Category Archives: Technology

HAL 2000 smart home technology

Steve pointed me towards an interesting demo video showing off the capabilities of the HAL 2000 home automation system. It lets you control your home using speech commands from any room – quite impressive.

The author has an extensive discussion of the technology involved (speakers, distribution amps, microphones, etc.) along with some comments on the limitations of the system.

Startrek’s onboard computer suddenly doesn’t seem quite so far away…

SED displays on the way

Longtime readers (assuming there are any!) may recall a story last May about a new type of flatpanel CRT using nanotubes. The demo back then was impressive from a technology viewpoint, if not something you might actually want to sit down and watch.

Well, time has marched on and these products are almost ready for market. They are now known as Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Displays; somehow, I think SEDs will turn out to be the more popular term.

At CES, Toshiba unveiled some 37″ HDTV prototypes with a contrast ratio of 100,000:1 (yes, that’s quite good!). They hope to have 55″ production models towards the end of the year. Response time is on the order of 1 ms. Another description can be found here.

And here’s a particularly enthusiastic first-hand review from one of the CES attendees, complete with photo:

Screenshot of Canon/Toshiba SED prototype

Roll on Autumn…

Google Suggests

I hadn’t been paying much attention to this AJAX thing, until I saw an article about it in Dr Dobbs Journal (Feb 2006).

AJAX is Asynchronous Javascript And XML, essentially a collective name for a group of technologies that together allow web pages to asynchronously interact with a remote server without losing the page context. This leads to the ability to design significantly more interactive interfaces.

The best example I’ve seen is the one cited in the Dr Dobbs article: Google Suggests. As you type in search keywords, a realtime display appears below showing you suggested matches for what you’re typing. All the words retrieved are fetched from Google’s server in realtime as you type, without you even noticing. Very cool…

Lego Difference Machine

From the Useless But Cool dept: Andrew Carol (no relation) has built a Lego Difference Engine in the fashion of Charles Babbage’s original.

Due to structural limitations of Lego (plastic bricks and gears can’t handle the same stresses as metal), it’s a cut down version but still functional. Very cool.

And on the subject of Lego, if you’ve been playing with Lego Mindstorms (Lego’s robotic kits), Lego have just announced Mindstorms NXT, the next generation – with a 32-bit RISC processor and a number of other significant improvements. My second childhood should be due any day now, and I’m looking forward to playing with this…

Shoot a picture first, focus later

Last November, New Scientist reported an interesting bit of new technology which I’ve just come across.

Traditionally, digital cameras have to make a trade-off between aperture size and depth of field – the more light you let in (and the better the peformance in low light), the more prone the image is to blurring.

Now researchers have come up with a way to post-process focus after image capture, by inserting a sheet of 90,000 lenses, each 125 micrometres across, between the main lens and the image sensor. The angle of each light ray hitting the sensor is recorded, as well as the intensity. This allows clever software to refocus the image afterwards where necessary.

Fasncinating concept, and no doubt we’ll see some variant of it turning up in commercial products in the future.

CNTs are coming

CNTs are Carbon Nanotubes, a new technology that allows flatpanel screens to be constructed from what is essentially an array of thousands of tiny CRTs, each CRT representing a pixel or so.

A friend (thanks Mike) pointed me towards this company which has been experimenting in the area. Click on Demonstrations on the left to see a nifty little animated demo of their current prototype (and be sure to read the caveats as well as to why the quality isn’t wonderful yet).

Why is this stuff of interest? Primarily because the potential exists to make absolutely massive screens using this technology. Plasma and LCD screens are limited in size, because they rely on a single sheet of semiconductors to make the whole screen – the technology to seamlessly stitch together multiple panels to make a bigger screen doesn’t exist.

For those screen types, cost increases rapidly as the size gets larger, because it becomes more difficult to get screens with an acceptably high number of working pixels.

With CNTs, this is no longer an issue – you simply manufacture buckets of tiny screens (say 4″ x 5″) and stitch them together to make as big a display as you like. Tiny screens means much higher yield which in turn translates to lower prices. Plus, as a bonus, you get all the benefits of a normal CRT (bright picture, fast refresh, etc.) without the drawbacks of massive weight and depth.

Probably another year or two to go before these hit your local electronics superstore, but it can only be a matter of time.

(On the other hand, whatever happened to bubble memory?)

Eddy

Another cool Google Maps hack

People continue to find new ways to explore Google Map’s public API. Today, I came across this site:

http://www.sueandpaul.com/gmapPedometer/

It lets you measure the walking (or cycling) distance between any two points in the city, simply by double-clicking all the significant direction changes along the router. Simple, but effective.