Monthly Archives: June 2008

Cerrado por Vacaciones

I go on summer holidays. So during the next weeks posts might be more infrequent.

See you soon


Wireless Energy Transmission for my Laptop

When will my laptop be totally wireless, even to recharge the battery? The future might be sooner than we thought, and Nanotechnology will be part of it.

There are many types of Wireless Energy Transmission although none of them have gone further than a prototype. For home use, powerbeaming could be the technology to free our portable devices from wires. Powerbeaming works based on a Laser system at one end that beams to a Solar Cell at the other end that transforms light into a DC current.

Current lasers have a 30-60% efficiency that combined with a 40-50% efficiency of solar cells, brings the overall efficiency at a maximum of 30%, still not too bad compared with electric bulbs. But Nanotechnology might boost these efficiencies at both ends.  

Solid-state lightning  promises up to 100% efficiency to convert electricity into light, once that we have atomically precise manufacturing technologies to arrange light-emitting building blocks in a controlled manner.

Today’s CIGS, CdTE or thin-film silicon are bringing down prices of Solar Cells. The ability to manufacture defect-free nanomaterials would improve efficiency at an exponential rate. With laptops foreseen to be equipped with solar cells in less than 10 years, solid-state lightning beams could be a wireless replacement to a wall socket.

 Picture from Wikipedia: NASA prototype of lightweight plane powered by a laser beam and a solar cell.

Nokia to Get Full Control of Symbian

Nokia announced today a bid to acquire 100% of Symbian. Nokia already owns 48% of the shares, and would purchase the remaining shares for 264 million euro, from their current Symbian partners Sony Ericsson, Telefonaktiebolaget, LM Ericsson, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Siemens International Holding and Samsung Electronics.

Even though it may seem that Nokia wants to reinforce Symbian, with plans even to make it open source, the truth is this operation may benefit even more Sony Ericsson, Panasonic or Samsung that now will be free to go Android without conflicting interests. In fact, Samsung is already a member of the Open Handset Alliance.

As we mentioned before, Nokia Symbian usability is very poor when compared to iPhone, Blackberry, Android or even Windows Mobile. And this is also affecting Nokia brand.

As well as making it open source, Nokia should better rethink its Mobile OS user interface, or they might get into trouble as Android will target low-end handsets too, eating from Nokia’s last stronghold.

Nokia Still Don’t Get it

 “It is the usability, stupid.”

In essence, Nokia keeps developing mobile phones, when younger generations do not care about a phone but about communications in an ample sense (IM, Facebook, web, etc) and multimedia (music, music , music, clips and music). And they do not want multimedia to be a poor media player added on a phone with not even a plug for a standard earbuds stereo jack.

Examples of usability for Nokia phones (and most traditional mobile phone vendors):
1) Why insist on a dialpad inherited from old telephones, when most calls are initiated by a click in the address book?
2) Why is the main input interface still based on a numeric keypad, when most of the inputs are actually text (SMS, URLs, IM, address book names,…)?

Blackberry got it right from the start, as any Blackberry user will confirm. This is THE device for corporate email. Easy to read and navigate through emails, easy to write with the keyboard, easy to search and file messages while wirelessly synchronizing with your inbox, calendar and address book on your laptop/server. Even Windows Mobile did a better job than Symbian in usability, phone stability problems and high prices aside.

iPhone has definitively raised the bar, and every one is expecting Android to follow the path, only with a wider hardware variety from the Open Handset Alliance vendors.

“The innovation […] is not that they let us do something new, but that they allow us to do what we already do better, more often, in more places and more quickly.” -Joshua Porter

Blackberry and iPhone definitively got it right.

Nokia keeps trying and now Comes with Music, to counter-attack the iPhone-iTunes duo. Will that be enough for music fans to choose an N81 over an iPhone? I doubt it. Nokia’s market share will be sustained by low cost phones, specially in Asian developing countries. (That assuming that Apple does not halve iPhone price next year into $99…)


It Is Time for Renewable Energy

The high prices of oil in the seventies stimulated the research for alternative sources of energy. Nuclear power plants emerged as a very cost-effective energy source, though always controversial. Windmills and solar plants were in their infancy and too inefficient, while hydroelectric plants, apart from the high environmental impact, only can cope with a small percentage of the energy demand. In the eighties and nineties oil prices went down, and with cheap oil the progress on renewable energies slowed down.

Now, the high oil prices have returned driven by the increasing demand for energy in the developing world (specially China and India). The high price is making economically viable to extract oil from other sources, such as tar sands or liquefied coal. This means oil reserves will still last for a while, but oil will remain expensive.

Add the concerns on global warming, and this time renewable energies are here to stay. Many governments in developed countries are considering to tax emissions of CO2. This tax on coal, oil and gas power plants, with high oil prices, would start making renewable energies a cheaper alternative. It is what calls RE<C, or renewable energies cheaper than coal. Google’s initiative will focus on areas such as solar thermal, wind, and geothermal, that promise utility scale energy production.

Solar technologies are one of the most promising option to power the planet cleanly. New thin-film photovoltaics with mixtures of new materials (cadmium telluride or CIGS) are bringing costs down and built on top of steel and crsital, the cells can be part of the roof structure of buildings or vehicles. The efficiency of this new solar cells is lower than bulk silicon cells, but the efficiency is improving at a pace close to Moore’s law in computers, with big names, as IBM, getting involved. With the promise of nanotechnology bringing new techniques and materials, like carbon nanotubes, expect an efficiency boost in the coming years.

If Internet made the network decentralized, solar cells will also make power generation a distributed process in 20 years.

Related reading:
Another silicon valley? From The Economist print edition Jun 19th 2008

The Nanotechnology Revolution Is Coming

Nanotechnology aims a the fabrication of a wider range of materials with atomic precision. Advances in nanotechnology will have a huge impact in solving some of the challenges of today, such as global warming, sustainable energy, new cures for diseases, more powerful computers or ultra-high performance materials.

Some of the immediate applications we will see in the coming years include:

  • Nano-enabled fuel cells and solar photovoltaics
  • Anti-vital, cancer agents
  • Nano-Biosensors
  • Electric Nanomotors
  • Post-silicon computers, including Petabit memories and exaflop processors
  • Solid State Lighting. OLED and LED could provide close to 100% thermodynamic efficiency, compared to 22% or current artificial lighting

In computing, nanotube transistors would enable faster microprocessors, data storage could be based on DNA structures, and optical transmission would use Optical Waveguides that replace glass by atomically precise crystalline structures that would eliminate the irregularities that cause signal loss.

A bright future that requires atomically precise manufacturing (APM) capabilities to be mastered. Atomically precise productive nanosystems (APPN) are nanoscale APM systems to fabricate nanostructures. APPN exist in nature, such as a ribosome that “manufactures” proteins. Advances in Atomically Precise Technologies, and in particular in APM and APPN, in next years will be key to enable the Nano-Industrial revolution.

The First Step for Mobile TV is Free-To-Air

Internet and Software companies know it well: mass adoption comes first, revenues will come later. It is what Chris Anderson calls Freeconomics. When the marginal cost of every new subscriber is close to zero, free is the way to go: Freemium, Ads or Cross-subsidize models can later monetize a massive audience base.

Mobile Operators are not familiar with the economics of “free”, but for Broadcast Mobile TV, Free To Air is a wise first step to create awareness and push for mass adoption. The Korean authorities forced T-DMB spectrum licensees on a free-to-air business model. T-DMB had 5 million users by year end 2007, compared to 1 million users of the S-DMB satellite pay-TV model launched earlier.

DVB-H service providers, like 3 Italy, are now switching to offer free-to-air channels, as well as different packages to access premium content, such as Pay-TV subscriptions and pay-as-you-go:

  • MOBILE TV TARIFFS OF 3 ITALIA: Daily, weekly or monthly packages, with or without other services included. Pay-as-you-go users can access the mobile TV service at €4 per day, €9 per week, €19 per month or 29€ for 3 months. Alternatively, subscribers can pay €29 per month getting free access to all digital mobile TV services, access to 3 Club on 3 Mobile Portal, free national calls and one GB/month of mobile broadband Internet. As of June 2008, RAI 1, RAI 2, Mediaset, Sky Meteo 24, Current TV and La3 are made available free-to-air to those with DVB-H receivers. La3 is an in-house channel, showing sports, music and entertainment programming.

The bigger the base of Mobile TV handsets and users, the bigger the market to up-sell premium content (including pay-per-view), or to get advertisement revenues for zapping ad insertion, as an example.

In broadcast television, Pay-TV models (like Canal +, or cable TV) only came decades after free-to-air television was watched by millions, sponsored by advertisement. Once every house has at least one TV-set , today Pay-TV is a popular model and a (very) profitable business.

The adoption of new technologies takes some time, specially when handset renovation is required. “Free” is an excellent choice for Mobile TV providers to create a mass audience first. Premium content will come soon after. The good news is that being a broadcast technology, it is the same investment to build nation coverage for one user that for ten million.

Mobile TV related links:
Faultline: “Free to air mobile TV has won – the war is over” — MobiTV
Searching for a Mobile TV Business Model
Mobile TV must be free-to-air-service
3 Italia – TV Digitale Mobile DVB-H