Tired of mucking about with your touchscreen? Constantly having to worry about scratching the screen in your pocket? Wiping the face of it with your t-shirt to get your greasy finger marks off it? Microsoft may have an answer.
SideSight, a prototype by Microsoft, uses Infrared proximity sensors to determine which way you want to spin or expand the screen of your smartphone. “The sensors can read inputs up to 10 centimeters away, just through reflected infrared light.” This way you can browse through your phone without having to worry about mucking up your screen.
While this technology is limited (for instance, you need a flat surface for the sensors to work), it shows some amazing potential for future phone interactions. By placing sensors all around the phone, you will be able to use your hands directly in front of the screen in order to shuffle through images or browse sites. Being able to tell exactly where your hands are gives you the added bonus of being able to control the interface with individual fingers or your hand position itself, something the touchscreen can only do through physical contact.
One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.
And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'. The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption. Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.
Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
As sensors and computers continue to spread throughout the world they quantify our environment and offer the opportunity of real-time feedback. Case in point is Honda's new "Ecological Drive Assist System for Enhanced Real World Fuel Economy", a sensor/display system that learns your driving style and conditions you to become a more ecologically conscious driver.
Here's what the interface will look like:
And here's Honda's description of the new system:
TOKYO, Japan, November 20, 2008– Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced the development of the Ecological Drive Assist System, which combines three functions to enhance fuel economy: the ECON Mode utilizes harmonized control of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and engine to support more fuel-efficient driving; the guidance function uses speedometer color to provide real-time guidance on fuel-efficient driving; and thescoring function provides feedback about current driving practices, as well as feedback on cumulative, long-term fuel-efficient driving.
Decades ago IBM earned the nickname 'Big Blue' for the color of its corporate logo and mainframes (*), but maybe it was really a sneak peak at its role in digitizing Planet Earth?
There is tremendous growth ahead around 'instrumenting' ecosystems and built environments with sensors, and creating the software systems to make sense of what's actually happening on the planet.
How long before the mainstream world catches onto the idea of a 'Digital Gaia'? How long before companies like IBM, Cisco, Johnson Controls and Honeywell can fully instrument the world and create massive computer simulations that give birth to a mirror world Digital Earth image that suddenly seems alive because we humans can measure it and visualize the changes? I imagine we'll see changes within a decade or two.
This week IBM unveiled its new Strategic Water Management Solutions to help governments, water utilities, and companies monitor and manage water more effectively. IBM also released its Global Innovations Outlook devoted to Water [PDF]. Below is a video clip higlighting Big Blue's SmartBay sensor system, which monitors wave conditions, marine life and pollution levels in and around Galway Bay, Ireland
Announcement #2 Novel Water Desalination Membrane [Including Video]
2009 might turn out to be a great year to be a startup involved in 'smart' energy solutions that tap the power of software, sensors, microcontrollers and storage systems.
Energy bloggers are all talking about 2009 as the 'Year of the Smart Grid', and energy analysts expect to see major public-private investments over the next two years in efficiency and energy management.
We have written about visions of a 'smart' planet being promoted by companies like IBM, Honeywell and Johnson Controls. But now we have the first major '09 investment in start up Sentilla, which has raised $7.5 million to deliver solutions for commercial and industrial facilities.
It might be premature to call Sentilla a 'smart energy' startup since its vision is much broader than electricity. It's future growth is based on a vision of an 'embedded object' world often described as 'Pervasive' or 'Ubiquitious' computing. In this future every object has built in awareness, intelligence and networked capabilities (e.g. Zigbee). Sentilla's offerings span energy managment, safety and security, and logistics/asset managment. But in 2009, selling themselves as a 'smart energy' company might be the best route!
Researchers at Georgia Tech University have developed a new type of small-scale electric power generator able to produce alternating current (AC) through the repeated stretching and releasing of zinc oxide wires held with in a flexible plastic substrate that can be incorporated into almost any material.
This new type of piezoelectric generator can produce up to 45 millivolts by converting nearly seven percent of the mechanical energy applied directly to the zinc oxide wires into electricity. A complex array of these devices could be used to charge sensors or low power embedded MEMS devices.
Why is this important to the future?
Micro and nano-scale power systems are going to be in high demand in a future increasingly dependent on sensors and microelectronics. Piezoelectric generators could become a low cost, more durable alternative to miniaturized batteries and fuel cells used to power the billions of sensors, smart tags, and MEMS devices expected to hit the marketplace over the next two decades.
“The flexible charge pump offers yet another option for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy,” said Professor Zhong Lin Wang of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This adds to our family of very small-scale generators able to power devices used in medical sensing, environmental monitoring, defense technology and personal electronics.”
Ecobee, the makers of the Smart Thermostat announced new sales offices opening in California and New England. The Smart Thermostat allows for the consumer to save time, energy, and money by controlling the thermostat of their home through touch screen programming and a personalized web portal.
Interest in Ecobee’s newest offices is taking off. “Our Regional Sales Managers on both coasts have been very busy due to the company’s phenomenal start,” says Ecobee CEO Stuart Lombard.
Why is this important to the future?
Ecobee’s products symbolize a new wave of the future of appliances where we actively manage our energy appliances. With the Smart Thermostat, consumers have greater awareness and more control of when systems are used, for how long, and at what cost. This type of awareness, knowledge, and control over energy systems is fundamental in making an environmental and energy-centric change.
What to Watch
Keep a look out for appliances to be ‘smarter’ in the near future as companies integrate sensors, microcontrollers, and web-based software to create new levels of control that helps costumers save energy and money. The booming pre-sales of the Smart Thermostat is a positive indicator that people are thinking in the direction of a change.
While most companies are focused on growth opportunities around powering homes, cars and factories of the future, some entrepreneurs and startups are targeting another 'next big thing' in micro-power and energy storage systems.
What's the Big opportunity around Small devices? A new era of expanded integration of smart sensors and microcontrol systems is likely to change our world, in the same way computer chips and PCs did in the last half of the 20th cenutry. Technology futurists call this the 'embedded age', or era of ubiquitous and pervasive computing. Even IBM sees a Smart Planet based on an 'instrumented world' where the number of sensors and micro-devices feeding small bits of data onto the 'web' vastly outnumbers today's connected 'computers and servers'.
Imagine new information flows from every product, car, boat, airplane, person, pet, and farm animal all being gathered by low-powered sensors. Imagine building a global smart infrastructure where every connection point along the energy grid, highway and pipeline is monitored in real-time. All these embedded devices sending small packets of mundane, but important data. Each of these devices will need small amounts of power and an integrated energy storage system.
This could be one of the biggest market opportunities in energy over the next century- powering billions of new portable gadgets, sensors (e.g RFIDs), and micro-electromechanical (MEMS) devices integrated into future everyday objects.
Seeing a future in 'Energy Harvesting' Colorado-based Infinite Power Solutions, Inc. (IPS) has raised a Series B round of $13 million to commercialize its solid-state, rechargeable thin-film battery that could be used to 'harvest' ambient energy from micro-power systems driven by light, motion, or heat. Energy futurists imagine these types of energy storage systems integrated into other micro power systems, rather than rely on the old battery schematic of plugging into a wall socket.
The money will go to ramp up volume production of its new THINERGY™ micro-energy cell (MEC™) product family from its new (and 'the world’s first') facility for volume manufacturing of solid-state,rechargeable thin-film batteries.
Johnson Controls is quietly becoming one of the most relevant companies in the new energy world. And while it is often off the radar of most cleantech and eco-enthusiasts it might have the best set of tools and systems to accelerate our shift into a new energy economy based on software, sensors and micro-controllers. And it is possible that by mid century Johnson Controls could be behind some of the most measurable advances in energy efficiencies on the planet.
Reinventing itself for the 21st Century
Johnson Controls is one of those companies that touches our lives every time we drive our cars or step into a building. Yet it remains an obscure industrial brand to most consumers.
But make no mistake about it, Johnson Controls is massive and by most accounts it sees the future quite clearly. Its 140,000 employees stretch across 1,300 locations with clients in 125 countries. It has been around since 1885 and understands the need to change and reinvent itself as the world transforms its major industries.
Today, Johnson Controls touches almost every aspect of mechanical life with its systems used inside vehicles, buildings and industrial appliances. And, without sounding too much like a love fest or a stock endorsement, this is a company that could change the world dramatically in years ahead around electric vehicles, smart infrastructure and building systems.
There is a saying in the energy industry that 'the cheapest power plant is the one you don't have to build'.
The alternative to focusing on the 'supply' side of finding new sources of clean electricity, is to reduce the demand side of energy use.
There are many ways to be more efficient through better products (e.g. light bulbs, refrigeration), services (e.g. Smart Grid managment) and integration of new energy systems (e.g. energy storage, onsite power generation). And there are hundreds of companies that provide energy management solutions to homes and commercial businesses. But until recently we have not had an updated industry level forecast of how much energy could be saved given the right leadership and regulatory framework for utilities.
Looking ahead to 2030 A new study from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that efficiency gains could reduce the rate of growth for US electricity consumption by 22% between 2008 and 2030. 'The potential energy savings in 2030 would be 236 billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 14 New York Cities.'
The EPRI study uses a growth rate baseline of 1.07% based on projections set by the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2008 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO 2008).
EPRI believes that with strong political leadership and regulatory changes electricity consumption in the U.S. residential, commercial, and industrial sectors could be reduced to an annual rate of 0.83% between 2008 through 2030. Under the most 'ideal' conditions that rate could be lowered to 0.68% per year.
Read more: Assessment of Achievable Savings Potential From Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in the U.S (Executive Summary)