Archive for July, 2014

#541 – Jibo

After a very slow and steady progression over the last thirty years or so we may soon be on the verge of a new era of robotics.  One in which robots go from moving boxes on the floor of a warehouse to moving your family emotionally from the couch in your living room.  Google’s recent robotics spending spree and strategic move towards home automation is a definite indication of this new reality.  But the real proof is in the form of a new family friendly robot known as Jibo that may soon become the newest member of your clan.

As TechCrunch writes, “While Siri and its ilk have gotten most of us used to the idea of talking to our devices, the current selection of smart assistants still feel more like tools than something with a personality. Jibo, a new robot from MIT roboticist Cynthia Breazeal, might be the gadget that finally changes that.”

To understand why that is it’s important to note that Jibo is a social robot not just a voice controlled personal assistant.

According to Business Insider:

“A social robot is simply one that’s designed for interacting with people and meeting their needs. Jibo’s physical appearance and movements are vaguely reminiscent of Luxo Jr., the famed Pixar lamp. Its “head” is a display with embedded cameras so that it can perceive its environment, and its segmented body animates itself by way of three swiveling sections. It reeks of adorable appeal.”

So what exactly can this robot do?  Well, check out the video below to see it in action:

For those of you who didn’t watch the video here’s a quick rundown of what it can do:

  • Take pictures or record videos so that you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself.  In fact, with Jibo serving as the cameraman all members of the family can be in all the pictures!
  • Serve as a telepresence robot allowing someone to view everything going on in the room remotely.
  • Read incoming messages so that you can stay informed without having to stop what you are doing.
  • Play games or serve as a educational program for kids.
  • Serve as a voice controlled personal assistant capable of ordering food for you for example.

As you can see that’s a lot of functionality packed into a tiny robot and it’s likely that it’s capabilities will expand over time.  Clearly it has the potential to catch on since it really does offer something for everyone in the family from being a friend to a little kid to acting as a personal assistant to a young professional.

I’d still love to have a Rosie the Robot type of maid in the house with me one day but until that day comes Jibo may just be the next best thing.

Is a family friendly home robot the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#540 – MindFiles

If you could live forever would you want to? If we’re talking about living forever in a flesh and bones human form some people would probably say yes.  Who knows maybe a lot of people would say yes.  However, if we’re talking about “living” as a digital version of ourselves the percentage of people saying yes would probably diminish greatly.  And yet that may soon be a very real possibility thanks to a new technology known as MindFiles.

As Time Magazine reports:

“…by ritualistically recording your thoughts and feelings with great detail, you can ultimately assemble a digital copy of yourself, available for future use.

To start, you write down or record a video of you talking about a thought, memory or feeling, and upload it to a website. You can also choose to have each mindfile beamed out into the universe—hence the satellites. So far more than 32,000 people have created free mindfile accounts.

The mindfiles are stored on servers located in both Vermont and Florida, and by using Terasem’s services you accept their promise that they will protect those files for the long-term future, making it possible for some not-yet-invented software to organize those files into an approximation of your consciousness so they can be uploaded into an artificial body 50, 100, 500 years from now.”

In that regard MindFiles are a lot like cryogenics, just another way to try and extend one’s own lifespan.  I imagine that if Walt Disney was alive today it’s the kind of thing that he would have signed up for.  The only question is would regular folks like you and me want to sign up as well?

To be fair this concept isn’t really about extending one’s own life.  Doing that in a literal sense is still impossible.  Rather this is about protecting the essence of life.  Consider it to be like a Wikipedia entry on steroids if that helps.  Although chances are you still think this idea is a little bit creepy.

Whether we realize it or not though, and whether we like it or not, a rather thorough digital record of our lives is already being constructed on a daily basis from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and various other social media services.  If that’s going to be the case then is it really that weird to actively construct a digital record on your own?  Especially when we’re talking about something that can extend your life instead of inundating it with an endless stream of likes and status updates?

Clearly this concept isn’t going to be for everyone and it may not even ever come to fruition.  To sign up is to take a leap of faith.  For some people that’s good enough.  Will it be for you?

If you could live forever as a MindFile would you want to?

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Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that tickled my fancy this past week:

1.  Alzheimer’s Eye Test:  Getting old sucks.  Especially since it may lead to you getting Alzheimer’s.  Fortunately, there soon may be a cheap and easy way to detect it early on.

As Gizmodo reports:

“Current tests for Alzheimer’s include expensive tests using brain PET or MRI imaging. But two studies have shown that a simple eye test can detect Alzheimer’s accurately at very early stages—just by looking at subjects’ retinas.

As you probably already know, Alzheimer’s causes the loss of neurons and synapses in the brain and the accumulation of plaques and tangles of the protein beta-amyloid. The first study, led by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, looked for signs of that protein in the retina. How? In one study, by having subjects ingest curcumin, which binds to protein to function as a “fluorescent tag,” making the beta-amyloid visible in the eyes of subjects with the disease during conventional eye imaging.”

A Simple Eye Test Could Accurately Detect Alzheimer's

2.  Smelling Farts May Prevent Cancer:  While this sounds like the kind of headline you may expect to read on the Onion it is in fact a real news story.

According to Time, “Although the stinky gas can be noxious in large doses, the researchers seem to think that a whiff here and there has the power to reduce risks of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, arthritis, and dementia by preserving mitochondria. Researchers are even coming up with their own compound to emulate the stinky smell’s health benefits.”

3.  Take a Picture Just By Thinking About It:  The other day I wanted to take a picture of a rainbow disappearing off in the distance behind a mountain.  I knew I had to act quickly because these kind of picturesque moments are fleeting.  However, it was a struggle to operate the camera on my new phone in order to get the ideal shot and I nearly missed it.  Thankfully these struggles may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new Google Glass app that enables users to take a picture just by thinking about it!

So how does it work?

As Digital Trends reports, “MindRDR works with the monitor to detect extra levels of activity in the brain, so when the user begins to concentrate on an object, a horizontal line appears on Glass’s screen. The more the user concentrates, the higher the bar moves. When it reaches the top, the device’s camera shutter fires. Continue to focus your mind and the white line will once again reach the top, sending your photo off to social media sites.”


4.  Experience Time Differently:  One of my favorite video games that I used to play was based on the movie the Matrix.  The reason why I loved it is that you could put in a cheat code and play in “bullet time” which was essentially a super slow motion special effect enabling you to avoid ordinance and sneak up on people.  It was addicting.  So too is a real life version of slow motion effects in the form of a piece of head gear known as the Decelerator Helmet.

As the Guardian reports, “The helmet is simply a shiny metal dome that records the view from a front camera and processes it through a small computer to a screen in front of the wearer’s eyes. The slow-motion is controlled by a handheld remote. “The first three minutes are just confusing, but then you get a feel for it and you become the director of your own perception,” he says. “It’s alienating, because you’re experiencing time at a different speed to your own surroundings so you can’t really interact, but it’s also somehow fascinating. People often don’t want to take it off again.”

Decelerator helmet

Another week, another slew of great ideas.

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I love to think outside the box and as such I really appreciate it when other people do that and come up with novel solutions to long standing problems.  But sometimes it makes more sense to think inside the box or inside the sandbox as it were.  That’s because we may soon be able to use humble beach sand as an ingredient in making longer lasting batteries!

As Popular Science reports:

“Sink your toes into this: Beach sand can be used to make lithium-ion batteries that last three times longer than current models, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“This is the holy grail: a low-cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium-ion battery anodes,” said Zachary Favors, a graduate student at UC Riverside, in a statement.

The idea came to Favors when he was sitting on the beach after surfing, and realized the material was made up of a high percentage of quartz, or silicon dioxide. Typically the negative side, or anode, of lithium-ion batteries are made with graphite. Silicon has been eyed as a replacement material, since it can store about 10 times more energy–only it’s difficult to produce in large quantities and degrades quickly. But perhaps the silicon in sand could provide a cheap, abundant source of silicon.”

I’m a big fan of using sand to make batteries because I’m a huge believer in the idea that everything naturally occurring on Earth can be used for something.  And I mean everything.  Every mineral.  Every type of rock.  Every plant.  Every species.  Everything is here for a reason, even something as mundane as beach sand.  It’s just that we may not have figured out a way to use it yet.  Which begs the question: what else haven’t we thought of yet?  What else could be a component for something?  What else is out there?

Sure you could use sand to make art…..or you could use it to make batteries!

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Nearly two years ago I wrote an article about the future of television in which I discussed a myriad of topics including interactive shows, internet streaming, and Apple TV.  As it turns out though the real future of TV isn’t something that I wrote about at all.  Rather, it’s the fact that your next TV will be so thin and flexible that you’ll be able to roll it up like a newspaper and take it with you when you go to the bathroom!

To be honest though this technology probably won’t be commercialized until 2017 at the earliest and it probably won’t be very affordable when it does hit the market.  So while this may not be your next TV it is still fair to say that this is the future of TV.

So how does it work?

According to ABC News this exciting breakthrough was made possible thanks to LG and their use of new materials for the back of the TV:

“Instead of using “conventional plastic” for the backbone of the screen, the company said it used polyimide film. The material drastically reduced the screen’s thickness and gave it the flexibility needed to roll it into a tight cylinder.”

While the idea of turning the boob tube into a newspaper is intriguing the real benefit to this technology lies outside of the realm of television.  Imagine for example a standard size tablet with a flexible screen that you can expand to effectively double the size of the viewing area.  Or think about how great a curved surface would be on a future smart watch or other wearable device not yet imagined.

In fact, whether we’re talking about advertising displays, toys, or home entertainment systems there’s no shortage of possible uses for flexible screens that can be rolled all the way up.  So not only are we looking at the real future of TV but we may also be looking at the real future of everything.

PHOTO: The 18-inch panel is rollable.

In the future you may be able to roll up your TV and take it with you.

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When I was in college I would start with a blank wall each semester and then add to it as time went on.  Movie posters.  Pictures of me and my friends doing various things.  T-shirts.  Free giveaways from on campus events.  A souvenir from a trip.  Whatever tickled my fancy would get displayed.

Flash forward ten years and my interior decorating skills haven’t evolved much.  I still display some sports memorabilia, some knick-knacks, and some figurines and I call it a day.  My room resembles the inside of Chucky Cheese more often than a mood setting bachelor pad which may help explain why I’m still single.  I know I should give in and get rid of my boomerang, Bourbon Street sign, and Revenge of the Dork Side sticker but that’es easier said than done.  Those things are quirky things to have and as a quirky person I love having quirky things.

If I were to move on though I know exactly how I would do it: by pimping out my pad with high priced art work!  Of course there’s one slight problem with that approach.  I can’t actually afford high priced art work.  Probably just a knock off photo of dogs playing poker.  So what is a struggling young bachelor to do?  Well, I suppose I could go to a paint night event and paint something myself.  But there are kindergartners using construction paper and finger paints who have more skills than me.  So it would seem as though I am out of luck.  Or am I?

You see, there’s a new startup known as Electric Objects that produces picture frame computers that are capable of displaying high resolution art work!

As Business Insider describes, ” When you order EO1, you receive a 23-inch, high-definition screen with an integrated computer, an Android operating system, and a single cord. It comes with a custom white or black frame. You use the Electric Objects mobile app locations to control what art appears on the screen, but you never interact directly with the screen itself, because it’s not meant to be like a tablet, a phone, or a television.”

Unfortunately you won’t be able to pick any piece of art that you want although there will be an app store enabling you to pick the piece that you want on a one off basis or to even buy a collection from the same artist and set up your very own curated show from the comfort of your living room.

What’s great about this concept is that it allows a homeowner to buy one frame and change what is being displayed instead of having to constantly change the entire painting if they get tired of looking at it or if they decide to redecorate their home and it no longer matches the color pattern they have selected.

Considering how easy and convenient this technology is I’m pretty sure we’re looking at the future of interior design.  If it had only existed sooner I may have been married by now!

Electric Objects prototype

Is a digital art frame the Greatest Idea Ever?

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To be honest I’m not that high on wearables.  I don’t even wear a regular watch so why would I care about a smart watch?  Google Glass sounds good in theory but in reality the backlash against it over privacy concerns has been severe and could derail it before the project even gets off the ground.  All in all, it would seem as though wearables are more passing fancy than anything else.

However, a host of new devices aims to change that by taking the wearable movement to the next level by creating gadgets that actually improve our lives not just aid our information overload addictions.

The first such invention is Pavlok, a smart wristband that as the name suggests, uses classical conditioning to alter behavior just like the famous experiments from famed Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov.   The only difference is that instead of teaching your dog to bark every time the door bell rings you’ll be training yourself to get rid of your bad habits.  To do so all you have to do is endure an electrical shock whenever your discipline fails you!

As Springwise reports, “Pavlok is able to be programmed to monitor a variety of bad habits users want to change, from smoking to checking Facebook every five minutes. For example, if users want to start getting up earlier they can set the wristband to wake them up by vibrating at a certain time. If they hit snooze more than twice, it will stop vibrating and deliver an electric shock that’s probably certain to get them out of bed. After a while, Sethi believes, users will simply want to make sure they get up to avoid the shock.”


The second wearable actually worth wearing is something that I should probably start using straight away.  Known as UpRight it is designed to help improve your posture and since you wear it on your lower back it is the ideal wearable, one in which no one will know that you’re using.

So how does it work?

According to PFSK, “The device constantly monitors the user’s posture and gently vibrates to alert them to sit or stand upright when they start to slouch. {It} gradually mends bad posture habits by strengthening back muscle memory and lowers the chances of back pain in the future. The device works using an accelerometer, multi sensors and an advanced algorithm that processes the user’s data.”

The article adds that, “UpRight can be worn on the go, passively training users to adjust their posture while they’re working on their computers, meeting with clients, or hanging out with friends. Users will be able to start using the device for only 15 minutes each day and, as their back muscles strengthen, they can use the device for longer periods. After two to three weeks, it becomes second nature for users to maintain good posture even without the device attached to their backs.”

This device especially appeals to me for the claim that it can actually strengthen your back muscles and lower the chances that you’ll have back pain in the future.  Considering that I already have upper back pain I’d really love to not have to deal with lower back pain as well.

So as you can see not all wearables are privacy invading, email alerting, socially awkward, obtrusive annoyances.  Some of them may in fact actually be worth wearing.

Is a wearable device that improves your posture the Greatest Idea Ever?

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