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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the category “Batteries”

Read Anywhere Low Power Displays: Not Far Off?


In the 1990s, I was introduced to a French scientist who, working alone, developed a process for making displays using a reflective coating technology.  He was related to the CEO of a client company that hired my firm to evaluate the money-making potential of the technology.  My colleagues and I were blown away by the possibilities inherent in the technology.  Not only did the displays look terrific, they cost almost nothing to produce and could be laid down on almost any substrate, even paper!  To make a long story short, the technology never saw the light of day.  The scientist, a holocaust survivor, was terrified that someone was gong to steal his ideas and was very difficult to deal with.  Eventually, the company got tired of waiting for him to cooperate.

According to those who claim to know a lot about display technology, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new display ones put forward every year.  Very few ever see the light of day.  However, in the past few years, some new technologies with big money behind them have emerged.  All of them purport to provide high-quality viewing with low power consumption.

You may recall the project called One Laptop Per Child.  It’s aim was to be able to produce a laptop computer for $100, cheap enough so that every kid in every third world country could get one.  The program has achieved some success.  About 50 countries have adopted the device.  The utility of these laptops is, of course, a function of many parameters, but one of the key ones is the display, which has to be easy to read outdoors and use up so little power that the the laptop can be recharged by sunlight, given that electrical outlets are rare in darkest Africa.

The technology that made it possible was developed by Mary Lou Jepson at MIT’s Media Lab.  She has now gone on to found a company called Pixel Qi (pronounced “chee”) that is developing next-generation display technology with the emphasis on low-power consumption.  The company just announced a new screen architecture that it claims matches the resolution, color saturation, contrast ratio and viewing angles of the Apple Retina display, but draws three to 100 times lower power and is readable. in bright sunlight.

Qualcomm, the big mobile phone company, acquired a startup called Pixtronix a couple of years ago that developed a display technology dubbed Mirasol.  Again, high-quality viewing with low power consumption.  Depending on whose article you read, Qualcomm is investing $1 – 2 billion in a plant in Taiwan to produce Mirasol displays.  Samsung, which claims to be the world’s largest consumer electronics company, acquired s company called Liquavista, a spinout from Royal Philips Electronics.  Again, low-power with the ability to read in any lighting condition.

Not to be completely left in the dust, the big-time LCD panel manufacturers like Sharp are working hard on new technologies.  One of these is known as IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) which offers several options including lower power and better resolution than conventional LCD technology.  It was thought by many that Apple would use the technology in its iPad3, but that didn’t happen.

As you might expect, all of the foregoing are looking to replace conventional liquid crystal displays in hand-held and laptop devices.  A San Jose, CA company, Prysm, however, is specializing in low-power large format displays, based on its proprietary laser phosphor display technology.  Imagine an entire wall displaying high-quality video imagery using 75% less power than competing technologies, and you have the idea.

There isn’t enough room in this post to go into the various technologies that these companies are employing, nor the many other display technologies under development at places like the University of Cincinnati.  Follow some of the links in this post, and you’ll at least see what the manufacturers are willing to tell you.

Without picking winners and losers, I am convinced that low-power, high-resolution displays that can be read in any light will be hitting the market big time in the next few years.  The impact on battery life and manufacturing cost will be truly significant.  Think about a tablet or laptop you can read outdoors that charges its batteries without a cord.  To quote Joe E. Brown in Some Like it Hot, “Zowie.”

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IBM’s Uber Battery: Can it be real?


Battery 500 Project Demo System

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Envia company, and its claimed breakthrough in battery technology.  As you would suspect, lots of other people are working on battery technology with the aim of producing an all-electric car that will go 500 miles without needing to be recharged.  One of the most promising efforts is IBM’s Battery 500 project.

With the initial research begun in 2009 at IBM’s Almaden research labs in California, this past week IBM announced that it has built a prototype that demonstrates the efficacy of the technology.  Wired Enterprise calls it the “Uber Battery,” a descriptor I stole for the title of this post.  IBM is not doing this alone.  It is collaborating with researchers in both Europe and Asia, along with universities and National Labs in the US.  Nevertheless, IBM is the driving force, and the project is an outgrowth of IBM’s well-publicized investment in nanotechnology.

It is difficult for a non-chemist to grasp the technology, but, briefly, the system works by using oxygen drawn from the air much as it is drawn into a conventional combustion engine.  Inside the battery’s  cells, the oxygen slips into tiny spaces that measure about an angstrom (0.00000000001 meters), and reacts with lithium ions situated on the battery’s cathode. That reaction turns the lithium ions to lithium peroxide, releasing electrons, thus generating electricity.  For more information oriented to the layman, go to the following website and check out the videos.

IBM credits much of the research advancement to the so-called Blue Gene supercomputers, used to analyze electro-chemical reactions to find alternative electrolyte materials that won’t degrade the battery while recharging.  These computers, located at Argonne National Lab and in Zurich, Switzerland have rung up tens of millions of processor-hours on the project.  The computer modeling is being used to determine how the ions and molecules of different materials will interact.  The hope is to find the optimum combination of materials that will permit commercialization of the technology.

The downside is that it is not expected to be commercialized until at least 2020.  In the meantime, auto manufacturers around the world are licking their collective chops.  If this technology is successful, it will signal the end of imported oil in the US.  The geopolitical implications are enormous.

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