From wireless sensor networks to new plastics to energy harvesting, the array of technologies of interest to the design news community is advancing at a pace we haven't seen in years.
Our friends at EETimes put together their list of the top 20 areas they see as big movers in 2012. We've pared out the EE- and silicon-specific stuff like white-space radios and 4G communications networks to come up with our selection of the cutting-edge spheres to watch. All will offer both challenges and new options in the upcoming 12 months.
Click the image below to view our gallery of the top 12 hot design technologies of 2012:
MEMS is really six or seven sub-domains, many of which have products with high growth numbers.
They include: environmental sensors such as pressure and humidity sensors and silicon microphones; inertial sensors including accelerometers and gyroscopes; inkjets and microfluidics; microactuators including micromirror devices and displays; RF MEMS; micro-opto-electromechanical systems (MOEMS); bioelectronic probes and substrates.
Shown in the picture is MEMSIC's no-moving-parts MEMS accelerometer, which uses a heater to raise the temperature of a central column of air, while thermocouples around the edge indicate acceleration as a change in temperature.
Tracking via RFID tags on consumer products is a potentially iffy proposition, at least if companies expect to track their products in people's homes. This is because some people tear off the tags as soon as they get the product home, due to privacy concerns.
One early role of the Internet of Things, Beth, is going to happen in retailing and in production inventory. If every product has a low-cost RFID tag, then it can theoretically report back to the Internet on its contents and location. That way, every item on the shelf at the grocery store or apparel shop is a known commodity, and can be inventoried by a computer, so that companies know when and where their products are consumed, and when they need to be re-stocked.
To get completely silly on the Internet of Things, some dot com wizards envision connectivity that can keep track of expiration dates on food in the fridge and let you know when the milk's about to go bad. Some systems have already been developed that run home heating and cooling as a smartphone app connected to your thermostat. You can remotely turn your cooling and heating on and off remotely -- as in heat the house I'm on my way home. Another app is the Internet-connected surveillance cameras that let parents check on the babysitter via the smartphone.
I just bought a new TV. It is internet ready to get netflix etc. I got a home entertainment system to go with it. It is internet enabled as well. I imagine almost anything that may want a software upgrade or other data from over the web could use connectivity.
In answer to your question, Beth, the "Internet of Things" is what I'll admit is an unusual term to describe the coming of 'Net connectivity to commonplace items. The biggest example would be, all appliances, from coffee makers and blenders to refrigerators, will be connected to the Internet. This will enable remote control, energy saving, and automatically pushed-down software updates. On the flip side, Internet of Things opponents worry about privacy (sucking down data about users' habits). Asia (particularly China) seems to be the nexus of initial activity of the Internet of Things, which may be why it's kind of a non-idiomatic English coinage. Intel, for one, sees a huge market selling processors which support the Internet connectivity of all these devices.
One high-rofile application of MEMS is in Holywood movies, such as Iron Man. The MEMS-based suits enable actotrs to do amazing stunts and we're going to see a lot more applications of the technology in the next few years.
My top-of-the-top votes would be for MEMS, which are amazing enablers and now come in so many different flavors, and energy harvesting, which is not only a good idea but may become more necessary in the search for alternative energy sources. I'd also vote for PV solar cells for the same reason. Organic LEDs took me by surprise, though--what a great idea.
Good point on the Internet of Things, Chuck. I remember a lot of talk about this during the early dot com days. Then it kind of disappeared. Nice to see it revived. A lot of the technology is already there. It's a matter of deploying the technology in useful ways.
Altair has released an update of its HyperWorks computer-aided engineering simulation suite that includes new features focusing on four key areas of product design: performance optimization, lightweight design, lead-time reduction, and new technologies.
At IMTS last week, Stratasys introduced two new multi-materials PolyJet 3D printers, plus a new UV-resistant material for its FDM production 3D printers. They can be used in making jigs and fixtures, as well as prototypes and small runs of production parts.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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