Five years in development, Walt Disney's new interactive tour guide Pal Mickey operates off of an infrared wireless network that transmits information in order to help it triangulate its location and speak the appropriate audio message. (The receiver is in Mickey's nose.) The choice of infrared may seem surprising, given the need for line of sight and difficulties coping with direct sunlight (think crowded theme park in the Sunshine State). But Leslie Hartog, project manager for Pal Mickey, says that the entertainment giant is using a new, patent-pending outdoor infrared technology developed by its own engineers. "Even in bright sunlight, the technology is powerful enough that the toy will pick up the signals," explains Hartog. "Also, they bounce off of things like concrete and clothing." She says that Disney engineers actually preferred to use infrared over radio because of the greater accuracy and short transmission distances. The signals consist of mainly simple codes, with Pal Mickey having most of the smarts. In fact, it's programmed to speak some 700 different messages. As for delivering customized messages or using Pal Mickey to perform true traffic control in the park, though, Product Developer Kyle Poor says that's not in the plans—just yet.
A few weeks ago, Ford Motor Co. quietly announced that it was rolling out a new wrinkle to the powerful safety feature called stability control, adding even more lifesaving potential to a technology that has already been very successful.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
People who want to take advantage of solar energy in their homes no longer need to install a bolt-on solar-panel system atop their houses -- they can integrate solar-energy-harvesting shingles directing into an existing or new roof instead.
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