Movie Trailer: “Batkid Begins”

Batkid_beginsOnce in awhile, a story comes along that warms your heart and restores your faith in humanity. And after reading and writing so much about morally ambiguous things or scary developments, this is one that I was happy to share! This past November, in what was an online media circus,  25,000 people showed up to watch a five year-old boy cruise around San Fransisco in a Batman costume and a Lamborghini with the logo on the hood.

After doing battle with his enemies – which included the Riddler and the Penguin – “Batkid” was taken to City Hall where he received the key to the city from the mayor. The city spent $105,000 on the event – covering things like speakers, a big screen at city hall, and cleanup crews – and everyone from Barack Obama to Britney Spears expressed their heartwarming support for the costume-clad Batkid.

Batkid_begins2This massive effort, which was a viral media sensation, was orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Miles Scott, a five-year who has spent half his life struggling with leukemia. Having finished his course of chemotherapy, it was Scott’s dream to be Batman for a day. And now, a documentary called Batkid Begins, is retelling the story of Batkid, the Scott family, and how one kid’s wish went viral.

Director Dana Nachman has already raised nearly $40,000 (of her goal of $100,000) on Indiegogo to fund production. A one-time journalist, Nachman has made three films prior to this that were, in her own words, quite dark. As she explains:

I was looking for my next film to be uplifting. I didn’t even know about Batkid until after it happened, and I blown away that I had missed it, and was just so touched by the outpouring of support for this child.

Through a friend at NBC, where she formerly worked, Nachman was able to get a meeting with Make-a-Wish, which had already been approached by others wanting to do Batkid documentaries. Though Scott’s family had been reticent to do much press surrounding the Batkid event, they offered to work with Nachman on the film. After making their son’s wish come true, the Scott family hopes to raise awareness about the Foundation and the work it does.

Batkid_begins3The three-act story will start with a focus on Scott and his experiences, segueing into the lead-up to the event itself as it went viral and everyone scrambled to keep up with the momentum. The third act will focus on the event itself, which involved Miles rescuing a damsel in distress from the train tracks, stopping the Penguin from kidnapping the San Francisco Giants seal mascot, and getting the key to the city from the mayor.

And though it might have seemed like the event was a media circus all on its own, it actually had quite the helping hand. The event went viral thanks in large part to the Clever Girls Collective, a content and social media agency that volunteered its time. As Nachman explained:

To me what’s interesting is that everyone approached for the [Batkid event] said, ‘Yes, I’ll participate and I’ll make it even cooler by doing this, this, and this.’ That’s the message of the film to me: ‘Yes, and.’ If I had my dream, that would be the title of it, but I think it’s a little too esoteric.

Batkid_begins1The $100,000 in funding that Nachman hopes to collect on Indiegogo will help out with animations, a soundtrack, and other production assets. A rough cut will be ready by the one-year anniversary of the Batkid event (this coming November), and the film will likely premiere early next year.I don’t know about you, but… a young boy who had a brush with death getting to live out his dream of being a superhero? I’m certainly going to see it! You got Miles Scott!

And in the meantime, check out the trailer for this heartwarming documentary below:


Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

News From Space: Mars Needs Money!

Mars_OneRemember Mars One, the Netherlands-based nonprofit that began seeking recruits for a one-way trip to the Red Planet during the summer of 2012? Well, it turns out the company is looking to take the next step towards its goal of establishing a human settlement on Mars by 2023. Basically, they are looking to raise the funds to get the ball rolling on the eventual manned mission.

Towards this end, they have started a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo – and in partnership with Lockheed Martin – to raise the money for some concept studies, which will test the lander and a satellite that will conduct a demonstration mission in just four years time. The lander is based on Lockheed’s design for the NASA lander successfully used on Mars in 2007 (pictured below).

Mars-One-2018-LanderTheir campaign is seeking to raise $400,000, which will cover the costs of the concept studies, and is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $6 billion the team estimates will be necessary to get humans to Mars. However, most of that money is expected to come from media broadcasting rights as citizen astronauts are selected and, if all goes as planned, start living on the Martian surface.

As has been stated many times over, Mars One is an evolving idea that seeks to make something historic happen. A future, larger crowdfunding campaign will allow universities to compete to send a full experiment to Mars on the 2018 mission, which will be unmanned. Mars One hopes to send four human colonists to the planet by 2025, selected from a pool of more than 200,000 people who have already applied.

mars_one1And as Hans Lansdorp, CEO of Mars One recently said, this crowdfunding campaign is important to the team to get more people involved. Not only does the project require public interest and participation in order for it to become a reality, Lansdorp and his colleagues also want it to be as international and inclusive as possible:

We really see this as a break with the history of space exploration, and especially Mars exploration, because in this mission anyone can participate in some way… For the U.S., Mars exploration is pretty common. But all of Asia has never sent an experiment to Mars. Now, suddenly we allow anyone, everywhere in the world, to send something to Mars. That’s a complete break with Mars exploration in the past.

Naturally, there are plenty of issues that need to be worked out before anything real can happen, and plenty of naysayers who emphasize the stumbling blocks in sending a manned mission to Mars. These include, but are not restricted to, radiation, microgravity, technological limitations, and the sheer amount of time involved.

mars_one2Despite all that, Lansdorp and the Mars One team remain committed and dedicated to their goal, and have been taking on all challengers with their usual combination of optimism and entrepreneurial spirit. And they firmly believe that given time, all of these hurdles will be negotiable. What’s more, they’ve convinced more than a few critics of the validity of the mission:

If we have some time to talk to people and explain the details of our plan, and as long as they’re commenting on their own field of expertise, I’ve never met someone who could not be convinced that this is possible. It will be very difficult of course–there are thousands of hurdles on the road between now and landing on Mars–but there are no hurdles that we can identify that we cannot take.

As of the penning of this article, the Mars One campaign has been open since December 10th and has raised $209,677 of its $400,000 goal, with 18 more days to go. And there are certainly no shortage of volunteers, as the company is currently processing applications from 150,000 people. So even if it can’t happen by the proposed date, it is clear that they have grabbed the world’s attention.

And in the meantime, enjoy these videos of the proposed Mars One lander design (which will take place in the 2018 demo mission) and the company’s latest promotional video:

Mars One 2018 Lander:


Mars One 2018 Mission:


Sources: fastcoexist.com, theguardian.com, mars-one.com, indiegogo.com

The Future is Here: Smarty Rings

smarty-ringsOkay, its not exactly here yet, but the implications of this idea could be a game changer. It’s known as the Smarty Ring, a crowdfunded idea being advertised on Indiegogo by a group of inventors in Chennai, India. And at its core is a waterproof, stainless steel band that will feature an LED screen and connect to your phone via Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology.

For some time now, the Chennai-based group has been the source of some controversy, due mainly to the fact that they have no working prototypes of the ring, but also because they have not identified themselves beyond giving their location. They also freely admit that the photos of the Smarty Ring on Indiegogo and on their website are photoshopped.

smarty-rings1Surprisingly, this has not prevented them from being able to mount their campaign to raise money for its development. While the crowdfunding site Kickstarter has rules requiring creators to be clear about the state of a project’s development and show a prototype “demonstrating the product’s current functionality,” Indiegogo has no such rules.

However, this has not stopped their campaign – which officially closed at 11:00 am ET on Dec.11th, 2013 – from raising a total of $299,349 from their original goal of $40,000. Numerous blueprints of what the watch would look like, including detailed images of its electronics, are also available on their campaign page. What’s more, the group is still taking advanced orders and offering discount pricing to anyone who orders one before Dec.30th.

smarty-rings3Also, the group has become much less clandestine since the campaign closed. In response to questions, group spokesperson Karthik said the project was founded by Chennai-based mechatronics engineer Ashok Kumar, and that their team of inventors includes electronic and computer engineers with experience in robotics and nanotechnology.

Ultimately, the goal of the project was to create a high-tech gadget that would also double as “high-end fashion jewelry,” according to an email to CBC News from the team’s marketing director, Karthik, who did not give his last name. The group also claims on their website that the average smartphone user checks their phone every six minutes, and promises to make that unnecessary, saving time and the battery life of the smartphone.

smarty-rings4According to the The Smarty Ring’s site, the features are to include:

  • A clock with stop watch, timer and alarm
  • Notifications of calls, text and email messages, and social networking updates from services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype
  • Phone controls that let users accept or reject incoming calls, make outgoing calls to preset numbers, and control music or the phone’s camera
  • A phone tracking feature that beeps when your phone gets more than nine meters away from you
  • The ring charges wirelessly and its creators guarantee 24 hours of battery life

The Smarty Ring team says the retail price for the device will be $275, but backers and people who preorder before Dec.30th will be able to get one at the reduced price of $175. They estimate that delivery will begin sometime in April of 2014. They are also offering cheaper versions that include only the tracking feature or the clock and tracking features.

smarty-rings5Needless to say, if this is a scam, it is clearly a well-thought out and elaborate one. Not only is the idea of a smart ring that can connect wirelessly to other devices and do the job of a smartphone entirely within the bounds of current and developing technology, its a very cool idea. But if it is in fact real, its realization could mean a new wave of innovation and design for the smart devices market.

Currently, designers and developers are working towards the creation of smartwatches, smartphones, tablets and phablets that are not only smaller and much thinner, but also flexible and transparent. An even smaller device, such as a ring or bracelet, that can do the same job but be far more ergonomic, may be just what the market ordered!

And in the meantime, be sure to enjoy this promotional video from the Smarty Ring website. And be sure to check out their website and determine for yourself if they are liars, inventors, or just plain dreamers:


Sources:
cbc.ca, indiegogo.com

3-D Printed Prosthetics: The Open Hand Project

Open_Hand3-D Printing has been a boon for a number of industries, offering a cheaper method of production and sending those savings onto the consumer. One such industry is prosthetics, which is taking advantage of the new technology to cheaply generate all the components needed to create robotic replacement limbs. And with the proliferation of models, amputees and accident victims have a range of options that was previously unimaginable.

The latest comes to us from Bristol in the UK, where the robotics company known as The Open Hand Project has developed a robot limb that is cheaply produced and can be purchased for under £650 (or roughly $1000 US). At this price, their prosthetic device – known as the Dextrus robot hand = is significantly cheaper than existing robotics technology.

Open_hand3Inventor Joel Gibbard first came up with the idea for the Dextrus robotic hand while studying Robotics at the University of Plymouth in 2011. He developed a prototype for his final-year project before leaving to work for National Instruments. After two years in the workplace, he left his job in March 2013 to launch the Open Hand Project, an open-source venture that aims to make robotic prosthetic hands accessible for people in the developing world.

Gibbard’s hand relies entirely on off-the-shelf DC motors with a spool on the end that connects to a steel “tendon” that can be tightened and loosened when the user wants to move their fingers. The outer casing is composed of 3D-printed plastic parts that act like bones while a rubber coating acts as the skin. The user can control the fingers using electomyographical signals picked up from the muscle in their arm using stick-on electrodes.

open_hand2As Gibbard explained in an interview with Wired magazine:

Each finger is individually actuated so you can grasp funny shaped objects. It’s not all that complicated. I’ve put a little tensioner in between each one so you have a bit of mechanical compliance. Even if an amputee has lost their hand, all of the muscles are still in the forearm and they can still flex them, so you can use that signal.

Already, the prosthesis was tested out by a chef named Liam Corbett, who lost his hand to meningitis two years ago and contacted Gibbard via Facebook when he heard about the Open Hand Project. According to Corbett, he was very impressed with the device and said that:

I think it’s certainly going to enable me to do the finer things in life which I certainly haven’t been able to do with a hook… I would be proud to wear this, it would make me feel more confident.

open_hand1Gibbard hopes to refine the design to cut down on the electrical noise it produces, and to develop specialized software to configure the electrodes to simplify the calibration process. Back in September, he opened up a crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo to raise the necessary money. As of writing this article, he has surpassed his goal of £39,000 and raised a total of £41,065.

However, there is still four days left before the campaign closes. So if you want to donate, thus enabling GIbbard and his colleagues to refine the design further, simply click here and follow the prompts. And be sure to check out the Indiegogo video to see how the hand works:


Sources: wired.co.uk, indiegogo.com

Towards a Safer Future: The Roofie-Detecting Glass

drinksavvy_glassAttention date rapers and sex offenders: you’re free ride is over! Thanks to a product known as DrinkSavvy, a new line of glassware, plastic cups, straws, and stirrers, the previously undetectable drug known as flunitrazepam (aka. rufies), has finally met its match! Basically, when a drink is spiked, a series of stop sign-red stripes show up on the cup’s sides, and the clear straw or stirrer turn red too, and the user knows not to drink.

That such a product is necessary is truly a sign of the times. Every year, over a million people find themselves becoming the victim of date rape drugs. And in 2010, DrinkSavvy founder Mike Abramson was one of them. As he recounted the incident:

I ordered my first drink of the night at a birthday party at a Boston club. But halfway through that first drink, it started to feel more like my 15th. One of the few things I remember after that is waking up with a massive headache and substantial nausea, feeling confused, and wondering, ‘What happened to me that I don’t remember?’”

drinksavvy_strawLuckily for Abramson, he was not injured or assaulted after consuming the drink. Without any explanations, he could only assume that he was either the intended victim or a robbery and the perpetrator backed out as the last minute. Or worse, that the drink was intended for someone else (a intended rape victim) and he just happened to consume it.

Because of this experience, Abramson made it his mission to avoid another hellish blackout and make sure similar experiences stopped happening to others. At first, this consisted of buying drug-testing strips and periodically pouring some of his drinks on one for analysis. However, he quickly realized that this was impractical and there needed to be a better way.

drinksavvySo he took his idea of merging the software with the hardware to Dr. John MacDonald, a chemistry professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who integrated a color-changing, drug-testing material into plastic and glassware. This was followed by a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, where Abramson was able to raise $52,089 as seed capital to begin mass production.

Thanks to all this, the first batch of straws and 16-oz. plastic cups will be shipping out next month. By 2014, the company expects products to be widely commercially available. Abramson hopes the products will someday become the new norm in bars, clubs, and on college campuses, and bottles and cans with similar detection functions are in the works.

drinksavvy_cupIt is a sad time indeed when people need to get this creative in order to prevent sexually-based crimes. But inventions such as these remind us of the existence of socially-conscious individuals, and how much more powerful we are than cowardly predators who sulk in dark corners, slipping their dangerous wares to us when they think we’re not paying attention.

One can only hope that future versions of the Drinksavvy or similar products will also have some kind of detection system. Perhaps a finger printer or DNA sampler than can tell us who touched the glass, thus giving police and security an immediate list of suspects. Wouldn’t that be both cool and immensely affirming?!

And be sure to check out Abramson’s IndiGoGo promotional video, which includes some nauseating footage about drug-related sexual assaults:

Source: fastcodesign.com

The Future is Here: The AR Bike Helmet

AR_helmetAR displays are becoming all the rage, thanks in no small part to Google Glass and other display glasses. And given the demand and appeal of the technology, it seemed like only a matter of time before AR displays began providing real-time navigation for vehicles. For decades, visor-mounted heads-up displays have been available, but fully-integrated displays have yet to have been produced.

Live Helmet is one such concept, a helmet that superimposes information and directions into a bike-helmet visor. Based in Moscow, this startup seeks to combine a head-mounted display, built-in navigation, and Siri-like voice recognition. The helmet will have a translucent, color display that’s projected on the visor in the center of the field of vision, and a custom user interface, English language-only at launch, based on Android.

AR_helmet1This augmented reality helmet display includes a light sensor for adjusting image brightness according to external light conditions, as well as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and digital compass for tracking head movements. Naturally, the company anticipated that concerns about driver safety would come up, hence numerous safety features which they’ve included.

For one, the digital helmet is cleverly programmed to display maps only when the rider’s speed is close to zero to avoid distracting them at high speeds. And for the sake of hands-free control, it comes equipped with a series of voice commands for navigation and referencing points of interest. No texting and driving with this thing!

ar_helmet4So far, the company has so far built some prototype hardware and software for the helmet with the help of grants from the Russian government, and is also seeking venture capital. However, they have found little within their home country, and have been forced to crowdfund via an Indiegogo campaign. As CEO, Andrew Artishchev, wrote on LiveMap’s Indiegogo page:

Russian venture funds are not disposed to invest into hardware startups. They prefer to back up clones of successful services like Groupon, Airnb, Zappos, Yelp, Booking, etc. They are not interested in producing hardware either.

All told, they are seeking to raise $150,000 to make press molds for the helmet capsule. At present, they have raised $5,989 with 31 days remaining. Naturally, prizes have been offered, ranging from thank yous and a poster (for donations of $1 to $25) to a test drive in a major city (Berlin, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Barcelona) for $100, and a grand prize of a helmet itself for a donation of $1500.

ar_helmet3And of course, the company has announced that they have some “Stretched Goals”, just in case people want to help them overshoot their mandate of $150,000. For 300 000$, they will include a Bluetooth with a headset profile to their helmet, and for 500 000$, they will merge a built-in high-resolution 13Mpix photo&video camera. Good to have goals.

Personally, I’d help sponsor this, except for the fact that I don’t have motorbike and wouldn’t know how to use it if I did. But a long drive across the autobahn or the Amber Route would be totally boss! Speaking of which, check out the company’s promotional video:

Sources: news.cnet.com, indiegogo.com