Archive for August, 2011

Care to keep your photos safe for the next millennium?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

My present experience of durability of storage medium is less than satisfactory. I already had discovered that photos I stored on CDs and DVDs ten years ago are no longer readable.

So I do like this news about a new storage media: M-Disc. Take a look:

LG and a start up, Millenniata, are planning to release a new storage medium they claim will last forever!

Take a look at the details of this disc. Basically, the disk is made of special compounds being engraved resulting in a permanent alteration that cannot be changes by corrosion, light, dust and what else over very long period of time (forever looks like a bit too long but I would be happy with something a 1,000 years…).

The energy used for storing is 5 times as much as the one used by writing a DVD and it also takes longer. Once you write it you can no longer change it (and that’s the beauty of it…). It is probably not something we want for all of our data, but I can see myself using it for my photos. And although it is not yet on the market you can start placing your order for it.

I did it and will let you know once I get it.

Imagine multiplying your videocamera …25x

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Look closely and you'll see plenty of videocameras on this guy...

Video cameras are getting cheaper and smaller. So why should you have just one?
According to CMU researchers you can do better with twenty of them…glued to your body.

You can see an example in the photo on the side. Those tiny grey rectangle are video cameras, strapped on the body of this guy using velcro.

They are normal, off the shelf cameras, nothing special about them. And, of course, give it a few more years and you can bet you will have the possibility to embed cameras in your dresses.

So what is it special about them and what can be done with them once they will “replace” the buttons on you shirt?

The special part is not in the cameras but in the software that process the images picked up by them. As you can imagine having cameras glued on your body will result in images that keeps bouncing in any direction resulting in videos that are impossible to view. And here it comes the software developed by the CMU researchers, in cooperation with Disney (that we have to admit knows something about video…).

The software is able to reconstruct the whole environment and stabilize the images for a perfect 360′ view. More than that. By analyzing the movements of the videos the software can infer the movement of the body and since each camera is strapped to a specific part of the body the software can detect how every single part moves. Once you have that, you also have the capability to create an avatar that moves exactly as the person wearing those cameras. And this is what Disney is interested most for creating even better synthetic characters.

On the other hand, what is stimulating my interest is the fact that there seems to be no limits to the potential demand for bandwidth. Imagine all of us going around in our travels with cameras in each button of the shirt, cuffs…and being able to mix those images with the ones taken by those around us. You will be able to create really immersive environment and of course the bandwidth skyrockets.

It can shrink even more…

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

The Moore’s law never ends amazing me. As we get closer to its limits someone finds a way to go around the ultimate obstacle….

Graphene based storage can pack bits very densely

This is what is happening with graphene, a one atom thick of carbon sheet that scientist have learnt to produce, as I reported in some previous posts. Now, an article published in the Applied Physics Letters presents a way to increase stability in bit storage therefore providing for denser storage.

The paper is quite technical, but it is worth reading and pondering on the ingenuity of researchers.

The current scale of silicon etching, reaching 20 nm, can be pushed only so far, because below the 10 nm scale tunnel effect takes place and it is no longer possible to keep the electron charge confined and hence to associate a state, a bit, to a location.

By using graphene, according to this paper, you can keep the electrons within a much smaller space, hence creating a much dense storage.

When a handshake is stronger than a bond….

Monday, August 8th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

You may remember the quote inscribed at the Rockfeller centre:

I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man's word should be
as good as his bond; that character-not wealth or power or position-
is of supreme worth.

Well, this sentence came to my mind in reading a news published by Technology Review on a new technology by Fujitsu
that is starting to be used to authenticate payments, thus offering an interesting substitution to the NFC.

The veins' pattern revealed by infrared light


NFC, Near Field Communications, is very popular in Japan
but it is having a hard time in conquering the US and European market.
Everybody is talking about it as the enabler for mPayments with cell phones.
But it may risk to be to late to win the market if this Fujitsu technology takes the upper hand.
Basically the merchant has a "hand" reader. By projecting an infrared beam on the palm of the
hand it detects the veins and this image is transformed into a unique code that is used
for authentication.
An intermediary can then associated the authenticated code with a credit card or any payment
method for completing the transaction. 
Clearly, this authentication technique is more "handy" (shall we say?) than the NFC since you always have your hand with you. Scientists claim that this identification method is ever more secure than the one provided by the SIM (and it is more difficult to steal your hand, and keep it alive...).

I think that this technology can stimulate some lateral thinking on an Operator side. Rather than waiting for the cell phone manufacturers to deliver NFC terminals and for the market to absorb them it may be better to focus on the payment process itself, independently on the specific technology that will be used.

Indeed communications remain an indispensable component in an electronic payment and the other essential component is the management of the client data and related association. The Operator can become the trusted manager of the biometric data along with the association to the specific payment method desired by that client. The nice thing is that such a client does not need to be a client of that Operator for the connectivity part but just for the data part.

This is something crucial, at least in my perception. Operators have to start seeing themselves as both responsible for the physical connectivity and for the data connectivity, this latter independent of the specific network connectivity being used. It is like adding a new biz (and source of revenues) to the existing one, capitalizing on its assets.

The fading workspace…

Sunday, August 7th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

A new approach to working space designed by Steelcase

Personally, I stay in the office very little time, most of my time is spent in other places and even when I am at the office I am more likely to hob-nob with other colleagues in open spaces or other people’s office. Still, I am always on the job, regardless of the time zone I am in or the time of the day (what time am I talking about anyhow?). Internet and devices able to connect from everywhere keep me in the loop all the time.

It is good to know that I am not alone, although I have to say many of my colleague are still under the impression that if you are not at your desk, 8 to 5, you are not really working: in a recent article published by Technology Review it is noted that the concept of working space is changing and it has actually already changed in some industries.

The uptake f tablets makes people even more detachable from the dest. Unlike the laptop that you often leave on the desk when going to talk with someone else, you are likely to take the tablet along with you and the tablet hence becomes “your” office, independently of where you are.

Cisco has undertaken an experiment, the Collaborative Connected Workplace environment, where workers no longer have  desk but get whatever is available, sharing the space with others. There are rooms around for privacy when you need to make a call or have a sensitive discussion but most of the time is spent on shared tables like the one in the picture.

Interestingly, the Cisco experiment was prompted by the discovery that desks where empty 3 days a week. The outcome is not just a 37% saving in office space but better working environment and more effective communications.

I foresee a time, within this decade, where many companies will have a mail box address and will exist as connected communities with their nodes (employees) dynamically stationed wherever it is most efficient to be, and that will rarely be at what we consider today as the office.

This is also good news for Telecom Operators and for the Cloud 2.0, the one that will virtualize enterprise processes and value chains.

Now you can use that LED lamp for much more…

Saturday, August 6th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

LED lamps are becoming more and more common in offices, homes and cars taillights. They are energy savvy and scientists have found ways to increase the color gamut.

An LED Lamp

Now, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is about to present a way to use LED lamps for communications at high speed!

Basically they are modulating the signal on the visible light (VLC: Visible Light Communications) using a technique developed jointly with Siemens and Telecom Orange Labs.

They are able to modulate up to 100 Mbps, more than enough to deliver four HD movies to four screens in a room. What it takes, on the terminal side, is a photoreceptor diode, a devices that cost a few pennies (make it a few dollars once you are packaging it).

There are several applications the Fraunhofer researchers list in their press release (they will be presenting the device in September at a Berlin fair). Among them they indicate creating a communication fabric in hospitals and on planes, ambient where radio communications may be banned because of possible interference problems. The visible light, photons, does not interfere at all.

But I can also imagine museums lights illuminating a masterpiece and at the same time providing information about it, or some monuments where illumination can double up as communication…

Interesting twist on something we just took for granted!

Data marketplace: an opportunity for creating a fair personal data economy

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Corrado Moiso

In some of my previous posts I have introduced the concept of  “Personal Data Store”, an environment  enabling individuals to manage their personal data. From one side, Personal Data Stores offer services to gather, store, retrieve, use and share the information a person need to manage their lives better, from the other they are a key element for  creating a user-centric personal data ecosystem where individuals keep the full ownership of their data and have the ability to control the use of such a data  (see for instance http://personaldataecosystem.org/ for a deeper discussion).

This ecosystem would also give the opportunity to create a market on Personal Data able to distribute value among all the involved  actors (individuals, aggregators, service providers, etc.) in a more equilibrate way with respect to the current situation, where personal data are “sold” every day with limited profit for individuals. In fact, privacy directives have the objective of limiting the use of personal data and information on personal behaviours, but they do not give the opportunity to individuals to participate in the market of personal data.

Solutions were recently elaborated in order to offer to individuals the chance to be actively involved in this market. An example is the service provided by Statz (www.statz.com).

Statz operates as a Data Marketplace where individuals are producers of personal data, and own the produced data. Individuals can gather their personal data and expose them to potential “buyers”, by taking an active role in controlling how they are offered (e.g., the level of privacy). Statz provides to buyers services to search for data relevant for them, build a report (by guaranteeing the agreed level of privacy and anonymity), and purchase it. If data of a user is included in any report, she/he make moneys from Statz (e.g., via PayPal). The value of personal data is determined by the market, by factoring in the availability, the level of interest, and the nature of the data itself (e.g., granularity, level of privacy, historic sequences, etc.). Statz makes an estimation of the values for the offered data, which represent only a market entry point.

Entities which have a good reputation as a trusted party and a large number of customers  are in a good position for setting-up a successful marketplace for personal data, “the new oil of the 21st century” , as envisaged by World Economic Forum.

Holography storage is coming to your laptop

Thursday, August 4th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

GE announced in 2009 the development of a DVD size holographic disc that could store 500 GB, as much as 20 BlueRay single layer disc, almost 100 DVDs. The problem with that holographic disc was the speed of read and write, too low to make it appealing for every day use.

It looks like a CD but it can store one thousands more data!

But now they are back, and this time their 500 GB holographic disc is as fast as any BlueRay. It should become commercially available in September.

GE has also announced they are expecting to deliver a 1TB capacity holographic disc next year.

The uptake, in my opinion, would not be quick. The installed base of magnetic discs (and their low price) makes it very difficult for new storage technology to win the market.

The great advantage of an holographic disc like the one of GE is the possibility to use many discs (whose cost is significantly lower than a magnetic disc drive) but this shift the interest towards archiving rather than real time access to information. To many of us, consumers, the interesting part of having always more capacious storage is the convenience of being able to keep all our data on line, al the time. An holographic disc would do that but only if you keep it in its reader…

Some issues, not clarified so far, regard the durability of the holographic support. Present DVDs are not that good for archiving material if you want to retrieve data 20 years from now. of course this is a problem for magnetic storage too but there you are more likely to “refresh it” from time to time (like when you copy your files to a more capacious disc…).

Personally I already had very unpleasant surprises when trying to retrieve photos stored 10 years ago on DVDs. Luckily, I had made three copy of them! Now they are all  on 3 mag discs…just in case.

Distributed-Input-Distributed-Output Wireless Network

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 by Antonio Manzalini

Shannon’s Law defines the maximum amount of error-free data rate that can be transmitted on a communications channel for given amount of spectrum and noise level (“spectrum capacity” of the channel). Approaches like MIMO (e.g. 802.11n and LTE) can increase the shared data rate limit but will this be enough in the future ?

Distributed-Input-Distributed-Output (DIDO) wireless is an approach that should allow each User to use the full data rate of shared spectrum simultaneously with all other users, by “eliminating” interference between users sharing the same spectrum.

While with traditional wireless technologies the data rate available per user decrease as more users share the same spectrum in order to avoid interference; this is not the case with DIDO, apparently.

DIDO Network

DIDO combines signals from multiple transmitters and exploits interference to create an halo of reception around every user. This task requires complex mathematics and careful coordination among the different DIDO transmitters (but I imagine that the Cloud could help).

http://www.technologyreview.com/communications/38226/?nlid=nldly&nld=2011-08-03

Interestingly, DIDO network would require just little towers (plenty of them) scattered everywhere under the control of DIDO servers which are constantly calculating how to make signals that interfere in the right way. On the other hand, it should be noted that DIDO processing would contribute to the overall latency of the communications.

DIDO has been in development for a few years, probably theory behind it is too complex (today), but my take is that the idea of exploiting a very large number of scattered antennas, combined with data-gathering and elaboration, might create disruptive scenarios.

Grassroot Networks

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Hackers at work to create an infrastructure-less network

In this blog we have sometime mentioned the idea that networks in the future may also comprise parts where the communications infrastructure is generated by terminals.

Hence, it was not a surprise reading the article on Spectrum announcing an initiative to do just that.

“The Open Technology Initiative—part of the public-policy think tank New America Foundation—recently received a US $2 million grant from the Department of State to help coordinate its MANET development effort, called Commotion Wireless. The organization’s goal is to get MANET technology ready for use in areas that have oppressive regimes. The project should be completed by the end of next year, according to Sascha Meinrath, the initiative’s director. While Commotion has only four full-time team members, it relies on some programming (some of which it pays for) from the open-source community. “For us, this is about a call to action,” Meinrath says.”

Take a look at the paper, it really makes you think about the possibilities opened up by the embedding of more and more electronics in objects. We are planning to specifically study this issue at the Future Centre and to look at possible options on the Telco side, so stay tuned.