microsofts-uses-intel's-latest-chip-technology-for-its-new-foldable-devices
The Surface Neo will be a foldable, dual-screen laptop and the first product to leverage Intel’s Lakefield processor. (Image source: Microsoft)

Microsoft will be bringing two foldable dual-screen mobile devices to consumers in 2020 thanks to a new chip technology created by Intel.

Microsoft made a handful of product announcements at its Microsoft Event on October 2, including new additions to the the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop families, as well as a pair of Surface Earbuds. But the most buzz came from two new foldable, dual-screen products: the Microsoft Surface Neo, a dual-screen laptop; and the Surface Duo, a dual-screen smartphone-like device.

New Chips for New Form Factors

The Surface Neo will be the first to feature a next-generation chip from Intel called Lakefield. Microsoft said it chose the chip specifically because of its ability to facilitate the size and computing needs of its dual-screen devices.

First teased at CES 2019, Lakefield is a 10-nm “hybrid CPU” from Intel – meaning it integrates different CPU core architectures. Intel has said this hybrid approach offers a balance of compute performance and battery life that is ideal for mobile devices. Lakefield in particular has five cores packed onto a single motherboard – a 10-nm, high-performance Sunny Core along with four Intel Atom processor-based cores. All-in, the SoC package measures 12 x 12 mm.

Crucial to Lakefield’s small size is a new packing technology Intel calls Foveros 3D that allows for the chip’s components to be stacked on top of each other rather than laid alongside each other. Foveros is designed to allow two or more chiplets to be assembled together. The logic die sits at the base while other components such as the memory are stacked on top of it.

Intel is positioning Lakefield to not only compete with offerings from competitors like Qualcomm and AMD in terms of mobile computing performance, but to also facilitate new form factors and devices such as the Surface Neo.

Intel’s Lakefield chip achieves its small footprint through the use of a 3D stacking packaging technology. 

Meet Neo and Duo

The limited specs on the Neo released by Microsoft said the device will be ultra-thin, measuring 5.6 mm on each side (the thinnest LCD ever created, according to Microsoft), weigh 655 g, and will be surrounded by Gorilla Glass for durability.

The device features a 360-degree hinging system allowing it to open up in a variety of configurations beyond the standard open-closed scheme of a typical notebook. Microsoft said its hinging system uses a combination of microgears and an added torque system to provide stability and a durable feel when opening the Neo.

The Neo’s two 9-in. touchscreen displays are connected through the hinge by an array of over 60 micro-coax cables, each thinner than a human hair.

With both screens open and the device’s keyboard peripheral connected via Bluetooth the device looks like it will take up about as much space as an ultra-thin 13-in. laptop like the Microsoft Surface Laptop. The keyboard can also be connected magnetically in a way that uses one entire screen and partially cuts off the other, allowing the truncated screen to be used as a trackpad or smaller touchscreen. There’s also a stylus pen available for using the device in a more tablet-like configuration.

On the software end the Neo will run on a new version of Windows 10 called Windows 10X that has been designed specifically to run on dual-screen devices. Microsoft’s vision is to bring the productivity and efficiency advantages of a dual-screen desktop setup down to mobile. During the event Microsoft demonstrated how apps on the Neo can run across both screens or be isolated to a single screen depending on the user’s preference.

The announcement of Windows 10X immediately brought questions to mind of just how many more dual-screen devices Microsoft is planning. And in a surprise announcement the company unveiled that there is at least one more on the horizon – the Surface Duo.

The Surface Duo will be Microsoft’s version of a dual-screen, foldable smartphone. (Image source: Microsoft)

Though the Surface Duo has all the bells and whistles of a smartphone on paper, Microsoft wants you to think of it less as a smartphone and more like a mini tablet or computer that also happens to make calls and texts. Technical details on the device were scant, but Microsoft did say it features two 5.6-inch touchscreen displays and utilizes the same 360-degree hinging system as the Neo.

Microsoft also announced it is partnering with Google to bring Android to the Duo, meaning developers will be able to design and deploy Android-based apps for the device. Microsoft also committed to offering APIs in the future that will help developers code for applications that take unique advantage of the dual screens.

The Future Is Not Yet Foldable

It will be interesting to see how readily consumers will embrace Microsoft’s foldable products. Foldable phones in particular have been on the horizon for a while now and the first generation hit shelves this year with releases from Samsung and Huawei, as well as an anticipated re-release of the once-popular Motorola Razr with foldable functionality later this year.

No foldable phone has really taken off with consumers however, in part because of pricing (Huawei’s Mate X retails for about $2,600) and concerns over durability.

Samsung, one of the first to market with its Galaxy Fold earlier this year, had to delay the phone indefinitely due to flaws in its design. Early reviewers got their hands on the Galaxy Fold and found their phones breaking due to issues with its hinging system, screen, and unclear instructional materials. The Surface Neo has a bezel at the hinge, meaning the dual screens do not form one continous screen when unfolded. Design decisions like this suggest Microsoft has paid attention to Samsung’s woes in engineering its own foldable products.

Microsoft said both the Surface Neo and Surface Duo will be released in holiday season of 2020. No information was given on the pricing of either device.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

The Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event!

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

the-story-of-john-stanley-ford,-america's-first-black-software-engineer

In 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in baseball, another man was doing the same in engineering. That same year, Thomas J. Watson, then the CEO and chairman of IBM, met a young African-American accounting student and former US Army lieutenant named John Stanley Ford at a dinner party. Watson would later hire Ford, making him the first black software engineer, not just at IBM, but in America.

John Stanley Ford’s story is chronicled in a new memoir, Think Black, written by his son, Clyde W. Ford, and published by Amistad Press and HarperCollins.

“At this ‘very critical time,’ my father believed that not only would he be judged at IBM, but all Blacks to come in the high-technology industry would be judged by how he behaved,” Clyde Ford writes. Clyde Ford himself would grow up to follow his father’s footsteps work as a software engineer at IBM from 1971 to 1977. In his book he writes of the discoveries made as he delved into his father’s legacy.

“When I went to work for IBM, I risked following the thread of my father’s path into the very corporate behemoth that nearly swallowed him whole. And where I had thought to find a contented man reaping the benefits of good fortune to build a comfortable life, I found a troubled soul battling both inner and outer demons arrayed against him; where I had thought to find a man quietly accepting of his place, I found a man covertly working to bring about change; where I had thought to find a company awakened to social justice, I found a business blinded by corporate greed; and where I had thought to come only to a deeper understanding of my father, I came also to a deeper understanding of myself.”

(Image source: HarperCollins)

In an op-ed for the L.A. Times , Ford discusses IBM’s problematic racial history. He is particularly critical of Watson, the namesake of IBM’s Watson supercomputer, who served as chairman and CEO of IBM from 1914 to 1956. In the 1930s Watson oversaw a program which saw IBM lending its punch card technology to the Nazi regime. The controversy surrounding that decision plagues the company to this day and has led to accusations of IBM having contributed to the Holocaust.

According to Ford, his father’s hiring was not about diversity or inclusion but was instead a PR move meant to detract criticisms of the company’s involvement with the Nazis as well as other questionable dealings, such as supplying technology to assist with classifying citizens during Apartheid in South Africa.

Ford writes that the climate at IBM was anything but friendly for his father. Over the course of his 37-year career John Stanley Ford faced wage discrimination, was passed up for promotions, and dealt with colleagues who attempted to sabotage his career. In his book Clyde Ford writes that the discrimination his father faced at work led John Stanley Ford to adopt eugenics-like beliefs – convincing himself that his race and skin color made him an inferior employee.

But Ford doesn’t want his father’s story to be one of segregation and oppression. Despite his poor treatment at the company, John Stanley Ford persevered and was instrumental in helping other African-Americans get hired at IBM. He helped women from his church, for example, who had learned technical skills during World War II, find employment at IBM. In a more controversial move, Ford says his father was also able to obtain copies of IBM’s entrance examination and coached black applicants through it.

John Stanley Ford himself would become one of the many figures to help usher in the digital age of technology. He spent part of his career working on the IBM 407, a tabulating machine that would later serve as the foundation for more advanced computing systems such as the IBM 650, the company’s first commercial business computer.

Think Black arrives at a time when diversity in tech is a more hot button issue than ever. Many major tech companies have come under scrutiny for a lack of racial and gender identity in their workforce. Recently, Google has been placed in the hot seat after leaked documents revealed a pattern of retaliation against employees who reported issues such as racism and sexual harassment within the company.

A study released earlier this year from New York University showed that Black and Hispanic workers are substantially underrepresented in tech, and woman and minorities are also underrepresented in the artificial intelligence sector in particular. This last bit becomes concerning as more and more companies adopt and develop AI technologies and reports continue to emerge showing evidence of racial and gender bias in AI algorithms.

In writing this book Ford seems to not only illuminate his father’s story, but also offer a cautionary tale to the pitfalls we may soon face if technology does not embrace diversity in its engineering workforce. “My father believed that technology offered the possibility of a more democratic, egalitarian future. But he also often admonished me to learn to control technology before it learned to control me,” Ford wrote for the L.A. Times. “We are at a tipping point where my father’s words must be taken seriously if technology is to be used for a society that we choose to live in rather than one that high-tech corporations find most profitable to create.”

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

The Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event!

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

how-to-build-a-low-frequency-theremin-with-the-evive

The maker movement has spawned a variety of electronics prototyping platforms like the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi (RPi), micro:bit, and the Circuit Playground Express (CPX). What all of these platforms have in common is their cost effectiveness, high-performance, and that they provide a low barrier to entry to those looking to get into DIY electronics.

But there is another development device that has entered the educational technology and maker product market called the evive. In this Gadget Freak article, the evive we’ll be exploring the evive by building a low-frequency theremin.

What is the evive?

The evive is an all-one electronics and robotics prototyping and technology learning platform. (Image source: Agilo Research Pvt, Ltd.)

The evive was created by Agilo Research Pvt, Ltd, an educational technology hardware startup located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat India. The co-founders Dhrupal Shah, Abhishek Sharma, and Pankaj Kumar Verma, are three enthusiastic entrepreneurs and engineers who dreamt of enabling young minds to innovate and create by providing them with world-class technology and learning resources. The evive originated from this vision and provides a wealth of technology resources within a single prototyping platform.

The evive is a palm-sized prototyping platform (115 x 140 x 32mm) used for learning electronics and robotics through constructionism-based projects. The evive weighs 340 grams, including the rechargeable 5VDC lithium-ion battery.

The evive features are inclusive to a traditional electronics and robotics lab and include: an integrated oscilloscope; a function generator and voltmeter for electrical measurement data visualization; an Integrated H-bridge motor driver; two potentiometers; toggle/momentary pushbutton switches; a thin-film transistor (TFT) display; an adjustable 0- 5VDC power supply; and digital-analog converter (DAC).

On top of the evive’s printed circuit board (PCB) is a mini breadboard, dual in line female header connectors for external electronic circuit prototyping and placement of external shields, and external connectors for XBee and Bluetooth communication modules. The core development board that allows these integrated features to work synchronously is an Arduino Mega 2560 (which is based on the ATmega2560 from Microchip Technology). Technology concepts and projects that can be investigated with evive include: the Internet of Things (IoT) the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT/Industry 4.0); robotics; predictive maintenance; automation; and electronic controls. With the integrated solderless breadboard, General Purpose Input-Output (GPIO), and analog-digital converter (ADC) female header connectors, a variety of external embedded platforms can be included for building proof-of-concept prototypes.

A Low-Frequency evive Theremin

Now that we’ve gotten our introductions out of the way, let’s explore building a low-frequency theremin using the evive.

The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that generates sounds from hand gestures based on their proximity to the instrument’s two antennas. The theremin’s electronic oscillators direct the frequency or audible sound based on the thereminist’s hands’ distance within the two antennas. A typical theremin’s variable frequency oscillator is in the range of 257 – 260 KHz. The output frequency range of the evive theremin is below 20Hz. Therefore, the audible sound varies between single clock pulses to a solid-state buzzer. The low frequency theremin’s device construction is based on a simple hybrid design consisting of the evive, a light sensor, and speaker amplifier.

Device Design (Block Diagram)

The low-frequency theremin is a hybrid design using off-the-shelf electronic components. The design consists of a photocell (light sensor) receiving ambient light levels at pin A12 of the evive -ATmega2560-based microcontroller. The embedded software residing inside of the Arduino microcontroller’s RAM memory will read the varying light level analog values. These analog values will provide varying flashing rates for the LED wired to pin D13 of the microcontroller. The LED flashing audible output sounds will be heard through the littleBits o26 speaker electronic module.

Here’s the complete hybrid design of the theremin:

 The low frequency theremin consists of off the shelf electronic components.

Parts List and Device Assembly

The table shown next lists the components for the hand gesture-based control oscillator. Although the table lists specific electronic components for the project, the experienced maker or engineer can use appropriate alternative parts to build the device.

Quantity

Component

Description- Circuit Reference Designator

Supplier

1

evive

Electronic prototyping device

STEMpedia

1

littleBits o26 speaker

Electronic speaker amplifier module

littleBits Electronics

1

littleBits proto

Electrical terminal block

littleBits Electronics

1

Photocell

Light dependent resistor (PC1)

Jameco Electronics

1

4.7 Kilo-ohm (KΩ) resistor:(yellow, violet, red, gold stripes)

A fixed-pulldown resistor (R1)

Jameco Electronics

1

220 ohm (Ω) resistor: (red, red, brown, gold stripes)

A fixed-series current limiting resistor (R2)

Jameco Electronics

1

Light emitting diode (LED) red or alternative color

Audible output visual indicator (LED1)

Jameco Electronics

NA

Electrical jumper wires

NA

Jameco Electronics

The littleBits proto-module: (Image source: littleBits)

The approach behind this design is a physical mashup of different educational technology prototyping and learning platforms. Rapid prototyping using this this mashup method allows makers and engineers to use low- and high-tech development boards and tools to capture specific hardware features.

The design concept challenge of this project is the integration of the evive and the littleBits products to rapidly develop a proof-of-concept audible and visual electronics device. The evive theremin PoC produces low-frequency audible tones based on the physical proximity detection of a hand. The key component to assist in the electrical circuit integration of these different educational technology tools is the use of the littleBits proto module.

Pinout of a typical littleBits bitSnap. 

The littleBits proto-module consist of two three terminal blocks and jumpers mounted on a mini PCB. The mini PCB has two plastic bitSnaps that have metal pins for providing electrical connections to adjacent littleBits electronic modules. The electrical connections include: vcc ( 5V power supply), sig (electrical signal), and gnd (electrical ground). To reduce error in building a littleBits gadget or device, small magnets are placed inside and flushed with the bitSnaps front surface.

With the proto-module, electrical integration of the evive to the littleBits speaker can easily be accomplished.

Building the Theremin

1.) Wire the light sensor circuit on the evive prototyping device. The light sensor circuit is wired to the evive using the mini solderless breadboard mounted onto its PCB.

The electrical wiring of the light sensor circuit to the evive.

Here is a closer view of the solderless breadboard showing the details of the light sensor circuit electrical wiring of the individual electronic components.

Closeup view of the light sensor circuit electrical wiring on a solderless breadboard.

2.) Next, the light sensor circuit is wired to the littleBits o26 speaker using the proto board.

The electronic circuit schematic diagram of the light sensor circuit to the littleBit’s 026 theremin.

With the electrical wiring completed, the low frequency theremin should appear as shown:

The completely built low frequency theremin.

3.) All that remains in the completing the project is the inclusion of software.

The software is basically an Arduino sketch coded in C language for light level detection and flashing the external LED. In addition, the evive’s (TFT) screen displays the varying analog values. With the theremin code uploaded to the evive’s ATmega 2560 microcontroller, the LEDs (external and evive wired) will begin to flash. Adjusting the volume control on the littleBits’ o26 speaker will allow the audible tones to be heard.

You can click here to download the source code as text file.

As an option, a visual stroboscopic effect can be created by adding the littleBits’ LED bargraph. The littleBits bargraph module is electrically and magnetically attached to the 026speaker module.

The littleBits o9 bargraph can be added to provide a stroboscopic -visual effect for the low frequency theremin device.

Additional technical information on the evive can be found on the STEMpedia website.

[All images courtesy Don Wilcher, unless otherwise noted]

Don Wilcher is a passionate teacher of electronics technology and an electrical engineer with 26 years of industrial experience. He’s worked on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules/systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances. He’s also a book author, writing DIY project books on electronics and robotics technologies