Three More Technologies That Could Profoundly Change Handhelds

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This is another installment in a series of articles covering technologies that are still on the drawing board or in the laboratory but have the potential to have a significant impact on handhelds at some point in the future.

Nano-batteries

Scientists and engineers at Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) think they are close to coming out with a new kind of battery with vastly greater capacity than anything that is available today.

According to an article in eTaiwan News, engineers at ITRI’s Materials Research Laboratories believe they will soon have a battery capable of powering a mobile phone for a month. Their goal is to have one out within five years that can run for 100 days.

These were developed with the aid of nanotechnology, hence the name Nano-batteries. These are made by stacking polymer electrolytes with special materials. Each battery’s anode is made of a lithium-nickel-cobalt material, while the cathode end is nanometer-scaled graphite sheets.

Though they were created in a government-funded lab, this research has emphasized commercial applications from the beginning. Several Taiwanese companies are already testing this new type of battery, and they should be on the market in the near future. They expect them to be used in mobile phones, handhelds, and even electric cars.

Thin-Air Displays

One of the things most limiting to handhelds and smart phones is the size of the screen. Everyone would like their portable device to have a screen the size of the one on their desk, but no one wants to wear pants big enough to hold a 17-inch screen.

Heliodisplay A company called IO2 Technology has a prototype for a device that someday may solve this dilemma. The Heliodisplay projects an image into the thin air, just like in all those science fiction movies. And it functions as a touch screen, too. It’s possible to reach in and move things around on the 2D display.

Though it has done numerous demonstrations, the company won’t give any details about exactly how Heliodisplay does what it does. According to the company, air comes into the device, is modified and then ejected and illuminated to produce the image. Nothing is added to the air so there isn’t any harmful gas or liquid emitted from the device, and nothing needs to be refilled.

Supposedly, the images are easily viewed in an office environment, but IO2 Technology admits viewing a Heliodisplay in direct sunlight is almost impossible.

It currently has two proof-of-concept prototypes. One has a 42-inch (105 cm) image; the second has a 15-inch (38 cm) image which functions as a touch screen.

The downside for handheld users is the equipment isn’t small. The hardware for the 15-inch display is bigger than a slide projector, and definitely isn’t pocketable. But it is an inescapable fact of the electronics industry that hardware will get smaller and more portable. It will certainly take a while, but someday portable computers may be simple small boxes with projected screens and projected keyboards.

More information on the Heliodisplay is available on the IO2 Technology web site.

Fluid Lenses

An increasing number of handhelds and smart phones have cameras built into them. While this is sometimes convenient, the quality of these cameras isn’t high. Royal Philips Electronics believes it has a totally new type of lens that overcomes the disadvantages of many of today’s low-cost cameras.

Philips’ FluidFocus system mimics the action of the human eye using a fluid lens that alters its focal length by changing its shape.

This lens is made up of two non-mixing fluids of different optical properties. One of these is an electrically conducting aqueous solution, and the other is an electrically non-conducting oil. These are held in a short tube with transparent end caps. The internal surfaces of the tube wall and one of its end caps are coated with a water-repellent coating that causes the aqueous solution to form itself into a hemispherical mass at the opposite end of the tube, where it acts as a curved lens.

The shape of the lens is adjusted by applying an electric field across the water-repellent coating such that it becomes less water-repellent — a process called “electrowetting” that results from an electrically induced change in surface-tension. As a result, the aqueous solution begins to cling to the sidewalls of the tube, altering the curvature between the two fluids and hence the focal length of the lens. By increasing the applied electric field, the surface of the initially convex lens can be made completely flat or even concave.

These lenses have no mechanical moving parts and are much smaller than the lenses used in current low-cost cameras. They are shock resistant, use virtually no power, and can be used over a wide temperature range.

This technology is in the prototype stage now. Philips hasn’t said when the first products with FluidFocus lenses will hit the market.

To learn more, visit the Philips web site.

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