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AZ Technology and Innovation - August 2012
Original Airdate: 2012-08-30

Researchers at ASU and U of A are on the cutting edge of real-world technology.

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," it's a technology and innovation special, and much of that innovation is happening here at ASU's Flexible Display Center, where the largest full-color, full-motion flexible video display was developed. We'll have more on that in a moment. We'll also hear about ASU technology students working with industry partners to find innovative solutions to real-world issues. Also, it's a Trekkie's dream come true, a working tricorder device, just like those used in the "Star Trek" series. Next on "Arizona Horizon."
Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to this special "Technology and Innovation" edition of "Arizona Horizon." Ever since TV was developed it's been a dream to have a flexible display. That dream is becoming a reality here at ASU's Flexible Display Center in Chandler. Already, the center has produced the world's largest flexible display, which was developed in conjunction with military scientists for use in battlefield conditions. But that is just one of the possible applications for the display, according to the display center's director, Nick Colaneri.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Nick Colaneri: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about exactly -- why is the world's largest flexible display only 7.4 inches?
Nick Colaneri: It's pretty hard to make big displays. You had small TVs before the big ones in your living room, and the same applies to flexible displays.
Ted Simons: Full color, full motion flexible video display.
Nick Colaneri: Display is a complicated sandwich. The thing on your living room wall is a piece of glass, and it has other layers to perform different functions to display electronically. We had to figure out how to put the electronics onto plastic. At ASU we've been taking pieces of plastic and putting electronics on them. They would need several more layers to become a video display and then we put on the drivers for the computer and other stuff.
Ted Simons: That is a big deal.
Nick Colaneri: And it is a big deal. If it put it in my pocket and it gets banged into, it doesn't break like a piece of glass.
Ted Simons: Is that what that mixed oxide is?
Nick Colaneri: It's something that's brittle and would break. That's a semi-conductor material that we use to make the electronics out of. We get better performance in the electronics and LCD screen out of that.
Ted Simons: As far as manufacturing this, how expensive are the materials? How much does it cost to make?
Nick Colaneri: Well, it's hard to answer the "how much does it cost to make," because there aren't factories making these things right now. And at ASU we have effectively a manufacturing laboratory where we're working out manufacturing processes in miniature, if you will. It's pretty expensive to do it that way. We've tried to engineer things so that we use the same equipment the industry uses today. A slight change in materials or processes to minimize the cost additions. All new technologies wind up costing more when they come first out. We're trying to get it down to 10% more than existing.
Ted Simons: Because you can use existing silicon lines, that has to be a factor.
Nick Colaneri: That's a huge factor, we designed the process that way and that created some challenges. We wanted to say, we've got something you can just drop in, and you get a different product out.
Ted Simons: How much power do they use?
Nick Colaneri: We were attracted to technology now available in things like the Samsung Galaxy phone, because they use less power than LCDs. It's about two thirds right now of the power of an LCD display.
Ted Simons: And not nearly as warm, I would imagine?
Nick Colaneri: They don't get as warm, certainly. We expect that power consumption to go down over time, because we're still learning how to make the technology in an optimum way.
Ted Simons: What exactly were research scientists looking for?
Nick Colaneri: The Army has funded the program. ASU won a competition almost 10 years ago to have this sited here in the Valley. The Army was looking for an industrial collaboration between universities and a lot of different industrial players, to see if we could figure out how to do this. They want displays that don't break. They use a lot of things that show information. If they need to stick a display in it, they use a glass display. They have to ruggedize it and that makes it a lot heavier and limits the device they need.
Ted Simons: That would be the application for battlefield conditions. What about commercial, non-military applications? What do you see there?
Nick Colaneri: I see a lot of interest. I'm not smart enough to figure out the consumer applications. What I found interesting at this industry conference, in years gone by I'd meet people from Samsung or Lucky Gold Star or contractors. People showed up with Google nametags. Two young men showed up with badges that said FaceBook, a company that last year wasn't even on the convention floor. The iPhone and iPad have completely upset the ecosystem of the display industry. We no longer have silo people that make devices and software and content to put on the devices. It's all been kind of of mixed together. They are all still figuring that out, and they are looking for jazzy new electronic solutions to help them create compelling consumer applications.
Ted Simons: Can you see this jazzy new application? You've got a Kindle there. Can you see it bending or an iPad bending in the near or distant future?
Nick Colaneri: Kindle -- that's why I brought these along, this technology is further along. The Kindle has a hard glass screen. If I bang on it, I'm probably going to break it. We first figured out how to make this on plastic. This is the same screen on a Kindle, but it's bendable. There's a factory in Taiwan gearing up to make these right now. They are certainly thinking about Kindles that you can fold.
Ted Simons: That would be it? That's the thickness of it? This is the thickness of the display?
Nick Colaneri: That's it.
Ted Simons: That's a like a card.
Nick Colaneri: That's exactly what we're thinking about, electronics the thickness of a credit card.
Ted Simons: No wonder the FaceBook and Google guys are hanging around. The Flexible Display Center at ASU, was this developed, and is this basically in conjunction and specifically for this particular project?
Nick Colaneri: It is specifically for this project, although of course at Arizona State we like to think bigger than that. We're looking at how we can leverage this opportunity to help the Army with a project to create a completely new environment for doing new engineering, for educating folks that have to work in a different globalized environment. The way the display industry works is a very complex ecosystem. We're also looking for development opportunities here in the Phoenix area. There are a lot of things that go into a display that don't involve going into a factory. Materials.
Ted Simons: How big of a deal is this, bottom line?
Nick Colaneri: I think it's a pretty big deal. It's hard to make predictions in consumer electronics because you just don't know what's going to catch people's fancy. I think this has excited people's imagination, judging by the press releases.
Ted Simons: Nick Colaneri, thank you for joining us. Show your support for "Arizona Horizon" at
Ted Simons: We are here in the yellow photo lithography room of Arizona's Flexible Display Center. They are working with private industry and the military on a variety of innovative projects designed to address real-world issues. I talked about the programs with Chell Roberts, the executive dean of ASU's College of Technology and Innovation.
Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.
Chell Roberts: Very good to be here.
Ted Simons: I-projects, innovation show case, what are we talking about?
Chell Roberts: Many students learn best when they are able to apply their knowledge. Think take the lectures and do something real. You don't just read about designing a product, you go and do it.
Ted Simons: This is now students teaming with industry to innovate on things that really do matter?
Chell Roberts: Really do matter. We've created partnerships with a variety of industry, with government agencies, to take that authentic environment and bring students and partners to solve their problems, to design new things for them, to create new enterprises.
Ted Simons: Who decides on the students? Who decides on the partners?
Chell Roberts: There are many of us that work on finding new partners to work with us. Many are coming to us now. We've done it for the past five years. We started very small and we're getting very large with lots of industry and partners coming to us.
Ted Simons: These sound fascinating, especially working with the Air Force on something called the Spiderman Project.
Chell Roberts: Imagine the things that Spiderman can do. Spiderman can climb walls. The Air Force said, we'd like the student team to work on climbing walls while our soldiers have backpacks on them. So our students created a mechanism for someone to go up a 10-story skyscraper right on the side. Kind of a suction device they created so they can walk up the side of a building.
Ted Simons: Like little geckos.
Chell Roberts: Yes, and it worked.
Ted Simons: With 100-pound backpacks.
Chell Roberts: Yes, they do it.
Ted Simons: And this is viable? This is something that the Air Force I guess, the military, can use?
Chell Roberts: They can. So often what the companies and Air Force do, they have us do a first prototype. We're creating the new idea and how it's going to work, and they take it to the next generation.
Ted Simons: Honeywell is working on a fully automated touch-screen panel.
Chell Roberts: Honeywell is looking at new cockpit displays. Someone may have to touch a display 10,000 times to know how it works. We don't want to hire a student or an employee to touch 10,000 times a screen. We created a machine that will do that test. It's a robotic device that will go in and touch with different pressures, different angles, different drags, thousands of times for that testing.
Ted Simons: This is something Honeywell said they would like to see?
Chell Roberts: Oh, yes.
Ted Simons: I find this fascinating, as well. A self-sufficient shelter system?
Chell Roberts: One of the problems the military has is they will get soldiers out to a remote location. Then they have to supply them with water and energy, those soldiers. So what they wanted to develop was more energy and a more self-sustaining environment, so soldiers can go out, put up their tents, put up an environment, get the energy and be able to stay there without convoys coming. Our students created an environment for them that would likely go into the next generation of their solutions for these soldiers.
Ted Simons: So a soldier can go to an isolated region, water and energy can be there for a sustained period of time?
Chell Roberts: Exactly.
Ted Simons: And it's working?
Chell Roberts: It's working.
Ted Simons: Wow. Also exciting, in a much different way, is what's going on in Gilbert with dog poop.
Chell Roberts: Exactly right. At the Cosmos dog park, there are 300 piles of dog poop left a day in the park. 300 piles of dog poop, even after citizens clean up some of the poop themselves. We had an idea. We put a student together with a faculty member, together with the City. We created a way to digest the dog poop and to create there, gas, which now will light the lamps in the dog park. That's going on the ground this week.
Ted Simons: That is more than one lamp?
Chell Roberts: Right now one lamp, ours is the first prototype. We have been contacted by New York, Central Park, interested in doing the same thing inside of their parks.
Ted Simons: You take the dog out, he does his business, businesses convert it into energy and lights the park, so the dog has a better view of himself doing his business?
Chell Roberts: Not only dogs, but everybody else.
Ted Simons: Last one here is a solar-aided hot water system that SRP is developing. You are teaming with SRP on this how?
Chell Roberts: SRP gives rebates for solar devices that people buy. One of their questions is how well do they really work, do we know there is an improvement and how much. We put in solar devices and spend a year testing those in different climates, different times of day, so we can actually characterize for them how much efficiency is gained by the solar devices.
Ted Simons: Viable, working?
Chell Roberts: Viable, working.
Ted Simons: These are real industry -- these are not academic exercises here. Give us an overview of I-projects and what students are getting from all of these developments.
Chell Roberts: You bet. As I told you earlier, we care about students learning in a different way. Many students, when they hear things they learn in one way. When they do things, they learn it much more deeply. We've created an environment where industry partners come in. Partners benefit in many ways. You get students you get to try out for a year. They benefit because they get intellectual property and devices. Imagine a student when they actually have done something, something that's viable, versus "I have a degree and a grade."
Ted Simons: And they have connections with some of the people they are working with.
Chell Roberts: Often an entire team or 50% of a team will be hired by the company.
Ted Simons: Sounds like a great deal, and congratulations and continued success on this. This is very encouraging and it sounds like it's working.
Chell Roberts: It just won the President's Innovation Award, so it's working.
Ted Simons: Thank you very much.
Chell Roberts: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Before we leave the yellow photo lithography room at the ASU Flexible Display Center, let's take a look at a case of science fiction turned science fact. On the "Star Trek" TV series, Mr. Spock would often use a tricorder to take readings on a new planet. I talked to Dr. Peter Jansen about his "enterprise."
Ted Simons: Did you get the enterprise joke there?
Peter Jansen: I've heard a lot of those jokes.
Ted Simons: What is a tricorder?
Peter Jansen: It's really a very generally scientific tool that's sort of like a Swiss Army knife of science. You can use them both for just doing science research, as well as science education. They contain sort of every different sensor that you can think of, and fit in such a confined area, that you'd want to put in one.
Ted Simons: On "Star Trek," the tricorder seems to do atmospheric conditions, other things.
Peter Jansen: It can sense atmospheric temperature, pressure, humidity, things like distance or motion, special things like GPS locations. Those are all on here.
Ted Simons: I think we have shots of the the schematics and diagrams, as far as getting involved. What kind of operating system does this use?
Peter Jansen: The first one uses a very custom operating system. The second one uses a commodity operating system called Linux that's object source and freely available.
Ted Simons: If I've got a great idea of where that USB should be, you can do it?
Peter Jansen: You can go and download the schematics, plans, diagrams, and build your own right in your basement.
Ted Simons: Well, we were looking a little bit at the construction, kind of the innards, the guts, if you will. What got you started on all this?
Peter Jansen: I've wanted to build a tricorder since I was a kid. My dad and I watched "Star Trek" together, which was absolutely great. I was absolutely fascinated by the technology. I went into science in order to build it.
Ted Simons: Was there a point at "Star Trek" where you went -- you could have done a phaser.
Peter Jansen: I'm Canadian, we don't do phasers.
Ted Simons: Okay, I got you. The first one on the set is your original model, correct?
Peter Jansen: This is more of a proof of concept. It's really to prove to myself that I could build a tricorder. When I came into this, I was still fairly new in building tricorders. It can sense things like magnetic fields. There's temperature and humidity and all those sorts of things available here. And then the second tricorder I have now --
Ted Simons: Let's take look at this one, too.
Peter Jansen: -- it's a bit fancier. I really designed it for me, to be the sort of beautiful instrument you could do a lot of visualization work, and really make people intuitively understand whatever you're trying to sense.
Ted Simons: On the left side there, we're seeing -- you're basically recording, you're measuring things there, correct?
Peter Jansen: Exactly. Here we're seeing magnetic fields, down here we have noncontact temperatures, I think we're measuring the temperature of the ceiling right now. But that giant blip we just saw is my hand.
Ted Simons: Isn't that something.
Peter Jansen: It's really kind of cool.
Ted Simons: And you've got a keyboard below that, that's somewhere familiar so --
Peter Jansen: Very much so.
Ted Simons: In terms of real-life application, medical, like Bones used to do in sick bay?
Peter Jansen: On "Star Trek" they had two kinds of tricorders. One Spock took on away missions to a planet. The other was a medical tricorder they would use in sick bay to figure out what was wrong with you with the press of a button.
Ted Simons: Now, how far along are these to doing especially the medical application?
Peter Jansen: Great. These are squarely science tricorders right now. But the X Foundation, the folks who sponsored the $10 million project to reach space, have just sponsored a tricorder project. It diagnoses all kinds of diseases like cancer or bacterial infections, whatever you can think of.
Ted Simons: So basically if you can point it at them and diagnose something or sense something, you win a big prize?
Peter Jansen: It's really exciting, exactly.
Ted Simons: A lot of things with "Star Trek" you see apps, and Droid and iPad apps that do some sort of close approximation. Compare and contrast those with these.
Peter Jansen: Modern cell phones have really gotten very advanced. Many of them include a couple of different sensors. Most of them aren't designed for accurately sensing the environment but things to adjust the brightness of your screen if you're in daylight. These are really very different instruments. They have very accurate sensors in them, and they are really designed to do exciting science.
Ted Simons: Last question here: Any copyright or licensing problems? Because you're using a tricorder and there's no such things as a tricorder except in "Star Trek."
Peter Jansen: If anybody makes the actual technology, Gene Roddenberry signed a paper that anyone who builds it can use the name.
Ted Simons: It sounds like you're doing it.
Peter Jansen: We're going to have to work on a warp drive next.
Ted Simons: Congratulations, I hope we see leaps and bounds for this sort of technology. For "Star Trek" fans, it's kind of fun, too.
Peter Jansen: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us on this special Innovation and Technology edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons, you have a great evening.

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