Visual Thinking and Product Design


Visual thinking helps create better and successful products…This age of technology, organisation, planning, scheduling and analysis lays more emphasis on the left side of our brain, that has evolved to process ideas and information sequentially. We are expected to perform our tasks step by step, and make logical deductions from the available information. This approach works well in the modern technology driven world and our left brains make it all possible.

It is easy to ignore a view of the big picture when we lose ourselves in the deluge of information that needs to be processed and analysed. Of what use is all that analysis, if the big picture is missing, or if we are expending our efforts on the wrong product or project, that will be of little importance in the context of the needs of marketplace.

Visual thinking is the function assigned to our right brains, and it can help us visualize the big picture of our projects and products, even before they have any material existence. It all begins from the visions of great thinkers and inventors.

For example, when designing a product, if we visualize the myriads of use case scenarios for the product in the context of intended user population, we will have a successful product designed. In this approach, we look at the whole picture first and if it makes sense, then we focus on its individual parts. Rest is all implementation and execution.

However, when detailed implementation and development of the intended product is in progress, we must keep our connection with the big picture, to avoid getting lost in the deluge of analytical information. This continuous interaction between our right and left brains is vital for the ultimate success of any of our creative endeavours.

Nature has blessed us with an analytical brain, as well as a visually thinking brain. Why not use both sides of our brain, and be successful in our projects and create successful products?

Places to go from here:

Research and Application of Visual Thinking
Visual Learning for Science and Engineering



Posted in Electronics Engineering, General | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Nano Chips that Self Assemble

Self Assemble

Self assembling nanostructures enable the fabrication of faster and more energy efficient integrated circuits…Since the advent of microchips, photolithographic techniques have been used to fabricate microchips. It involves etching the circuits on a silicon wafer, by removing unwanted portions of silicon layers from the wafer.

You could compare it with the way a sculptor transforms a monolithic piece of natural stone into a masterpiece by chiseling away undesired portions of stone. The only difference between the sculpture and the silicon wafer is, that the latter carries integrated circuits in nanometer dimensions. These silicon chips make it possible for us to create the wonders of modern electronics, and are indispensable workhorses of our information and technology driven world.

For a moment let us consider how Nature creates its wonders. Each component of a living cell is built out of an assembly of complex molecules, that makes it possible for the cell to function as a system by itself. The cells assemble in a certain manner to form bigger structures and systems. These systems then assemble to create a complete organism, plant or animal. This is a ‘bottom-up’ approach, in which complex systems self assemble out of simple building blocks.

Following this cue from Nature, researchers have been trying to incorporate similar ‘bottom-up’ approach in the fabrication of integrated circuits. Under right conditions, certain nanoscale elements and materials can arrange themselves in regular patterns. These self assembled nanoscale patterns are of considerable interest to semiconductor industry, as they help to produce chips that have circuit paths with better electrical conductivity, have faster switching elements and are more energy efficient.

IBM has been successful in making the first such nano chip that mimics the self assembly process in nature. The process insulates nanowires on a chip by allowing them to self assemble around air gaps.

Self assembly has emerged as a promising alternative technique to scale new frontiers in the fabrication of nanometer scale electronic chips. It is also proposed as a reliable solution to self package nanometer scale biosensors and MEMS (Micro Electro Machanical Systems) on a single chip, and provides an alternative to robotic packaging techniques that are currently used in the industry.

Places to go from here:

Self assembly for semiconductor industry
Self assemly for microscale and nanoscale packaging



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Is there a benefit of Multitasking?


The current trend of online virtual work environment allows us to perform multiple tasks at the same time. You could have multiple applications open on your computer, tempting you to work on all of them at the same time. Is it really productive for us humans to perform multiple activities simultaneously?

Imagine a common high pressured work day environment, when deadlines loom large and a supervisor asks his worker to finish multiple tasks by the end of the day, when in normal course of work the same set of tasks would have required double the amount of time to achieve the desired level of quality in work output. The worker tries to multitask and rushes to complete his tasks because he cannot say ‘No’ to the supervisor. The work output is completed and delivered on time, but in this rush, quality of the work output has suffered.

In the aftermath, when the client discovers less than expected level of quality, or unexpected defects in the work output, further rework is needed. The result is additional costs, reduced margins and a dissatisfied customer.

So, why would anyone not understand the limits of human multitasking capabilities? We are different from machines. We design machines to automate, multitask and execute our activities. It is an error, for us to assume the multitasking role of computers.

If we are aware of our own limits for the sake of quality of our work output, we need to focus on only one task at a time, and delegate the rest to others, either machines or other humans.

The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) published by PMI (Project Management Institute) lists two techniques for Schedule Compression, that can be used when deadlines are just around the corner.

The first technique is Crashing, that involves engaging additional resources to speed up execution of tasks without sacrificing quality.

The second technique is Fast Tracking, that involves execution of those tasks in parallel, that do not have a sequential relationship. Of course, each task is performed by dedicated workers, assigned to that task.

PMI does not encourage the execution of multiple tasks simultaneosly by the same worker, because the quality of work output is paramount. Rework and fixing of defects in the work output is much more expensive.

So, the next time you are asked by your supervisor to multitask, remind him about the perils of doing that.

Places to go from here:

Multitasking and Innovation in Virtual Teams
Human Multitasking


Posted in General | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Electrical Circuits in Nature


Did you ever imagine the existence of an electrical circuit in Nature? Well, recent discovery has confirmed the existence of Nanowires, that are used by colonies of bacteria to transport electrons. These Nanowires are constructed out of protein molecules that self-assemble themselves into long filaments and have been shown to conduct measurable current between two electrodes.

In order to survive, the bacteria need to lose electrons to an electron acceptor. If they cannot find an acceptor, they grow Nanowires to transport electrons to a distant acceptor. This mechanism is used by colonies of bacteria as a survival strategy, when the immediate environment is deficient in electron acceptors. The bacteria found to have this characteristic are Shewanella and Geobacter.

Scanning electron microscope imaging reveals a network of Nanowires that interconnects bacteria cells in Earth’s subsurface. This hardwired network produces measurable electric potentials and its behaviour can be characterised like that of an electrical circuit.

The mechanism helps the bacteria to communicate and share energy. This discovery is considered to be promising for development of microbial fuel cells, that could utilise the nano currents produced by bacteria, and thus provide alternate source of energy.

Understanding how micro organisms use Nanowires for efficient energy distribution and communication between themselves may provide a solution to our own energy needs.

Places to go from here:

Bacterial Nanowires
Is Earth’s sub-surface hardwired?



Posted in Electronics Engineering | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Does 21st Century belong to Geeks?

Hear Summary and Read On…

The word Geek has several meanings, but here we use this word for technology enthusiasts, who are adept in computers, who are creative individuals and who take pride to call themselves Geeks. Look around you and you will find increasing number of them, particularly in the younger age groups. Did you notice that the young generation of today is so adept at handling the smartphones and other high tech gizmos as if it is their second nature?

If we stretch our field of perception a little wider, to have a look at the numerous technology startups of recent times, these highly successful companies are often founded and run by Geeks, as per our definition. And this phenomenon is not limited to North America alone. The global integration, thanks to Internet, is spreading ideas all over the world and we are beginning to find similar stories in Asia too.

For a moment, consider the contribution of Geeks to the world. There is free flow of ideas and information that cannot be blocked by an oppressive regime in any country. Online social networks are challenging traditional forms of mass communication, such as television, cable networks and newspapers. They are proving to be more effective when a revolution is brewing somewhere. Remember the unprecedented use of Twitter during political turmoil in the Middle East.

Geeks deserve the credit for much of the technological innovation currently in progress, from smartphone applications to social media. These are revolutionising the landscape of all human activity. There is a trend towards democratisation, be it political, or technological innovation. These changes seem irreversible and tend to place more control in the hands of ordinary human beings.

Quoting Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. So, the Geeks are essentially creating magic.

We only wish that these tremendous changes evolve into a better future for all of us, so that the Geeks can rightfully claim 21st as their century. Perhaps all of us will have certain Geekiness in us, as we get more comfortable with technology.

What do you think?

Places to go from here:
Being Geek
Geek party tricks: learning science and engineering



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Using Avatars for Better Productivity

Hear Summary and Read On…

Do you wish to multitask with Avatars?….Well, Avatars are graphical and animated digital representations that have found creative and interesting uses in role playing online games. Their use is also proliferating in online social networks. Talking Avatars like me can serve as virtual online presenters too.

The capabilities of Avatars can be extended by linking them with Automation applications, Expert systems and Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs.

A learning Avatar could capture your real life interaction with the Web and other electronic media, such as broadband services. It could analyse your online interactions and figure out the pattern that is used to perform daily tasks. This knowledge acquired by the Avatar could be used to assist in the execution of your daily tasks in a more efficient manner.

You could be having a skype conference at 9 am every Monday morning, followed by engineering design review meeting at noon. At the same time, another online project meeting is waiting and you wish you had a assistant who could attend that meeting on your behalf, because you will really be a passive participant in this particular meeting.


Assuming that most of your interactions are online, you could create an Avatar that not only serves as your personal digital assistant and advises you on upcoming tasks, but also represents you in online meetings, in your absence.

To begin with, for a given work day, you will authorize and delegate specific tasks to your Avatar, that you think are routine tasks and do not involve critical decisions requiring your presence. These could include, greeting an online visitor and engaging him in a conversation with animated gestures, just like your personal secretary. With some training, your intelligent virtual Avatar could also be trained to provide answers to specific questions.

So, Avatars can effectively enhance your productivity, by performing tasks delegated by you and thus allowing you to multitask. The busy professional of tomorrow will possibly consider using Avatars as a productivity enhancement tool.
What do you think?

Places to go from here:
Avatars interoperability in Virtual Worlds
Reusable, Interactive, Multilingual Online Avatars



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From Capacitors to Ultracapacitors


Circa 1971, that was the era when radio receivers built around vaccum tubes were not yet phased out. As a kid, I used to watch my dad assemble those bulky contraptions in his lab at home, and used to wonder at one cylindrical shining component on the chassis that stood out tall compared to others. As I later learned, that was the electrolytic capacitor used to filter out AC ripples from the output of Full Wave Rectifier circuit.

Over the years there have been improvements in the design of capacitors and they pack more Farads in smaller size. But nothing parallels the recent introduction of Ultracapacitors.

Ultracapacitors are formed by increasing the effective surface area of the electrodes and by reducing the distance between the electrode and the electrolyte to molecular scale. Both these factors contribute to magnify the Capacitance by several orders of magnitude.

The concept seems very simple, but the feat has been achieved by synthesizing new materials for the electrodes, such as Graphene, that have ultra-large surface area and high electrical conductivity. The separation between the electrode and eletrolyte is reduced by the insertion of nanometer scale layer of materials, such as Barium Strontium Titanate.

For the purpose of comparison, the shining tall capacitor on my dad’s contraption had a capacitance of mere 32 microFarads. However an ultracapacitor of the same size could pack a capacitance of the order of 5000 Farads, or more.

Compared to electrochemical batteries, ultracapacitors pack more power for the same weight and can be charged in seconds instead of hours. They also have longer life and can survive more extreme temperatures. As a result, they have been found to be superior in several applications where electrochemical batteries have ruled supreme in the past.

Ultracapacitors are ideal for applications that require sudden bursts of energy and fast charge cycles, such as, hybrid electric and fuel-cell vehicles, fork lifts carrying heavy load from one place to another, electric flashlight of a camera, electric tools, such as portable drill machine, Energy Harvesters that store electrical energy converted from mechanical movement or vibration, UPSs that smoothen out power fluctuations in the Smart Grid of an electric utility, solar energy converters, and several others.

Do not be surprised if sometime in the future, when on a long drive in your electric car, you will be prompted to charge your car at the nearest fast charge station. Before you have finished your cup of coffee, your car will be fully charged and ready for next leg of your journey. Perhaps, a stack of ultracapacitors under the hood will make it all possible.

Places to go from here:
Graphene for Ultracapacitors
New megaFarad Ultracapacitors
Ultracapacitors equipped hybrid electric micro car
Ultracapacitors as unique energy storage for a city car


Posted in Electronics Engineering | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments