Jan 122015
 

By: Jonathan Gonzalez

The Nixie is a wearable quadcopter that can take flight with a simple hand gesture, position itself to take a photo or video of you, and fly back to your wrist. Team Nixie took 1st place in Intel’s Make It Wearable competition with a flying prototype, and will receive $500,000 to continue their endeavor.

Christoph Kohstall, CEO and Founder of Nixie, is an avid rock climber who had long tinkered with drones, but disliked the idea of having to pilot the drone while he was rock climbing. His hands are obviously busy while rock climbing, so controlling the drone became a distraction. He created the Nixie, which is light, wearable and hands-free. The prototype is said to be programmed with a few modes including: “boomerang,” “follow me” and “hover.” “Boomerang” launches the Nixie, which takes a photo or video and immediately returns to you. The “follow me” mode keeps the Nixie close to you as you move, while the “hover” mode leaves the Nixie at a stationary vantage point. Joseph Flaherty at Wired.com states “Expertise in motion-prediction algorithms and sensor fusion will give the wrist-worn whirlybirds an impressive range of functionality.”

Kohstall has a background in rock climbing, so the Nixie was initially envisioned for use in outdoor adventure sports. However, during a video interview with CNBC Kohstall states “Nixie can be the next generation of point and shoot cameras”.

This could change the way we look at photography all together.  Aerial photography is becoming more popular and the Nixie’s self flying features can open the doors to even the most amateur user. The simple user interface can make it accessible to even the most novice tech users, such as children and grandparents. Prices are predicted to be “a bit more than a GoPro”, but no hard prices or dates have been set as of now.

What does Nixie winning Intel’s Make It Wearable contest say about our society? A wearable drone is a fun and cool idea, but the runner up, Open Bionics – Low-Cost Robotic Hand, is focused on helping amputees by giving the gift of a low priced, nearly fully functional robotic limb. We are talking the beginnings of cyborgs! Is technology so mainstream (for lack of a better phrase) that we should focus our efforts, not to mention funding, on something to help us show off our Instagram-worthy adventures? Is getting a better selfie and auto-flying cameras the next big technology we should go after? I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I am a amateur photographer/filmmaker and love new and exciting gadgets to play with. But, how are innovating self flying drones helping technology and wearables get to the next level? Can we even classify this technology as wearable? I don’t know the answers, but I’m curious to see what comes from all of this.

Sources:

Nixie Website

Intel’s Make It Wearable

Nixie Facebook

Nov 192014
 

By: Jade Lawson

Fitness trackers have some new competition and the future of popular fitness bands is changing.

The OMsignal biometric smartwear is breaking ground on a new, unexplored, area of fitness wear that allows users to measure heart rate, breathing rate, breathing depth, activity intensity, steps taken, calories burned, and heart rate variability. Measurement of these areas is possible in some of today’s top fitness bands and smartwatches, but these new shirts allow for a wider range of usage than just fitness or light daily activity. Popular fitness tracking bands like Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up24 are only capable of measuring steps taken and activity intensity. These tracking bands can only estimate calories burned based on the wearer’s personal data of height, weight, and age. Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up24 are sometimes marketed as being for day-to-day use, but they are most effective with high activity levels. The company Fitbit is aware that the market is changing, so they have just released information on their latest fitness trackers to be available early 2015 and they will be competing with OMsignal’s womens line. The Fitbit Charge is available now and the other 2 new Fitbit bands now include measurement of heart rate. However, OMsignal shirts are better fitted for use in daily lives and health testing because they have more health monitoring variables such as breathing rate/depth and heart rate variability. While these shirts aren’t meant to replace a visit to the doctor, they do take self-health monitoring a step further. They are a great tool in the ever-growing future of self-tracking, and personal health awareness.

Tracking Module

How does it work? The biometric sensors that take in all the rates, activity, calories burned, and heart rate are in the shirt but, the shirt itself doesn’t send the data to the application. In order to send the biometric sensor data from the shirt to the user’s phone application the user must purchase a data module. This data module does most of the work; it uses continual data collection to record data even when the user is away from their phone. Continual data collection means users can be phone free when working out and still receive all their workout statistics later. The data module uses low-power Bluetooth LE to send the data to an OMsignal application, which limits use to iPhones 4s and newer, and androids with low-power Bluetooth LE capability. Currently the app is only available for iOS, but there are plans for operating system expansion in 2015.

Common concerns with technological wearables are waterproofing, battery life, and data protection. The shirts can be washed in a machine just like any other fitness shirt, but the data module isn’t waterproof. The data module sits connected in a pocket in the shirt and can be removed for wash or can be transferred to another shirt. While the data module is water-resistant (meaning it’s sweat-proof and capable of handling a light rain) it cannot function when immersed in water. The data module’s battery can last through 30 1-hour long workouts, or 2-3 days of continuous use. It is not as long of a continuous usage time as wrist wearables like Fitbit Flex, and Jawbone Up24, but the Data Module also conveys more biometric data variables. The data that is taken in by the module is recorded and stored on a secure server. The data is associated with the user’s account so in the event of the app being deleted, or user’s phone upgraded, it stays secure and is transferable.

Apps can sometimes make or break a product, especially when it relies heavily on the app’s functionality, design, and ease of use.  OMsignal’s app design and functionality looks good, and seems like it will lift the product up, rather than bring it down. Omsignal describes their app best, “Prescriptive notifications assist post-training recovery by monitoring how your body behaves over time, with access to key data including heart rate recovery and breathing at rest, to monitor improvements in health and fitness. Lifestyle mode monitors your body’s energy, physical stress and activity levels, offering continuous insights throughout the day, allowing you to live a more balanced and focused life.”

The shirts are currently available for pre-order, and are to be shipped out starting November 24, 2014. They promote the starter or “up & running kit,” which usually costs $240. It is currently on sale for $199 for a limited time and includes 1 standard OMsignal shirt and a data module. There are a few other, more expensive, kits that include more than one shirt, as well as their lifestyle line. Sizing is from extra small to extra large, and can be worn under additional clothing.

Black-GreenShirts that are meant for working out are fitted a certain way to improve blood circulation, enhance performance, and help muscles recover faster. Shirts that are meant for lifestyle are shaped and fitted to help posture. All Omsignal shirts have climate control and moisture wicking. They are made of anti-microbial material and fight-odor causing bacteria which eliminates “after-workout smell.”

It doesn’t go unnoticed that there are no women featured wearing the product on the website, nor are there women’s shirts listed on the product page. At the bottom of the home page is an email input to receive information on the women’s collection. A collection that OMsignal plans to release in 2015. It begs the question though, did they think men’s shirts were more important to get done first, were they easier, or was it just the way they went about design? There are quite a few women on the OMsignal team, so the delay in the women’s collection shouldn’t be considered male bias, but it’s been shown that when it comes to things that are considered “strong” and “manly,” like fitness, men’s products take priority. OMsignal has said “The sensors of the OMsignal shirt need to be worn directly on the skin to give the best readings and we are currently working on a female design that fits a women’s body perfectly.” OMsignal displays the women’s shirt in their promotional video seen below. The advantages displayed are focused less on those available to the men’s shirt in relation to activity and more focused on lifestyle. Lifestyle that includes pregnancy monitoring with an ability to observe an unborn baby’s heart rate separately from the mother’s heart rate.

A lot of work went into the creation of these shirts; they weren’t made by one person with an idea, but by a team. A team of 34 unique individuals ranging from smart textile and marketing specialists, to BioE scientists and engineers, software developers and engineers, and most importantly, a chief medical officer. It is important to note the type of people involved in the making of this product because it shows that it has a high chance for success and support down the road.  Many years of research and testing got the OMsignal biometric smartwear to this stage, and plenty more research and testing will advance it even more in the future.

All supporting information taken from OMsignal.com

Images credit: OMsignal.com

Videos credit: Youtube.com/OMsignalTV

Nov 192014
 

By: Justin Ozuna

If you could protect yourself against cancer, would you? It turns out, in some instances, you can.

More than 90 percent of skin cancer diagnoses are a result of excessive ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure from the sun and tanning beds, making it one of the most preventable of all existing cancers. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, approximately 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year; more than breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers combined. Globally, it accounts for approximately 40 percent of all cancers and causes 80,000 deaths a year, a trend that has increased nearly 60 percent over the past two decades and continues to rise.

Until recently, skin cancer prevention meant the use of sunscreen, sun-protective clothing and a reliance on public awareness. The June bracelet by Netatmo wants to change that.

Karyne Levy/Business Insider

June bracelet photo credit: Karyne Levy/Business Insider

The bracelet is the first UV-awareness device of its kind. Within its attractive, centerpiece jewel is a sensor that measures and communicates UV ray exposure. The June bracelet uses its corresponding iPhone app to offer real-time, sun protection advice like what level of SPF sunscreen to use, when to reapply sunscreen throughout the day and when to wear hat or sunglass protection, all based on the user’s skin profile. It’s like having a personal health navigator on your wrist, one that’s fashionably chic.

June jewels photo credit: Netatmo.com

The bracelet was designed by French jewelry designer Camille Toupet, who gave it a high-end aesthetic to supplement its technological feel. The $99 jewel bracelet (or brooch) is available in three colors: platinum, gold and gunmetal. The jewel is interchangeable and can be attached to a double-stranded leather or silicon bracelet based on the wearer’s needs.

Like every piece of technology, the bracelet does have its limits. The app is only available on the iOS operating system, limiting the product’s availability to those who have an iDevice. Secondly, the UV sensor is not waterproof, which is a problem if you’re around water for most of the day (when, let’s face it, most people need sun advice the most).

But the most glaring and disappointing issue with the June bracelet is that its design reinforces gender bias. Its dainty, elegant and to borrow a headline description from Mashable, “gorgeous” design in only available for women. Without context, this decision signifies that only women are beholden to prolonged sun exposure or frequent tanning sessions and really misses the heart of the bracelet’s sole purpose – to inspire immediate, real-time awareness about the short and long-term dangers of UV rays on the skin, for everyone.

Worldwide skin cancer data suggests that men need skin protection just as much as women do, especially when considering the gender disparity statistics of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. While young men only account for 40 percent of melanoma diagnoses, they represent more than 60 percent of melanoma deaths. From ages 15 to 39, men are 55 percent more likely to die of melanoma than women in the same age group. Effective skin cancer prevention isn’t only about creating awareness, it’s about creating awareness sooner.

Despite its novel and unique approach to skin awareness, the company missed a great opportunity to offer more to the world than a dainty, beautifully-designed bracelet.

Photo credit: Netatmo.com

The June app works in coordination with the bracelet to provide the wearer with push notifications when UV exposure reaches a critical level.

 

 

 

Nov 102014
 
Smart Phin by Board Formula - via Wired.com

Smart Phin by Board Formula – via Wired.com

The best way to collect data in difficult locations is to use an adrenaline junkie to gather it for you. The Smart Phin can help surfers collect valuable data about the water they surf for researchers in order to understand more about our oceans.

Benjamin Thompson from Board Formula, the small company behind the Smart Phin, wants to involve surfers in collecting important data for scientific research. The Smart Phin attaches to any surfboard and comes with an smartphone app to upload data. Thompson eventually wants to start selling Smart Phins and has decided to keep the companion app open source, so developers can come up with their own apps that work with the fin.

Like the wearable technology health care researchers are currently adapting to monitor patients’ movements and vital signs, the Smart Phin acts as diagnostic technology, only for the ocean instead of the “wearer” (Quinn, 99). Much like more traditional wearable tech, the Smart Phin collects and measures information; Not only does it note the surfer’s location and time, the Smart Phin also logs the temperature, pH levels, and salinity of the ocean. The information is then uploaded via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, once the surfer hits dry land again. The more sensors in the water, the more points of data for scientists. Similar technology could also eventually be applied to wetsuits or diving equipment for information gathering at greater depths.

Crowdsourcing data collection via the Smart Phin could be a boon for marine scientists by helping to measure how climate change affects the world’s oceans.

Sources:

The Next Big Thing You Missed: Surfboard Collects Oceanic Data While You Ride Waves

Riding Massive Waves Could Fight Climate Change

Board Formula

Quinn, Bradley. “Vital Signs.” Textile Futures: Fashion, Design and Technology. Oxford: Berg, 2010. 85-107.

Oct 202014
 

By: Ashleigh Havens

In September 2013, Israeli start-up company OrCam released the OrCam visual system to help the 300-million visually impaired people in the world “see.” OrCam is a portable device that is similar to Google Glass, composed of a camera and a small computer about the size of the typical glasses case that uses augmented reality. The device attaches by magnet to users’ glasses. OrCam is able to recognize text, products and even familiar faces. At the push of a button or a point of your finger, OrCam recognizes objects, and will read you information through the bone conducting earpiece. This device has a transducer that converts electric signals into mechanical vibrations which sends sound to the internal ear through the cranial bones. This makes the audio discrete so others do not realize you are receiving assistance. Through extended use, OrCam will recognize your personal objects such as credit cards, money notes, friends, favorite products, and more. Using this device helps the visually impaired to become more independent and relaxed about interacting with the world.

This product currently sells for $3,500. There is a possibility for reimbursement if it is covered by your vision insurance plan. Some vision insurance plans, usually premium plans will have limited funding for assistive devices. Most of the time this reimbursement is on a case by case basis. There are grants that you can apply for that you can use toward the cost of the OrCam device.

As with many new technological advances, this device has some faults. First of all, it is only available in the United States and the only language it supports is English. As this product advances the company hopes to make it capable of translating language and available to a wider audience. The OrCam does not recognize handwritten text.

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykDDxWbt5Nw&feature=youtu.be

www.orcam.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CyW04lSd4Y

Oct 202014
 

By: Ariana Berdy

Imprint Energy is a company that was started by Christine Ho following her graduate studies at the University of California, Berkley. Collaborating with a researcher in Japan, Ho produced 3D printed zinc batteries. Now, her work has evolved. Her company, Imprint Energy, produces flexible printed zinc batteries. Unlike the design of previous and standard lithium batteries, Imprint Energy’s zinc batteries are safe, flexible, and smaller than the preceding design.

Most typical batteries are made using lithium as the primary charging component. However, lithium is highly reactive and very unstable. Primarily, lithium is oxygen-sensitive. In order for workers to handle it safely, protective equipment is required. To adequately seal the reactive lithium requires many protective layers. The result is a rigid, bulky, and limiting battery design.

While zinc has been used in batteries for years it was not possible to make zinc batteries rechargeable. In previous batteries, zinc was combined with a liquid electrolyte. Over time this combination produced dendrites, which are tiny fibers that grow and prevent the charging reaction from taking place. As a part of her graduate studies, Ho developed a solid polymer electrolyte that avoided dendrites. She combined this new polymer with zinc to create Imprint Energy’s battery. Because of zinc’s environmental stability, Imprint Energy’s batteries do not require heavy and rigid insulation. Additionally they are cheaper to manufacture and do not require workers to wear protective equipment.

Continue reading »

Oct 112014
 

By Karyn Narramore

Fluid Interfaces, the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT), recently unveiled its latest masterpiece, the FingerReader. The FingerReader is a 3-D printed ring with a mounted camera that scans text and reads it aloud to the wearer.  Special software scans the text and gives both audio and haptic feedback, letting the wearer know things like where the line begins and ends or to move to a new line. The algorithm can also detect and give feedback when the user moves away from the baseline of the text. The FingerReader is a device that could prove to be useful not only as a tool for the visually impaired but also for second-language learners, people with dyslexia or other language disorders, young children, victims of brain trauma, and tourists.

Ring in use; Fluid Interfaces, MIT

Ring in use; Fluid Interfaces, MIT

Fluid Interfaces as a group defines its purpose fairly simply: They want to create wearable interfaces that augment the human senses and capabilities, interfaces that can give the user a more natural experience with fewer distractions.  The FingerReader is still just a prototype and has not been tested extensively, but its aspirations seem fairly in line with Fluid Interfaces’ vision. Still in development, the FingerReader’s language translation abilities have not been implemented, but eventually this, along with the ability to connect to a smartphone or mobile device, is definitely in the game plan.  According to Roy Shilkrot of Fluid Interfaces, the current market for the reader is about 3%, which is the percentage of the population that is visually impaired.  Because the device is still in development, Shilkrot declined to speculate on pricing, but did say that the team is relatively confident that they will be able to sell the reader at an affordable price. Additionally, Shilkrot says that the group may make the decision not to commercialize the product themselves. If this ends up being the case, Fluid Interfaces will open-source the project so that others can continue to improve the technology or repurpose it for other uses. See the FingerReader in action here.

When asked what kind of competition the FingerReader faces from existing applications and how the reader is different from them, Shilkrot is quick to point out that the project is still an academic one at this point: “We are not in competition with any of the alternative commercial products.” The Fluid Interfaces website helpfully provides a list of alternative applications, complete with links. Their provided list is as follows:

Text Detective: http://blindsight.com/textdetective/

Text Grabber: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.abbyy.mobile.textgrabber.full

StandScan: http://standscan.com/index.php/product/standscanpro.

SayText: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/saytext/id376337999?mt=8#

kNFB Reader: http://www.knfbreader.com/

AbiSee ROL: http://www.abisee.com/products/eyepalrolgeneral.

LookTel: http://www.looktel.com/

EyeNote (from the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing): http://www.eyenote.gov/

OrCam Glasses: http://www.orcam.com/

The vOICe Seeing with sound: http://www.seeingwithsound.com/

Continue reading »

Sep 302014
 

By: Jordan Massey

Image courtesy of Bragi.com

Image courtesy of Bragi.com

The age of wired technology is fast approaching its long-awaited doom.

While you were still busy ogling over the burgeoning trend in wearable fitness technology, one talent-stacked european company has been developing the Swiss Army Knife of wearable tech. Some say it’s a pair of wireless headphones, others say it’s a fitness tracker. Surprisingly, the Dash is both! And there’s none of that fitness tracker wristband malarkey, this gadget really does do it all.

The Dash by Bragi was first submitted as a Kickstarter project, and it raised an astounding $3.3 million, well above the project’s stated goal of $260,000. The Dash itself is a pair of wireless earbuds that also has the ability to track fitness data. The full list of features is nothing short of impressive, provided the real thing lives up to the hype.

The Dash, aside from taking advantage of wireless tethering, also has an onboard 4GB MP3 player, so the user with an active lifestyle does not need to carry a companion smartphone. The device features both Noise Reduction and Audio Transparency, which enables the user to allow environmental noise to pass through the headphones. This carries the benefit of allowing a user to remain aware of changes in their immediate area. An embedded earbone microphone is advertised as allowing crisp and clear phone conversations. Sporting an innovative dual touchpad control interface, the user can give several different commands to the Dash by simply swiping the cover of their earpiece.

In the image below you can see what the Dash looks like in-ear. While significantly larger than other earbuds on the market, the Dash is contoured to the shape of the middle ear. This allows room for all the added features, including the battery, while marketed as also providing a secure fit for active users. The flat surface in the middle of the earbud is the touch control interface. Swiping vertically, horizontally, and tapping can give the Dash various commands on either ear.

Continue reading »

Sep 302014
 

What is often passed off as a negligible and readily available asset could be something that another person was eagerly waiting for. As students, reading forms a crucial part of our academics. However, for a person who is visually impaired, the path to obtain a formal education is wrought with difficulties like dependency on persons with normal vision or awaiting the availability of Braille versions of books. The World Health Organization estimates the population of visually impaired people as around 285 million. Yet, it is saddening to see that our technological advancements have not really been able to help them much. Until now.

Finger Reader Prototype

Finger Reader Prototype (http://indiaartndesign.com/IAnD_images/content2014/July/Fingerreader/FingerReader_IndiaArtnDesign(5).jpg MIT Fluid Interfaces Group )

The Fluid Interfaces group of Massachussets Institute of Technology(MIT)’s Media Lab has been working on a character reader that can fit on a person’s finger and can read text (off a surface) out loud as well as give signals to them. Termed “FingerReader”, the promise of this technology in aiding the visually impaired is in itself a noble cause. However, as scholars of wearable technologies, we need to look at the pros and cons of their design and what could be done to improve upon it.

fingerReader-that-reads-aloud-when-you-point-at-words-3

FingerReader (http://www.technicupdates.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/fingerReader-that-reads-aloud-when-you-point-at-words-3.jpg and MIT Fluid Interfaces Group)

 

Looking at the device, the immediate opinion that springs up is on the aesthetics. The ring seems overly bulky and we can see that there is a chip on one side and a wire that connects to a computer on the other. Having seen the extent of minimizing size whilst improving on the presentability of products, we can immediately say this is still in its development stage. However, when looking at the functional aspect of it, we find that there is much more than meets the eye. The technology seems to rely on a camera fitted on the device that sends in visual input to the system as the finger moves along the surface. Software then identifies spaces and characters and attempts to pronounce the same based on phonetic rules that have been pre-programmed. Although I am not sure about the voice, I think it is safe to assume that it is coming from the system’s built-in speakers and have a robotic echoing effect that would need to be worked upon. The speed of processing is not at the levels we are used to experiencing with the technologies we utilize everyday but, considering the amount of processing that needs to be done with each movement, the speed is appreciable. The Fluid Interfaces Group has put up a demo on their website which I have embedded below.

In the video, we can see that, although slow, the system is able to recognize and pronounce words accurately. The sensors and signals sent to show the ends and starts of lines are a thoughtful addition. The wearer doesn’t seem to feel the weight of the reader much and this is a sign that with future iterations, the size can definitely be scaled down even more. The group promises bluetooth enabling as well as mobile pairing options. It looks to be seen how much longer it will take to get all these implemented with the basic functional prototype. The group seems quite confident in their ability to sell and we can hope their pricing will be kept in a range that is affordable by a section of people who might not be economically well off.

For more details and to get involved with the project, do visit their website : http://fluid.media.mit.edu/projects/fingerreader

 

References : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/08/fingerreader-read-blind-mit_n_5565898.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

http://fluid.media.mit.edu/projects/fingerreader

Sep 232014
 

By Ethan Harmon

Apple had its annual “next big awesome waste of money” press conference earlier today, and of course, they revealed a brand new iPhone 5… er… 6! Yeah, that’s the one, 6. More or less the same ol’ stuff, except Apple pulled a surprise twist toward the end of the presentation: the Apple Watch. Yes, that’s right. Everything everyone loves about the iPhone and other Apple products will now be available in the form of a trendy watch.

Okay, okay. I know I’m being a little harsh on Apple, but hey, I’m not completely wrong here. They make decent products, and there are some incredible benefits to their iOS, but it’s just not for me. I’ve always felt the iPhone was lacking, and each iteration was just slightly better, or thinner, or whatever than the previous version. However, I was intrigued by the Apple Watch.

The smart watch is not something new. Samsung, LG and other companies have taken a crack at this before, although these watches were not what I call a “critical success.” What makes this watch so different? Well, first of all, it’s an Apple product, so it will be bought by enthusiasts and fans of the brand. And second… well, that’s a mystery. There is little information about the watch outside of some very vague technical specs. Essentially, the Apple Watch comes in three different versions: Apple Watch, Watch Sport and Watch Edition. Check out the image below for a better look:

A man standing in front of a screen showing three models of the Apple Watch

Source: Alex Washburn/WIRED

Outside of looking better than its predecessors, the interfaces seems more refined than other smart watches. Those who wear the watch can simply flip through apps with their finger, zoom in and out for easy selection with the dial on the side, send vibrations by tapping the screen and, strangely, even feel someone else’s heartbeat via the watch. A poorly recorded demonstration can be found below. Continue reading »