Thad Starner: Wearable Computing for Smarter Living

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Thad Starner, founder and director of the Contextual Computing Group at Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Computing and more famously a pioneer of wearable computing who has been interviewed by The New York Times and New Scientist, appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes and PBS’s Nightline as well as given talks to IBM, Motorola and Google.

He has been wearing a custom computer for the last 20 years that includes a piece of kit projecting a small semi-transparent display of his netbook screen just below the line of vision of his left eye. He also uses a unique keyboard/mouse of his own invention called the Twiddler, allowing him to touch type at 120 words per minute with his hand essentially in his pocket or by his side.

Because he also wears his netbook slung over his shoulder the overall effect is that while it looks pretty cool it also looks like it takes getting used to and could require plugging yourself in at a power point every so often so I ask him if he has considered implantable technology.

“Okay, let’s do a design exercise. What sort of implant technology would you like to do?
“I’d like to have something in my wrist so that I could scan it and pay for items instead of taking out my wallet. Maybe an ID chip that includes my online identity and data.”
“Let’s look at implanting a reader in your wrist. What do you do for batteries?”
“A dynamo, maybe,” I suggest.
“I’ve worked on that – it turns out you can’t get enough power, however I can make you a wristwatch that does that. If you look at our research there is a one with a coil that does RFID chips so say you reach for your iPad it will detect this and read into your watch. The great thing about it is that you can always take it off and replace the battery,” he explains.

Having a conversation with Starner is more like an exercise in real-time problem solving rather than having someone pass information along to you. You actually get the sense that not only does he never stop thinking but he is making sure you’re along for the ride.

On seeing my iPad Starner points out that, like me, most reporters have a tablet or notepad in tow in order to take notes while interviewing someone or attending a conference. Now, I’m a pro at this: I listen to the speaker, take notes and tweet (complete with correct hashtag) while checking the sound volume on my audio recorder and having a sneaky look at my email.

As it turns out I’m far from a pro: “the physical dexterity needed to do handwriting or input on these tablets gives you the memory of a drunk … so while you’re actually doing it you have a really hard time trying to take in new information,” explains Starner.

“So much so that people like me who have been trained to speak publicly will supply some quote that you proceed to take down and I’ll continue with a conversation that’s complete filler until you get done writing it and then I can say the more important stuff later when I have your attention.”

“You’re designing your talks around the fact that people can’t multitask, I ask,” all smugness and insight. “I am doing this conversation this way,” he replies without blinking.

Starner has this great way of letting you know your cognitive limits which pushes you to rethink how you absorb and process information – a rethinking that could perhaps include wearable computing to help you in a data dense world. I am now beginning to see how he came upon his visor/Twiddler combo as a solution to information sorting and recall. I am beginning to wish I was in his Borg collective.

As he tries to explain best how the visual/manual co-ordination required to navigate a touchscreen device is problematic for multitasking Starner has a way of expressing himself that sounds like he is autocorrecting in realtime if he thinks what he has just said might not be the best way of putting it. Either he is becoming more efficient and computer-like or he is in fact updating in real-time by pulling down previous notes he has made and viewing them on his screen embedded in his goggles.

While you’re talking to Starner it is difficult to maintain constant eye contact because his line of vision will jump down to the projected screen under his left eye as he reads some notes freshly called up on screen with the Twiddler. The effect, however, is not that he doesn’t seem focused on the interview at hand but rather that he seems super-focused.

In his talk to the conference attendees he explains how he came up with the concept of wearable computing. While a student at MIT he said that he found he could listen attentively to his lecturers but have no notes of what was said and forget it all a few days later or he could attempt to take notes and miss out on half of what was said in the first place.

“Computers can do it a whole lot better than we can. We should design our computer interfaces to help us compensate with the problems that we’re having in our everyday lives.”

“You only want to make it augment your conversation, not replace it,” he explains as he tells me he is pulling up a talk he gave yesterday and proceeds to drop in quotes from it into his conversation, which actually does explain it a lot better: “We should make mobile systems that help the user pay attention to the real world as opposed to retreating from it. We should make calm technology that mediates interruptions instead of just adding to them,” he says, quoting himself from 24 hours earlier.

This kind of wearable computing does seem life enhancing. An anecdote from Starner on a recent dinner conversation where he was able to talk on the same level as an expert in an unrelated field simply by pulling up data on his screen shows what an advantage it is. But is it the kind of advantage that is, let’s face it, a bit like cheating?

“Of course. That’s the whole point. When a gentleman can’t win he changes the game,” he says, laughing.

“I’m not the smartest guy on the planet but I want to be a computer science professor. I’m surrounded by a lot of people who want the same thing. How do I make myself smarter?”

He says he stumbled on to it: “During my qualifying exam at MIT every paper I was supposed to read, everything I was supposed to do including my own answers was on my computer and as we’re having the conversation the system is automatically pulling up one summaries to remind me what to say next.”

The examining professors sitting in front of Starner asked him if he was using his wearable computer for his exam, he said yes and that he had the remembrance agent running too. A conversation ensued as to whether this was fair or not.

“My PhD almost read ‘Thad Starner and his wearable computer’ instead of ‘Thad Starner’. I almost wish they would have done it because it would have been really cool. I would have been the first cyborg PhD.”

Perhaps Starner didn’t get his cyborg PhD but he is making important changes in how we interact we technology as a natural part of our lives. What everyone is wondering is “when do I get to wear the visor?”

‘The heads up display, which is what everybody thinks about but which is only a portion of my life; when is that going to happen? I can’t really tell you. It’s going to happen some day but it will involve figuring out how to integrate it into people’s lives before it becomes commonplace.”

Dr Thad Starner spoke at the Atlantic Conference 2011, a conference on science education in Ireland run by the Atlantic Corridor.

ITLG Founder Raises Ireland’s Spirit In The Valley

The success of the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in creating links between Silicon Valley and Ireland was acknowledged on Saturday when John Hartnett, founder of the ITLG, was awarded the 2011 Spirit of Ireland Award at the culmination of a week of events around the San José-Dublin sister city initiative.

In 2007, Hartnett – at that time SVP with Palm – created the ITLG to support US companies looking to establish or invest in Ireland and to support Irish startups seeking to leverage the US marketplace and investment community. The group is primarily a business-focused network of Irish-linked technology leaders, and has connections to over 1500 executives from companies such as HP, Cisco, Apple and Intel.

Accepting the award at the event in San José, John Hartnett praised the support of both the ITLG core team and advisors to the group, saying that it was the combined effort from all involved that had led to this success.

A delegation from Dublin visited the Irish Innovation Center (IIC) in San Jose on Wednesday, including Lord Mayor Gerry Breen, Imelda Reynolds from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, and representatives from higher education institutions and organisations with their own innovation centres in Dublin. The IIC was officially opened in 2010, and provides a facility for over 20 Irish companies to interact and partner with Silicon Valley companies.

As an example of how the center is facilitating Irish entrepreneurship, a presentation was given during the IIC visit by John Leenane, CEO of Kudyou, whose system allows brands to deliver rewards to causes chosen by a customer when buying a product or signing up for a service.

Conor O’Mahony, President of the San José–Dublin sister city program, also praised Hartnett for his work with the IIC, which he said gives Irish entrepreneurs access to the “vibrant business breeding ground that is Silicon Valley”.

Picture shows Conor O’Mahony presenting the 2011 Spirit of Ireland Award to John Hartnett. Photo by Kymberli W Brady.

Games Fleadh 2011: Gaming Practice for the Real World

The Games Fleadh is a gaming and programming festival hosted by the Tipperary Institute which brings students from all over Ireland involved in the different elements of computer game development together to compete against each other while being judged by some of the top names in computer game development.

This year the event, which is co-ordinated by Philip Bourke of the Institute’s Information and Communications Technology Department, attracted representatives from Microsoft, the event’s main sponsor, from Havok, Open Emotion Studios, Demonware, and Nevermind Games amongst others.

According to James Greenslade, Director of Information and Communications Technology Department, the Games Fleadh, “Stems from about eight years ago when we in the college, along I suppose,with every other college in the country, had a difficulty with software development students and programming students who were programming with no real focus.

“We saw it as a conduit for students from every college in the country to pitch their programming skills against each other and therefore get a bit of competition going that would interest them, that would showcase their skills, and they’d have a day out for it”.

However, the key to Games Fleadh’s success is undoubtedly the stellar cast of industry professionals it attracts every year, giving the students unparalleled access to a wealth of experience and knowledge.

Mark Lambe from gaming start-up Nevermind Games, acknowledges the importance of networking for young game developers, “You walk in here and there’s Damien from Demonware or such and such from another company and all of a sudden you know five other people, and then next time you have a problem you think, ‘I’m gonna email that guy and annoy him until he fixes it.

“What has happened since Microsoft came on board is that they offered us their XNA development platform, so we’ve had two real competitions in the past five years, the XNA Ireland challenge and the Robocode competition,” explains James Greenslade.

This year, the DirectX challenge was a new addition to the Fleadh. DirectX is a set of Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) made by Microsoft, which is used for enhancing games. This year’s DirectX and XNA challenges licenced the intellectual property of Konami’s classic ‘Frogger‘ game.

Philip Bourke explains how working with a recognised title makes it easier for students get their concept across, “Because they’re working on existing IP, everybody knows what it is, so now they can have a new take on it, like, ‘I did a Window’s Phone 7 version of Frogger.’

“Immediately the people on the other side of the table know the game and they’re interested in seeing what the student achieved.

“The idea of the Direct X challenge is it’s a beauty contest and kind of a skills contest that shows what you can do with 3D Direct X. Take 3D graphics and make it as wonderful, as flashy or as technically difficult as possible”.

Michael Meagher is Academic Engagement Manager with Microsoft, “What these competitions do is they allow students to get real life skills. The thing about working as a gamer is people want to know what you’ve built and how good it is, so being able to go in and pitch an idea is very important and competitions like this and environments like this are really important to help build out those type of skills.

“What we want to see as a result of this is more people developing which is going to help the economy here in Ireland. We need more developers, game developers, and gaming itself.”

Paddy Murphy, is co-founder and C.E.O. of Open Emotion games, the Limerick-based studio behind Mad Blocker Alpha, acknowledges that even gaming professionals can take something positive away from an event such as this, “We came here last year and it was really good last year, but this year has kind of outdone it.

“Some of the stuff I couldn’t get over. There are so many bright students in Ireland doing this stuff, that it’s cool to see their input and their take on things, instead of just thinking you know it all, that’s the big problem”.

Microsoft’s Michael Meagher echoes the importance of producing young game developers, “What these competitions do is they allow students to get real life skills.

“The thing about working as a gamer is people want to know what you’ve built and how good it is, so being able to go in and pitch an idea is very important and competitions like this and environments like this are really important to help build out those type of skills.”

Main article picture: Finn Krewer, a student of National University of Ireland, Galway was the winner of the DirectX challenge.

Airpos: Helping Vendors from the Cloud

Martin Neill began his working life as a music journalist for the New Musical Express and The Guardian newspaper. He called time on his journalism career when he found himself becoming more fascinated with websites and the potential of the Internet.

He started his own business in 2003 specializing in ecommerce and online selling. It became clear to him that retailers needed to integrate their website activity with their business processes.

The classic model for point-of-sale (POS) operations is that a hardware manufacturer would make the hardware. Then, there would be a software vendor who would piggyback on the hardware. On top of that, there would be a network of dealers that go out, sell and install the POS apparatus.

Martin realized that there had to be a better way of doing this, so he started AirPOS which began originally as a little side project and mushroomed from there.

Timing, as always, was very important. Cloud computing with its advantages of timely updates, real-time backup and freeing the end user from nearly all of the application maintenance chores, was becoming more prevalent and more accessible as a platform.

From day one AirPOS was built in the Cloud. Martin explains further, “What we set out to do was cut out all the middle points in the point-of-sale industry, although we utilize those if we need to.”

“We are creating a disruptive model: on the hardware that you currently have, in 90% of cases you would be able to install AirPOS directly. That is the software suppliers and the dealer network bypassed.”

“Therefore we can provide a very affordable point-of-sale solution to retailers with all the benefits of it being web-based.”

AirPOS is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland which Martin does not necessarily see as being a handicap, “Software as a service (SaaS) can be done anywhere. So being in Ireland, from that point of view, shouldn’t be an impediment when it comes to raising investment.

“When it comes to building something as quickly as possible and scaling as quickly as possible, then there are places where that might happen quicker, but things are getting better.”

He goes on to say that there are a few differences between how things are done in the US and how they are done in Ireland. “Americans are very accustomed to the risks involved when dealing with small software companies.”

“The people in Ireland aren’t so accustomed. They haven’t seen the big successes. But using Silicon Valley as a model for Irish entrepreneurs, it becomes simply a matter of ironing out the kinks and cultural disconnects.”

To help further iron out these kinks and develop better connections, Martin says, “Coming to the awards ceremony is a wonderful PR opportunity.”

“Every time we come across the people that are part of the ITLG (Irish Technology Leadership Group) and the technology leaders that are associated with it, we get rigorously challenged.”

“We certainly learn a lot from these people, even if we spend only two hours with them. You get a good going over in every aspect of the business.”

“For us, the PR opportunity is wonderful, but the feedback and direction from some of the leaders in Silicon Valley is invaluable.”

iPad: The User Experience

With the imminent arrival of iPad 2 into our stores, the team here at Technology Voice began discussing what it is about the iPad that has made it such a success. Despite its perceived flaws (namely the lack of Adobe Flash or a USB port), Apple reports that it sold 7.33 million iPads in the last 3 months of 2010. Why?

In answering this question, the room was divided between those who regard it as merely a scaled up iPod Touch and those who view it as a can’t-live-without device. With this divergence in mind, we decided to investigate how iPad users interact with the tablet and what its true benefits are.

One of the main benefits appears to be the simple user interface which is quick to power up and allows instant access to items including emails, news, pictures or Facebook.

John Breslin sees the iPad as, “a casual device. If I really need to do something serious I’ll do it on the laptop. It’s more for casual browsing or for the kids for playing games. There are great things for kids on it, kind of educational games. My two-year old, you can see her doing puzzles on it that she would never be able to manage on a PC.

“It’s relaxed. When you’re sitting at a PC it’s not relaxed, you’re holding this thing like a book and it’s more casual. You’re not going to be in the same frame of mind doing stuff on a PC than you would be with this device.”

The question of style and marketing is never far from the discussion of an Apple device. Deborah Kemp, an avid Apple fan from Boston says, “There is this weird thing that happens with Apple devices where it’s hard not to want the latest/greatest version even if there’s nothing in the new package you really care that much about.”

Currently, Deborah owns the classic iPod, iPad 3G, MacBook Air, iPhone 4 and counting. Marketing appears to be a significant factor for why some users purchase this tablet device.

But there is more to the succes of the iPad than excellent branding. Lifehacker recently held an ad-hoc Facebook poll which revealed Evernote as a key app for users of the iPad. Evernote allows a user to save ideas, tasks, notes, webpages, photos, view PDFs and more. It can also be installed on other devices to sync content across a number of platforms.

For users who wish to obtain news and information, the iPad and other tablets have been attributed with the ability to provide news content in a more compelling format. It has even been noted that, “publishers hope that tablets will turn out to be the 21st-century equivalent of the printed page.”
Public consumption of news and media is expanding and the iPad offers a new platform for a consumer to digest it.

RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster, released a dedicated iPad application last month.

Executive Director of RTÉ Publishing, Múirne Laffan, explains why RTÉ chose to launch a dedicated iPad app, “It’s really not a case of one size fits all. The reason people are buying iPads is they can do something on them that they can’t do on an iPhone.”

“iPhone apps need to be simpler so that people can work their way around them. If you’re trying to touch something on a touch-screen that’s small — so many times you’ll end up hitting the wrong thing. You need something with less clutter. But with the iPad, given the size of the screen, you can get into more detail.”

Múirne believes that, “Media consumption isn’t declining, it’s actually growing whereby you were somewhat time-based or place-based with more traditional media in terms of; you read your paper in the morning, you watched television in the evening and you listened to the radio in your car. Now people are consuming media everywhere on the go all the time and that goes for TV, radio and print.”

“In terms of content, I think people are doing more with it, I think they’re engaging more, they’re sharing, they’re saying, ‘I like this article or feature’ and they’re pushing it out to their friends. I think that we’re becoming, not just content savvy, but I think were becoming bigger consumers of content.”

“With regard to how the iPad revolutionizes this, is that it makes up for the shortfalls in a smart phone and I think predominantly that’s size. It found a gap and the gap is that it’s bigger. But it’s still highly portable.”

On reflection, it seems that the success of the iPad is in its delivery of something extremely simple – a larger screen size while retaining portability – allowing for casual interaction with the device. Even if it is just a grander scale iPod Touch, this concept in itself has tapped into the needs of a network of users worldwide.

The Awakening: An Interview with Tom McEnery

Tom McEnery is a businessman and writer. He was the Mayor of San Jose from 1983 to 1990 and has had a long and deep interest in Ireland and its history. His Master’s thesis was on Irish Nationalism and Michael Collins. He also edited and wrote the introduction to ‘A New Ireland: Politics and Reconciliation’ by John Hume.

Tom’s grandparents came to America from Kerry at the turn of the 20th Century. His uncle was a priest and a writer who was very interested in Irish history. As Tom says, “I kind of inherited some of his interests as well as his library when I was in college.”

When Tom visited Ireland for the time when he was 19 he felt that strange feeling of belonging that so many members of the Irish Diaspora have when they return to their original homeland.

“It was something for whatever reason, whether apocryphal or emotional, or maybe it was DNA programming, but I felt an immediate connection.”

It is this strongly felt connection and sense of history that has made the events that have taken place in Ireland all the harder to take and he has no illusions about where the responsibility lies, “The idea of the best and the brightest leaving again for the four corners of the world is something that is repulsive to anybody that is in the Irish Diaspora.

“That’s why my grandparents left. That’s why you get these weighty historical tomes which talk about how the Irish have been so successful everywhere else in the world but have not been successful at home.

“When we had an opportunity to grasp that over the last decade we came up with air. Because the polices that were in place were inadequate to deal with the recklessness of the real estate bubble and what were probably the illegalities of just a few banks.

“It shows how the movement of a great people can be destroyed by a couple of dozen ill-conceived decisions and a hundred greedy people.”

When Tom was Mayor of San Jose he established a Sister City relationship with Dublin. While being too modest to claim any kind of responsibility for the subsequent wave of investment in Ireland by U.S. multinationals it would be safe to say he played a role in facilitating some of the processes.

That Tom was active in bringing American business to Ireland can be witnessed by his presence at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Intel plant at Leixlip in 1988. In the the intervening years over €6.0 billion has been invested in making the facility most technologically advanced industrial location in Europe.

But so much promise and hope for the future was lost and squandered in the venality of recent years, “What happened in that period of time was truly extraordinary. It may be redundant to say, but also important to say, that the Celtic Tiger was pretty much destroyed by an era of incompetence and greed. It is really important to reverse that.

“As anybody in the Irish Diaspora or anybody in Ireland knows that for the horrible mistakes that have been made there has to be, number one, accountability.

“But more important than that there has to be a recognition of what went wrong and how can there be what I like to call an Awakening.

“The Irish like these simple one-word things; The Famine, The Uprising, The Troubles. I really think The Awakening is necessary. The anger has to be channelled into constructive areas:

  • “To build the infrastructure and to improve education and training. particularly in engineering, maths and science.
  • “To lead to a new period of innovation with the most important product that Ireland has always had and that is its people.

“The real estate speculation was clearly so wrong. When you think back on all great mistakes, you just wonder how it could have happened. How could World War 1 have happened? If you look back at the misappropriation of the financial assets you have to ask, how could they have been so wrong-headed?”

A key part of the Awakening is to learn as much as possible from what went wrong which will require both candor and transparency and then the application of the lessons learned.

Craig Barrett, the former Chairman of Intel says, “The world hasn’t changed. We have just changed the government.” If we keep the same policies and we don’t fully understand what happened it is not going to lead into a new era of Irish prosperity.

Tom emphasizes this point as well, “That’s what’s critical. That is what is absolutely critical. Look at policies that can be changed. Look at the way you invest your assets. Whether you have hundreds of billions of dollars or hundreds of millions you have to channel them into the areas that will best serve the Irish people.

“Put the resources into building infrastructure and to encourage high value added products that would have help the economy tremendously in terms of exports.”

That means, “Investing in the proper areas of infrastructure, maths, science and engineering.

“What I always did when I was Mayor is when there was a crisis I tried to rely on the smartest people with the clearest judgement.

“An acknowledgement and understanding has to lead to an Awakening. First you look to the assets of the people of the Diaspora, then you look to your own people.

“Then you look at groups like the ITLG and CEOs like John Hartnett, Conrad Burke of Innovalight and John Gilmore of Sling Media. You look to these people and the tens of thousands like them in the US, Canada, Australia and throughout Europe.”

From wherever you start you have to use the best tools at your disposal. Having policies that even with limited budgets that focus on infrastructure and education are absolutely key to the future.

Using the immense resources that reside in the Irish Diaspora is another key element.

Another asset of great importance is the work being done in the universities and research institutes across the country.

As Tom points out, “Here is one policy directive that people a lot wiser than I have found very successful.

“Transfer technology from universities to create wealth and jobs.”

He is referring to the American model of technology transfers as used by MIT and Stanford as methods that could be utilized more fully by Irish institutions such as Queen’s, Trinity and UCD and the other universities throughout the land.

The Awakening, as Tom McEnery describes it, could represent a new era in Irish history where the values of lessons learned from the recent past combined with policies that provide genuine investment and support for long term future growth can lead to a stable home for Irish people everywhere.

A home that Irish people can come and go to as they please without the spectre of forced economic emigration.

The main picture for this article is dawn across the Corrib from NUI Galway
The banner picture for the newsfeed for this article is sunrise over Salthill, Galway

Inishtech: Protecting your Intellectual Property

For many startups and small enterprises it can be enough of an achievement to come up with an idea for a product, get it made and then ship it out the door. However, there is the thorny problem of getting paid. While many web applications can be sold directly to the user from the site or via a third-party such as iTunes there is still plenty of software whose preferred business model requires licensing the product out.

Licensing agreements tend to be manifold in nature. There are variations in how many people can use a given piece of software, how long they can use it for and also where and how it can be used. Also provision has to be made for both renewals of terms and the expansions of agreements.

Inishtech is an Irish company set up to allow software vendors to better manage the protection of their intellectual property.

Aidan Gallagher has spent over 30 years in the Information Technology industry. Aidan, along with two other founders of InishTech, Chief Technology Officer John O’Sullivan and Chief Operating Officer David Smyth, was approached by Enterprise Ireland to look at a technology that Microsoft had that they were considering licensing out.

The software in question allows companies to license their applications and their products so they can sell them more flexibly.

Aidan explains in more detail, ”If you developed an application for instance, you might want to sell it cheaply in a cut down version, or you want to sell the full version at a higher cost. We can do all that for the software developer through a service.

“They can basically put license points in their software and we can control how it’s used and accessed.

“Our clients are primarily dot net developers but we have some large scale enterprise customers as well. They develop software for corporate use and then distribute it around the world. They also want to license it and protect their work.”

“We now have the service up and running in Azure which is the Microsoft cloud platform and we work very closely with Microsoft who have stayed involved in the business as shareholders.

Inishtech now has 10 staff and over a hundred companies as clients.

“What we feel from our point of view is different about InishTech is that, in a very tough recessionary climate, it is increasingly difficult for a start-up to take an idea, commercialize it, get sufficient funds on board to do the development and the commercialization, invest in the sales and marketing, roll it out worldwide etc.

“Anything you can do to short circuit that process in these kind of pressured times is going to be an advantage.

“So, the idea of spinning out a technology that had effectively $30 million invested in it from Microsoft and having that as your starting point makes a lot of sense.

“What we’re really doing is taking something that is already up and running and the challenge now is to commercialize that and get it out in the marketplace.”

Aidan is looking forward to taking part in the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Technology Leaders Awards on April 5th, 2011. It is being held at Stanford University and is sponsored by the Irish Times.

“The ITLG for me is a fantastic forum for us to showcase ourselves as a company in Silicon Valley. It’s obviously a group of very high-powered entrepreneurs. They are very successful guys with a great network of people.

“It’s a way for us to showcase the company, accelerate access to market, access to individuals, access to potential VCs (venture capital) and investment and just accelerate our entry and growth in the US marketplace.”

Movidius: Making the Chips that Power 3D Image Processing

Movidius is a silicon chip company company that is headquartered in Dublin, with operations in Belfast, Romania and Hong Kong. The chips that they create are especially designed to bring the best 3D video experience to mobile phones, tablet computers and consumer products.

The vision for Movidius came from their CTO, David Moloney. He had been doing some research around high-performance computing, and came up with some architectural ideas for new processors that would have a very large amount of computing power with very low power consumption. This could be extremely useful to the mobile computing market as there is only so much power for a given battery size.

That opens lots of opportunities for applications to migrate to the mobile format that were previously only possible to run on PCs.

As well as being a flexible technology that can be applied to lots of different applications in mobile devices, the underlying architecture delivers a very compelling solution for the 3D application area.

There are some quite sizable companies involved in this area, and the CEO of Movidius, Sean Mitchell, explains how they plan to handle themselves in this marketplace, “The strategy that we have approached the market with is not to compete the likes of Invidia or Texas Instruments directly.

“They focus on the main processor within the phone — the application processor. We have developed our chip to be a co-processor that can assist that main processor in delivering its new applications.

“For example, with 3D video, we would be attached to the main application processor, but we would take control of both of the cameras in the system and we would do all the 3D processing. So we are kind of an additional accelerator to boost the performance of the main processor.”

An example of how Movidius products can enable 3D camera—phones be seen in the following video:

Sean continues, “We are complementary to their offering, but they have an ongoing development program themselves so we have to keep ahead of that progress in the main processor and keep offering new stuff.”

The traditional approach to chip manufacturing is to continually up the speed of the processor, but there is an upper limit governed by the need to deliver larger amounts of power to drive them.

Sean says, “Because increasing the processing speed was fundamentally not the way to go – not because of processing but because of power issues – we have adopted a different approach which is a highly parallel, multi-core architecture. It delivers massive computing power but at a much lower level of power consumption per operation.

“We are operating at quite modest clock rates but using much more intelligence in the architecture to deliver the workload.”

Sean is looking forward to showcasing the technology they have at the ITLG/Irish Times Awards, “There’s nowhere else in the world like Silicon Valley where the network connections are so strong. Business is done between people so it is important to make those connections.”

Movidius is one of seven Irish companies that have been invited to the Technology Company Showcase at the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Technology Leaders Awards. It is being held at Stanford University on April 5th and is being sponsored by the Irish Times.

Over the weeks leading up to the event we at Technology Voice will be doing articles on all seven of the companies that are showcasing their technology.

NFC: Using your Mobile to Make Natural Connections

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a form of wireless technology that allows users to receive or share information at short ranges of typically 4cm or less. NFC devices can also communicate with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. It is a technology that has been developed especially to work with mobile phones.

The development of NFC-enabled mobile phones such as the Google Nexus S, has led to the possibility of using a phone as a digital wallet for contactless payment such as that offered by Visa’s Paywave or the
London transport system’s Oyster Card.

NFC technology allows the sharing of information between two NFC mobile devices once they are in close proximity, in a similar way to the way Bluetooth operates, but in a much faster and more convenient way.

In order for two NFC mobile devices to connect, they need only to be within range of each other. Both users confirm the operation, and information may be transferred between the two units.

This can allow users to transfer items such as store vouchers between two “digital wallets” but could also have a transforming impact on the way we engage in social networking.

Two years ago, researchers from the Chair for Information Systems at Technische Universität München developed a prototype application called NFriendConnector which allowed NFC-enabled phones to interact with Facebook.

The prototype, which was submitted to the NFC Forum’s, Global Competition in 2009, came from a desire to, “Use Near Field Communications to map your social life much more easily to your online social life on Facebook,” according to the Munich University’s Philip Koene.

His colleague Felix Köbler notes that, “Just using Facebook or any other social network and sitting in front of a PC device will not be the future.”

He continues, “In the past when people came together in virtual communities in precursors to the social networks of today, people connected online and then transferred their social relationships from online to offline. Now it is basically vice-versa. People map their real social relationships into facebook, so we think that any application that is enabling or even supporting this process is of great help to people.”

The application allows users to swipe their phones alongside each other and download each other’s Facebook profiles to be browsed at a later time. It also contains a function that will match user’s profiles, and generate automated status updates.

“All you have to do is touch the cell phone of the other person and you can make a new friend connection, or you can make a new status message that tells your community on facebook that you have now met this other person. We thought it would be a kind of neat way to map your real life on to your online social networking,” says Philip.

He explains that, “The broad idea was that you kind of have data, for example, that you met this other person in real life, that you’re at a specific location in real life. You can gather this data quite easily because you just have to touch something with your telephone, that’s all that’s basically needed. And then you have an app like NFriendConnector where you can map this data easily on to your social network.”

The application is not available at the moment as it was, “Used from a research perspective actually,” says Felix. “The prototype is basically two years old now so that’s quite a long time when the markets are being filled with applications.

“NFriendConnector was developed in a University setting so with developing it, doing research with it and then publishing it; a lot of stuff happened in that time.”

Philip notes that the speed with which mobile technology is developing also presented a problem, “We developed the NFriendConnector for the Nokia NFC-enabled cell phone of the time which was rather a low key device compared to today’s smart phones.”

A version of the app which translates its features to the Google Nexus S phone is in development. “We don’t have a title, just a working title right now. We hope to bring it onto the Android marketplace when it’s finished just to evaluate it when it’s finished, maybe in a few months,” says Philip.

“What we saw is that people see payment as the big application for NFC, but through our presentations we met other people who see social networking as another possible driver for NFC,” notes Felix.

Philip explains why he his optimistic as to the future of NFC-enable social networking thus, “The whole touch metaphor is extremely simple. If you set the application up right, the user won’t have to do anything else other than touch something and that will then be mapped onto a whole range of social networking sites.”

“It kind of had a slow start, but we believe it’s coming. NFC enables, in my opinion, a very natural interaction with your mobile phone. You just have to touch something with it to start an interaction.”

“The guys from industry always tell us that it’s coming and that this will be the year of NFC. NFC really has a lot of potential and we’re hoping that it’s coming to a bigger market and that we can do broader research with it.”

IPv6: Bigger and Better

The Internet Protocol (IP) is a key part of the mechanism for transferring data across the internet. Information is broken into small packets, and the IP is responsible for relaying and routing them around the system by identifying and locating hosts. The current version is IPv4, and because it is made up in sets of 32 bits, it is limited to having just under 4.3 billion addresses. It seems like a lot but they are almost all used up.

For every day users, access to the internet will carry on just as before, but finding new addresses in the IPv4 system – even allowing for such things as the reallocation of redundant or dormant addresses – is going to be difficult. In effect, we have reached a cap on the growth of the internet.

In February 2011 IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) handed out the last IP address blocks from the global IPv4 central address pool. In a short while, these will be used up. The current best guesstimate is that the last batches will be assigned somewhere around June or July 2011.

This problem didn’t appear out of the blue. Although the original designers must have thought that four billion addresses plus must have been more than adequate, it was apparent as long as fifteen years ago that something must be done to prevent the internet from running out of addresses.

IPv6 was the outcome of that thinking. It has a number of rather important advantages over IPv4:

  • It uses 128 bits instead of 32 bits. This allows for 340 undecillion (3.4 with 38 zeroes after it) addresses. That is a lot but then again that is what they said last time.
  • It comes with the ability to multicast. Information can be sent to different targets in one operation.
  • It allows for a greater variety of devices to be connected to the internet.
  • It allows for mobility of machines. This will make it easier for secure business communications for staff traveling with laptops for instance.

An IPv6-based internet is designed to allow growth for generations to come, and is the only long-term solution to the present lack of address space on the internet. The problem therefore becomes how to implement it.

World IPv6 day, scheduled for 8 June 2011, is a global-scale “test flight” of IPv6 sponsored by the Internet Society — a nonprofit organisation “dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of people throughout the world.”

Google, Yahoo and Facebook will be participating with other major organisations, and will be offering their content over IPv6 for a 24 hour period. This is a motivational effort to ensure that providers of internet services and the associated software and hardware are in good shape to handle the switchover from IPv4 to IPv6.

Most regular users of the internet should not be affected at all. Web services, internet service providers, and operating system manufacturers will be updating their systems to ensure internet users enjoy uninterrupted service.

From the provider’s point of view, there are a number of methods available to them to handle the handover.

  • Services can be run side by side for a while using what is called a dual-stack approach.
  • In certain circumstances some isolated IPv6 networks will be able to run over an IPv4 network by adding a prefix which will allow passage of data.

However, these are temporary measures designed to smooth out the process of the inevitable transition to IPv6.

To test your IPv6 connection and see if the globe is spinning for you, click on this link: or this link