Posts Tagged ‘E&T’

How an H-Bomb works – or, How I Learned To Start Worrying And Hate The Bomb – an annotated infographic

January 20, 2016

Ever wondered what an H-Bomb is? How it works? What it does? Why we should all be terrified of it?

Answers, we got ’em, in the form of this H-Bomb infographic. Basically, your average hydrogen bomb in the street – that’s the H-Bomb to you, mate – is a thermonuclear weapon, see, that uses the energy from a primary fission bomb to ignite a secondary nuclear fusion reaction. Bish, bash, bomb. Job done.

The result is the most destructive weapon ever created by man. Good thing / bad thing? Discuss*.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Boom bitch

Boom bitch

 

*The correct – and only sane – answer is: bad thing.

Easy #WearableTech upgrade for any analogue watch – instant #SmartWatch – an annotated infographic

January 20, 2016

Casting envious glances at all the shiny-brainy smartwatches pouring out of global gadget-fests like CES 2016? Old watch feeling a bit stupid?

Fear not! For a projected selling price of $99, Chronos will smartify your existing analogue watch, allowing you to continue wearing your Patek Philippe heirloom, yet still join the obsessional footstep-tracking, personal health-monitoring, phone-bothering smartwatch generation. Nice.

The Chronos smartwatch add-on is a pad that simply attaches to the back of a regular watch to add Apple Watch-like smart functionality, such as notifications, fitness tracking and phone controls.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

How smart are you? How dumb am I?

How smart are you? How dumb am I?

Not all @SpaceX #Falcon9 rockets fall over and set fire to themselves – an annotated infographic

January 20, 2016

In light of Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket falling over and setting fire to itself recently, we thought it was a good time – and only fair – to share this more uplifting infographic about the fledgling space company’s successful launch and upright landing of an unmanned rocket in December 2015.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Ground control to Major E-lon

Ground control to Major E-lon

 

New issue of E&T now available online – the new year, new issues issue – flooding, fraud and freaky drugs for faster feet

January 20, 2016

We should be living in a cashless society by now, our mucky old notes and coins replaced by shiny new contactless cards or flashy mobile phone wallet apps. But cash just refuses to go away. We are drawing out cash from our accounts more than ever before, which makes it a prime target for criminals – but the thieves are moving from muggings and con-tricks to more technically savvy methods of stealing your money. Our feature looks at the weaknesses in cash machine systems and what can be done to make them more secure.

Cash out

Cash out

This is also our first issue back after what was for some of our readers a very wet Christmas period. Floods returned to parts of Britain and look like they will be frequent visitors in many areas around the world, not just in the UK. As the world gets warmer in many places it gets wetter and we are going to have to find ways of living with that. The flood defences proved inadequate in the flooded parts of the UK but in some places they held up. We look at what we can learn from those. Is engineering with nature the answer? Or does it just move the problem?

There was a surprising trend at CES 2016 in Las Vegas. Systems are getting more connected to each other, a trend towards realising the Internet of Things we’ve heard so much about. The Oculus Rift, which launched for pre-orders at the show, leads the charge in an exciting new generation of virtual reality electronics. And drones also continue to dominate the show floor or rather airspace as it seems consumers can’t get enough of them. But none of those trends are very unexpected. What I find more surprising is a significant revival of the old; the analogue aesthetic jostles for space with the digital at CES and the two are even converging, as Jonathan Wilson reports.

As this issue of E&T goes to press, the World Anti-Doping Agency has published its damning report concluding that the International Association of Athletics Federations was involved in corruption, blackmail and covering up the extent of doping among Russian athletes. Juan Pablo Conti tells us how technology will help to catch doping cheats at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio.

Also in this issue, we look at the implications of smart cities for our privacy: will the public stand for it? And 3D printing for consumers has been much overhyped but its real importance is in engineering. Mayank Sharma seeks out the specialised areas, from nuclear decommissioning to the International Space Station, where 3D printing is long past being an experimental novelty and has become an essential manufacturing, too.

Read all about it in the latest issue of E&T magazine online now.

E&T news weekly #77 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the year 2015

January 15, 2016

Friday January 15 2016

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Cheat-proof activity trackers expose couch potatoes

Couch potatoes, beware: your days of blissful procrastination are coming to an end. From now on, if you want to claim compensation for a sports injury, claiming it was inflicted, during a marathon run to join a Boxing Day sale queue at your nearest supermarket and not as the result of you stumbling over a bath mat while getting out of the shower, you will be exposed as a cheat by the all-seeing scientists from Northwestern University in Chicago and – like a blood-doping athlete – have to hand back your medal, sorry, premium. Far from a couch potato myself, I was nevertheless intrigued by one sentence from this truly couch-breaking news story: “The system can detect, for example, when the cheater simply shakes the phone or swings it in his hand, to pretend he or she is walking, while actually lying on a couch.” If I were that very scheming cheater, I would immediately try to patent that mysterious swinging phone which can create an illusion of a strenuous workout. The most worrying thing for me though is that “the system” can be covertly installed in one’s fitness wristband. I do use one – a simple, yet very reliable, heart-rate monitor – while running on a treadmill. During my last two workouts, however, it was severely malfunctioning, with my uncomplaining heart pulsing with the amplitude between 50 and 200 beats per minute! My initial thinking was that its battery could be running low and needed replacing. But now I suspect that – unbeknownst to me – it had been equipped with some miniature cheat-proof activity spying device! And although I am not planning to claim any compensation (apart perhaps for the time wasted worrying), I feel like redoubling my efforts while on the treadmill, just in case. I am also thinking of buying a dog. Not to help me keep fit by chasing it along the streets during its frantic morning walks; the reason is much more prosaic. If we believe the creators of the above device, one can easily cheat the cheat-spotting gadget itself by giving it to someone else or simply… wait for it … attaching it to a dog’s collar! So what’s all the fuss about? To cut a long story short, this is an ideal find for the ‘PT’ section of BTPT – my colleague Rebecca Northfield’s column on the E&T WordPress blog whose abbreviated title stands for ‘Bizarre Theories and Pointless Technologies’. I am going to recommend it to her unreservedly.

North Korea accused of faking missile test footage

“I will shed tears over a fabrication,” the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin once wrote. I now know exactly what he meant, although my tears on hearing the news that North Korea’s much-publicised hydrogen bomb test was actually a fake (or a ‘fabrication’, if you wish) were of joy. This is a classic case where a fake is much, much better – and safer – than its highly destructive and, it appears, entirely mythical, original. Not only, it seems, are North Korea and its umpteenth ‘beloved leader’ technologically incapable of making and launching an H-bomb, they cannot even edit their deceptive video footage properly. But let’s not be cajoled by this particular folly, for Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s podgy enfant terrible, can still have lots of nasty surprises up the sleeve of his military-style jacket, bursting at its seams.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Blood test could soon detect symptomless early stage cancers

This is just too much for me. Detecting symptomless early stage cancers could soon be possible with a simple blood test, which, don’t get me wrong, is absolutely fantastic news, but it comes just a little too late. The cruel irony of this report is that it emerged just as the world received news of the death of David Bowie, who died from, you guessed it, a type of symptomless early stage cancer. Too soon! I can’t even cope right now. Excuse me while I go cry.

Moonwalking shoes take Indiegogo by storm

Moon shoes! This is the news that a New York-based start-up is developing electromagnetic shoes designed to stimulate the feeling of walking in reduced gravity. I know, right? Too cool. The ‘Moonwalker’ shoes are equipped with magnetic layers placed in the soles, with their north poles facing each other, which repel each other, pushing the layers of the sole apart and lifting the wearer into the air. This is so unbelievably cool! In fact, it’s the best news I’ve heard all week, and before you say it, I know what you’re all thinking, and you’re so right – we should invest in some of these and make a Space Oddity tribute video. Way ahead of you. I just have one minor setback – they won’t be available until August. Sigh. Until then, Major Tom!

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
First smart pill trials reveal what fibre does in gut

There’s nothing like a good medical story to grab the attention, and this one is no exception. Australian researchers are doing some serious science, studying where in the digestive system different gases are produced so they can get a better understanding of microbial activity – but to be honest I just wanted to reinforce my conviction that my morning bowl of muesli is good for me.

Tesla scaling back autopilot functionality

It turns out that Tesla’s high-end electric cars don’t just go too fast in the hands of speed-merchant owners; they’ve been doing it in self-driving mode, too. Now an over-the-air software update will rein in the autopilot’s lawless proclivities – though anyone trying to escape a speeding fine would never have got away with blaming their vehicle. The driver is still legally in charge, and it’s going to be a while before national laws change in that respect.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Blood test could soon detect symptomless early stage cancer

A revolution in cancer diagnostics – that’s what a project by world-leading DNA sequencing firm Illumina could bring about. The firm wants to develop a blood test capable of detecting cancer genes released by tumours in the earliest stages of the disease when no symptoms have developed yet. The technology has a huge potential to save lives as all too many people die as their cancer only gets recognised too late. Now it would take just a drop of blood (or maybe several drops of blood) for the patient to get a preventive all-clear (or not all-clear). The technology would be able to differentiate between different types of tumours and the test could be available by 2020 for $500.

Cheat-proof activity trackers expose couch potatoes

Bad news for those thinking of using a fitness tracker to extract benefits from insurance companies or gain approval from their doctors for doing absolutely nothing. American researchers have developed an algorithm that enables the device to differentiate between genuine physical activity and faking – for example by shaking the device or swinging it in the hand. Unfortunately, the researchers admit, the system is not perfectly spoof-proof – just attach the tracker to your dog or your hyperactive child and you’ll pass the test either way.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Alton Towers launches space-themed VR rollercoaster

Having recently returned from the dazzling, dizzying tech-fest that was CES 2016, I am now fully up to speed on the nature of all things VR and its burgeoning popularity, as the technology rapidly approaches that crucial tipping point between intriguing gadget concept and widespread public adoption. So, it would appear, is Alton Towers. The theme park’s owners, Merlin Entertainment, has announced its plans to install a new rollercoaster – the Galactica – which will involve passengers wearing a virtual reality headset as part of the space-themed ride.

Moonwalking shoes take Indiegogo by storm

Sadly not, as I hoped, shoes to help you re-enact the famous Michael Jackson dance move of the same name. Rather, these electromagnetic moonwalking shoes are designed to simulate the effect of walking in reduced gravity, according to Moonshine Crea, the New York-based start-up company behind the shoes’ wildly successful Indiegogo campaign.

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Microsoft ends support for most Internet Explorer versions

Microsoft is finally ending support for its oldest, crappiest browsers. This is probably more significant than one might think as it will finally force companies to upgrade their employees to something that is at least serviceable in the modern age of internet browsing. It’s probably a savvy move by Microsoft too; Internet Explorer is now lumbered with a whole load of negative expectations by consumers that it is outdated and slow, and that Firefox and Chrome are superior in every way. Newer versions of the browser are apparently built for speed and perform faster than their now more popular counterparts but most people, myself included, never even bothered to see if these claims were true. With enterprises now being forced to upgrade, many will probably be forced to experience what IE is like in 2016, and if reports are true, some might like what they see.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Tesla scaling back autopilot functionality

Teslo CEO Elon Musk predicted this week that one day, in the not too distant future, owning a car you have to control yourself and will be like riding a horse; something you do “for sentimental reasons”. Reports that the company has had to place restrictions on the autopilot mode of one of its vehicles, which is already restricted to use on main roads at speeds over 18mph suggest the days when anyone actually holding the steering wheel of their car will be considered seriously retro are some way off. Being able to steer and change speed could be a selling point one day though. This week brought an email announcing one company’s plans to bring portable cassette and CD players back to UK stores, for those who want to let the world know how hip they are while listening to music on the move. The fact they’re clunky and inconvenient compared with even the most basic digital music player is apparently no deterrent to the ultra-stylish. Pass me that big pile of David Bowie CDs, I’m going for a long run through the streets of East London!

Alton Towers launches space-themed VR rollercoaster

The scariest theme park ride I’ve ever ‘enjoyed’ was one in Florida was built to recreate the experience of a real old-fashioned ride on a wooden switchback, complete with wobbles, judders and the persistent feeling that it could collapse at any moment. I think I can still feel the bruises. The best though was the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios Florida, where you sit in a cart that rocks and rolls, but the sensation of moving is brilliantly simulated using virtual reality projection and you never leave the confines of a small room. Alton Towers, attempting to entice visitors back following a safety incident last year, is looking to combine both with a new ride that’s an actual rollercoaster on which riders wear a VR headset to create the illusion of flying through space on an 840m long track. I might be tempted to give it a try, but my dealbreaker as with all attractions like this is that I’m never going to queue for more than about half an hour minutes for a trip – however exhilarating, that only takes two minutes.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Moonwalking shoes take Indiegogo by storm

“You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by, a smooth criminal,” I attempt to croon, as I perform one of the most iconic dance moves of all times, sliding my feet backwards as I impress all of my friends, I make it look so easy, all thanks to my Moonwalker shoes! Parading around like the King of Pop himself, spinning, moving and grabbing my crotch in a painful way… Wait. What? These aren’t shoes that will bless me with the skills of Michael Jackson on the dance floor? So you’re telling me they won’t make me move like MJ at all? Are you kidding me? Well that’s taken the spring out of my (could’ve been like MJ) step. The actual Moonwalker shoes have been designed by a New York-based start-up called Moonshine Crea, who created them to give the impression of walking in space. Fitted with powerful magnets, the shoes simulate the feeling of you parading around in reduced gravity, so you feel like a moon walker. Now I get it. Still not as good as my idea. The shoes utilise N45 Neodymium magnets, which other uses include lifting heavy objects like cars. Does that mean you can lift a car with your shoe? Perhaps I could be a superhero, or something? Saving the world with my super-strong feet? I’m getting carried away again, apologies. You disappoint me once… Cruel, cruel world. Moonshine Crea says I’ll be bounding around like a happy astronaut once I have my Moonwalker shoes on. I’ll bound around, all right. But I won’t be happy about it.

‘Spermbots’ could boost fertility rates in men

If you’ve seen Transformers, you’ve got the Autobots (the good side) and Decepticons (the bad). I wonder where Spermbots would fit in. Perhaps they’re the way of producing new machine alien things. I jest. Promising demonstrations have shown that these nano-bots could wrap themselves around the sperm to drive it, meaning this could help a lot of men with fertility problems. Low fertility rates in men are usually caused by their sperm being unable to swim to the desired location. Hopefully the Spermbots will be able to give them a helping hand, which would be good news for a lot of people wishing to start or add to their families, but have faced these – often distressing – problems. The findings come from researchers at the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at IFW Dresden in Germany. The nanomotors have yet to start clinical trials. Let’s hope it works!

What was hot at #CES2016 – show highlights, standouts and trends

January 11, 2016

With CES officially over for another year and the Nevada desert dust finally settled as the world’s tech-hungry masses beat a retreat back to their myriad homelands, we can look back at the madness of the past week and assess the show’s impact on the gadget landscape for 2016. As E&T sits listening to the hailstones pinging off the windows in our English office, the dry air, bright sunshine (at least when it wasn’t raining), gaudy neon and all-round sensory overload of Las Vegas and CES sure seems now like a strange and borderline-hallucinogenic dream. Did all that really happen?

Segway's robot butler

Segway’s robot butler

Did over 3,600 companies really converge on the city to debut over 20,000 new products between them? Did Segway really come out at the Intel keynote with a hoverboard robot butler? Is Kodak really bringing back Super 8 cameras and film processing? Were visitors really happy to give up hours of their time in actual reality queuing up simply to experience Virtual Reality? In a world apparently swarming with cheap Bluetooth speakers, is Bang & Olufsen really gunning for a select band of individuals who are willing to pony up $80,000 for a pair of its BeoLab 90 hi-fi speakers? Have we ever seen so many new vinyl record turntables since the 1970s?

Victrola suitcase turntables

Victrola suitcase turntables

The friendly clash of old-school styling and future-facing tech was definitely an underlying trend, each rubbing genially against the other. Audio-Technica announced its first Bluetooth vinyl turntable, while Technics brought back its legendary SL1200 turntable to the delight of DJs of a certain vintage everywhere. Victrola, amongst several other companies, showed Dansette-style turntable-in-a-suitcase solutions, in a range of suitably retro colourways. Sony, meanwhile, acknowledged vinyl’s revival, but elected to kick things up a future notch with its PSHX500, a turntable with USB output and accompanying software, so you can play, rip and edit vinyl tracks all at once.

Two big names in analogue photography also surprised people: Polaroid and Kodak. Polaroid showed up at CES rocking a huge stand, demo-ing a much wider range of Polaroid-inspired products than a lot of people were expecting. Polaroid smartphones? Check. Polaroid tablet computers? Check. Polaroid HD action cams? Check. Polaroid point and shoot and instantly print cameras? Check. That rainbow stripe lent itself to a surprising range of camera-related products – however loosely – all of which looked like a lot of fun to own and use.

Kodak Super 8

Kodak Super 8

Kodak, meanwhile, literally blew show attendees’ minds with the news of its reintroduction of analogue film in the Super 8 format. Planning to offer  the full film stock “selling, processing and return to the customer” service – just like back in the analogue day – Kodak has also wisely embraced the digital world and will digitise the customer’s footage for retrieval from the cloud. The three-minute film cartridges will also feature sound – something not all old-school cameras did. Naturally, the star of this particular analogue revival story was the Super 8 camera itself, a prototype of which was on display at the show. The return of Super 8 film, who’d a thunk it? What next: 8-track cartridges at CES 2017?

Urban Ears' Active range

Urban Ears’ Active range

New headphones (insert name here of any known brand and they were displaying at CES, e.g. Monster, Skull Candy, Urban Ears); Bluetooth speakers (ditto); more Chinese phones than the world needs; massive tellies we’re going to have to build bigger houses to accommodate, and enough drones to darken the skies over Vegas forever swarmed all over the main show venues. Connected cars were also jammed in to the unlikeliest of spaces – Samsung contriving to get a BMW i3 on to its indoor booth – while outside the Las Vegas Convention Center the likes of Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Hyundai, Kia and more sought to position their future vehicles intelligently within a connected, IoT world.

Glyph VR headset

Glyph VR headset

In the VR space, willing visitors donned hefty headsets (e.g. HTC’s Vive Pre) from any company with an augmented or virtual future to sell, inevitably winding up looking a little bit disoriented, like they were being subjected to an ocular medical procedure, either abstractly groping in the air in front of them or else standing frozen like they were down to the last two people in a goggle-based game of musical statues. If VR is the future, either things are going to look weird or companies are going to have to come up with better-looking goggles than current models, be it a $600 Oculus Rift set (first-run orders launched at the show, for delivery later this year) or a cheap-as-chips I Am Cardboard smartphone holder.

Remember those 1970s red plastic eyepieces, housing 20 analogue slide-film style photos of the top tourist attractions of Italy or still images from The Jungle Book, which you flicked past by moving a lever with your finger as you held the unit to your face? We really haven’t come that far in terms of VR handset design in the ensuing 40 years. Google Glass tried and failed to be more stylish and less intrusive, although Carl Zeiss is ready to give that concept another shot, presenting regular-looking smart lenses for spectacles that don’t immediately mark you out as an early-adopting tool. No companies have officially bitten yet, but the Zeiss lens concept was dangled enticingly at CES nonetheless. Zeiss also debuted a VR headset of its own, the ONE.

Helix Cuff

Helix Cuff

If you want other technological trinkets and baubles with which to adorn and improve your body, you could do worse than the Helix Cuff with integrated Bluetooth headphones from Ashley Chloe. Or how about L’Oreal’s My UV Patch, a temporary tattoo that tracks your skin’s exposure to the sun, relaying its findings to your smartphone? Or how about the Digitsole Smartshoe, a wireless pair of trainers whose fit and internal temperature you can adjust via your phone? Improve the quality of your sleep with the Variowell Smart Bed mattress? Determine the carbs and calorific content of the food on your plate with the SCiO Bluetooth food scanner? Refresh yourself from Samsung’s $5,000 Family Hub Smart Fridge – quite possibly more intelligent than most of the show visitors – whilst enjoying a refreshing Perfect Blend smoothie or a cocktail instantly prepared by Somabar’s Robotic Bartender? Keep stock of your grocery requirements with Smarter’s cupboard mats? Check your temperature – or the temperature of anyone within arm’s reach – with Withings’ Thermo WiFi thermometer? Stimulate the follicles on your thinning scalp with Panasonic’s Hairmax LaserBand 82? Pretty much anything you can imagine is possible now or will be at some point during 2016.

The Panasonic HairMax

The Panasonic HairMax LaserBand 82

Inevitably at a show of this size, given the presence of companies both large and small, both innovative and lazy, you can easily end up seeing 50 variations on the same theme – most of which are largely indistinguishable from each other. We already have enough of almost everything on display at CES this year – the world _really_ does not need another Chinese iPhone clone, if it even needs another Apple iPhone, let’s be honest – but there are still nuggets worth digging for, that techno gold worth panning and sifting through the dross to uncover.

LG Display: roll up, roll up

LG Display: roll up, roll up

Take LG’s Display AMOLED rollable screens, for example – a high-quality digital display that can be rolled up like paper. It’s not being used for any commercial product right now, but you can be darned sure we’ll be seeing it in due course. This is the kind of future insight, a glimpse behind the laboratory curtain, that CES is really about. We hope that we’ve provided a series of intriguging signposts that will lead to further discovery.

Virtual reality, immersive experiences and drones in flight at #CES2016

January 7, 2016

Two of the most popular show areas at CES 2016 are virtual reality – be that immersive and/or augmented – and drones.

Inevitably, Oculus Rift dominated the VR space – literally, given the size of Oculus’ enormous two-level exhibition stand – and the lure of the most famous VR headset for show attendees was apparent in their willingness to queue for two and a half hours just to be able to try it for themselves.

Oculus Rift: get in line

Oculus Rift: get in line

Of course, Oculus Rift is not the only VR game in town. Other VR projects, such as Google’s Cardboard, are broadening the technology’s reach and making VR accessible to more people. One immediate result of Google’s labs VR project is the appearance of a complementary company such as I Am Cardboard.

I Am Cardboard

I Am Cardboard

I Am Cardboard has taken up Google’s VR baton and is running with it, offering a number of cardboard goggle housings that the user can then place their smartphone inside to create an instant VR headset. While the software implementation side of Cardboad still needs some refinement, there was already keen interest from buyers in I Am Cardboard’s customisation offering, whereby the company will produce the Cardboard handsets with bespoke graphics. Expect to see more of these Cardboard VR handsets in the coming year.

I Am Also Cardboard

I Am Also Cardboard

Other VR and immersive gaming products were on display from companies such as Ximmerse (which showed its X-Hawk stereo camera that attaches to a headset to provide precise positional tracking of gaming peripherals, with 180-degree view, plus hand movement and gesture detection); VRtify (which delighted crowds with its VR music headset which can place headset users right in the heart of the recording or performance space of their favourite bands); Homido (whose €15 smartphone clip-on Mini VR headset “puts the world in your pocket” for “virtual reality everywhere and for everyone” ) and Glyph (whose Avegant “personal theater” VR headset is an intriuging hybrid headphone and video viewer).

Homido Mini: dirt-cheap VR for all

Homido Mini: dirt-cheap VR for all

Glyph Avegant: try before you fly

Glyph Avegant: try before you fly

The Avegant, with its Gorilla Glass screen and million mirrors reflecting per eye, also controls a drone, effectively putting the headset wearer in the cockpit of the drone so they then see the world exactly from the perspective of the drone. Ever wondered what the world looks like from 100 feet up in the air? With the Avegant, you can feel as if you’re actively up there, as opposed to passively watching streaming video footage of the same event.

Given the explosion of interest in the technology over the last year or two, drone companies unsurprisingly have a big presence at CES this year. China’s Wingsland maintained a large stand to demonstrate its wide range of distinctive orange drone models, including the Minivet.

Wingsland Minivet drone

Wingsland Minivet drone

Zerotech, ByRobot, Walkera, ProDrone, Euler, Giroptic and Hexo+ (with its smartphone app-driven “self-flying camera”) also exhibited flying machines of one flavour or another, amongst many other drone companies and supporting technologies.

Hexo+ - born to follow

Hexo+ – born to follow

Naturally, if you’re a drone company at a technology exhibition, you have to provide a safe space in which potential buyers can test-fly your drones. Yuneek riffed on a Wild West theme, with a full Old West stage dressing which inclued the Stampede Drone Corral, featuring 20-feet-tall chicken wire walls in place to rein in the excesses or inpetitude of drone test pilots.

Yuneek's Drone Corral. Yee-haw.

Yuneek’s Drone Corral. Yee-haw.

Surprisingly for Las Vegas, that is real straw in the photo.

Hearing the C word at #CES2016

January 7, 2016

If there’s one constant thread underpinning almost everything at CES, it’s the question of being connected. Not in a 1940s Vegas Mob sense, you understand, but in the sense of any new device not being enough of a draw on its own if it can’t also chit-chat with other devices and thus offer additional, enriching functionality.

Sometimes this additional functionality can seem somewhat arbitrary – such as the Wilson X Connected Football, which is a regular American Football equipped with a built-in smart sensor to measure distance, speed, spiral efficiency and catch/drop ratio – but there is a clear convergence (that other C word) of connected technology with the analogue human world, as seen on display in the sprawling halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Wilson X football: go long

Wilson X football: go long

Healthcare, body awareness, medication and self-improvement can all be connected, starting with whatever you wish to put in to the temple that is your body. The Perfect Company has come up with the Perfect Blend, a juicer and smoothie-maker (so far, so analogue) that has smart scales and an interactive receipe app (naturally), which connects with your smartphone or tablet and tells you exactly how much of each ingredient to use, as well as how best to blend said ingredients for best results. The app will also track the nutrional content for all your Perfectly Blend-ed meals, so you’ll never have too much or too little of anything ever again.

Perfect Blend: mix it up

Perfect Blend: mix it up

Constantly monitoring the condition of your body is another connected possibility now, with products such as Hexoskin, a wearable body suit that measures your heart rate, your breathing efficiency, and even monitors the quality of your sleep at night, if you choose to wear your Hexoskin in bed.

Hexoskin

Hexoskin

Wearable body metrics – be it whole body, a la Hexoskin, or specific aspects of your body’s performance – is a burgeoning area for connected devices. Skulpt’s Chisel, for example, measures body fat percentage from three muscles (triceps, abs and quads) to track your fitness progress in the app, as well as offering tailored fitness advice based on the data collected. Gymwatch offered a similar “ultimate fitness exercise tracker”.

Skulpt Chisel

Skulpt Chisel

For more serious medical analysis, Omron’s wrist and upper arm blood pressure monitors record and track the necessary, while Veta showed a connected smart case and complementary app for epipen users, making the lives of diabetics and allergy sufferers easier.

The connected world extends to hearing aids as well, with ReSound’s LiNX2 billed as “the world’s smartest hearing aid, and control it straight from your wrist – anytime anywhere”. By wrist, they mean Apple Watch, ReSound products being the first full family of Made for iPhone hearing aids. Wearers can stream music, phone calls and other sounds directly to their hearing aids, effectively turning the aid into wireless stereo headphones. On-the-go tweaks can be made via the iPhone app, responding to environmental conditions, such as wind or ambient noise.

Resound Link2

Resound Link2

On the subject of headphones – given that there are dozens of new headphones announced at CES every year – Caseco’s latest Blu-Toque range of weatherproof Bluetooth Beanies turned – and possibly warmed – some heads. Essentially a woolly bobble hat with built-in Bluetooth headphones, the Blu-Toque nonetheless addresses those key winter issues with stylish simplicity: wireless music connected to your smartphone, cold ears and the need to wear a hat. Available in a wide range of styles and colours, the only thing to remember is to remove the Bluetooth module before throwing the hat in the wash.

Blue-Toque: itsy-bitsy teeny beanie

Blue-Toque: itsy-bitsy teeny beanie

A weatherproof Bluetooth headphone-equipped beanie might be ideal headgear for the committed winter cyclist, out perfecting their road times. Said cyclist might also benefit from Baron Biosystem’s Xert Mobile fitness and performance monitoring mobile app and patent-pending Bio Shift wireless gear-changing system, currently at the prototype and pre-production stage. This app analyses the data coming from the bike frame to which the system has been fitted and automatically changes gears for the cyclist for the optimal performance. The results are all tracked in the connected app, so the cyclist can later review the gear change choices made for them and come to understand their impact and efficiency on the rider’s performance.

Xert Mobile: on your bike

Xert Mobile: on your bike

While other major players in the bike world are also working on similar concepts – Shimano is certainy active in this area – Xert’s spokesman was politely confident in the supremacy of their product, likening the commercial challenge to a David versus Goliath situation. In a connected world, anything is possible.

 

The ‘genius’ of smart devices at CES Unveiled 2016 #CES2016

January 5, 2016

The convergence of devices and technologies to produce connected solutions for people of all ages, from preschool children to the elderly, was on display at CES Unveiled 2016, the pre-show exhibition of new products and innovations at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas.

This is genius

This is genius

Wearable technology, fitness trackers, wireless audio solutions, drones, kitchen sensors, smart children’s toys, object trackers and sleep monitors were some of the major trends presented by over 150 companies, ranging from well-established companies to young start-ups with products on display, to companies still crowdfunding the finance for their idea – via such sites as Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go – with a view to launching their products later in 2016.

French start-up Oliba was one such company, who displayed Oliba, “the smart buddy of children and cuddly toys”. This technological owl-styled device attaches to any child’s favourite cuddly toy and connects via Bluetooth to a parent’s smartphone. Oliba then acts as a toy tracker, so the toy never gets lost or left behind. It can also be used as an audio storyteller, a musical nightlight and can record a parent’s voice, so a young child can be soothed in their parent’s absence.

Track your cuddly toys with Oliba

Track your cuddly toys with Oliba

The burgeoning interplay between home objects and smartphones was also on display from Smarter, which demonstrated its range of smart kitchen mats and fridge cams. These connect to your smartphone, offering an up-to-date state of your pantry’s comestibles, in the case of the Mats, or a snapshot of the state of your fridge contents, via one or more Fridge Cams strategically placed to record the shelves of your fridge. The user can then call up this visual data on their smartphone when next at a supermarket and restock according to the precise needs of the moment. Ketchup running low? Mats will tell you. No milk or yoghurt? Fridge Cam will show you that information. While you’re in the kitchen, you could also check in with Trilby’s magnetic connected speaker, which sticks to the front of your fridge and records and displays reminders that you’ve sent via your smartphone.

What's in the fridge?

What’s in the fridge?

If you’re after something stronger than ketchup and yoghurt, Somabar’s Robotic Bartender could be the solution you’re looking for. With six tanks for various spirits and a separate dispenser for bitters, the Somabar is pre-programmed with 300 cocktails that will be automatically mixed for you when requested from your smartphone. The machine also has onboard sensors, electronic ingredient tagging and automated cleaning. Users can also share bespoke cocktail creations over the internet via Wi-Fi with fellow Bartender owners. Somabar expects to launch the Robotic Bartender in Q1 of 2016, after a successful Kickstarter compaign that exceeded their goal.

Healthcare technologies were also much in evidence at CES Unveiled, such as wearable fitness technology from the likes of Misfit and the life-control band from Nex Band. Mother also unveiled the latest version of its monitoring device for elderly people – called the Silver Mother – which enables a relative or carer to remotely track and log the behaviour of an individual. This is done via a smartphone and the placement of small tracking tags on such objects as walking sticks and pill boxes. Silver Mother is sophisticated enough to determine whether a person simply moved a pill box or actually lifted the box and opened the lids to take their medication.

Mother knows best

Mother knows best

Consumer audio products were strongly represented from a range of companies, with Bluetooth speakers and headphones inevitably to the fore. Sweden’s Zounds unveiled a range of new headphone products under its Urbanears brand, designed specifically for sportspeople. The Active collection has such features as reflective material used in the headbands, mesh fabric earpieces to allow the skin to breathe when exercising and tangle-free Kevlar cables. Both over-the-head and earpiece products form the Active collection.

Urbanears: get Active

Urbanears: get Active

Zounds was also exhibiting the results of its collaboration with Marshall Amplification, including a new set of wireless headphones, set for release later this year, along with the latest additions to its range of iconic Marshall amp-styled Bluetooth speakers.

Marshall rocks CES 2016

Marshall rocks CES 2016

Also on display in the centre of the conference hall were some of the highlights from the CES 2016 Innovation Awards, under the banner “This Is Genius”. These products have been declared the winning products in such categories as Unmanned Systems and Accessories (winner: the Lily Camera, a “throw and shoot” airborne camera with GPS); Home Appliances (winner: the Somabar Robotic Bartender); Gaming and Virtual Reality (winner: Logitech’s G920 Driving Force force-feedback racing wheel and pedal set for Xbox One and PC); Headphones (winner: HiFiMan’s HE100 Reference headphones, full-size planar magnetic studio-reference headphones); Computer Hardware and Components (winner: HP’s Envy Curved All-In-One monitor, featuring stereo Bang & Olufsen speakers) and Eco-Design and Sustainable Technologies (winner: Pilot’s ECO USBCell, a lithium polymer battery rechargeable via any USB port).

Book Review: Design Meets Disability – Graham Pullin

January 4, 2016

By Jade Fell

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

9780262162555

The MIT Press, September 2011, 368 pp, ISBN 978-0-262516-74-7, £17.95 paperback

From their humble beginnings, balanced on the noses of monks and scholars in the 13th century, eyeglasses have undergone a fantastic transformation. The handheld lorgnette donned by ladies in the 19th century gave way to the inexpensive pince-nez of the early 20th  – but It was not until the latter half of the century that eyeglasses were transformed from a mere medical necessity to something more.

In Design Meets Disability, author Graham Pullin approaches assistive technology from the point-of-view of the end user, encouraging designing for the person, rather than the disability. He advocates for moving away from the cold, clinical, “pink moulded plastic” of the 20th century and into something new, unique, and desirable. If assistive technology is to become a large piece of someone’s life why should its purpose be purely functional? Is there not room in the marketplace for fashionable, assistive technology?

By embracing the design culture of the fashion industry, eyeglasses were transformed from something purely functional, to something beautiful – so much so that by the 21st century able-eyed teenagers were popping out the lenses of thick rimmed glasses to add to their everyday outfits. So, if eyeglasses can make the move from medical necessity, to fashion accessory then why can’t the same be true of hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs and communication aids? Of course it can, Pullin suggests, when design and disability meet.

Throughout the course of the book Pullin explores new forms of design for disability – where appearance and functionality complement the results from clinical trials – and meets with prolific designers behind ground-breaking disability design projects. Design, he argues, should be inspired by disability, allowing the two fields to combine to enrich one another.

The meeting of design and disability has further benefits – as well as making designs for disabled people desirable, it can also allow for the making of inclusive designs, which are, not just desirable to all, but useful to all. As explored in this month’s Engineering & Technology magazine by Tereza Pultarova, who looks at the role of digital technology in catering for the needs of blind people. The high-tech age, she suggests, has brought about the “biggest improvement in the lives of blind people since the invention of the white cane” – and this is not purely through new devices being created to cater to this specific group of people, but in making ordinary technology accessible for everyone, including blind people.

Think about the different ways everyday technology and devices function that can be of assistance to disabled people – these days all phones vibrate, which allows for those with limited hearing to know when they are being contacted, while functions included in the Google Search and Chrome smartphone applications allow users to communicate with their phones and tablets using their voice. Design for disability does not, and indeed, should not, have to be exclusive. Take, for example, Pullin’s presentation of watches designed for blind people –some of the designs are seriously beautiful – there are textured watches and those which vibrate, or prick the wearer to tell the time. These watches are not just useful for those with limited sight, but anyone who wants to option of checking the time in a meeting without appearing rude!

As Tom Pey, chief executive of the Royal London Society for Blind People points out in this month’s article: “If technology is simply for blind people, it is doomed to fail. What you need to do is to design the technology in a way that can benefit everybody.”


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