Top Stories from CES 2014

CES2014_GooglePlus_BoxThe Consumer Electronics Show has been in full swing for two days now, and already the top spots for most impressive technology of the year has been selected. Granted, opinion is divided, and there are many top contenders, but between displays, gaming, smartphones, and personal devices, there’s been no shortage of technologies to choose from.

And having sifted through some news stories from the front lines, I have decided to compile a list of what I think the most impressive gadgets, displays and devices of this year’s show were. And as usual, they range from the innovative and creative, to the cool and futuristic, with some quirky and fun things holding up the middle. And here they are, in alphabetical order:

celestron_cosmosAs an astronomy enthusiast, and someone who enjoys hearing about new and innovative technologies, Celestron’s Cosmos 90GT WiFi Telescope was quite the story. Hoping to make astronomy more accessible to the masses, this new telescope is the first that can be controlled by an app over WiFi. Once paired, the system guides stargazers through the cosmos as directions flow from the app to the motorized scope base.

In terms of comuting, Lenovo chose to breathe some new life into the oft-declared dying industry of desktop PCs this year, thanks to the unveiling of their Horizon 2. Its 27-inch touchscreen can go fully horizontal, becoming both a gaming and media table. The large touch display has a novel pairing technique that lets you drop multiple smartphones directly onto the screen, as well as group, share, and edit photos from them.

Lenovo Horizon 2 Aura scanNext up is the latest set of display glasses to the world by storm, courtesy of the Epson Smart Glass project. Ever since Google Glass was unveiled in 2012, other electronics and IT companies have been racing to produce a similar product, one that can make heads-up display tech, WiFi connectivity, internet browsing, and augmented reality portable and wearable.

Epson was already moving in that direction back in 2011 when they released their BT100 augmented reality glasses. And now, with their Moverio BT200, they’ve clearly stepped up their game. In addition to being 60 percent lighter than the previous generation, the system has two parts – consisting of a pair of glasses and a control unit.

moverio-bt200-1The glasses feature a tiny LCD-based projection lens system and optical light guide which project digital content onto a transparent virtual display (960 x 540 resolution) and has a camera for video and stills capture, or AR marker detection. With the incorporation of third-party software, and taking advantage of the internal gyroscope and compass, a user can even create 360 degree panoramic environments.

At the other end, the handheld controller runs on Android 4.0, has a textured touchpad control surface, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for video content streaming, and up to six hours of battery life.


The BT-200 smart glasses are currently being demonstrated at Epson’s CES booth, where visitors can experience a table-top virtual fighting game with AR characters, a medical imaging system that allows wearers to see through a person’s skin, and an AR assistance app to help perform unfamiliar tasks .

This year’s CES also featured a ridiculous amount of curved screens. Samsung seemed particularly proud of its garish, curved LCD TV’s, and even booked headliners like Mark Cuban and Michael Bay to promote them. In the latter case, this didn’t go so well. However, one curved screen device actually seemed appropriate – the LG G Flex 6-inch smartphone.

LG_G_GlexWhen it comes to massive curved screens, only one person can benefit from the sweet spot of the display – that focal point in the center where they feel enveloped. But in the case of the LG G Flex-6, the subtle bend in the screen allows for less light intrusion from the sides, and it distorts your own reflection just enough to obscure any distracting glare. Granted, its not exactly the flexible tech I was hoping to see, but its something!

In the world of gaming, two contributions made a rather big splash this year. These included the Playstation Now, a game streaming service just unveiled by Sony that lets gamers instantly play their games from a PS3, PS4, or PS Vita without downloading and always in the most updated version. Plus, it gives users the ability to rent titles they’re interested in, rather than buying the full copy.

maingear_sparkThen there was the Maingear Spark, a gaming desktop designed to run Valve’s gaming-centric SteamOS (and Windows) that measures just five inches square and weighs less than a pound. This is a big boon for gamers who usually have to deal gaming desktops that are bulky, heavy, and don’t fit well on an entertainment stand next to other gaming devices, an HD box, and anything else you might have there.

Next up, there is a device that helps consumers navigate the complex world of iris identification that is becoming all the rage. It’s known as the Myris Eyelock, a simple, straightforward gadget that takes a quick video of your eyeball, has you log in to your various accounts, and then automatically signs you in, without you ever having to type in your password.

myris_eyelockSo basically, you can utilize this new biometric ID system by having your retinal scan on your person wherever you go. And then, rather than go through the process of remembering multiple (and no doubt, complicated passwords, as identity theft is becoming increasingly problematic), you can upload a marker that leaves no doubt as to your identity. And at less than $300, it’s an affordable option, too.

And what would an electronics show be without showcasing a little drone technology? And the Parrot MiniDrone was this year’s crowd pleaser: a palm-sized, camera-equipped, remotely-piloted quad-rotor. However, this model has the added feature of two six-inch wheels, which affords it the ability to zip across floors, climb walls, and even move across ceilings! A truly versatile personal drone.

 

scanaduAnother very interesting display this year was the Scanadu Scout, the world’s first real-life tricorder. First unveiled back in May of 2013, the Scout represents the culmination of years of work by the NASA Ames Research Center to produce the world’s first, non-invasive medical scanner. And this year, they chose to showcase it at CES and let people test it out on themselves and each other.

All told, the Scanadu Scout can measure a person’s vital signs – including their heart rate, blood pressure, temperature – without ever touching them. All that’s needed is to place the scanner above your skin, wait a moment, and voila! Instant vitals. The sensor will begin a pilot program with 10,000 users this spring, the first key step toward FDA approval.

wowwee_mip_sg_4And of course, no CES would be complete without a toy robot or two. This year, it was the WowWee MiP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum) that put on a big show. Basically, it is an eight-inch bot that balances itself on dual wheels (like a Segway), is controllable by hand gestures, a Bluetooth-conncted phone, or can autonomously roll around.

Its sensitivity to commands and its ability to balance while zooming across the floor are super impressive. While on display, many were shown carrying a tray around (sometimes with another MiP on a tray). And, a real crowd pleaser, the MiP can even dance. Always got to throw in something for the retro 80’s crowd, the people who grew up with the SICO robot, Jinx, and other friendly automatons!

iOptikBut perhaps most impressive of all, at least in my humble opinion, is the display of the prototype for the iOptik AR Contact Lens. While most of the focus on high-tech eyewear has been focused on wearables like Google Glass of late, other developers have been steadily working towards display devices that are small enough to worse over your pupil.

Developed by the Washington-based company Innovega with support from DARPA, the iOptik is a heads-up display built into a set of contact lenses. And this year, the first fully-functioning prototypes are being showcased at CES. Acting as a micro-display, the glasses project a picture onto the contact lens, which works as a filter to separate the real-world from the digital environment and then interlaces them into the one image.

ioptik_contact_lenses-7Embedded in the contact lenses are micro-components that enable the user to focus on near-eye images. Light projected by the display (built into a set of glasses) passes through the center of the pupil and then works with the eye’s regular optics to focus the display on the retina, while light from the real-life environment reaches the retina via an outer filter.

This creates two separate images on the retina which are then superimposed to create one integrated image, or augmented reality. It also offers an alternative solution to traditional near-eye displays which create the illusion of an object in the distance so as not to hinder regular vision. At present, still requires clearance from the FDA before it becomes commercially available, which may come in late 2014 or early 2015.


Well, its certainly been an interesting year, once again, in the world of electronics, robotics, personal devices, and wearable technology. And it manages to capture the pace of change that is increasingly coming to characterize our lives. And according to the tech site Mashable, this year’s show was characterized by televisions with 4K pixel resolution, wearables, biometrics, the internet of personalized and data-driven things, and of course, 3-D printing and imaging.

And as always, there were plenty of videos showcasing tons of interesting concepts and devices that were featured this year. Here are a few that I managed to find and thought were worthy of passing on:

Internet of Things Highlights:


Motion Tech Highlights:


Wearable Tech Highlights:


Sources: popsci.com, (2), cesweb, mashable, (2), gizmag, (2), news.cnet

The Future is Here: Augmented Reality Storybooks

ar_storybookDisney has always been on the forefront of technological innovation whenever and wherever their animation is concerned. Augmented reality has been a part of their operations for quite some time, usually in the form of displays put on at Epcot Center or their Haunted Mansion. But now, they are bringing their efforts in AR to the kind of standard storybook that you would read to your children before bedtime.

Thanks to innovations provided by Nintendo DS, the PSP, tablets and smartphones, books have become alive and interactive in ways that were simply not possible ten or twenty years ago. However, one cannot deny that ebooks simply do not have the same kind of old world charm and magic that paperbacks do. Call it nostalgic appeal or tradition, but reading to a child from a bounded tome just seems somehow more meaningful to most people.

disneyhideout-640x353And that’s where Disney’s HideOut project comes into play, a mobile projector is used to create an augmented reality storybook. How it works is simple enough, and in a way, involves merging the best of electronic and paper media. Within the book, certain parts will be printed using special infrared-absorbing ink, so that sentences and images can be tracked.

The mobile projector, in turn, uses a built-in camera to sense the ink, then projects digital images onto the page’s surface that are animated to interact with the markers. In this way, it knows to show certain images when parts of the book call for them to be displayed, and can turn normal pictures into 3D animated segments.

disney_argameAnd storybooks aren’t the only application being investigated by Disney. In addition, they have been experimenting with game concepts, where a user would moves a mobile projector around a board, causing a character to avoid enemies. In another scenario, a characters projected onto a surface interacts with tangible objects placed around them. This would not be entertaining to a child, but could be educational as well.

The applications also extend to the world of work, as the demo below shows. in this case, HideOut projects a file system onto the top of a desk, allowing the user to choose folders by aiming the projector, not unlike how a person selects channels or options using a Wii remote by aiming it at a sensor bar. And the technology could even be used on smartphones and mobile devices, allowing people the ability to interact with their phone, Facetime, or Skype on larger surfaces.

disneyhideoutAnd of course, Disney is not the only company developing this kind of AR interactive technology, nor are they the first. Products like ColAR, an app that brings your coloring book images to life, and Eye of Judgment, an early PS3 game that accessed CCG cards and animated the characters on-screen, are already on the market. And while there does not appear to be a release date for Disney’s HideOut device just yet, its likely to be making the rounds within a few years tops.

For anyone familiar with the world of Augmented Reality and computing, this is likely to call to mind what Pranav Mistry demonstrated with his Sixth Sense technology, something which is being adopted by numerous developers for mobile computing. Since he first unveiled his concept back in 2009, the technology has been improving and the potential for commercial applications has been keeping pace.

In just a few years time, every storybook is likely to come equipped with its own projector. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it quickly becomes the norm to see people out on the streets interacting with images and worlds that only they can see. And those of us who are old enough will think back to a time when only crazy people did this!

In the meantime, check out this demo of the Disney’s HideOut device in action:


Source: extremetech.com

Cool Video: “Kara”, by Quantic Dream

KaraI just came across this very interesting video over at Future Timeline, where the subject in question was how by the 22nd century, androids would one day be indistinguishable from humans. To illustrate the point, the writer’s used a video produced by Quantic Dream, a motion capture and animation studio that produces 3D sequences for video games as well as their own video shorts and proprietary technologies.

The video below is entitled “Kara”, a video short that was developed for the PS3 and presented during the 2012 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. A stunning visual feet and the winner of the Best Experimental Film award at the International LA Shorts Film Fest 2012, Kara tells the story of an AX 400 third generation android getting assembled and initiated.

Naturally, things go wrong during the process when a “bug” is encountered. I shan’t say more seeing as how I don’t want to spoil the movie, but trust me when I say it’s quite poignant and manages to capture the issue of emerging intelligence quite effectively. As the good folks at Future Timeline used this video to illustrate, the 22nd century is likely to see a new type of civil rights movement, one which has nothing to do with “human rights”.

Enjoy!

IBM Creates First Photonic Microchip

optical_computer1For many years, optical computing has been a subject of great interest for engineers and researchers. As opposed to the current crop of computers which rely on the movement of electrons in and out of transistors to do logic, an optical computer relies on the movement of photons. Such a computer would confer obvious advantages, mainly in the realm of computing speed since photons travel much faster than electrical current.

While the concept and technology is relatively straightforward, no one has been able to develop photonic components that were commercially viable. All that changed this past December as IBM became the first company to integrate electrical and optical components on the same chip. As expected, when tested, this new chip was able to transmit data significantly faster than current state-of-the-art copper and optical networks.

ibm-silicon-nanophotonic-chip-copper-and-waveguidesBut what was surprising was just how fast the difference really was. Whereas current interconnects are generally measured in gigabits per second, IBM’s new chip is already capable of shuttling data around at terabits per second. In other words, over a thousand times faster than what we’re currently used to. And since it will be no big task or expense to replace the current generation of electrical components with photonic ones, we could be seeing this chip taking the place of our standard CPUs really soon!

This comes after a decade of research and an announcement made back in 2010, specifically that IBM Research was tackling the concept of silicon nanophotonics. And since they’ve proven they can create the chips commercially, they could be on the market within just a couple of years. This is certainly big news for supercomputing and the cloud, where limited bandwidth between servers is a major bottleneck for those with a need for speed!

internetCool as this is, there are actually two key breakthroughs to boast about here. First, IBM has managed to build a monolithic silicon chip that integrates both electrical (transistors, capacitors, resistors) and optical (modulators, photodetectors, waveguides) components. Monolithic means that the entire chip is fabricated from a single crystal of silicon on a single production line, and the optical and electrical components are mixed up together to form an integrated circuit.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, IBM was able to manufacture these chips using the same process they use to produce the CPUs for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. This was not easy, according to internal sources, but in so doing, they can produce this new chip using their standard manufacturing process, which will not only save them money in the long run, but make the conversion process that much cheaper and easier. From all outward indications, it seems that IBM spent most of the last two years trying to ensure that this aspect of the process would work.

Woman-Smashing-ComputerExcited yet? Or perhaps concerned that this boost in speed will mean even more competition and the need to constantly upgrade? Well, given the history of computing and technological progress, both of these sentiments would be right on the money. On the one hand, this development may herald all kinds of changes and possibilities for research and development, with breakthroughs coming within days and weeks instead of years.

At the same time, it could mean that rest of us will be even more hard pressed to keep our software and hardware current, which can be frustrating as hell. As it stands, Moore’s Law states that it takes between 18 months and two years for CPUs to double in speed. Now imagine that dwindling to just a few weeks, and you’ve got a whole new ballgame!

Source: Extremetech.com