Tech Weekly: Chips Ahoy
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In the late 1950s, Jack Kilby — an engineer at Texas Instruments who would later dream up the handheld calculator — invented the integrated circuit, or microchip. Since then, true to Moore's Law, we've crammed components onto these chips at an exponential rate, making them smaller and smaller in the process. From an open-source game system the size of a credit card, to a minimalist cell phone the size of a credit card, to an entire computer smaller than a credit card, this week's projects are incredible examples of just how far we've come.
And as always, there are way more modern marvels over in our Technology category.
Twenty years ago the specs on a computer you were buying might have looked like this: 100MHz processor, 16MB RAM, and a 1GB hard drive (at least according to this 1995 holiday shopper's guide). Now, a team of very smart people have put a 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and 4GB storage onto a computer that fits in your palm. It's called C.H.I.P. Running specs similar to many basic tablets, C.H.I.P is pretty powerful, and it works just like any other computer. Just plug it in and you can get started on the included open-source software. And while the form factor is tiny, the components have only shrunk marginally compared to the price — C.H.I.P. will run you just a cool nine bucks.
Maybe you'd prefer a pocket computer with an integrated speaker and OLED display. If that's the case, the tiny and handsome Arduboy is for you. What began as a tech demo on YouTube has been given a total makeover for the end user. Arduboy has a built-in 8+ hour lithium polymer battery, six tactile buttons, and a super durable enclosure. Plus, it will fit inside your wallet. The device runs on Arduino software, and it's open source so you're free to develop and share your own 8-bit games. And even if you don't feel like making your own games using the provided online tutorials, you'll have free access to the entire Arduboy game library.
Back when Makey Makey hit the web in 2012, we were blown away by the device's potential. Still, we couldn't have imagined the wild and creative uses people would find for the device—including turning sushi into a musical instrument. Now the team is back with Makey Makey GO, a streamlined and portable version of their popular anything-machine. Makey Makey GO essentially turns the world into a giant construction kit, allowing you to use anything you can attach an alligator clip to as computer input. Maybe you want to use a donut for your spacebar, or you need a selfie machine that triggers when you high five. Then again, you could just play it safe and stick to the good old fashioned banana piano. With Make Makey GO, your weird ideas are just the beginning.
Every time you flex a muscle, those muscle cells generate electrical potential. It's possible to measure that electrical signal using electromyography, or EMG. MyoWare is a device that brings EMG to the home tinkerer. Just stick the included adhesive electrodes to your arm, snap MyoWare onto the electrodes, and flex. The MyoWare will analyze the electrical activity, and output an analog signal in accordance with how hard your muscle is being flexed. What do you do with that signal? Well you could use it to light up an LED array, eject some plastic claws, or even control components on a low-cost bionic arm.
Before "Hello" was adopted as the standard greeting when answering a telephone, Alexander Graham Bell had suggested we use "Ahoy." That was a terrible idea, but we have to give the guy credit for pioneering the minimalist phone. Now, the people behind The Light Phone have taken Bell's idea and updated it for modern times. The Light Phone is an ultra-slim, credit-card-sized device that does nothing but make and receive calls. Actually, there are a few bells and whistles such as call filtering and speed dial, but that's it. Finally, a phone that helps you disconnect.
In 1976, Carl Sagan appeared on The Tonight Show to discuss the idea of solar sailing with Johnny Carson. The gist was this: Particles from the sun could be used as propulsion, pushing a spacecraft along just like a sailboat in the wind. Now, the organization that Sagan founded, the Planetary Society, is realizing his dream with Bill Nye at the helm. LightSail is a tiny CubeSat, and in 2016 it will deploy its solar sails and soar around Earth. The mission? To prove just how far the sun can take us, if we're bright enough to let it.