Self-Driving Cars: Our Future as Passengers

However long it takes to fully gain traction, the age of autonomous cars will be hereCar illustration with sensors before we know it. Those in the know see it as the inevitable future of transportation, designed as moving living rooms. Given the numerous high-profile companies developing self-driving technologies, as well as the hundreds of other small companies and start-ups dedicating themselves to enabling this industry through connectivity, sensors, and other products (see this chart), we are well on our way to becoming full-time passengers.

And that’s not all bad. As such, people can potentially create a “passenger economy,” identified by Intel as a boon to productivity worth $7 trillion, because everyone will be able to use their travel time more efficiently, working instead of driving, and the industry will spur new markets. Autonomous cars are also seen as a safer choice, with fewer potential accidents than human-controlled cars.

While critics say that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars may cause the loss of jobs (including drivers of taxis, long-haul trucks, and delivery services), which will eventually be true, the new types of jobs created in their wake might make up for that loss. Critics also note that there has already been resistance from potential buyers due to concerns for privacy and security, as well as their hesitation to trust a new technology.

But the question remains, will most customers want a self-driving car? Or do people love driving enough that they will continue to want control of their own vehicle? Mercedes-Benz recently posted an article regarding how autonomous cars will kill the joy of driving, but conceded that perhaps it will be a small price to pay for better safety on the roads.  They also noted that perhaps, as your self-driving car controls itself, you might use your newfound freedom to, ironically (and somewhat hilariously), play a virtual reality car racing game inside of it.

The IoT Era and Why Precision Optics Will Be Key

The IoT Era is Upon Us

As the Internet of Things (IoT) swiftly expands to include more devices, the competition amongst them increases. Many IoT devices depend on computer vision capabilities, which have evolved into the ability to recognize specific objects.  In order to be best at seeing and recognizing things, these devices must have optics of the best quality and clarity. Because of this, we will certainly see increased demand for high quality optics to improve the accuracy and usefulness of these devices.

The world of IoT is predicted to grow steadily, although slower than initially predicted – IoT growth forecasts have been revised from roughly 50 billion down to around 30 billion connected devices by 2020. Within that world, there are numerous technologies that require compact optics, the most obvious being self-driving cars, drones, and security systems. 

The Importance of Optics in IoT Devices

Clearly the quality of your product’s optics can make a huge difference in its effectiveness and delivery of its most advanced capabilities; for example, the safety of a self-driving car can hinge on its ability to “see” its surroundings, and the value of a security system may easily depend on how good the images it collects are, for example, of a culprit.

The OEM companies that strive to impress consumers and wow them with great features will be the first to admit that these questions of product quality and attention to detail are always on their customers’ minds, particularly when they are forking over a large wad of cash for a new IoT gadget. Safety, performance, and accuracy all make a difference. In other words, tiny technologies matter.  Our active alignment technology may perform minute adjustments during assembly of the smallest optics around, but these miniscule details are the ones that create a big difference in the resulting optical performance. The quality of these optics is our top priority for customers because as many of these devices get smaller and thinner, the need for precision optics will only increase.

Hyperimaging: Superhero Vision

Out of five big innovations that IBM Research predicts will change our lives in the next five years, one in particular caught our eye, since it might just require some of our precision optics: hyperimaging technology.  Here is an introduction to this burgeoning optoelectronics opportunity.

“More than 99.9 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum cannot be observed by the naked eye. Over the last 100 years, scientists have built instruments that can emit and sense energy at different wavelengths.”                                                                                                                                                       – IBM Research

supermanHyperimaging technology is special because it will help us to see beyond visible light by combining multiple bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to add to what is visible; in other words, it will allow us to see qualities beyond what is normally visible, perhaps into the realm of Superman-type seeing.

Existing tools can illuminate objects and opaque environmental conditions using different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum such as radio waves, microwaves, millimeter waves, infrared and x-rays, and reflect them back to us. However, these instruments only see across their own specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

IBM is building a portable hyperimaging platform that “sees” across numerous portions of the electromagnetic spectrum collectively, to potentially enable a host of practical applications that are part of our everyday experiences.

How will hyperimaging affect our daily lives? In five years, it could aid in identifying the nutritional value of food, detect fraudulent drugs, deepen the augmented reality experience, or help make driving conditions more clear. For example, using millimeter wave imaging (a camera and other sensors), hyperimaging technology could help a car see through fog or detect hazardous and hard-to-see road conditions such as black ice.  Cognitive computing technologies will have the ability to draw conclusions about the hyperimaging data and recognize what might be a cardboard box versus an animal in the road.

In all, it sounds like a promising and cool new technology on the horizon.  Check out IBM’s other predictions for the big five in five innovations here.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Explosion

Headset for virtual reality

Headset for a virtual reality experience

While those of us who are adults now primarily remember video games as joystick- or button-controlled pastimes, children growing up in the immediate future will most likely have a completely different experience to remember as adults, using motion-control games such as the Wii and Kinect, or perhaps even more likely, using the position of their eyes and hands to control what happens. Given the intense amount of resources being focused upon augmented and virtual reality at the moment, gaming in alternate realities looks ready to explode into the mass market.

In the first two months of the year, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) companies have received more funding than in all of last year, to the tune of over one billion dollars, sparking an explosion of speculation about which companies will develop the “next big thing.”

Goldman Sachs recently published a report saying that AR and VR could potentially become an $80 billion market by 2025, which is big – roughly the size of the desktop PC market today.  The reasoning behind this growth is that AR and VR will not only be used for gaming, but in a wide variety of practical applications throughout sectors such as healthcare, real estate, and education.

However, the most commercially anticipated VR and AR area is gaming. Given the recent launches of both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (and the PlayStation VR later this year), the VR space is going to quickly become a tech battleground. In fact, there will also be battles amongst the companies streaming content to VR such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Stay tuned.

Smart Homes and Security Challenges

smart home graphic

Smart home      (credit: asid.org)

Inventive minds have created a plethora of smartphone-connected home devices, from thermostats and security cameras to locks that can be monitored and controlled remotely via the home Wi-Fi network.  Some of the smart products out there include the popular Nest thermostat, August Home locks and doorbells, the new LED color-changing lights from Philips, and numerous remote-access security cameras such as the iSmartAlarm.

However, the new interconnected home has revealed opportunities for hackers, including a recent incident in which a smart refrigerator was accessed remotely and used to obtain the owner’s email credentials.  This is one reason why, despite the useful nature and variety of smart home products available, the smart home has yet to be fully embraced and catapulted into the mass market.  In fact, recent research from Argus Insights has found that overall demand is actually dropping for smart home products, most likely due to issues of cost and the threat of hackers.

To solve the latter problem, companies such as Dojo Labs and Cujo have developed monitoring devices that plug into your router to detect suspicious activity. For example, if a hacker is trying to access your web camera, these devices have the ability to automatically block that access.

Hacked security graphic

The threat of hackers (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Security, both for the Wi-Fi network and for the home itself, is the current area of growth.  Another research agency, Parks Associates, has found that connected cameras have helped drive double digit growth in sales of home security system installations, with nearly 6 million home security customers using a smart home device as part of their security system.

The internet of things is a more promising concept when we are also provided with peace of mind, so security will be front and center in the upcoming years of growth for these interconnected devices.

Compact Laser Projectors: Creating New Touchscreens

Ultra-compact laser projectors have given us the ability to see, and even use, a touchscreen projected onto a surface.  Also known as a pico projector, pocket projector, mobile projector, handheld projector, or mini beamer, these devices have now advanced from a simple image projection into the realm of the interactive.  Applications for this technology include mobile, gaming, hand gesture recognition, and more.  A few companies driving these technological moves into the future are Lenovo and Cicret.

Lenovo Smart Cast

Lenovo Smart Cast

Lenovo just announced a new smartphone, called Smart Cast, whose pico projector can turn any surface into a touchscreen. Although not the first to do this, the Smart Cast recognizes gestures to control the phone, and can project onto either walls or surfaces.  Using this phone, you could watch videos on a wall or play music on a projected keyboard (pictured). While there are few details available since it was only recently unveiled, it could be a promising device.

Cicret Wristband Projection

Cicret Wristband Projection

Cicret, based in France, has also created a promising product – a wristband with a tiny laser projector that will display your smartphone’s touchscreen on your arm. Using eight proximity sensors, it lets your finger, touching the projected image, control your smartphone from a distance.  Although it is still in development, Cicret aims to complete the final product soon, since its wristband has gained a great deal of momentum from the media and potential investors.

Key to these technologies are optics that provide clear images and accurate sensors.  Using active alignment in the assembly process is just one of the many steps these companies can take to bolster the quality of their products.  We look forward to a future in which these technologies can not only prosper, but also help to improve people’s daily lives through convenience and efficiency.

The Internet of Things: Optics Opportunities

The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a vast array of opportunities for optics given the sheer number of technologies that will be connected to the internet in the future. From wearables to home monitoring systems, and from the tiniest camera modules to gesture recognition optics, the highest quality components will be in demand for groundbreaking technologies in our networked future.  In burgeoning healthcare, automotive, smart homes, and communication developments, exciting challenges await for our optics assembly equipment and, of course, the entire manufacturing sector.

Smart car, smart phone, smart watch, drone

The Internet of Things (IoT) will drive future growth. (Source: Jabil)

The Internet of Things is poised to be a major driver of economic growth in the near future. Cisco predicts that by 2020 there will be 50 billion things connected to the Internet, generating revenues of more than $19 trillion. However, building the IoT up to that level will not be a simple task.

In April 2015, Jabil sponsored a Dimensional Research global survey of more than 300 supply chain professionals at companies that manufacture electronics goods. While 75 percent of those surveyed are planning, developing or producing IoT-related products, 77 percent admit they lack the expertise in-house needed to deliver them.  That shows there are some major knowledge gaps that must be filled, but once they are, there is great potential for producing new internet-enabled products and services.

Those surveyed saw value in using data from the IoT to drive product innovation.  About half of them believed that data gathered from the IoT could potentially help in: delivering new product capabilities; creating new products, services, or business models; understanding failures to improve quality; and measuring feature usage to inform user design.  It is an exciting time for the Internet of Things as we look toward the future.  We at Kasalis hope to contribute meaningfully to the digital integration of the world around us.

Wearable, Implantable, and Sensing Technologies

Wearables: Fitness Trackers

Wearables: Fitness Trackers

Wearable technology is a trending term now used for a wide array of products – from fitness trackers and smart watches to the latest augmented reality glasses – all of which connect wirelessly to your smartphone or computer from its place on your body.  The growing wearable market is expected to reach over $70 billion by 2025 (IDTechEx).  Indeed, wearables are on the rise; meanwhile, innovators are thinking hard about the next phase of this category: testing out personal technology concepts that push the envelope.

Auger Loizeau’s Audio Tooth Implant

Auger Loizeau’s Audio Tooth Implant

Further emphasizing the cyborg-like qualities of wearable technologies are implantable wearables – that’s right, connected devices inside your body. Pictured here is a tooth implant which, in a spy-like fashion, is embedded with a miniature audio output and receiver to bring communication capabilities to its user’s mouth. A modified mobile telephone or dedicated device is used to receive the long-range signal.

Project Underskin

Project Underskin

There are also devices that can be embedded just below the surface of the skin to detect vitals or unlock a smart door. Devices such as this will send internal data or images to an app and will likely be able to run on energy from our body. Depending on the device, these could be used for an array of purposes, including to monitor diseases, communicate with doctors, and even treat ailments by releasing medication into your body via remote control.

Nest thermostat

Nest thermostat

In yet another take on personal sensors, tech writers have coined the new concept of “senseables,” described as a series of sensors embedded throughout an environment that provide users with instant data feedback to customize their experience. Cameras assembled with active alignment could potentially be needed to actualize this technology. For instance, Audi has recently unveiled Pre-Sense, for which a number of sensors are embedded inside a car to measure a driver’s emotions, body language, and involuntary reactions. This data is then used to automatically adjust safety mechanisms within the car; for example, if a driver is distracted, the car safety control will ensure it does not drift into an adjacent lane. Similarly, sensors embedded in the Nest thermostat automatically adjust the temperature when particular events in the environment are detected.

So going beyond wearable cameras and smart watches toward implanted and surrounding sensing technologies is not just science fiction…it will soon be part of our reality.

Camera and Sensor Technology Advances for Smartphones

The ubiquity of smartphones has perpetuated creative thinking and an amazing number of advancements in mobile technology.  The vast continuum of purposes for smartphone cameras and camera attachments has been consistently growing, widening recently to include advanced applications such as thermal imaging and spectrometry.  This year, a few cutting edge companies have revealed some news in these up-and-coming areas of innovation.

seek-therm

A goat in the wild, highlighted by its heat signature, from Seek Thermal.

Thermal detection is a burgeoning area, in which Seek Thermal and Flir Systems, for example, are thriving by producing cameras that send real-time thermal imaging to a smartphone.  Seek Thermal recently updated its thermal camera to include a manual focus lens to enable focus on anything from 8 inches to 2,000 feet away.  Flir Systems updated to its Flir One to be less bulky and work with Android or iOS systems. The thermal images show people and objects with colors representing relative temperature, and can be used for detecting heat leaks in a building, electrical problems, or wildlife.

Scio spectrometry tool

Scio spectrometry tool

Another product, the SCiO, is a Bluetooth-connected device that will tell you what it is pointing at, on a molecular level.  Developed by Consumer Physics, its first major applications are in pharmaceuticals, food, and plant hydration.  It aims to detect the nutritional quality of food and the difference between real and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.  It performs these feats by using a built-in spectrometer to detect and analyze the molecular makeup of an object. When the data is uploaded to a cloud server, it is then compared against a database of results.  Because the price of sensors has decreased drastically, and the company has raised over $2.5 million in funds on Kickstarter, they will be offering the SCiO for a very reasonable price of about $250 for a research-level product. The SCiO falls loosely into the growing category called the Internet of Things, the networking of the physical world within existing internet infrastructure.

 

 

Virtual and Augmented Reality: a Holographic Future

augmented reality minecraft

Microsoft HoloLens Display (Source: Wired)

Innovation is happening in the virtual reality and augmented reality universe, and VC firms are investing in it significantly.  Much like the “holodeck” in Star Trek – a room that can change into any location in the universe via holographic image—these wearable alternate reality devices plunge users into another world.  Oculus Rift is currently the leading virtual reality product, and, as recently announced in Wired, Microsoft has been developing what they call HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that layers a multi-dimensional cyber world on top of the real world.  These systems create an amazing array of opportunities to collaborate, visualize, create, experiment, and, of course, play.

Augmented reality headset

HoloLens Augmented Reality Headset (Wired)

The new Hololens’ depth camera has a field of vision that spans 120 by 120 degrees, so it can sense your hands even when they are almost outstretched.  As many as 18 sensors flood the device with data every second, all managed with an onboard CPU.  Users control the device by gesture recognition, voice, and gaze. Scenes might be anything from a 3D video game to the landscape of Mars.  In fact, the Mars hologram was so impressive that NASA has signed on to use the system right away so that agency scientists can use it to collaborate on a mission.

In addition to Oculus Rift, other virtual reality systems include the Zeiss VR One and the Samsung Gear VR.  The HoloLens, still in development, is being touted as very ambitious and bold, and will be a unique and groundbreaking augmented reality system that combines reality with virtual surroundings.  People will expect a thrilling ride when it arrives, and it will be a delight to see the inventive applications developers come up with to maximize this technology.