Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ubiquitous Electronics

This summer has been one of slow improvement for electronics, and also of high growth despite a recovering economy. I spent a good part of July focused on SEMICON West in San Francisco, the major chipmaker and packaging tradeshow in North America.

When I flew out to San Francisco, I noticed that American Airlines offered Internet connectivity for notebook users while in flight. There were many other unexpected changes too, such as having to pay for my checked bag, food, and earphone buds for listening to the movie. But, hey, at least I could check my e-mail. American Airlines now uses Gogo Inflight Internet service on 318 of its domestic carriers, allowing fliers wireless access to the Internet. GoGo’s supplier, IL-based Aircell, also provides wireless connectivity service on 80 Delta/Northwest aircraft, and some Virgin America planes as well. United and others plan to follow suit shortly.

The network operates with an air-to-ground system with three antennae on the aircraft connected to Aircell’s mobile broadband network, and 92 cell towers in the U.S. The equipment weights 125 pounds and costs approximately $100,000. At 3.1 megabits per second, it’s also fairly fast.

After arriving on the coast, I spent one Saturday introducing my three-year-old granddaughter to the public library. In the library, we walked through security walls and finally found the information that Bella wanted to know about: the location of the café and lunch patio. Next, we viewed meeting rooms and met the teachers who used video and passed out flash drives to older students.

Whereas written books are important, the jungle gym of equipment and doughnut-hole seats made the library a fun place to be, even for those too young to sit still and read. “There are the computers for adults, Grandma Gail. I’m too little,” Bella proclaimed. But these rows and rows of desktop computers were on low-level desks, much too short for adults.

“These computers are for children from 2 to 12 year just like you,” I said as I watched her face light up. The rows of computers took up more space than the rows of children’s books. We spent 45 minutes using various drawing tools and looking up YouTube videos.
We left the library with an armload of books checked out using the barcoded library card without a librarian’s assistance. It amazed me that Bella accepted the push-button elevators, sensor-enabled walk-throughs, and computers for all ages, teaching with video and flash, barcoded self-check out, and other electronics devices. What she didn’t accept was the fact that she could not keep the books permanently. Sharing remains an issue.

I spent that week attending SEMICON West. At the Moscone Convention Center, in the Extreme Electronics presentations, I found several developments in the printed electronics area. Novacentrix presented information on their PulseForge Tools, which use coated PET and Metalon ICI-001 copper ink and an Epson C88 inkjet printer. In the flex circuit area, using bulk copper for conductivity and pulse-forge processing (an excimer laser plays a role) can lower the cost of printed circuits, produced at the speed of 1,000 feet/min., according to Novacentrix.

Electronics remain a ubiquitous backdrop and focus that continues to change our lives in every imaginable aspect.

Gail Flower, Editor-at-Large


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