The picture below became viral recently and shows the effect of Moore’s law since the 90s. Walkman, watches, cameras, GSM phones, laptops, camcorders, pagers and PDAs are today integrated in one single device carried by everyone: the smartphone.
Besides experiencing an impressive evolution and improvement on semiconductor integration, the creators of this picture chose old portable devices on purpose to achieve a better “wow effect” over the audience. The cold reality looks more like this:
This second picture reflects much better what’s happening. Our pockets contain four objects that are still usually in our pockets: the smartphone, our home keys, the car keys, and the wallet.
In addition to the efforts made by many innovative mobile companies worldwide, we still carry three more items with us because they are not fully integrated in the smartphone yet.
The integration of the wallet is almost a fact. Apple and Samsung have already developed their payment systems with relative success, and their market penetration is due to grow in the coming years. Coins and paper money will be useless in the medium term.
Individual IDs and passports are electronic in many countries. Passive ICs have been integrated into these, so the transition to smartphone integration is much easier. This doesn’t require a technology challenge; it’s a matter of population, government and companies embracing the change.
A different story
House and car keys are a different story. High-end passive entry systems used in latest luxury car models set a high technology standard. There are two big barriers to overcome. First, current drivers don’t want to sacrifice the performance when the smartphone integrates car access solutions. Second, passive entry technology is based on LF positioning and communication between car and key fob. Smartphones still lack LF radio front-ends, and their integration is a must to achieve a seamless comparative access and operation performance to achieve that of advanced key fobs.
The LF front-end is based on a custom IC semiconductor and a 3DCoilTM antenna, and these two elements must be integrated into the phone successfully. The 3DCoilTM integration is a huge challenge due to the low-profile constraint of PCB mounted components in smartphones.
On top of those additional elements we carry on with us, new gadgets and technologies are being developed and reaching the consumer market. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality devices are among them. 3D headsets and controllers are poised to be part of our lives in the near future.
So, if we look forward to the future and try to guess what’s going to happen next, the previous should be updated with the following:
Yes, those are a pair of augmented reality glove controllers and glasses. If we move forward several years, AR/VR tech gadgets will be living with us in the same way as smartphones are today. The potential applications for these devices are far beyond the current smartphones. We will be able to receive information directly to our eyes, without screens or touch devices. Our hand gestures, by using motion tracking controllers, will be the interface to cloud hardware that will process big data for us. This video is a good example of this:
AR/VR will come to stay with us. In parallel, Moore’s law will continue evolving, making all devices smaller and integrating them ever more. There is one particularly relevant point about this integration. The LF front-end currently available in car access systems is common to the motion tracking EM systems. In fact, today’s cars with passive entry systems have the capability to sense the key fob in 3D around them within a range of 3 to 4 m, depending on the kind of antennas used. This technology is exactly the same needed for EM motion tracking in AR/VR devices. The integration of a LF front-end in a smartphone will drive the chance of using the phone as 3D emitter or receiver EM device. This opens the application to the use of the phone with AR/VR motion controlling features integrated. With the increase of processing power in smartphones, they will be able to act like 3D glasses in our headset and EM 3D motion controller’s receivers/emitters at the same time.
The future is promising, as we will see more and more features in our gadgets, along with more integration efforts. We can think what will happen next. Maybe something like this:
Just 3D glasses and ultra-miniature wireless motion tracking sensors. Or maybe not glasses and just the smartphone without a screen, and projecting images directly to our eyes. Sensing our movements will be a must, and the miniaturization of EM sensors and other technologies will be more relevant. One thing is clear: electronics will continue shrinking and new devices with multiple features will be developed with the aim of carrying fewer devices in our pockets. No more mechanical keys, no coins, no wallet. They will disappear in the same way as the walkman. We will not miss them.
Looking far beyond the future in the long term, we can imagine a scenario where no devices will be carried at all. Everything will be in the cloud. Individuals will be recognized by DNA automatically when entering buildings or vehicles. Sound and video will be projected to our eyes and ears automatically, using ultrasound and laser interference, without noticing other people around us. And the whole processing power and big data will be shared from the cloud, with no hardware in our pockets.
This may sound like a technology big brother, possibly scary, but challenging and exciting too!