Archive for June, 2015

We’re less than a year away from Oculus Rift hitting the market which means we’re less than a year away from virtual reality taking over our lives.  Or are we?  As awesome as the Rift promises to be its high price point and dependency on a high powered computer to accompany it, not to mention various accessories as well, means the barrier to entry will be high. Only the upper class and the most ardent of early adopters will be able to get in on the fun at first.  Which is a major let down for pretty much everyone else.  But there’s no need to fret.  For Google has a solution just like they always do: a cardboard, yes cardboard, headset that attaches to your phone for a rudimentary VR experience.  And It could be exactly what we need to make sure virtual reality goes mainstream. 

As Wired puts it, “There’s no reason not to try Cardboard now. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it works with your phone. It’s still a million miles away from the best VR demos out there; Oculus, HTC’s Vive, and Project Morpheus all blow Cardboard out of the water—which they should, because they’re not made of cardboard. But Cardboard more than accomplishes what it’s supposed to: It transports you. Download the roller coaster app, and you’re flying through the air. Download the Paul McCartney app, and suddenly you’re perched on the edge of his piano.  Forget the fact that the resolution isn’t great, and that there’s some screen-door effect. It doesn’t matter that you have to hold it while you use it, or that the only way to go back is to tilt the thing so far your phone might fall out. It does kind of suck that it lets in so much ambient light, but even that doesn’t kill the effect. Cardboard isn’t a perfect VR headset. It won’t be the last one you ever buy. It’s just supposed to be the first one, the gateway drug, the impulse-buy-at-the-supermarket-checkout device that makes you realize how amazing this technology can and will be.” 

And make no mistake about it, this technology is amazing.  Virtual reality is going to transform the way we live our lives.  We’ll be able to attend virtual classrooms, hang out with friends in far flung locales, take vacations to every corner of the globe without ever leaving the comfort of our living rooms.  It might even have the power to bring about world peace for people aren’t going to want to fight each other over petty differences when there’s a whole other world that they can escape to whenever the need arises.  Okay, that last one may be a little bit far-fetched but the point is that there’s no telling what kind of impact virtual reality will have if it’s given a fair shake.  And now thanks to Google Cardboard that’s pretty much assured of happening. 

Amazingly, Cardboard isn’t Google’s only planned foray into virtual reality.  They also have plans for a virtual reality video capture platform known as Jump that aims to combine 16 GoPro cameras into a circular array.  In theory, scenes shot using this panoramic rig would make viewers feel as though they’re really there.  Combine videos shot in this way (the equivalent of watching five 4k TVs playing at once) with the Cardboard viewer and your mind will be blown.  It’ll be like YouTube on steroids.  You’ll never be able to go back to watching plain old YouTube clips on your phone ever again.  Which is exactly the point of all this.  Considering that YouTube is already a big money maker once can only imagine what a YouTube on steroids would be like.  Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Is Google Cardboard the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Control the home, control the world.  That’s what’s at stake for the likes of Google and Apple and anyone else brave enough to enter the Internet of Things free for all that currently exists.  It’s like the digital Wild, Wild West out there as most devices don’t speak the same language and can’t connect to one another.  Google hopes to change all that, however, with the creation of Brillo, a development platform for the Internet of Things, and Weave, their new protocol that ties all connected devices together to the cloud.

As Wired puts it, “Brillo isn’t just Brillo—it’s also Weave, a communication layer that will enable IoT devices to talk to one another, the cloud, and of course, your phone. Pichai says Weave gives the growing world of connected, smart devices a common language. The actions each of these things is responsible for—smart ovens change temperatures, smart doors unlock and lock—won’t be so singular. Weave wants to make it so these devices aren’t linked only to your phone, but to one another as well. Weave exposes developer APIs in a cross-platform manner, so any connected device will speak the same language.”

Google’s ultimate vision then is that consumers will be able to use the Brillo platform to turn their Android devices into a controller for a fully automated smart home.  Which coincidentally is probably Apple’s exact hope as well.  The only difference is that Google has actually gone out and built the infrastructure needed to make that happen.  And in typical Google fashion it’s that structure that will enable everyone else to reap the rewards down the line.  Apple included.

Is Brillo the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Next up from Google’s secretive research lab, ATAP, is Project Soli, a plan to put tiny all-knowing sensors in just about everything.  Phones, tablets, smart watches, etc.  Anything that you’d interact with in the future.  These sensors would then act like miniaturized radar, detecting motion up to 3,000 times per second, even if the distance moved is less than a millimeter in length.  Essentially, these sensors are so powerful that they can see through walls, through clothes, and even detect whether or not someone is breathing underneath a blanket.

What could you use these incredibly, powerful sensors for?  Well that’s the million dollar question and Google doesn’t exactly have an answer yet.  The most likely use case is for a super sensitive gesture control interface.  So that instead of making big exaggerated swiping gestures like in Minority Report you could instead control a smart watch with via subtle movements, like slightly twisting a tiny invisible knob over the watch face to change the time without ever having to touch the watch.  You might also be able to make a small gesture in order to turn your lights on or off or to change the channel while you’re watching TV.  Meaning that remote controls might soon become a thing of the past.

As Wired puts it, “The possibilities are endless, and equal parts impressive and terrifying.  These chips can collect so much data, so often, so fast, that [Ivan] Poupyrev thinks they can detect almost anything.  With the right algorithms and software, anyway—and that’s what Google does best.  ‘Can it see people walking? Yes it can. Can it see people breathing? Yes we can. Can you see if it’s grandpa or grandma? Well, probably, because grandpa and grandma probably walk differently.  Just like we distinguish your hand, we distinguish people.’  It can see if someone’s breathing, even if they’re underneath a blanket.  It can see through walls, through rain, through darkness. And all it needs is for you to just sort of, barely move two fingers.”

The potential military applications for sensors with these kind of capabilities are staggering.  So too are the possibilities for consumer applications.  In the end, what will it be used for?  No one knows for sure.  All we do know is that we’ll have really powerful sensors capable of helping us navigate through the increasingly digitized world that we’re creating for ourselves.  A world that Google wants to control.  And with Project Soli they might just have a way to do that.

Is Project Soli the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The first in a week long series of posts about the latest developments from Google.

A couple of weeks ago Google held their developer conference where they finally unveiled some of the top secret, futuristic projects that their DARPA like off shoot, ATAP, was working on.  Chief among those projects was Project Jacquard, a plan to turn your clothes into a touch screen.

As Fast Company explains, “Project Jacquard gives textile manufacturers the ability to impregnate their cloth with a new kind of braided conductive thread. Unlike regular conductive thread, like the kind used in various touch-screen-enabled gloves, this thread comes in any color, and can be used in any existing industrial loom or machine. When coupled with a small Bluetooth controller running on a standard watch battery kept in a dedicated pocket, it will give any garment or piece of cloth the ability to pair with other gadgets and operate like a touch screen.”

What exactly could you do with this technology?  Well, imagine being able to silence an incoming call just by touching your pant leg.  Or telling your home’s thermostat to raise the temperature just by rubbing your arms as if to say that you’re cold.

What’s great about this project is that it’s not far-fetched or far off.  Some other variations of smart garments are already on the market and thanks to a partnership with Levi’s, Project Jacquard is actually set to see the light of day in 2016.

Is Project Jacquard the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a look at everything that caught my eye over the past week:

1.  Emoji Passcode – The worldwide take over of emoji is now complete for they can now be used in place of numbers as a way to log into a computer.

As Wired writes, “On Monday, U.K.-based Intelligent Environments announced a new tool via its Android banking app that will let users log into their bank account using emoji instead of the typical four-digit PIN. A short demo video makes the app look a lot like any other four-digit code entry system but with emoji instead of numerals.  This is much more than a digital novelty for the smartphone age. From a security standpoint, users can choose a combination from 44 emoji instead of 10 digits, meaning there are 480 times as many permutations as there are with a standard four-digit PIN.”

2.  3-D printed bridge – Speaking of things that could take over the world that brings us to 3-D printing.  Another week another new thing that can be 3-D printed.  This week it’s a bridge!

According to CNN, “Here’s how it will work: Engineers start with a piece of metal attached to a canal bank. The robots begin at one side of the canal, adding small amounts of molten metal to create lines in midair. The lines intersect to create a self-supporting structure — in this case, a bridge.”

In other words all you have to do is set and forget it.  Come back in a few week and your bridge will be complete!

3.  Ink-less Printer – Next up is another printed but this time it’s a not another type of 3-D printer.  Instead its an ink jet printer that doesn’t use any ink.  Instead it creates color through the use of tiny microscopic holes.

As Gizmodo puts it, “Considering printer ink costs more than booze and even human blood, it’s no surprise everyone’s on the hunt for a cheaper alternative. And that includes researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology who’ve created an ink-less printer that works by perforating special paper with thousands of microscopic holes.”

An Inkless Printer Makes Color Images With Tiny Microscopic Holes

4.  Mind reading experiment turns thoughts into texts – Texting can be hard.  Fat fingers lead to constant typos and auto-correct usually makes things worse not better.  In the future none of that may matter though for we soon could have a way to write texts without having to write at all.

According to Boing Boing, “For the first time ever, scientists in Albany, NY were able to use a “brain-to-text” interface to read thoughts and translate them into text. But it wasn’t as simple as one might imagine. In fact, the experiment made me a bit squeamish. To use the “device,” researchers placed seven patients in a controlled environment to perform a bit of surgery.”

Essentially this surgery involved attaching electrode sheets directly to the brain.  Which if you ask me sounds like a lot of work and a lot of risk for just a novelty act.

Is a way to turn thoughts into texts the Greatest Idea Ever?

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“If you had invested in Uber (now valued at $40B) in 2011, you would currently be sitting on a 600x return. Unfortunately, unless you were already very wealthy, securities laws would have prevented you from being able to invest…”

That quote was taken from a recent article on TechCrunch and perfectly sums up my #1 gripe when it come to investing.  For years there’s been a fatally flawed system in place, one that allowed the rich to get richer while everyone else is left to fend for the scraps.

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were fun for a while but investing in an idea you feel passionate about in exchange for some swag doesn’t really compare to a 600x return.

Thankfully the game is about to change for a new regulation known as Regulation A+ went into effect on Thursday that now allows regular folks and not just accredited investors to invest in pre-IPO startups.  This new regulation is part of Title IV of the JOBS Act and under it companies can raise up to $50 million from the general public.

The benefit to customers is readily apparent.  For the first time ever they have a way to get rewarded for their foresight as an early adopter and see the kind of returns that only the 1% was previously entitled to.  But companies stand to benefit as well.

As TechCrunch writes, “by allowing their customers to become shareholders, companies will be able to increase brand loyalty. Individuals who are both customers and shareholders have a vested interest in the long-term success of a company and may be more likely to spend their dollars in a way that benefits their investment portfolio and by extent, the companies in which they are invested. Research from public company stocks suggests that customers who own shares in a company spend 54% more and refer twice as many people.”

That sounds like a win-win to me.

Is Regulation A+ the Greatest Idea Ever?

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NASA has warned that we could be on the verge of a global drought due do declining levels of the Earth’s aquifers.  Meanwhile scientists have stated that we’re in the midst of the Sixth Extinction event in the planet’s history as animal species are dying off at an alarming rate.  And that’s just the news that I’ve heard about in the last 24 hours.  I haven’t even mentioned melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, a rise in the acidity of the oceans, or climate change.  Or ten other things that could wipe out humanity or alter the way we live.

What we need to do then is take drastic action to ensure that our planet remains habitable.  The kind of action that Boyan Slat recently took when he created a way to clean up the oceans.  But on a much larger scale.  A global scale.  An all hands on deck approach.

Essentially, what I’m proposing is a world wide equivalent of the New Deal public works projects that helped build America’s infrastructure (highways, dams, bridges, etc.) after the Great Depression.  This program was an integral part of America’s recovery as it provided thousands of people with the means to make a living for themselves and in turn stabilized the economy.

Similarly, you could make a case that with the current state of the global economy being what it is now is a great time for another one of these programs.  What with millions of people looking for work around the world and that’s without even considering all of the people who are going to lose their jobs to robots in the coming years.

Instead of building roads, schools, and hospitals the New Deal 2.0 would focus on putting people to work cleaning up the planet.  Participants in the program would pick up garbage, plant trees, create wildlife habitats, create educational programs to ensure that future generations understand the importance of the project, work with scientists to counteract the damage that’s already been done to the planet, etc.

Anything and everything that could prevent us from hitting the self destruct button would be fair play.  It’s not enough just for America to create such a program.  The entire world has to be on board with it.  And considering how dire things are financially in Greece and Egypt and North Korea, etc. you’d think that everyone would be on board with it.

Where would the money come from for a global project like this?  From philanthropy of course.  We’d all have to chip in voluntarily and pull together to make it work just like we do every time there’s a natural disaster that hits a particular region hard.  The only difference is that this time the disaster was man made.

If we want the planet to remain habitable we’re going to have to take drastic action such as creating a global public works project.

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