I saw this DIP-format (dual-inline-package)
miniature oscilloscope display in an article by
Brad Thompson, of Test & Measurement World (he finds a lot
of good stuff). It definitely qualifies as a Cool Product. Per the XMEGA website,
"The Xprotolab is the first mixed signal oscilloscope with an arbitrary waveform
generator in a DIP module. It measures only 1 x 1.6 inches, and can be mounted directly
on a breadboard." The capabilities are amazing for the $49 (yes, forty-nine) device.
Amongst the features: dual 200 kHz (2 MSPS) input channels with 8-bit
resolution on -14 V to +20 V signals, X-Y mode for Lissajous display,
8 digital inputs for logic analyzer mode, single 1 MSPS arbitrary waveform
generator output including frequency sweep. Application potential is huge, especially
as a real-time monitoring function for baseband (for up- and down-conversion). In
his article, Brad likens the Xprotolab to the tiny CRTs (Model 913) that RCA offered
in the 1930s. In 2012 dollars, they cost about $87 apiece - nearly twice the Xprotolab
price - and the CRTs were just dumb devices.
Featured Product Archive
The inventions and products featured on these pages were chosen either for their
uniqueness in the RF engineering realm, or are simply awesome (or ridiculous) enough
to warrant an appearance.
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For most people, including me, the introduction
to a transparent computer display that interacts with hand and head gesturing began
in 2002 with the movie "Minority Report." Such a concept was not out of the realm
of possibilities ten years ago, but even so, the scenes were not "real" in that
the display would have to be superimposed over the actor's phantom motions in front
of a green screen. Now we have this video of a for-real transparent display that
is being developed by Microsoft. Sensors on the back track airborne hand and finger
movement for manipulating objects on the screen. The advantages over a touch screen
are many, including not blocking your view of the screen, keeping fingerprints off
the screen, and adding a third dimension to the action. It is tempting to think
that something like this would be difficult to adapt to using, but that's what was
said of the mouse when it was first introduced. My biggest problem would be having
the keyboard out of view behind the display, since my fumbling fingers would make
even more mistakes than normal. It also breaks the accepted ergonomic model for
healthy long-term computer usage. Of course this is just an R&D model, so...
"ParaScan™ is a
family of proprietary, composite thin-film ceramic materials whose dielectric constant
varies with the application of a DC voltage. Based on a proprietary doped version
of Barium Strontium Titanate (BST), ParaScan represents a foundational technology
for the ParaTune™ family of tunable ICs . Paratek can produce ParaTune tunable ICs
in a virtually limitless number of configurations to meet specific customer needs.
Paratek's business model is a flexible one, with customer collaboration representing
the cornerstone of this model. The ParaScan material is also exceptionally flexible
and can be used in numerous points within wireless components and products to make
them better and more efficient! Voltage-tunable ParaScan has exceptional properties,
including outstanding linearity and harmonic performance, very low power consumption,
and high Q (100 at 1 Ghz and more than 80 at 2 GHz). ParaScan also provides high
capacitance density, IP3 of greater than 70 dBm, and very fast switching speed.
Sometimes you don't need the sophistication
and bulk of a network analyzer when all you want to do is measure the return loss
(S11) of a component.
Copper Mountain Technologies offers this USB-connected vector reflectometer.
Per their website, "PLANAR R54 is a Vector Reflectometer designed for S11 parameter
measurement. It provides high accuracy measurements for magnitude and phase in frequencies
between 85 MHz and 4.2 GHz. With a weight of only 8.8 oz, this device
is portable so that you can conveniently take it into any testing environment. PLANAR
R54 is the ultimate compact workhorse analyzer, providing a variety of analytical
capabilities in the frequency and time domains." The last decade has seen many such
high quality USB-connected test equipment replace or supplement traditional boxes.
Copper Mountain Technologies also makes the full-featured, 2-port vector network
analyzers as well for when you need bulk.
Edison would be proud at the inventiveness of entrepreneur Larry Birnbaum. So am
I. By now we all know about the ludicrous worldwide ban on the sale of incandescent
light bulbs over a certain wattage. Here in the U.S., the ban was slated to begin
in January of 2012* with prohibition against 100 watt bulbs, and over a couple years
would eventually ban the sale of anything larger than 40 watts. Instead ,we are
to buy mercury-filled, electronic waste-filled CFL bulbs or >$60 apiece LED bulbs.
Within that 40-to-100 W range, several classes of specialty lights are exempt from
the regulation including appliance lamps, rough service bulbs, 3-way bulbs, colored
lamps, stage lighting, and plant lights. The rough-service class is where Mr. Birnbaum
and his Newcandescent™ company comes in. Unlike the standard incandescent bulb that
is typically rated for a 750-to-1,000-hour lifetime, Newcandescent bulbs are rated
for a 10,000 hour lifetime (10x-to13x as long). They
are advertised at 7 years. Anyone who has used CFL bulbs has probably already experienced
a failure - long before their expected longevity of 5-7 years. Standard frosted
incandescent bulbs from Newcandescent cost $2.88 each (less
than about 30¢ per standard bulb service life equivalent). Floodlight
versions are also available. "The inspiration to continue to manufacture...
Every once in a
while an off-topic product is worth featuring just for the sake of novelty. This
Gear Ring, by Kinekt, is just such a novelty. Electrical engineers and techs might
not consider it an apt fashion accessory for displaying their chosen field of expertise,
but mechanical engineers and techs certainly will, as will gear head hobbyists.
A short video shows how the inner planetary gears rotate within the two outer ring
gears. "The Gear Ring is fabricated using 316L, which is the highest quality surgical
stainless steel in the jewelry market. Stainless steel has properties which make
it highly durable and resistant to tarnishing, fading, scratching, and rusting.
It will not bend or break and is hypoallergenic for those with metal allergies."
At $165, it isn't cheap, but that does include worldwide free shipping. Maybe Kinekt
should consider integrating tiny generators into the the gears to light up a couple
LEDs when the outer rings are turned. That might increase the EE/EET customer level.
At first I thought this was an April Fools
gag, but evidently not. The AIRE mask is designed to allow charging of mobile devices
simply by wearing the device over your nose and mouth whether asleep or awake. Simply
breathe in and out, and the integrated wind-powered generators will provide power
to your mobile phone, iPod, or pacemaker (just kidding about the last one). My concerns
are its durability in the warm, humid environment that is human breath, and the
ridicule that employing the AIRE mask in public might subject the user to. Will
bullying levels increase for users? Is there a medical warning included for asthmatics?
If you try to make a call while wearing the mask, do you sound like Darth Vader?
Can an untrained person experience
(fear of smothering) or even
(fear of enclosed spaces) as a result of wearing the mask? Should studies be conducted
for such maladies? At least there is likely no worry about suffering from
(fear of technology). AIRE mask is being offered at £60 in the UK and $70 in the
U.S., although I cannot find a purchasing venue anywhere yet.
TRICOR Systems makes some cool products for
industry research and quality assurance programs like an electronics chocolate temper
meter (who knew chocolate had a temper?), life cycle and fatigue testers (those
machines that press keyboard keys a gazillion times or cycle hinges until they break),
gloss and haze meters for measuring surface reflection properties, and photometric
setups for measuring color content and brightness. TRICOR Systems also offers some
assembly services that you might find useful, but I'll get back to that in a minute.
Way back in the mid 1980s I worked for a company in Vermont that made, among other
things, fuel measurement systems for aircraft. They consisted of capacitive sensors
in the fuel tanks, a computer, and some used the first LCD displays ever deployed
in military aircraft. Just like with the legendary $100 hammer for the Space Station,
those displays required extensive testing both for initial qualification and for
each unit during production (low volume). Part of my job as an associate test engineer
(I was working on my BSEE at UVM at the time) was to write acceptance test procedures
for the equipment that included HIPOT testing, an early form of ESD testing, and
measurement of the LCD color, brightness, and contrast. The ESD tester was a custom
unit that built up a charge with a scary-looking contraption that resembled something
from a Frankenstein movie...
For some reason
I am strangely attracted to this early magnetic sound recording device - the Blattnerphone.
At the dawn of the motion picture industry, producers were desperate for an economical
and reliable means for including sound with their movies. The many silent movies
is evidence of it not being a trivial matter. Early methods attempted to use wire
and optical disk recordings, but none panned out. German engineer Kurt Stille had
developed a successful steel wire sound recording machine for office dictation,
motivating film producer Louise Blattner to engage him to work on a means of creating
something that could produce sound that was synchronized with film action. The Blattner
Company was contracted in 1930 to install the prototype in Avenue House, home of
the BBC's research department. The Blattnerphone recorded onto 6mm wide steel tape
running at 5 ft/sec. Operation required a technician to manually adjust a rheostat
for maintaining synchronization. Marconi machines eventually replaced the Blattnerphones,
but dedicated work by KURT Stille and Louis BLATTNER paved the
way to our modern movies. Read the entire story on the
Blattnerphone here, and be sure to read the addendum by Butterworth.
2/20/2012Tesslor R601S Tube Radio Teardown Report.
Earlier this year I really started pining for a vacuum tube radio. After a little
poking around on eBay, it became clear that buying something like that sight-unseen
was too risky for the money people were asking for anything in halfway decent shape.
So, I began looking to determine whether anyone offered a newly manufactured line
of vacuum tube radios. There is a surprising selection available, but most are very
expensive. The one I finally settled on was the Model R601S from Tesslor. It has
the advantage of employing a fully solid state front end and tuner, with vacuum
tubes being used in the audio output amplifier stages. A single 6N2 tube provides
preamplification, and each of the left and right speaker driver channels uses a
6P1 tube. Many serious audiophiles claim that there has never been a solid state
audio circuit designed that can faithfully replicate the "warmth" of a tube circuit.
Supposedly the mechanical vibrations within the tube elements are responsible for
the quality. My hearing is pretty darn acute (unlike my eyesight), but I cannot
claim to be able to tell the difference. My motivation is purely from a nostalgic
craving for a tube set. Oh, the R601S does have a fourth vacuum tube that is mounted
in the front of the radio case beneath the tuning dial. It is roughly the equivalent
of the old "cat's eye" light used for fine tuning. In this case, it indicates when
an FM station's signal is being properly resolved into separate right and left channels
You cannot really call yourself a leading-edge technophile if you are not a haptic
communicator. You might already be doing the haptic comms thing and not even know
it if you ever put your cellphone on the vibrate setting. "Haptic" refers to the
sense of touch, and derives from the Greek "haptesthai," meaning to grasp or touch.
If plans work out as Nokia hopes, you might someday be alerted to calls by feeling
that vibrating sensation via a tattoo printed on your skin rather than relying on
the phone vibrating in your pocket or vibrating across a table like the old electric
football games. Their goal is to eliminate missed calls due to not hearing or feeling
the phone. Nokia plans to use magnetic ink to embed a pattern into a person's arm
or other chosen location; one can only image where some might end up. Similar to
ringtones that can be variously assigned to alert the owner as to whether the call
is from a particular friend, spouse, significant other, workmate, or an unknown,
a series of Morse-like pulses will differentiate and can even include intensity
for helping to signal the phone user. I'm guessing that Nokia has either already
contracted with a pharmaceutical company to develop the ink or plans to. Amateur
artistry at a beer party from cigarette ashes just won't do the job here...
Antenna-in-a-Can. ...a spray can, that is.
Chamtech Operations has introduced a spray-on emergency antenna kit that can be
used for creating ad hoc antennas in just about any environment - even under water.
According to a short video
done by Chamtech CEO Anthony Sutera, "The material relies on a proprietary formula
that uses thousands upon thousands of nano-capacitors that automatically align themselves
properly when sprayed onto a surface. They charge and discharge quickly, and notably
don't generate much heat--a major selling point for a product that might be sprayed
onto anything from wood structures to cell phone cases to vehicle exteriors." Oddly,
there is almost no information on Chamtech's website. I'm a bit dubious about the
improvements claimed for the famously antenna-challenged iPhone 3 since it was measured
sitting in an Faraday cage (likely a TEM) that probably did not model the human
hand near the antenna). Mr. Sutera report a "20 dBm" increase. That's an increase
of 10 mW, so he probably meant to say 20 dB, which is a 100x power increase. I believe
it makes a suitable antenna for emergency conditions, the need for large, concealed
antennas, or for creating a Faraday shield, but common metallic paint has been used
for years for those purposes. Maybe the nano-particle content of this stuff is more
durable. Will urban drug-dealing taggers adopt it for improving ad hoc law-evading