The evolution of music creation has always been rife with controversy and resistance. Take the words of early 20th century classical guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia.
“Electric guitars are an abomination, whoever heard of an electric violin? An electric cello? Or for that matter an electric singer?”
But as Segovia probably knew; breaking barriers and ruffling feathers is the backbone of art and music. As with evolution of technology in any industry, the sea of change pays no respect to protests from the old guard. These days, electric violins, cellos and even singers are commonplace. As for electric guitars? Last year over one million electric guitars were sold in the US.
Electronically displayed information is everywhere; smartphones, laptops, TV, advertising billboards, wearables… the list of devices we use goes on and on. These displays are mostly based on either liquid crystal (LCD) or organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology. These are great technologies, but they are not without limitations. We have all experienced the poor readability of a phone screen in sunlight and short battery life, largely due to the high power consumption of the display. Recent research has also shown that evening use of these light-emitting devices can negatively affect sleep and next-morning alertness.
So how can we design the next generation of displays to address these issues? A promising approach is to develop displays which can reflect natural ambient light or room lights to illuminate the screen, rather than using the powerful backlighting used in LCDs. Deployed in eReader devices, reflective displays provide vastly improved power consumption and outdoor readability. But this current form of reflective display technology cannot render good colour, nor deliver video rate refresh rates – a major limiting factor to wider application.
Dr Vinton Cerf was one of the recipients of the inaugural QEPrize, taking the accolade in 2013 for his part in creating the Internet. He was awarded the prize alongside Dr Robert Kahn, Louis Pouzin, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen, whose work gave rise to the fundamental architecture of the internet, the World Wide Web and the browser. We caught up with Cerf, who is now vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, to find out what his team has been working on since he received the prize.
The QEPrize has often put a spotlight on technological innovations, with the creators of the Internet and the World Wide Web receiving the award in 2013, and the inventors of the digital imaging sensor taking the prize last year. These two pivotal developments in technology have truly changed the way people communicate all over the world. The impacts of the technologies have also transformed many industries, from entertainment, to education, science and medicine.
Last year’s Create the Future report revealed the vast scale of the impact of technological innovations on society. Respondents from 10 countries picked computers and the internet as the most important innovations in the last 100 years, with artificial intelligence and robotics following closely behind. However, although people recognised AI and robotics as important, they did not necessarily see them as relevant to their daily lives.
Sample photo taken with the Quanta Image Sensor. It is a binary single-photon image, so if the pixel was hit by one or more photons, it is white; if not, it is black.
QEPrize winner Eric Fossum, together with engineers from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, has produced a new imaging technology that may revolutionise medical and life sciences research, security, photography and cinematography.
The new technology is called the Quanta Image Sensor, or QIS. It will enable highly sensitive, more easily manipulated and higher quality digital imaging than is currently available. The sensor can reliably capture and count single photons, generating a resolution as high as one megapixel, as fast as thousands of frames per second. Plus, the QIS can accomplish this in low light, at room temperature, using mainstream image sensor technology. Previous technology required large pixels, low temperatures or both.
Next week marks the most important day in our calendar, as we head to Buckingham Palace for the presentation of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering!
Winning engineers Eric Fossum, Nobukazu Teranishi and Michael Tompsett will each be presented with their unique, 3D printed trophy by HRH the Prince of Wales. Together with George Smith, who is unable to attend the ceremony, this year’s winners are honoured for their contribution to creating digital imaging sensors. Found in billions of digital cameras and smartphones across the world, this innovation has transformed medicine, science, communication and entertainment.
Two years ago, on a rainy Monday in October, Queen Elizabeth II handed the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering to Dr Robert Langer. Only the second person to receive the award, the chemical engineer was honoured for his life’s work in developing ways to control the release of large-molecule drugs over time.
Used by 300 pharmaceutical, chemical and biotechnology companies, and featuring in some 1000 patents, Bob’s work has touched the lives of 2 billion people worldwide. His technology has helped develop treatments for cancer, diabetes and mental illnesses. He has even worked with famed voice surgeon, Steven Zeitels, to treat vocal injuries like those suffered by Julie Andrews and Adele.
Two years after receiving the award, Bob remains delightfully humbled by his success. “It was such a tremendous honour,” he said. “Firstly, it was a thrill to meet the Queen, who was so nice, and to meet five other members of the Royal Family. It’s such a wonderful prize and it’s hard for me to believe I could receive such an honour.”
Back in the 90’s, when I was still a child, I was convinced that by the year 2000, cars would be able to fly. At that time, I was unaware of aerodynamics, and remember asking my dad if his Volvo 440 would take off if we opened the front doors. Dad laughed kindly and replied “If only it was that simple!”.
Now we are in 2017 and, to my dismay, flying cars have still not replaced regular ones. However, since then, the kid in the back of his dad’s car has become an engineer, obtained a PhD and is lecturing in computer vision and autonomous systems at Cranfield University. Today I contribute to the next exciting challenge and the future of transport systems: driverless cars.