By: Thomas Hall
The Microsoft Band is a piece of wearable technology that bridges the gap between a smart watch and a Fitbit. With cell integration and the ability to check email, texts, and Facebook, it goes far beyond the typical fitness tracker. The Microsoft Band has fitness functionality that most trackers do not, such as UV detection that reads how much sunlight the wearer is exposed to in a day.
As Dia Campbell states about wearable technology, “It’s about filling the needs that are in your life.” The smart watch features set the Band apart from other fitness devices of its kind, and fills the need for a device to be both at once. It is able to download workouts to the device and to schedule them in a calendar app, which then synchronizes across all of the user’s Microsoft products. It works to enable a sense of connectivity between the Band and the rest of the user’s life. Part of what makes this device so interesting is the perception of connectivity and the ability that the device has to send reminders and activity updates to the user’s connected device. The manner in which the device is advertised and the intended use of the product drives the user to connect the Band to as many other devices as possible. This enables the various devices to remind (nag) the user into better health. It is this very interplay between the user and the device that creates a sense of connectivity among all aspects of the user’s life and the Band.
The strength of this connection between the user and the Band is what makes it so effective. If it can be more than an object that informs the user of the number of steps taken or heart rate, but instead be a connected part of the user’s life, then the device will have more of an effect on the user and inspire more action. It bridges the gap between fitness tracker and smart watch, creating a space in which the user is able to feel as though the device is useful while it is performing the primary task of aiding the user in meeting fitness goals.
Ultimately, it is the Band’s ability to tie-in all of the other Microsoft devices and create a cohesive whole from them that makes the device so potent. The feeling of connectivity is what will drive users to practice the intended merging of all their devices, in order to unlock the Band’s most useful and unique features. The merging of devices enables the Band to send reminders, as well as custom workouts and schedules that suit the particular user’s needs. This places the Microsoft Band, a piece of wearable technology, in a unique position to be effective where others are lacking.
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.
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.
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
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.
When saying, “I’m not interested,” is no longer a clear enough signal to leave someone alone.
In our modern society, it is increasingly difficult for many people to communicate in a direct manner without experiencing apprehension or anxiety. These people may not feel comfortable with social interaction, which may cause them issues with being direct or upfront towards others. This awkwardness can sometimes lead to uncomfortable, threatening, or even violent situations. For many people, technology can function as a “screen” that allows them to opt out of real-life, face-to-face interactions. When communicating online, users can set statuses on instant messaging systems (“Do Not Disturb”, “Available”, “Away”) to indicate their availability or willingness to chat. But what happens to them when they do not have a screen to hide behind and they need help communicating their status to others? If there was an easy passive way for people to clearly communicate their receptiveness to outside interaction, it could potentially prevent miscommunication, confrontational situations, and unwanted advances. Enter the Instant Status Band.
When we think of wearable technology, we often imagine designs straight out of science fiction and unique futuristic materials. There are high-tech eyeglasses that take pictures, ultra biometric watches that track your sleep habits, and even vibrating shoe shoes that help you navigate the streets. In recent years, much of our everyday gear received high-tech upgrades but not much attention has been paid to the wallet.
Here is the object that houses nearly all of the valuables that a person carries on a daily basis: identification cards, credit and debit cards, and cash. With the massive security breaches at retailers Target and Neiman Marcus during the 2013 winter holiday season, it is abundantly clear that the magnetic stripes on credit cards are vulnerable to attack.
Chip-based credit and debit cards are a safer alternative to magnetic stripe cards because they are difficult for thieves to reproduce. There are two types: EMV and RFID. EMV smart-card technology (also known as “chip and pin”) is widely used internationally but the US has been very slow to adopt this technology, as it requires retailers to update their outdated equipment and financial institutions to rollout new cards. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card technology is the alternative but it comes with its own set of security-related challenges: anyone with a portable RFID reader can “read” the card data from a short distance.
For those unwilling to forgo credit and debit convenience, what technology is available to help protect our valuable card data? Some quick searching yielded the Omega titanium wallet and the biometric scanner wallet from Dunhill but both of these options (while futuristic and high-tech) are too clunky for daily wear (which defeats the basic function of a wallet) unless carried separately in a bag (impractical for some). Both draw unnecessary and perhaps unwanted attention to the wallet, which could make it a target for physical theft (which nullifies the purported security benefits).
Articulate Wallets (@A_Wallets) recently redesigned their eponymous wallet, keeping the RFID blocking technology but updating the design to suit the demands of modern life. Judging from the success of their Indiegogo project ($40,852 raised for $500 goal), there is a huge demand for wearable technology that offers consumer data protection with a less obtrusive “traditional” design. There is some irony that in the rush to put out the latest and greatest wearable technology, aesthetic wearability is sometimes forgotten.
So maybe there is hope on the horizon for those of us that want our wearables to look bit less Alienator … and thankfully, other forward-looking companies like LaForge Optical are also starting to take note.
Performance is a major theme in fashion. Whether it’s the performance an office, a gender, or otherwise, the things that we attach to our bodies can contribute to a character we want to project. Performance also goes further. On the runways, the haute couture assemblies of many designers are almost unwearable. They push the boundaries of fashion and oftentimes execute daring physics-defying forms.
This second form of performance is what I took on in creating my project. I wanted to not only create something beautiful, but also something somewhat shocking. My vision is to create a piece that is more form than function, intended to awe. With this in mind, I conceived of the bird cage. It seemed achievable enough, but it was also a departure from much of the wearable technology explored in class. In contrast to the heavily automated and digital designs of many emerging media fashionistas, I wanted to create something passive (requiring no power source) that would have strong visual impact. The bird cage fit this bill: seeing people in cages is shocking and Faraday cages—structures with particular physical attributes—are passive shielding devices.
My goal was to create a structure that would passively neutralize cell phone communications while taking an anything-but-neutral stance on the issue of surveillance. I set out to create this oppositional attire using fairly few materials, but found that they would not necessarily have the desired impact. A couple of iterations of the design were constructed, each eliminating a few of the flaws from the last. My initial design required only copper wire to achieve the desired aesthetic, but after some research and rudimentary prototyping, I discovered that extra material (aluminum foil) would be required to manifest the bar shapes of the bird cage.
Haute couture is literally translated as “high sewing” or “high dressmaking.” It is often denoted by its one-of-a-kind nature and high quality due to its legacy of commission-based work. My attempt at creating this project certainly fulfills the criteria in terms of uniqueness, however quality is lacking. From the outset, I struggled to find an adequate workspace in which to assemble my creation. The process of moving pieces from place to place resulted in significant damage culminating with the most destructive of all, the night before my deadline, in which case I actually managed to trip over the wires, breaking the connections, damaging the frame, and more than bruising my psyche.
I learned a lot, however. (As one often will getting [literally] tangled up in the complex world of fabrication.) One of my most important lessons was in the perils of not having a consistent workspace. To anyone setting out to create a project that requires working with wire, I strongly recommend not moving your work until it is absolutely finished and sturdy. If I attempt to recreate (or rather, re-attempt) my design, I will also make some significant changes to the design.
My primary concern in early versions of the design was weight. After all, this is a wearable piece; it has to connect to a person’s body. Despite this, I’ve learned that it would be worth adding several ounces more material in order to make the product more robust. Although delicate, tissue-paper clothing is surely impressive, the work environment required to produce it is also much more limited. Next time, I will attempt heavier construction.
I also struggled with the shielding that I hoped to achieve. With a voltmeter, I could have checked for conductivity gaps, but (alas!) I did not. In a better version of my creation, I would solder the contact points to ensure both steadfastness and conductivity. Faraday cages are constructed of complete circuits. Only when the circuit is perfectly connected does the shielding effect come into play. Gaps create wide openings which can be perforated by undesirable wavelengths of EM radiation.
Ultimately, I gleaned a far greater appreciation for the tremendous runway pieces that artists churn out season after season. With several weeks of planning and construction, I struggled with only one piece. To imagine creating twenty, forty, or a hundred such designs is overwhelming. Although some say that the “design” label is inferior to the “art” label, it must surely be acknowledged that the design process of creating structural wearables is intensive.
For now, my life in revolt will hopefully be lived outside of the entanglements of wires (tapped or otherwise), but perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Expect an updated construction of this project in the future.
Because I’m interested in the nature of online commentary, I came up with a project idea that might seem a bit absurd. After constructing this hat at the beginning of the semester and noticing that it was less-than aesthetically pleasing due to bad stitching and a loud, obnoxious print, I wondered how I could use that to my advantage.
What if I took this hat and made it react to anything negative someone said about it? To do this I’m setting up a website where users can look at a photo of my hat (see above) and make value judgments on the attractiveness level of my hat. Users can select one of two options, saying “yes, I like that hat” or “no, it’s ugly.” If the user declared my hat to be unappealing, my hat would react through the power of a post-Britney Justin Timberlake, and begin to play “Cry Me a River.” The idea is that the hat will have an instantaneous reaction to negative commentary, illuminating that what you say or do online can have consequences. (In this case, the consequence is that the hat gets sad/bumps a little JT.)
So far, I have a soundboard that I (with a lot of help!) have soldered to connect to a speaker, which in turn should connect to the Lilypad Arduino that will eventually be loaded with the right code to respond to the very important “Do you like my hat?” question.
From here, I need to get the right code so that the arduino powers the soundboard to play “Cry Me a River,” and once I get that working, I will work on the code to get the arduino to respond to an email account that I will set up. When, on the website, someone condemns my hat as being unattractive, it will trigger an email to be sent to an account that I have set up exclusively for my hat. The code for the arduino will trigger for each new email my inbox gets, and then it will start playing “Cry Me a River.”
I have a bit of a ways to go before I’m finished with this project, but in the words of Galaxy Quest’s Captain Peter Quincy Taggart, “Never give up, never surrender.”