Of Clouds and Storms in a Coffee Cup


Of Clouds and Storms in a Coffee Cup

Travelling with Gene Frantz – Part I

C.P. Ravikumar, Texas Instruments

 Art by Ananya Ravikumar 

Gene Frantz, who will retire from TI as Principal fellow after about 40 years in TI, was in India in the early part of 2012, to spend time at several Indian universities.

Since I wanted to prove Rudyard Kipling wrong, I decided to take Gene Frantz to Eastern India first,  thereby proving that West can meet East. Our destination was IIT Kharagpur, where Gene Frantz had been invited to give a talk. We also visited Bengal Engineering and Science University, where he delivered a keynote talk at a one-day workshop on MSP430 microcontroller. 

 “I have a recurring dream when I am in a crowded place where everyone other than me is fully clothed and I am the only one who is naked. Has any one of you had the same dream?” he started, and the student audience blushed. There were giggles to be heard.

 “Absence of clothes may not be the only thing that makes us feel naked today,” explained Gene, and the audience quickly got on to his thought train when he recounted an incident where he forgot to carry his mobile phone with him on a trip from Houston to Dallas. The mobile phone, the pen, the umbrella, a water bottle … Many of us will feel insufficiently attired (observe my euphemism) if we were to leave our homes without them. But we are reaching a point in time when these articles can all be connected to us through an Internet of Things.

The Coffee Cup

Gene’s favorite example is what he calls the Infinite Coffee Cup.  I would like to believe that his inspiration for this example came from our infinite stops -- well, at least half that many, any way -- at road-side coffee shops, where  he had a chance to savor different varieties of coffee, such as the thick and sweet brown liquid whitened with milk powder.

Well, let us return to the story of the Infinite coffee cup, which, at this point of time, is a figment of Gene’s imagination. In a not so distant future, Gene imagines that when you enter a restaurant, you will be greeted by a hostess (who may use face recognition software in a camera concealed in a hat) to know who you are and can look up your first name from a frequent visitor database. The hostess will then proceed to present you with an ICC.

The cup may be customized for your needs e.g. you may prefer an infinite tea cup. The cup may come in different colors such as red or blue based on your political orientation such as republican or democrat (I read about this in a recent issue of Time magazine).  In India, a popular customization of the cup can be the inclusion of your daily horoscope that can be printed on the cup. I can think of a dozen patent ideas on these customizations. But I am digressing again.

Returning yet again to the infinite coffee cup, Gene imagines that it will be connected to a cloud that hangs over the café. And I don’t mean the kind of cloud that may hang over an open air café such as the ones we stopped by. Empowered by sensors, the smart cup “knows” when your coffee runs cold or when the cup becomes empty. The cup will send a message over the cloud to instantaneously buzz a hostess in the vicinity, who, if everything goes well, will rush to your seat with a jug of hot coffee. Alas, the ICC also tracks the amount of coffee you have guzzled down and bills the amount to your account.  

I hope the ICC has caught your imagination by now. How many of you are inspired to make this a reality? If you are planning to adapt it into an infinite tea cup, just factor in any storm that may brew in it due to the cloud that hangs above.