Review: New 3G and Cat-M1 Cellular Hardware from Hologram

In July we reported on the launch of the Hologram developer program that offered a free SIM card and a small amount of monthly cellular data for those who wanted to build connectivity into their prototypes. Today, Hologram has launched some new hardware to go along with that program.

Nova is a cellular modem in a USB thumb drive form factor. It ships in a little box with a PCB that hosts the u-blox cellular module, two different antennas, a plastic enclosure, and a SIM card. The product is aimed at those building connected devices around single-board computers, making it easy to plug Nova in and get connected quickly.

This device that Hologram sent me is a 3G modem. They have something like 1,000 of them available to ship starting today, but what I find really exciting is that there is another flavor of Nova that looks the same but hosts a Cat-M1 version of the u-blox module. This is a Low Power Wide Area Network technology built on the LTE network. We’ve seen 2G and 3G modems available for some time now, but if go that route you’re building a product around a network which has an end-of-life concern.

Cat-M1 will be around for much longer and it is designed to be low power and utilizes a narrower bandwidth for less radio-on time. I asked Hologram for some power comparison estimates between the two technologies:

AVERAGE current consumption comparisons:

Cat-M1: as low as 100 mA while transmitting and never more than 190 mA
Equivalent 3G: as high as 680 mA while transmitting

PEAK current consumption comparisons (these are typically filtered through capacitors so the power supply doesn’t ever witness these values, and they are only momentary):

Cat-M1: Less than 490 mA
Equivalent 3G: As high as 1550 mA

This is an exciting development because we haven’t yet seen LTE radios available for devices — of course there are hotspots but those are certainly not optimized for low power or inclusion in a product. But if you know your ESP8266 WiFi specs you know that those figures above put Cat-M1 on a similar power budget and in the realm of battery-operated devices.

The Cat-M1 Nova can be ordered beginning today, should ship in limited quantities within weeks, with wider availability by the end of the year. If you can’t get one in the first wave, the 3G Nova is a direct stand-in from the software side of things.

I suspect we’ll see a lot of interest in Cat-M1 technology moving forward simply because of the the technology promises lower power and longer support. (I’m trying to avoid using the term IoT… oops, there it is.) For today, let’s take a look at the 3G version of the new hardware and the service that supports it.

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Shapes Made From Light, Smoke, and A Lot of Mirrors

Part lightshow, part art piece, part exploratory technology, Light Barrier (third edition) by South Korean duo [Kimchi and Chips] crafts a visual and aural experience of ephemeral light structures using projectors, mirrors, and a light fog.

Presently installed at the ACT Center of Asia Culture Complex in Gwangju, South Korea, Light Barrier co-ordinates eight projectors, directing their light onto a concave cluster of 630 mirrors. As a result, an astounding 16 million ‘pixel beams’ of refocused light simulate shapes above the array.  The array itself was designed in simulation using an algorithm which — with subtle adjustments to each mirror — “grew” the display so as to line up the reflecting vectors. Upon setup, final calibration of the display used Rulr to treat each ‘pixel beam’ as a ray in 3D space to ensure image accuracy once the show began. Check out a preview after the break! Continue reading “Shapes Made From Light, Smoke, and A Lot of Mirrors”

Helix Display Brings Snake Into Three Dimensions

Any time anyone finds a cool way to display in 3D — is there an uncool way? — we’re on board. Instructables user [Gelstronic]’s method involves an array of spinning props to play the game Snake in 3D.

The helix display consists of twelve props, precisely spaced and angled using 3D-printed parts, each with twelve individually addressable LEDs. Four control groups of 36 LEDs are controlled by the P8XBlade2 propeller microcontroller, and the resultant 17280 voxels per rotation are plenty to produce an identifiable image.

In order to power the LEDs, [Gelstronic] used wireless charging coils normally used for cell phones, transferring 10 W of power to the helix array.  A brushless motor keeps things spinning, while an Arduino controls speed and position via an encoder. All the links to the code used are found on the project page, but we have the video of the display in action is after the break.

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Holograms Can’t be Too Thin

We’ve seen the 3D phone fad come and go, with devices like the Evo 3D, that used a parallax barrier to achieve autostereoscopy (that is, 3D viewing without glasses). These displays aren’t holograms, they are just showing your eyes two different images like a 3D movie or a stereopticon. However, researchers from Australia and China are hoping to change that. They’ve developed a nano-hologram (their term) that is about 1000 times thinner than a human hair. You can see a video about the invention, below.

Conventional holograms modulate the phase of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to generate the required phase shifts, those holograms need to be as thick as the optical wavelengths involved. The researchers claim the holograms are “simple” to make, but that depends on what you compare it to. You need some exotic materials, vacuum deposition gear, and a laser that can do femtosecond-long pulses.

The research team has broken this thickness limit with a 25 nanometer hologram. Their technique relies on a topological insulator material a novel quantum material that holds a low refractive index in the surface layer but a much higher refractive index in the bulk of the material. This forms an intrinsic optical resonant cavity which can enhance the phase shifts and makes holography possible.

The next step is to develop a rigid thin film to overlay an LCD screen. The current version has pixels at least ten times too large to be practical for that application, so that’s another hurdle to overcome.

We’ve seen screens that shoot 3D images on movies like Star Wars for years. This isn’t it yet, but it is the next step. Imagine a phone, a wrist watch, or a contact lens that could generate a holographic image. Or a garbage-can-sized robot.

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Say Hello to This Cortana Hologram

Halo’s Cortana enters the real world with this internet appliance. [Jarem Archer] has built an amazing “holographic” home for Cortana of Halo and Windows fame. The display isn’t really a hologram, it uses the age-old Pepper’s ghost illusion. A monitor reflects onto 3 angled half mirrored panels. This creates a convincing 3D effect. Cortana herself is a 3D model. [Jarem’s] wife provided gave Cortana her moves by walking in front of dual Kinect depth-sensing cameras. This motion capture performance drives the 3D Cortana model on the screen.

The brain behind this hack is the standard Windows 10 Cortana voice assistant. Saying “Hey Cortana” wakes the device up. To make the whole experience more interactive, [Jarem] added a face detection camera to the front of the device. When a face is detected, the Cortana model turns toward the user. Even if several people are watching the device, it would seem as if Cortana was “talking to” one person in the audience.

The cherry on top of this hack is the enclosure. [Jarem] 3D printed a black plastic stage. An Arduino drives RGB LEDs whenever Cortana is activated. The LEDs project a blue glue that works well with the Pepper’s ghost illusion. The result is a project that looks like something Microsoft might have cooked up in one of their research labs.

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3D Printing Using Holograms is Actually Printing in 3D

It’s the year 2260 and you’re being beamed from your starship to the planet below. Being a descendant of present day 3D printers, the transporter prints you out, slowly making one layer before moving on to the next, going from the ground up. The you-that-was hopes nothing spills out before you’re done. But what if you could print every atom in your body at the same time? If those transporters are descendant’s of Daqri’s holographic 3D printing technology then that’s just what will happen.

Daqri’s process is akin to SLA (stereolithography) and SLA/DLP (digital light processing). In SLA, a laser beam is shone onto a pool of resin, hardening the resin at the beam’s point. The laser scans across the resin’s surface, drawing one layer. More resin is added and then the next layer is drawn. In SLA/DLP, the light for an entire layer is projected onto the surface at once. While both methods involve stereolithography, the acronym SLA by itself is commonly used to refer to the laser approach.

Holograhically 3D printing a paperclip
Holograhically 3D printing a paperclip

Daqri’s process however, uses a holographic chip of their own making to project the light for all the layers at the same time into the material, a light-activated monomer. Their chip is a silicon wafer containing a grid of tunable crystals. Those crystals control the magnitude and phase of light reflected down into the monomer, creating a 3D volume of interference patterns. The brief description of the process says that a laser is used to shine light onto the crystals, so there’s probably still some scanning going on. However, in the video, all of the object being printed appears illuminated at the same time so the scanning is likely very fast, similar to how a laser in a light show seemingly paints what appears to be a 2D shape on the side of a building, even though it’s really just a rapidly moving point. There’s also the possibility that the beam’s point is large enough to encapsulate all of the chip at once. You can see a demonstration of it in the video below.

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Corkscrew LASER “Hologram”

If you watch much science fiction, you know that in the future, there’re plenty of 3D holographic displays. From Princess Leah’s distress call to the Star Trek holodeck, there’s no shortage of computers that can make realistic images. It might not be up to holodeck standards, but [freedscript] created a 3D display for an Arduino using a chopstick, a motor, some paper, and a LASER. Of course, it isn’t actually a hologram, but neither is half the stuff you see on TV (Star Trek’s holographic characters were disturbingly solid for standing waves). The display is a type of volumetric display.

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