May 27, 2020

Unfortunately, it’s all too clear that everyone is taking a hit financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether one gets downsized, terminated, or shot out of a canon, this virus thing is definitely putting the hurt on one’s bottom line, and below. And we hear this incessantly, morning, noon, and night. What we also hear, perhaps without as much fanfare, is that this will pass and we will emerge stronger than before, if not smarter.

In the latest issue of a personal-interest magazine I subscribe to, a reader letter caught my eye. Printed under the headline “Advertisers Matter,” this anonymous reader wrote, “I just renewed my subscription to your magazine. The articles are fantastic and so are the advertisements. In the midst of this virus, advertisers help to make your publication what it is. I appreciate them, I read all the ads, and as a result, I purchased several high-end items. I realize that the things I buy from your advertisers also ties into my appreciation of what makes your publication so vital.”

You may find that unusual, a reader taking time to thank a publication for the advertisements. On a regular basis, most readers and viewers of any content find advertisements an annoying, yet necessary, evil. The operative word is “necessary” in this case. Getting back to that magazine, obviously the reader made purchases on the basis of seeing items in ads. Chances are very good, 99:1, had the reader not seen the ads, the purchases would never have happened.

That got me thinking about our little universe of technology and the impact the corona boner is having on it. Of particular interest is the cancellation and/or postponement of trade shows. If a trade show gets cancelled, exhibitors face a problem: how to communicate their new product and technology developments in a face-to-face manner that goes beyond just sending press releases and product announcements to all the relevant trade journals. The obvious solution, if not the ideal remedy, is a virtual presentation online. In this case, the virtual route is a viable solution, as almost everyone in the business is locking down somewhere, most likely online and in front of a display.

In the case of a postponement, exhibitors face a slightly more complex set of problems. First, is the postponement date favorable in terms of the timing of their product announcements? If the original show date was the most favorable for a particular product launch, perhaps the new date makes the launch somewhat stale in terms of the rest of the market.

Second problem, if the new date is not good, can the exhibitor get a refund? Touchy subject, but we are not talking just a few shekels here. I know what exhibitor booths cost.

Third, and this also involves a postponement: if the exhibitor plans to go along with the new date, does the new date align with any events that could lower attendance to said trade show? For example, if a trade show’s new date is closer to upcoming holidays. Particularly now, with trade and travel restrictions slowly lifting, and money being tight for most people, attendees may view investing in a family visit or small vacation after the big quarantine more valuable than attending an equally costly or more expensive trade show.

Bottom line, if you are an OEM and confronted with these issues, bear in mind that if you are not visible to your customers, you are certainly not in their thoughts. So, take a tip from that anonymous subscriber above. Advertisers matter … big time.

May 20, 2020

Whether one listens to radio, watches TV, cruises the web either for work or personal tasks, one cannot avoid even the most casual COVID-19 references. Yes, it is and has been a major global event that has changed and ended many lives. The mainstream media has successfully divided people into three basic groups: the infected and soon to pass on, the infected who recover and survive, and the uninfected and scared who believe mass quantities of paper towels and toilet paper will keep them safe from the virus.

Media outlets also have several other achievements they can add to their resumes. A few examples include convincing certain pockets of the population that they will in fact die if they step outside of their homes, convincing another satchel of the masses that “things ain’t so bad, let’s get back to business as usual”, and the usual mundane divides and rifts between conservatives and liberals.

Though subtle, one interesting thing the media currently abets is a different economy based on how society is reacting to the pandemic. For instance, since everyone is staying home, promotions abound for shopping online. In addition to surgical masks and hand sanitizers, new products are surfacing and promoted as items one should have both during and long after the virus subsides.

The global economic environment is also set for change. For one, some employers will finally be waking up to the advantages of telecommuting employees, including higher productivity due to the elimination of long, aggravating, and irresponsible commutes and happier, healthier, and well-adjusted employees.

On the other side of the coin, some employers will learn they can achieve either the same or better results with fewer employees. Unfortunately, virus or no virus, the possibility of a business downsizing is always imminent. As long as you have moldy management that favors ideas that create more work instead of ideas that work, and leaders who believe it’s not what employees do but how late they work that matters, economic failure is the result.

The tech community, however, has been responding responsibly and effectively to this crisis. Rather than glutting the market with ephemeral entertainment products to take the sting out of being quarantined alone or with a bunch of people who drive each other crazy, companies large and small have been stepping up to the plate with useful devices and platforms that’ve been solid tools for defending against the corona virus, and offer some hope in addressing future pandemics. You’ve likely read about some of these innovations right here on Sensors Daily.

Temperature sensors have been playing a big role in non-contact detection of persons who are running a fever. Optical and imaging sensors are key components for noting physical changes and anomalies in potential virus carriers. Ultra-violet lighting systems are disinfecting packages, mail, and a plethora of other items. Moisture sensors team with chemical and gas sensors to detect the presence of the virus on various parts of the human anatomy. Modifications to security kiosks enable them to detect high body temperatures, heart rates, and blood pressure. The list goes on, and it is good! The only thing I believe we should overtly worry about is accepting the “new normal” as being other than what it really is: abnormal.

Now sit back, relax, and take your mind off corona bologna and read another epic episode from Roger Grace in this week’s issue of Sensors Daily Update. Roger will give you the facts on industry associations and how they benefit the MEMS and sensors market. And be sure to check out the Sensors Daily Update Archive for past and recent issues.

May 13, 2020

An interesting effect the big COVID-19 pandemic has had on society at large is the mass purchase, hoarding, and consumption of personal paper products and disinfectant chemicals. The mantra is “you can’t have too much Lysol (bleach, alcohol, or your disinfectant chemical of choice) and you really can’t have too much toilet paper (TP).”

It’s quite understandable that there is a heightened need for these products in the shadow of concern and fear over the possibility of becoming infected with the plague of the 21st century. It’s far better to be overstock than be sorry later on.

One question no one seems to ask, either in the media or on the vacant street, is, after using these products, where are they going? Maybe no asks because the answer is too obvious (or inconvenient).

Naturally, most of the paper products are being flushed, and not just the TP. Some paper towels used to wipe up some of those disinfectant chemicals are also finding their way into the bowl, and in turn, back into the water system. The aerosols are released into the environment and the respiratory systems of the users. The airborne components also find their way into the water ways, one way or another.

Now, in the interests of sanitization, we essentially have another source of environmental pollution, most of which may be recycling back to the public through the water supply. But hey, that’s no big deal. Every so often we hear about some town in some state that they’ve found lead in the drinking water. Some politicians may say that’s a good thing. They’ll tell you drinking water with lead in it will protect you against radiation poisoning. You’ll be a walking bomb shelter. Beats drinking disinfectant!

All exaggerations aside, there are solutions for these water-contamination issues and sensors are playing a major role. Over in Europe there are systems in place to keep an eye on the quality of the water supply. Learn how they are doing it in Flanders via this week’s Sensors Daily Update feature article from the folks at imec. And drink up!

May 6, 2020

Something I’ve not seen on the roads for quite some time is the regular appearance of disabled vehicles. That does not include vehicles immobilized due to a collision or external mishap or those under towing due to mid-journey repossession by a bank or other lender. I’m referring to vehicles that have stalled due to a mechanical problem.

When I was a child and my father would drive us to the beach during the summer, every time going and coming, there would be a car up on the grass border with emergency lights blinking (if the battery wasn’t dead). Sometimes smoke bellowed from under the hood, but most times a car was just standing on the side of the road with the exited passengers staring at the vehicle with question marks in their eyes. Briefly put, summer, winter, spring, and fall, this was a regular image on every trip we took.

I learned, the not-so-easy way, why this was a regular image when I got my first car. Not exactly what one might call a lemon, but let’s just say, a car with a unique problem, or better put, a unique technological problem for the day. I learned that the used vehicle I purchased, which will go nameless, was one of the first vehicles made by this mystery manufacturer with what the mechanic du jour called a “double-barreled carburetor.”

The problem was twofold. First, it would never start if the temperature was 45°F or colder. In order to get it started on those cooler days, I had to pop the hood, uncover the carburetor, use a screwdriver or similar object to hold the butterfly valve open, then go turn the ignition key. As a reward, along with the car actually starting, was the little lightshow that occurred by way of a three-foot-long flame that would shoot up from the valve.

The second problem was, once started, you could not just start driving. The motor had to idle for at least 15 to 20 minutes, otherwise the engine would stall and you’d have to repeat the starting ritual again. Yes, this was the car you’ve seen in every horror movie that wouldn’t start when the driver was being chased by the guy with the chainsaw. And this car was, in fact, brown.

Obviously, today’s vehicles are free of the myriad problems of those older cars. First off, mechanical architectures have advanced considerably. I’d wager 50% of younger engineers don’t know what a carburetor is (was), let alone how it operates. And they don’t need to know.

Even the most basic vehicles currently available have numerous failsafe and proactive systems on board. In the advent of a possible failure anywhere in the car, be it mechanical or electrical, the system will warn the driver somewhat in advance of actual failure. Of course, if the impending problem is ignored, the driver and passengers will spend their vacation day on a roadside picnic instead of being on the beach. Bottom line, today’s vehicles, compared to their 20thcentury ancestors, rarely, if ever, stall out.

Economic systems have been around a lot longer than cars, and, like old cars, they occasionally stall out. When an economy stalls, it’s called a recession. If it takes a long time to restart, it’s called a depression. When a recession or depression arises, the mantra is, “there’s no money.”  No money?

Not speaking globally, there is a fixed amount of money in the US. Unless you take into consideration the government just printing and minting at will and counterfeiters, which we won’t, there is just X monies. Therefore, if “there’s no money,” where did X monies go? Did someone put it in a big fireplace and burn it up? Did somebody steal it (a definite possibility)? Was it mistaken for lettuce and accidentally put into school cafeteria salads and sandwiches? Or was it handled in some traditional, oddly designed manner like that older vehicle, one that is no longer functional?

Check out this week’s feature article, in which the concept of marketing successfully is once again hammered home. If the market is stalling, it might be time to swap out that double-barreled carburetor for a fuel injector.

April 29, 2020

For 10+ years now, we’ve been dancing with the Internet of Things (IoT) concept and the prospect of deploying of trillions of sensors globally. Both the concept and the reality face two major challenges, the first being: hey, how the hell are we going to keep tack of and organize trillions of sensors spread out in locales ranging anywhere from home and offices to the Antarctic and, maybe, even the bottoms of oceans?

Well, for that first challenge, there are two possible solutions that have also been floating around since IoT became a marketing buzzword. They are the sensor hub and sensor fusion.

The sensor hub is similar to a USB hub that allows users to plug more than one USB device into a single USB port. A sensor hub is a single connection point for multiple sensors. The hub integrates a control device to sort and handle the number of incoming sensor signals plus a digital signal processor (DSP) to process incoming sensor data. Essentially, the DSP takes some of the workload off the larger system’s central processing units (CPUs).

Sensor fusion, the second alternative, is viewable in two ways: a somewhat complex view and a simple view. The somewhat complex view is a textbook definition, i.e., “Sensor fusion is the combining of sensory data or data derived from disparate sources such that the resulting information has less uncertainty than would be possible when these sources were used individually.” Okay, very nice, and open to philosophical, pseudo-profound meanderings. Simply put, sensor fusion is combining diverse sensor types on a single device or integrated circuit (IC). Simpler yet, picture an IC that integrates pressure, temperature, and position sensors on a single chip. Add five more sensors to that mix and voila! You have the proverbial eight hot dogs on one bun.

In this week’s featured article, “Integrating Sensor Fusion,” author Jeff VanWashenova will give you some straightforward insights into addressing sensor hubs and sensor fusion in automotive and other applications. His article is brief, to the point, and makes points for future developments.

The second major challenge facing IoT developers, if you haven’t guessed by now, is security. Once you have control and organization of trillions of sensors and related devices, how do you protect and secure them from the minds and fingers of cyber knaves? The answer to that is surprisingly easy: get in touch with a cybersecurity expert. In a special webinar, titled “Security Fundamentals for IoT Sensors” presented by Alan Grau of Sectigo, attendees learned the intricacies of implementing IoT security strategies.

If you missed it on April 29, 2020, let not your heart be heavy. A recorded version of the webinar will be available for download later this week on the Sensors Daily website. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to submit questions to the expert speaker as you would if you were attending the live event, but you’ll still learn more than if you’re just sitting at home watching TV and washing your hands all day, and/or eating hotdogs.

April 22, 2020

By now, you’ve probably heard enough about how COVID-19 (coronavirus) is affecting the economy and the debates on whether to open business or not in lieu of impending or implied infection. Yes, things are bad, they may get better, they may get worse, they may stay the same, or all of the above. Yes, enough is enough.

One curious aspect of what we used to call normal life that’s remained relatively the same is marketing. Whether you’re watching television or listening to radio, you may notice that the advertisements that pepper the spaces between news reports and entertainment content are, for the most part, unchanged. Unscathed if you will.

On several radio stations, I still hear the same ads for a fruit-and-vegetable supplement that allegedly resolves just about every human ailment from toe fungus to Parkinson’s disease. This ad has been running for years unchanged. One might wonder why they are not using this super supplement to cure COVID-19.

Another radio ad that’s been in the loop for a couple years insists you can score 18% to 20% returns if you invest a minimum of $10K in a real-estate development firm. Even though many commercial properties, residential apartments, and co-ops may go vacant in the aftermath of the plague, the advertiser insists you “need to take advantage of this limited offer now.”

Travel ads on television still persist. Just this week, following a special report on the health crisis in Italy, a sixty-second ad ran for a cruise to Italy. Then there was a game show, during which a contestant won a trip to Rome. Of course, this episode ran once before the outbreak, but could be misleading, or inspiring, for some viewers.

At least some automobile companies have opted for a bit of reality. A few are offering online viewing and purchasing of their vehicles, after which the company will deliver your new/used vehicle with no human contact between you, the company, and the delivery person. Of course, if it’s an autonomous vehicle, you can eliminate the delivery person and the optional gratuity (tip).

What can we glean from this? Marketing is eternal, and rightfully so. Good, bad, or neutral, the companies that advertise and market their wares during the bad times stay in the eyes and ears of the public. Consumers will remember them when times get better, and, in most cases, those companies will profit.

Naturally, when the virus is under control, there may not be as much profit in making certain products, like face masks and hand sanitizer. Toilet paper will still be in high demand. However, keeping up appearances with positive ads and marketing strategies does not hurt consumer morale. Consider it an investment in the future.

In this week’s Sensors Daily Update feature article, Roger Grace’s epic saga continues into the reasoning behind effective marketing strategies. It will fare thee well to take his advice to heart and market.

April 15, 2020

After three weeks or more, most people in America are still stuck in their homes due to the plague of the 21st century, CORVID-19. Those that can are working from home online with their PCs and tablets, the kids are going to school online, and when work and school are over, the same people are still online doing banking, ordering goods for delivery, streaming entertainment, and/or engaging in other digital divertissements. Briefly put, the internet is getting quite crowded.

The internet is also famous for being a veritable “wild, wild west” for hackers and identity thieves. With the mass quantity of connected devices, thanks to the proliferation of IoT devices, the evil doers have a virtual smorgasbord of users, organizations, and companies to pick and choose from for their dirty work. And there is no shortage of scammers using the coronavirus situation as a tool.

Surprisingly, there has been no news of a major hacking. There are scattered reports of scammers and phishers claiming to have a cure or a test kit for the virus, but no fallen banks, the nukes are still in their silos, and the lights are still on. However, just based on that, I would not get too comfortable.

Security experts know all too well what’s going on in all those smart IoT devices and in the dark crevices of the internet. Although a hacking does not take place in a system, it does not mean that system is invulnerable or even somewhat safe from cyber villains. And no one knows that better than cybersecurity expert Alan Grau of Sectigo. In this week’s Sensors Daily Update feature article, he will give you some insights on the problem and what needs to be done to make web life somewhat safer. Afterall, security is not a one-shot deal, it’s not a “snow day.” There’s no permanent vaccine for computer viruses, which leads one to believe three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and cybersecurity threats