UltraHaptics: The UltraCool Possibilities
Apr28

UltraHaptics: The UltraCool Possibilities

You know how in Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.’s lab is controlled by his hands? There aren’t any physical buttons, its all hologram-like images that he moves with just a flick of his wrist. Super cool right? The first time I saw it, I couldn’t wait for that to be our reality. Thanks to a company called UltraHaptics, that reality is closer than we think. This technology company based in the United Kingdom is working on developing technology that “enables users to receive tactile feedback without needing to wear or touch anything.” They have made this possible through their use of ultrasonic sound waves. UltraHaptics uses a small collection of ultrasonic speakers that emit low frequency sound waves. These waves are similar to those of the bass you feel when you go to a club. The sound waves are all concentrated to meet in one area, providing an invisible layer of ultrasound that you can feel with your hand. Other companies have been working towards the same goal as UltraHaptics using different strategies, but UltraHaptics has added an extra layer of feedback to their technology. When someone touches the area of concentration, they feel a small vibration against their skin. By giving the feel of a force field to the user, it is easier to interact and utilize the technology. The possibilities of this technology are endless. This technology can be used on a car’s dashboard, to make a phone’s screen larger, really anything. And with the rise of popularity in the development of this technology, many industries are eager to get involved. Tom Carter, UltraHaptic CTO, said they are working in a variety of areas including consumer electronics, home appliances, and even virtual reality. Carter recently said of their work, “I’d like to believe that the first product featuring our technology will be on the shelves in a year”. If Carter’s hopes become reality, our world will just be so much cooler than it already...

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Sonar Treadmill: The Personalized Running Machine
Apr20

Sonar Treadmill: The Personalized Running Machine

Walking into the gym is like entering a whole new world. There are the serious gym rats who spend hours lifting weights (hopefully not forgetting their legs), the ones who try not to mess up their hair while exercising so they can take selfies, and the ones who don’t really know what they’re doing. Whichever gym body you are, entering this new world immediately makes you question yourself. “Should I go on the elliptical or bike today? Or maybe run the track? But I’d like to stay up to date on current events, so maybe the treadmill, so I can see the TV. But the treadmill – ugh it’s so bad to run on and what if I fly off the end?” Not anymore, my friends. Not any more. Researchers at Ohio State have just designed a new treadmill that aims to make running more natural. Their new treadmill has a sonar device attached to the back of the treadmill that is aimed at the runner’s back. This sonar keeps track of the runner’s distance along the running belt, increasing speed when they get closer to the front of the treadmills, and reducing speed when they get closer to the back. This automatic increase and decrease of speed allows the runner to simply run at their own pace as if outside. Steven T. Devor, an associate professor of kinesiology at Ohio State and one of the developers of the new treadmill, said that the sonar is so accurate that an elite runner could break into a fast sprint and still not hit the front of the treadmill. “It is all seamless and the runner doesn’t even know it’s happening.” Automatic speed isn’t the only good part. Another benefit was discovered when testing runners on the treadmill. They found with endurance runners that their maximal oxygen consumption (V02) scores improved, meaning that their levels of oxygen usage increased. These scores are vital in testing endurance and heart rate, and help make training more effective. The prototype for this awesome new sonar treadmill is near completion and will soon be ready for commercial releases. What does this mean for us? Well, now running on a treadmill won’t be such a stressful ordeal, and there will be no risk of flying off the...

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Hairware: The Everyday Bond Gadget
Apr16

Hairware: The Everyday Bond Gadget

Anyone who’s ever seen any of the James Bond movies knows that the man has the coolest gadgets, from the Aston Martin DB5 to the Rebreather all the way to the classic grapple gun. James Bond’s suaveness and skill make us want to be him – or at least have the gadgets he has. Well my friends, we are one step closer. Beauty Technology, a company that works to develop beauty technology, wearable computers, virtual worlds, and groupware, recently developed a gadget that is raising hairs in the technology world (pun intended). Designer Katia Vega has developed Hairware, an attachable hair clip that lets you communicate with and use your smartphone. I know right? Like, mind blown. So how does this work? The hair extension is woven with wires that “act as a remote touch sensor” to interact with the smartphone. A Bluetooth module and Arduino microcontroller allow the hair to communicate with the phone and tell it what to do. A built-in learning algorithm is then used to detect different touches and strokes, eventually learning to understand and recognize the user’s intentions. Besides Hairware being a super cool James Bond–esque gadget, it could be very beneficial to women everywhere. If they are in a dangerous situation and using a phone is impossible, notifying someone by inconspicuously touching their hair can help save them – for example, by sending a text or turning on a voice recorder. Vega wrote on her website that, “normally, while someone touches her own hair, unconsciously she is bringing comfort to herself and at the same time is emitting a non-verbal message…we add new functionalities to hair extensions, turning them into a seamless device that recognizes auto-contact behaviors concealed to outside observers.” Women aren’t the only ones Beauty Technology is looking out for. Their next step is to use the technology to turn beards into smartphone communicators as well. This is a huge innovation that could definitely make a big impact on the world. Now we just have to sit back and wait until we can get our own Hairware so that we can walk around saying, “The name’s Bond. James...

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Flying Solo: 3D Robotics Releases Open Platform Drone
Apr15

Flying Solo: 3D Robotics Releases Open Platform Drone

Consumer-level drone technology just took another big step forward. 3D Robotics recently announced an addition to the market: the 3DR Solo. Developed through a partnership with GoPro, this little guy will give users the ability to attach GoPro cameras to their drones, allowing for incredible aerial videography. The drone will cost $1,000, and the GoPro Gimbal (the attachment that holds and moves the camera) will be another $400. Of course, the Solo is by no means the first drone with the capability to carry a camera, so what’s special about it? First, the Solo comes equipped with two computers: one on-board the drone itself and another in the controller. The drone is able to detect and fix the camera on an object, follow preprogrammed flight paths, and perform maneuvers that would be near-impossible for a human operator. Additionally, long-distance broadband capabilities means you can control the camera and receive a live HD video from this thing up to half a mile away, well beyond GoPro’s typical Wi-Fi reception range. Another feature of this connection is that the Solo can keep flight records, and if there are any problems, detailed error reports will help 3DR fix the problem – including repairing or replacing anything that gets damaged because of a system error. The powers of Solo’s twin computers aren’t even the most exciting part, though. 3D Robotics is going to sell their drone as an open platform – both the hardware and the software. This means anyone is allowed to design and develop new parts or program new features for the drone, tweaking the device for new purposes or situations. Basically, potential uses for this thing are left to the minds of developers everywhere. Cnet quoted Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3DR, who put it this way: “This is like the PC or the early days of the App Store. Who knows what these things will some day become. What we want to do is create a system by which other people can reimagine the future of the drone and then act on them simply.” Considering it from that perspective, it’s crazy to imagine where this could go – just take a look at the huge number of iPhone apps available these days. None of those existed just a few years ago (as this AlwaysCurrent editor remembers well). What will an open platform drone look like in just a few years? A decade? We can’t wait to find...

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MOTI, Your Personal Cheerleader
Apr14

MOTI, Your Personal Cheerleader

For the past few weeks – heck, the past few months – the Internet has been a buzzing about the iWatch release from Apple. While I’m glad Apple created another device – a wearable one this time – to which I can form an unhealthy emotional attachment, I’d gladly pass in a heartbeat to get my hands on one of these. Meet MOTI, your motivational, habit-forming, robotic, personal cheerleader. MOTI, which I like to think is short for motivation, is a pint-sized gadget that helps you practice, track and eventually form good habits by giving you encouragement. How does this furless, furby-like device help you become a better person, you ask? Well, first of all, it’s not nearly as terrifying as a furby; it’s actually pretty cute and friendly for a robot. You pick a habit you wish to adopt (drinking 8 glasses of water a day, running daily, flossing your teeth, etc.) and you sync that up with your MOTI. We’re guessing there’s a software program or website for that; a mobile app is in the works, but MOTI can be used as a stand alone device at this point in production. Now, back to our example. Lets say the habit you’re trying to form is drinking 8 glasses of water a day. When you drink a glass of water, press the button on MOTI and it will light up, chirp, and vibrate to celebrate your accomplishment. Not reaching your goal? MOTI’s creator, Kayla Matheus said in an interview with Fast Company, “If you start straying, then you’re going to get prompted with a reminder. Rather than being a push notification you can easily wipe away, MOTI might get sad or angry.” MOTI is based in behavioral science, which suggests you need three things to successfully develop a new habit: a trigger, routine, and reward. MOTI gives you the trigger and the reward to maintain or improve your routine. The problem with most fitness trackers and habit-forming apps is there is the reward is delayed and it’s incredibly easy to ignore a notification, delete an app, or take off a bracelet. MOTI is a small hardware device that sits on your desk; it’s physical presence reminds you, “Oh, right, I need to drink more water.” And if that doesn’t, the lights and chirping will. MOTI celebrates your accomplishments and tracks your progress to help your form your new habit; it evolves with you. Matheus said, “My first testers were two guys in their twenties and thirties, and they fell in love with these things. The vocabulary they used was interesting—they’d call it a he or a she, something...

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Amazon Echo Grows Ever More Powerful
Apr10

Amazon Echo Grows Ever More Powerful

As if privately-operated drones and button-press convenience shopping weren’t wild enough, Amazon is making even bigger strides in the field of home automation. Recently, the company announced that the Amazon Echo would be receiving some new features including the abilities to: Control lights and powered appliances in your home with voice commands (assuming you have the supported sockets, switches, and bulbs currently available through WeMo and Hue) Give you traffic reports, sports scores, and schedules Play your Pandora stations For those of you unfamiliar the Amazon Echo, it’s a small-ish speaker that connects to the internet. Released as an always-on, at-home assistant, Echo is similar in function to Siri. Like the Apple AI, you can tell Echo to play music, ask it questions, or tell it to take a memo. Unlike Siri, you don’t have to do much to activate the device – just say whatever word you’ve chosen to activate it, and talk – from anywhere in the room, without raising your voice, if Amazon’s promotional video is to be believed. Echo works by connecting to Amazon’s servers, and apparently gets better and better at recognizing and responding to commands over time. In other words, with the ability to control your appliances is added, we’re looking at what pretty much amounts to an actual robotic servant. It seems like the major downside to the Echo at this point is that once it’s made your coffee, you still have to get off the couch to pour it into a cup. I doubt there’s any reason to panic; I’m sure someone at Amazon is working on it. Really, as the resident technophobe-turned-tech-writer at AlwaysCurrent, the thing that sticks out to me most about the Amazon Echo are potential privacy issues. The implications of an extremely powerful microphone, in your home, that is connected to the Internet and never really shuts off are pretty readily apparent. Considering Amazon’s position as a gigantic virtual store, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which this device isn’t used to analyze and influence your purchasing habits. Others have considered possible ramifications as well, but honestly, the device is so cool and seems to have so much potential it’s hard not to be impressed and excited by...

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