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.

Drone Cameras: Set to Explode?

A Parrot Quadcopter (Source: Amazon)

A Parrot Quadcopter (Source: Amazon)

Drones with cameras, also known as quadcopters or miniature unmanned aerial vehicles, have been around for years, and are steadily growing in popularity.  There are a number of leading quadcopter makers, including DJI, Parrot, Hubsan, and Walkera, which makes a drone that can be used with a GoPro camera.  The sales of drones are increasing amongst consumers who enjoy flying them, just for fun and to gain a better perspective on sporting events or outdoor adventures, such as the person catching the quadcopter in this image taken at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Quadcopter at Head of the Charles Regatta (Arnold Reinhold)

Quadcopter at Head of the Charles Regatta (Arnold Reinhold)

However, The National Park Service (NPS) has banned drones in all national parks in the United States, citing a negative experience for visitors.  And along similar lines, a recent article in Popular Science outlined a newly launched, slightly controversial solution for stopping unwanted drones.

Camera drones can videotape their surroundings, to the delight of users, but to the dismay of certain people and organizations who would like to keep their privacy intact. Recognizing an opportunity, Rapere, the company that makes the “intercept drone,” has designed a quadcopter with 12 fast cameras that help it identify other flying objects to attack. The “intercept drone” then drops a tangle line onto the offending UAV’s rotors, bringing it down.

Rapere "Intercept" Drone

Rapere “Intercept Drone”

It’s not clear whether this product would be legal, or if it will even be sold, but it does seem to be getting attention for its unique solution to a new challenge. If Rapere does go into mass production, that bodes well for the production of camera modules, which will be needed in vast quantities at that point, ostensibly to both man the interceptor drones and to fill orders for the replacing the drones that they brought down.

Consumer Electronics Show Debuts Camera-Centric Tech

CES Las Vegas LogoIn Las Vegas this week, the International Consumer Electronics Show is taking place, introducing attendees to the most cutting-edge technologies well before they are available to the general public.  This year, the most notable camera-centered products include security cameras with facial recognition and user-friendly medical cameras.

Netatmo Security Camera

Several sources, including CNET and Gizmodo, have published stories on Netatmo’s new security camera with facial recognition.  Its sophisticated software can recognize family members who are at home and provide a video feed that can be viewed remotely, should there be an intruder who is not recognized.

Camera for phone from CellscopeA startup called CellScope exhibiting at the show was featured on NPR; it has built a small ear probe that clips onto the top of your iPhone camera. Instead of rushing to the emergency room, this product allows you to stream footage from inside the ear to an app, so the images can then be examined by a doctor.

Finally, there were two exciting announcements from the show, first that Omnivision and Inuitive Ltd. have created a partnership to develop a reference design for building compact modules that enable 3D imaging in consumer electronics, which will enable advanced features such as augmented reality, 3D scanning, and post processing photography. Second, Jabil Circuit and Pelican Imaging also announced a partnership, this one to develop a high-resolution array camera module using the most advanced digital optics to allow for accurate depth acquisition.

Compact camera modules are essential to new technologies and consumer electronics of the future, because, as evidenced by these examples, when we produce more powerful images with high quality cameras, we can also create useful tools with which to utilize them.

Emerging Technologies and Active Alignment

In Gartner’s 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, there are several exciting areas in which technologies depend on optical components and camera modules for key functions – functions that likely are dependent upon clarity of images and require active alignment for their optics.  The most prominent are gesture control, virtual reality, augmented reality, and autonomous vehicles.  Of those, the most advanced one on the cycle is gesture control technology; according to Gartner, its “plateau of productivity,” in which mainstream adoption begins to take place, will be reached in 2-5 years.

Gartner's 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies

Gartner’s 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies

Gesture control technology has been embraced by companies that range from small venture-funded start-ups to large corporations looking for the next big thing.  Some companies, such as Samsung, are partnering with these start-ups to incorporate gesture recognition in their next generation models of televisions or other electronics.  Others are forging ahead with their own cutting-edge products; for example, Intel has recently publicized its wide-ranging RealSense Technology, by which a camera in the computer can see in 3D, recognize gestures, and take refocusable photos.

At Kasalis, we are fostering innovation at the intersection of software and optics, providing precision active alignment for optics that can then be used to clearly and accurately translate hand movements, or gestures, into commands that the software can understand.  We are thrilled that camera module and optical quality has become a top priority for the most cutting-edge technologies, and delighted, knowing that our technology plays a key support role in their advancement.

Lean Manufacturing at Kasalis

Kasalis has always operated with efficiency and purpose, but in recent months, has been implementing a continuous improvement plan using Lean and Six Sigma principles.  Now that the company is growing and expanding its operations significantly, the team is dedicating itself to scaling up gracefully, using insightful planning, organizing, and operating tools.

5s-kasalis-webAmong other things, we have adopted the 5S Strategy on our manufacturing floor: sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain.  This system is intended to streamline our manufacturing process by reducing wasted time and maintaining a highly organized environment with consistent, quality-driven operational results.  The goal is to optimize our camera module assembly and other manufacturing operations.

Kasalis is committed to delivering the highest quality products, services, and customer support processes in the industry. Our ultimate goal is to create and maintain a workforce of analytical people, in which everyone is focused on continually driving improvements in quality, delivery and cost.  The company puts emphasis on innovative thinking and an open, collaborative environment. To learn more, see the new Lean Manufacturing page on the Kasalis website.

Choose Your Own Camera Module

Word from Google is that modularity is what’s next for mobile phones – its Project Ara smartphones aim to allow users to customize phones, including choosing their own preferred screen, compact camera module, or special components.

While the project has attracted a great deal of skepticism, the Technology Review recently published an article entitled, “Why Google’s Modular Smartphone Might Actually Succeed.”  Google recently held its first developer conference for the Project Ara phone (April  15-16) and it attracted over three thousand attendees.  Opening up hardware and software development to outside companies, Google hopes to succeed where others have failed by providing a vast array of choices, both for physical components and apps, when the first Ara phone is released in January of 2015.

Modular smartphone

Project Ara Modular Smartphone.               Photo credit: Google

While this puzzle-like phone will hopefully reduce e-waste and allow for individual customization, it could also be a boon for our business, because research has shown that a quality camera is at the top of the list of mobile phone features that people value and use daily.  Since we provide camera module assembly systems using highly accurate active alignment in up to six degrees of freedom, our customers can provide top quality compact cameras as a modular smartphone component.

Kasalis Completes Move to New Global Headquarters

Empty clean room

One yet-to-be-filled clean room area.

Our camera module alignment equipment operations are expanding – Kasalis has happily moved to a spacious new office that artfully reflects its innovative spirit. The new space, designed with a creative, industrial edge to foster a highly inspired work environment, is just down the street from our old digs.  We are now at 37 North Ave, and are thrilled to be offering our customers significantly increased capacity and technical support.

We are very pleased to occupy a space that fully reflects our company culture, with interesting angles, bold pops of color, and modern photographic panels. Through careful planning and design, we have created an office that will see us through to the next level of production of our Pixid active alignment systems.  With a huge cleanroom, bright offices, and ample meeting spaces, this office is an ideal match for our needs.

Office image

The hallway from our offices to the clean room.

Kasalis expects further growth in 2014 and looks forward to filling up the open spaces in our new worldwide headquarters building. Here, in our new home, our current and future employees will contribute to our groundbreaking products, strategic approach, and skillful technical assembly.