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Brainstorm: Holiday wish lists

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 3:56pm

With the holidays approaching, what product or technology is on your wish list?

Alan G. Hulme-Lowe, 3M, www.3melectronics.com

I travel a lot, so when I think of Christmas gifts, I think of items that allow me to travel lighter rather than add to my load.

I was on a plane the other day and it occurred to me that I was carrying around a pair of very good, but expensive and bulky, noise-cancelling headphones. I also carry around a compact but powerful smart phone equipped with a headset, a microphone, and a processor almost as powerful as my aging laptop.

It seems to me that an app could be written to use my smart phone’s processing power, microphone and headset to give me the function of noise-cancelling headphones without the headphones. That would make the expensive noise-cancelling headphones redundant in much the same way smart phones seem to have made portable GPS devices redundant.

I did look online, but found no such app, which was a surprise. It seems very doable today. So please, app developers, bring me such an app for Christmas. It would be a wonderful gift to have one less gadget to carry with me as I travel around the globe.

Have a happy Christmas, I hope Santa lightens your load!

Ron Moore, Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas, www.avnetexpress.avnet.com

What’s on my wish list this year? It’s not a particular product or technology: I wish for us to continue to apply technologies in important ways that help us grow and become more prosperous as a people and a nation. Recent natural disasters have reinforced the need for a more rapid adoption of technologies that are already available. For example, several companies today are working on “mobile” power stations (essentially battery-laden vehicles) that can act as power stations in emergencies. These are far more efficient than the generators seen all over the TV news, and can help many more people. Efficient power delivery and storage has just as many important applications outside of the consumer space as in it. Let’s continue the journey to take what we learn in one area of technology and apply it in areas of need. Thirty years ago military and space technologies slowly trickled into the consumer space – now is the time to drive adoption the other way: let our technological advances in consumer and commercial networking enable the better delivery of lifesaving services to people in need. My wish is that we take every opportunity to showcase and adopt these life-changing, and lifesaving technologies even faster.

Christi Juchmes, Cypress Semiconductor, www.cypress.com

The top entry on my wish list is something that surprises even me. I’ve been resisting this for a while now, but I think this is the year I finally give in and ask for an e-reader.

I know I’m a little late on this trend. I’m one of those book nerds that makes excuses for not going digital – I like the feel of the paper, I retain it better in hard copy, blah blah – but even I have to admit that practicality wins this battle. I love the idea of being able to read any book I want from one portable device. And I just want it for books; I can use my phone if I want to listen to music or stream video, but I like to curl up with a book for hours at a time, and the smaller LCD on my phone makes my eyes hurt if I stare at it for too long.

I’ve got my eye on the new Kindle Paperwhite. I like this one because it has better contrast than the original, so it’s easier to read, but I can still use it outside. The portability is a big selling point for me also. I frequently commute via public transit and like to read during that time, but books aren’t the smallest or lightest things to carry around. The Paperwhite’s 6” screen makes it the right size for me to slip it easily into my bag and go. The battery life is supposed to be really good, too.

I’m convinced: it’s time for me to join the 21st century. The Paperwhite will be at the top of my list this December.

Chad Lucien, Hillcrest Labs, www.hillcrestlabs.com

Top of my wish list for the holidays is a smartphone that actually makes use of all the motion control inside it. With 9-axis motion sensors and advanced sensor fusion software found in even mid-range smartphones these days, there is great potential for innovative and helpful applications which is not being exploited. Imagine, with advanced motion I could:

- Take my family outside on Christmas Eve, point my tablet to the sky and see an augmented reality Santa and reindeer circling the house with the ‘magic’ Santa identification app;

- Wake up on Christmas morning with my phone having tracked my sleeping patterns, providing quantitative motion-based justification for why I am going need a turkey-fueled, post-lunch nap;

- Leave a trail of ‘hidden’ footprints and clues around the house, only visible on a pedestrian navigation smartphone app, which my kids could follow for an early morning treasure hunt—buying me an extra half hour in bed;

- Change the Christmas song playing on my phone while preparing dinner by tilting and tapping—without touching the screen with my raw-turkey covered hands;

- Track how high I can jump when the NBA-on-Christmas announcers tell me Lebron has a 42” vertical, and convince myself that the app is wrong when the result comes in; and

- Go to sleep Christmas night without worrying about charging my phone, as motion-based context awareness has allowed my phone to manage functions to preserve battery life throughout the day.

Yes, the more I think about the potential of a motion-enabled smartphone Christmas, the more excited I am. I’m even more excited than for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle! In fact, I’m pretty sure my motion-enabled smartphone could have a Red Ryder BB Gun app, which would ensure I only virtually shoot my eye out with it.

Jonathon Dillon, Microchip Technology, www.microchip.com

My Christmas list without the bounds of practical science

As a frequent traveler, just bring carryon luggage for short trips; but for longer trips I need to check a bag.  Despite lightweight luggage with multiple wheels and bright unique name tags I still end up lugging it across cities and transit systems and stalking the baggage carousel.

To simplify this, I realized I should wish for robotic luggage.  Luggage that transforms into a four- legged robot dog to faithfully follow me through airports with my belongings inside.

I’d give him a name.  Rover + luggage… Rovage! I’d yell “Rovage up!” to get him to leap up onto the baggage scales.  He’d wag his tail when he saw me at baggage carousels and bound off the conveyor belt.  Then we’d head off to grab a cab. Rovage would run up the stairs at subway stations and cleanly grip items in his mouth to help me juggle boarding passes, passports and hotel key cards.  If an airline misplaces my bags Rovage would call me.  He’d say in a British accent,“I’m very sorry Sir.  I’m going to be somewhat late.”

Sadly, I’m sure airport security, baggage weight limits, luggage fees and battery technology would conspire against Rovage ... but I can wish.

Paul Massey, Ocular LCD, www.ocularlcd.com

I spend a lot of time traveling for business meetings all over the world.  Mobile phones and tablets currently enable me to stay connected while I am away.  However, I would prefer to have one interactive control that can keep all of my devices (mobile, home and office) continually synchronized. The ability to also control my home appliances, lighting, security system, DVRs, etc. with this same device would be an upgraded convenience. There has been talk of the “connected home” for years but we aren’t 100% there yet, there are still steps to be taken to achieve the full potential of this type of technology.

The ability to connect my current environment with my office and home will make it feel as though I never left.

Keith Curtis, Microchip Technology, www.microchip.com

For the last few years, I have been donating time as the Scout Master of a local Boy Scout Troop. We typically camp out for two days every month, and I have really enjoyed the chance to get back to nature. The hassle has been keeping all the flash lights, lanterns and cell phones charged during the campout. I have tried a variety of solar blanket chargers and portable 12 Volt battery packs, but they are either too slow, too heavy, or they require a bunch of adapters and cables to get everything plugged in.

What I would really like for Christmas this year is a lightweight easy to use fuel-cell-based 12V/USB power station that runs on propane; preferably using the same small propane canisters that our camp stove and lantern use.  It should be compact and light weight, with the capability to provide 3-4 amps at 12VDC through a couple of cigarette-lighter connectors, and ½ an amp at 5VDC through a three or four USB sockets. I could then plumb it into the propane distribution tree on the top of my 10 lb propane bottle, and I would be all set with light, cooking and charging.

David Somo, ON Semiconductor, www.onsemi.com

Without wishing to appear greedy, I’d like to put two items on my holiday wish list! – One for the road and one for the home ... well OK, I accept that both can be used in the home, but forgive my indulgence!

First up is one of the new breed of convertible ultrabooks running Windows 8. While I’m not fussy about the brand, there are a few pre-requisites in terms of features that I’d like: First is 1080p resolution for full HD viewing. I am a frequent business flier so for those airport hours when I’m done with marketing plans, spread sheets and email, I’d like to be able to watch a movie or catch-up on some football via a crystal clear screen.  The second ‘must have’ is a solid state drive – you never know when you are going to have to pick up and move to a different airline gate or to go through security etc. So the fast boot-up, not to mention the added robustness and battery life afforded by SSDs, is a key feature for me. 
Finally, the touch interface enabled by Windows 8 provides an intuitive way to navigate the internet and social media to stay up to date on the latest business matters while keeping in touch with colleagues and family.

Next on my wish list, this time for my home, is an AMOLED flat-panel TV. This technology is exciting not only for the possibility it creates for large screen TVs with high image refresh rates for a great picture, but also the power usage savings it can give versus other technologies.

Andreas Kubbat, Renesas Electronics, www.am.renesas.com

For millennia, mankind has looked at the stars in the night sky, marveled at the beauty and wondered about the mysteries above. They named the stars to be their gods and built Stonehenge and Pyramids to coincide with celestial events.

Fascination for outer space hasn't diminished and images of unprecedented quality are now only a few mouse-clicks away. But ironically, fewer people than ever have seen the beauty of the night sky with their own eyes. The glowing (street) lights from our cities overpower all the faint stars that used to be visible leading to a vanishing night sky.

The real thrill still is to watch those events and cosmic objects first hand, with your own eyes. Be it the Milky Way or a meteor shower visible even to the unaided eye, the amazing details of the craters of the moon, the colorful Jupiter with its red spot and bright moons circling around it, or the rings of Saturn and its ever changing storms.

To watch the various objects in the sky, my Christmas wish list contains:

- 14” Reflector to look deep into space and see the details of the planets

- 130mm Refractor for a wide-angle view of nebulas & galaxies

- A high-resolution, electrically cooled CCD camera with filter wheel & filters

- Auto-guider to track the stars throughout the night

- A strong Equatorial mount to handle these heavy telescope & cameras

- A location with clear & dark skies

Bob Mahoney, ON Semiconductor, www.onsemi.com

Like my colleague at ON Semiconductor, David Somo, I have an AMOLED TV at the top of my wish list. The advances in LED technology for TVs have been fantastic and the energy saving aspect of these is vital in light of our collective need to reduce energy consumption. I am going to be specific in asking for a Samsung Super AMOLED TV. This technology is said to perform better in bright sunlight than standard AMOLED - which can be an important consideration for a Phoenix, Arizona resident. Another item I’d like is a nice new top specification Lenovo laptop. As an existing Lenovo user I’ve been impressed with the build quality, ruggedness and the inclusion of a great set of high-end business features. A solid-state drive version would be my preference over a regular drive for its speed and the extended battery life it gives.

Calvin Taylor, Renesas Electronics, www.am.renesas.com

Like many engineers, all of my best ideas happen in the shower ... along with bad singing. So, for my Christmas this year, I’m hoping for a waterproof, wireless headset. There appear to be one or two on the market, but I need one coupled with an app that can cancel out background noise (say from a shower head), and apply advanced algorithms to make even my singing painless to the ears (oh autotunes, why must you hurt us?  You could have been so much more). Auto-dial features would be an additional plus ... though, erm, that might prove too much of a temptation. Remember, kids, in a conference call, never ask your engineer if he’s in the shower—we aren’t trained to lie.

I’m not promising my productivity would increase, but I do know that all my best ideas would cease to be lost forever down the shower drain. Santa, can you help an engineer out?

Joe Graves, Stratus Technologies, www.stratus.com

The desk of a co-worker is covered in plastic toys, mechanical devices, and sculptures.  He has planetary gears that move with no purpose other than they can move. When I go speak with him about work, he grabs one and fiddles with it as we talk.  While they serve no useful purpose, they are all intriguing gadgets. We almost always end up talking about the gadget as I forget what work related topic I had on my mind.  Clearly, a very good device for evading useful discussion.

Yet, this is no ordinary bric-a-brac purchased at some lowly dollar store or made of the conventional Legos.  These are all do-hickys that he printed at home on his 3D printer.   A little bit of research shows it’s possible to buy 3D printers that work with sugar or chocolate to make 3D candy, and some print metal objects.  Jay Leno has one to make custom car parts.  People have printed shoes, bras, bikes, canoes, musical instruments, and jewelry. Some enterprising people are even printing human body parts.  Clearly, the possibilities of a 3D printer are limitless. 

How could I have missed this trend towards 3D printing and gadget making self-sufficiency?  Just think of the stuff I could be printing right now. Heck, I could make all sorts of useful stuff. Things I could really use like a working miniature roller-coaster or figurines from Star Trek.  To boldly imagine the menagerie of the items I could have on my desk.  I can’t wait to play with them. 

Wait, what was it I was talking about?

Oh yeah, clearly, a 3D printer is the gift for me this Christmas.

Peter Teng, Renesas Electronics, www.am.renesas.com

For me, the holidays are a time for family and sharing things we love, and the top item on my holiday wish list would be sharing my knowledge and passion for engineering with my sons. I have been trying to get my elder son, Andy, into some father-and-son engineering activity together. He joined his school’s robot club this year, which gave me an opening.  At first, I thought, “I can get him to build a robot arm kit together with me.” And perhaps, “I want to see the club building a Johnny-5-like robot,” which is something that has fascinated me since I watched the movie “Short Circuit.” I was so sure that every school kid would be surprised on the first day of next school year, with this robot greeting him or her on the school front. This had become the new technology on my wish list. Then I realized there is a greater goal after joining the first session in his FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics club with him, and experienced the kids’ enthusiasm. They got a competition to go to!

With this new bigger goal, I look forward to mentoring these kids in thinking like engineers so I can communicate with them better. My company, Renesas Electronics America, encourages us to serve as mentors and volunteers for the next generation of innovators and to inspire young students’ interest and engagement in science and technology.

Working with Andy and his robot club inspires me, as an engineer, for the generation of engineers to come. The robot club at Andy’s school and FIRST activities with primary and secondary schools are two ways that we, as a society, can help foster the love of science and technology at an early age.

Debbie Greenstreet, Texas Instruments, www.ti.com

As I look back on 2012, I don’t have to ponder long to determine my Holiday wish.  I wish for a wireless experience with maximum data rates and no dropped calls at cell edges. I envision limited service areas being a thing of the past.  I envision lower cost base stations for more rapid deployment and greener solutions easing power backup demands.

Being armed with spiffy, state of the art mobile devices does not guarantee we can always use all of the features.  The smart phone apps are of little use in areas of low coverage such as coastal beaches.  iPads with 3G/4G cellular service are a far cry from a broadband substitute in areas of limited capacity.When powerful storms like Derecho strike, they can render power out for nearly a week, and with wired broadband nowhere to be found, portable devices with wireless access seem like the perfect backup! However, with everyone using their smart phones, tablets and other portable devices to access the internet,connections are few and far between!  Talk about watching the hour glass!

I wish that the heterogeneous networks with small cells and LTE-A technology that makes all of this is possible, is available today!

Bryan Yarborough, TT electronics, www.ttelectronics.com

Over the last several years I have lost nearly 40 pounds by running and watching what I eat. As an engineer, I tend to look at energy and translate it into other units in a relational scale with more meaning.  Running is an energy conversion from food to heat and movement. So, I began to think of my workouts in terms of food.  At 155 lbs and running 6.7 mph (9 min mile) I would burn about 116 calories or about 3/4 of a typical beer (150 calories) for each mile logged. 

I would like a "calories in = calories out" Android application for Christmas that integrates with the exercise equipment and my weight management application, online, to let me select how much of certain foods my workout would equate to. If, for example, I want to indulge in a few treats over the weekend, be it cake, a slice of pizza, or ice cream, then I could plug in the serving to determine how many miles need to be logged on the treadmill. Thinking about food as it relates to miles tends to make you think twice about over indulging!

 

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