22 posts • joined 15 Apr 2010
Is Google and Nest’s Thread a ZigBee Killer?
There are some good reasons for a new protocol for home automation, as most of what we have is trying to adapt the needs of devices to it, rather than vice versa. Whether Thread goes far enough remains to be seen, but at least the folk at Nest come from an embedded device background which should give them a better perspective.
I do think it will kill ZigBee (http://www.nickhunn.com/is-google-and-nests-thread-a-zigbee-killer/), which will have some other ramifications, not least that we'll soon be deploying 50 million smart meters with an obsolete wireless standard that connects to nothing.
Lessons for Government
It would be nice to see the same principle applied to Government. A few more Ministers with a technical background and the ability to make some evidence based judgments would be a vast improvement on the knee-jerk reactions of the present incumbents..
The Sonic Screwdriver X-Prize?
Given that Qualcomm has persuaded the X-Prize foundation to run a $10 million prize competition for someone coming up with a healthcare device similar to the Tricorder, how about lobbying someone like ARM to fund the equivalent Sonic Screwdriver prize?
What it's really about
There was an interesting perspective from a senior manager at a US energy supplier earlier this year. When asked what the best thing about their smart meter roll-out was at an industry conference, he claimed it was the fact that the data gave them a greater ability to blame the customer.
Late, but on its way.
The industry has been toying with Bluetooth for some time. Unfortunately they got side-tracked by ZigBee's PR and have spent a few years playing with RF4CE. That has given Bluetooth time to get its act together with Bluetooth Smart, which should start appearing in consumer products soon.
The good news for TV manufacturers is that Bluetooth Smart comes as standard in most Smartphones, and both Apple and Android have released APIs for developers. So by switching to Bluetooth, the industry sees the prospect of a future where they no longer need to include any remote control.
Re: The board has rounded corners
I recall AutoCAD having a CTRL-R shortcut to do that back in the 1980s. I'm surprised it was never cited as prior art.
First learn to count
We start off with 33,000 malicious emails a day, but by the time Chloe Smith starts to wax lyrical halfway through that's down to 33,000 a monnth, or just 1,000 a day. Even assuming that users only get one malicious emial per day, which is very low, that implies that only 1,000 people have government email accounts.
So someone either needs to tell George Osborne about an unexpected level of cuts, or take Chloe out of the kindergarten and tell her something about the real world. 1,000 phishing emails a day is not DOOM. We don't need CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGY to counter it. But it would be nice to have a Government minister that doesn't descend into braindead mode the second they encounter a number bigger than ten.
Out of interest, I wonder how the cybersecurity folk like being lumped into the same industry sector as G4S security guards. Although now we've got 26,000 of them, there's probably enough to hold a red flag in front of every government PC.
What about the other losses?
I worked on rotating anode X-ray generators many years ago, which were very similar, in that they had a large mass of metal spinning at high speed in a vacuum. The biggest problem was maintaining the vacuum across a bearing that's rotating at high speed, whilst supporting a large mass. This won't need as high a vacuum as an X-ray generator, but even with the progress in ferrofluidic seals you'll still need pumps running to maintain the vacuum, contributing to the losses.
The other think he'll need to think about is the housing. When the bearing fails on a flywheel this size, the flywheel does a scary amount of damage, like ripping through several inches of steel. So you'll end up with something that probably weighs in excess of a ton. Which means you might be better off sticking with batteries.
What comes around...
Wasn't it 2003 when Ericsson launched this concept as Unlicensed Mobile Access?
And where's the Interoperability
At least DNLA understood that you need to specify conformance tests if it's going to work in the wild. Which is a rather important detail which is stangely missing from most IEEE specifications. As a result they tend to flounder in the market until an external body like the Wi-Fi Alliance comes along, takes them over and adds the missing bits.
So I'd conclude that it does look like DNLA, but without any interoperability or testing. Perhaps it would be wise not to ask Santa for any 1905.1 stuff for the next few decades.
And not just your pincode
There was a fascinating presentation at a recent Cambridge Wireless event by Laurent Simon of the Cambridge University Computer Lab, who not only pointed this out, but also the fact that it's pretty easy to tell whether the user is male or female, as you get very different accellerometer signals depending on whether you carry your phone in your pocket or your handbag. And it doesn't take much imagination to realise there a lot more you can pick up about what the user's doing.
You can download his presentation from http://bit.ly/WDpWgI
And the fun bit
The marketing premise of these energy-havesting light switches is that because they need no batteries or wiring, you can just stick them where you want with velcro. Which means that you can have lots of fun by moving them all around someone's house, so that they appear to randomly turn on lights in other rooms.
Excellent for drunken parties. We need more standards like that.
Never trust anyone named after a vegetable
Swedish trick cyclist? Sounds like one of Baldrick's cunning plans involving a blonde turnip...
If in doubt, threaten the kids
Back in 2000, the Bluetooth SIG put a lot of effort into lobbying regulators to harmonise the 2.4GHz band around the world. That’s benefited the industry as a whole, as it means that wireless designers can design one global product. They never succeeded in a complete harmonisation, and the biggest gap is because of the Band 14 restrictions within the US, which means that Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT and ZigBee products have a little less spectrum to occupy than they do elsewhere in the world.
Globalstar’s attempt to carve out alternative uses for the satellite band seem rather disingenuous. There’s a good argument for the FCC to ask whether the top end of the band actually needs to be protected, but consider following the rest of the world and make it unlicensed. In this light Globalstar are playing the pre-emptive marketing card of protesting that if their request is not granted they will take away internet access from our children, kill our kittens and put horse meat in our burgers. I’d side with the argument for increasing the unlicensed spectrum.
Sounds like the Hitchhiker's Guide come true
Isn't this a remarkably similar ploy to the one in the Hitchiker's Guide to rid the Earth of hairdressers, account executives, film makers, security guards, telephone sanitisers, and the like? Roll on the imminent disaster...
Where's innovation gone?
As a small start-up I quite like it. I agree that it will encourage trivial patents, but if I need to write a trivial patent to get some tax relief I'd claim that's where the innovation bit comes in. Whilst I'd pay a patent attorney for a patent that covers a real invention, I don't see the same need for a trivial one just for patent box. So it shouldn't cost more than £250 to get something granted that gets me tax relief on something I sell.
I just see it as a useful extension of R&D tax releif once I get the product into manufacture. But anyone who pays consultants or patent attorneys to get that trivial patent is probably wasting their money.
Incompetent school IT
If the school isn't capable of running a timetabling program, it's probably not the best place to be taught A level ICT. Maybe your son should offer to do the timetabling for them in the future, as it sounds as if he could do a better job. And the drama course should help him deal with next year's awkward parents if their little darlings still don't get the options they want.
Here comes climate change...
Has anyone worked out what the additional power consumption of all of thse multi-processor PCs running full tilt for 24 hours a day will be? Add those all up and from an energy perspective it probably make the Japanese Super K look like a solar powered BBC micro.
Still, if there's anyone out there, it should mean we're glowing nicely.
The dangers in relying on a brand rather than the physics
Although handset antenna design is very much black magic, there are some well known things to test when you’re designing a handset. One of which is that the antenna doesn’t work in the way the data sheet claims. As soon as you hold it, or put it next to your head the performance changes. That’s because parts of the body act as a ground plane, effectively detuning the antenna.
As a result an antenna that works well on a bench may barely work when next to your ear. That’s a phenomenon that has been exploited in the past to tune antennae so that they work better when you’re looking at it in your hand, rather than when it’s held next to the ear. The cynical reason for that is you’ll see a better signal strength when you’re looking at the display and consumer research has shown that if the signal looks good, users blame the network, not the phone.
That means a smartphone has a compromise: is it more important that you get good reception when showing an app to a friend, or when you’re trying to make a call.? If you always use a Bluetooth or wired headset then handheld is easy to optimise. Otherwise life gets very difficult.
The Wi-Fi Direct technology blinkers
Of course, the low power Wi-Fi approach is coming along just as Bluetooth low energy is launching, with its promise of reducing power consumption by several orders of magnitude below anything WI-Fi Direct can achieve. So this could be a classic example of building a brand new stable after the horse has bolted.
As always, wireless standards never meet their delivery dates. Wi-Fi direct was promised to be complete and have a qualification process in place around now. The Ozmo announcement implies that is probably still a year away. Although equally delayed, the Bluetooth low energy standard was published last December. Its qualification process should be in place by the end of this month and at least three companies are ready and waiting to start shipping chips.
One interesting point is that much of the Bluetooth low energy work is happening in Europe, which is frequently off the radar for US technology companies. As happened with GSM, they only believe what they see in sunny California, and then wonder what's hit them when the European standards arrive. So Bill McLean’s confidence may yet turn out to be more than a little myopic.
And to answer the pricing question, a Bluetooth low energy chip will be around one fifth of the cost of a Wi-Fi Direct chip, as it’s been designed for minimum silicon area. Plus it has the advantage that the volumes are higher, as they ride on the mass volume cellphone market, whereas Wi-Fi is limited to the much smaller smartphone and laptop markets.
Ageing geeks? There's an application for young and beautiful Register hacks.
There’s more below the covers of Bluetooth 4, or Bluetooth low energy as it’s colloquially known, than is implied in the article.
The range isn’t a result of higher power, as that wouldn’t work with ultra low power devices that run on coin cells. Instead there have been some fundamental changes to the radio specification, such as increasing the modulation index. It means that at a lower power of around 1mW you should get a range greater than 50 metres. There’s a good example of that being put to use in a radio controlled car at www.bit.ly.btlecar.
Bluetooth low energy’s focus is around consumer devices that connect to the phone. There is certainly a contingent of ageing geeks with an increasingly vested interest in health devices, but there are plenty of opportunities for a younger market. The spec includes the ability to measure distance between devices, so these range from child and pet monitors through to access control and lost phone detectors. And it will be cheap to put it into all sort of everyday products that connect via your phone to your Facebook page. So, for example, every time a Register scribe fills up their Bluetooth low energy coffee cup after a gruelling session at the keyboard, their public caffeine score can be updated for the world to see. You can see some more applications at www.bit.ly/btlespec.
As to who will win, that comes down to whoever gets incorporated into the most compelling products that people want to buy. Bluetooth low energy has the advantage that it will connect to a mobile phone that supports the new standard, and there are around 1 billion Bluetooth phones shipped every year. So whether it’s working with an app on the phone, or using the phone as a gateway to a website, the receiving half of the radio link exists. That means people can just but their new Bluetooth low energy toy as an accessory. That’s a major advantage that ZigBee doesn’t have – it has to persuade consumer to stump up for both ends of the connection.
Higher, not lower
The U.S. allows higher Wi-Fi powers than Europe, not lower. You can transmit up to 1W, compared to 100mW in most of Europe (France excepted). However, that's probaly a red herring.
All of Europe and many other countries require any new wireless transmitting device that works at greater than 10mW to be registered before it can be shipped. In Europe that's through the R&TTE approval process. It's generally a paperwork exercise, but it takes three months. That's something most manufacturers understand and incorproate into their product release plans. If Apple hasn't done it, it's either because it's forgotten, or not actually believed that anyone would consider the iPad worth carryign around with them.
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