CES Show Day One: IoT and 3D Printing Circuit Boards


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Today's focus was on the Internet of Health and Fitness and 3D printing of things ranging from musical instruments to truly printed circuits.

Today was the first day of CES, followed by the acclaimed Showstoppers press event. It was a long day for sure; in fact, my connected Fitbit sent a message to my Windows Phone informing me that I have walked almost twelve miles today and burned off 2,800 calories while taking almost 24,000 steps. I had 74 very active minutes. If I had some of the other connected devices shown at CES, I would know what my heart rate was when walking up flights of stairs or what my mood was when waiting in long taxi lines. When my glucose levels kicked me, the Fitbit made me realize that I was hungry, and much more. 

The Internet of Things connects just about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. Devices to measure just about any and every bodily function and activity were on display both on the show floor as well as at Showstoppers. Besides the now familiar clip on devices there were wearables of every description, from glasses and t-shirts to underwear, watches and bracelets, as well as devices of questionable value, such as a connected toothbrush. I guess kids and some adults today need to be connected and have even their tooth brushing activities measured.

There is no doubt that the era of connected health and fitness devices has arrived. Literally hundreds of devices from many dozens of companies are now or are about to become available. Of the various segments of the Internet of Things I feel that for the most part there is good value in this segment, and that like it or not, it is rapidly becoming mainstream. You may have no interest in tracking your physical activities but if you decide to get a smartwatch in the years to come or even a phone it will probably include some of that capability.

Speaking of smartwatches, this year there were many new devices looking far less geeky and far more capable than just a year ago. Besides being smarter, their battery life is now far better and just as with most portable devices they now have the ability to recharge more easily and rapidly.

There are some amazing advances in batteries, like the Roost 9v battery presently designed for smoke detectors that actually sends you a note when it is getting low. It even tells you which detector will be affected instead of just chirping at you in the middle of the night just before it goes dead, letting you guess where it's coming from. Can you imagine in the near future getting notes on your smartphone about various devices as their batteries get low? Think about it; it is already happening.

We have only scratched the surface on this topic so I will cover the Internet of Things in more detail in additional columns over the next week, but for now believe it; it is real and becoming mainstream, fast.

Over the last few years we have seen the advent of 3D printing. The technology has improved greatly and the cost has started to decline, for both the hardware and the consumables. At CES, there is an entire section dedicated to this growing and improving technology. I still stick to my earlier comments that this is not something that you would expect to see in the average home, but instead it is becoming a true advance in manufacturing of more and more items. For example, I was shown some absolutely incredible musical instruments created by 3D printing. In fact, the band showing them off used nothing but 3D printed/produced instruments from guitars to keyboard and drums. It seems that 3D printing is advancing well beyond, making cute, but basically useless toys and it has done so in just a few years.

Many of our readers as well as myself grew up in the printed circuit industry. Many of us are still active in this industry, but today, I saw a truly “printed circuit” being made by a brand new company called VOXEL 8, in collaboration with AUTODESK. They have developed a process and a novel silver conductive ink that is highly conductive even when printed at room temperature. They can create/print a plastic component and leave a void in the area that will house a chip or other components and then insert the components and connect them by printing with the conductive ink.

According to Daniel Oliver of Voxel 8, creating multi-layers and printing through hole connections connecting to lower layers with their embedded components did not seem to be an issue. I was told that interconnecting layers using this process does not add cost or complexity vs. a simple one-layer circuit. The circuit assembly can be created as part of, and right into the form of the overall device and therefore become a true integrated part of it. This will allow the entire electronic portion of a device to be far smaller, not just the chip as we are seeing today but the entire complete electronic portion of the device. Imaging absolutely tiny hearing aids, or very small 3D antennas embedded into a phone, WiFi or Bluetooth connected device, which can now be just as functional but far smaller or perhaps the same size, but with more room for a larger, longer lasting battery. Daniel feels that there is already a segment that can greatly benefit from this process. I can recall when we started to convert from point-to-point wiring to printed circuits back in the 50s. It brought forth a revolution in electronic manufacturing. True printed manufacturing and interconnect of embedded components could have similar repercussions. There is no doubt that this is a process that will be watched closely and something that we intend to follow closely.

Voxel 8 will soon be introducing a developer’s kit for engineers and designers. We at I-Connect007 intend to delve into this process and its possible effects on our industry, in-depth. Stay tuned for more on this as well as more from CES 2015.

Over the next few days we will cover 4K and even 5K TV, shrinking in size, but with more powerful battery packs for our growing number of portable devices, more automotive electronics including the growing capability and popularity of dash cams, and of course, computer components.

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