Accelerometrics:
The art of motion sensing. Because motion is life.

 

We look around, everything is in motion. When motion slows, life pauses. Motion shapes our lives and gravity defines motion. We want to use gestures to control mobile devices: ShakeShake to roll virtual dice in the iPhone, TapTap to adjust the volume on the headset, Tilt ‘n Roll to navigate Google maps. We use motion to control our favorite devices and interpret motion to improve our sports performance and our health.

Gravity, Galileo, Newton and Us

Gravity keeps us grounded. It’s our blessing and our curse. Gravity is the key force that shaped evolution. Accelerometers sense gravity, giving us the signals to understand motion. The ancient Greeks with all their brilliance didn’t understand motion, gravity or time very well. More than fifteen hundred years later, Galileo became the father of modern science. Before Galileo, with the prevalence of “Greek Cosmology,” heavier things fell faster and the earth was at the center of the universe. Galileo changed everything. He was skeptical of all the grand Greek schemes. He simply used his pulse to measure time and rolled balls of different weights on the same inclines. He carefully marked where each ball came to rest with every heartbeat (about one per second). Careful observation showed that no matter what the weight was, the balls all moved following the same patterns: one unit in one heartbeat, four in two, nine in three and sixteen in four. Galileo created a repeatable and reliable experiment. Later he used water-clocks and pendulums to measure time more accurately. The Greeks were toast and the modern scientific method was invented: observe, reason and experiment. It was the dawn of the 17th century, some three hundred years ago. Newton then took all the pieces, trusted in Galileo’s principle of inertia and postulated that there had to be a force that attracted the Earth to the Sun and the Sun to the Earth and everything to everything else in the universe. We still don’t understand the nature of that force. But we know that gravity is everywhere, keeping the universe in balance.

Walking: Defying Gravity

Walking is so natural to humans that we forget the millions of years of evolution that allowed us to defy gravity by standing up and running on our hind legs consistently. Something that most children learn to do before they are two years old essentially defines us as a species. Our head, brain, intellect above all. Standing tall, making weapons, hunting in groups, using tools, and inventing technology has given us humans complete control of the planet. For the better and the worse. Consider this factoid: for every wild ‘protected endangered gorgeous wild wolf,’ there are more than 1000 pet dogs. The domesticated Canis Lupis seems to have prospered much better than the wolf in the wild. Smart move. We now get to use technology to try to better understand motion. After defying gravity, we get to measure gravity. And for this we use motion sensors. With smaller, more accurate and more power efficient sensors we can embed motion sensing in almost every mobile device. Now we are measuring and interpreting gravity and taking action.

Measuring Gravity with Sensors and Calibrating Human Motion

Thanks to Newton and Galileo, we know that we can understand motion by measuring acceleration. Cinematics, the science that studies motion, uses high-school calculus to relate acceleration, speed and position. In a mobile device, when we do this in real time we don’t really integrate acceleration to get speed and speed to get position. We interpret the signals of the sensors and recognize motion patterns. Just like a good speech recognition engine recognizes words captured by a microphone. We use innovative technology to interpret signals captured by nano-technology based sensors so that our mobiles tell us how fast we are running or walking for example. The science of accelerometers is profound and essential. Satellite based navigation systems are of little use when signals vanish in an urban canyon or a wooded area or when changes in position and motion are unrelated as on a treadmill. Accelerometrics is a cool new discipline. Newton and Galileo would love it.

Putting Life and Motion in Control

The Wii changed gaming consoles by moving them from the hardcore gamer community to the mainstream. My 11 year old daughter and I love to play Mario Kart with the rest of the family. Great stuff on a big screen. On mobiles, in the palm of our hands, it’s a different experience. TapTap, ShakeShake, Tilt ‘n Roll are naturals. Motion now controls a whole virtual mobile world. The motion-aware mobile platform is the new media. It is going to be by far the most popular platform in the world as it is just a matter of time before everyone of our billions of motion-enabled co-humans wants one. Because life is motion.

 

Will my favorite Android soon dream of sheep?

People use AI as a buzz-word to promote the Roomba vacuum cleaner: That’s a great sign! To be fair, it does fit into a definition of AI of a system that perceives the environment and can make intelligent decisions. The kind of decisions that a reasonable human would make. Now imagine if every camera-phone had the ability to “sense the environment” and make “intelligent decisions” that can anticipate and act meaningfully. Then AI comes as a way to help and enhance the lives of real intelligent beings: All of us!

AI is present in a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success. For example the next generation of sensor-enhanced mobile devices may use enough smarts to qualify as AI-based systems. At least that is what we are working very hard on doing at Fullpower.

AI is not just about systems that can learn. I think that for AI, what is more important is understanding the environment and making inferences that maximize chances of success. Learning can be part of the process. It is not necessary or sufficient. By the same token, natural language processing is not automatically AI. It can be. We can use AI techniques as part of a system that does natural language processing. But language is not automatically intelligence. It is communications.

For years, the Turing Test was seen as the criterium and the end of it all: If a human communicating using text messages with a machine wasn’t able to recognize that he/she was dialoguing with a machine, then that machine had to be “artificially intelligent”. The Turing test in my opinion is simply about building a machine good enough to be able to fool a human into believing that it is human through any text message interaction. It’s of course always an interesting exercise, but at the end of the day it does not attempt to truly emulate the advanced problem solving abilities of human intelligence. Let alone any form of “social-intelligence” or understanding of the environment via sensors for example. And conversely we can think of many humans who could fail the test themselves yet have “natural intelligence”. So the Turning test may just be an interesting exercise, but not a way to characterize machine or human intelligence.

As it is many times the case, I think that academia may have gotten a bit stuck with the LISP machines industry and with robots. The thought was to replace human intelligence and/or labor. However things are changing quickly and technology is moving by leaps and bounds. For example, when we all thought that robotics would allow American and European manufacturing to be more competitive, China has become the “factory of the world” without technology by leveraging an endless low-wage hard-working low-skilled workforce. Present day industrial robots are made of just a little bit of AI and a lot of electronics and mechanics. I’d take R2D2 any day! The world of sensor-enabled and enhanced devices with integrated inference engines has the greatest practical promises for AI’s long term success. Next generation robots get better!

Yes, I’d predict that most of the successful and useful advances will come from sensor-enabled devices and networks of such sensor enabled devices. Both will be important and make significant advances using sensor-enhanced solutions.

Yet, as Shakespeare eloquently says: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” Our robots and machines don’t dream yet. Or as Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” asks is the true test “emotional intelligence”?

Cover of first edition (hardcover)

Cell Phone, The Ring Heard Around The World

http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/cellphones/video.html

This piece is 41 minutes on the camera phone. There is even some stand-up paddle-surf and great footage from Asia.

The creation of the camera phone starts at about 21:10 and runs through 27:00.

Some highlights:

The story of the “Camera Phone Birth” at 21 minutes
Sophie from behind a camera-phone taking a photo at 23:06 (the story turned around!)
Footage from Fullpower’s office including Arthur and Philippe at 38 minutes with lots of details: Games, Sports, Fitness, User experience

 

Sensor-Based Phones are the Next Big Thing!

People are asking what’s next in wireless technology?

It’s sensor-based camera-phones that integrate motion, light and touch technology and will do for camera-phones what the Wii has done for game consoles. Opportunities like this only come around every 5-7 years and it’s here now.

For the last 5 years, Fullpower has been building breakthrough sensor-based technology with rapid deployment strategies, end-to-end solutions and a strong IP portfolio. I have to say that our team is very proud of our foresight in “seeing” the future.

We are inventing the future of mobile devices. That’s really exciting!

 

The future of camera-phones, the next couple of years.

Q and A with Philippe Kahn, CEO of Fullpower,
Creator of the first camera-phone solution

What’s next for user-handset interaction?

Philippe Kahn>> Motion is coming next . Shake your camera-phone to pick-up a call. No buttons, not fingers. Simple natural gestures. Tap it to advance songs in the media player.

What can we learn from devices like the iPhone, Nintendo Wii, Logitech MX Air that utilize accelerometers and 3D space sensors?
Philippe Kahn>> The Wii did a lot of things right. What you are going to see is a lot of what people hadn’t thought about for motion. Very cool, interactive and a surprise for many. It takes complex software technology to make it work right. All the prior attempts have been botched. Just like there were lots of touch-screen phones before the iPhone. But nobody had it right.
Will there be a change in how we use our handsets?
Philippe Kahn>> Camera-phones are communications tools. So that’s what we’ll continue doing with them: Talk, share, watch, play. How we do it gets more intuitive, direct and fun. Motion is a natural way.
Do users have a need for accelerometers and orientation sensors in their phones?
Philippe Kahn>> Sensors bring magic to many devices. But the sensors themselves can’t do anything without the breakthrough solutions. Accelerometers have deployed airbags in cars for 20 year, they just became useful for gaming. For the last 4 years dozens of team members at Fullpower have been inventing new ways to use sensors and bring a paradigm shift to camera-phones, MP3 players and many other devices. People have tried sensors in camera-phones before, but the software didn’t work properly and it all remained a science project.
What is FullPower working on to address this?
Philippe Kahn>> Fullpower has built a huge technology and IP portfolio and filed dozens of patents during the last 4 years. Fullpower works with market leaders to take their camera-phones to the next level of usability. The nature of the Fullpower business is that we can’t discuss the projects that we work on for competitive reasons. We are very discrete. In fact if you asked me whether our technology is embedded into one or another handset contractually I’d have to say: “No Comment”. 🙂
Do you think the cell phone will eventually evolve into a phone, internet device, GPS navigation system and more? If so, what tweaks will we need to implement to the interface?
Philippe Kahn>> There will be all sorts of camera-phones. Small, medium, large. All users are different. We will see everything in terms of functionality, form-factors and interaction models. Sensors embedded in all these camera-phones working with Fullpower’s software will make camera-phones smarter and much more aware of the environment they are in. That means a much cooler user experience. When everyone does voice, email, browsing, chatting, pictures, video…. What counts is user experience. And our vision at Fullpower is to radically simplify the user experience.

 

 

 

NPR

This whole weekend, NPR (National Public radio) runs a big piece on the camera phone and its impact on society. I have to say that all business partners, friends and family members have had a great impact in shaping the camera phone. Click here to listen

Nanotechnology and micro machines

Nanotechnology and micro machines

The shrinking image sensors have allowed us to ship 1 billion camera phones in 2007. Now the same is happening with all sorts of other sensors. The key is MEMS technology, our ability to make mechanical and electromagnetic devices ever smaller. A digital compass the size of a needle-pin. Five gyroscopes that can be fitted in the form-factor of a dime. All this represents major technology breakthroughs. There is major innovation in building the hardware and now the software that makes it all work.

We are less than a decade away from the medical lab the size of a sugar cube.

We are less than a decade away from a truly non-invasive blood glucose and heart monitor.

We are close to the the next revolution in managing our world.

 

Happy Holidays

2006 has been a great year of Building technology.

Inventing.

Innovating.

Continuing to bring together the greatest core team.

Inventing the future is hard work. There is no feeling like that one. It’s like magic when you start seeing the technology really working.

2006 is winding down while even more excitement is building into 2007.

Happy Holidays.

 

Always-On Technology

As the second disastrous hurricane makes landfall, Rita after Katrina, I can’t help but to think how always-on technology in particular wireless applied to life sciences could have helped hundreds of thousand of Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas residents. There is an immense sense of purpose in innovating and inventing a future that will radically improve everyone’s lives. This is now especially true when we see the magnitude of some of the natural disasters that so many are facing. Ultimately there is no better satisfaction than to be working on solutions that will improve and help everyone’s lives. It’s clear that our Fullpower team has now an even greater sense of purpose.

Repeat Business Success and Vision

1. Founding Fullpower and making LightSurf a Success:
We started Fullpower at the beginning of 2003 while LightSurf was doubling its size year to year. Fullpower is today where LightSurf was in 2002/2003: An industry-defining vision of huge potential. We are keeping our focus confidential, as we have learned over the years: Quietly develop the breakthrough technology, build success, and then talk about it. That’s a little different than what most companies do these days. Let me just say that Fullpower will be my fourth successful technology company, our potential is huge, and I am very excited about it.

2. Launching Fullpower after making LightSurf a success
LightSurf is a great vision because effectively we invented Camera-phones in 1997. When we founded the company before anyone, anywhere had seen them. Now they are everywhere in the world, and LightSurf has key patents, inventions, customers, and a great business. Right before our IPO, we were acquired by a great company Verisign, and I think that this will help accelerate the vision and the technology for LightSurf. It’s also yet a case where “another child leaves the nest after 7 years of hard work,” but it is nice because this is a “happy child”.

3. Founding LightSurf after making Starfish a success:
There are always emotional attachments to the team-members, the technology, the customers in any business. But when there is a successful outcome like with Borland (where the company continues independently) or Starfish (where the company is successfully acquired), it is like having children that grow up and successfully leave the family home to start their own families. It’s a “happy transition”.

4. Founding Starfish after leaving Borland:
I left Borland, then a US public company, because of a profound disagreement with the board of Directors. It was 1994 and I could see the wireless and the Internet as “the next big market opportunity.” The Board did not want to have anything to do with it. As a CEO, you must have board support. I didn’t have it—so I left abruptly to build outside of Borland what I wanted to build “inside of Borland.” We founded Starfish software and pioneered synchronization and integrations of wireless devices. This was a great business opportunity because we were innovating in a high-growth market and after 12 years—where every day I was competing with Bill Gates and Microsoft—Microsoft was not present in that market. Starfish became a great success and Motorola acquired our company in 1998 just as we were about to do an IPO.

5. What I learned at Borland:
Great company, great success. We were the only viable competitor to Microsoft. I am proud that I “built the company to last.” Borland is still around a successful public company with a leadership for professional software development tools. Note that none of the companies that were famous at the time are still around: Lotus, Software Publishing, Visicorp, Wordperfect, Netscape etc… They are all essentially gone. The challenge that I had at Borland was competition with Microsoft, which is much clearer to everyone today after one look at the faith of companies such as Netscape. All this said, Borland is the company that was my training ground for 12 years, and I learned so much. We built the company on innovation and had to compete with the toughest company in the world, Microsoft. That was the best business school in the world for a Mathematician who at the time knew nothing about business!