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Tag: CoolStuff

One Company’s Mistakes are Another Company’s Riches

The enemy of any manufacturing guru is variability. The obvious reason for this is that customers expect manufactured products to do what they’re marketed to do. But, there are also less apparent reasons around efficiency. For example, if step 1 of a manufacturing process introduces variability so that it actually ends up spitting out 3 outputs, then the success rate and complexity of subsequent steps will suffer. This also means the manufacturer will need to be able to deal with more delays and more testing and verification steps and even more customer support to handle products which don’t perform as they were marketed. Is it any wonder that statistical process control techniques like Six Sigma are so prevalent in the manufacturing sector?

But, while variability may be the enemy of the manufacturer, its become the ally of an innovative Silicon Valley-based startup called Verayo (HT: VentureBeat)

image Verayo uses the fact that variability can never truly be eliminated from semiconductor manufacturing to create a “fingerprint” that can uniquely identify any manufactured chip. Those semiconductor process and/or cryptography guru’s can read more of the detail in a paper that MIT professor Srini Devadas wrote in 2002. But the concept is pretty simple. Verayo has created a technology they call PUF (Physically Unclonable Functions). PUFs are implemented as small modifications to a chip’s design which use the unique defects/quirks on each chip to produce a response to specific electronic “challenges.” Because no two chips have the same manufacturing “defects”, no two chips will have the same PUF responses to all possible challenges. This means the PUF effectively becomes a way to verify the identity of a given part which cannot be copied or duplicated!

This type of technology has countless applications. Verayo is particularly focused is in the area of RFID (radio frequency identification) tags which are used to identify charge cards, transit cards, identification papers, and many sold products. Verayo’s hope is to use their PUF technology to create unique RFID tags which cannot be copied or cloned to help identify counterfeit products (which will have a counterfeit, and hence incorrect, PUF challenge response) or establish an individual’s identity (imitations of PUFs will, like counterfeit product PUFs, have an incorrect PUF challenge responses). The Verayo concept diagrams are below

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It doesn’t solve all problems (as there are still definite vulnerabilities at the manufacturer/identity issuer site), but it’s a promising way to turn one company’s problems into another company’s innovation.

(Image credit – Verayo)(Image credit – anticounterfeit)(Image credit – identity)

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Blue Earth

As a tech nerd who currently owns a Blackberry, I’m usually primarily focused on smartphones (like the iPhone and Android phones). However, Samsung’s Blue Earth caught my eye as an example of an innovative and very green design. Notice anything different about the back?

imageIf you said, “those look like solar panels”, you’d be right. Samsung’s Blue Earth is impressively eco-friendly:

  • casing is made from old plastic water bottles
  • a concerted effort to avoid use of environmentally damaging materials (like PVC, brominated flame retardants, etc)
  • the box that it comes in is made of recycled cardboard, and parts of it can be re-used as a picture frame!
  • solar panels can be used to charge the phone (in addition to the standard charger that they provide)
  • a pedometer to calculate how many steps you’ve taken and what that translates into in terms of carbon saved

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The phone boasts a feature set of what you would expect from a typical mid-range phone (touchscreen, 3.2 megapixel camera, WiFi, etc), and CNET’s reviewers were pleasantly impressed with it. The price tag is very heavy, though ($447), but I think its very cool that a market for such devices exists and I hope to see more products released along this particular dimension.

More details from the embedded CNET video review below:

(Images from Samsung press release)

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Look ma, no battery!

While Moore’s Law may make it harder to be a tech company, it’s steady march makes it great to be an energy-conscious consumer, as one of its effects is to drive down power consumption in generation after generation of product. Take the example of smartphones like Apple’s iPhone or Motorola’s new Droid: Moore’s Law has made it possible to take computing power that used to need a large battery or power source (like in a laptop or a desktop) and put it in a mobile device that has a tiny rechargeable battery!

imageSome folks at NEC and Soundpower took advantage of this in a very cool way (HT: TechOn via Anthony). By combining NEC’s specialty in extremely low-power chips with Soundpower’s expertise at creating vibration-based power generators, the two companies were able to produce a battery-less remote control powered only by users pressing the buttons!

It makes me wonder where else this type of extremely low-power circuitry and simple energy generation setup could be useful: sensor networks? watches? LEDs? personal-area-networks?

And at the end of the day, that’s one of the things that makes the technology industry so interesting (and challenging to understand). Every new device could enable/develop a whole new set of applications and uses.

(Image credit)

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USB H4x0rz

Back when I was still posting on Xhibiting, I was especially fond of interesting USB gadgets. Well, my good friend Anthony pointed me to this interesting gadget that he found out about through Engadget which takes my USB fascination to a whole new level:

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The product is from Thumbs Up! and apparently, after plugging it into someone’s computer, will erratically turn on and off the caps lock, type out random text, and make random mouse movement. Better, still:

“Handily, the Prankster features a time delay setting, so that after installing it, you can make your getaway safely before it starts misbehaving.”

Glad to see they were thinking ahead. Thankfully, this is meant more to be a nuisance than a security risk, as its designed not to hit “Enter” or open/close files:

“The Prankster is highly annoying, but it’ll never activate the ‘enter’ key or close or save documents, so it’s mostly mischievous, not super-dangerous.”

Even so, to cover themselves morally (and possibly legally?), they note:

“However, it probably shouldn’t be used on computers that control nuclear reactors, security systems for genetically recreated dinosaur parks and/or zombie experimentation units, captured alien spacecraft or freezers packed with delicious ice cream.”

And all only for 20 British pounds!

(Image source – Thumbs Up)

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Capillary Calendar

This little gem of an idea was shared to me via Google Reader by my friend Cat of Pizza Diavola. Spanish designer Oscar Diaz took the usually boring concept of a calendar and came up with a way to really make it pop.
Through the power of capillary action (for you laypeople, what allows paper towels to soak up water), Diaz has created a calendar which slowly sucks up paint as the days in a month go by. The result? One hell of a calendar:
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The full calendar has colors which “relate to a “color temperature scale”, each month having a color related to our perception of the weather on that month. The colors range from dark blue in December to three shades of green in spring or orange and red in the summer.”
It is apparently on display until October 11th at the Circulo de Bellas Artas in Madrid.
(Image credit)

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Privacy Filter

Confidentiality is a big part of consulting. In much the same way that the practice of medicine and law would be very different (and probably for the worse) if there was no confidentiality between parties, consulting (both the selling of cases and the actual act of providing advice) would be severely hampered without a basic guarantee of privacy.

I don’t know how other firms do it, but there are some general practices at the firm I work for. They are mostly commonsense (ie. don’t pass around sensitive information, keep your desk clear of confidential documents, use enterprise email to maintain access control over files, etc.), but my personal favorites are of course the provided Thinkpad T60 (with hard drive encryption) and the privacy filter: a 3M black film which restricts the available viewing angles for your screen. Therefore, when I’m on a plane or a train, I can do work with minimal fear that the passenger sitting next to me has just read secret corporate data.

It not only protects corporate data it also lets me surf the internet guiltlessly as passerbys have no idea that my screen is not actually a giant Excel spreadsheet but my Google Reader page :).

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LIFE SIZED GUNDAMS!!

I loved Gundam Wing and Gundam Seed. Imagine my delight upon seeing…

Life-Sized Gundam Robots!

The 77 pound (5 foot) robot has 14 movable body parts right down to its finger joints, and emits a plethora of sound effects (yes, the Vulcan fires too) while you remotely control his fear-inducing flashing eyes. Marketed as a “sophisticated plastic model” (kind of like its companion to the left), Bandai hopes to ship over 1,000 of these behemoths to living rooms and anime stores everywhere when they drop this December. If this has instantly skyrocketed atop your holiday wish list, you may want to reconsider — the ¥350,000 ($3,000) pricetag and the giant hassle of self-assembling over 250 parts might just deter all but the most hardcore fans.

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