Wednesday, March 05, 2014

the broader applicability of "cell-phone technology"

Update: An article with a similar thesis was published earlier today (Tuesday, March 18th) on Robohub.

As Microsoft discovered with the Kinect, something developed for a particular context may prove very desirable in other contexts.

For example, consider the tiny cameras that are used in most cell phones, and particularly the better of these, like those used in iPhones. Despite their size, they are very capable, and they are made by the millions, taking full advantage of the economies of scale implied. Despite the rather complex design, with multiple lens elements, Apple's cost for one of these is a few dollars.

For another example, consider the M7 motion coprocessor in the iPhone 5s, also fabricated by the millions. It independently tracks motion, making it unnecessary for the CPU to be powered up to handle such tasks, extending battery life while making continuous tracking more practical.

Both of these technologies would be very helpful in many robotic applications. Sure, there might be alternatives for both, but would they be as thoroughly engineered, as efficient, as compact, or produced in anything like the same numbers?

If you want to take advantage of technologies developed for a mass market, the most direct path to doing so is to make use of the actual parts used in that market. Of course, a prerequisite for doing so is that those parts be made available outside of the supply stream for the products they were developed to be part of.

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