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CES 2019: The Largest and Smallest Smart Inkjet Printers

Pairing an inkjet printer with a camera and image analysis software leads to surprising applications in cosmetics and farming

1 min read
Prototype of the See & Spray from John Deere’s Blue River division seen at CES 2019.
A prototype of the See & Spray from John Deere’s Blue River division was on display at CES 2019.
Photo: Tekla Perry

Inkjet printing could probably win a prize as the technology with the most unforeseen applications, like printing cake decorations, flexible electronics, and even human tissue. Meanwhile, the capabilities of image analysis technology have been exploding, thanks to the evolution of deep learning.

Two companies exhibiting at CES in Las Vegas this week paired the two technologies—for vastly different applications.

Proctor & Gamble introduced Opté, a tiny gadget for applying foundation and lightening cream to age spots. As you slide it around on your face, it shines a blue light on your skin, analyzes the image, and prints out dots of its makeup mixture onto dark spots. The little printer captures 200 images per second and has 120 nozzles, and is expected to be commercially available later this year. The effect was magical—evenly colored skin without much of a hint that makeup was being worn.

That was the smallest application of inkjet printing technology I saw. The claim for the biggest has to go to See & Spray from John Deere’s Blue River division, which displayed the guts of a prototype system on the CES floor next to a gigantic intelligent combine. Using computer vision and deep learning, this “dot matrix printer for agriculture” can selectively apply herbicide to weeds or nutrients to particular plants, said Willy Pell, director of new technology for Blue River. Using such an intelligent device will reduce the use of herbicides, saving money and protecting the environment, and potentially increase yields for farmers. Pell indicated that the system won’t be available commercially for a couple of years, but has already been demonstrated on crops covering thousands of acres.

“The mission of feeding the world is attracting a lot of AI experts to agriculture,” Pell said.

No pricing on either smart printer was announced.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
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Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford
Blue

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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