Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Optical Fiber Fabric Snaps Pictures

Semiconductors nestled in a polymer fiber can create a photographic image

from: IEEE Spectrum

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a polymer fiber that can detect the angle, intensity, phase, and wavelength of light hitting it, information that can be used to re-create a picture of an object without a lens.

”Once you have the phase and amplitude of a wave, you can then figure out what the object was that the wave emanated from,” says Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Photonic Bandgap Fibers and Devices Group.

Fink and his team reported in the July issue of Nano Letters that they’d managed to build semiconductor detectors with metal contacts inside a polymer fiber. They then used a grid of those fibers to image an object, specifically a picture of a smiley face. The devices were two concentric tubes of a semiconducting glass, each with four tin contacts serving as electrodes. Each tube was embedded in insulating polyethersulfone. As is usual when creating optical fibers, the researchers started with a thick boule of the materials, which they heated and drew out into a fiber that was just micrometers in diameter.

A mesh of such fibers captures an image in a less straightforward way than a conventional digital camera does. Light striking the fiber causes a change in the conductivity of the semiconductor, measuring the light’s intensity. Because each of the eight electrodes measures a different change, the researchers can extract information about the angle of illumination. Because there are two layers of semiconductor, the device can deduce a wavelength as well. That’s because the first layer will absorb a certain percentage of the light, and the second layer will absorb another fraction, with the proportion that each absorbs depending on the wavelength. Further, by using two wavelengths, the fibers can calculate the phase of the light. Given all of that information, a computer algorithm can reconstruct the image.

Fink compares this process to using a conventional digital camera but removing the lens and using only the imaging chip to collect the light. Such a setup would produce a diffraction pattern rather than an image. In standard photography, the lens provides the phase information needed to turn the diffraction pattern into an image, whereas with the fibers, it’s the algorithm that essentially does the focusing.

What’s more, if they add a third layer of semiconductor, the fiber would likely get enough wavelength information to reproduce color. He says the team has not verified that experimentally yet.

In fact, he says the camera’s main significance is that it contains eight separate functional devices inside a fiber. The challenge was finding the right combination of different materials with different characteristics, such as viscosity and tensile strength, and assembling them in such a way that they would maintain
their geometry during the drawing process. ”This is all part of a grander scheme,” Fink says. ”Our goal is to achieve a very high level of sophisticated functionality in a fiber, similar to semiconductor devices but using fiber-draw techniques.”

Juan Hinestroza, director of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell University, calls Fink’s work ”pretty cool.”

”The ability to impart a fiber with more functions than structural or cosmetic [ones] is very interesting,” Hinestroza says.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Examining the HTML 5 Video Codec Debate

from: Slashdot

Ars Technica has a great breakdown of the codec debate for the HTML 5 video element. Support for the new video element seems to be split into two main camps, Ogg Theora and H.264, and the inability to find a solution has HTML 5 spec editor Ian Hickson throwing in the towel.

"Hickson outlined the positions of each major browser vendor and explained how the present impasse will influence the HTML 5 standard. Apple and Google favor H.264 while Mozilla and Opera favor Ogg Theora. Google intends to ship its browser with support for both codecs, which means that Apple is the only vendor that will not be supporting Ogg. 'After an inordinate amount of discussions, both in public and privately, on the situation regarding codecs for and in HTML5, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship,' Hickson wrote. 'I have therefore removed the two subsections in the HTML5 spec in which codecs would have been required, and have instead left the matter undefined.'"

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Niro JPEG Patent rejected Again

FROM TechDirt

Lawyer Raymond Niro, for whom the term "patent troll" was apparently first coined, has been known to use the fact that he represents a company called Global Patent Holdings (GPH) to his advantage. GPH owns patent 5,253,341, but looking at it there won't do much good. You see, Niro and others claimed that the patent covered pretty much anyone running a web server, leading to quite a few legal battles, including one against a guy, Greg Aharonian, who called it a "bad patent." For claiming that, he got sued for patent infringement. In fighting the patent, it was re-examined, and all 16 of its claims were rejected... but a 17th claim was added and allowed to stand.

Since then the patent has been asserted against a wide range of organizations, including some resort in Florida and the Green Bay Packers. Niro appears to claim that any site using a JPEG image violates the patent. Not only that, but in cases where the patent has been asserted, Niro has been known to go for something of a sympathy play, by noting that the inventors (or the widow of one inventor) named on the patent are "old and feeble" (yes, they called them feeble) and made almost no money in 2006 (even though the filing was in 2008 -- some noted that their 2007 income was conveniently left out).

With so many cases involving this patent underway, the USPTO agreed to re-examine the one claim (claim 17). And, with that re-exam going on, a judge on one of the cases put the case on hold until the re-exam is done. While GPH protested, claiming that the patent had already been re-examined (and that the re-exam process took too long), the judge pointed out that there's only one claim left (so it should be faster) and that this particular claim had never been re-examined, since it was added during the last re-exam.

Story continues at TechDirt

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July 1: A Television Trifecta

Wire has an excellent story
July 1: A Television Trifecta

July 1: It’s a triple anniversary, a signal day in television history. The Federal Communications Commission was established this day in 1934. The NTSC television standard went into effect exactly seven years later in 1941. And that same day, a New York City station telecast the first legal TV commercial.

There are records of television commercials dating back to 1928 aired by W1XAY in Lexington, Massachusetts. Boston’s W1XAV ran a commercial for I.J. Fox Furriers on Dec. 7, 1930. That one drew a fine, because the station’s license did not authorize the selling of commercial television time.

NBC’s New York City station, WNBT-TV (now WNBC-TV), had the first such license, and it ran the first official TV commercial on its first day of commercial operation, July 1, 1941.

Other good stories @ Wired.

Aug. 1, 1949: FCC Gets In on Cable TV

Comcast CEO Promises 100-Mbps Cable by Next Year

What Recession? Pay TV Poised for Sharp Growth, Says Research Firm