Monday, September 4, 2017

Automobile USB Phone Charging

It's nice day for a ride to the beach. You grab your stuff jump and in the car. Ooops - last night you forgot to charge your phone and you've only got about 30% but...... No worries, the beach is a 90 minute drive away which should be more than enough time for your phone to charge.

Fast forward - phone GPS running and some tunes along the way. Park the car, grab your phone and...... #$%@* only 25% charged??  It was plugged in for the entire drive?! You checked it when you plugged it in and the phone was properly connected.

You've been Auto USB'd!

What Happened?
 If your car has a USB port built in - that port is most likely low power, only delivering around .5 Amps. This is considerably less than your phone charging capacity and because you were using the phone GPS, playing some tunes, etc...... well, you get the idea. And if you were using one of those cheapo cigarette lighter adaptor chargers, it is also probably only delivering only around .5 Amps of charging current. The cheap plug ins can get even worse - if you've got one of them with  two USB ports and have a couple of phones plugged in, that .5 Amps total gets split to .25 Amps on each port.

How Much Do You Need?
How much current do you need to get full charging capacity for most phones these days? It depends on the device. Let's use the iPhone as an example - those white chargers that come with the phone are rated at 1 Amp. So, on your drive with GPS running, Bluetooth - and maybe you forgot to switch WiFi off when in the car - your USB adapter .5 Amps of charging current could not keep up with what the phone was drawing, never mind charge it.

What's The Solution? 
To get a quick charge on your phone with a low current adapter probably the best thing to do is to power the phone off when charging. That may not be an option though.

Some of the auto manufactures are putting higher capacity USB ports in cars but that does not help most of us driving older cars. 

If you want to charge your phone and do not want to buy a new car you can purchase a higher current plug in USB charger. Wirecutter has a nice review of some of these chargers here. A little searching on Amazon brings up a bunch of them too - be sure to check the output current per USB port and compare it to what your phone needs. They're a little more expensive than the $2 ones you see in the supermarket checkout line but worth it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Future of Wireless is Fiber

Cactus Cell Tower
(Image source:
I wrote this on Monday for the National Center for Optics and Photonics August 2017 Newsletter:

In the next few years wireless providers are planning the broad deployment of 5G wireless services. Here’s some details:
  • Current International Telecommunication Union (ITU) specifications for 5G specify a total download capacity of at least 20Gbps and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station.
  • In contrast, the peak data rate for current LTE cells is about 1Gbps.
  • Under ideal circumstances, 5G networks will offer users a maximum latency of just 4ms, down from about 20ms on LTE 4G networks.
  • The 5G specification also calls for a latency of just 1ms for a stepped up service called ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC).
In support of the Internet of Things, 5G must also support at least 1 million connected devices per square kilometer (0.38 square miles). This may seem like a lot but when every traffic light, parking space, and vehicle is 5G-enabled, we'll easily start to hit that kind of connection density and will see 5G towers on places like major highways every 100 feet or so.

How is connectivity delivered these days to wireless towers, and how will it be delivered in the future? Fiber! 

5G networks will be predominantly fiber-based due to the combination of tower capacity and distance requirements. We will see limited microwave antennas used in niche cases when fiber is not an option. Technicians will need to have a good understanding of fiber characterization testing and troubleshooting as these super-fast high capacity networks roll out. In addition, skills in troubleshooting dirty or damaged connectors, tight fiber bends, faulty fiber splices, Optical Time Domain Reflectometry (OTDR), attenuation, and chromatic and polarization mode dispersion will become even more critical. 

Fiber to the tower is a critical enabler of 5G wireless services including The Internet of Things. 

For more information see Preparing the Transport Network for 5G: The Future Is Fiber and check out the rest of the OP-TEC August 2017 edition and previous monthly newsletters here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wisconsin and Taiwan's Foxconn

There is currently a lot of chatter about the Wisconsin / Taiwan Foxconn deal. Here’s some information on the company:
  • Foxconn is a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company headquartered in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Foxconn currently has 12 factories in nine Chinese cities along with factories in Asia, Brazil, Europe, and Mexico.
  • The company is the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue that, as of 2012, produced approximately 40 percent of all consumer electronics products sold.
  • Foxconn is the largest private employer in China and one of the largest employers worldwide.
  • Major customers comprise all the biggies including Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Google, and Dell.
  • In reaction to a spate of worker suicides in which 14 people died in 2010, a report from 20 Chinese universities described Foxconn factories as labor camps and detailed widespread worker abuse and illegal overtime. The company claims these issues have been resolved.
And here’s a quick summary of the deal as it currently stands based on what I’m reading:
  • The complex will be located at a 1,000-acre site in southeastern Wisconsin.
  • This will be the first liquid crystal display manufacturing facility in North America and that has environmentalists a little freaked out.
  • It will take four years to build and will employ up to 10,000 construction workers over those four years.
  • The factory floor area will cover 20 million square feet.
  • Up to 13,000 workers could eventually be employed and paid an average of $53,875 a year, plus benefits.
  • Will generate estimated $181 million in state and local tax revenue annually, including $60 million in local property taxes.
  • Wisconsin will kick in $3 billion in state incentives over 15 years.
  • Wisconsin is not projected to break even on the incentive package for at least 25 years (that's 2042).
These projections factor in the maximum of 13,000 workers along with thousands of indirect jobs associated with the project, which Wisconsin officials have said will solidify the Foxconn project as a net win. Foxconn also say they are planning a research and development facility for autonomous vehicle components in Michigan.


Monday, May 2, 2016

STEM Studies: The Future of Engineering

Lauren Wilson,  Director of Admissions at Florida Polytechnic University offered the following as a guest post. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks Lauren!

New developments in the field of engineering owe a large debt to engineers with degrees from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These developments are making huge strides for organizations across the board, but the environmental, medical and manufacturing industries in particular. Here are four examples.

3D Printing
Prototypes are a key part of turning a concept into a final product, but creating one was labor-intensive before the advent of 3D printing. 3D printing allows mechanical engineers to put their imaginations to the test and build 3D visual representations much faster than physical prototypes. In addition to speed, 3D printing is also more cost-efficient and easier to use than physical prototyping.

Nanotechnology is changing the way mechanical engineers work by opening up the possibility of manufacturing devices on the molecular and atomic level for custom applications. These devices, which are designed to reduce weight, volume and power demands, carry the added benefit of greater sustainability.

For example, a nanotechnology engineer may work in the environmental industry testing different pollutants in the world’s food supply on the cellular level. Successful research would reduce these pollutants on a nanoscale and lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future.

STEM-focused curriculums provide an advantage in nanotechnology, because students work with cutting-edge technology to find solutions for real-world challenges. STEM universities also quickly adapt to industry changes to ensure best practices are taught for creating these materials.

Grid Decentralization
Electrical engineers focus primarily on up-and-coming fields in the engineering industry, including grid decentralization. Grid decentralization is gaining popularity from Colorado to Denmark as a way to reduce the environmental impact created by its communities. Unlike conventional power stations, grid decentralization technology uses renewable energy sources like solar and wind to create power. STEM studies have helped cities and countries transform the way they collect power by thoroughly covering topics ranging from micro-grids to “smart” grids. More importantly, these studies put creative power directly into the hands of students with hands-on projects, internships and real-world challenges. 

Lean Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing has dramatically reshaped the roles of industrial engineers over the past decade. Driven by STEM studies, lean manufacturing is focuses on eliminating waste from production processes to create a more agile system. With a primary focus on making systems more sustainable, faster and cost-effective, industrial engineers developed this principle based on studies in STEM subjects including: multifunctional materials, nanotechnology, supply chain logistics, Six Sigma and system analysis. 

Universities offering industrial engineering degree programs take a pragmatic approach to learning in the classroom. Students can expect to concentrate on applying the principles of design, analysis and manufacturing to real-world challenges to improve mechanical systems.

Artificial Organs
Biomedical engineering fuses engineering principles with biology to build life-saving medical technologies such as artificial organs. Although biomedical engineering has had a long history, the most recent groundbreaking technologies are a result of advanced education in STEM subjects. Artificial hearts and iPills, for example, are two biomedical engineering breakthroughs that have restored hope for critically ill patients. Biomedical engineering students in STEM learn how to develop and maintain improved medical systems, and perform research on artificial organs, implanted devices, prosthetics and radiation therapy.

STEM focuses solely on the four subjects used most frequently by engineers, and it essentially guarantees that more breakthroughs and improvements are to come. With the help of a STEM education, engineers can apply best practices for reducing energy consumption, minimizing environmental impact and increasing efficiency. From 3D printing to nanotechnology, there’s no denying the future of engineering is bright and full of potential.

Lauren Willison

As the Director of Admissions at Florida Polytechnic University, Lauren Willison is responsible for supporting the Vice Provost of Enrollment in managing recruitment efforts. She develops and coordinates on- and off-campus events, as well as manages the campus visit experience.

Friday, November 20, 2015

SUNY Poly Utica Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C)

Yesterday before a meeting at SUNY Poly Utica I had the chance to go on a tour of the almost completed Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C) building located on campus. Here's a few specs on the facility:

  • 253,000 sq. ft. including 56,000 sq. ft. of Class 100 and Class 1000 capable cleanroom space.
  • Will host phase one public-private partnerships highlighted by a consortium spearheaded by SUNY Poly CNSE that includes leading technology companies such as Advanced Nanotechnology Solutions Incorporated (ANS), SEMATECH, Atotech and CNSE partners, including IBM, Lam Research and Tokyo Electron. 
  • Annual operating budget to exceed $500 million
  • Projected to result in the creation of 1,500 high-tech jobs, groundbreaking academic programs, and cutting-edge workforce training opportunities.
  • The cleanrooms are stacked - not something you see much of outside of highly populated places like Singapore.
Here's a few pics I took on the tour.

Shot of the new building between Library and Admin Buildings

Flexible space - could be used for cubicles, walled offices, etc or configured as cleanroom extension

Above each cleanroom air handlers, sprinkler system etc. These systems can be maintained, upgraded etc with contaminating cleanroom

One of the huge cleanrooms and yes those little specs are people doing a final cleaning

Workers adding the CNSE sign to the building

Those 1,500 new jobs will have an average annual salary of $91,000, and an estimated annual payroll of more than $136 million once full-scale production is achieved. I am a strong believer in public-private partnerships and the SUNY Poly CNSE effort is one of the most successful I've had the opportunity to see.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Automobile Collision Avoidance: Ultrasonic Sensors

It's been a while and I wanted to expand a little bit on my June intelligent car post and discuss collision avoidance technology in a little more detail. All collision avoidance technologies use sensors that collect information that is processed by onboard computers in the car. Let's talk about ultrasonic parking sensors today.

Ultrasonic parking sensors are typically mounted in the bumpers and used for parking systems. Effective distance for a transducers depends on the circuit and signal sequencing that is being used so the sensitivity varies across different devices. Parking sensors are designed for relatively short parking distances of 0-5 feet. 

You may have noticed them on car bumpers and wondered what they were. Here's a close-up picture of one on an Audi A4 (pic source: They are about the size of a nickel.

Distance is commonly indicated by a sequence of beeps and the closer the obstacle is to the sensor the faster the sequence of beeps until a continuous tone is emitted indicating that your bumper about one foot (or less) away from the obstacle. Here's a short 58 second demonstration video demonstrating BMW's Park Distance Control (PDC).

Ultrasonic means above the audio frequency range and these sensors typically operate somewhere between 40 kHz and 70 kHz. In future posts I'll describe camera, radar, and lidar systems.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An Experience With An Intelligent Car

Yesterday I attended an excellent advisory board meeting for a National Science Foundation funded eBook project called E-MATE at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. Mike and Kelly are doing some really cutting edge ground-breaking work in the development of electronic instructional materials and it was an excellent meeting. I need to do some writing here about the work they are doing. Today though – I want to write about cars.

Diane was away and I had the chance to drive her car (a 2014 Volvo XC70) back and forth to the meeting. We leased this car in December 2013 and she’s the primary driver.  Yesterday was my first opportunity to take this car solo (solo is the key word here) on a road trip of almost 500 miles. The car is loaded with just about every option including the technology package and I’ve been chomping at the bit to really give the technologies a test, especially after seeing one of the autonomous Google self-driving cars in downtown Mountain View a few weeks ago.

Volvo does not offer a self-driving package (yet) but my experience - it is pretty darn close to self-driving with the technology package that adds adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam control, frontal collision warning, automatic braking for frontal collision crash mitigation, a driver inattention monitor, blind-spot warning system, active xenon headlights, and lane-departure warning to an already incredibly safe and comfortable car.

Now - driving from Massachusetts to New Jersey on a weekday is always an experience – New York City cannot be avoided unless you want to add hours to the trip and that means bumper-to-bumper traffic, crazy drivers and lots of intense time behind the wheel.

I was so impressed with the car – stop and go for at least a couple of hours and no need to hit the brakes or the accelerator. It took some time to get used to – I had to “trust” the car but once I did – amazing! An alarm that goes off if the car starts to drift outside the lane (unless a directional has been used). Sensors that monitor and determine whether the driver is becoming tired and inattentive. Cameras that watch for speed limit signs and indicate when the speed limit has changed. A blind spot warning system that indicates a car is coming up from behind on either side. Sensors that monitor oncoming traffic and control high beams.

Does the car drive itself – no – not yet but it is pretty close. Did I push the technology? I don't think so. I let the car do what it is designed to do. What did I do? I pretty much steered and adjusted the cruise control up and down. I did not have to use the accelerator or brakes unless I wanted to on the highway, whether I was going 70 mph or in a stop and go traffic jam.

As an FYI Volvo in 2017 will start testing 100 "production-viable" autonomous self-driving cars in Sweden with real drivers like you and me. These test cars have 28 cameras, lasers, sensors, and radar units along with integrated computers and communications systems that make up the self-driving system.  How soon will we have the chance to purchase a self-driving car? Right now it is looking like 2020.

With my new position at the Center for Optics and Photonics Education and my past position at the Information and Communications Technologies Center, cars (and a lot of other devices) are really hitting a sweet tech spot for me. Infrared lasers, optical sensors, integrated GPS, radar and cameras collecting large amounts of data, onboard computers processing the data, communicating back to the car and driver and making intelligent "pretty-big-data" decisions. Super cool stuff and I’ll be writing over the summer about some of these individual technologies and how they work.

Now for me – it is back to my older Toyota product with none of the car sensor and intelligent technologies (it does have a back-up camera and Bluetooth). I have to remember when I’m driving my car all of the “intelligence” is up to the driver. Ohhhh Noooo :)