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Sense object recognition could create a limitless, interactive encyclopaedia

Posted by wicked January - 16 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off


Informative augmented reality with a full encyclopaedia’s worth data at your fingertips has been the promise of many smart products and wearables, such as Google Glass, but object recognition software and the necessary libraries that go with it haven’t made their way into many consumer products yet. However, Sense, an intelligent cloud-based recognition engine being developed by British Cambridge-based startup Neurence, could help bridge this gap.

Sense works as an online database that comprises of information input by its users. It is being used to build up an encyclopaedia of video, image, audio and text data for use with third party application. Data can be submitted to the master library through smart devices using Neurence’s Taggar app, which is available to download from Google Play.

From there, Neurence plans to offer apps and users access to its database, which can be used as a search engine for products, places, and various types of media, depending on how the app-developer chooses to integrate Sense. Potential applications include informing users about the history of a place or object, linking them up to online shops where they can buy said object, or launching a video trailer for a movie after scanning a poster.

The program is still in its early stages, but Neurence is already working with six device developers. These include big names like Google and Samsung, so Sense may end up integrated in smart products in the not too distant future.

I’ll leave you with the video below, which gives some idea of what Sense could be used for.

Keyssa’s “kiss connectivity” technology could make cords obsolete

Posted by wicked November - 17 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off


A lot of time is often spent debating what the next big breakthrough in smartphones and computing will be, and while some ideas are certainly bold and ambitious, the fact remains that “breakthrough” technology often comes in the forms of “faster,” “bigger,” or “more power efficient” (i.e processors, graphic chips, etc). While these feats are certainly impressive, industry analysts continue to ponder what the next big thing could be. Well it turns out that a company named Keyssa has developed a technology called “Kiss Connectivity” that could effectively take everything we currently know about data transfer, and throw it out the door.

What is Kiss Connectivity?

Eric Almgren is head of the very secretive Silicon Valley startup known as Keyssa, and he recently demonstrated something very interesting. He took a high definition 1080p copy of Avatar (which generally takes around a minute to copy from a USB stick to a Surface tablet) and put it on a hard disk that uses the company’s wireless connector (Kiss Connectivity). He then placed it a few millimeters away from a Dell tablet that uses the same wireless Kiss Connectivity technology, and tapped them together, which triggered a high bandwidth data exchange. The result? The movie was transferred from the hard disk to the tablet within 5 seconds.

Now you might be asking, “how would this affect how smartphones are built?”. Before answering that, let’s step back to really look at what Keyssa has done here. We are looking at something that not only affects smartphones, but computing in general. One could argue that this is the next evolutionary step in USB, Bluetooth, and NFA, and changes the game on transferring data while opening up a world of new possibilities. The concept is so interesting, that Samsung and Intel Capital are both backing the project, which could have huge implications on how data is transferred.

Effect on the smartphone industry

Imagine a smartphone that has no ports. I’m talking zero. No micro USB for charging, no headphone jack, nothing. A completely waterproof sealed up smartphone that could move, transfer, and share gigs and gigs of data within seconds by simply bumping devices. Imagine taking wireless charging to all new levels of speed and efficiency That would all be possible with this new technology (when working in conjunction with other standards), which is in essence a new standard all together.

The connectors used in Keyssa’s wireless Kiss Connectivity are currently able to transfer up to 6 gigs of data per second. To put things in perspective, the latest WiFi standard can handle up to 1.35 gigs a second, and that’s assuming that no one else is using the network. The fastest USB standard currently tops out at 5 gigs a second, and NFC around 400 kilobits a second.

A pretty big jump indeed (and it’s wireless).

Keyssa has currently raised over 40 million dollars and and has around 40 people working on this project. The company’s chairman of the board is Tony Fadell, father of the iPod and head of Nest Labs, the smart appliances company that Google bought in January for over 3 $billion. While we don’t have a time frame for exactly when this technology could roll out, we do know that there are already “top tier” companies that are testing and using this technology as we speak (the startup didn’t want to mention which companies currently have the technology), and that it is scheduled to start appearing in devices in 2015 . Fadell stated back in 2011 that “if this thing works, you are looking at the holy grail”. It seems as if Keyssa just may have found it.

Video: see LG’s large bendable and transparent displays in action

Posted by wicked July - 23 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off

Earlier this month LG unveiled the first in a new generation of large-format flexible and transparent displays that could one day turn gadgets we now see in sci-fi movies into reality.

We only got to see the new panels in still shots at the time, but now we can get a better look at the new tech from these two short videos.

The video above shows LG Display’s 18-inch polyamide-based rollable display with a curvature radius of 30R. In practice, that means you can bend the panel back and forth without damaging it, but we’re still a few years away from panels you can roll up like a sheet of paper and carry in a tube. Also, the current model is just 1200 x 810, a resolution that is in no way suitable for commercialization. But LG Display is confident it can iron out the technical kinks and bring a 60-inch panel of 4K resolution that can be rolled up in a 3 centimeters tube by 2017.

The second video is a demo of a semi-transparent LG Display panel with a transmittance rate of 30 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but current semi-transparent panels typically have 10 percent transmittance rate. In three years, LG hopes to reach a transmittance rate of 40 percent.

Rollable electronics could open the way for a new world of electronics design. For instance, Samsung showed concepts of smartphones with built-in tablet panels that roll out of the sides and tablets that fold like books. That’s barely scratching the surface though, and once the tech becomes good enough and cheap enough for the mass market, designers will surely come up with products that today seem outlandish.

The benefits of semi-transparent panels are less obvious when it comes to mobile devices. But there are many potential applications in other fields, from TVs that disappear into the wall when they are turned off, to car windscreens that display navigation directions, to bathroom mirrors that show your agenda for the day.

Humble sand could one day triple the battery life of your smartphone

Posted by wicked July - 14 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off


sand Sam Baid

One of the most frustrating aspects of the modern smartphone is poor battery life, especially for power users. A typical day of usage with my Nexus 5 consists of moderate-to-heavy use, a mixture of browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, using social apps, and listening to music. My Nexus 5 will last me about 8-10 hours before needing to be charged. This isn’t bad, but this isn’t great. I often carry a battery pack with me just in case I need an extra boost in power.

That may change in the near future, if a recently discovered manufacturing technology makes it to commercial deployment.

As reported by Popular Science, researchers at University of California at Riverside developed a technology that could potentially make smartphone batteries last three days, as opposed to one day in the case of the typical batteries of today. The secret is replacing the graphite anode typically used in Li-ion batteries with an anode made of silicon, manufactured through a novel method from common sand.


Left – common beach sand; middle – purified sand; left – nano-silicon created with the new technology

Researcher Zachary Favors came up with the idea to use sand while dipping his toes in the stuff during a day out at the beach. Silicon, one of the main elements in sand, has long been considered for replacing graphite in batteries, due to its ability to store up to ten times as much energy as graphite. However, the challenge was to manufacture pure silicon anodes that are affordable and maintain their structure over time. Silicon anodes normally swell and break apart, but Favors was able to produce a very porous form that resists swelling and has a larger surface, making it suitable for use in batteries.

“This is the holy grail—a low-cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium-ion battery anodes,” said Favors in a press release.

The UC Riverside researchers currently have a prototype battery and have patented the technology. If the technology takes off, it could change the way we use our devices and battery life would be less of a concern. Truth is, however, that we’ve been promised better batteries for years, with new technologies that promise to dramatically improve battery life emerging regularly. In most cases, commercial deployment is many years away, and that’s in the best case. It remains to be seen if this new technology is any different.

LG’s new flexible panels herald the era of roll-up electronics

Posted by wicked July - 10 - 2014 - Thursday Comments Off

Lg flexible display (1)

It’s 2014 and we still don’t have the flying cars and personal jetpacks we were promised, but at least we’re getting tantalizingly close to tablets and TV sets that you can roll up and carry in a tube.

LG Display announced today breakthroughs in the manufacturing of large flexible and transparent OLED panels, opening the way for the commercial production of truly flexible, see-through displays in as little as three years.

LG Display’s 18-inch flexible screen prototype uses a thin polyamide substrate that enables a curvature radius of up to 30R, meaning that the panel can be rolled around a cylinder with a 3 centimeters radius, without any negative effect on its functionality. The current prototype is just 1200 x 810 (HD), but LG is confident that it can reach Ultra HD (4K) resolution on a 60-inch panel by 2017.

Lg flexible display (2)

Also by 2017, LG Display will be able to create transparent OLED panels with a transmittance rate of 40 percent, meaning that 40 percent of light will pass through them. By comparison, current “transparent” panels have a transmittance rate of just 10 percent, while LG’s new prototype panel boasts a 30 percent rate, made possible by reducing the proportion of circuit components to just 2 percent.

Transparent LG OLED

To sum up, LG’s 2017 OLED panels may be paper thin, easy to roll up in a tube, and semi-transparent. But what does that mean for consumers?

Well, a lot depends on how the technology evolves in other areas, like circuit boards, processors, batteries, and other components. High-end TV sets are already very thin, and it shouldn’t be hard to further shrink components to allow for portable units you can carry around in tubes and hang on the wall, the way we do today with projection screens.

The task may be more challenging for smartphones and tablets. In order to make truly flexible devices a reality, researchers will have to come up with ways to drastically miniaturize and ruggedize components like SoCs, batteries, and antennas.

The current “flexible” display mobile devices, LG’s G Flex and Samsung’s Galaxy Round, are merely scratching the surface when it comes to what needs to be done in order to turn sci-fi flicks gadgets into household items. Further baby steps could come towards the end of the year, when both LG and Samsung are expected to launch new generations of their curved devices.

Show Press Release

LG Display Unveils 18-inch Flexible and Transparent OLED Panels

Seoul,  Korea  (July  10,  2014)  –  LG  Display ,  the  world’s  leading  innovator  of  display

technologies,  announced today that  it has  developed a 18-inch  flexible OLED  panel  that

is  rollable  as  well  as  a  18-inch  transparent  OLED  panel.   With  these  new  panels,  LG

Display shows  that it has already acquired fundamental technologies to lead  the  large sized flexible and transparent display market.

The flexible OLED  panel  has  a high-definition class resolution  of 1200  X 810 with almost

1 million mega-pixels.  The  panel’s  curvature  radius is 30R.   The panel can be rolled up

to  a  radius  of  3cm  without  affecting  the  function  of  the  display.   This  proves  that  LG

Display can bring rollable TVs of more than 50 inches to the market in the future.

LG Display used high molecular substance-based  polyimide film  as  the backplane of the

flexible  panel instead  of  conventional  plastic  to achieve the  maximum  curvature  radius.

The polyimide film also helped reduce  the  thickness  of the panel  to  significantly  improve

its flexibility.

As  for  the  transparent  OLED  panel,  it  boasts  30  percent  transmittance,  which  was

achieved  by  adopting  the  company’s  transparent  pixel  design  technology .   LG  Display

has  successfully  lowered  the  haze  of  the  panel  which  is  generated  by  using  circuit

devices  and  film  components  to  a  level  of  2  percent.  With  this  breakthrough

development, the company  has been  able to improve  greatly  the technology  level  of the

transparent  display.   Considering  that  the  transmittance  of  existing  transparent  LCD

panels is around 10 percent, this new panel offers significantly improved transmittance.

“LG  Display  pioneered  the  OLED  TV  market  and  is  now  leading  the  next-generation

applied  OLED technology .   We are confident that by 2017, we will successfully develop

an Ultra HD flexible and transparent  OLED panel of more than 60 inches, which will have

transmittance  of more than 40 percent  and  a  curvature  radius of  100R, thereby leading

the future  display market.”  said  In-Byung Kang,  Senior Vice President and  Head of the

R&D Center at LG Display .

Display technology explained: A-Si, LTPS, amorphous IGZO, and beyond

Posted by wicked July - 2 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off

LCD or AMOLED, 1080p vs 2K? There are plenty of contentious topics when it comes to smartphone displays, which all have an impact on the day to day usage of our smartphones. However, one important topic which is often overlooked during analysis and discussion is the type of backplane technology used in the display.

Display makers often throw around terms like A-Si, IGZO, or LTPS. But what do these acronyms actually mean and what’s the impact of backplane technology on user experience? What about future developments?

For clarification, backplane technology describes the materials and assembly designs used for the thin film transistors which drive the main display. In other words, it is the backplane that contains an array of transistors which are responsible for turning the individual pixels on and off, acting therefore as a determining factor when it comes to display resolution, refresh rate, and power consumption.

Display Panel Transistors

Note the transistors at the top of each colored pixel.

Examples of backplane technology include amorphous silicon (aSi), low-temperature polycrystalline silicon (LTPS) and indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO), whilst LCD and OLED are examples of light emitting material types. Some of the different backplane technologies can be used with different display types, so IGZO can be used with either LCD or OLED displays, albeit that some backplanes are more suitable than others.


Amorphous silicon has been the go-to material for backplane technology for many years, and comes in a variety of different manufacturing methods, to improve its energy efficiency, refresh speeds, and the display’s viewing angle. Today, a-Si displays make up somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the smartphone display market.


A spec comparison of common TFT types.

For mobile phone displays with a pixel density lower than 300 pixels per inch, this technology remains the preferable backplane of choice, mainly due to its low costs and relatively simple manufacturing process. However, when it comes to higher resolution displays and new technologies such as AMOLED, a-Si is beginning to struggle.

AMOLED puts more electrical stress on the transistors compared with LCD, and therefore favours technologies that can offer more current to each pixel. Also, AMOLED pixel transistors take up more space compared with LCDs, blocking more light emissions for AMOLED displays, making a-Si rather unsuitable. As a result, new technologies and manufacturing processes have been developed to meet the increasing demands made of display panels over recent years.


LTPS currently sits as the high-bar of backplane manufacturing, and can be spotted behind most of the high end LCD and AMOLED displays found in today’s smartphones.  It is based on a similar technology to a-Si, but a higher process temperature is used to manufacture LTPS, resulting in a material with improved electrical properties.

Backplane currents

Higher currents are required for stable OLED panels, which a-Si falls short of.

LTPS is in fact the only technology that really works for AMOLED right now, due to the higher amount of current required by this type of display technology. LTPS also has higher electron mobility, which, as the name suggests, is an indication of how quickly/easily an electron can move through the transistor, with up to 100 times greater mobility than a-Si.

For starters, this allows for much faster switching display panels. The other big benefit of this high mobility is that the transistor size can be shrunk down, whilst still providing the necessary power for most displays. This reduced size can either be put towards energy efficiencies and reduced power consumption, or can be used to squeeze more transistors in side by side, allow for much greater resolution displays. Both of these aspects are becoming increasingly important as smartphones begin to move beyond 1080p, meaning that LTPS is likely to remain a key technology for the foreseeable future.

display technology revenue shares

LTPS is by far the most commonly used backplane technology, when you combine its use in LCD and AMOLED panels.

The drawback of LTPS TFT comes from its increasingly complicated manufacturing process and material costs, which makes the technology more expensive to produce, especially as resolutions continue to increase. As an example, a 1080p LCD based on this technology panel costs roughly 14 percent more than a-Si TFT LCD. However, LTPS’s enhanced qualities still mean that it remains the preferred technology for higher resolution displays.


Currently, a-Si and LTPS LCD displays make up the largest combined percentage of the smartphone display market. However, IGZO is anticipated as the next technology of choice for mobile displays. Sharp originally began production of its IGZO-TFT LCD panels back in 2012, and has been employing its design in smartphones, tablets and TVs since then. The company has also recent shown off examples of non-rectangular shaped displays based on IGZO. Sharp isn’t the only player in this field — LG and Samsung are both interested in the technology as well.

IGZO vs aSi 1

Smaller transistors allow for higher pixel densities

The area where IGZO, and other technologies, have often struggled is when it comes to implementations with OLED. ASi has proven rather unsuitable to drive OLED displays, with LTPS providing good performance, but at increasing expense as display size and pixel densities increase. The OLED industry is on the hunt for a technology which combines the low cost and scalability of a-Si with the high performance and stability of LTPS, which is where IGZO comes in.

Why should the industry make the switch over to IGZO? Well, the technology has quite a lot of potential, especially for mobile devices. IGZO’s build materials allow for a decent level of electron mobility, offering 20 to 50 times the electron mobility of amorphous silicon (a-Si), although this isn’t quite as high as LTPS, which leaves you with quite a few design possibilities. IGZO displays can therefore by shrunk down to smaller transistor sizes, resulting in lower power consumption, which provides the added benefit of making the IGZO layer less visible than other types. That means you can run the display at a lower brightness to achieve the same output, reducing power consumption in the process.

IGZO vs aSi 2

One of IGZO’s other benefits is that it is highly scalable, allowing for much higher resolution displays with greatly increased pixel densities. Sharp has already announced plans for panels with 600 pixels per inch. This can be accomplished more easily than with a-Si TFT types due to the smaller transistor size.

Higher electron mobility also lends itself to improved performance when it comes to refresh rate and switching pixels on and off. Sharp has developed a method of pausing pixels, allowing them to maintain their charge for longer periods of time, which again will improve battery life, as well as help create a constantly high quality image.

IGZO vs aSi 3

Smaller IGZO transistors are also touting superior noise isolation compared to a-Si, which should result in a smoother and more sensitive user experience when used with touchscreens. When it comes to IGZO OLED, the technology is well on the way, as Sharp has just unveiled its new 13.3-inch 8K OLED display at SID-2014.

Essentially, IGZO strives to reach the performance benefits of LTPS, whilst keeping fabrications costs as low as possible. LG and Sharp are both working on improving their manufacturing yields this year, with LG aiming for 70% with its new Gen 8 M2 fab. Combined with energy efficient display technologies like OLED, IGZO should be able to offer an excellent balance of cost, energy efficiency, and display quality for mobile devices.

What’s next?

Innovations in display backplanes aren’t stopping with IGZO, as companies are already investing in the next wave, aiming to further improve energy efficiency and display performance. Two examples worth keeping an eye are on are Amorphyx’ amorphous metal nonlinear resistor (AMNR) and CBRITE.

lg g3 aa (7 of 22)

Higher resolution smartphones, such as the LG G3, are putting increasing demands on the transistor technology behind the scenes.

Starting with AMNR, a spin-off project which came out of Oregon State University, this technology aims to replace the common thin-film transistors with a simplified two-terminal current tunnelling device, which essentially acts as a “dimmer switch”.

This developing technology can be manufacturing on a process that leverages a-Si TFT production equipment, which should keep costs down when it comes to switching production, whilst also offering a 40 percent lower cost of production compared with a-Si. AMNR is also touting better optical performance than a-Si and a complete lack of sensitivity to light, unlike IGZO. AMNR could end up offering a new cost effective option for mobile displays, while making improvements in power consumption too.

CBRITE, on the other hand, is working on its own metal oxide TFT, which has a material and process that delivers greater carrier mobility than IGZO. Electron mobility can happily reach 30cm²/V·sec, around the speed of IGZO, and has been demonstrated reaching 80cm²/V·sec, which is almost as high as LTPS. CBRITE also appears to lend itself nicely to the higher resolution and lower power consumption requirements of future mobile display technologies.

LTPS vs CBRITE performance with OLED

LTPS vs CBRITE spec comparison for use with OLED displays

Furthermore, this technology is manufactured from a five-mask process, which reduces costs even compared to a-Si and will certainly make it much cheaper to manufacture than the 9 to 12 mask LTSP process. CBITE is expected to start shipping products sometime in 2015 or 2016, although whether this will end up in mobile devices so soon is currently unknown.

Smartphones are already benefiting from improvements in screen technology, and some would argue that things are already as good as they need to be, but the display industry still has plenty to show us over the next few years.

Ostendo is working on a Hologram chip for smartphones

Posted by wicked June - 3 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off

Welcome, to the world of tomorrow. Brace for impact! Set faces to stunned.

Ok I’ll stop, but the futuristic world of cheesy lines and sci-fi gadgets is not as far away as you might think. Ostendo Technologies Inc, a display technology company based in California, is determined to bring us one step further into the future with its portable holographic technology.

The 115 employee strong company has been working on its hologram project for the past nine years, and has managed to scale down its projector technology into a tiny chipset that’s small enough to fit into a smartphone. The company has named its device the Quantum Photonic Imager, which certainly has the right sci-fi ring to it.

hologram chip for smartphones

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, Ostendo’s first generation technology will only be designed to project 2D images and videos. However, Ostendo has already demonstrated that an array of its projectors can be used to produce a holographic image, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Ostendo’s chip apparently packs in an impressive 5,000 dots per inch, and can project images up to 48 inches diagonally across. With a lens attached, the size of the module is about 0.5 cubic centimetres, which is roughly the size of a small smartphone camera module. The company expects the first 2D projector unit to be in the hands of consumers before the summer of 2015, and it will only cost around $30 per chip.

Ok, but we have seen projectors in smartphones before, so let’s move on to the interesting part – 3D.


Although I haven’t seen a demonstration myself, Ostendo has shown off a working 3D prototype to The Wall Street Journal in a recent test. A collection of six chips were laid together, which then beamed out a 3D image of a green die spinning slowly in the air. According to the WSJ, the image and motion appeared consistent regardless of which angle the viewer looked from.

Unfortunately, at this moment it is not clear how such a setup would scale down into a mobile product, and Dr El-Ghoroury, who works on the project, said that the company still needs to improve the final product with an even higher resolution output. Even so, Ostendo expects to begin manufacturing its second version of the chip, with full 3D capabilities, in the second half of 2015, which really isn’t that far away.

Of course, we will need some actual 3D content, 3D calling capabilities, and a whole range of other complementary technologies before this could become really useful for smartphones. Still, it’s an exciting prospect that we could soon be trying out for ourselves.

StoreDot promises 30 second phone charging by 2016

Posted by wicked April - 7 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off

StoreDot Flash-Battery Demo - YouTube 02 001285

Phone makers have increased battery capacities over the last few years, but the rise of Full HD displays and other power hungry components means that battery life is still a daily concern for most of us.

If you can’t increase battery capacity, the next best option is to speed up the charging rate, and that’s exactly what Israel-based startup StoreDot is hoping to do.

StoreDot is developing a technology that could bring breakthroughs in battery design, but also in storage and display manufacturing. The startup is working with tiny particles of an organic material called peptides, which are molecules of amino acids, the building blocks of all life. (In fact, StoreDot’s research is based on discoveries made by scientists at the Tel Aviv University that were studying Alzheimer’s disease.) Peptides self-assemble in tiny spheres of about 2 nanometers in diameter that exhibit some remarkable properties, including the ability to store a lot of energy for a brief period.

StoreDot essentially found an affordable and efficient way to create organic quantum dots. You may already be familiar with quantum dots from Sony’s Triluminos technology present on the Xperia Z Ultra, Z1, and Z2, which allows the display to show richer color compared to regular LCD. But Sony’s inorganic quantum dots are toxic, expensive, and hard to manufacture. StoreDot doesn’t have the same drawbacks.

What StoreDot did is create a battery made of alternating layers of organic quantum dots and conventional lithium electrodes. Acting like a supercapacitor, the organic layers are able to store energy in as little as 30 seconds, and then slowly release it to the lithium layers. From there, the device draws the energy it needs from the lithium layers, just like on a regular battery.

StoreDot Flash-Battery Demo - YouTube 59 001286

Currently, the technology is limited in terms of capacity and size. A modified Galaxy S4 can charge in just 30 seconds, but the battery is the size of a laptop power adapter. However, StoreDot is confident that, in as little as three years, it will be able to create flash-charging batteries of capacities and sizes that are comparable to today’s conventional units. This will make it possible to charge our smartphones, tablets, or laptops in minutes, rather than hours. And the technology is not prohibitively expensive – StoreDot batteries would cost about twice the cost of a regular smartphone battery, which is currently $30.

News of breakthrough battery technologies surfaces regularly, but in most cases, commercial deployment is years away, if any timeline is given at all. We hope that’s not the case with StoreDot, which seems an extremely promising development. The company is currently looking for investors, and Samsung is rumored to have offered strategic funding in 2013.

Facebook acquires Oculus for $2 billion

Posted by wicked March - 26 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off

Oculus Rift CES 2014-1

Facebook just took one step closer to making the world of Ready Player One a reality by acquiring Oculus for $2 billion.

Oculus is the company behind the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset that’s coming soon to PCs and to Android devices. The company counts Doom creator John Carmack as an employee, and is working to build a new way of playing games with its virtual reality headset. After the acquisition closes next quarter, it will do so as a division of Facebook instead of as an independent company.

In its press release announcing that it bought the company Facebook says the Oculus Rift isn’t going away, virtual reality gaming is still definitely coming. We’re not exactly sure when a consumer version of the VR headset will come out, though Oculus is selling pre-orders for its second developers kit now for $350. The consumer version, when it eventually comes out, should support Android devices. If nothing else, a version of the headset that supports Android is coming at some point.

Facebook’s vision for Oculus involves using the headset and Oculus’ software for other forms of virtual reality beyond just gaming. The headset could put sports fans court side at games, or pale students in virtual classrooms. Mark Zuckerberg’s company wants to use Oculus to create the OASIS MMO from Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. In that book the MMO takes over almost all human interaction to the point where public school is held within virtual classrooms in OASIS. Maybe we won’t go that far, but Facebook is potentially heading in that direction.

Taken in that context, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus makes perfect sense. If virtual reality is the future, Facebook would want to be a leader in the space, as it seems like the natural evolution of the social network. From a gaming perspective the move doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Gamers probably would have preferred a company like Microsoft or even Amazon to pick up Oculus, assuming Google wasn’t interested. But with some added thought it’s obvious gaming is just a small part of Oculus’ potential.

Of course, as it happens whenever Facebook acquires any company, some people aren’t happy with the decision. Notch, the creator of Minecraft, already announced on Twitter that he cancelled a deal to make the popular game for Oculus because, he said, “Facebook creeps me out.”

Does Facebook acquiring Oculus concern you? Or are you excited about what the company can do with the virtual reality hardware and software?


Graphene: the next big thing in mobile displays?

Posted by wicked February - 5 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off


Display technology is moving at a very fast pace these days. Smartphone display resolutions are already surpassing that of most television sets, and manufacturers are working hard on flexible display technology, which doesn’t appear to be too far away. But display technology isn’t all about squeezing in a few more pixels, today we’re going to take a look at a new material that could end up replacing existing display materials, named graphene.

One of the biggest problems facing display manufacturers is the high cost of raw materials. Since the start of the millennium, Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), the base material used in LCD displays, organic light emitting diodes, and touch panels, has risen quite substantially, driven by rising demand for a wide range of display products, solar panels, various other technologies, and an increasingly limited supply.

Indium 20 year price chart

Source: SMG-Indium

Looking at future smartphone technology, ITO isn’t ideally suited for use in flexible displays, as the material lacks the required flexibility and can be rather fragile when put under pressure. Because of the high costs, limited supply, and lack of versatility, manufacturers have been increasingly looking towards carbon-based alternatives, of which graphene appears to be one of the most promising.

A little history

Research into graphene began all the way back in 2004, and two scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research into the material. Without going into too much detail, Graphene is a one atom thick sheet made of entirely carbon atoms, which are arranged in a honeycomb lattice. The height of a sheet of graphene has been measured to be just 0.33nm, almost one million times thinner than a human hair. Although just one atom thick, research into graphene has shown that it has some interesting mechanical, electronic, optical, thermal and chemical properties.

For a start, graphene is harder than diamond and roughly 300 times stronger than steel. For a little context, this means that it would take the weight of an elephant balanced on a needle-point in order to break this one atom thick fabric. Despite this strength, graphene can be stretched up to 20% of its initial length. It’s therefore also rather flexible, and can withstand a fair bit of stress before it starts to crack and break apart.

Other important properties include the ability to conduct electricity as well as copper, conduct heat better than any other known material, and is transparent enough that is absorbs just 2.3% of light that passes through it, making it just about visible to the naked eye.

Since this initial research, the technology had made great strides, opening up new fields in ultra capacitors, faster graphene based transistors and processors, and other nanotechnologies.

What does this all mean for our smartphones?

Now that the background is out of the way, we can turn to what this means for our beloved smartphones. Although flexible display technology is no longer a new phenomenon, graphene could be the ideal material to base ultra-flexible technology on. We’ve already mentioned the material’s superior strength and optical properties, which lend themselves ideally to displays.

Flexible displays is the most likely area where graphene will surpass existing ITO based designs. Currently flexible OLED displays use ITO as the material for the LED’s anode, but inducing stress into the display is likely to eventually reduce the efficiency/brightness of the display, and could eventually lead to a breakdown of the OLEDs. Graphene’s electronic and thermal properties makes it a suitable replacement material for the ITO anode, and its increased resistance to stretching should help prevent display degradation.

OLED Structure

The structure of an OLED diode. Source: Novaled

Such a device has already been demonstrated, with a similar electronic and optical performance to that of devices made with indium tin oxide. Similarly, the mechanical properties and strength of graphene makes it suitable for more general display protecting purposes.

The material’s conductivity is also important for use in touch displays. Back into 2011 researches at Rice Univierty demonstrated a single-layer sheet of graphene combined with a grid of metallic nanowires on a flexible substrate to create an unbreakable, highly conductive, see-through display which could be used with smartphones.

So the biggest impact is likely to come from graphene’s increased strength, providing that it can be manufactured at a enough low cost. Anyone who’s had to suffer through watching the display on their smartphone shatter after hitting the ground will know how important such technologies could be.

Corning’s Willow Glass is likely to be the closest ITO based flexible display layer. It would be interesting to see how the strength and cost of these two technologies compare.

Graphene: the next big thing

I should point out that this technology is still in development, but there’s a lot of interest in pushing it to market. Picosun Oy, a leading atomic layer deposition manufacturer, has recently teamed up with several prominent European nanotechnology companies and research institutes to develop graphene-based solutions for display manufacturing. There’s huge interest in graphene all over the world, there are already almost ten thousand patent applications already linked to graphene research. Nokia, and other companies, invested $1.36 billion into graphene research last year, and the UK and EU governments are also allocating £50 million to further research at the University of Manchester.

Like all technological innovations, there’s still more research and testing to be done before we can even begin talking about products. There’s also costs of production to consider, graphene has not yet benefited from economies of scale that result from widespread mass production. It’s going to be a little while longer until we see any consumer products using this material, but it’s one that’s well worth keeping an eye on.