March 3rd, 2008
Technology has been the defining force of the Information Age. Technology has given us an appreciation for speed, global communications, connectivity, miniaturization and of course computing power. We embrace new generations of computers, cell phones and digital content players. Many of these innovations, as they increase in power, generate heat. As they decrease in size there is often a proportionate increase in generated heat.
Decades ago, the large main frame computers were housed in large refrigerated rooms. Today server farms reside in similar cooled environments. Heat can cause computing and networking equipment to malfunction, slow down operating speed and in extreme cases to simply fry. Any of us who have actually put our laptops on our laps when working know how fast they can heat up. Desktop PCs have more powerful fans built in to keep them cooler and therefore operating closer to the maximum speed of the installed processor chip. We are, however living in a world of increasing mobility where the laptop is fast replacing the desk top. This means that often the laptops we use are not operating at peak efficiency due to generated heat.
This is not something to which I had given much thought as I had accepted this as one of the accepted limitations of mobile computing. Laptops provide mobility but must sometimes sacrifice performance due to heat generation because of the demands for compact computing. Last week however I was given much to think about. As mentioned in my prior column I had traveled to Brazil to deliver a keynote speech to Embraco, the largest producer of refrigeration compressors in the world. Compressors are not something I had ever given much thought to, as I have never had much facility for machinery and how it works. As a futurist I do not spend much time dwelling on the machines of the Industrial Age except in the macro sense of history. A tour of the factory only confirmed this impression as I watched heavy compressors, the size of 16 inch softballs being made with multi-ton machines. Evidently this was being done well as the precision for such production is the best in the world. These compressors go into refrigeration units for both home and business.
After my keynote address the next day I toured the technology fair of truly futuristic applications of compressor technology. I then listened to the presentations of the Chief Technology Officer, Roberto Campos, and his incredibly sharp team of engineers. These presentations gave me a new way to think about compressors and how innovations in cooling can not only enhance technology but also contribute solutions to the energy crisis in which we find ourselves.
Embraco committed itself to rethinking the use of compressors and ways that miniaturization could lead to new markets. The result is that they are working with Intel to create a miniature compressor the size of a large magic marker that fits into a cooling docking station the use of which eliminates heat. In numerous tests, the CPU performance of a high performance gaming laptop was greater than when undocked because heat generation is at a minimum. The obvious next development stage in the years ahead would be to have this compressor be able to be plugged into the laptop like a large flash drive when in mobile use. This would not only maintain the highest level of performance but would most likely extend the life of a laptop as there would no longer be heat generated wear and tear.
This innovation is, in and of itself, something to praise. However, as someone who thinks a lot about large trends and forces that shape humanity it is the larger picture that intrigued me. Here is a Brazilian company that is bringing innovation to itsâ€™ Industrial Age product of long standing, to help one of Silicon Valleyâ€™s technological giants of the Information Age generate better performance in the products it helps to create. It is not just globalization, it is the cross Age collaboration that is interesting and that hopefully will become ever more prevalent in the coming Shift Age.