by Bob Haavind, Editorial Director
A dazzling array of clever chip-based gadgets, including virtual objects, brain fingers, bird song sleuths, and a “health buddy” for the chronically ill, were described by Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research Corp., at the Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) at Half Moon Bay, CA.
After a brief market correction to rebalance capacity in 2007, a host of innovative products are likely to bring a healthy upturn again in 2008, Feldhan believes. Millions have already bought iPods in various flavors (Mini, Photo, Video, Nano, and iPod Shuffles), and the continuous thirst for ever more capacity with much more memory will drive a powerful upgrade cycle for already-popular types of portable products, he predicts. Meanwhile, consumers will go for Blu-ray camcorders and very compact flash-based camcorders with no moving parts. Another hit should be pocket-sized ultra-notebook PCs with 4.5 in. screens.
While appealing, these are still just follow-ons to familiar products. What about the really cool stuff?
To kick off a wide assortment of innovations, Feldhan showed the potential of virtual objects. On his flight out, he said other passengers were wowed when he flipped open his PC, projected a keyboard onto his tray table, and tapped text onto his screen by typing on virtual keys. Another PC model skips the conventional display screen, instead enabling a user to project a screen onto a blank wall — something that should be a real power saver.
Even more imaginative is a wired tee-shirt allowing a wannabe rock star to play real music on an air guitar. By sensing finger and hand positions and motion, this virtual technique also can be used for keyboards, drums, and other musical instruments, according to Feldhan. A whole rock band could do a gig without any instruments at all!
For those who can’t stand being without music, there is now a 14-in. rolling robot with a built-in iPod that automatically trails its owner around the house playing songs.
Another emerging set of applications may come from a concept Feldhan called “brain fingers,” which allows a user wearing a headband with brain probes to mentally control artificial limbs, some other object, or a computer cursor. The Air Force has tested this concept for fighter pilots, he said, and found their responses were 14% faster on the average than by using hand controls.
Feldhan also cited an assortment of gadgets for the outdoors crowd, including GPS locators and fish-finders. A new entry is the song sleuth, or bird-song detector from Wildlife Acoustics. When a bird song is recorded in the field (even if the singing bird is hidden from view), the software immediately identifies the three most likely suspects and displays them in the most likely order on a small screen. Correlations can then be made between the recorded and stored bird-songs to determine the best match. He said there are about a dozen software modules, for different regions as well as bird species. To get a better look at the bird, the user might also carry digitally enhanced binoculars.
Multipoint touch screens also may open a number of new applications, including enhanced browsing. Scattered digital photos from a trip can be quickly sized, reoriented, and organized on the screen, for example, using two fingers. Feldhan showed numerous examples of artistic effects such as finger-painting with streaks and blobs, and changing colors and shapes with quick finger movements.
Numerous approaches to fuel economy for automobiles and other engines, including multiple types of hybrid vehicles, flex fuels, displacement on demand, electronic valves, and tire pressure monitors were cited. Feldhan also described an ignition system that eliminates spark plugs.
The Health Buddy System from the UK is an example of an innovative medical application. This system for chronically ill people is a console that conducts a Q and A interview with the patient each day, does a few diagnostic tests such as temperature and blood pressure, and then transfers the results over the phone lines to a doctor’s office for analysis. This system is now moving to the US, and should gain in importance with aging populations around the world.
Feldhan also projected a 70% five-year CAGR for large-screen HDTV flat-panel sets, cited the growing ubiquity of Bluetooth for portable devices of all kinds, and pointed to the growth of ultra-wideband (UWB) and other wireless systems — and even mesh networks such as Zigbee — as further examples of why he sees a boom starting in 2008. — B.H.