Sep 152014
 

By Amanda Sparling

Photo by idigitaltimes.com

Festivals. Music Festivals. Art Festivals. Movie Festivals. Technology Festivals. People of all ages and socioeconomic statuses find themselves flocking to festivals across the world which cater to their particular variety of fun. Each festival offers a unique experience defined by a diverse and highly passionate cult-like following. The atmosphere is full of energy, as ranges of people descend upon a single area to come together and celebrate a passion for a fixed period of time. In theory, it sounds electrifying. People from all over the world coming together to rally around a common interest and cause – but with so many individuals converging into a single area security and communication become a very real concern for both the administrators and attendees of the event.

However, in this day and age, a new trend in the festival experience has emerged – Smartbracelets. A wearable, functional bracelet that allows attendees and event coordinators to access the festival and seamlessly communicate in both emergency and social environments. Bracelets are sent to registrants in lieu of traditional tickets and can be read at access points to allow entry into VIP areas, Campgrounds, speciality programs, etc… without the bother of physical passes that can be easily lost of damaged. Bracelets also increasingly serve as a method of payment, as festival goers load cash onto their individual festival “account” and can purchase and participate within the event without having to worry about carrying physical currencies.

An upcoming festival in Belgium, Tomorrowland, is taking festival technology to an extreme – pushing past the merely functional needs of attendees and integrating social elements of the event environment into the bracelet itself. The bracelet, like many others will still serve as an electronic ticket granting entry into the festival. However, once inside the festival it becomes a part of the social experience itself. Users are able to link their facebook account and contact information with their festival account, and when you’ve made a new acquaintance at the event – you simply put the bracelets side by side, select the “heart” icon, and your information is transferred to the other attendee. This allows people to connect past the moment, and potentially arrange meet-ups throughout other days and times at the event – or to build long term friendships without the hassle of a more traditional information exchange. The bracelets pass information using RFID technology and can transmit the data to/from the nearest bracelet.

Additionally, brands have begun getting into the wearable technology trends – giving out bracelets that are branded and track activity to reward certain behaviors. At the 2014 SXSW festival, wearable wristbands measured realtime audience interaction and rewarded people who were dancing at a Pepsi sponsored event. They used realtime information from the lightwave technology to adjust sound levels, lighting and temperature on the fly to manipulate the user’s real-time experience. Another brand quickly getting into the smart bracelet trend is Spotify, which enabled attendees at Tomorrowland to record a soundbite of their favorite songs – and automatically import them into their Spotify playlists to bookmark for future listening or share with friends. As mentioned in Critical Thinking’s Manifesto, Theses on Making in the Digital Age, the makers of this wearable technology are allowing a very futuristic vision of interaction to come to life. Those employing this technology are ‘bending reality’ to the use of which ‘they will’ to be true.

The options for wearable technology converging with live events seem to be endless, but it also begs many a question around privacy and the dangers of real-time bulk data collection. With so many various brands plugging into an API that is quite literally feeding your every action to event coordinators, sponsors and 3rd parties the potential for abuse becomes much more realistic and threatening.

May 062014
 
Facebook+Oculus Rift Photo Illustration: Jason Foral

What Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR means – Photo Illustration: Jason Foral

We previously reported on virtual reality hardware company Oculus VR before its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook was announced on March 25. With the Federal Trade Commission approving the acquisition in late April and the impending deal closure, many people are wondering why the biggest social media website acquired a virtual reality headset developer and what this means for their social media experience.

Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.” – Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an official press release, 3.25.2014

On the surface, the Oculus acquisition is more confusing than Facebook’s other recent acquisition of mobile message application WhatsApp. Oculus VR positioned itself in the marketplace as an innovative 3D gaming headset developer and Facebook was hardly known as a hub of gaming activity outside of numerous casual games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, games that any layperson would know requires no fancy immersive VR headset. Instead, Facebook is looking beyond gaming and sees virtual reality technology as a compelling candidate for the next transformative social and communications platform. This technology has broad potential applications in many other industry verticals, including media and entertainment, and education. Continue reading »

Mar 132014
 

Despite the incredible success of the Fitbit Force since its introduction, there is now a recall for the wearable tech due to complaints from 1.7% of owners experiencing a skin irritation. After analysis by third parties, Fitbit announced that the irritations “were likely the result of allergic contact dermatitis”, however they continued to announce that the irritant could be a few different things. Whether it be the nickel found in the surgical grade stainless steel used in construction, the materials used in the strap of the tech, or even the adhesive used during assembly, the initial voluntary recall has escalated to an official announcement by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Fitbit is offering full refund/ exchange to Force owners regardless of where the device was purchased. If you are experiencing problems, or have questions concerning the recall, there is a return kit request form  available as well as a letter from the CEO and co-founder of Fitbit, James Park, describing the situation.

Photo Source: http://www.medicineandtechnology.com/2014/01/some-fitbit-force-users-reporting-rash.html

The irritation caused by Fitbit Force

 

 

For me, the issue is not a matter of what is causing the irritation, but why and how was it allowed. A new product will almost always have its quirks, and with wearable technology being so revolutionary, there is no surprise as the initial kinks are worked out. With the development of new wearable technology, our laws and regulations on it need to adapt as well. This scenario, although not life threatening, makes me wonder what else could unknowingly slip by our current regulations and proceed with public harm as so many people jump onto the bandwagon to have the latest in wearable technology.

 

Mar 102014
 

Recently named the ‘best wearable tech’  at SXSW, the Skully Helmet Skully AR-1 allows the user to have a rear-facing, 180° view without needing to take their eyes off the road as the view is projected onto a transparent display in the visor. Also equipped is “an advanced situational awareness system, showing navigation and blind spot data” based on a series of microcomputers and sensors. Although still in beta testing, the helmet also offers turn by turn navigation, smartphone communication, as well as internet connectivity all at the control of your voice.

The Skully Helmet Skully AR-1

Up until now, ‘the helmet’ has played a small, albeit crucial, role in many different applications. With this major update in head safety, there is a whole new level of possibilities to be explored.  There is already talk of app development and updates post release. With all of the great features that are soon to be available to anyone using a helmet, there is also a speculative word of caution that goes hand in hand. It seems as though all of the distractions that drivers of cars have, the radio, phones, etc, have now all been neatly packaged into the helmet so motorcyclist can be distracted just as conveniently.

 

The safety upgrade that the Skully Helmet Skully AR-1 provides is a milestone for helmets that is long overdue. Let’s all hope that users are responsible about the use and application.

For more information on the Skully Helmet Skully AR-1 visit the Skully Helmets website.

 

Feb 102014
 

http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/sep/13/rise-wearable-technology-infographic#zoomed-picture

This hypertext nugget is trying to school you who have no idea about wearable media, present company included.  So I thought I would help break down the graphic for you.

First, Wearable Tech, the graphic gives a solid definition of wearable tech, but let’s throw an example out there like the Nike fuelband. The Fuelband tracks numerous things going on in your life such as how many steps you take, how many calories you expended and when to call your mother – I am totally joking about the last part, but I bet with a little coding they could do it.

According to article about wearable media, The Rise of Wearable Media, more than 8 million Brits wear some form of wearable tech.  Apparently, the more media we wear, not consume mind you, the more intelligent we feel we are.  If I am looking down on you with a pair of Google glasses you are in for it – it’s smarty pants time.  Since I have the glasses on you’ve automatically lost. Game over.

This article and chart cover so many wearable fashions such as: 3D printed shows, Apple iWatch, Intamacy 2.0 Dress (you look that one up yourself) and numerous other devices.

My concern is not that we’re all wearing body enhancement devices, but what are they saying about us as consumers.  Do I need a twitter dress that shows users’ tweets?  Maybe?  Are we building art?

But in my lowly life as a graduate student I KNOW I want the Anti-Paparazzi Clutch Bag.  It reflects light from camera flashes to obscure users from paparazzi.  I want to obscure the fact that  I’m Sasquatch since I come out of my house every few months and I’m blind people by my lack of tan.

Here’s the so what.  As the wearable technology fashion starts to gain in popularity it is time for us to look at what good this technology will do.  Can we use the Fuelband to help track people with diabetes (if they choose) to make sure they are taking in the right amount of glucose and producing the right amount of insulin.

Can we use Google Glass for the soldiers and SWAT members who’s job it is to take apart bombs.  These glasses would give the soldiers a chance to give real time pictures to support tactical units to help out.

Or what if the twitter dress existed for the Arab Spring.  One person could protest by sending out messages to people all over the world wearing a twitter dress or pants or scarf.

And the paparazzi clutch?  Well, use it as a paparazzi clutch.

Purse that flashes a bright light that interferes with anyone trying to take a picture of the person with the clutch

Purse that flashes a bright light

Woman wearing a hood and Google Glass

Woman wearing a hood and Google Glass

Young woman wearing a dress that receives tweets

Young woman wearing a dress that receives tweets

Nike Fuelband

Nike Fuelband

Dec 192013
 

Pia Myrvold is a Techno-Fashion Designer who we’ve touched on a few times this semester, and I think creations similar to hers were the inspiration behind my most recent project. Something about fashion and high-tech devices is simply too interesting to resist! Quite soon I am convinced that we will see garments and accessories that can access WiFi, communicate via the internet, and even some with computing capacity. The future of fashion exists exactly as Pia has envisioned it and I simply couldn’t wait, so I built my own tech-fashion.

The idea I came up with was tied into a piece of wearable fashion, but also serves to experiment with a social anomaly.

As our society comes closer and closer to “absolute information awareness”, I’ve noticed that information security is becoming more and more important to our everyday lives. In the news, on the internet, literally everywhere around us people are trying to figure out what they can do to protect information that they see as personal. But what if we were forced to relinquish control over information? What if information was so readily accessible that someone passing you on the street could access it just by simply glancing in your direction?

VuMe – Digital Fashion Display

This is where VuMe comes in.

The project is an arduino based device, built into a wearable hat, that displays tweets for the world to read. Anyone can tweet information to be displayed on it, and when displayed ‘it’ will be on my head.

The only control I have is an ON/OFF switch. Kind of exciting if you ask me…

The details of the device’s design are quite deliberate too:

  • White LEDs on a jet-black hat accentuates the LEDs and ensures that the text being displayed is of central focus
  • LEDs also allow for visibility from far away
  • A hat was chosen specifically because it’s in a central line of sight
  • The fact that it’s a hat also lends to the idea that it cannot easily be viewed while it’s being worn (one must surrender to the thought that what is being displayed could be anything from inappropriate, to playful, or even offensive)

So far the project has turned out amazing, and I’m hoping to add a smartphone app to go along with the design sometime in the future. The physical construction process was probably my favorite, and I’ve been fortunate enough to take a few interesting pieces of knowledge away as well. the largest of these was, ‘don’t think that you’re immune to mistakes’. As I was doing most of my sewing with conductive thread, forums that I came across online mentioned that the thread tends to fray easily. This causes a problem, because if some of the thread frays and touches another electrical components, then short circuits can and will happen. My response was, “I’ll be fine. I’ll just take my time sewing and I’m sure nothing will touch and short out…” Boy was I wrong. Creating a 5 x 8 LAD display by hand is fun, but will most likely end in multiple short circuits. Just because you’re careful, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to avoid it. But a neat trick to try: once you have the circuit properly in place, paint over the threaded parts, and the connectors in order to create a faux-seal. The paint drys, and acts as an insulator! (I used acrylic paint, please be careful to not use something flammable, or else your head might spontaneously burst into flames, consider yourself warned!).

If you’re interested in making something similar to this, check out http://weekendhobbyist.blogspot.com/2011/01/arduino-lilypad-5×8-led-jacket-design.html for an example design sketch.

Enjoy and keep fashioning!

Nov 052013
 

It seems that the Iron Man films – and other sci-fi fare – have inspired more than an onslaught of video games, comic books and t-shirts. Due to the increasingly dangerous missions carried out by the military, a new Iron Man-like suit is being developed for soldiers. Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Yep, this crappy CG video is not a last-gen computer game. This is a “simulation” of what the suit will do. Allegedly, according to an article on Mashable, the creation of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit – or TALOS – was inspired after a Special Ops officer witnessed one of his fellow soldiers dying while trying to safe a hostage. After the idea was born, the construction of a prototype was underway.

A chemical engineering professor from the University of Delaware, Norman Wagner, decided to create the material of the suit out of nanotechnology, saying that it will be a liquid-like substance. Apparently, it will be light-weight and durable until it is hit, which it would then become very hard and tough. As the professor puts it, the reaction of being hit will cause particles to bunch together and form a protective layer.

On top of this, the suit will have an exoskeleton, which will have attachable hydraulic arms and legs (for heavy lifting). AND it will have a visor with 360 degree night vision display, just because why the hell not… and to see any nearby enemies.

I guess, for me at least, this kind of tech and wear is frightening. Sure, it’s fun to watch and read about Iron Man flying through the skies and taking out bad guys. But, and here comes the nerd part of me, the idea of Iron Man was that he funded and produced these types of weapons, and he is redeeming himself by destroying them.

Off the topic of comic book themes, this huge progression in military tech is scary due to the increasingly powerful nature of these inventions. Sure, there are some huge benefits for the use of this suit: more protection, less lost lives, take out the enemy easier, etc. But what happens after this? Where do we go next? And what about the rest of the world? Are they going to just sit back and let the US make Iron Man suits and do nothing? Doubtful. This seems like another arms race.

Granted, it’s not on a nuclear scale, but this is still crazy. I mean, this is just one small step at the moment. Where does it take us? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I’m not sure if I want the answer right now.

 

 

Oct 012013
 

Even though the internet and recent technology has made long-distance communication much easier, it is still tough to feel connected to a loved one through video chatting or social media. Tactilu is a bracelet that can make you feel a little bit closer with your significant other by communicating through touch.

Tactilu is designed by new media art group panGenerator in collaborations with Polish bureau of Cheil for ITAKA Foundation – Centre for Missing People.


https://vimeo.com/68027494

Functionality:

Tactilu is a bracelet that helps communicate “touch” through tactile/haptic technology. The bracelet is wirelessly connected through bluetooth and equipped with a touch sensor which converts taps and swipes into tactile motion felt on your partner’s bracelet. The feeling of touch is created with flexinol springs and QTC (quantum tunneling composite). Instead of using a small motor that buzzes, the springs are able to mimic a muscle-like behavior that more closely resembles touch. The bracelet is created using a Arduino Pro Mini with custom bluetooth module, QTC sensors, li-poly battery, and a 3D printed enclosure.

Wearability: 

An important aspect of wearable technology is that it needs to look fashionable. The Tactilu is currently pretty large and awkward, but I think it has the potential to be more fashionable. The device is currently in alpha mode – later iterations will be 50% slimmer and the temporary textile fastener will be replaced with casted polyurethane. With the next iterations being thinner, I believe it will look similar to other tech bracelets like the FitBit or FuelBand.

As we know, fashion is a form of communication. Wearing a device like the FuelBand communicates that the user is probably concerned about health and exercise. Wearing the Tactilu bracelet will show that you are in a relationship. In The Fashioned Body, Joanne Entwistle writes about how fashion can be signify certain gender traits. This bracelet may be unappealing to males because it may associated with “love” and “feminine” emotions.

Possibilities:

Tactilu is a part of a bigger research project that explores the usage of haptic/tactile technology in communication. I agree with the makers of the bracelet that the sense of touch is not well used as a form of communication through technology. This bracelet is targeted towards couples that are in a long-distance relationship, and I think it does a good job of replicating an organic feeling of “touch” that is capable of sending an intimate and meaningful message to your loved one.

A similar idea is shown in the “thumb kiss” feature in the Couple app. The app allows a couple to “kiss” wight heir fingers by touching the screen in the same place. When the fingers are “touching,” you receive a vibration through your phone. This vibration is not as refined as the touch from the flexion springs. Other projects that are exploring the use of haptic feedback are the Nokia ferromagnetic tattoos and the EMBRACE+ bracelet. Both of these bracelets utilize haptic feedback to keep you connected to your phone. The tattoo and bracelet responds with vibration when you receive a message, alert, or call.

The Tactilu is a good example of how haptic interfaces can be used as a medium of communication, and may help users move away from touch screen interfaces towards wearable tactile devices.

Sep 242013
 

We live in a world where our pocket-sized supercomputers tell us the best place to have dinner, how to get there, and what the traffic is like, while our cars have sensors that warn us not to back in to the fire hydrant at the end of the driveway on our way out. With all of the technology that surrounds us and directs us through our daily life, it is a shame to know that the visually impaired, the people who need direction the most, largely still depend on the use of canes and service animals to navigate.

MIT named Anirudh Sharma as Indian Innovator of the Year under age 35 for his "Le Chal" project.

MIT named Anirudh Sharma as Indian Innovator of the Year under age 35 for his “Le Chal” project.

Anirudh Sharma, a 24 year old researcher in Bangalore, India, made it his goal to change that. He has designed the first low-cost, unobtrusive, haptic shoe for the blind. The project has been eloquently named “Le Chal” which is a Hindi translation of “Take Me There”.

The shoe works in partnership with a smartphone application which can use Bluetooth to connect any GPS enabled smartphone to the shoe. The shoe itself contains small vibrational actuators on each side, as well as proximity sensors, and is powered by an Arduino Lilypad, all of which are located in the interior of a completely normal looking shoe.

The user speaks his desired destination into the voice activated smartphone app, which finds the best route via the phone’s GPS system, and gives the user vibrational cues on how to get there. Also, when the user comes within proximity of an object that could obstruct his path, the actuators on that side of the shoe begin to vibrate, getting stronger at closer range, alerting the user of the object’s location and the direction to navigate around it.

Possibly the best part of this system is how unobtrusive it is. The visually-impaired rely on their sense of hearing to understand what is going on around them, so a directional assistive device that used vocal or sound cues would impede upon that. The quiet vibrational cues free up the rest of the user’s senses.

This product is still in the testing phase and is projected to be released before the end of 2013. If testing goes well, this innovative product has the possibility to free the visually-impaired from their canes and service animals within certain environments, making them feel empowered and independent. However, some places (specifically many large US cities) are not built to be very pedestrian-friendly, and a service animal would likely remain the safest means of navigation. But, having the freedom to make that choice, and to travel safely and independently in pedestrian-friendly areas is a significant step in the right direction for the visually impaired.

Further Readings:

Anirudh Sharma’s Portfolio – Le Chal
The Economist – Footwear for the Blind
CrunchWear – Bluetooth Shoes Offer Independence for the Visually Impaired
MIT Technology Review – Haptic Shoe for the Visually Impaired

Sep 092013
 

Galaxy Gear

Recent years have seen a large influx of smart devices. Everything from our phones to our cars to even our refrigerators is “smart,” so why not our watches? There have been a few “smart” watches surfacing recently, but nothing that’s really taken off yet. A week ago, Samsung announced the Galaxy Gear, which is looking to be a truly smart piece of gear. Sporting a 1.63” AMOLED touch screen display, the Galaxy Gear will connect wirelessly to your Samsung Galaxy phone and offer a variety of control options for said phone. Running on an Android based system, the Galaxy Gear will be able to control everything from your music to phone calls and texts to more than 70 apps at launch. Also included in the wristband is a 1.9 megapixel camera so users can take pictures without ever having to take their phones out of their pockets. On top of all of these features, the watch will sport a stylish brushed metal face and come in a variety of colors.

Will these features be enough to make the Galaxy Gear a success?  More importantly, will it be enough to make smart watches in general a success? If trends have anything to say about this, then the Galaxy Gear will be a huge hit. What about other companies? Many websites have speculated that Apple will make a similar announcement at their big event tomorrow, September 10th. If these rumors are to be believed, we will soon have another technology war, but this time it will be slightly more fashionable.

Arriving in the US in October, the Galaxy Gear will retail for $299.