Archive for the ‘Gear’ category

Microsoft reveals multi-touch Surface cousin, called Sphere

July 29, 2008

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a tech blog post up from a writer who visited the nearby Redmond campus of the software giant, for a look at a different spin on the multi-touch Surface concept.

It’s a silver ball that multiple users can fiddle with at the same time, the point of which largely escapes poor, clueless me. It has the usual satellite image of the world (which you can spin! … Whee!!!), photos you can stretch and slide around, and so on.

The Microsoft researcher stressed this is just a test to see what kinds of surfaces this sort of technology can be applied to.

Ok. My dumb-assed point of view is that maybe they try this out on some surfaces that actually have a commercial or consumer application. There are countless applications looking for an affordable solution, like multi-language wayfinding in public places. Why do we keep seeing demos of people flipping photos around???

Anyway, read on …

After months of rumors, Microsoft researchers are taking the wraps off a prototype that uses an internal projection and vision system to bring a spherical computer display to life. People can touch the surface with multiple fingers and hands to manipulate photos, play games, spin a virtual globe, or watch 360-degree videos.

Sphere, as it’s known, is expected to be shown publicly for the first time Tuesday at Microsoft’s Faculty Summit in Redmond. For now, it’s purely a research project. The company says it doesn’t currently have plans to offer it as a product. The idea is to see what the technology can do, and how people will use it.

“It’s really an exploration of ideas,” explained Hrvoje Benko, the Microsoft researcher spearheading the project, during a sneak preview Monday afternoon.

Sphere is a cousin of the Microsoft Surface tabletop computer, already being used in retail and hospitality settings. The underlying hardware for Sphere is sold commercially by Global Imagination of Los Gatos, Calif., but Microsoft researchers made numerous enhancements and developed specialized software.

In a broader sense, the project reflects Microsoft’s belief that many more surfaces will become computer displays, with embedded microprocessors, in the years to come. That view is championed by Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, one of two executives filling Bill Gates’ role at the company.

By their very nature, curved surfaces present unique challenges as computer displays. And in that regard, the sphere is the extreme example.

The Microsoft researchers came up with advanced algorithms to translate images originally intended for a flat computer screen so that they appear properly on the rounded globe, on the fly. They also added an infrared system that can sense when hands or objects are placed on the sphere, to let people interact.

“I believe what we are seeing is the emergence of various kinds of interactive surfaces,” Benko said. “This is one surface that might be serving a particular purpose, but it should probably live in an ecosystem of other surfaces. So what’s really interesting to us is what kinds of interactive surfaces we can make, how well we can make them, and how people interact with them — how they are used.”


Dell’s new little guy, the Studio Hybrid, breaks below $500

July 28, 2008

PC maker Dell has announced some details and a name for its new micro PC, aimed at the consumer market but undoubted capturing the interest of screen network operators looking for a player that’s small and relatively inexpensive.

Called the Studio Hybrid, Gizmodo is reporting the unit will cost $499 and is available now in a range of cool colors.

Dell’s Hybrid mini PC is pretty much their worst kept secret ever (which is kinda sayin’ something!) but as of now it can officially adorn the desktop corners of eco- and space-conscious college freshmen or slip into entertainment centers for $499. It’s 80 percent smaller than a standard desktop while slurping 70 percent less power, and 95 percent of the packaging is recyclable, plus it comes with a system recycling kit.

There’s also a review of the unit here at PC Magazine online, though the suggestion there is the price is more like $874. Methinks that’s with the fastest CPU, while I saw some other stuff online suggesting there is a lower-end, slower Celeron that is probably more like the $500 number.

And there are snappies here at Ubergizmo.

The unit is 7″ by 8″ by 3″, which is not as small as the Mac Mini or the little Aopen boxes a lot of people are using (because they’re small enough to slap on the back of a panel or tuck under a counter). But it is still pretty small.

The pros of this sort of thing for our space: cost; reputable, known manufacturer; customer service, among other things …

The cons (and even the Dell guys will say this): it’s a consumer device, not something designed for 24/7 use in environments that may be a lot dustier and crazy than your average home office or college dorm room.

That said, there are an awful lot of network guys out there using consumer devices and, for the most part, getting away with it. This would, however, last about a shift in the grimy air of something like a fast food joint.

There are supposed to be more details here at, but as of late last night when I tried, she no work.

UPDATE; $529 Canuck, $579 to go to a faster Core 2 Duo CPU. Details here

Tidy little solid state unit aimed at DS market

July 26, 2008

Taiwanese industrial PC maker Acrosser has some up with a nice little fanless and potentially full solid state box aimed at the digital signage marketplace.

The thing is 6.5 by 10 by 2.5 inches, also known as pretty small, and at least looks pretty rugged.

Acrosser announced an embedded system capable of running Intel’s 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo fanlessly. Targeting digital signage and vehicular applications, the AR-ES5430FL features an aluminum case with advanced heat pipe technology, four serial ports, dual LAN ports, plus DVI, LVDS, VGA and S-Video outputs, says Acrosser (found on

Like other designs including the recently announced APC-3×17 panel PC from Datasound Laboratories, the AR-ES5430FL tackles the issue of adapting relatively inexpensive, but hot-running, processors to use in passively cooled embedded devices. In this case, it’s Intel’s long-life Core 2 Duo T7400, a 65nm CPU that runs at 2.16GHz.

This processor’s 34 Watt TDP would normally disqualify it from fanless operation, but Acrosser has provided its computer with an aluminum chassis, integral heat sink, and a “high technology heat pipe thermal module.” Thus, claims the company, the device can operate with no problems in operating temperatures from 0 to 50 deg. C, when it is equipped with Compact Flash storage. With a 2.5 hard disk drive fitted instead, operating range is 0 to 45 deg. C.

The AR-ES5430FL is also available with Intel’s 2GHz Core Duo T2500, and with Celeron M 530 and M 540 processors, running at 1.73GHz and 1.86GHz, respectively. All configurations come with a standard 512MB of DDR2 RAM, expandable to 2GB via a single SO-DIMM socket.

The device comes with Intel’s 945GME northbridge and ICH7M southbridge, and it offers integrated GMA950 graphics. Four different video interfaces include analog VGA, DVI, an S-Video TV output, and a dual 18-bit LVDS interface that has a DB25 connector and “LCD backlight inverter control.”

The box also sports dual gigabit Ethernet connectors, with R45 connectors, via a Broadcom BCM5787 controller. In addition, it provides four USB ports (two internal, two external), PS/2 keyboard/mouse ports, and four serial ports.

Inside, there’s room for an anti-shock mounted 2.5-hard disk drive (optional), a Compact Flash socket for an SSD (solid state disk, also optional), and a PCI-104 expansion interface. The AR-ES5430FL has a 44-pin box header for an IDE interface, plus a SATA-2 port.

LED envelope gets pushed a little further (as in brighter)

July 23, 2008

Silicon Valley semiconductor company OSRAM has managed to push out 500 lumens of brightness from a single LED, albeit in a lab setting, reports Gizmodo.

That’s still not all that bright when thinking in terms of projection technology (the crappiest little desktop projectors push 1,100 and something driving a window display will need a lot more than that). But it’s more evidence  LEDs  will at some point be an alternative to current, bulb-driven projector systems we’re seeing for things like ad displays in sidewalk retail windows.

The sorts of units now in use are limited by the short life span of the bulbs, the high cost of said bulbs, and energy consumption.

LEDs will mean a much longer lifespan, likely lower cost per unit, and lower energy consumption. All good things, particularly when combined with miniaturization of the projectors that should allow for some very cool projected displays in the reasonably near future.

NEC starts dabbling with face recognition for digital signage

July 22, 2008

From a Japanese technology publication

NEC Corp has developed a digital signage system that determines the gender, generation and other attributes of a person standing in front of a disp

lay using a face recognition technology and outputs advertisements on the display according to them.

The system is being used at “Odaiba Bokenoh Final,” an event hosted by Fuji Television Network Inc at Daiba, Tokyo, from July 19 to August 31, 2008.

Displays combined with a FeliCa contactless IC card reader/writer and a camera have been set up at the “NEC Interactive Corner: Medama-oyaji’s ‘Hey, Kitaro! I Can See Better'” at the “Gegege no Kitaro Yokai Tours,” an attraction at Odaiba Bokenoh.

Participants stand in front of the display and hold a FeliCa-based mobile phone over the reader/writer. The system determines the user’s gender and generation through the camera image using the face recognition technology.

The display shows advertisements that would suit the user’s gender and generation, choosing from the 15 candidates prepared in advance. An electronic coupon that would match the attributes is sent to the user’s mobile phone at the same time.

If users purchase products at stores using the coupons, they will receive a chance to win a prize. By analyzing the information acquired through these actions, the system can also measure advertising effects, NEC said.

NEC calls this system the “Digital Signage Solution,” combining their advertisement delivery and display system with their advertising value measurement system.

Very different culture in Japan, so who knows how this would play around here. I can’t see many people waving their phones in front of a reader and having themselves looked over by a biometrics camera for the sake of a coupon.

Interesting, though, to see a big panel company start to include and market this technology as part of the offer.

Ashvertising entertains banned smokers

July 6, 2008

This is quite clever.

Stuart Pickard of Vertigo Group sent me a note pointing out a Belgium company that is installing hybrid ashtrays and digital posters outside of bars and restaurants.

The theory, of course, is that with smoking in public places now banned in many countries, the poor, addicted slobs and slobettes have to huddle outside to get their nicotine fix. So why not give them something to look at, as well as have a proper bin that might discourage at least some of them to dispose of the butts in some way other than flicked on the sidewalk.

The network brand is Ashvertising and is run by a Belgian  company called DSC SA. The company goes after high end establishments in Brussels and offers to put the units in place at no cost.

I’m not sure I would like to be involved in a program that , as its proponents say, makes the best of bad habits. But you certainly have a few things with this: dwell time, frequency and a defined audience.

AdFlow’s interactive gear helps peddle Koodo handsets

June 24, 2008

Despite near daily barrages from my backyard potato cannon, the guys just up the road from me at AdFlow have managed to keep the doors open and conduct business.

Note to self: Must adapt cannon to sweet potatoes.

Anyway, the AdFlow guys have ignored the constant splats and swung a deal with Koodo, the pay-per-use offspring of Canuck wireless carrier Telus. Koodo popped up a few months ago with a set of screwball ads emulating early 80s spandex exercise shows.

Koodo is not really a bricks and mortar play, but they do have a retail presence and are using AdFlow’s software to run a nice little interactive app. Pick up a handset, and the screen pops information about that handset. Dead simple. And probably quite effective.

I like this stuff a heck of a lot more than screens dangling from ceilings, hoping to get noticed.

According to Digital Signage Today, Koodo Mobile envisioned a captivating and enticing sales-driven customer shopping experience within their retail locations that would connect to this younger demographic. Koodo Mobile’s interactive kiosks feature easy-to-use touchscreens which engage consumers at the point of purchase, informing and educating shoppers on products, services and promotions.

Disclaimer: AdFlow, were it not obvious enough, is a competitor. But the nice thing about the Canuck industry is they’re also friends. At least until I get the pumpkin trebuchet figured out.