Framing It: 1.7.2020

CES! It’s time for CES! The last frontier of circuit board art! AI and VR finally comes to the bathroom! Particle accelerators on a chip! Logistics is B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Brian Benchoff
Jan 7 · 4 min read
The Kohler Moxie shower head comes with a removable smart speaker. Image Credit: Kohler
  • CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is this week. Manufacturers of electronic crap invented a new strain of flu and distribute it to a hundred thousand people at a gigantic convention in Las Vegas.
  • The highlight so far is an Alexa-enabled shower head from Kohler.
  • The burning question of any electronic shower head is how you power it. Kohler came up with a clever solution: you remove the electronics from the shower and charge it on a dock. Everything is held in place with magnets.
  • If you’re thinking that might be too inconvenient, you may have the idea of using the shower itself as a hydroelectric generator. You’re not the first one to think of this. XKCD did the math on shower power and the result is disappointing. The bottom line: no, you can’t power anything useful from an impeller and generator in your shower. Even if you could, it would drop your water pressure in the shower.
  • If that’s not the end of the madness, Proctor & Gamble have released an upscale, VR porta-potty. It’s called the V.I.Pee. Yes, like V.I.P.. It’s a porta-potty designed for concerts and events that projects whatever is onstage using VR technology. I suppose that’s better than a window on a porta-potty.
The V.I.Pee, a VR porta-potty. Image Credit: Proctor & Gamble.

You got electrons in my silicon!

An x-ray image of a particle accelerator on a chip
  • Drive south from San Francisco on I-280, and right before you see the Stanford dish, you’ll be driving over a 2-mile long particle accelerator. This gigantic machine uses radio waves to push electrons to the speed of light to probe atomic structures.
  • A few folks from Stanford have figured out a way to use infrared light to push electrons instead of radio. Since the wavelengths are much shorter, the particle accelerator gets smaller. Now you can put a particle accelerator on a chip.
  • The idea is to use these accelerators to kill cancer cells and tumors in the human body with a tighter beam (and thus less collateral damage) than traditional machines.
  • It’s just a proof of concept right now, and a fully refined version would be tens of thousands of times less powerful than the particle accelerator you can drive over. Still, it’s a start and an example of nanoscale fabrication.

The last frontier of circuit board art

When it comes to art on circuit boards, we’ve all seen some interesting silk screens. I think one revision of the Xbox has Master Chief in there somewhere. Color PCBs are another story. Color is hard, and while you can fake it with multiple silk screen colors, true color is nearly unobtanium.

Electrocookie’s full-color Arduino clone
The full-color Arduino clone was made by populating a circuit board, *then* printing a design with a UV inkjet printer.

Behold! A full-color printed Arduino clone!

  • The Electrocookie Leonardo R3 is a standard Arduino clone with a twist: there are full-color graphics on it. This was made by first populating a PCB, then putting the board into a UV inkjet printer. These printers are able to print a non-planar surface, and use UV-curing inks.
  • UV printing PCBs has been done before by Little Bird Electronics and Makernet, a company out of Shenzhen. The key advancement by Electrocookie is printing the design after the parts have been soldered down. Heating the ink (in a reflow oven, for example) results in the design changing colors or flaking. This is due to how inkjets work: the ink is meant to vaporize at low temperatures.
  • Will 2020 be the year of full-color printed circuit boards? We can only hope so.

Do you like logistics? It’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

A banana, for scale. Image Credit: Citadel Black
  • How many bananas can you put on a ship? That’s the question posed in a Twitter thread in response to a beer coaster. The assertion is that a container ship can deliver 745 Million bananas. This is wrong, according to the Internet’s leading expert on container shipping bananas.
  • A standard 40-foot container can hold 20 pallets of bananas, each holding about 60 boxes of bananas. There are about 100 bananas per box, so a standard container can hold about 120k bananas. If a ship can hold 15,000 containers, that’s 1.8 Gigabananas.
  • But the problem isn’t space! It’s power. Bananas must be refrigerated, and all that cooling means heat has to go somewhere. At best, a modern container ship can transport 90,000,000 bananas, well under the assertion presented by a beer coaster.
  • But there’s another option! Banana boats! These are (or were) ships specially designed with more refrigeration to transport bananas. They were built by the United Fruit Company and comprised the largest private fleet. This private fleet was involved in more military operations than Pepsi when they had the 6th largest navy.


Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

Brian Benchoff

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Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

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