Opening Notes

Explorer

D’Arcy Jenish November 1 1999
Opening Notes

Explorer

D’Arcy Jenish November 1 1999

Explorer

Opening Notes

A scientist’s odyssey

Twenty years ago, after retiring from his executive level position at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., Willard Boyle sailed with his wife, Betty, up New York’s Hudson River, down Quebec’s Richelieu River to the St. Lawrence and down that body of water to Boyle’s birthplace of Wallace Harbour, on the north shore of Nova Scotia. This week, the 75-yearold McGill University-trained physicist and his wife made another long voyage, flying from Halifax to Tokyo, where he and a former Bell Labs colleague, George Smith, received the $136,000 Communications and Computing Prize for a 1969 invention that helped launch the digital age—the charge coupled device. “It has had a profound effect,” says Boyle, “on all kinds of activities that take place in our society.”

The CCD, a durable, wafer-thin silicon chip just one-centimetre square, is capable of capturing light images and transforming them into electrical charges that can be stored and later displayed. The device led to the development of the hand-held video camera, and it is an essential component of fax machines, photocopiers, digital still cameras and barcode scanners. Because they are 10 times more sensitive to light than film, CCDs are now used in telescopes around the world.

The road to Boyle’s successful career was slightly unconventional. His physician father, Ernest, moved the family from Wallace Harbour when he was 18 months old and settled near Reservoir Gouin, Que., a remote community 300 km north ofMontreal. His mother, Bernice, a nurse, taught him at home until he was 13, at which time he entered Grade 10 at Lower Canada College. After just eight years of

formal schooling, he obtained a PhD. Following a teaching stint, Boyle joined Bell Labs in 1953, where he invented the CCD, and retired in 1979.

The wallet of the future?

The M-Bracelet won’t soon replace gold or silver as a fashion statement, but it could make obsolete the leather wallet and all its bank and credit cards. Although it is three to five years from commercial availability, a prototype of the wearable computer, developed by Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corp., was shown last week at an international symposium in San Francisco. The silicon rubber bracelet, which is about 2.5-cm wide, contains a flexible computer circuit board and thin strips of metal fabric for transmitting and receiving digital information. A user will be able to store electronic credit and bank cards on the M-Bracelet and download cash from an automated teller simply by touching a receptor. Similarly, users could pay for groceries by placing the bracelet against a receptor at the supermarket checkout counter. The device also contains sockets for metal tokens that can store electronic tickets, transit passes and medical records. The bracelet does take a passing swipe at style: it is available in 20 different colours and its

Opening Notes

12 light-emitting diodes can change shades and flash, creating a light show on the wearers wrist.

Surfing the Net without a computer

Over the next few weeks, Canadian television viewers can expect to be hit with repeated sales pitches for a device called the i-opener, which offers cheap, easy access to the Internet—without a personal computer. Developed by Netpliance Inc. of Austin, Tex., the i-opener consists of a keyboard and a stylish display panel, and will be launched in North America on Nov. 15. The hardware is available for as little as $440 compared with about $2,000 for an average PC. And the monthly service charge of $30 buys four e-mail accounts plus unlimited Internet access. Netpliance is also including a feature called “one-button Internet access” in which users can hit a designated key to call up a Reuters package of business, sports, entertainment and general news that is updated every four hours.

Instant messages anywhere

Since its introduction in March, 1996, America Onlines Web-based instant messaging has become one of the Virginia-based company’s most popular features. Some 70 million AOL customers worldwide subscribe to the service, which bypasses the normal e-mail delivery system. To send an instant message, a user clicks on a name from a list of personal contacts and fellow subscribers, types a brief text, hits a send key and, provided the recipient is at the PC, the missive pops up on the screen instantaneously. Currendy, all those exchanges are sent from PC to PC. But two weeks ago, AOL and Motorola announced plans to make instant messaging available on a new line of cell phones and two-way pagers by next year.

D’ArcyJenish