The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the risks associated with traditional signature pads that require touching a screen or holding a pen in order to complete a transaction. All sorts of bacteria and viruses are present on surfaces, and requiring customers to touch these surfaces poses unnecessary health risks. But these signature pads have been a problem long before 2019, as they rarely work well enough to properly record your signature. Thanks to a technology developed by VeraMotion, it is now possible to capture an accurate signature by tracing the fast and intricate motions of your finger through the air, never having to touch any surface. The system directly measures the movement of the fingertip at a high frame rate, and provides a reliable reproduction of your signature.
Recently, I had the chance to fly on a private jet and try out the Allosky glasses, the in-flight entertainment glasses born out of the merger of Allomind and Skylights. The experience was memorable, and I have no doubt these will soon be in every corporate jet as they offer the most compelling in-flight entertainment for premium passengers. As the jet shuddered through the clouds, it was a wild ride inside the car race with Parzival in "Ready Player One". The 3D effects watching "Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald" were so effective, I felt like spells and creatures were flying all around me. The Allosky glasses do for video entertainment what noise-cancelling headphones do for sound, making the experience both private and all encompassing. Feel free to crank up the video and sound!
Allomind, a pioneer in wearable cinema has been acquired by Skylights, a leader in immersive in-flight entertainment. While the terms of the agreement have not been made public, the merger positions the new company SKYLIGHTS as the leader in the $6 billion in-flight entertainment market. The company's new product, ALLOSKY, is currently available to business class passengers on select routes aboard AirFrance and Alaska Airlines.
Optical diffraction poses a fundamental limit in the miniaturization of optical systems. That’s because, as optical systems are scaled down in size, the optical dimensions become comparable to the finite size wavelength of light. For example, when a focused spot diameter approaches the size of the wavelength, diffraction becomes a fundamental limitation to the size of the spot. However, for imaging systems with multiple lenses and other multiple optical element systems, other factors like optical misalignment become more important practical limitations. Since ray tracing is geometric in nature, everything shrinks proportionately as optical designs are scaled down in size. For example, as an optical system is miniaturized, spot sizes are reduced along with reductions in the size of optical elements. However, while it may seem like miniaturization improves optical performance (e.g. spot size), tolerances are limited by manufacturing methods and typically remain constant. As a result, tolerances become relatively worse as systems become smaller, and their effect on system performance dominate. Therefore, when misalignment is taken into account in the optical model, optical performance actually gets worse as size is reduced. To maintain good performance, precise alignment is critical for miniature optical systems.
Around 300 BC, the Greek mathematician Euclid defined basic rules for the propagation of light from objects to the eye, starting the field of geometrical optics. In the first century AD, it was realized that optical surfaces had to be carefully crafted in order to control light rays. However, it was not until the advent of the telescope and microscope in the early 1600’s, when it was realized that multiple lenses could be aligned well enough together to form more complex optical systems. Using a “tube” (now called a lens barrel) to house two lenses, the early telescopes were arguably the first example of passive optical alignment. Soon it was realized that the performance of the telescopes could be improved by adjusting the position between lenses while looking through the telescope at a star, and optical active alignment was born. Fast forward to today, the age of hand-held and wearable consumer electronic devices, and there is a renewed interest in optical alignment fueled by the unique challenges encountered when miniaturizing optical systems.
Over the last two years, MEMS Drive, Inc. has been busy at work completing the development of a MEMS actuator that moves the image sensor to compensate for shake and dramatically improve picture quality for future cellphone cameras. This amazing technology, which was first publicly demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona about eight months ago, is now getting ready to leave the lab and enter the market. According to Business Wire, Walden International and Cross-Border Venture Capital Firm led an $11 million Series B round to enable MEMS Drive "to support customer deliveries and to work with [their] eco-systems partners to bring product to market".
The day when we will get to experience true optical image stabilization in our phones inches closer. Stay tuned!
In today’s day and age, you can find the answer to any question that pops to mind by simply searching on the internet. Or can you? I may have found a simple question that stumps even the best search engines. The meaning of life? Nope. It’s the thickness of a smartphone. I don’t mean the number manufacturers put on their website and on press releases, but the real thickness. As you know, right around where the camera is located, most smartphones have a huge unsightly “camera bump”. Yet, the thickness quoted for the smartphone does not include the annoying protrusion.
Yes, I have Googled it, Binged it, you name it. I still can’t find the real thickness for any phone with a bump, or the height of the bump. What makes it worse is that smartphone manufacturers appear to take this as a license to grow the height of this deformity unchecked.
So I finally broke down and did what any engineer would do. I grabbed my handy caliper, one of the nice metal ones with the analog gauge on it, and headed down to my local T-mobile store to get some data. Once I got there, I almost chickened out. What would people think if I suddenly pulled out a metal object from my pocket? Would they call the police? Would I end up as an outline painted on the floor with the caliper in hand? So I asked the attendant if she knew how much the camera protrudes from the back surface of the phone. Not only did she did not know, but she was surprised to learn that the numbers on the spec did not include the bump. Yes. Me too. After I told her that the real thickness information was apparently not in the internet, she hesitantly agreed to let me measure the phones on display in the store with my caliper, as long as I did not damage them.
As I walked over to the first phone display with caliper in hand, I still got some looks from some of the customers in the store. I explained to them what I was doing and why, but I guess it’s not every day that a customer decides to bring a caliper into the store to compare the thickness of phones. “You are really dedicated” a young woman with too much eyeliner and short blond hair said to me. “That’s crazy, man” slanged a guy with shorts drooping down to his ankles and a baseball cap worn sideways. As people gathered around me, it became hard to concentrate, but I did my best to methodically measure the phones and jot down the results.
Out of Tech Radar’s top ten smartphones for 2016, I only found five of them in the store. Here’s the initial data:
There are likely errors in my measurements, as they were taken under much less than ideal circumstances. However, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the bump height is a significant percentage of the phone thickness (20% to 30%), and varies significantly from phone to phone. And compared to the iPhone 6 that I currently own, the iPhone 7 is definitely thicker.
If you have a phone with a camera bump and a caliper, please measure the thickness where the camera is located and post a comment with the phone model and your measurement. If I get enough additional results, I will pull them together and publish them on another post. This way we can all benefit and become more informed smartphone buyers. And the internet will have one less question it cannot answer.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that one of MEMS Start’s portfolio companies, L1Optics, uses something called active alignment technology to, among other things, enable thinner lenses for cellphone cameras to reduce or even eliminate the aforementioned bump.
Imagine putting on a pair of comfortable glasses and looking into a new world of entertainment, as crisp and realistic as the real world. A MEMS Start's portfolio company in the Bay Area called Allomind, Inc. announced today that it is creating a display that is as wearable as regular glasses and provides a resolution and immersion to match your senses.
This is the new entertainment experience Allomind is designing into a product they call Speck II. In terms of specs (pun intended), this means 4k resolution, 120 degree horizontal field of view (FOV), 100% fill factor for all colors, and a thickness of slightly more than 1 cm.
Now, they won't get there right away. You will have to give the engineering team until 2018 before you can get your hands on Speck II. After all, there are good reasons why Facebook's Occulus is so bulky and still has relatively low resolution and FOV. To overcome these limitations, Allomind is implementing amazing innovations, including something they call virtual pixel technology.
If you are like me and you can't wait for Speck II, the good news is that you will be able to buy their first product called Speck I later this year through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Implementing the first generation of virtual pixel technology, Speck I is a great product in its own right. It has HDTV 1080p resolution in an unprecedented form factor, less than half the thickness of competing products. Speck I promises to be as comfortable as regular sunglasses. Lay back on your couch, relax on your bed, and enjoy your favorite movie without having to hold up your phone or tablet. Popcorn not included.
Today is a good day for MEMS Start, and an even better day for our first portfolio company MEMS Drive. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Oppo just announced that MEMS Drive's sensor-based optical image stabilization technology will soon be integrated into their smart phones.
The advantages of MEMS Drive's sensor based optical image stabilization technology are many. The specs are nothing short of amazing! It provides three axis image stabilization by also sensing and compensating for motion on the roll axis, a direction that current technology is not capable of compensating. That's because rotating a lens doesn't change anything, you need to rotate the sensor. It's also over three times faster and 10 times more precise in the pitch and yaw axes than current technology. In fact, with a 1/3 pixel precision, it is the first and only sub-pixel optical image stabilization in the world. All of this while taking up less space and consuming 50 times less power than competing approaches. Check out a video of the MEMS actuator behind the new SmartSensor here.
Oppo may not be well known to US consumers yet, but with their conviction to introduce cool new miniaturization technologies into their smart phones, I can't wait to get my hands on one!
When I was a kid, I used to dream of a world where everything was small. I think it all started when I visited Madurodam in the Netherlands one summer. The scaled-down replicas of famous buildings from all around Holland looked so realistic. The nine foot long Boeing 747 in the airport, the tiny boats in the canals bringing cheese to the cheese market. All the details. Perfect and beautiful. But then I noticed that nothing was really working. Some boats, airplanes and cars would move, but they used tracks to pull them along. Not exactly realistic. This got me dreaming about an improved version of Madurodam where everything, every last detail, actually worked. It turns out this is really hard to do. Most of the parts that make things go stop working when you scale them down in size. Why? You guessed it, Physics. When Madurodam scaled everything to be 25 times smaller than actual size, the volume decreased by a factor of 15,625 (25 cubed), but surface area only decreased by a factor of 625 (25 squared). If a car in Madurodam were a true replica of a life sized automobile, the engine inside this car would have fifteen thousand times lower engine power (volume), but only six hundred times smaller friction (surface area). In other words, surface effects would dominate and the car would not work.
As an adult with thinning gray hair, I still fancy a world where everything is small. It’s just that I now realize that the inner workings of devices in such a world are forced to be different from the man-sized technology we use today. This is not a personal revelation. I have learned this from the numerous scholars, engineers, and scientists that have dedicated their lives to miniaturization ever since Feynman’s famous presentation “There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom: an Invitation to Enter a New Field of Physics”. Through their work, I have learned that there are certain aspects of Physics that, unlike surface to volume ratio, scale favorably with size. This means that smaller devices can work if you use completely different mechanisms to build them. Going back to the car engine example, it turns out that there are some forces that get proportionately larger the smaller the device becomes. For example, electrostatic force, the force between electrically charged surfaces, is largely independent of scale. This means an electrostatic engine gets relatively stronger the smaller it becomes. If someone were to make a super small car, it may sport a powerful electrostatic engine under the tiny hood.
Every once in a while I visit an elementary school to give a presentation about miniaturization. After the kids compete to see who can write their name the smallest and I declare them all winners, I ask the kids to draw what they would choose to make tiny, if they could. Pages filled with cars, houses, boats, TVs, airplanes, people, animals, and less pleasant real-life things like guns and missiles soon fill the room, along with excited chatter as they compare their tiny creations. It turns out that making things small is not only my obsession. Kids are truly excited about the prospect of making everything around them small. Miniaturization is engrained in our genes. Literally. Indeed, Mother Nature uses miniaturization for everything she makes. As incomprehensively immense as the Universe is, life is composed of tiny cells, which contain even smaller organelles, themselves formed out of molecules, in turn made out of truly miniature atoms, and on it goes. Miniaturization is in our makeup. It’s what we are. Furthermore, Nature’s example shines a path forward for technological miniaturization, and often teaches us how to go about making something small. Going back to the car engine example, Mother Nature already figured out that electrostatics is a good way to generate force. From the tiny muscles that flap the wings of a mosquito to the muscles in our own bodies, muscle cells create force by taking advantage of the relatively large force between electrical charges at the microscale. That’s what I mean when I say that miniaturization is meant to be.
I think it may be time for me to return to Madurodam. I have not been there since 1978, and I now see miniaturization from a new perspective. This time, I probably will pay close attention to all the ways that Physics stood in the way of making things work inside this diminutive city. Unfortunately, miniaturization is not meant to be easy. But as my teenage daughter’s favorite author Nicholas Sparks said for completely different reasons, “nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy.”