Tech to Put under the Tree
We’ve picked out a few products that appeared in Technology Review’s “To Market” section in 2008 and could make good last-minute presents.
The April 2001 issue of TR devoted an entire feature to a new display technology called organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), which left even “grizzled veterans of the flat-panel industry … goggle-eyed.” By the end of 2006, we were reporting on the increasing use of OLEDs in handheld devices, but as late as April 2007, we were still saying that OLEDs were “limited to use in small displays, such as those in mobile phones.”
That changed with Sony’s XEL-1 OLED TV. The screen is still relatively small–only 11 inches diagonally. But for some film aficionados, its vivid color, wide viewing angle, low power consumption, and high contrast (unlike LCD screens, OLED screens are capable of true black, rather than the dark gray of a blocked backlight) have been enough to justify its $2,500 price tag.
$150 with one gigabyte of memory, $200 with two gigabytes
In May 2004, we described a Microsoft prototype of a new type of computer interface: a pen with built-in cameras that could turn handwritten script into digital data. But it was a much smaller company called Livescribe that ended up bringing pen-based computing into the mainstream. The Livescribe pen works in conjunction with paper imprinted with a special pattern, which is detected by the cameras in the pen’s tip. The pen has a built-in audio recorder: someone attending a lecture can take notes on the special paper and then later, by tapping a single handwritten word, call up the corresponding section of the recording. The pen can also perform simple arithmetic: write down an equation, and the answer appears on the pen’s screen.
A community of software developers has grown up around the pen. Some recent applications include the ability to draw a piano keyboard and “play” it by tapping the keys, and an English-Spanish dictionary that displays the Spanish translation of a handwritten English word on the pen’s screen.
$90 to $100 for the printer, $14 to $16 for 30 sheets of paper
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early 2008, a Polaroid spinoff called Zink unveiled a miniature, instant photo printer that went on the market in July as the Polaroid PoGo. The printer has hundreds of precisely controllable heating elements, and it uses special two-by-three-inch paper that contains three layers of nanocrystals. When the crystals are heated, they transform into an amorphous glass. Each layer of glass reflects a different color, and the blend of colors is controlled by the duration and temperature of the heating. The printer can connect to a digital camera with a USB cable or to a camera phone over a Bluetooth wireless connection.
The GigaPan Imager is the heart of a collaborative project that involves NASA, Google, Carnegie Mellon University, and Charmed Labs of Austin, TX. It’s a robotic camera mount that enables the user to produce multigigapixel panoramic photos by stitching together images taken from different angles. The user uses the buttons on the imager to robotically move the camera so that it frames first the upper left-hand corner of the composite image and then the lower right-hand corner. The robot automatically steps through the intermediate positions, pressing the shutter button with a mechanical arm. The photos are uploaded to a computer, and software fuses them together.
The imager is still in its “beta” release, which means it’s not quite as user friendly as it will be–but it’s also $100 cheaper. If you’re intrigued by the device but want to see how well it works before you buy one, gigapan.org features a large collection of photos produced by GigaPan users.
D+caf Caffeine Test Strips
$10 for a pack of 20
In a 2002 story on innovative biosensors, we wrote that “researchers have long hoped for ways to make cheap and long-lasting artificial antibodies.” One of the companies that, in the intervening six years, developed just such a technology was Silver Lake Research, which claims that it can produce antibodies geared to any particular molecular target. Silver Lake has introduced antibody tests that municipalities can use to assess water supplies and that commercial farms can use to look for pathogens in cattle, but the company’s first consumer product is a test for caffeine in supposedly decaf coffee and tea. Dip one of its tiny test strips into a fluid sample, and stripes on the strip will change color if the sample contains more caffeine than advertised.
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