The Bubble Maker


The bubble maker

Travels with Gene Frantz – Part II

C.P. Ravikumar, Texas Instruments

Art by Ananya Ravikumar

After our visit to the eastern part of India, I and Gene Frantz headed north by northwest towards the city of New Delhi. The IEEE student chapter of Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, Delhi, had organized a workshop on TI microcontrollers, and Gene Frantz inaugurated this event and delivered the keynote address.  The following day, he also lectured at IIT Delhi and CDAC, Noida.

It was a pleasant winter day in Delhi and I offered to take him on a sight-seeing visit to the Qutub Minar and India Gate. When we were taking a leisurely stroll near the India Gate, Gene surprised me by buying the most uncommon memento that one can expect. He bought a little gift for his grand daughter – a little innovative device that can create effervescence from a solution of sodium salts.  If you are imagining a fancy chemistry set, I hate to blow your bubble of imagination by giving away the common name for the device - the bubble blower.  The boy who sold Gene this device dipped it in a solution of soap and blew into it.  Several bubbles, some small and some large,  rose skywards. Eventually they would burst, but nevertheless it was fun watching them. And the good news is, you can always make more of them.

Bubbles of innovation

Innovations are no different from the bubbles, if you reflect for a few seconds. Vacuum tubes, bipolar junction transistors, metal oxide semiconductor, CMOS, BiCMOS, digital, analog, mixed-signal, microprocessors, DSP, microcontrollers, multicore, nanotubes, … Some of them big, some of them small,  some rising higher than others, some lasting longer. Eventually, they will blow away and make way for newer ones. But the important thing is, we need to have a younger generation that still likes to make bubbles – bubbles of innovation. And we need leaders like Gene Frantz, to kindle the interest of the younger generation in making bubbles.

What’s that in your pocket?

Innovation was the topic of several lectures that Gene gave in India.  His talk begins with the question, “What’s that in your pocket?” Once again, I would like to believe that he got his inspiration from the kid who sold him the bubble maker. I believe the kid had asked him that very question. But let us not worry about what Gene had in his pocket and return to the topic of his lecture.

Innovation in semiconductors has led to a revolution called “from big rooms to pockets.”  Gene illustrated this with three examples. The telephone, the camera, and the theater. A telephone exchange occupied a whole building. You needed a dark room to develop a picture that you took from a bulky camera. You had to go to a theater to listen to music or watch a movie. If you reflect for a minute, you will realize that you can recreate all of these experiences using a device that sits in your pocket.

Bubbles in the making

But there are more bubbles that are yet to come, and Gene Frantz provided a glimpse at some of them. The pico projector, for example, can change the concept of a home theater or a classroom. Integration of TI’s DLP technology with embedded processors and analog has led to the pico projector which can be seated in a professor’s pocket. When a student comes with a doubt, the professor can simply project a slide on a nearby wall. Similarly, consider the way embedded processors, analog, and low-power RF technologies are changing the world of medical care.  A trip to the diagnostic center for getting an ultrasound can be avoided – semiconductor technology is available to make an ultrasound feasible on a device that can be seated in your pocket.

Miniaturization – what next?

Miniaturization does not stop at putting a roomful of equipment into your pockets. If a patient can benefit by carrying a device in his/her pocket, technology may be able to help implant the device into the patient’s body.  Take, for example, the case of retinal prosthesis. If cameras can be embedded in pair of spectacles, then perhaps they can also be implanted into the eye of a patient of partial blindness.

Gene ended his lecture by giving the student audience two challenges. “Firstly, when you see things in big rooms, think why I would want that in my pocket,” he said. Then, referring to the revolution that implantable devices can bring, he offered his second challenge – “When you see something in someone’s pocket, think about where else could that be?”

I am glad he did not offer the second challenge to the street urchin who sold him the bubble maker.


[NB: Gene Frantz will retire after ~40 years in TI.  Since he will read this blog entry (I will ensure he does), he may enjoy hearing from those who have met him during his India visit and have been inspired by him.]

[NB2: Here is a picture I took at India Gate, New Delhi. Can you spot the bubble maker?]

  • Good inspiring topic!

    By reading this, One thing comes into my mind if Micro controller can program just by thinking!!!

  • As an avid science fiction reader, the question "What’s that in your pocket? " is very apt, innovation is part imagination ! Thanks for sharing this excellent and inspiring write up.

  • Thnks a lot for such an inspirational thought....Sir last week seminar at cranes software hav chnge my thnkin toward makin thng portable thr u talk abt 3 p's power, performance and price..thn one thng strike in my mind if i made 2 p depent on one p thn i can hav a vry effcient system...i mean if i can build a low price and high performance...at cost of power which can be regenrated..thn this could solve my purpose....so i thought of creating a portable inverter which can be embedded in any electronics gadget...this inveter wil charge half of the battry and another half wil be used for the system ..................and to recover the loss of power wil make a computing buffer which collect all the 0 &1 generated by the system and it send to the battery in such a way tht it produce a.c power which wil also charge the discharge battery......hence we can create a new renewable source of energy which nvr dies.......

    i would really lik to knw ur thoughts on it......

    and plz do suggest me from whr i can start it....

    lookin forward for ur reply...

  • In response to Andib Saif: First of all, thank you for your compliments on the seminar. I enjoyed the experience as well, harvesting the energy from the young audience who were very enthusiastic! You have interesting thoughts! I believe there are attempts to harvest the energy from the dynamic activity of the nodes in a CMOS chip. I remember sitting through a paper presentation about this topic in a conference a few years ago. You have to be careful, since power management techniques tend to reduce unnecessary toggling of bits, e.g. Clock gating. Another similar effort is a project at UT Dallas that I once read about, where they tried to harvest the energy that a car would normally dissipate ... I suggest you start by searching the literature on the topic of harvesting energy. And keep posting comments, because that is what energises a blogger! It proves the point you are trying to make!

  • Very interesting..!!

    @Andib saif: there is a big research going on in the interest u just mentioned, the development of nanobatteries is great and u can think of it. RF energy harvesting technique is another interesting one. Also a few years ago in my school days i used to think of taking energy from noise, that would make all way for energy harvesting.

    you might have heard of Smart battery systems too which is innovative.

    happy researching.!!

    And @CPR nice blog sir, u inspire us.!

  • The Topic Innovative Bubbles is a very Nice Thought and Information.

    I made good sense on this reading. Excited to bring Results. Thanks to Mr CP Ravi Kumar and Mr Gene Frantz