Thursday, June 25, 2015

Qualcomm is not giving up on Mirasol


Qualcomm Mirasol technology was originally developed for the next generation of color e-readers. The company has spent over two billion dollars trying to make it work but only a handful of devices ever employed it, such as the Kyobo and Koobe Jin Yong Reader. Since they failed to make a meaningful impact in the digital reader space they pivoted and started to optimize it for smartwatches and phones, but no one launched any meaningful products. Today, Qualcomm is hoping this will all change with the advent of Optica.

Using a simple structure comprising a mirror and an absorbing layer to take advantage of the wave properties of light, researchers at Qualcomm MEMS have developed a display technology that harnesses natural ambient light to produce an unprecedented range of colors and superior viewing experience.

This display technology, which could greatly reduce the amount of power used in multiple consumer electronics products, is the latest version of an established commercial product known as Qualcomm Mirasol. Based on a new color rendering format that the researchers call Continuous Color, the new design helps solve many key problems affecting mobile displays such as how to provide an always-on display function without requiring more frequent battery charging and a high quality viewing experience anywhere, especially in bright outdoor environments.

The innovation was made possible by using a combination of a mirror with a thin absorbing layer separated by a precise and controllable gap.  While the mirror by itself would simply reflect all of the incident light energy, the absorbing layer selectively filters out a narrow slice of the spectrum, thus coloring the reflected light.  The gap is controlled to produce nearly every conceivable color, not just the red, green, and blue (RGB) of earlier display technologies.

"We have developed an entirely new way of creating a color display," said John Hong, a researcher with Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Inc. and lead author on the Optica paper.  "The incredibly efficient display is able to create a rich palette of colors using only ambient light for viewing, much like the way we would read and view printed material."

Harnessing Ambient Light
Typical color displays are essential yet power-hungry components of virtually every digital product with a human-machine interface, from cell phones and computers to home televisions and massive displays at sporting events. Since even the most energy-efficient models require some form of backlighting, they can quickly draw-down a power supply.

To save on power and extend the life of these devices, engineers have been exploring ways to replace emissive technologies with displays that can reflect ambient light.

Earlier attempts to create reflective light color displays, however, presented a number of vexing problems. The designs required using three separate pixels to produce the red, green and blue of a traditional display.  Though adequate for certain applications, the fact that only one-third of the incoming light can be reflected back toward the viewer in a typical reflective RGB format limits the gamut of colors and brightness of the display.

The new display reported in Optica is able to overcome these hurdles by reflecting more of the incoming light and enabling the full spectrum of visible light to be displayed, including bright white and deep black.

Hong and his colleagues were able achieve these results by using a property of light they call interferometric absorption to create a broad spectrum of colors. To produce this effect, the researchers designed, in essence, a two-layer device. The first layer consists of a thin absorbing material that lets most of the light pass through to the second mirror layer where it is reflected back upon itself.

With this design, the incoming light and the reflected light interfere with one another, producing a variety of standing waves with each component periodicity producing a unique color in the spectrum.

By adjusting the distance between the reflective and absorbing layers with tiny actuators known as Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), the absorbing layer is moved to match a node in the standing wave that corresponds to a desired color.  The spectral components not associated with that node are efficiently absorbed, allowing only the desired color to leak through the structure and back toward the viewer.  Each pixel therefore behaves as a colored mirror, with the color tunable across the entire visible spectrum.

Extending Power and Saving Energy
Depending on how the display is used, the power savings can exceed current backlit technologies tenfold. The greatest benefit is when a particular image is retained on the display, which then operates like a form of analog memory in a virtually power-free display mode.

The design presented in the paper consists of a panel that is about 1.5 inches across and contains approximately 149,000 pixels. Both the resolution and area of the display, however, can be scaled to match those of various mobile devices such as Internet-of-Things (IoT) enabled wearables and smartphones.

Fabrication can be achieved in one piece, with the MEMS, upper layer, and lower layer created using the same deposition, lithography and etching processes that are used to create liquid crystal displays.

"Our goal is to improve the technology and design so it can be easily integrated into manufacturing processes at existing factories." said Hong.  The researchers believe that this technology has the potential to change the smartphone experience and that of other personal devices.

"No more squinting at a hard to read display outdoors where we spend much of our time," noted Hong.  "We ultimately hope to create a paper-like viewing experience, which is probably the best display experience that one can expect, with only the light behind you shining on the page."

Kindle Paperwhite 1st Gen Firmware Update Adds New Features

Amazon has started rolling out a new software update for the first generation Kindle Paperwhite that adds several new features, including support for Family Library and Word Wise. The new software version is—it basically takes the first gen Paperwhite to the same level as the second gen Paperwhite with these newly added features. Like […]

Amazon Adding More Sharing Features and Instant Previews to Kindle eBooks

Today Amazon announced that they’ve introduced some new social reading features to the Kindle for Android app. The sharing features will be coming to Kindle ereaders and other devices later this year as well. The new Kindle sharing features let users share quotes and recommendations with specific friends using popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger […]

Barnes and Noble Nook Sales Decrease by 40%


Barnes and Noble has announced that they have had a dramatic decrease in Nook sales and sales have plummeted 40% in their last quarter.  The Bookseller has also scraped their plans to spin the Nook division into its own company and has decided to keep the business in-house.

Barnes and Noble just issued a press release that breaks down the 4th quarter results, but also gives us prospective on how they did during the entire year.

The NOOK segment (including digital content, devices and accessories) had revenues of $52 million for the 4th quarter and $264 million for the full year, decreasing 39.8% for the quarter and 47.8% for the year. Device and accessories sales were $13 million for the quarter and $86 million for the full year, declining 48.2% and 66.7%, respectively, due to lower unit selling volume.  Digital content sales were $40 million for the quarter and $177 million for the full year, declining 36.5% and 27.8%, respectively, due primarily to lower device unit sales.

Barnes and Noble once had plans to sell one million Samsung Galaxy 4 Nook tablets, and it looks like according to these figures it might be a pipe dream. Additionally their market share for e-books have fallen from double digits in the US to single digits. A few weeks ago the bookseller announced they closed their Luxembourg head office in Europe and ceased all future plans for international expansion.

I cannot say I am surprised about this latest figures, the constant decline in sales of hardware and digital content is unending. Normally when companies see a decline of 1-3% it is a big deal, but Barnes and Noble consistently reports loses of double digits, every quarter, without fail.

iOS Reading Tip: Using Low Light Filter and Inverted Colors

I recently stumbled upon a trick that makes reading on an iPad or iPhone at night a lot easier on the eyes. There are two things you can do: lower the screen’s brightness beyond normal limits and/or use inverted colors. This also reduces blue light so that it helps maintain healthy sleeping habits, as some […]

Chickens redux

Regular readers with an interest in poultry will be all agog to find out what we’re posting about today; yesterday’s post covered a chicken coop with automated doors, and we promised more chickens today. (AND TOMORROW! It’s all chickens all the way down at Pi Towers this week.)

Darren Steele, a Pi owner from Lancashire, was faced with the same chickens/predators problem that Eric Escobar dealt with in yesterday’s post by mechanising the coop door, and programming it to shut after dark.

It turns out that a couple of years ago, Darren also automated his chicken coop to solve the same problem.

The way he automated it is perhaps not the first solution that might have sprung to your mind or to mine; but that’s why Darren got a spot on the BBC news and you and I didn’t.


The post Chickens redux appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

CBC Interviews Michael Kozlowski on Library e-books


Libraries all over Canada are disheartened because of the high cost associated with e-books. This has prompted a new coalition to be formed that is trying to bring public awareness to just how bad it is getting.

The Toronto Public Library, Canadian Library Council, Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association want to bring awareness to the super high prices publishers are charging them for e-books. They cite number examples, such as the new Michael Connelly novel Burning Room costs $14.99 on Amazon, but their libraries are paying $106.00 per copy. John Grisham's Grey Mountain costs $15.99 for a retail edition but costs libraries $85.00.

Not only do some e-books cost an arm and a leg but some publishers charge a more “reasonable” price, such as $30 per copy, but allow access for a limited period of time, such as a year, or a limited number of borrowers. Once the limit is reached, the book disappears and the library has to repurchase it.

Many Canadian media outlets have been reporting extensively about this issue including the Toronto Star and Good e-Reader. The high cost of e-books is even attracting the national media outlets, such as the CBC who ran a story a few days ago on television in Ontario and the web.

When the CBC runs a story about e-books and the library they turn to experts in the field, including the Toronto City Librarian Vickery Bowles and Good e-Readers own Michael Kozlowski.

Here is the video they posted below, so you can get a sense of the plight most libraries are facing and how their budgets have gone sky high as the demand for digital content intensifies.