The Future is Here: The Thumbles Robot Touch Screen

thumblesSmartphones and tablets, with their high-resolution touchscreens and ever-increasing number of apps, are all very impressive and good. And though some apps are even able to jump from the screen in 3D, the vast majority are still limited to two-dimensions and are limited in terms of interaction. More and more, interface designers are attempting to break this fourth wall and make information something that you can really feel and move with your own two hands.

Take the Thumbles, an interactive screen created by James Patten from Patten Studio. Rather than your convention 2D touchscreen that responds to the heat in your fingers, this desktop interface combines touch screens with tiny robots that act as interactive controls. Whenever a new button would normally pop on the screen, a robot drives up instead, precisely parking for the user to grab it, turn it, or rearrange it. And the idea is surprisingly versatile.

thumbles1As the video below demonstrates, the robots serve all sorts of functions. In various applications, they appear as grabbable hooks at the ends of molecules, twistable knobs in a sound and video editor, trackable police cars on traffic maps, and swappable space ships in a video game. If you move or twist one robot, another robot can mirror the movement perfectly. And thanks to their omnidirectional wheels, the robots always move with singular intent, driving in any direction without turning first.

Naturally, there are concerns about the practicality of this technology where size is concerned. While it makes sense for instances where space isn’t a primary concern, it doesn’t exactly work for a smartphone or tablet touchscreen. In that case, the means simply don’t exist to create robots small enough to wander around the tiny screen space and act as interfaces. But in police stations, architecture firms, industrial design settings, or military command centers, the Thumbles and systems like it are sure to be all the rage.

thumbles2Consider another example shown in the video, where we see a dispatcher who is able to pick up and move a police car to a new location to dispatch it. Whereas a dispatcher is currently required to listen for news of a disturbance, check an available list of vehicles, see who is close to the scene, and then call that police officer to go to that scene, this tactile interface streamlines such tasks into quick movements and manipulations.

The same holds true for architects who want to move design features around on a CAD model; corporate officers who need to visualize their business model; landscapers who want to see what a stretch of Earth will look like once they’ve raised a section of land, changed the drainage, planted trees or bushes, etc.; and military planners can actively tell different units on a battlefield (or a natural disaster) what to do in real-time, responding to changing circumstances quicker and more effectively, and with far less confusion.

Be sure to check out the demo video below, showing the Thumbles in action. And be sure to check out Patten Studio on their website.


Sources: fastcodesign.com, pattenstudio.com

The Future is Here: Laser 3D Printing

pegasus-touch3D printing has really come into is own in recent years, with the range of applications constantly increasing. However, not all 3D printers or printing methods are the same, ranging from ones that use layered melted plastic to ones that print layers of metal dust, then fuse them with microwave radiation. This range in difference also means that some printers are faster, more accurate, and more expensive than others.

Take the Pegasus Touch as an example. Built by a Las Vegas-based company Full Spectrum Laser (FSL), this desktop 3D printer uses lasers to create objects faster and in finer detail than most other printers in its price range. Available for as little as US$2,000 via a Kickstarter campaign, its performance is claimed to be comparable to machines costing 50 times more.

 

pegasus-touch-8Instead of building up an object by melting plastic filaments and depositing the liquid like ink from a nozzle, the Pegasus touch uses what’s called laser-based stereolithography (SLA). This consists of using a series of 500 kHz ultraviolet lasers moving at 3,000 mm/sec to solidify curable photopolymer resin. As the object rises out of a vat of resin, the laser focuses on the surface, building up layer after layer with high precision.

To be fair, the technology has been around for many years. What is different with the Pegasus Touch is that FSL has shrunk the printer down and made it more economical. Normally, SLA machines are huge and cost in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Pegasus Touch, on other hand, measures just 28 x 36 x 57 cm (11 x 14 x 22.5 inches) and costs only a few thousand dollars.

pegasus-touch-4This affordability is due in part to the wide availability of Bluray players has made UC laser diodes much more affordable. In addition, FSL is already adept at making laser cutting and engraving machines, which has allowed the company to base the Pegasus Touch on modelling software and electronics already developed for these machines. This allows the device to operate at tolerances equivalent to a $100,000 machine.

The device also has an on-board 1GHz Linux computer with 512 MB memory that can do much of the 3D processing computation itself, making a connected PC all but unnecessary. There’s also an internet-connected 4.3-in color touchscreen, which allows the user to access open-source models that are printer-ready, plus the machine comes with multi-touch-capable desktop software.

pegasus-touch-3It also has a relatively large build area of approximately 18 x 18 x 23 cm (7 x 7 x 9 inch), which is one of the largest in the consumer 3D printer market. The company also says that the Pegasus Touch is 10 times faster than a filament deposition modelling (FDM) printer, has finer control, and up to six times faster than other SLA printers, and can produces a better and more detailed finish.

The Pegasus Touch’s Kickstarter campaign wrapped up earlier this month and raised a total of $819,535, putting them well above their original goal of $100,000. For those who pledged $2000 or more, the printer was made available for pre-order. When and if it goes on sale, the asking price will be $3,499. Given time, I imagine the technology will improve to use metal and other materials instead of resin.

And of course, there’s a promotional video, showcasing the device at work:


Sources: gizmag.com, kickstarter.com, fsl3d.com

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: The Transparent Smartphone and USB Stick

transphoneTwo years ago, Samsung made a big splash with the release of their concept video for a thin, transparent, AMOLED display tablet. Having showed a great deal of promise, thanks to the combination of paper thin technology and the Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode display, they had to admit a fully transparent device was still many years away.

And in that respect, they were hardly alone. After the Consumer Electronics Show of 2010 and 2011, it seemed that every major company had their own concept for a transparent device, still many years in the making. Well, as it turns out they all may have spoken a little too soon!

In a recent story, a Taiwanese group named polytron introduced their concept for a transparent smartphone and USB stick. As purveyors of smart glass – glass with built-in LED displays, “privacy” glass, holographic glass, touchscreen glass, etc – this latest invention effectively combines what they do best with the world of computing and communications and has jump started efforts to create to completely transparent devices.

transphone1

As you can see from the pics and video below, the phone has a thin frame, a slot for a SIM card, speakers mounted in the top, and is powered by two button cell batteries. It also boasts and LED screen, and is clearly still very much in the research and development phase. In the future, the company plans to mount a case across the bottom to hide the electronics, and an operating system will come as standard.

Much the same is true of their transparent USB stick. Combining an internal chip, a transparent case, and an embedded LED light to let you know when it’s plugged in, this device is likely to become the next generation of USB drives. And according to official rumors, the glass USB stick will also be made available with storage capacities of 4, 8, 16, and 32 gigabytes. No telling when it will be commercially available as of yet, but in all likelihood, sooner than the transparent phone.

transphone2

Be sure to check out these videos by Mobile Geeks, and follow the links at the bottom of the page to learn more about polytron’s smart glass products. I assure you, its really quite inspired!


Source: designboom.com, polyvision.com

Omnitouch Projection Touch Screens

OmnitouchOne of the most interesting areas in which computing has been improving lately has been in the realm of interfacing. Concepts like the XBOX Kinect gaming console have not occurred in a vacuum; in fact, they are part of a larger research trend that wants to make projection and scanning the way of the future. After all, why rely on a monitor or a console when you can project images onto any surface and use them like a touchscreen?

That’s the idea behind the OmniTouch technology. Using the same technology from the Kinect gaming system, a research team made of developers from Microsoft and Carnegie-Mellon University revealed back in October that they’ve come up with a system that can turn virtually any surface into a touchscreen. By combining a miniature camera and a portable computer, the user can write documents, check email and carry out their daily computational tasks simply by finding a surface.

Chris Harrison, a postgraduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute in Pittsburgh and a former intern at Microsoft Research and co-inventor of the device, describes the process as follows:

“OmniTouch works by bringing together a miniature projector and an infrared depth camera, similar to the kind used in Microsoft’s Kinect game console, to create a shoulder-worn system designed to interface with mobile devices such as smart phones. Instead of relying on screens, buttons, or keys, the system monitors the user’s environment for any available surfaces and projects an interactive display onto one or more of them.

“OmniTouch does this automatically, using the depth information provided by the camera to build a 3-D model of the environment. The camera acquires depth information about the scene by emitting a patterned beam of infrared light and using the reflections to calculate where surfaces are in the room. This eliminates the need for external calibration markers. The system rebuilds the model dynamically as the user or the surface moves—for example, the position of a hand or the angle or orientation of a book—so the size, shape, and position of these projections match those of the improvised display surfaces.”

Hrvoje Benko, another researcher who developed the device, admits that the current shoulder-mounted model is impractical. However, all the components involved in its creation are off-the-shelf electronics which are being miniaturized all the time. “But it’s not where you mount it that counts,” he says. “The core motivation was to push this idea of turning any available surface into an interactive surface… So I don’t think we’re so far from it being made into a pendant or attached to glasses.”

All of this calls to mind the SixthSense concept invented by Pranav Mistry many years ago. Presenting at TedTalks, he demonstrated how a wearable camera, finger mounted devices, and a portable computer, a person could use just about any surface to interface with their computer and even be able to transfer documents and programs to stationary computers.

While he may have beaten the IBM research team to the punch, this represents a step forward for portable computing and touch-technology since it shows that the results can be duplicated and made commercially viable.

Click on the video below to watch the OmniTouch device in action, and check out Pranav Mistry’s presentation to TedTalks at the bottom. Both enlightening and worthwhile video segments, trust me on that!

The Future is Here: The Roll Out Laptop!

rolltop1 Presenting the Rolltop laptop, a proposed next-generation portable computer that is made to look and act like a scroll. As a concept, this idea was first started in 2009 by the people of Rolltop, a team of researchers, IT developers and business administrators. By combining recent advancements in the field of OLED-Display and multi-touchscreen technology, the plan was to create a flexible computer that would combine the utility of a laptop computer with the weight of a mini notebook.

In addition, it can be switched from a laptop with 13 inch diagonal screen to a 17 inch graphics tablet. Or, stand it up against its rear-mounted support arm and use it as a primary monitor. When rolled up, it measures a mere 8.3 in width and 28 centimeters in length, and has a carrying strap which allows it to be carried around like a small case. When unrolled, the laptop is separated from a central core which contains the battery, power plug-in, and loudspeaker.

rolltopInitially, the project was merely a proposal by the Rolltop team to demonstrate their vision and ideas. However, due to the overwhelming response from the technical and consumer community, they set to work on making it happen. As it stands, the device is still in the planning and development phase, but Rolltop has everything it needs to make it a reality. Well almost… The technology exists, the concept is feasible; all that’s needed is a little more time and investment capital.

In the meantime, check out this promotional video of the Rolltop at work. And if you’re really keen, click on this link to get to the company website to pledge a donation.