Kyobo eReader sports Qualcomm mirasol display

South Korea's Kyobo Book Centre is launching the Kyobo eReader, with a battery-sipping, full-color display using Qualcomm mirasol technology fast enough for video.

Like many other booksellers around the world, South Korea’s Kyobo Book Centre (Korean) is entering the ereader market with its new Kyobo eReader, and a 5.7-inch XGA display, battery life measured in weeks, Google’s Android under the hood, and (not surprising for the Korean market) an emphasis on Korean content. However, the Kyobo eReader has one feature that makes it absolutely unique on the planet: it uses a 5.7-inch XGA mirasol display from Qualcomm, a technology that combines the long battery possibilities of E Ink displays with a full color output and response times that let the display handle animated and video content. And, yes, it’s readable in full sunlight.

“The Kyobo e-Reader brings the user a true book reading experience,” said Kyobo Book Centre CEO Mr. Seong-Ryong Kim, in a statement. “With our diverse content and leading edge technology from Qualcomm, Kyobo Book Centre will provide a premium reading experience to our customers.”

Mirasol displays operate using a principle similar to the phenomena that enables a peacock’s feathers to shift between colors in different light: basically, the display minutely controls the distance between a membrane and a reflective glass surface, and the distance between them either blocks light or amplifies particular frequencies, causing the membrane to appear transparent, black, or a particular colors. Qualcomm’s mirasol display layer three of these together to create a full color red, green, and blue display. The displays only consume power then they’re moving the membranes around, and they move them fast: they only have to move a few hundred nanometers to change color, enabling them to respond fast enough to handle video. The mirasol display actually gets brighter (rather than washed out) in bright light, and for use in dim places Qualcomm includes a front-light LED system that mimics sunlight.

The Kyobo eReader isn’t the first device with a mirasol display: they’re on a few Asian phones, a a handful of media devices have used small versions of the displays. However, the Kyobo eReader is the first ereader to adopt the technology—the 5.7-inch display has a native resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels——and since it runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, it may appeal to Android fans looking for a little something different. The mirasol display offers very long battery life compared to the LCDs in typical tablets—Kyobo says the device will run for “weeks” with 30 minutes reading time a day and the front light set to 25 percent. The device also features a 1 GHz Qualcomm SnapDragon processor, multitouch touchscreen, and Wi-Fi connectivity—although users will need to turn Wi-Fi off to get maximum battery life. The Kyobo ereader will also feature English-language text-to-speech capabilities and the Diotek dictionary application.

The Kyobo eReader is available now in South Korea for a suggested retail price of KRW349,000—that’s about US$310, but Kyobo Platinum Book Club members can get the device for KRW299,000 (about US$265). There’s no word yet on whether Kyobo intends to market the device in countries outside Korea.

Samsung, Google confirm Galaxy Nexus volume bug

It's the first phone to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and Google and Samsung have confirmed it's got a bug that randomly drops the handset volume.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the first phone to ship with Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” pre-installed as its operating system—and it’s coming to Verizon Wireless next month—but early customers in Europe have been reporting problems with the phone’s volume level: the device’s audio volume will drop to nothing for seemingly no reason, after which the device’s hardware volume controls become unresponsive. Early Galaxy Nexus customers have been flooding user support forums over the issue, and now both Samsung and Google have confirmed that they’re aware of the problem—and a fix should be coming soon.

“Regarding the Galaxy Nexus, we are aware of the volume issue and have developed a fix,” Samsung UK said in a statement. “We will update devices as soon as possible.”

Google released a nearly identical statement.

The bug is particularly problematic for listening to music or using other media, or relying on alarms or other audio alerts.

Neither company elaborated on the cause of the problem—debate has been raging whether it is in hardware or software—or detailed when a fix might be available. Some retailers have promised customers a fix will be available before the end of the month, although it’s not clear they have any concrete information on which to base those reassurances.

Speculation from hardware-savvy members of the Android community (like this one from Lee Johnston) seems to have centered on radio interference as the cause of the problem, with Google’s “fix” for the device basically amounting to increasing the threshold for what the device consideres to be user input on the volume controls, rather then random fluctuations caused by EM interference.

Robotic guards coming to South Korean prisons

A prison in South Korea is set to trial robotic guards. Fortunately for the prisoners, the robots have been designed to be "humane and friendly" as opposed to harsh weapon-wielding disciplinarians.

Guards in a South Korean prison will soon be introduced to some new colleagues – 150cm-tall robots on wheels.

In the latest example demonstrating the country’s interest in robotic technology, the robots will be put to work in a prison in the city of Pohang, located southeast of the capital of Seoul, from March next year. If the month-long trial is successful, more prison guards may be turning up to work alongside robots in the near future.

A group of scientists, who developed the robots in cooperation with the country’s justice ministry, spent a billion won ($850,000) developing the robotic prison guard, which is supposed to enable its human counterparts to concentrate more on rehabilitation work with offenders.

The robots, which will be used mainly at night, will patrol the prison on the lookout for suspicious behavior among prisoners. Sensors on the robot will be able to study conditions in the cells and report back to the officer in charge – presumably a human one.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal about the robotic guards, project leader Professor Lee Baik-chul of Kyonggi University said, “Unlike CCTV that just monitors cells through screens, the robots are programmed to analyze various activities of those in prison and identify abnormal behavior.”

Lee said that prison officers are happy about the plan to bring in robots as it should help reduce their workload on the night shift.

Inmates, on the other hand, were more cautious about the idea and asked for reassurance about their role. Presumably they were worried the robots might be heavy-handed brutes, equipped with an array of weapons able to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

“That’s a concern,” Lee said. “But the robots are not terminators. Their job is not cracking down on violent prisoners. They are helpers. When an inmate is in a life-threatening situation or seriously ill, he or she can reach out for help quickly.”

In fact, according to Lee, his team are currently finishing off building the robots, taking special care to make them look “humane and friendly.”

And it’s not just Korean prisons where robots have been put to work. Late last year, schools in the country began testing out teacher-bots in classrooms. The rotund robots, which cost more than $1.3 million to develop, were designed to teach English to students.