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Morning Sun
  • Tiny motor could make your cell phone camera your only camera

  • New Scale Technologies has been racking up some big numbers lately. But big is not where New Scale is focused. The company’s revolutionary Squiggle motor is the smallest linear motor in the world.

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  • New Scale Technologies has been racking up some big numbers lately.
    Business Magazine Inc. named the Victor, N.Y., business one of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in America (No. 605) and noted its $3.2 million in annual revenue. It’s also made the magazine’s list of top 100 computer and electronics companies.
    But big is not where New Scale is focused.
    “We find the greatest opportunities are the smallest,” CEO David Henderson said, a reference to his company’s revolutionary Squiggle motor, the smallest linear motor in the world, so tiny it turns a penny into a parking lot.
    “It is around 8 or 10 millimeters high. We’re trying to get it down to 5 millimeters,” Henderson said.
    Next year, cell phone cameras with Squiggle-powered auto focus and zoom features will hit the market. Most people just accept that cell phone photos will be grainy or dark or both. But if a phone could take a photo good enough for a frame, Henderson’s 35-person shop could become a licensing and components powerhouse.
    Victor-based electronics distributor Jim Cowey, president of Aurora Franklin Marketing, says conventional auto focus and zoom motors can’t touch New Scale’s Squiggle.
    “A comparable motor would make a cell phone double the size. They have the only motor small enough to fit in a new phone,” Cowey said.
    Finding that niche
    The market niche in auto-focusing and zoom-equipped camera phones could eventually represent 50 million to 100 million motors a year worldwide for New Scale — huge product volume until you consider the enormous global wireless phone market.
    Consider that “a person buys a wireless phone every three years (and) 1.2 billion will sell in 2008,” Henderson said. That’s billion, not million, and the research firm Gartner Inc. bears this out, estimating that 1.28 billion wireless phones will sell in 2008, an 11 percent growth rate.
    The market segment Squiggle might serve, high-end camera or smart phones, could grow 52 percent in 2008 to $65 billion, or a 15 percent share of total sales, according to Gartner.
    “The growth curve continues up,” Henderson said. “It’s not the first world. It’s India, China, Africa,” he added.
    New Scale’s modest marketing effort began a few years ago; selling the patented Squiggle for special applications. Engineers taking a first look at the trusty little motor loved the design.
    “They come up to our booth or demo and go, ‘Wow. I don’t need that, but I wish I did!’” said Henderson.
    Just after Squiggle’s public rollout, he heard from a customer who not only liked Squiggle but knew exactly why he needed it.
    “We did a press release in January 2004. One of the first contacts I got back was Samsung. They were thinking about this for camera phones. We realized that the opportunity was 10 times bigger that I thought,” Henderson said.
    Page 2 of 4 - Squiggle helped cram auto focus and zoom features into camera phones. At the time, phones had largely fixed focal length lenses and low-quality image sensors. The first Squiggle-equipped camera phone models will appear in early 2009. Henderson can’t divulge makes yet.
    “Imagine an iPhone with auto focus,” said Henderson.
    Sony, a camera and phone maker known for high quality imaging, has also visited New Scale.
    The invention
    Henderson, the CEO, began perfecting Squiggle while working at home in Farmington, N.Y., in 2002. The non-magnetic motor uses piezoceramic materials, meaning those that change shape in response to electrical charges. Four piezoceramic slivers surround Squiggle’s tiny screw assembly.
    As electric currents excite each strip, they vibrate and the screw begins to turn in response, “oscillating, like the hips in a hula hoop,” Henderson said.
    The motor operates in extreme environments other motors can’t handle. It’s simple mechanically. At less than a buck each, they’re inexpensive to make in numbers over 50 million. And they’re durable.
    “This motor is designed to last at least as long as the camera itself,” said New Scale spokeswoman Lisa Schaertl.
    On the horizon now is an ultra low-power model operating at 2.8 volts instead of 40 volts.
    “We’re working with a company that makes ceramics that can be energized at much lower voltage,” said Henderson.
    Squiggles, even now, don’t tax the onboard batteries of a camera phone.
    “You waste a lot of power just getting to where you can do some work with conventional motors,” said Schaertl.
    By 2006, New Scale had a family of motors arrayed for customers, including Samsung, with full patent protection.
    Squiggle’s potential
    New Scale today is poised for explosive growth. Licensing the product to others and to serious researchers is the early goal of the company.
    The market breakdown in camera phones, according to Henderson, starts with the 800 million camera phones sold each year.
    Today, 200 million of these camera phones have larger motors or software running auto focus features. These camera phones are mostly sold overseas.
    “The U.S. doesn’t get that many,” Henderson said. “Cameras that also zoom with auto focus are in the 20 million range. A great test for these is can you take a picture of someone’s business card.”
    He added, “There’s a trend of two cameras in your phone, another one to photo conference. One hundred million phones have two cameras already.”
    These two-camera phones will have “cameras that look at you as you talk,” said Henderson. A talk-to-the-hand style teleconference phone call might need a third Squiggle to focus that camera on a speaker’s face at each end of the call.
    Page 3 of 4 - Products like Extended Depth of Field, EDoF software, improve images without on board motorized focusing.
    “It can take a bad camera and make it a lot better,” said Henderson. But a low-cost, high quality wireless phone camera that zooms as well as focuses can be built with a Squiggle motor.
    Henderson says a full-feature camera phone must be affordable.
    “The target for the camera itself is $25. Today it costs $35,” he said.
    A decent camera in an Internet-enabled wireless phone with Wi-Fi sharing could be the next big must-have gadget.
    Paired with the latest camera phone imaging sensors from companies like Micron and Eastman Kodak Co., plus ever expanding memory chips, Squiggle may produce a radically improved photo from camera phones.
    Over time, with high-quality camera phones, consumers may legitimately ask: Why pay for big separate cameras, each with its own battery, charger, and display screen when I can use my phone?
    The world market
    In America, Henderson said, high-end camera phones are more affordable because phone plans cushion upfront purchase costs, spreading out payments and hiding them on monthly phone bills.
    But to play in the international wireless phone business, you need big money, or partners with money and expertise that sell parts into the Asian factories building camera phones in enormous numbers.
    “You’re talking about an 18-month product life cycle before someone comes up with something better,” said Cowey, the electronics distributor. Although New Scale has plans to make the revolutionary motor in the U.S., Cowey says that might be hard.
    “While the majority of such technology is created in the U.S., we just can’t easily manufacture here due to the cost,” he said.
    Henderson has forged a series of international partnerships under license to New Scale to help ramp up worldwide Squiggle manufacturing, though he has plans to make the motor stateside as well.
    “A company like Tamron is really good at that. They found us when we were still on Main Street in Victor,” he said, referring to a Japanese manufacturer of digital camera lenses.
    New Scale is racing to tool up Squiggle motor assemblies in the millions with partners Tamron, Alps Electric Co. and Austriamicrosystems, a German supplier of high performance miniature integrated circuits that plunked down $6 million for a 25 percent minority stake in New Scale last January.
    The most recent Alps/New Scale partnership was announced July 31, 2008.
    Alps will manufacture Squiggle motors in Kakuda City, Japan, for a wide range of electromechanical systems including Blu-ray DVD recorders, micro-coolers for laptop computers or for mobile devices like camera phones, plus automotive products. Alps is a $6 billion component maker producing 40,000 components for 2,000 companies worldwide.
    The new Alps agreement together with a second deal with Tamron cut earlier this year encourages Henderson, who a few short years ago began work on Squiggle in his basement.
    Page 4 of 4 - “It validates the huge potential market for millions of tiny motors per month,” he said.
    Contact Daily Messenger writer Morgan Wesson at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 256, or at messenger@messengerpostmedia.com.

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