TIDC 2008 - two days of hi-tech fun!


Thanks to Khasim and Jagadeesh, I was able to attend the Texas Instruments Developer's Conference, 2008 at Bangalore on November 5th and 6th - and I am happy to say that it was one of the best tech conferences which I had ever attended! Gene Frantz, Principal Fellow at TI and a Signal Processing pioneer was definitely the "star" of the show. The inventor of Gene's law was the kind of speaker you would love listening to - not just for his humour but also for the kind of vision which only such people can have. His definition of "impossible" (from the point of view of technology) is this - stuff which has not yet been done! One of the ways to innovate, according to him, was to look around for big things and try to find out how they can be made smaller. That might be the motivation behind the TI DLP Pico projector, which Lee Aby (one of my old students from GEC Thrissur and currently a TI employee) was demonstrating as part of the tech exhibition. The LCD projector is big and bulky - make it small enough to fit in a mobile phone and you have another technological revolution in the making! These mini projectors use DLP technology to create images. Imagine a matrix of 800x600 micro mirrors arranged on a surface the size of a postage stamp - images are formed on the projection surface by moving these mirrors ... it seems to be almost magical (Clarke's law applies - any significantly advanced technology *is* indistinguishable from magic)! Lee showed me this magical mirror-of-mirrors - I didn't take a camera with me this time - so, let me just "borrow" the Wikipedia image: As you bring down the size of things, you are also looking at reducing power consumption. The topic of Murugavel Raju's talk was - From Low power to NO power. Don't be shocked - no fundamental revolution in Physics was announced at TIDC 2008! Murugavel was simply talking about another technology which is going to become mainstream in the next few years - Energy Harvesting. There are a lot of sources around us from which very small amounts of energy (micro-milli watt range) can be "harvested" - the idea is to eliminate batteries and use such "harvested" energy to power applications like wireless sensor networks. Sensor networks are going to become ubiquitous in the future - and harvesting technology will play a crucial role in making it possible. (Imagine an "intelligent" switch - the energy harvested from mechanically putting ON the switch can be used to send a small RF control packet to the device). After the talk, Murugavel demonstrated a small kit from TI which can be used for doing energy harvesting experiments. The kit is based on TI's low power MSP430 microcontroller and low power radio. Here is an image of a device which can harvest energy from vibrations (the Perpetuum PMG17): Power management was one of the key themes of TIDC 2008 - S.Venkataraman talked about Power Management in Handsets and Dr.Mahesh Mehendale talked about Low Power Video Processing. There was an interesting talk by Prof.U.B Desai on multihop Cellular sensor networks. Prof. Desai's team at IIT Bombay is working on decentralized wireless networking models where each device does not have to talk with a central "tower" to communicate with other devices. One of the things which caught my attention during his talk was his mention of the lack of low-cost, open frameworks for conducting wireless communication research and his use of OpenMoko based mobile phones to build such an open framework! The BeagleBoard project was very well represented, with exhibits by both BeagleBoard.org as well as Crane's software (the Indian reseller of Beagle boards) and a talk by Khasim. TI is taking perhaps its first steps into FOSS - let's hope that it becomes a great success!

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