You can’t have the perpetual motion machine I received for Christmas this year, at least until I patent it.

Escher Perpetual MotionAnd the candy’s mostly gone.

But there is something I would like to share with you, readers, and that something is beginning-of-the-year thoughts about connected things.

It is a heavy responsibility indeed to carry the load of being the ‘It” item at the Consumer Electronics Show, because the “It” item record is checkered at best.

3D Video Revolution anyone? (CES 2010) Windows Phone? (Ditto) Smartphone-PC hybrids? (CES 2011) Windows Phone, again? Pico-Projectors? (CES 2012) Wearables? (CES 2014). Wearables, again? (CES 2015)

Of course there have been hits as well as misses over recent years – think drones, tablets, smartphones. But I don’t remember those products being anointed “It” at their launch, except in the case where it was Apple doing the launching. iDrone, anyone? (btw, Apple doesn’t do CES. It just upstages it.)

So with IoT devices again bearing the media-darling burden at CES 2016, as IoT devices seem to have also done at CES 2015, I want to reach back years to a device that, when I first saw it, struck me as being perfect in its simplicity and in its utility. Almost a perpetual motion machine.

That device was a light-powered digital thermometer, something I first saw on the bulkhead wall of a Japanese Shinkansen train car in 1984.Old Shinkansen

An ambient sensor, before the term “ambient sensor” became a CES 2016 buzzword.

Once manufactured and deployed, affixed in a train car going 230km/h, the ecosystem was perfect. The temperature sensor, responding to ambient thermal energy, presented that information to the world via a Liquid-Crystal Display (using reflected ambient light); whatever power was actually required to drive its simple electronics was derived from harvesting the energy of … ambient light. (Smooth as a Shinkansen is, you could even imagine power, primary or secondary, derived from harvesting the energy of ambient mechanical vibrations too – still a pretty perfect ecosystem.)

There was even an optical interconnect – I looked at the display, and it told me the temperature.

And that all happened at the speed of light, at least until the temperature signal hit my speed-of-thought index of refraction, which slowed the data transfer considerably.

There was no internet in 1984  (there was only ARPAPNET)– that had to wait until Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 so this perfect thing had to exist as an island unto itself, but really all it lacked was an IP address and a low-power radio and you would have had … an IoT ambient sensor.

Zen CircleA darn near perfect one. In 1984.

May 2016 see many more devices like this one, at a price point where there are trillions of them.

From Santa Clara, CA, thanks for reading, and Happy New Year. ~PFW




Paul Werbaneth

Paul Werbaneth is a long-time Contributing Editor at 3D InCites. Since entering the semiconductor industry…

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