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Category Archives: Science

Today, while running around the UL campus for final year project demonstrations, the light fantastic stopped me in the stairwell. Last year, I saw it the 6th of March. Seeing a full spectrum slowly moving across a floor or a wall, and trying to figure out where the perfect angles and refractory indices are (in this case a window in the UL’s Engineering Research Building) still fascinates me.

light fantastic rainbow spectrum

Let’s hope the sunshine continues and that spring eventually decides to stay.

When I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning by experimenting with all kinds of things. I also learnt a lot from various educational science kits that sympathetic parents bought, probably trying to facilitate my interests (or hoping to contain the interests on the safe side of science and technology). There were all kinds of exciting kits, ranging from The Little Electrician, to the Chemistry kit, to the Nuclear Energy exploration kit….

In addition to this, it was really fun to combine the kits with Lego, Meccano and bits and pieces from broken things found in the basement.
Back in the 1960s, it was also possible, as a kid, to walk in to the local pharmacy and buy all kinds of interesting stuff (e.g. HCL, HNO3, H2SO4, NH3, more or less the whole chemical alphabet….). You could also get a good variety of electronic components in all radio shops.

Later in life, I have always tried to choose stuff with open-ended educational value when buying (or making!) birthday gifts to young people. Sadly, the possibility to send anything interesting abroad by post has recently been made almost impossible.

The Irish postal service An Post now demand that you fill out an Aviation Security Declaration when sending a larger letter or small parcel. As far as I have googled this, it’s a fairly recent thing (February 2012?). Perhaps it’s the UK that have forced Ireland into this, as most of the stuff posted in Ireland with destinations in Europe pass through the UK, and with the Olympics and other silly antics around the corner, they are really paranoid about everything.

This leaves me with the only option, to post the most dangerous of all things: books. Books may contain ideas that may change the world.

Beside one of my working-at-home locations, there’s an off-white wall over a fireplace. On a sunny day (not too many of them this spring!), between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, the sunlight is refracted in a window in front of me, painting a very slowly moving pattern on the wall beside me.

As a graphic, it looks almost organic as it’s fading like breathing when small, light clouds pass the sun. The pattern moves, ever so slowly, along the wall and then suddenly disappears when the optical alignment is beyond whatever special condition that was there for a while disappears.

For another day, I might try to make sound from this…

More observations of light can be found here.

It is a real mystery that a lot of people think that touch screen and multi-touch technology is a novelty. Touch screens have a long history, see for example Bill Buxton‘s extensive research on this topic.
In my own work, I stumbled into touch screen research around 1984, while speculating about possibilities to optically interconnect VLSI circuits through optically transmissive substrates. As my own lab did not have the facilities to try out some of the ideas on a micro-scale, we fiddled with normal sized opto-components and circuits, assuming that the principles would scale down if we ever managed to get a budget to pursue this radical idea.
We never found any funding for the VLSI optical interconnects, but we continued to explore the possibilities with the experimental setup, which resulted in the largest touch screens in the world at the time.

Early touch screen prototype, 1986

We were very lucky to get in contact with the local transport company in Gothenburg who gave us an order for three prototype systems. This, in turn, led to contacts with Swedish Rail, via KNM electronics, and a full deployment of our touch technology at all railway stations in Sweden.

One of the first full-scale touch screen for public transport info. 1988

One of the STINS systems, developed for Swedish Rail. 1989.

As my own interest was and remain to make new prototypes, I refocused on making slightly smaller devices that would fit around normal computer screens, CRTs. We succeeded in designing such a smaller system, more lightweight and less expensive.

The VENTRI prototype. A General Purpose Portable Communicator with a touch screen. 1992

This led to explorations of how touch technology may be used by users with different forms of physical disability. We participated in the EU initiative TIDE – Technological Initiative for Disabled and Elderly. In this European collaboration we came to work together with Speech Technology Ltd and Circuits Test and Systems Ltd  at Trinity College in Dublin. The collaboration resulted in a pretty amazing prototype of a General Purpose Portable Communicator targeted at users who could not speak and with various degrees of physical and cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find funding for any volume production and marketing of the device.

Touch screen for London Underground passenger info. 1993.

Later, I came in contact with Multimedia Technologies Ireland (MTI) in Plassey Technological Park in Limerick and Trinity College in Dublin. Together with MTI, we developed two prototypes of a system for interactive passenger information for London Underground.

My smallest touch screen prototype. Handheld. 1994.

I also started to fiddle with a really small device, a handheld unit. I made one single prototype and tried to show it, in confidence, to a few of the larger manufacturers. The one and only prototype disappeared during one of these excursions and I only have one single photo left of it, from around 1994.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Friday evening, we went to see the Old Irish Radio Show at The Loft @ The Locke. It was an interesting and entertaining take on how radio used to be in Ireland. Great venue!

Saturday started with 3Dcamp at UL with a number of interesting talks and demos.

I had to leave during the afternoon for a while as the Limerick School of Art and Design opened their end-of-year show.

I only had time to see about half of the exhibition and will have to get back there again during the coming week.

After this, back to UL for Prof. William O’Connor‘s highly stimulating talk about “Is the Internet changing your brain?”.