The Future of Devices: The Wearable Tech Boom

Wearable-Computing-RevolutionThe wearable computing revolution that has been taking place in recent years has drawn in developers and tech giants from all over the world. Though its roots are deep, dating back to the late 60’s and early 80’s with the Sword of Damocles concept and the work of Steve Mann. But in recent years, thanks to the development of Google Glass, the case for wearable tech has moved beyond hobbyists and enthusiasts and into the mainstream.

And with display glasses now accounted for, the latest boom in development appears to be centered on smart watches and similar devices. These range from fitness trackers with just a few features to wrist-mounted version of smart phones that boast the same constellations of functions and apps (email, phone, text, skyping, etc.) And as always, the big-name industries are coming forward with their own concepts and designs.

apple_iwatch1First, there’s the much-anticipated Apple iWatch, which is still in the rumor stage. The company has been working on this project since late 2012, but has begun accelerating the process as it tries to expand its family of mobile devices to the wrist. Apple has already started work on trademarking the name in a number of countries in preparation for a late 2014 launch perhaps in October, with the device entering mass production in July.

And though it’s not yet clear what the device will look like, several mockups and proposals have been leaked. And recent reports from sources like Reuters and The Wall Street Journal have pointed towards multiple screen sizes and price points, suggesting an array of different band and face options in various materials to position it as a fashion accessory. It is also expected to include a durable sapphire crystal display, produced in collaboration with Apple partner GT Advanced.

iWatchWhile the iWatch will perform some tasks independently using the new iOS 8 platform, it will be dependent on a compatible iOS device for functions like receiving messages, voice calls, and notifications. It is also expected to feature wireless charging capabilities, advanced mapping abilities, and possibly near-field communication (NFC) integration. But an added bonus, as indicated by Apple’s recent filing for patents associated with their “Health” app, is the inclusion of biometric and health sensors.

Along with serving as a companion device to the iPhone and iPad, the iWatch will be able to measure multiple different health-related metrics. Consistent with the features of a fitness band, these will things like a pedometer, calories burned, sleep quality, heart rate, and more. The iWatch is said to include 10 different sensors to track health and fitness, providing an overall picture of health and making the health-tracking experience more accessible to the general public.

iOS8Apple has reportedly designed iOS 8 with the iWatch in mind, and the two are said to be heavily reliant on one another. The iWatch will likely take advantage of the “Health” app introduced with iOS 8, which may display all of the health-related information gathered by the watch. Currently, Apple is gearing up to begin mass production on the iWatch, and has been testing the device’s fitness capabilities with professional athletes such as Kobe Bryant, who will likely go on to promote the iWatch following its release.

Not to be outdone, Google launched its own brand of smartwatch – known as Android Wear – at this year’s I/O conference. Android Wear is the company’s software platform for linking smartwatches from companies including LG, Samsung and Motorola to Android phones and tablets. A preview of Wear was introduced this spring, the I/O conference provided more details on how it will work and made it clear that the company is investing heavily in the notion that wearables are the future.

android-wear-showdownAndroid Wear takes much of the functionality of Google Now – an intelligent personal assistant – and uses the smartwatch as a home for receiving notifications and context-based information. For the sake of travel, Android Wear will push relevant flight, weather and other information directly to the watch, where the user can tap and swipe their way through it and use embedded prompts and voice control to take further actions, like dictating a note with reminders to pack rain gear.

For the most part, Google had already revealed most of what Wear will be able to do in its preview, but its big on-stage debut at I/O was largely about getting app developers to buy into the platform and keep designing for a peripheral wearable interface in mind. Apps can be designed to harness different Android Wear “intents.” For example, the Lyft app takes advantage of the “call me a car” intent and can be set to be the default means of hailing a ride when you tell your smartwatch to find you a car.

androidwear-3Google officials also claimed at I/O that the same interface being Android Wear will be behind their new Android Auto and TV, two other integrated services that allow users to interface with their car and television via a mobile device. So don’t be surprised if you see someone unlocking or starting their car by talking into their watch in the near future. The first Android Wear watches – the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch – are available to pre-order and the round-face Motorola Moto 360 is expected to come out later this summer.

All of these steps in integration and wearable technology are signs of an emergent trend, one where just about everything from personal devices to automobiles and even homes are smart and networked together – thus giving rise to a world where everything is remotely accessible. This concept, otherwise known as the “Internet of Things”, is expected to become the norm in the next 20 years, and will include other technologies like display contacts and mediated (aka. augmented) reality.

And be sure to check out this concept video of the Apple iWatch:


Sources:
cnet.com, (2), macrumors.com, engadget.com, gizmag.com

The Future is Here: Smart Guns

smart gun 2010 internet 0009Not long ago, designer Ernst Mauch unveiled a revolutionary new handgun that grew out of a desire to merge digital technology with firearm safety. Known as the “smart gun” – or Armatix iP1 – this pistol comes with a safety feature designed to ensure that only the guns owner may fire it. Basically, the gun comes with a watch (the iW1) that it is synchronized to, and the weapon will only fire if it is within ten inches of it. So unless you’re wearing the iW1, the weapon will not fire in your hands.

The weapon is in part the result of attempts to find intelligent solutions to gun safety and gun violence. And Mauch’s design is one of several proposed innovations to use digital/smart technology for just such a purpose. Back in January, the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation launched the first of four $1 million challenges aimed at inspiring the kinds of innovation that could help lead to safer guns – and a reduction in the number of tragic deaths and injuries that make the headlines nearly every day.

Armatix-Smart-SystemGiven the recent failures to reach a legislative solution to the ongoing problem of gun-violence, these efforts should come as no surprise. And Mauch, the lead designer of the iP1, claimed in a recent op-ed piece with the Washington Post that the number of gun enthusiasts will rise as the result of its enhanced safety. As a designer who’s patents include the USP family of pistols, the HK416 assault rifle, G36 assault rifle and XM25 grenade machine gun – he is a strong advocate of a market-based solution.

The gun has already sparked a great deal of controversy amongst gun advocates and the National Rifle Association. Apparently, they worry that legislation will be passed so that only smart guns can be sold in gun stores. This is largely in response to a 2002 New Jersey law that stipulated that once the technology was available, that smart guns be sold exclusively in the state. As a result, the NRA has been quite vocal about its opposition to smart guns, despite offers made to repeal the law in exchange for them easing their position.

gun-lock-inlineAs already noted, the iP1 is not the only smart technology being applied to firearms. Sentini, a Detroit-based startup founded by Omer Kiyani, is designing a biometric gun lock called Identilock. Attaching to a gun’s trigger, it unlocks only when the owner applies a fingerprint. As an engineer, a gun owner, a father, and the victim of gun violence (he was shot in the mouth at 16), he too is committed to using digital technology and biometrics to make firearms safer.

An engineer by training, Kiyani spent years working as a software developer building next-generation airbag systems. He worked on calibrating the systems to minimize the chance of injury in the event of an accident, and eventually, he realized he could apply the same basic concepts to guns. As he put it:

The idea of an airbag is so simple. You inflate it and can save a life. I made the connection. I have something in my house that’s very dangerous. There’s got to be a simple way to protect it.

biometric_gunlockInitially, Kiyani considered technology that would require installing electronic locking equipment into the guns themselves, similar to what the iP1 employs. But as an engineer, he understood the inherent complications of designing electronics that could withstand tremendous shock and high temperatures, not to mention the fact it would be incredibly difficult to convince gun manufacturers to work with him on the project.

As a result, he began to work on something that anyone could add to a gun. Ultimately, his creation is different in three ways: it’s optional, it’s detachable, and it’s quick. Unlike biometric gun safes and other locking mechanisms, the Identilock makes it as easy to access a firearm as it is to unlock an iPhone. He pitched hundreds of gun owners a variety of ideas over the course of his research, but it was the biometric lock they inevitably latched onto

gun-lock-inline1The Identilock is also designed using entirely off-the-shelf components that have been proven effective in other industries. The biometric sensor, for example, has been used in other security applications and is approved by the FBI. Cobbling the sensor together from existing technologies was both a cost-saving endeavor and a strategic way to prove the product’s effectiveness more quickly. Currently, the project is still in the prototype phase, but it may prove to be the breakout product that brings biometrics and safety together in recent years.

And last, but certainly not least, there is the biometric option that comes from PositiveID, the makers of the only FDA-approved implantable biochip – which is known as the Verichip. In the past, the company has marketed similar identity-confirming microchips for security and medical purposes. But this past April, the company announced a partnership with Belgium-based gun maker FN Manufacturing to produce smart weapons.

VERICHIPThe technology is being marketed to law enforcement agencies as a means of ensuring that police firearms can never be used by criminals or third parties. The tiny chip would be implanted in a police officer’s hand and would match up with a scanning device inside a handgun. If the officer and gun match, a digital signal unlocks the trigger so it can be fired. Verichip president Keith Bolton said the technology could also improve safety for the military and individual gun owners, and it could be available as early as next year.

Similar developments are under way at other gun manufacturers and research firms. The New Jersey Institute of Technology and Australian gun maker Metal Storm Ltd. are working on a prototype smart gun that would recognize its owner’s individual grip. Donald Sebastian, NJIT vice president for research and development and director of the project, claims that the technology could eventually have an even bigger impact on the illegal gun trade.eri

An employee of Armatix poses for photographers as he presents the ÒSmartGun Concept".Regardless of the solutions being proposed and the progress being made, opposition to these and other measures does not appear to be letting up easily. New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg recently announced that she would introduce a bill to reverse the 2002 New Jersey “smart gun” law if the National Rifle Association would agree not to stand in the way of smart gun technology. The NRA, however, has not relented in its stance.

In addition, biochips and RFID implants have a way of making people nervous. Whenever and wherever they are proposed, accusations of “branding” and “Big Brother” monitoring quickly follow. And above all, any and all attempts to introduce gun safety are met with cries of opposition by those who claim it infringes on citizen’s 2nd Amendment rights. But given the ongoing problem of gun violence, school shootings, and the amount of violence perpetrated with stolen weapon, it is clear that something needs to change.

guns1In 2011 in the United States, roughly 3.6 people per 100,000 were killed with a firearm – which amounts to 32,163 people. In addition, of the 15,953 homicides committed that year, 11,101 were committed using a gun; almost 70% of the total. And not surprisingly, of those 11,101 gun-related homicides, more than half (An6,371) were committed using a handgun. And though exact figures are not exactly available, a general estimates indicates that some 90% percent of murders are committed with stolen guns.

As a result, it is likely just a matter of time before citizens see the value in biometric and smart gun technology. Anything that can ensure that only an owner can use a firearm will go a long way to curbing crime, accidents, and acts of senseless and unmitigated violence.

Sources: cnet.com, theverge.com, (2), wired.com, (2), msnbc.com, gunpolicy.com

The Future of Firearms: The Inteliscope!

inteliscope-iphone-adapterGiven the many, many uses that smartphones have these days, and the many technologies being adapted to work with them, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to militarize it. And that’s exactly what inventor Jason Giddings and his new company, Inteliscope, LLC, decided to do when they combined guns with smart devices to launch the Inteliscope Tactical Rifle Adapter.

Along with an iOS app and a mount that can be affixed to tactical rails, the adapter allows gun owners to mount their iPhone or iPod Touch to a firearm and use it as a sight with a heads-up display showing real-time data on their surroundings. The app also works in portrait mode, so the adapter can be affixed to the side of a firearm if needed.

Inteliscope_2Some might ask how an iPhone could be expected to improve upon a standard scope, but that’s where things get particularly interesting. By offering a range of visual enhancements and features, the user is essentially able to convert their smartphone into an integrated ballistic computer system, but at a fraction of the cost of a military variant.

Added features include a 5x digital zoom, an adjustable mount that lets users peek around corners, a choice of different cross hairs, data on local prevailing winds, a GPS locator, a compass, ballistics info, and a shot timer. The attached device can even act as a mounted flashlight or strobe, but probably the most useful feature is the ability to record and play back video of each shot.

inteliscope-iphone-adapter-4Naturally, there are some drawbacks to the Inteliscope. For example, the iPhone/iPod Touch’s camera optics only offer support for short range targets, and using calibers larger than .223 or 5.56 mm could damage your smart device. The developers have also advised potential customers to make sure hunting with electronic-enhanced devices is legal in their region.

Still, it does provide a fairly cost-effective means for giving any gun that Future Warrior look, and for the relatively cheap price of $69.99. Inteliscope is currently accepting pre-orders through its website, with adapters available for the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPod Touch, and plan to ship to begin shipping in June.

And of course, there’s a video of the system in action:


Source:
gizmag.com

The Future of Medicine: Smartphone Medicine!

iphone_specIt’s no secret that the exponential growth in smartphone use has been paralleled by a similar growth in what they can do. Everyday, new and interesting apps are developed which give people the ability to access new kinds of information, interface with other devices, and even perform a range of scans on themselves. It is this latter two aspect of development which is especially exciting, as it is opening the door to medical applications.

Yes, in addition to temporary tattoos and tiny medimachines that can be monitored from your smartphone or other mobile computing device, there is also a range of apps that allow you to test your eyesight and even conduct ultrasounds on yourself. But perhaps most impressive is the new Smartphone Spectrometer, an iPhone program which will allow users to diagnose their own illnesses.

iphone_spec2Consisting of an iPhone cradle, phone and app, this spectrometer costs just $200 and has the same level of diagnostic accuracy as a $50,000 machine, according to Brian Cunningham, a professor at the University of Illinois, who developed it with his students. Using the phone’s camera and a series of optical components in the cradle, the machine detects the light spectrum passing through a liquid sample.

This liquid can consist of urine or blood, any of the body’s natural fluids that are exhibit traces of harmful infection when they are picked up by the body. By comparing the sample’s spectrum to spectrums for target molecules, such as toxins or bacteria, it’s possible to work out how much is in the sample. In short, a quickie diagnosis for the cost of a fancy new phone.

Granted there are limitations at this point. For one, the device is nowhere near as efficient as its industrial counterpart. Whereas automated $50,000 version can process up to 100 samples at a time, the iPhone spectrometer can only do one at a time. But by the time Cunningham and his team plan on commercializing the design, they hope to increase that efficiency by a few magnitudes.

iphone_spec1On the plus side, the device is far more portable than any other known spectrometer. Whereas a lab is fixed in place and has to process thousands of samples at any given time, leading to waiting lists, this device can be used just about anywhere. In addition, there’s no loss of accuracy. As Cunningham explained:

We were using the same kits you can use to detect cancer markers, HIV infections, or certain toxins, putting the liquid into our cartridge and measuring it on the phone. We have compared the measurements from full pieces of equipment, and we get the same outcome.

Cunningham is currently filing a patent application and looking for investment. He also has a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an Android version. And while he doesn’t think smartphone-based devices will replace standard spectrometry machines with long track records, and F.D.A approval, he does believe they could enable more testing.

publiclaboratoryThis is especially in countries where government-regulated testing is harder to come by, or where medical facilities are under-supplied or waiting lists are prohibitively long. With diseases like cancer and HIV, early detection can be the difference between life and death, which is a major advantage, according to Cunningham:

In the future, it’ll be possible for someone to monitor themselves without having to go to a hospital. For example, that might be monitoring their cardiac disease or cancer treatment. They could do a simple test at home every day, and all that information could be monitored by their physician without them having to go in.

But of course, the new iPhone is not alone. Many other variations are coming out, such as the PublicLaboratory Mobile Spectrometer, or Androids own version of the Spectral Workbench. And of course, this all calls to mind the miniature spectrometer that Jack Andraka, the 16-year old who invented a low-cost litmus test for pancreatic cancer and who won the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). That’s him in the middle of the picture below:

ISEF2012-Top-Three-WinnersIt’s the age of mobile medicine, my friends. Thanks to miniaturization, nanofabrication, wireless technology, mobile devices, and an almost daily rate of improvement in medical technology, we are entering into an age where early detection and cost-saving devices are making medicine more affordable and accessible.

In addition, all this progress is likely to add up to many lives being saved, especially in developing regions or low-income communities. It’s always encouraging when technological advances have the effect of narrowing the gap between the haves and the have nots, rather than widening it.

And of course, there’s a video of the smartphone spectrometer at work, courtesy of Cunningham’s research team and the University of Illinois:


Source:
fast.coexist.com

The Future is Here: The Personal Fitness Band

Fitbit-FlexOf all the important new gadgets to make it to the Consumer Electronics Show this year, one stood out as far as morning joggers and fitness gurus were concerned. It’s called the Fitbit Flex, an activity tracker designed to be worn all day and monitor movement, sleep, and calories burned. In an age where electronics are getting more personal, flexible, and wearable, it seems that fitness industry is determined not to be left behind.

While the concept of a wearable fitness tracker is not entirely new, the Flex incorporates a number of new developments in the field of personalized technology. For starters, as the name suggests, its a flexible bracelet that is comfortable enough to be worn all day long and malleable enough to stay firmly wrapped around your wrist. And unlike pedometers or heart rate monitors which monitor a single vital function or activity, the Flex is designed to monitor all simultaneously and in terms of the individuals stated fitness goals.

fitbit_flex_syncAnd to top it all off, the band uses a wireless Bluetooth connection to sync with PCs and smartphones. This last aspect is something Fitbit is quite proud off, as the Flex is the first fitness band to sync using the latest Bluetooth 4.0 standard. In addition, the company has announced that it will eventually support Bluetooth syncing of fitness data with Android devices once an update becomes available, hopefully by late January or early February.

nike-fuelband-01Already, other companies have released fitness monitors similar to this new product. The Nike Fuelband is one such competitor, a flexible band that also used LED lights to indicate heart rate, distance, and overall fitness performance. It is also designed to sync up with mobile devices using the Nike+ iPod accessory. What’s more, the company claims that the band and a users Nike+ account will keep long-term track of a person’s fitness and offer incentives (such as awards badges) and motivational tips.

jawbone-upA third contender is the Jawbone Up band, another monitoring band that is even slimmer and more ergonic, as far as wearing it all day is concerned. Like it’s co-competitors, it too is syncable to an iPhone thanks to its specialized app. But unlike the others, it is designed to literally be worn 24/7, thus painting a more complete picture of a person’s health and fitness. What’s more, it has no screen, making its results only available through syncing.

All told, these bands and those like them range in cost from $100 to $269.99, and are somewhat limited in that not all are Bluetooth capable or able to link up with devices other than iPhones or unless you have an account with them (Nike+ being the big example here). But of course, that’s par for the course when it comes to competition between designers, who only want you to use their products and those they have business ties with.

All that aside, these and other products like them made a big impact at CES this year because they signaled that the fitness industry is on board with some of the latest trends and innovations. As technology continues to improve, we can expect more and more of our needs and wants to be handled by portable, wearable and (coming soon!) implantable electronics that are capable of interfacing with external computers to monitor, store and share our data.

Source: news.cnet.com, (2), (3)

The Future Is Here: Google Glasses!

It’s like something out of a cyberpunk wet dream. Long the subject of speculative science fiction, it seems that we now have a working prototype for a set of goggles that can handle our wireless and networking needs. Merging the concepts of Augmented Reality with a Head-Mounted Display (HMD), Google has created what are now known as the “Google Glasses”.

Also known as “Project Glass”, this device is the first working model for what is often referred to as mobile computing. While still being tested, the project has been unveiled and Google Inc announced that they will now be conducting public trials to test their portability and ergonomics.

But of course, some of the terminology needs a little explanation. For example, augmented reality. By definition, this is the live direct, or indirect, view of the real world with computer generated imagery laid over top. One can be walking down the street or otherwise interacting with their world, but will also be able to view a desktop browser, a web page, or streaming video laid just overtop.

According to Google, the glasses will function much like an iPhone with the Siri application, in that wearers will be able to get onto the internet using voice commands. If this goes through, Apple Inc. will have its work cut out for it if they want to remain top dog in the technology race. I wonder what Steve Jobs would have made of this, may he rest in peace!

The project is just one of several being worked on by Google X Lab’s team of crack engineers, which includes Babak Parviz, an electrical engineer who has also worked on putting displays into contact lenses; Steve Lee, a project manager and “geolocation specialist”; and Sebastian Thrun, who developed Udacity education program as well as working on their self-driving car project.

Naturally, this news is causing a great deal of excitement, but I can’t help but wonder if certain people – not the least of which is William Gibson – aren’t getting just a tinge of self-satisfaction as well? You see, it was this Vancouver-based, American born purveyor of cyberpunk that predicted both the use of “cyberspace goggles” and augmented reality many years ago. The former were featured extensively in his Sprawl Trilogy and a similar device, known as Virtual Light glasses, made several appearances in his subsequent Bridge Trilogy.

What’s more, his latest books (known as the Bigend Trilogy) also made extensive mention of Augmented Reality before most people had heard of it. Beginning with Spook Country (2007), the second book in the series, he described an artist who used wireless signals and VR goggles to simulate the appearance of dead celebrities all over LA. This new type of touristic art, known as “locative art” was the first time AR was mentioned in a pop culture context. In his third book of the series, Zero History (2010), he mentions the technology yet again but says how it has been renamed “Augmented Reality” now that its more popular. As always, Gibson was on the cutting edge, or just ahead of the curve.

Click on the links below for a little “light reading” on the announcement:

https://plus.google.com/
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/

RIP Steve Jobs, You Will Be Missed

What can you say about a man who’s life’s work has led him to be viewed as one of the foremost businessmen, inventors and innovators of the past century? I really don’t know, other than to repeat what everyone else has said already: that he was a titan of high-tech, busines acumen, and that he will be missed. Yes, it was only a few months ago that Jobs announced he’d be stepping down from his post because of an ongoing battle with cancer. And, much like Jack Layton, he departed this world shortly thereafter. And at the still-tender age of 56 no less.

Quite sad, but it reminds us just how precious life really is. The candle that burns half as long burns twice as bright.

I know very little about what he did in life, but I do know that, thanks to him, the world of personal computers and consumer electronics has forever been revolutionized. As one of the three founders, Jobs helped to invent the PC, which in and of itself changed the way the public and private sector does business. One can scarcely imagine an office environment without a personal computer, and today, one can scarcely imagine people going about their business without the help of an iPhone or PDA.

And in addition to bringing Apple to the world, he helped bring it back after years of being marginalized by their biggest competitor, Microsoft. Ultimately, he and his colleagues pushed back against the tide of monopolization that Gates unleashed with the policy that all hardware, software, and accessories should be designed by the same people and built to be compatible. And I don’t need to tell people how successful they were, do I? After a few years of being the underdogs, Apple turned things around and became the guys who’s stuff worked for a change! And with the Vista fiasco and the dominace of the iPod and iPhone (can anyone rememnber the name the Microsoft’s equivalent? Me neither!), it seems like the tables have turned.

Still, can’t help but wonder what Apple will do now. I guess I’m in the majority in that respect because every article and news story I’ve read on the subject so far seems to be tacitly asking this question. Sure, they’ll carry on, as always, but I think it will be many years before another person as innovative and brilliant as Jobs comes along.

P.S. I can recall a few years back when Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch were talking about creating an iPhone app for Newcorps, FoxNews’ flagship and Murdoch’s big weapon in his war on journalism. I’m hopeful that Murdoch’s current legal troubles torpedoed that, because, trust me Apple, you don’t want to get involved with that charlatan!