Top Technology developments that will shape 2013

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Bee Thakore, European Technical Marketing Manager, Farnell element14e

In the consumer world we saw the tipping point for 3D Television, Tablets outgrowing the demand of laptops and the continued rise of the maker movement with Raspberry Pi, Beagleboard  and Arduino, giving more opportunity to experiment, explore and develop with electronics. element14 and our partners are at the heart of new technology development and most techies like me go straight from one holiday wish list to pencil in what would feature in the next one as many announcements make big waves in the early part of the year at CES in Las Vegas (Jan) and then the Embedded industry’s crown jewel, Embedded World (Feb).

So, here is the technology news and developments I am most looking forward to in 2013.

1.  TV transformers – is your TV upgradable?

Let’s start with the theme of transitioning technology from 2012 to 2013… Back in February last year, I needed a new HD screen for my Raspberry Pi and found myself unprepared but amazed; stood next to one of those huge video-walls evaluating several sets. It makes so much sense now to get an internet enabled TV that can connect to all my mobile devices with the same content. The best thing I came away with was Samsung’s Smart TV with an ‘Evolution Kit’ – which upgrades the TV’s CPU, GPU and memory. It allows us to stop buying new hardware (upto a certain point) and just upgrade its functionality! The latest version of the Evolution kit is available with new features in 2013 and hence you get a brand new TV each time with better motion control, voice control and even facial recognition – Philip K Dick will be happy too! Expect to see more of this and further improvements that require upgrades on the hardware – like the 4K Ultra HD.

2.    Flexible foldable unbreakable phones

2012 saw an unprecedented surge of smartphones with the worldwide user base exceeding the one Billion mark, smartphone design went from miniaturisation to the mini-tablet.

Smartphone shape, design and usability features remain paramount in winning consumer votes and I believe we are only months if not weeks away from not just being excited about  rounded rectangles, but fully foldable and unbreakable flexible phones which can be bent, curved around your wrist and wearable!

This would mean that your phone would become a much smarter device; a health and fitness and multimedia unit all in one, activated by voice or touch. Corning is geared to announce Gorilla Glass 3, a newer tougher version (x3) of scratch resistant surfaces on tablets. Nokia has announced a prototype of a foldable phone, as have NEC. All in all, beginning of where we think wearable smart electronics are going (See below ).

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the modern tri-coder is going to look better than in Star Trek.

Samsung’s new phones use OLED technology, but the firm is also looking into graphene and Nokia’s Morph phone prototype.

3.    Gesture control

Gesture control (as with TVs) isn’t entirely new but we are going to see it making big waves: 02 “Orange” with Orange partnering with Movea for gesture control set top boxes, eyeSight’s partnership with Lenovo, and Leap motion’s arrangement with Asus means we will be interacting much more with Gesture. Microchip has also dived straight into this releasing its GestIC® , with solutions for mobile friendly 3D gesture controls.

Of course CES is also abuzz with the excitement that game consoles and Kinect would be announcing better 3D spatial recognition and gesture tracking devices. The above mainly refers to us seeing gesture control applications beyond gaming devices, possibly on our desktops/tablets, and in our car infotainment devices.

4.    Wearable sensors will be everywhere

When Google teased I/O conference attendees with Project Glass (a pair of wearable augmented spectacles), several set out to make their own, from jail broken iPods and video projectors and it marked a peak of some 11 million wearable electronics devices that were sold in 2011s.03

This number is rising steadily due to increasing popularity of health devices, which saw Nike+ FuelBand partnership stores pop up in several places for the 2012 holiday season, proudly showcasing the STMicroelectronics Low Power sensors  at work. Now with kits like the  expansion modules, for ST’s highly popular discovery platform, we will be seeing more and more such devices – including those that can even sense sleep patterns like Basis – the motion based, single sensor wristband with API available soon and Kickstarter success story – customisable smartwatch Pebble.

At CES, Vuzix  is rumoured to also announce its M100 augmented reality gaming eye  wear running with Android!

5.    Cheaper, better, smaller

042012 saw  NXP launch “ARM Cortex-M0, Freescale Freescale launch ARM Cortex-M0+ MCUs for less than 50 cents USD and the Raspberry Pi offer a full 1080p Multimedia center with an ARM11 for less than the price of a school textbook. With low power consumption, better standby control and easier migration paths, design is increasingly shifting to 32bit and what we saw in 2012 is just a start.

6.    ARM gets stronger with internet of things

Keeping on with the theme of lower power consumption, ARM continues to be a name that everyone wants to work with enabling intelligent, connected networks that can constantly learn and improve experiences.

Imagine this: You invite a friend for dinner, you could browse receipes on your phone and with a click of a button you can order all ingredients to be delivered 1.5 hr before they arrive even if you are in another timezone or country. Based on your and their social profile or upcoming travel, the TV could recommend films or if you are going to miss your favourite show, it can automatically record it. Our virtual assistants and devices are all going to be connected – for example, my car could signal when I reach a certain proximity to my house and turn on the heating or my favourite piece of music. We are talking about Siri or your ‘ittn’ (if this then that) assistants which will all grow up and be invisible butlers. We may not have all of this seamlessly in 2013, but it is going to be the defining year.

One thing we will see in 2013 for sure is the car as a sandbox for the internet of things. Many car manufacturers have also been tinkering with open-source platforms like Tizen (a collaboration between Samsung and Intel) Linux, GENIVI, and Android to power their infotainment systems and in-vehicle systems (nav, video, audio, controller OS). For example, Renault’s new Clio features the Android-based R-Link.

7.    3D Printing is here everyone!

For years we have been waiting with baited breath for 3D printing to become mainstream with much benefit for businesses and consumers and we have started to see an emergence of giants such as MakerBot and 3D Systems dominating the landscape. I need no convincing about the ‘why’ of 3D printing – I am a convert, ever since, being an engineering student at the University of Bath. But if you want to see a 3D printer in action, or better still win one,  visit us at Embedded World!

The reason why I am excited about 2013 is an announcement from the Univeristy of Warwick, a research team, led by Professor Simon Leigh has developed a material called Carbomorph, which is basically an inexpensive, printable conductive plastic. This would mean that one can spec out electronic tracks, sensors, and touch-sensitive areas into their designs, and print out things like functioning game controllers or sensor-embedded objects. (To prove the latter, the research team printed a mug that could detect how much liquid it was holding seen here in the image.).05

So, it transpires that the future isn’t all about flying cars, but technology is going to be more on and around us in an invisible, foldable, intelligent non-intrusive way making 2013 happen.

Experience some of these key products live with Farnell element14 at Embedded World 2013.

•    Hands-on with the ST F4 Discovery Expansion Boards

•    Meet the Raspberry Pi Founders and Designers

•    Win a 3D printer!

Sign up for free entry to the entire conference.