Several months ago, I wrote an editorial about three technologies that I believe have the potential to revolutionize future handhelds: Fuel Cells, Near-Eye Displays, and Virtual Keyboards. Since then, I’ve come across three more breakthroughs that I think also have a great deal of potential.
One of my first set of potentially revolutionary technolgies was fuel cells. Now an alternative has emerged. A team at Birmingham University has developed the micro-engine, which runs on lighter fluid. This tiny motor, far smaller than a battery, can generate 300 times more energy.
The head of the team, Dr. Kyle Jiang, predicts that all portable devices that currently use batteries will get their power from micro-engines before 2010.
Random Movement Printing Technology
While people have dreamed of the paperless office for decades, in reality printouts will be with us for quite some time. While your handheld may be ultra-portable, carrying around a DeskJet is hardly practical. Now PrintDreams has developed the PrintBrush, the world’s smallest printer. This is a concept design that uses the company’s Random Movement Printing Technology (RMPT).
Text and pictures are downloaded to the PrintBrush via Bluetooth wireless networking. Then the device is swept by hand across any type of paper, no matter its shape, size, or thickness, with the PrintBrush printing as it goes. If the image is too wide to get in a single pass, you can move the printer back over the paper again to fill in the rest. PrintDreams says the device takes into account every possible hand movement, including rotation and sudden changes of speed and acceleration.
The printer has the length of a ballpoint pen while its width and height are about the size of a mobile phone. It weights around 12.3 ounces (350 grams). This first version of PrintBrush was designed to fit into a shirt pocket but the company says future versions will be even smaller.
PrintDreams is currently working with OEMs to make printers based on RMPT. The company’s CEO Jan Erik Hedborg says the first of these should be available in 2005.
Sony’s Interaction Laboratory was created to investigate the future of human computer interactions. One of its projects that could have an impact in the future is the flexible handheld.
New Scientist recently did an overview of the latest prototype, called the Gummi. Users control the Gummi not with a stylus or jog wheel, but by bending it. Piezoelectric pressure sensors and a touch panel are built into the device. The Interaction Laboratory put together a Quicktime video to demonstrate their prototype.
Obviously, the Gummi isn’t ready for prime-time. For one thing, at this point it is primarily an information retrieval device. There doesn’t appear to be any way for the user to enter text. But at least it shows that Sony is thinking outside of the box.