Thursday, April 27, 2006

It's not java and it's not just scripting.

After swearing never to do it again, Greg has organised a new tech meeting in London.

This time it's JavaScript.

A great language with a lousy name.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's all about execution.

I was talking to a friend about using printed electronic gaming cards which he has designed and built and combining such a physical game with an online world (MMORPG).

The idea was simple.

In the offline world a sorcery style competitive card game, with each player taking the role as a wizard in combat. Each player puts a spell card into the electronic reader, which determines who wins the round (and therefore keeps the card). A sort of my card trumps yours.

In the online world, with your electronic reader attached to your PC, then if you have the right cards it would provide new quests for your online character.

The rules were simple, the electronics possible and hopefully mainly printable - hence low cost.

With ideas like these you know instinctively that someone else is always playing around with such concepts, even in a different form, and sure enough we found it.

It reminds me of eight months I spent writing a book (unfinished) in 1993. The story was based upon a concept of a person who discovers (by being rescued) that he has been living in a virtual world.

It starts with him waking up after a nightmare of drowning in a tube full of a gelatinous liquid with "chains" around him. Of course when he is rescued he finds he has been living in a tube full of gelatinous liquid with cables all connected into his body. He is just one in a cavern of tubes and so the story goes on to the rescuers, the freedom fighters against this slave world etc.

Anyway, I talked to a number of friends and others around Cambridge about the concepts and story, got sucked into other activities and left it at that. Many years later a friend told me about this film called the Matrix, and many of the concepts in that film were similar.

Since then I have met other people who have independently worked on "Matrix" like concepts and as everyone knows the grand-daddy of this all, is of course Plato, so he trumps everyone by a few thousand years.

Just goes to show you, anytime you think of an idea it is likely that someone, somewhere else in the world is independently thinking or has thought of the same idea.

What matters though is not just the idea, but the execution and making it happen.

i.e. for something not to be worth the paper it is printed on, it first has to be printed.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Printing electronics

IDTechX printed electronic conference was a real eye opener as to the state of the industry and great fun to boot.

Great fun? Well not only because of the cool technology and the interesting people, but it was in my old haunt of Cambridge. I was camped out in Churchill college, which is a bit of backwater in terms of bars but the room were good, the surroundings great and the long walk back in the evening seemed worth it.

There was around 200+ attendees with companies varying from printers, electronic manufacturers, ink and material specialists and the ubiquitous VCs.

Several main themes to the discussions -

* Printed electronics is not a replacement for silicon (well not anytime soon that is) however you can inkjet print circuits at close to the 5 micrometer resolution (in labs, not published), as well as printing active and passive components (transistors, resistors etc).

* Lots of other printing technologies (flexographic etc) are relevant - especially for mass production of printed electronics - reel to reel printing. A number of companies are making real progress in this area - there is a particular focus on printing RFID tags.

* Use of printed electronics and the whole area of direct printing (use of printing techniques to manufacture objects) is expected to find commercial applications in niche areas over the next few years - in some areas it is already happen.

* Don't just limit yourself to printing circuit and the components, you can also print batteries, displays, memory and even photo sensors.

Over the last ten years the whole area of direct printing of objects has come on leaps and bounds, from the macro scale to the micro scale. No-one yet has started to put all this technology together, but the potential is there.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Spime monitor

Though they are not printed and they are not really spimes - it's heading in the right direction.

The smart rabbit
The RFID robot

Patent vs Innovation

A strong voice in the patent argument (especially against the idea of software patenting) has long been that the patent process no longer supports but inhibits innovation - principally due to a mismatch in the duration of patents and the speed of innovation.

According to IT BRANSCHEN , a six-month research project by Ovum has led to the conclusions that:-

"The current software patent regime hampers innovation and must be radically changed"

Also from the Research Director who led the project.

"If every patent were 'exercised' it is hard to see how anyone would be able to write or sell any software at all."Garry Barnett, Ovum


Maybe, one day we will see patents (which are a state monopoly provided for an idea) be limited in duration to a timeframe in which society could be reasonably expected to independently create such an idea or a more rigorous application of the novel test or some other factor.

Until that time, software patenting will continue to be driven by a defensive arms race and a patent everything attitude, and this house of cards may drag a noble idea down.

As it stand the trend would seem to be patent vs innovation - which helps no-one in the long run.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bits to Atoms and vice versa.

Neil Gershenfeld has an excellent article in Computer World on the work that his group is doing.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Of patents and DRM

I was asked recently "If I'm so interested in 3D printing and printing objects, why do I talk so much about patents & DRM?"

It's fairly simple.

Advancements in printing technology (as well as novel use of existing technology) is creating a world where objects can be printed. There are obvious industrial benefits to doing so, not least of which is the ability to create shorter product runs.

I've written various papers on this over the last 10 years, however in order to make this post reasonably short, I'll summarise :-

The world is rapidly heading in a direction where objects (including electronic components) are printable and customisable, even the printers themselves.

Want a mobile communication device? Download your favourite design, tweak it with the wizard if you must and then print it. (batteries included).

This is much nearer to reality than most people realise, basic structures, basic electronic components (passive and active) have been "printable" for a considerable time, even batteries.

I'm a great believer in human creativity, and hence I would wish to avoid a a future where when the technology is widely available it is crippled to only allow "approved" designs to be printed - under a DRM for objects - for intrenched financial positions masquerading as consumer concerns (security, safety etc).

Patents which cover processes and outputs, such as "using inkjets to print interreconnects between electronic components" - the printing object equivalent of soldering two components together - could hinder progress. However, this is nothing compared to the possible mismatch between patent processes and duration and the pace of future development.

Direct printing of objects is an industrial revolution covering such concepts as "every home owning its own factory" to "ubiquitous manufacture" - many of our current processes and thinking will need to change as a result.

That's why I take an interest in DRM and the patents process.