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The Nikiski's See-Through Touchpad with a Translucent Screen Allows Users to See Status Updates, News Feeds, Messages and Calendar Items without Opening the Lid

 

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Intel showed off an "Ivy Bridge" laptop concept that featured a large see-through touchpad with a translucent screen. The demo product created quite a stir at the company's Ultrabook press conference Monday at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

 

That's right, a concept laptop that wasn't even an Ultrabook almost stole the Ultrabook show.

 

Intel software engineer Peter Adamson said the concept system, codenamed "Nikiski" with the second "k" reversed, was really designed to show "a usage model that we think people might use" and was clearly designed to show potential Ultrabook usages as well.

NikiskiConceptLaptop01.JPGThe "Nikiski" concept laptop has a large touchpad that runs the length of the keypad. Translucency allows it to serve as a see-through window when the lid is closed. (Flickr photo)

 

The laptop was running Intel's "Chief River" platform using the next-generation Intel Core processors coming later this year. It featured a relatively standard (by Ultrabook standards) 20mm chassis, but judging by the crowds that rushed the stage after the press conference to get a closer look, the idea might be a winner. Ivy Bridge processors will play a key role in Ultrabooks this year, as the company seeks further enhancements in power efficiency and performance.

 

The "Nikiski" system featured a large touchpad that runs the length of the keypad. Translucency allows it to serve as a see-through window when the lid was closed. When open, the touchpad will recognize the difference between finger-tip scrolling and the palm of your hand resting on it while typing. When closed, a see- through window/tablet concept allows you to view news feeds, messages and calendar items without opening the lid.

 

The demo system was running Windows 7, but when closed the see-thru window had a very familiar tile-based user interface reminiscent of the Windows 8 Metro look and feel. Adamson said that was a coincidence; the tiles had been demonstrated before Microsoft showed its new Metro UI. The company had only recently begun to show it off more broadly to customers, however, and Adamson said he was anxious to show it to more OEMs. Oh yeah, and Nikiski? "I think it's the name of a valley in North Korea but don't hold me to that," said Adamson, who added, "we're not always that good on our geographic naming."

 

 

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The Acclaimed Physicist and Author of "A Brief History of Time" Uses a Custom-Built PC That's Hand Delivered and Set Up for His Use

 

For a man who was diagnosed with a devastating motor neuron disease at age 21 and given just 3 years to live, brilliant British scientist Stephen Hawking, who celebrated his 70th birthday Sunday, continues to amaze.

 

Despite his severe physical disabilities, the University of Cambridge professor has advanced the theories of physics and cosmology, including the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation.

 

His 1988 bestseller, "A Brief History of Time," sold 9 million copies and made him one of the world's most famous and popular scientists (complete with a guest role on "The Simpsons" TV show).

 

Intel application engineer Travis Bonifield has been working closely with Hawking to communicate with the world for a decade. He's traveled from the United States to England every few years to hand-deliver Hawking a customized PC.

 

Here, Bonifield talks about the unique project, the technology that powers the customized system and how Intel co-founder Gordon Moore got Hawking to switch from AMD to Intel.

 

Hawking01.JPG Travis Bonifield (from left to right), Rob Weatherly, an Intel employee who provides IT support for Hawking, Sam Blackburn, graduate assistant for Hawking, and Stephen Hawking. (Flickr photo)

 

How did you come to be the guy who helps Stephen Hawking?

 

Another engineer who was already working on this project transitioned it over to me back in 2001, and I've been running with it ever since. It's not my full-time job. I'm an application engineer supporting mobile and desktop chipsets.

 

What technology does Stephen use?

 

The computer is made up of three parts: a Lenovo X220 tablet PC, a custom black box containing various peripherals and the hardware voice itself. The computer features an Intel Core i7 processor along with a forward-facing webcam, which Stephen uses to place phone calls using Skype.

 

Underneath the wheelchair is the black box, which contains an audio amplifier, voltage regulators and a USB hardware key that receives the input from the IR sensor on Stephen's eyeglasses. The hardware voice synthesizer sits in another black box on the back of the chair and receives commands from the computer via a USB-based serial port.

 

How does Stephen control what comes out of his voice synthesizer?

 

When I first met Stephen, he still had some use in his thumbs. In fact, he'd still attempt to drive his own wheelchair. He pinned me against the wall once [laughs]. He had basically a clicker, a binary switch that he held in his hand. He'd press it with his thumb to highlight the words or commands on the computer screen. He was typing at about one word per minute when I first met him. He was actually pretty snappy with it.

 

Over time the nerve that allowed him to move his thumbs degraded, and he had to find another way to communicate. They originally talked about using one of his pectoral muscles and putting a sensor there. He wasn't too thrilled with that idea.

 

What he's got now is an infrared sensor hanging off of his glasses. It basically detects the changes in light as he twitches his cheek. They call it the "cheek switch."

 

Could technology help speed up his word output?

 

Stephen sent a letter to [Intel co-founder] Gordon Moore several months ago in which he said, "My speech input is very, very slow these days. Is there any way Intel could help?"

 

Since that time, we've gotten a couple of groups at Intel involved with looking at what can be done to help Stephen. This is still very early on. XTL, the Experience Technology Lab, is looking at facial recognition software to try to come up with some sort of a new input method for Stephen that would be quicker than what he's currently using.

 

Did Intel's involvement result directly from conversations between Gordon Moore and Stephen Hawking?

 

Stephen and Gordon met at a conference around 1997. Gordon noted that Stephen was using an AMD machine. Gordon asked Stephen, "Would you like to use an Intel computer moving forward? We'd be happy to build that for you and support it."

 

Stephen said yes, and we've been building these custom PCs for him ever since. We've done an average of one every 2 years or so.

 

Travis01.jpgIntel engineer Travis Bonifield holds a replica of the custom PC he recently created for Stephen Hawking. (Flickr photo)

When you take it to Stephen, do you fly commercial holding the customized PC on your lap?

 

I actually take two systems out to Stephen [one is a backup]. One year I packed them in cases, checked them in as luggage and the airlines lost them for three days. The year after that I thought I'd ship them ahead of time. They got held up in customs for 3 days. This time I got lucky. My luggage showed up with me [laughs].

 

Was this year's deployment a success?

 

The interesting thing around this time is all the hardware work was finished within a few hours on the first day. It's configuring all the software that really took a long time. I think that's due to some customizations that Stephen's assistant has made in recent years.

 

This is also the fastest computer we've ever deployed to Stephen. We found out that when you turn on the computer, it's supposed to basically come up with all his applications and programs and his Words+ speech synthesizer software right from the get-go. But what we were finding out is that it would start all those applications so fast that it didn't have time to initialize the hardware devices yet.

 

So his voice application would be started, but the security key for the voice application wouldn't be initialized yet. We actually had to put some startup delays in and make it wait 5 seconds so that the hardware devices could finish being initialized by the time the CPU started running all those applications.

 

 

Who provides tech support if his computer has problems?

 

Robert Weatherly in the Intel Swindon [U.K.] office. He's the feet on the ground, a couple hours' drive away.

 

What does your family think about you working with Stephen Hawking?

 

My wife's stepmother is a teacher. She shares what I'm doing with her middle school students [laughs]. Personally, it's interesting to build something that no one else is building. I debug things for a living and it's a job I enjoy.

 

 

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Being Beside Big Brands Can Mean Added Attention for Smaller Exhibitors, but Trade Show Veterans Know It Can Yield Mixed Results

 

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How does a "little fish" exhibitor attract attention in the enormous pond that is the gigantic International Consumer Electronics Show?

 

It's a challenge for companies of more modest stature. But when smaller trade show booths are placed nearby well-known brands that command thousands of square feet of valuable Las Vegas real estate it's a Catch 22 situation -- the same household names that dwarf the smaller exhibitors can also bring in a bonanza of business.

 

Looking to capitalize on the halo effect of being neighbors with Sony, one of the largest CES exhibitors at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is Se-Kure Controls, a security solutions provider that has no problem playing David to someone else's Goliath.

 

"When you're right next to a monster trade show booth you're going to get some exposure just by fact that so many people come to visit the larger players in the industry," said Mike Briggs, an executive vice president with the Illinois-based manufacturer. "You can't help but have someone notice your existence."

 

That's no easy task for a 150-employee company vying for attention next to Sony, which last year wowed passersby with a 90-foot-wide, HD 3-D LED display and the bullet-riddled Black Beauty car from the "Green Hornet" movie.

 

"The question is how do we make it appealing for people to come across the aisle?" said Briggs, who will be conducting business in a 20x40 space. "That's a challenge with attendees not coming by specifically to see anti-shoplifting devices. We hope that people who come to Sony will peek across the aisle."

CESsmallvendor_01.jpgModels (or "booth babes") intended to rev up the engines of attendees are commonplace among car audio exhibitors. (Flickr photo)

 

As added bait, Se-Kure Controls isn't going with provocatively attired ladies -- that's for the car audio section in another exhibit hall -- but instead giving away convex mirrors with "Welcome to Las Vegas" printed on them to anyone who stops by and registers on its website. The company understands that with a consumer technology show like CES the freebie won't always fall in the hands of security purchase decision makers; but plans to use more targeted promotions expected at the other nine trade shows on Se-Kure Controls' 2012 calendar, all dedicated to retail, hardware and security.

 

Near Canon, Monster and Samsung Electronics, another small exhibitor understands the need for a giveaway to lure attendees from its grander next-door neighbors, but Hatzlachh Supply may not know what that is until the first day of the show.

 

"It might depend on how the owners wake up in the morning," said Boaz Nagar, IT director of the New York-based home electronics manufacturer. "We always have something."

 

Thirty-plus years of CES exhibiting experience tell the manufacturer of Broksonic TVs that gimmicks such as prize draws help increase foot traffic, but they also jack up expenses and work only to a certain extent.

 

"We've gone as small as giving away pens and key chains and as large as having people win TVs and VCRs, but there's no guarantee of a return on investment," Nagar said. "One of the reasons is that being next to a giant isn't always good. [It] depends on what they're selling. If the giants are selling the same thing as you are, it's not good."

 

Samsung's 25,000-square-foot booth is on one side of Hatzlachh and has some overlap of product lines, but that's not the case with Casio and its 10,000 square feet on the other side.

 

"Overall, I prefer being next to the giants," said Nagar, whose company's 30x40-foot booth last year was in the shadow of not only Samsung and Casio, but Sharp Electronics as well.

 

Moving several feet closer to a hall entrance should improve visibility for Hatzlachh's 1,200-square-foot booth this year, Nagar said, noting that the new location reduces the chance of his company's booth being throttled by large walls of a major exhibitor. "That," he said, "can be a big, big problem."

 

Designed with no barricade-type walls other than on the backside, Intel's 10,000-square-foot booth will not be a problem for any of its neighbors. Its only direct neighbors, in fact, are Microsoft and Dolby Laboratories, which sport large digs.

 

Still, Harald Wilhelm of the Intel's corporate events group does have empathy for the smallest players on the vast field.

 

"It's not a given that you benefit positively from being next to a big fish," he said. "It really depends on where you are located next to that big fish and who the big fish is. It doesn't help if you are on the back wall of another company's live stage where nobody has a tendency to go, nor does it necessarily help you to market your product if the big guys have noisy activity 8 hours a day."

CESsmallvendor_02.jpgLive music is a favorite attention-getter for exhibitors at CES.(Flickr photo)

 

The promise of a steady hullabaloo from two NBA legends and a celebrity chef next door has Toronto-based Curtis International experiencing mixed emotions leading into CES. The home electronics manufacturer and distributor said it welcomes the added traffic retired NBA stars Robert Horry and John Salley and celebrity chef Allison Fishman may attract across the aisle at the Haier America booth, but not the company isn't sure about the type of attendee they will draw.

 

"It's a business show for us so we like to attract business decision makers," said Alex Herzog, a sales manager with Curtis. "A couple of years ago we were next to Lady Gaga [at the Polaroid booth] and it didn't bring in purchasers and other decision makers from each retail organization."

 

Herzog does see a silver lining to the expected hordes that will visit the Haier booth to watch cooking demonstrations and seek autographs from sports legends.

 

"The upside is we're able to draw additional attendees and connect with them from the ground up," he said. "Lady Gaga attracted people walking the show for enjoyment, but it was still valuable to talk to them. I think it will be the same for those coming to see the celebrity chef. At the very least we could get some samples."

 

 

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