When I was a child, I heard the term "think tank" from my father. I asked him what that was, and he said it was a place where people think up new ideas for businesses.
As a kid, I had this picture in my mind of a big room where people sat in a circle in leather chairs just thinking. No one talked. Every once in a while, someone would stand up, point an index finger into the air, and say, "Eureka!" Even as a seven-year-old, I thought this would be a good job. I still like the idea of just sitting around and thinking. I do that a lot.
Nowadays what get the juices flowing are ideas that come to me for converging technologies. Product ideas just flow out like water, and then I will see or read that related research is already under way. This week, I spent some time reading about new technologies deployed in up-and-coming products. Here are just a few that come to mind -- with an added dash of my own imagination as to where they might be used in the near future.
How about a device that can read a fingerprint up to six feet away with a scanning resolution of up to 500 pixels per inch? You hold your hand up in the air while facing a lens, and every groove is viewed in perfect detail, scanned, and recorded in real-time. A product by IDair does just that. It uses the same technology deployed on satellite imaging objects. One possible application is allowing secure entry without leaving prints that could be copied. This would also be handy for clean rooms and other areas susceptible to contamination.
Next we have a pill that registers on your mobile device. A 1mm integrated circuit in the pill delivers a chemical mix that reacts with stomach acid to generate a 1.5V signal that a dermal patch can detect and send via Bluetooth to a cellphone equipped with the appropriate app. This is great news for caregivers who can't watch a patient 24/7. The FDA has approved such an innovation; the best estimates say it will be out in about two years.
Liquipel offers an invisible water-resistant coating for mobile phones. You send the company your phone. It places the phone in a chamber for 30 minutes. A carbon-based hydrophobic gas gets inside the phone and coats the components and the printed circuit board, protecting the internal components from electrical shorting due to moisture incursion.
The turnaround time is about two days, and the service will set you back about $59. When I called Liquipel and asked about other coating characteristics, I was in nondisclosure territory, so I backed off. It can treat other products, like printed circuit boards of various sizes. I asked if it could do a 12-inch-square board, and Liquipel said yes.
The Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle from Northrop Grumman Corp. is a helium-filled nylon balloon (about the size of a football field) capable of precision maneuvering at an altitude of 20,000 feet. When equipped with cameras, it can stay aloft for 21 days of unblinking surveillance. This is going to be deployed in Afghanistan this week. Look up and say, "Cheese."
Speaking of which, look up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's an obstacle-leaping robot. In fact, a 26-foot jump will allow it to clear most walls and get a good look at what is on the other side. Reconnaissance robots have been used by the military and police forces for some time, but now Boston Dynamics is introducing the Sand Flea for urban surveillance. It sports an 11-pound camera and a gyroscope to keep it level in the air. Models based on hummingbirds, cockroaches, and flies are under development, but this little robot is just a radio-controlled platform with a lift piston that will fire after analyzing a proposed trajectory. Isn't this fun?
I'd like to take the core technologies and converge them together to come up with my own product. We have advanced optics, water resistance, mobility, invisibility at 20,000 feet, and Internet connectivity. Let's send our product out into the rain at night to take pictures from anywhere at any height with the resolution clarity of a fingerprint.