The Vision/Visionary Behind Turing’s Remarkable Phone


Syl Chao of Turing Robotics, an old friend of ours, (“Steve” to old friends), is the CEO and driving force behind the Turing smartphone, which has drawn a major amount of interest, even though it has not yet been delivered. It has been described as “unhackable,” (Daily Mail), “ultra secure” (Digital Trends) “unbreakable” (Wired), and even “wonderfully weird” (Engadget).

MobileCloudEra doesn’t review new smartphones as such, and our interest in Turing goes beyond the phone, as fascinating as it is. We spoke to Chao recently about the phone and his plans for Turing, a subject of extreme interest to us.

The Turing Phone – What The Fuss Is About

First, to give the phone its due. The raft of articles about it have variously focused on a number of mold-breaking, potentially disruptive features, when compared to standard smartphones of recent vintage. Among these are:

Materials: New use of materials, specifically liquid metal, which the company calls Liquidmorphium. Liquid metal, originally developed at Caltech, is an alloy of zirconium, copper, aluminum, nickel, and silver, which offers exceptional tensile strength and durability and a reflective, glass-like finish. Liquidmorphium is used for the frame of the phone. This has led to the “unbreakable” headline. (Apple has been working with liquid metal, but has only made minimal use of it product-wise to date.)

Also there is a nano-coating of internal components for water-proofing.

Design: Bold use of colors, red, gold and even purple, plus a rectangular (not tapered) design. This has led to the “weird” headline.

Security: This is clearly the most significant technological breakthrough feature and has led to the “unhackable” and “ultra secure” headlines. Unlike existing security systems, such as PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) and IBE (Identity based Encryption) that use a third-party agent for authentication between a sender and a receiver, Turing has developed its own end-to-end, authentication scheme. The system uses two keys, a public key and a private key. Turing, and its predecessor companies, have been working on the technology for several years, developing what Chao refers to as their Identity Based Authentication Infrastructure, indicating that authentication information is only shared between the sending and receiving parties.

The security aspect is enabled and reinforced by certain physical features of the phone. These include particularly the Turing Imitation Key, a hardware chip that enables the secure authentication feature. Also there is magnetic charger in place of the familiar plug-in charger, and there is no a headphone jack or USB port. There is a fingerprint reader.

Other Features – Some Unique, Some Mundane

One of the unique features is that the phone actually includes a cryptocurrency called Turing coin. Similar to bitcoins, this relies on a blockchain technology and a web of trust. This appears to be Turing’s dipping its toe into a field that could benefit from its security features. Another feature of interest is the UI, labeled the Æmæth UI, described as “minimalist.”

Other aspects that fall within the more mundane are: running Android 5.1 Lollipop; 5.5-inch 1080p display; a 2.5 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor; 3 GB of RAM; dual cameras – 13 MP rear camera, and 8 MP front-facing; and a 3000 mAh battery.

What’s Ahead For The Phone

Turing has been racing to roll out the first release of its phone. It received over 10,000 registrations from interested potential buyers and is aiming for December deliveries of the phone, priced at from $610 to $870 (with storage ranging from 16GB to 128GB.)

The company has also announced a very limited edition model, the Dark Wyvern, which will enable very fast file downloads. The Wyvern utilizes 5G WiGig 60 GHz high-speed data transfer to achieve what Chao describes as “download of a 3.2 GB file in under 25 seconds.” It retails for $995 and includes 128GB storage.

Moreover there is a good deal of excitement about the prospects of what will be included in future Turing smartphone releases. These will include: a new operating system. While it hasn’t been publicly revealed, Chao indicates that this will draw on certain revolutionary concepts for OSs that he has been negotiating to adopt.

In addition, Chao intends to move ahead with distributed storage and processing capabilities, which he refers to as “Wind Computing.” This allows portions of a user’s files to be distributed among various Turing phones. The secure identification capability is critical to being able to identify and recover the distributed portions.

Turing is also working on what Chao states will be dramatic improvements in battery life. Chao has indicated these may rely on fuel cells or other technologies.

Beyond Smartphones – Turing’s Ambitious Future

The phone is the first product embodiment of a wide range of groundbreaking technology areas that Chao has been tirelessly pursuing for several years. In 2009 Business Week magazine named him one of “Asia’s Best Young Entrepreneurs.”

What’s in-store for Turing includes an array of further breakthroughs. Chao told us that the smartphone, which he refers to as the “cipher phone,” “will be a critical element of control for other products.” These areas include:

Robotics: While not ready for public release, Chao told us about the concept for a fascinating product that will dramatically expand the horizons of what once might have been referred to under the category of “personal assistant.” Sorry to be cryptic, but we promised.

Security as a Service: Turing intends to market its security capabilities to a number of industries, financial services being prominent among these.

Internet of Things: Security is a critical issue in the advance of the IoT. (See, e.g., our article “Internet of Things: – Identifying The Real Issues, 10/5/15.) Chao points out hardware chips are a more secure alternative than security based in software. Turing hopes to have its security features adopted for IoT apps.

Augmented Reality: Chao has done extensive, innovative work in AR and related aspects. He states that it will need more powerful hardware than the first iteration of the Turing phone. However, it will be incorporated into future products, including those related to the company’s robotics initiatives.

Conclusion: Outlook

Chao has a wide-ranging grasp of technologies that are on the cutting edge of the Mobile Cloud Era. He combines this technological skill with a flair for dramatic presentation and a fondness for allusions that stem from history, culture and even legend. He named his enterprise after noted British codebreaker and computer innovator, Alan Turing (think WWII and breaking the German Enigma Machine.) His product names are replete with literary references – one phone model is Beowulf, another Wyvern (a monster of legend) – he once ran a code-breaking contest that was announced in a full page ad in the New York Times that featured a large photo of Raphael’s famous fresco, the School of Athens.

Based on several years of watching his unfolding business and product initiatives, we believe he clearly has a visionary’s capability to identify important developments ahead of the time that they blossom in the marketplace.

There are a tremendous number of challenges in successfully launching the Turing phone line, and many more in the diverse range of technologies that Turing is attacking. However, we respect Chao’s ability to conceive of products that can lead to market breakthroughs and expect the tech world to hear a lot more about him in the future.

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