five in five’

May 28, 2012
by Mark Ollig   

May 7, 2007 Yours truly wrote a column titled “IBM: A ‘five in five’ prediction.”

Five years ago, during the IBM Innovation Jam, IBM made five technological predictions they believed would occur by 2012.

Well, folks, five years have gone by (rather quickly) and so I thought we should revisit those predictions and see how well IBM did in the forecasting business.

Their first prediction envisioned a “3D Internet.”

The latest release of the Mozilla Firefox 11 web browser includes a 3D view button, which allows one to browse the Internet in 3D mode.

Aside from some 3D Internet gaming sites, we are not yet using 3D very much on the Internet. Even the newer 3D televisions and camcorders are not very popular with many people – but we do have them.

IBM predicated we would be able to access our health care remotely, from anywhere in the world by 2012.

IBM was accurate on this prediction, as the advances in telemedicine technologies over the last five years have been remarkable.

Doctors have performed remote robotic-surgery, and we can have medical apps on our mobile devices to check our heart rate, and measure our blood pressure. This information can be wirelessly transmitted to our health provider.

Here is a link to some of the medical apps made by a company called Airstrip:

By 2012, IBM had predicted our cell phones would begin to read our minds.

I believe IBM meant our cellphones in 2012 would know where we were, more than actually reading our minds – which would be a bit of a stretch even in 2012.

Back in 2007, the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) was not as common as it is today.

Presence Technology is now being used by our mobile devices for tracking, pinning, and reporting our locations. It informs us of nearby businesses and landmarks, and provides us with location-based services.

“Real-time speech translation” is a 2007 prediction IBM was accurate on.

Today, there is a mobile device app called TransFire, which is an instant messaging app that translates conversations in real-time using the Google Translate Applications Programming Interface. You can learn more about this app at

The fifth IBM predication from 2007 suggested nanotechnology would have a greater impact in 2012.

The name “nanotechnology” was devised in 1974; however its concept actually got started back in 1959, when Richard Feynman, a physicist, put forward the idea of manipulating individual atoms and using them for constructing extremely small machines. He talked about this in his 1959 speech “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”

Today’s use of nanotechnology ranges from the development of nanomedicines, which target certain proteins that collect in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, to nanoparticles, that attach themselves to tumor cells, and then treats them with antibodies.

Nanomaterials today are being used in over 1,000 consumer products, electronic components, and automobiles. There are even nanoparticles used in some cosmetics.

So, what do IBM’s ‘five in five’ predictions for 2017 include?

Their first prediction says we will be able to power our homes with the energy we capture ourselves.

This energy could come from anything that moves; from the water flowing through our home’s pipes, to the kinetic energy generated by walking on the floors.

IBM says by 2017, we will no longer need to type in a password.

What will we use then?

Each of us has a unique, biological DNA identity makeup which comes into play here. For example, the unique patterns in our eyes retina might be scanned to provide access to our normally password protected accounts. By 2017, we may be able to walk up to a bank ATM machine and just say our name, instead of keying in a password.

Next, IBM predicts (once again) mind reading will become a reality.

Today, IBM scientists are working on how to connect our brains to our electronic devices, (such as a smart phone); so all we would need to do is “think” about calling someone – and it would just happen.

Instead of using a speech-to-text interface on our computing device, in five years we might be using think-to-text technology.

IBM says in 2017, the technology and informational division between the “haves and have-nots” will be no more, as each person in the world will have access to some type of smart mobile device.

Finally, IBM predicts the use of analytics will eliminate spam email.

All email will be filtered, as future computing systems will be able to determine the data that’s relevant and important to us. These systems will also bring us the information we prioritize without our having to ask for it.

IBM predicts our mobile device will inform us when our favorite band is in town, and even put tickets on hold for us to purchase. If a snowstorm is about to affect our air travel plans, our mobile device will inform us to re-route our plane ticket.

“You’ll trust the technology will know what you want, so you can decide what to do with it,” said the narrator in the latest IBM “Next 5 in 5” video.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Telematics tracks motorists driving habits

May 21, 2012
by Mark Ollig    

A much talked about technology is predicted to see revenues of $14.4 billion by 2016.

It’s called telematics, and it incorporates both telecommunications and information technology.

Telematics is being integrated with today’s smartphone technology for use inside motor vehicles.

I was reading a summary from the fine folks at Juniper Research, who recently reported on intelligent motor vehicles using telematics technology.

Juniper’s report anticipates that by 2016, the integration of smartphone technology into consumer vehicles will become standard on all new car models.

“Integrating the smartphone into consumer cars represents a new route for the mobile Internet and infotainment to enter the vehicle,” says the report’s author Anthony Cox in a press release from Juniper Research.

Intelligent vehicle devices, using telematics technology which connects to the Internet, include Ford’s Sync AppLink, GM’s IntelliLink systems, and the devices OnStar provides.

Telematics is also opening up a whole new way for insurance companies to monitor driving habits and behavior when we’re behind the wheel.

Telematics technology can store detailed vehicular data, which is retrievable in the event of an accident.

The Juniper Research report states drivers will become “more efficient” with telematics technology embedded inside their motor vehicles.

Yes, dear readers, if we are good drivers and follow the rules of the road, we could be rewarded with better insurance rates, as some type of telematics technology will be faithfully (and, probably, regularly) reporting our driving habits to the insurance company.

Am I being overly naive in believing only the insurance companies will end up seeing this information?

In addition to all those little MNDOT cameras focused on us as we travel the highways and streets within the city, we will also need to consider what our own automobile’s telematics is reporting about us.

In the future, if I (inadvertently) go over the speed limit, I needn’t worry just about a camera or radar speed gun recording my violation.

Oh no, not at all. Now, my very own car will turn on me and report my transgression via wireless communication over the Internet, connecting to the nearest law enforcement agency, which will no doubt issue me a traffic ticket within seconds.

Of course, there might be some legality involved here. I mean, if I choose to confront my accuser, will I be facing the plastic-encased telematics device installed under the hood of my car?

My accuser will be a machine?

This scenario reminds me of the classic “Star Trek” original series episode, “Court Martial,” where the prosecution’s main witness against Captain Kirk is a machine.

Surprisingly, in that episode, we learned the machine (computer) had been secretly tampered with by a human; causing it to show Kirk being guilty, when he was in fact, innocent.

I noted some of the advantages being mentioned about the use of telematics technology.

Commercial vehicle fleet managers are using telematics to increase efficiency, better comply with regulations, monitor driver behavior, and manage costs.

Device makers are creating new telematics products in order to take advantage of cloud computing and wireless “ad-hoc Internet portals,” in order to offer new, enhanced services.

There is also talk about using telematics for controlling cruise control speeds within a convoy of commercial trucks or automobiles. This would allow speeds to be better managed during braking and accelerating, thus saving fuel and more efficiently managing the distances between vehicles.

Telematics technology installed in automobiles can inform us of approaching road hazards, and the location and speed of other vehicles nearby.

Yours truly learned telematics was being talked about during the late 1970s.

The Artificial Passenger (AP) is a telematics-like device IBM developed, and received US patent 6,236,968 for May 22, 2001.

The AP makes sure a driver stays awake in a moving vehicle.

By placing a microphone next to the driver, the AP can hear a driver’s conversation.

The AP uses an internal speech generator and the vehicle’s audio speakers in order to “talk” with the driver.

“The system carries on a conversation with the driver on various topics, utilizing a natural dialog car system,” stated the abstract on the IBM patent.

This conversation is established based on a personalized profile of the driver. A voice analyzer evaluates whether the driver is becoming drowsy.

“The natural dialog car system analyzes a driver’s answer and the contents of the answer, together with his voice patterns to determine if he [the driver] is alert while driving. The system warns the driver or changes the topic of conversation if the system determines that the driver is about to fall asleep,” according to wording within the patent.

If the driver appears to be overly tired, the AP could be programmed to open all the windows, sound a loud buzzer, increase the radio volume, or take drastic measures; such as spraying the driver with ice water.

I am suddenly hearing Louis Armstrong sing, “Oh, What a Wonderful World.”

According to Juniper Research, more than 92 million new automobiles world-wide will be connected to the Internet, using various types of telematics technologies by 2016.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Our tweets are being archived

May 14, 2012
By Mark Ollig   

During the last two years, yours truly has been an active user on the social media site, Twitter.

The latest Twitter counter statistics reveal user @Bitsandbytes has created 5,409 messages (tweets) as of last Thursday.

So, on average, I have been posting 7.4 Twitter messages of 140 characters (Twitter’s maximum character limit) or less, per day.

Did you know all of our tweet messages are being saved for future generations?

Yes, dear readers and fellow Twitter users, your US Library of Congress has been authorized by the federal government to save all Twitter tweets (I love saying that) which have been broadcast to the public over the online social media site, Twitter.

“We have an agreement with Twitter where they have a bunch of servers with their historic archive of tweets, everything that was sent out and declared to be public,” said Bill Lefurgy, the digital initiatives program manager at the Library of Congress’s national digital information infrastructure and preservation program.

We’re talking billions and billions of tweets here folks.

I find it comforting to know public-tweeted messages, such as this one by local WCCO-TV reporter Jason DeRusha (@DeRushaJ), are being digitally archived forever, in some colossal capacity, US government-owned, data server:

“On Fishing Opener week: Who decides if it’s a lake or a pond? 11,842 lakes? I’d say there are 38 that are legit.”

We can sleep better at night knowing this recent tweet by “Weird” Al Yankovic (@alyankovic), “I love it when geeks transform into hipsters. ‘No no, now I’m a geek IRONICALLY’,” is being saved for future generations to ponder its meaning.

The 20,128 tweets posted so far by user @NASA will certainly make for interesting reading in 500 years.

NASA recently tweeted this message, “NASA Mars Rover Opportunity finding more evidence of water on the Red Planet!”

I wonder what will become of all of those Internet links by the year 2512.

Twitter has become embraced by many celebrities who are now tweeting messages directly to their fans. Sometimes they engage in interactive dialog by answering questions, or simply acknowledge the good wishes they send.

As many of you know, I am a former Trekkie, who has evolved into today’s more sensible Trekker.

I am following some celebrity tweets, including a few from the Star Trek actors.

William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) would many times end his tweets, with “My best, Bill.” The good captain correctly surmised he could save 10 precious Twitter characters by instead using “MBB” when ending his tweets.

Here is a Twitter message sent by @WilliamShatner on March 14, 2011 at 6:14 p.m. “Facebook disabled my account this weekend as an imposter acct. Now they want me to prove that it’s me. Don’t they know who I am? MBB.”

At 7:53 p.m. Shatner then posted, “My Facebook account has been restored. My best, Bill.”

Leonard Nimoy, (@TheRealNimoy) who played Mr. Spock, tweeted this message May 7, “Following Comedy Awards. So much talent. And Don Rickles, so great. #LLAP.”

LLAP stands for his well-known Star Trek message “Live Long and Prosper.”

Nimoy also posted this summation on his Twitter profile page, “Born in Boston. Went to Hollywood at 18. 16 years later cast as Spock in Star Trek.”

Speaking of Don Rickles, Mr. Warmth himself is also gracing Twitter with his wit and humor. Here is the very first Twitter message from user (@DonRickles), posted July 6, 2011: “Hi, I am Don Rickles posting my first tweet, join me on my trip to greatness!”

Even television’s original 1960s Batman, played by Adam West, (@therealadamwest) is tweeting. He posted this cleverly amusing tweet April 7, “Tomorrow, the Easter Egg hunt. It’s tough for me. I never win because EggHead always finds a way to cheat.”

President Barack Obama has an official Twitter account (@BarackObama).

The President personally (tweets from the President are signed: -bo) sent this tweet Feb. 14 to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, “Hey, @MichelleObama: Happy Valentine’s Day. -bo”

Just think, in the future, researchers will be able to data-mine these and all the other Twitter messages that have been archived.

Exactly what those future researchers will use these tweets for is somewhat unclear.

One suggested area of study might include measuring historical time-line events and how the public reacted to them through the online Twitter messages posted during that time.

“There have been studies involved with what are the moods of the public at various times of the day in reaction to certain kinds of news events,” Lefurgy said. “There’s all these interesting kinds of mixing and matching that can be done using the tweets as a big set of data,” he concluded.

There are currently 15,201,190 Twitter users following President Obama’s tweets.

Twitter shows your humble columnist (@Bitsandbytes) with 450 faithful Twitter followers who are reading through his daily musings and rants.

I suppose it’s time for me (and all of you) to get back to tweeting more content to the world – so it can be archived for future studying.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Webby's awarded for Internet excellence

May 7,2012
by Mark Ollig  

Filmmaker and designer Tiffany Shlain, while employed with the Web magazine, was asked to create an award honoring exceptional Internet websites.

So, in 1996, Shlain came up with The Webby Award.

The first time I heard of a Webby Award, I thought of a spider’s web – no doubt something to do with my childhood fear of spiders and the huge webs I usually saw them floating in . . . from which they intimidatingly stared at me.

Today I have (almost) overcome my fear of spiders and their webs.

When we think of the Web these days, we know it refers to the websites on the portion of the Internet we navigate to, using our web browsers.

The Webby Awards have received much notoriety during the last 16 years.

Think of the Webby Awards as we do of Hollywood’s Oscar awards.

The New York Times has called the Webby Awards the “Internet’s highest honor.”

This year’s 16th Annual Webby Awards has collected almost 10,000 entries from every US state, including 60 countries from throughout the world.

The first nationally televised Webby Awards ceremony was in San Francisco in 1997.

The Webby Award trophy itself, is a little over 12 inches tall, resembles a spring coil (think of a giant slinky), and is engraved with a binary coding of 1s and 0s.

Webby Awards, or “Webbys,” are awarded in over 100 categories. For the complete list, see:

Shlain also co-founded the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS) in 1998.

Objectives of the academy include recognizing and acknowledging excellence in interactive content among emerging technologies.

Another objective is facilitating growth and development by connecting diverse groups of achievers in the areas of digital arts and sciences.

Importance is placed on educating industry professionals and the public concerning available technologies and their integration into the general culture.

The IADAS Executive Academy consists of industry musicians and celebrities such as David Bowie and Beck, Martha Stewart, a founding father of the Internet, Vinton Cerf; “Simpsons” creator, Matt Groening, and Huffington Post Founder; Arianna Huffington.

IADAS has brought attention to the technical resources and advancements of the Internet and developing social media by presenting the Webby Awards since 1998.

May 21, New York will play host to this year’s Webby Awards.

Webby Awards industry experts attending this year include mobile phone inventor Martin Cooper, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and business and television personality Martha Stewart.

Webby winners are selected based on certain criteria.

For film and video, the winners are decided upon concept and writing, quality of craft, integration, and overall experience.

Interactive advertising Webbys are based upon creativity, integration, and overall experience.

The websites and mobile apps category criteria is centered on content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and, you guessed it: overall experience.

I found it amusing to learn the winners of a Webby Award are required to give a speech limited to just five words.

The Webby Award’s website states its famous “5-Word Acceptance Speech” keeps the celebrations “vibrant and exciting.”

The following are some of last year’s more memorable five- word acceptance speeches.

“Try stealing this content, Google!” declared the person accepting the Webby from Yelp, winner for Best Guides/Ratings Reviews category.

“Area man finally beats Onion.” In an obvious jab at the popular The Onion website, these words were spoken by the representative from College Humor, winner for Best Humor website at:

“The tentacles go to eleven,” said the recipient for Best Cultural Blog at:

“BabyCenter, we don’t sleep either,” spoke the winner for Best Family and Parenting website at:

“Who says YouTube ain’t cultured?” exclaimed the Google YouTube Play recipient winner of the Webby Award for Best Events at:

In a bit of a twist, with the familiar National Geographic yellow frame covering her face, this award winner said “Our world. Our lens knows . . .” she then removed the yellow frame and finished her sentence with “no boundaries.” This Webby award winner for Best Magazine Website can be seen at:

The NASA homepage on the Internet won for Best Government website. The representative accepting the Webby Award imparted these words when receiving the trophy, “Bringing the universe to you.”

The New Yorker,, won the Webby Award for Best Magazine website. Their spokesperson said “Long articles, but short speech.”

Saving the best for last, this five-word speech was given by the AARP to all of us baby boomers, “We make 50 look good.”

Some notable past Webby winners include: Twitter, Google, eBay, Yahoo!, iTunes, Skype, BBC News, CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, AOL, and The Onion.

To watch video of past winners’ acceptance speeches, check out:

This year’s Webby Award winners will be given their Webby trophies during a live-streamed Internet broadcast at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.

The awards ceremony is May 21 at 4:30 p.m. CDT on the Webby Awards website: