SENSE & SENSIBILITY: Nokia's concept sensors, if used by enough people, could give updated information related to environmental conditions, health and weather on locales all over the world. See video here. Image: NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN
Click here for a full list of our coverage of the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.
LAS VEGAS—On Day Two of the Consumer Electronics Show, the SciAm team literally played it close to the vest. Avoiding the punditry of the seminars, and following a tip from a recent SciAm.com article, the contingent sought out gaming vest that translates the force of virtual bullet impacts into actual thumps—perfect for Halo frag fests.
It took nearly all day to track down the device. Along the way, the team took in some demos at the IBM station, saw an ultra-secure hard drive and discovered a mobile phone company's grand environmental monitoring concept.
A Hard Drive Built Like Fort Knox—But Who Needs the Protection?
The star product at the Seagate booth is the Maxtor BlackArmor hard drive, a nearly impenetrable data safe guarded by Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption, an algorithm issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2001 and benchmarked for five years. Essentially, it's the sort of cryptography the U.S. government uses (if that gives you greater peace of mind). First off, the firmware (the application that controls the device) is located in the guts of the drive and does not require drivers for your PC. (The drive is not yet compatible with Macs.) When you plug BlackArmor into your USB port, it registers as a 3.5-megabyte CD. The device is locked until a password is entered, at which point it presents itself as a 160-gigabyte hard drive. "The drive is not a drive until it is unlocked," explains product manager Jon Van Bronkhorst. When power is cut to the drive, it automatically locks back up and cannot be unlocked without the password, from which the encryption key is partially generated. The downside: like the speakeasies of the 1920s, if you forget the password, you're not getting in.
Nokia Keeps Tabs on the Local Environment
In a corner of the Finnish cell phone maker's demo pit were bronze-colored sensors, which are part of Nokia's ambitious Eco Sensor Concept. The hope is that, in the future, people will wear these devices, which collect various forms of data: environmental (ultraviolet radiation levels, levels of airborne carbon monoxide and particulate matter), health (heart rate, local noise level) and weather (air pressure, temperature and humidity). The goal is a detailed picture of a person's surroundings and their effect on the wearer. (Click here to watch a related video.) The sensors are made using printed electronics, where inks that conduct electricity are layered on plastic surfaces, which in this case are made from biomass that is converted into polylactic acid in a low-energy process.
The company wants to "bring the awareness of the local environment and share the data," the restrained booth attendant explained. Then people will know, "Is it safe where I am? Is it safe where we are going?" Data on the sensors, which can be worn on one's clothing or on a watch-like assembly, can be synced to a cell phone or other mobile device and then shared with friends. It's sort of like citizen reporting on your current location.
IBM Offers Immersive and Collaborative Graphics Experience
Upon arriving at the sprawling IBM corner, it's hard to miss the Deep Computing Visualization display. Where else at CES could you see a two-by-two grid of higher-than-HD-quality monitors display a rotating 3-D image of a skyscraper, folded protein or brain slice? Feed the powerful IBM computer running the displays a 3-D image created in an application with an open graphics library (OpenGL), and the system renders and scales it to the largest output device you have available. The visualization algorithm then allows you to rotate the image and continue feeding data, which updates the display in real time. It can also take a 2-D image and shift it a bit, allowing it to be viewed three-dimensionally once rendered, provided you have 3-D glasses.