Tag Archives: consumer-electronics/gadgets

COVID’s Unlikely Offspring: The Rise of Smartwatch as Illness Detector

Post Syndicated from Brian T. Horowitz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/covid-byproduct-smartwatch-increasingly-illness-detector

Smartwatches and wearable devices have come a long way beyond counting steps. They’re getting better at detecting illness, and now they can even spot signs of COVID-19 before you are aware that you’re sick. Could a few data points gathered from consumer tech on your wrist really give doctors the data they need to diagnose you with a serious illness like COVID-19? 

Research is still in its early stage, but the last several months have seen a number of research efforts to increase the smartwatch’s illness detection capabilities. And it now looks like these tools will likely outlast the present pandemic.

Scripps Research has introduced an app called MyDataHelps as part of a study that tracks changes to a person’s sleep, activity level or resting heart rate. Fitbit is also building an algorithm that can detect COVID-19 before a person experiences symptoms. Meanwhile, Stanford Medicine researchers have developed a smartwatch alert system that can work on any wearable device, including Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin watches.

Michael Snyder, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics and director of Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford University, says watches can pick up signals of respiratory illnesses, even with asymptomatic cases. As COVID-19 hit, Snyder’s research increased “full blast,” he said. 

The alert system Snyder’s team ultimately developed is a “distributed system up on Google Cloud that reads people in real time,” he said. “And when it’s following their heart rate, if we see it jump up, we ping them back.” At that point researchers tell participants to stay home because they may be infected. The app uses an algorithm that warns patients using yellow or red alerts. Snyder says these alerts can help reduce COVID-19 transmission rates. In fact, 70% of the time a signal indicates a COVID-19 infection before or at the time it’s detected, he said. Snyder explained that just like a car dashboard monitors car health, a smartwatch will track a person’s physiology. 

“People like us will build algorithms that that will do the interpretation like pathologists when they see an imaging section for cancer diagnosis. They count on the pathologist to tell them what’s going on,” Snyder said. “That’s the way this will work.” 

Another study from Snyder’s group, published in a 2018 issue of the journal Personalized Medicine, examined how wearable devices like smartwatches could prevent evidence of inflammation or predict cardiometabolic health. 

For people with respiratory conditions, their heart rate jumps when they are breathing harder, Snyder noted. Another indicator that triggers alarms in Snyder’s algorithm is skin temperature. He has also developed a signal to detect signs of diabetes from drier skin. Snyder’s team is also working on expanding the types of data types it can study—and the frequency with which they sample the data. Higher frequency or resolution sampling increases the sensitivity of a data set. 

However, Snyder added, “You don’t want to oversample, because you’ll just drain your battery on the watch.”

Mount Sinai Studies How Wearables Indirectly Detect Inflammation

In another research project, Mount Sinai Health System is using the Apple Watch to detect inflammation based on changes in heart rate. Rob Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is a gastroenterologist and had been using wearable devices to predict flares of inflammation from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. 

“When you have inflammation develop in the body in particular, you can see fluctuations in your nervous system function,” Hirten explained. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hirten and his team applied the research to detect increased risk of COVID infection in healthcare workers. The custom application Hirten designed allowed his team to collect physiologic data for analysis and ask short questions about symptoms.

“What we’re able to then do through our app is take the data from the phone and collect it into our research portal so that we’re actually able to analyze the data that’s being collected by the Apple Watch normally,” Hirten said. 

Smartwatches and Biomarkers

At Duke University, Jessilyn Dunn, Ph.D. assistant professor of biomedical engineering, biostatistics and bioinformatics at Duke University, and her team are testing the role of smartwatches as another tool to use to detect physical signs of COVID-19. Dunn formerly collaborated with Snyder at Stanford on research prior to the pandemic. With one of her doctoral students studying in Wuhan, China, and providing firsthand info on the start of the health crisis, Dunn knew COVID would be an opportunity to do some research on illness detection with smartwatches. 

“We had daily electronic surveys asking people about their symptoms, testing status, those sorts of general questions to get a feel if people are sick or not, and then pulling in their smartwatch data,” Dunn said. “We could pull in data from pretty much any consumer wearable device that is compatible with an Apple phone or an Android phone,” Dunn said. 

Dunn’s team has partnered with organizations in North Carolina to distribute Apple Watches and Garmin watches to communities of color to balance the demographics of the study. 

“We’ve seen that COVID is disproportionately affecting communities of color, and so to only develop what we call digital biomarkers on the people who already own smartwatches just seemed like it was missing the mark,” Dunn said. “Equitable digital biomarker development” has been a focus of her study to overcome bias that exists in machine learning, she said.  

“We’re going to need to collect data in people who have certain types of illnesses and to be able to build these digital biomarkers,” Dunn said. The biomarkers could distinguish between an illness like diabetes and respiratory illness. In addition to heart rate, Dunn is using algorithms that can monitor blood oxygen (SPO2) levels.

The Future of Wearable Illness Detection

So can a few noisy alarms from someone’s wrist really tell you if you are sick? 

“In my lab, we’re always a little bit skeptical of making sure that technologies are properly validated,” Dunn said. She noted that consumer devices such as smartwatches were made for primarily entertainment or hobbies and less for medical purposes. However, Dunn is optimistic that the smartwatches will be able to help detect when people are sick, but oversight of the data will be key. 

“It’s really important that there is appropriate oversight set up for this sort of digital health arena,” Dunn said. “[We need to make] sure that when we’re getting information from these devices that it’s trustworthy.” 

Hirten said his team is planning to integrate additional physiological markers into their algorithms to predict additional diseases. Combining heart rate along with blood-oxygen levels and steps increases the predictive ability for medical professionals, he noted. 

“What we’re learning from the COVID infections by using these wearable devices I think will translate in the future over the coming years as we take what we’ve learned here and start applying it to other conditions and diseases to try to impact them,” Hirten said. 

Snyder says his group’s heart rate alert studies have established they can detect signs of illness.

“It’s really clear your heart rate jumps up when you’re ill,” Snyder said. The next step will be to expand to data types for other illnesses beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keysight University Live from the Lab: A Sneak Peek of Keysight’s New Test Gear, Tips from Industry Gurus, and Chances to Win Test Gear

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CES 2021: FEMA’s Emergency Alert System Coming to a Game or Gadget Near You?

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/ces-2021-fema-wants-its-emergency-alert-system-talk-to-your-favorite-game-system-or-gadget

It was easy for exhibitors to get lost in the virtual shuffle at CES 2021, where the digital exhibit hall simply displayed the logos of the 1900-plus exhibitors. To get any detail about a particular presenter, you had to search for their booth and click into it, wading through videos, power points, PDFs, and images to try to figure out exactly what was on display.

Among the obscured were the exhibitors from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If anyone even noticed the agency’s logo—then wondered what FEMA was doing at CES—they likely surmised that it was simply there in case of a literal emergency and passed it by.

At a real-world show, though, their exhibit would likely have caught the eye of the curious. It would have contained kiosks, large electronic billboards, and even braille readers showing off the diversity of devices that are part of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

And, had a CES attendee stopped to look, the IPAWS folks would have explained their program to help consumer products designers build emergency alert capability into just about any system that includes a display.

IPAWS is the organization that sends wireless emergency alerts, like Amber Alerts and weather warnings, to mobile phones. It also manages the emergency alert system that triggers the audio warnings that interrupt radio and television broadcasts. In the past year, I’ve mostly seen phone alerts in the form of public health announcements of new shelter-in-place orders and, in one case, a tornado warning that gave me time to pull off the road before the weather got particularly crazy.

IPAWS acts as what it calls a “redistributor,” that is, it takes alerts from counties and other agencies and passes them on to devices designed to display them. Besides mobile phones, said IPAWS program analyst Justin Singer, such devices today include digital billboards, Braille readers, and public tourism kiosks.

But, says Singer, getting alerts in front of the people who could benefit from them gets more challenging when people spend more and more time in front of a diversity of displays. And he is hoping that the consumer electronics industry will help them meet this challenge.

“We are relying on the industry to take this on as a project and implement our technology in their products. We don’t have the ability to build products ourselves and we don’t want to regulate anybody. We just want to get alerts to as many people as possible through as many media as possible,” Singer said.

Take gamers. “Gamers are inherently cut off. I don’t want to interrupt their games, but if I can get a little alert on their screen displaying a tornado warning, say, maybe I can get them to move to the basement,” he continued. “Virtual reality would be really important; there you are really cut off. I’m trying to get smart mirror companies to see the light, too.”

Singer has tried to reach out to Microsoft’s Xbox team but has yet to connect with any interested engineers. He says he did manage to have a CES conversation with representatives of Sony. But trying to catch the eye of product designers at a virtual show has proven difficult. Singer would like to tell developers that IPAWS offers design help, and can also give them access to a laboratory in Maryland that would allow them to test their products on a closed system.

And, he’d tell them, “If you build it, we will show it off in our CES booth next year.”

Potential developers can find out more about the program by contacting [email protected].

CES 2021: My Top 3 Gadgets of the Show—and 3 of the Weirdest

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/ces-2021-my-top-3-gadgets-of-the-showand-3-of-the-weirdest

CES 2021, the all-digital show I attended through a computer screen this week, had some 1900 virtual booths, several peripheral product showcases, and kept my email inbox jammed with a constant stream of product announcements. It had new TV displays, robots promising to be your best friend, and gadgets aimed at making life in the pandemic world a little easier.

And among all that were a few concepts for new products that, in my eyes, showcased each their own touch of genius. Of course, genius varies in the eyes of the consumer. A great product, after all, is not only unique and clever, but it also fills a real need. And needs are personal. With that caveat—and with the reminder that I have yet to try out or even touch any of these products personally—here are the CES products that most lit up my world this week, in no particular order, along with three that I found unique in a different way.

First, in the “why didn’t someone think of this before” category:

JLab’s JBuds Frames Wireless Audio

Audio “buds” for your glasses instead of your ears? Why haven’t I seen this before? I have yet to find an earbud, wireless or otherwise, that I find truly comfortable and that stays on when I’m doing my daily walk. And over-the-ear headphones are too much of everything. A few years ago I was excited by the launch of Aftershokz headphones that go behind instead of in or over the ear, but found that the vibrations going through my head tended to make me queasy.

So JBuds Frames—tiny Bluetooth speakers with microphones that clip onto the frame of your glasses instead of tucking into your ears—got my attention. These days, I wear glasses everywhere, though often switch out to sunglasses for that walk. JLab’s press release says the speakers come with an assortment of silicon sleeves that will let them adjust to a variety of glasses frames. A spokesperson I queried said that at 11.7 grams each, they are light enough to not change the feel or fit of my glasses noticeably. The company promises eight hours of playtime and 100 hours of standby time on a two-hour charge. JBuds Frames are also water resistant. JLabs says the Frames will start shipping to customers in the spring, priced at around $50. I’m looking forward to trying them, and I’m hopeful that I won’t be disappointed when I do.

Samsung’s Galaxy Upcycling at Home

Samsung announced plans to release a line of software designed to encourage consumers to repurpose smart phones as IoT devices instead of tossing them into a drawer or the trash.  The software, to be released under a program it calls Galaxy Upcycling at Home, will allow old phones to be used as baby monitors, light controllers, and other smart home gadgets. DIY’ers have been repurposing phones this way for a long time, but making it simple for everyday consumers to do so is game-changing.

Wazyn’s smart sliding door adapter

I’ve had traditional flap-style pet doors in the past, and I know that raccoons aren’t frustrated by electronically-controlled locks. The creatures just pry them open. Plus, you also have to cut a hole in your door to install the things. So I was intrigued by Wazyn’s demo of its $400 gadget that turns a sliding door into an automatic or remotely controlled door. The device, the company says, is never permanently installed and doesn’t involve cutting a hole in anything. It can be controlled by a motion sensor that detects the arrival of a pet, which then sends an alert to your phone or smart speaker, at which you can tell it to open the door. It can also be set to automatically open—and automatically be turned off to keep those racoons out at night. All it requires is a smartphone or Alexa. So I’ve got sliding doors, I’ve got Alexa… all I need is a new cat.

And in the “hmmmm, who exactly would want this?” category:

Incipio’s Organicore phone cases

I know it’s tough for phone case manufacturers to distinguish themselves. You can make these gadget covers stronger and more colorful and branded by famous designers, but it’s still hard to make one line of phone cases stand out from all the other ones. So you can imagine the designers at Incipio in a Zoom brainstorming session, during a time when many of us are at home literally watching our grass grow, coming up with the company’s latest twist on a phone case. “Let’s make it compostable!” suggested someone, leading to Incipio’s $40 Organicore phone case. The company advises that composting in a residential bin will take two to three years, I can’t imagine pushing aside an old phone case every time I turn my compost for that long.

Neuvana’s Xen vagus nerve stimulating earbuds

These are stressful times to be sure, times when all of us are looking for ways to reduce our anxiety. But I’m not convinced that zapping my ears with electrical signals is going to make me happier than pandemic baking.

Neuvana is hoping that at least some of us are looking to try new stress-reduction technology. The company says its $330 Xen earbuds send an electrical signal through the ear to the vagus nerve, “bringing on feelings of calm, boosted mood, and better sleep.” I’m not questioning the power of vagus nerve stimulation—there’s a lot of research underway involving treatments for epilepsy and depression—just whether this is something I would actually want to do at home.

Ninu’s AI-guided perfume customizer

“Embark on a perfume fusion journey guided by AI perfume master Pierre,” stated Ninu’s press release. It took me back…back to Disneyland, where, as a teenager, I paid a few dollars for the thrill of having a parfumier with a bad French accent create a custom scent just for me. So I get that the idea of a custom scent can capture the imagination. But do I really need a perfume system that uses an app and AI and can “change the scent with every spray”? Pricing for Ninu’s cartridge-based system is not yet available.

CES 2021: Consumer Electronics Makers Pivot to Everything Covid

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/ces-2021-consumer-electronics-makers-pivot-to-everything-covid

It’s been ten months since the coronavirus pandemic changed everything—plenty of time to design, prototype, and manufacture products designed for consumers looking to navigate the new reality more safely, comfortably, and efficiently. And more than enough time to rebrand some existing products as exactly what a consumer needs to weather these challenging times.

So I wandered the virtual show floor of CES 2021 and the peripheral press-targeted events to find these Covid gadgets. Here are my top picks, in no particular order.

Tech-packed face masks

I’m sure there were many more variants of the high-tech face mask than I managed to find in the virtual halls. Those I spotted included:

Binatone’s $50 MaskFone, an N95 mask with built in wireless earbuds, uses a microphone under the mask to eliminate mask-muffle from phone conversations.

Razer’s Project Hazel mask comes with a charging box that uses UV light to disinfect while the mask charges. The N95 mask includes clear panels and a light, to allow whoever you’re talking to see your mouth move day or night (helpful for understanding speech for all, not just for those with hearing loss). There’s also an internal microphone and external amplifier for voice projection across social distances and built-in air conditioning. This is still a concept product with no pricing available.

AirPop’s $150 Active+ mask monitors air quality and breathing, tracking breaths during different activities and flagging the user when the filter needs replacing. A Bluetooth radio connects the mask to smartphones for data analysis.

Personal air purifiers

I’m not convinced that the average consumer will be as likely to toss a personal air purifier in their tote or backpack as they are to carry a canister of disinfecting wipes, even though these two products are about the same size. But plenty of gadget makers think there is a market for the personal air purifier. They don’t agree, however, on their choice of air purification technology. LuftQi, for example, uses UVA LEDs in its $150 Luft Duo; NS Nanotech picked far-UVC light for its $200 air purifier. And Dadam Micro’s $130 Puripot M1 uses titanium dioxide and visible wavelength light.

Lexon’s Oblio desktop phone sanitizer

Lexon combined a wireless charger and a UV-C sanitizer into an $80 desktop appliance that looks like a pencil holder; there’s no reason why this gadget couldn’t disinfect pencils as well

Panasonic’s car entertainment systems

The moment that Covid tech jumped the shark might have been when Panasonic Automotive President Scott Kirchner, in introducing the company’s automotive entertainment systems, pitched the technologies as relevant because “our vehicles have become second homes” from which we celebrate birthdays and attend performances and political rallies. Panasonic’s latest in-car technology, he said, can drive 11 displays, and distribute audio seat by seat or throughout the cabin.

NanoScent’s Covid diagnostics technology

Talk about a pivot! Startup NanoScent, a company that has built an odor sensor that, coupled with machine learning, it has been developing for use in detecting gas leaks, cow pregnancies, and nutritional status, aims to use its technology to detect the coronavirus. The company says that the proliferation of virus cells among the microrganisms that inhabit the noses of Covid patients produces what it believes to be a distinct smell. It has run two clinical trials, one in Israel and one in the United Arab Emirates, with 3420 total patients.

Yale’s smart delivery box

Yale, the lock company, addressed the problem of no-contact doorstep delivery security with its Smart Delivery Box. Users place the chest wherever deliveries generally take place, weighting or tethering it to prevent theft. It sits there unlocked until it is opened, then, after a delivery person places items inside and closes it, it locks until the owner unlocks it with a smartphone. The $230 to $330 lockbox (depending on style and features) can also be managed via WiFi.


CES 2021: A Countertop Chocolate Factory Could Be This Year’s Best Kitchen Gadget

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/ces-2021-a-countertop-chocolate-factory-could-be-this-years-best-kitchen-gadget

Sheltering-in-place orders sent many of us into the kitchen, baking and pickling and tackling ambitious cooking projects that maybe hadn’t captured as much widespread public interest pre-pandemic. So I wasn’t surprised that design engineers at consumer products companies spent 2020 thinking about high-tech kitchen gadgets.

The wave of kitchen tech introduced at CES 2021 includes a countertop chocolate factory that, if priced right, will likely be a top holiday gift in 2021. It also includes yet another attempt to apply Keurig’s pod concept as well as a spoon I’m not exactly sure I want in my mouth.

Unfortunately, with an all-digital CES this year, I was unable to get my hands on any of these gadgets—or to taste their creations. Instead, I viewed live-streamed demos or recorded pitches. And since some of the best food-tech ideas don’t necessarily produce the best tasting foods, the jury is very much out. But here are my picks for at least the most mouth-watering kitchen gadgets from CES 2021.

CocoTerra’s countertop automated chocolate factory.

The process of making chocolate from scratch has always seemed magical, even without Willie Wonka involved, and I’ve never missed a chance to visit a chocolate factory. I’ve seen enough to know that getting from cocoa bean to chocolate bar has many steps involving friction and heating and cooling. And so while chocolate making might seem like the perfect pandemic project, it’s a little too complicated to try at home. Which is why CocoTerra’s chocolate-making appliance jumped out at me. Founder Nate Saal, who previously worked in software engineering at various tech companies, explained in a live-streamed demo that the company’s recipes suggest different combinations of cocoa nibs, sugar, cocoa butter, and milk powder. It takes about two hours for the gadget to grind, heat, cool, spin, stir, and mold the chocolate. And, as a big selling point for me, the countertop appliance is compact, approximately 10 inches in diameter and 13 inches tall. Saal pointed out that he designed the gadget to use user-measured ingredients, not pods, to open up the possibilities of using cocoa beans from different sources. Pricing is not yet available

ColdSnap’s rapid ice-cream maker

ColdSnap’s 90-second countertop ice-cream freezer didn’t excite me as much as CocoTerra’s chocolate factory, as it’s a pod-based system—and there have been many bad pod ideas since Keurig introduced the world to coffee pods. Not only am I thinking that the single-serving pods, at $2.50 or more each, are pricier than an equivalent amount of premium ice cream, but also I’m skeptical that the product will taste as good. Rather, ColdSnap seems like a gadget that would quickly go from countertop to garage. The device, which the company says can make smoothies and frozen cocktails as well as ice cream, did win a CES Innovation Award, however. ColdSnap is expected to retail at $500 to $1000.

PantryChic’s automated ingredient dispensing system

PantryChic’s creators jumped onto two trends from the early days of stay-at-home orders—pantry reorganization (think matching canisters) and baking. They came up with a system that accurately measures flour and other dry ingredients by weight, automatically converting cups to the gram equivalent when necessary. Users store ingredients in PantryChic’s clear, smart canisters, identifying the type of ingredient when they fill each canister. Then the gadget will recognize the ingredient when the canister locks onto the dispenser. For someone who bakes constantly and prefers the precision of weighed ingredients, perhaps this gadget makes sense. But the company’s visuals suggest rice, cereal, and beans be dispensed by the device as well as flour and sugar—and that’s really not going to happen in a normal kitchen. The starter system—the countertop dispenser and two small canisters—is $350, additional canisters are $40 to $45.

TasteBooster’s SpoonTek flavor-enhancing spoon

TasteBooster’s founders Ken and Cameron Davidov have been developing products that use a mild electric current produced by the human body for several years. Their latest, SpoonTek, aims to use that current to “excite the taste buds.” The user places a finger on an electrode on the spoon handle, scoops up food, and completes the circuit by touching the tongue to the bowl of the spoon. The founders say the system will allow the health-conscious to use less salt and will also eliminate bitter aftertastes, enabling users to enjoy foods they may previously have found unpleasant. The spoons are priced at $29 each, less in quantity, on Indiegogo.

HyperLychee’s Skadu electric pot scrubber

Finally, we get to cleanup, and a power pot scrubber. Think cordless drill with scrubbing pads and other attachments. There just may be a market for it among people who do the kitchen cleanup in their households and are fans of power tools. The Skadu is $70 on Indiegogo.

This Is the Year for Apple’s AR Glasses—Maybe

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/this-is-the-year-for-apples-ar-glassesmaybe

Apple didn’t invent the portable music player, although I challenge you to name one of the approximately 50 digital-music gadgets that preceded the iPod. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone either—it just produced the first one that made people line up overnight to buy it.

And Apple isn’t first out of the gate with augmented-reality (AR) glasses, which use built-in sensors, processors, and displays to overlay information on the world as you look at it. Google introduced its Glass in 2013, but it generated more controversy and criticism than revenues. More recently, Magic Leap promised floating elephants and delivered file sharing. And Epson has been quietly selling its Moverio AR glasses for niche applications like closed captioning for theatergoers and video monitoring for drone pilots, while steering clear of the consumer market. The point is, although they were pioneering, none of these efforts managed to put augmented reality into comfortable, useful, affordable glasses that appealed to an ordinary person.

And now comes Apple. For years, Apple has been filing patents for AR and virtual-reality (VR) technology, acquiring related startups, and hiring AR experts from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Magic Leap, Oculus, and others. The company has been tilling this soil for quite a while, and speculation has for years been intense about when all this cultivation would bear fruit. Though Apple has carefully shrouded its AR efforts since their origins around 2015, a few signs, such as a declaration from a legendary Apple leaker, suggest that an unveiling could come as soon as March of this year.

It’s a giant project for Apple. Some analysts suggest it could give the company a jump on a market that could swell from US $7.6 billion to $29.5 billion over the next five years. Published reports indicate that Apple has around 1,000 people working on the effort. And now, after working on various designs for years, those engineers have likely made dozens and dozens of prototypes, according to Benedict Evans, an analyst who also produces an influential newsletter on technology. Before long, we’ll find out whether Apple can do for AR glasses what it did for portable music players, smartphones, and smartwatches.

“It’s the threshold moment that all of the AR community have been waiting for,” says David Rose, a researcher in the MIT Media Lab and former CEO of ­Ambient Devices. “AR glasses hold so much promise for learning, and ­navigating, and simply getting someone to see through your eyes. The uses are mind-blowing…. You could see a city through the eyes of an architect or an urban planner; find out about the history of a place; how something was made; or how the landscape you are seeing could be made more sustainable in the future.”

Rumors of a 2021 launch flared up last May, when Jon Prosser, who hosts the YouTube Channel Front Page Tech and has made a career out of reporting leaks from Apple and others, said that an announcement of what he expected to be called Apple Glass would likely come at a March 2021 event. Prosser predicted displays for both eyes, a gesture-control system, and a $500 price point. Other pundits have chimed in with different release dates and specifications. But 2021 remains the popular favorite, at least for an unveiling.

What technology will be packed inside Apple’s first generation of AR glasses? It depends on the experience Apple has chosen to provide, and for this, there are two main possibilities. One is simply displaying information about what’s in front of the wearer via text or icons that appear in a corner of the visual field and effectively appear attached to the glasses. In other words, the text doesn’t change as you swivel your head. The alternative is placing data or graphics so that they appear to be attached to or overlaid upon objects or people in the environment. With this setup, if you swivel your head, the data moves out of your vision as the objects do and new data appears that’s relevant to the new objects swerving into your field of view. This latter scheme is harder to pull off but more in line with what people expect when they think about AR.

Evans is betting on that second approach. “If they were just going to do a head-up display, they could have done it already for $100,” he points out.

Evans isn’t making a guess as to whether Apple will launch AR glasses in 2021 or later, but when they do, he says, it won’t be as a prototype, or an experiment aimed at a niche market, like Magic Leap or HoloLens. “Apple sells things that they think have a reason for a normal person to buy. It will be a consumer product and have a mass-market price. There will be stuff to develop further, but it won’t be $2,000 and weigh 3 kilos.”

Evans expects the first version will include eye tracking, so the glasses can tell what part of the broader field of view is attracting the user’s attention, along with inertial sensors to monitor head motion. Head gestures may well be part of the interface, and it will likely have a lidar sensor on board, enabling the glasses to create a depth map of the wearer’s surroundings. In fact, Apple’s top-of-the-line tablet and phone, the iPad Pro and iPhone 12 Pro, incorporate lidar for tracking motion and calculating distances to objects in a scene. “It’s pretty obvious,” Evans says, “that lidar in the iPad is a building block” for the glasses.

One big question about the glasses’ display, Evans says, is whether it will take a new approach to presenting an image that can be visible in daylight. The most common approach to date has been using a microLED to project the image onto the glass; in daylight conditions this approach requires that the added-in graphics be limited to the brightest of colors. Recent rumors suggest that Apple will use Sony’s OLED microdisplay as a source for the projected image. But although the luminance of OLED displays is impressive, MIT’s Rose says, rendering a full spectrum of color in daylight will still be challenging.

The glasses will contain a visible-light camera—or two—to collect images of people and places for analysis. The main function of that camera won’t be to record video, because the backlash against Google Glass made that function pretty much a nonstarter. Rather, the purpose of the camera will be to simply enable the software to know what the wearer is seeing in order to provide the contextual information.

“Apple will try hard to not to use words like ‘video camera,’” says Rose. “Rather, they will call it, say, a ‘full-spectrum sensor,’” he adds. “Lifelogging as a use case has become pretty abhorrent to our society.” If an option to store video clips does exist, Apple will likely design the glasses to prominently warn observers exactly when video or still images are being recorded, Rose believes.

The data processing, at least for this first generation of glasses, is widely expected to take place on the user’s phone. Otherwise, says Rose, “the battery requirements will be too high.” And off-board processing means the designers don’t have to worry about the problem of heat dissipation just yet.

What will Apple call the gadget? Prosser is saying “Glass”; others say anything but, given that Google Glass became the subject of many jokes.

Whether or not Apple will ship AR glasses in 2021—and whether or not the product will be successful—comes down to one question, says analyst Evans. “Whose job at Apple is it to look at this and say ‘This is sh-t’ or ‘This is not sh-t’? In the past it was Steve Jobs. Then it was Jonathan Ive. Who now will look at version 86 or version 118 and say, ‘Yes, this is great now. This is it!’?”

This article appears in the January 2021 print issue as “Look Out for Apple’s AR Glasses.”

The IoT’s E-Waste Problem Isn’t Inevitable

Post Syndicated from Stacey Higginbotham original https://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/the-iots-ewaste-problem-isnt-inevitable

In my office closet, I have a box full of perfectly good smart-home gadgets that are broken only because the companies that built them stopped updating their software. I can’t bear to toss them in a landfill, but I don’t really know how to recycle them. I’m not alone: Electronic waste, or e-waste, has become much more common.

The adoption of Project Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) standards by Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance will make smart homes more accessible to more people. But the smart devices these people bring into their homes will also eventually end up on the junk heap.

Perhaps surprisingly, we still don’t have a clear answer as to what we should do when a product’s software doesn’t outlive its hardware, or when its electronics don’t outlast the housing. Companies are building devices that used to last decades—such as thermostats, fridges, or even lights—with five- to seven-year life-spans.

When e-waste became a hot topic in the computing world, computer makers such as Dell and HP worked with recycling centers to better recycle their electronics. You might argue that those programs didn’t do enough, because e-waste is still a growing problem. In 2019 alone, the world generated 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste, according to a report from the Global E-waste Monitor. And the amount is rising: According to the same report, each year we produce 2.5 million metric tons more e-waste than the year before.

This is an obviously unsustainable amount of waste. While recycling programs might not be enough to solve the problem, I’d still like to see the makers of connected devices partner up with recycling centers to take back devices when they are at the end of their lives. The solution could be as simple as, say, Amazon adding a screen to the app for a smart device that offers the address of a local recycling partner whenever someone chooses to decommission that device.

The idea is not unprecedented for smart devices. The manufacturer of the Tile tracking device has an agreement with a startup called Emplacement that offers recycling information when the battery on one of Tile’s trackers dies and the device is useless. Another example is GE Appliances, which hauls away old appliances when people buy new ones, even as added software potentially shortens their years of usefulness.

Companies can also make the recycling process easier by designing products differently. For example, they should rely less on glues that make it hard to salvage recyclable metals from within electronic components and use smaller circuit boards with minimal components. Companies should also design their connected products so that they physically work in some fashion even if the software and app are defunct. In other words, no one should design a connected product that works only with an app, because doing so is all but forcing its obsolescence in just a few years. If the device still works, however, people might be able to pass it along for reuse even if some of the fancier features aren’t operational.

Connected devices won’t be in every home in the future, but they will become more common, and more people will come to rely on the features they offer. Which means we’re set for an explosion of new electronic waste in the next five to ten years as these devices reach the end of their life-spans. How we handle that waste—and how much of it we have to deal with—depends on the decisions companies make now.

This article appears in the January 2021 print issue as “E-Waste Isn’t Inevitable.”

Listen Up With Speakers in Lightbulbs, Shower Heads

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/speakers-lightbulbs-shower-heads

The last time I spent much time thinking about LED bulbs was some seven years ago, when a kitchen remodel turned out more operating room than cozy family gathering place. What went wrong? The architect determined that the contractor had purchased the wrong temperature of LEDs; a problem easily fixed.

Since then, I occasionally noticed some advances in LED light bulbs at CES and gadget shows—like dimmable LEDs (now common) and smart bulbs that connect to home Wi-Fi networks for remote control. But nothing that made LEDs shine.

So the last thing I expected when checking out the more than 40 new products at Pepcom’s holiday launch event was to get excited about a couple of LED bulbs. One of these gadgets acts as a Bluetooth speaker that automatically networks with nearby speaker-bulbs to create a surround-sound effect, the other has an adjustable color temperature and a unique user interface. My third gadget pick, a water-powered shower speaker, doesn’t light up, but is about as unobtrusive as a household light bulb.

Here are the details. (Note that this was a virtual event, so the demos and discussions, while held live, were remote; I haven’t actually held any of these gadgets in my hands, much less tested them in the real world.)

1. GE’s LED+ Speaker bulbs

The Bluetooth speaker in one of these LED+ bulbs can work alone, or as part of a surround-sound network of as many as 10 bulbs. Company representatives indicated that the gadgets come in a variety of standard bulb sizes to fit lamps, floodlights, or recessed lighting, starting at about US$30. Each bulb comes with a remote control, though in a multi-speaker network only one bulb needs to be paired with the remote; it then acts as a parent and controls the other bulbs in its vicinity.

2. Feit Electric’s Selectable Color bulbs

These LED bulbs vary color temperature from about 2700K to 6500K, depending on the particular version. As I learned with my kitchen remodel mistake, color temperature matters a lot; it can make the difference between a space feeling like an office or operating room instead of a cozy den. I was particularly impressed by the simple interface that doesn’t require an app or a remote—flicking the light switch on and off cycles through the color options; circuitry in the bulb recognizes the short sequence of power interruptions. And Feit’s representatives made the pitch that in today’s stay-at-home Covid times, the ability to change the feel of a room matters even more than usual, not a bad selling point. Prices, again, vary by type of bulb, but generally start at about US $10, a premium of a couple of dollars over a standard LED bulb.

3. Ampere’s Shower Power

Another clever placement of a Bluetooth speaker in an ordinary household object, the cool factor of Ampere’s shower speaker isn’t that it’s waterproof, it’s that screws into the shower head to run on hydropower from the shower flow. I was already slightly familiar with the potential of shower power—I have an outside shower that’s lit by LEDs built into the shower head and powered by the water flow. Unlike that gadget, however, Ampere’s device includes a battery that can store power for listening while the shower is off. Company representatives indicated that the gadget produces about 120 milliampere per hour with standard water flow, slightly less or more depending on water pressure, and will retail for around $70. (It is currently taking preorders via Kickstarter.)


Programmable Filament Gives Even Simple 3D Printers Multi-Material Capabilities

Post Syndicated from Evan Ackerman original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/programmable-filament-gives-even-simple-3d-printers-multimaterial-capabilities

On the additive manufacturing spectrum, the majority of 3D printers are relatively simple, providing hobbyists with a way of conjuring arbitrary 3D objects out of long spools of polymer filament. If you want to make objects out of more than just that kind of filament, things start to get much more complicated, because you need a way of combining multiple different materials onto the print bed. There are a bunch of ways of doing this, but it’s not cheap, so most people without access to a corporate or research budget are stuck 3D printing with one kind of filament at a time.

At the ACM UIST Conference last week, researchers presented a paper that offers a way of giving even the simplest 3D printer the ability to print in as many materials as you need (or have the patience for) through a sort of printception—by first printing a filament out of different materials and then using that filament to print the multi-material object that you want.

Here Comes the Internet of Plastic Things, No Batteries or Electronics Required

Post Syndicated from Dexter Johnson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/plastic-internet-of-things-without-batteries-or-electronics

When technologists talk about the “Internet of Things” (IoT), they often gloss over the fact that all these interconnected things need batteries and electronics to carry out the job of collecting and processing data while they’re communicating to one another. This job is made even more challenging when you consider that many of the objects we would like to connect are made from plastic and do not have electronics embedded into them.

Now researchers at the University of Washington have devised a way of using 3D printed plastic to create objects that communicate with smartphone or other Wi-Fi devices without the need for batteries or electronics.

This research builds on previous work at the University of Washington dating back to 2014 in which another research team employed battery-less chips that transmit their bits by either reflecting or not reflecting a Wi-Fi router’s signals. With this kind of backscattering, a device communicates by modulating its reflection of the Wi-Fi signal in the space.

The challenge with existing Wi-Fi backscatter systems is that they require multiple electronic components, including RF switches that can toggle between reflective and non-reflective states, digital logic that controls the switch to encode the appropriate data as well as a power source/harvester that powers all these electronic components.

In this latest research, the University of Washington team has been able to leverage this Wi-Fi backscatter technology to 3D geometry and create easy to print wireless devices using commodity 3D printers. To achieve this, the researchers have built non-electronic and printable analogues for each of these electronic components using plastic filaments and integrated them into a single computational design.

The researchers are making their CAD models available to 3D printing enthusiasts so that they can create their own IoT objects. The designs include a battery-free slider that controls music volume, a button that automatically orders more cornflakes from an e-commerce website and a water sensor that sends an alarm to your phone when it detects a leak.

“We are using mechanism actuation to transmit information wirelessly from these plastic objects,” explained Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor at the University of Washington, who with students Vikram Iyer and Justin Chan, published their original paper on the research in 2017.

The researchers, who have been steadily working on the technology since their original paper, have leveraged mechanical motion to provide the power for their objects. For instance, when someone opens a detergent bottle, the mechanical motion of unscrewing the top provides the power for it to communicate data.

“We translate this mechanical motion into changes in antenna reflections to communicate data,” said Gollakota. “Say there is a Wi-Fi transmitter sending signals. These signals reflect off the plastic object; we can control the amount of reflections arriving from this plastic object by modulating it with the mechanical motion.”

To ensure that the plastic objects can reflect Wi-Fi signals, the researchers employ composite plastic filament materials with conductive properties. These take the form of plastic with copper and graphene filings.

“These allow us to use off-the-shelf 3D printers to print these objects but also ensure that when there is an ambient Wi-Fi signal in the environment, these plastic objects can reflect them by designing an appropriate antenna using these composite plastics,” said Gollakota.

Once the reflective material was created, the next challenge for the researchers was to communicate the collected data. The researchers ingeniously translated the 0 and 1 bits of traditional electronics by encoding these bits as 3D printed plastic gears. A 0 and 1 bit are encoded with the presence and absence of tooth on the gear, respectively. These gears reflect the WiFi signal differently depending on whether they are transmitting a 1 bit or a 0 bit. 

“The way to think of it is that you have two parts of an antenna,” explained Gollakota. “As the gear moves, and depending on whether we are using a 0 bit or a 1 bit, we connect or disconnect the two disjointed parts of the antenna. This changes the reflections as seen by a wireless receiver.”

In this arrangement, the mechanical nature of many sensors and widgets are leveraged to power the backscatter design. “We have computational designs that use push buttons to harvest energy from user interaction as well as a combination of circular plastic springs to store energy,” added Gollakota.

While the researchers are commercializing their technology by making their CAD models available to 3D printing enthusiasts, they envision a fairly broad commercial market for the technology.

Gollakota suggested that e-commerce websites would like to know how a user might be interacting with the objects they sell (after the user has given consent of course). This could alert an e-commerce website that a container needs a refill. For instance, the researchers demonstrated a prototype of a detergent bottle that could report when it is empty.

But perhaps even more consequential is the idea that this technology could be used in point-of-care medical situations, such as tracking when a pill bottle is opened or closed, or how much insulin pen usage occurs.

Gollakota added: “In a recent version of this work, we showed that we can not only send wireless data, we can also store information about how the object was used outside the wireless range and this information can be uploaded by the push of a button when the person comes in the range of the base station.”

What Attending Virtual CES 2021 Might Be Like

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/what-attending-virtual-ces-2021-might-be-like

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

Can you have a virtual Consumer Electronics Show that feels anything like the real thing? That is, not just with streaming panels and press conferences, but with exhibit halls to wander, booths large and small to visit, and encounters with product designers and company executives both planned and random? 

You’d have to be able to peek in a booth and step right back out without wasting any time as well as the opportunity to spot something unexpected and quickly find out all about it. And you’d have to have flexible breaks; screen fatigue can be a lot harder to handle than sore feet.

That was the question on my mind as I entered last week’s Techfluence online event. With only 14 booths and 174 attendees, it was nowhere near the scale of a 4400-exhibitor and 170,000-attendee CES show. But the event, operated by Getgeeked Media, promised the ability to wander an exhibit hall, something that’s been sorely missing since large in-person events were wiped off the calendar by the pandemic.

Going in, honestly, I had my doubts. I find most online experiences tedious at best. But the event turned out to be just fine. Can it scale up? That I don’t know, though I’m sure many companies are making similar efforts to create virtual exhibit halls, large and small. CES itself has promised a digital show floor with “dynamic product showcases and live demos” for 2021, but hasn’t specified how that will work.

Here’s how I experienced the Techfluence event, along with a look at how the company pulled it together. (Getgeeked Media, founded by Barry Myers in 2014, puts on gadget showcases aimed at tech influencers and early adopters.)

“Walking” the Virtual Show Floor

I “arrived” at the event, about an hour or so after it started, opening up a browser window that displayed a list of exhibitors and their logos. The group was diverse, including storage peripheral manufacturer Western Digital, Blendjet with a portable mini blender, OhmniLabs with a telepresence robot, and Tivic Health with a gadget intended electrically reduce sinus pain.

I clicked on various pulldown menus to find a booth that I was interested in visiting, then clicked on the logo to “walk” through the entrance into the booth. In most booths, I was greeted by either a prerecorded video pitch for the product or a live spokesperson running through a scripted product overview. I was able to listen to this while grabbing press releases and brochures from a side menu and giving them a quick read.

If I stayed in that ‘booth’ for more than a minute or two, I generally received a message from a company representative in a group chat, similar to a real-world experience in which someone will approach you. For a deeper dive, I moved over to a live group video connection that came up using Zoom or another platform. Typically, one or two attendees were already talking to a company representative; I’d listen for a while then jump in myself. Again, that’s not unlike joining a cluster gathered around a product at a CES booth.

None of the exhibitors had technology that rocked my world. Indeed, most of it had been shown before, at CES or elsewhere. And when it comes to consumer gadgets, it’s hard to say much about them without actually getting your physical hands on them. But at this point, the intent was more to be a proof of concept than anything else. And Techfluence’s virtual exhibit hall worked much better than I would have imagined, making me think that attending a virtual CES—or at least the satellite press events held at CES where exhibitors are whittled down to a few hundred—wouldn’t be time wasted.

The Plan and How it Worked Out

Getgeeked founder Myers was thrilled with how his first virtual tech showcase went off, and while there are some glitches to fix, he said he plans to hold another virtual product showcase in October. I spoke to Myers along with Alfred Poor, a freelance writer who helped develop the concept and execute the event, about what they were trying to do, how they did it, and what they need to do better.

The prime directive, said Poor, was “to make it useful for press, so we wanted to have free movement around the exhibits. We also wanted to look at what would make it better for exhibitors, and one of the thing at top of my list is great analytics. You go to trade show, they maybe scan your badge or give a business card, that doesn’t tell you a lot, and then you have the drive-bys, and don’t even know who they are. So we wanted our event to be better than that.”

Poor said he looked at about two dozen platforms, mostly designed for webinars or web-based conferences, including corporate events that have multiple session tracks with scheduled speakers at each, and interactivity like text-based question and answer periods. He selected conferencing platform On24, and adapted it for use as a virtual exhibit hall.

“We didn’t have to add code,” Poor said, “but we came up with a new way of thinking about what they call the engagement hub. We relabeled some of the widgets, and used links to take users to, for example, an external video chat functionality.”

“The video chat was a link, and opened a new tab,” Myers explained. “It isn’t wired into the ‘booth’ so you don’t access it at first. But that wasn’t a drawback, rather, it let the attendee drive the engagement. If someone comes up to a booth at a real event, they may not want to engage, they might just want to take the press release and product brochure and move on.”

Because videochat is just a simple link, exhibitors could also have a second channel, he explained, password protect it, and use it for scheduled, one-on-one meetings, like many CES exhibitors hold in tucked-away conference rooms.

For this event, exhibitors could choose just about any platform for their videochat sessions; most selected Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. That, Myers admits, “injured the attendee experience,” by surprising attendees with requirements to download apps they didn’t already have or to restart their computers. Next time, he said, Techfluence will mandate use of a single video chat platform and let attendees know they should be prepared to use its app.

The system also created a link that went to an email standardized for product review unit requests; to make that process easier for exhibitors, these requests at the next event will feed into a form instead of an email and populate a spreadsheet, Myers said.

Besides generating more data for exhibitors about who came to “booths,” how much time they spent there, and what they looked at, such a virtual event, Myers says, is definitely “a less expensive endeavor” all around.

How big could it scale? Said Poor: “I think the Pepcom/Showstoppers market is a reasonable target for online events. For the broader CES attendee, beyond the media, perhaps not.” (Pepcom and Showstoppers run tabletop showcases for the media with hundreds of exhibitors that piggyback on CES and like events.)

“The onsite events aren’t going to go away,” Myers said, “But I firmly believe a significant portion of this kind of events in the new normal will use this approach.

New LiDAR Sensor Uses Mirrors to Achieve High Efficiency

Post Syndicated from Michelle Hampson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/new-lidar-sensor-uses-mirrors-to-achieve-high-efficiency

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology relies on fast, precisely timed laser pulses – a useful application for various kinds of sensors, including those that support the Internet of Things (IoT). However, many current sensors that rely on LiDAR are expensive, bulky, heavy, and power hungry.

One group of researchers is proposing a novel design for a LiDAR-based sensor that is both affordable and requires very little power. The sensor relies on a collection of microelectromechanical (MEMS) mirrors to achieve high efficiency – enough so to be powered by a 9-volt battery. The design is described in a study published 2 July in IEEE Sensors Letters.

“This system is especially suitable for smart buildings,” says Huikai Xie, a professor at the University of Florida who co-designed the new LiDAR-based sensor. “For instance, this system may enable heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems to control air flow by estimating the population distribution and tracking people’s movement.”

An outstanding issue, however, is creating LiDAR sensors that can achieve a wide field of view without consuming too much energy. Existing designs tend to rely on motorized optomechanical scanners to disperse the LiDAR signals and achieve a wider field of view—yet these devices typically consume about 10 watts of power.

Instead of a motorized optomechanical scanner, the new design by Xie’s group relies on MEMS mirrors to control the LiDAR signals. The mirrors require significantly less power to manipulate than the bulkier motorized scanner that have typically been used. What’s more, a passive infrared sensor ensures that the whole system is only activated when people are present.
In the future, Xie says he envisions this sensor being used not just for detecting people in smart homes,  but for applications ranging from robotics to  small unmanned air vehicles.

The design currently relies on an off-the-shelf time-of-flight (TOF) engine for analyzing the returning laser signals, which Xie says is the bulkiest and most energy-intensive component. Moving forward, his team plans on developing their own, smaller (TOF) device that uses less energy. As well, he says, “We will continue advancing the MEMS technology by making MEMS mirrors with larger optical aperture, larger scan angle and faster scan frequency.”

“The whole MEMS LiDAR system can be powered by a battery with a maximum power consumption of 2.7 W,” says Xie. “The passive infrared sensor can put the system into an idle mode, which extends the battery life by three times or more.”

In the future, Xie says he envisions this sensor being used not just for detecting people in smart homes,  but for applications ranging from robotics to  small unmanned air vehicles.

An Engineer, His Segway, and the ADA: A Tale of the Open Road

Post Syndicated from Allison Marsh original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/an-engineer-his-segway-and-the-ada-a-tale-of-the-open-road

My dad loved to camp, and he wanted to teach his grandson how to pitch a tent, start a fire, and explore nature. Unfortunately, by the time my nephew Liam was born, my dad had already had two major heart attacks, bypass surgery, and had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted. Hiking over any distance was no longer in the cards for him.

Luckily, my dad’s decline in health seemed to keep pace with the latest breakthroughs in biomedical technology and new pharmaceuticals. He managed to live with congestive heart failure for more than 20 years. Although he died a few years ago, two recent news stories collided last month to remind me how technology and legislation allowed my dad to continue to explore the outdoors and share adventures with his grandson, despite his condition.

The first news of note was the announcement that the Segway is ceasing production. Coverage of this event tended to emphasize how the overhyped, self-balancing two-wheeled personal transportation device failed to live up to expectations. My father would have begged to differ. An engineer by training and an enthusiastic early adopter by temperament, he’d be the first to say that the Segway changed his life.

Dad got his Segway in 2007 when they cost about US $5,000. That is pricey for a toy, but not for a personal assistive device (power wheelchairs also cost thousands of dollars). My mother never begrudged the expense because it kept his world from closing in. He used it every day for work. Stepping aboard, he was able to zip around his 950-square-meter machine shop without getting winded. When he visited clients (mostly large-scale manufacturers), he would load the Segway into his van and then use it to make the rounds on the factory floor. He tricked out his transporter, upgrading the tires to the larger “off road” version that allowed for more maneuverability over uneven terrain. He added detachable saddlebags and hooks. He built a ramp out of scrap wood from a bowling alley to make loading and unloading into his van easier.

But his Segway really proved its worth on the weekends. My father, Liam, and my sister Amy trekked the entire 300-kilometer towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, him on his Segway, Amy and Liam on bicycles. They did it in segments over many weekends, camping along the route. It turns out the battery life of a Segway is about as far as an 8-year-old boy can bike in a day. Dad would hook his Segway up to the car battery to charge overnight, and they’d be off again in the morning.

During the summer of 2009, he and I went on a cross-continent road trip from Richmond, Va., to Dead Horse, Alaska, because he wanted to drive the AlCan Highway and see the oil fields. We took the northern route across Canada one way and dropped down into the Rockies and across the middle of the Great Plains on the return. Along the way, he raced my dog on the Bonneville Salt Flats, explored the wind-swept lava fields of Craters of the Moon, and watched a perfect sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

That brings me to the second piece of recent news: the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA requires accessible design for all public sites in the United States, including those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service. Thanks to the landmark legislation, the worlds Dad could explore opened up enormously. Although there are some limitations—he couldn’t climb down to see the pueblos at Mesa Verde, although he could admire them from the scenic overlook—wheelchair ramps and paved paths allowed him and his Segway to go almost everywhere.

With his Segway, my dad lived a fuller life despite his condition. The Segway was more maneuverable than a wheelchair, with a smaller footprint and turning radius, and it offered easier access to more places. Perhaps most importantly, it allowed him to look people directly in the eye, or even tower slightly above them. Aboard his Segway, he commanded respect, or at least curiosity, from onlookers.

Occasionally, a park ranger would raise an eyebrow at my dad’s Segway and begin to object to its use. My dad would point to the handicapped sticker he proudly displayed on the front of his “assistive device” and launch into a lecture about the ADA and accessibility. He was fortunate to have this marvel of engineering at his disposal, to help him explore, and nothing was going to stop him.

Immersive Display Creates Panoramic Virtual Screens

Post Syndicated from Charles Q. Choi original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/curved-lightfield

Imagine the big game is on, and you’re watching your favorite team trounce its rival on a 122-inch screen that displays every detail. But the curved display is actually only a 32-inch model that, when you place your face near it, generates the illusion of a much more massive display. A new light-field display now seeks to create such an immersive panoramic virtual screen without goggles.

Immersive displays generally either involve giant screens à la IMAX, virtual reality (VR), or augmented reality (AR) headsets that place tiny screens and lenses close to a person’s eyes to simulate large screens that encompass most of a user’s field of view. Engaging as immersive displays are, electrical engineer Barmak Heshmat and his colleagues at an AR startup, “realized the bitter reality that people don’t want to wear headgear; it’s just too much friction to have something on your face. I think people can talk volumes about that, considering that now everyone has to wear masks.

“Just imagine wearing a 200-gram object on your face for 6.5 hours,” Heshmat says. “It is really exhausting, but 6.5 hours is the average time we spend in front of computers, easily, every day.”

The Segway Is Dead, but Its Technology and Vision Lives On

Post Syndicated from Evan Ackerman original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/the-segway-is-dead-but-its-technology-and-vision-lives-on

It’s been nearly 20 years since Dean Kamen introduced the Segway live on “Good Morning America,” in December of 2001, after months of rampant hype and speculation. Since then, the personal mobility device has not turned into what Kamen or many others had envisioned (Jeff Bezos, who called it “one of the most famous and anticipated product introductions of all time,” was one of Segway’s biggest promoters). In 2009, Kamen sold Segway to a British millionaire, and in 2015, it was acquired by Ninebot, a Chinese company that is still making all kinds of Segway-inspired, Segway-like things. Just not, as of now, the Segway itself.

Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Make Early Adopters of Us All?

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/consumer-electronics/gadgets/will-the-coronavirus-pandemic-make-early-adopters-of-us-all

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

Remember March, when stay-at-home orders and advisories first went into effect in many U.S. states and other places around the world? That month is generally not a big time for consumer electronics sales; gadgets may fly off shelves during the December holiday season, but then there’s a bit of a lull.

But things are different during a pandemic. Internet-connected exercise bike maker Peloton reported first quarter revenues up by two-thirds, as stay-at-home orders kept people from their normal exercise routines. Webcams sold out just about everywhere. And good luck finding a drugstore with a pulse oximeter in stock. Some services also saw a huge boom. Video conferencing provider Zoom, previously a tool used mostly by businesses, became a household word, and by April was clocking 300 million daily participants, up from 10 million before the pandemic. Instacart, the so-called Uber for groceries, saw sales of $700 million per week in April, up 450 percent since December.

Those are just a few examples of gadgets and services that the pandemic made more attractive to a lot of consumers. But will this pandemic effect continue, and bring a long-term boost to the consumer electronics industry?

Mojo Vision, a startup aiming to bring augmented reality contact lenses to the masses, commissioned an independent survey to find out. (While the company won’t have a product on the mass market for a few years yet, it obviously is keenly interested in consumer purchasing trends.) The survey, conducted in June, involved 2000 people who self-identified as belonging to five different categories of consumer. Forty-three percent of the respondents classed themselves into two categories of so-called first adopters (innovators and early adopters) and five percent fell into three categories of so-called later adopters (early majority, late majority, and laggards).

Ninety percent of respondents to Mojo’s survey reported their attitudes towards technology became more positive as a result of the pandemic. The survey also found that 60 percent of the first adopters and 40 percent of the later adopters bought or tried new devices, applications, or services because of the pandemic. Fifty percent of both groups indicated that they are generally using technology more. And 76 percent of the first adopters and 41 percent of the later adopters said they are likely to continue buying and trying new devices, apps, or tech services after the pandemic subsides.

The biggest shift, according to Mojo’s survey, came in the early majority group. These consumers had generally tended to wait for a tech product to become popular—and for at least a second if not third generation to arrive—before bringing it into their lives. But 42 percent of that group indicated that the pandemic sped up their adoption of technology and 48 percent said they were likely or somewhat likely to continue to buy and try new devices and technologies sooner rather than later.

The tech getting the biggest pandemic boost? Virtual communication tools, followed closely by online delivery services. But even alternative transportation—like electric scooters and semi-autonomous vehicles—is getting more interest from people who indicated that this type of technology wasn’t really on their radar pre-pandemic. And augmented and virtual reality—a category which will eventually include Mojo’s augmented reality contact lens—got a bit of a boost as well, even though it certainly isn’t an essential tool for sheltering in place right now.

Steve Sinclair, Mojo senior vice president of products says “Everyone’s been at home for 12 to 16 weeks, forced to order everyday food and groceries online and work via video conference, so people are naturally using more tech. The question is: Will it stick? Will they keep that same pace when they’re not stuck at home?

“The answer seems to be yes. And if you turn a whole lot of casual buyers into avid buyers, that’s good for tech overall.”

Turns out that there may be a little early adopter in a lot more of us than the consumer electronics industry ever dared to imagine.

Why Wait For Apple? Try Out The Original ARM Desktop Experience Today With A Raspberry Pi

Post Syndicated from Stephen Cass original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/why-wait-for-apple-try-out-the-original-arm-desktop-experience-today-with-a-raspberry-pi

In a generally anticipated announcement, Apple declared on Monday that it is moving its Macintosh computers away from Intel processors to its own custom silicon chips. These chips use the ARM architecture that’s found in over 95 percent of the world’s smartphones. Apple has already used such chips to great effect in its iPhone and iPad lines, building up its experience of adding custom circuitry around ARM cores to provide accelerated hardware support for things like machine learning applications.

Apple hopes to reap the advantages of tight integration between the new silicon and software running on the next version of its MacOS operating system. The company demonstrated an A.I.-enhanced version of Final Cut Pro that was able to automatically crop high resolution video to follow an off-road cyclist, for example. But this isn’t the first time an operating system specifically tailored to use ARM-based hardware has come to a consumer desktop computer.

Back in 1987, Acorn Computers released the first in its line of moderately successful Archimedes desktops. Acorn was inventor of the ARM architecture: Their first CPU, the ARM1 was developed as an external coprocessor for power users of Acorn’s influential BBC Microcomputer (which itself used a 6502 processor, alongside the Apple II and Commodore 64). The ARM1 was never publicly released but the ARM2 became the basis of the first Archimedes. 

Along with the ARM2, Acorn also developed its own tightly integrated multitasking operating system for the Archimedes, RISC OS. RISC OS comes with a graphical user interface, a number of core applications, and a super-advanced version of the Basic programming language created for the BBC Microcomputer. One of the nice things about BBC Basic is that it lets you mix assembler code and Basic very easily, letting you optimize programs for considerable speed boosts without getting bogged down.

Although Archimedes’ computers stopped being made in the 1990s, RISC OS is still alive and kicking, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers. As well as supporting old hardware and software, they have ported RISC OS to the ARM-based Raspberry Pi. So if you have a Pi and a spare SD card, you can try it today: A stable version is available for all versions of the Pi up to the Pi 3, and a beta release is available for the Pi 4. It’s interesting to play around with, especially for interface designers looking for examples that aren’t from the well-trodden worlds of Microsoft and Apple: there’s even a web browser built in. 

Ironically, the fact that ARM became deeply associated with mobile devices and largely vanished from desktop and laptop computers until now, is in no small part due to Apple. Apple played a big role in the early development of the ARM architecture when it created ARM Holdings in 1990 as a joint venture between itself, IC manufacturer VSLI, and Acorn Computers, the original inventors of the architecture. Apple wanted a chip for their Newton PDA, and when the Newton turned out to be something of a flop, ARM Holdings began shopping its technology around.

ARM became the darling of mobile manufacturers because the architecture is very power efficient, so it won over other processors that delivered better performance but at a battery-draining higher energy cost. Now it’s back to competing on performance, and its ability to succeed will likely depend on how well Apple has matched its surrounding silicon hardware accelerators to the needs of developers and consumers. 

What the Right To Repair Movement Gets Wrong

Post Syndicated from G. Pascal Zachary original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/wrong-right-to-repair

THE ENGINEER’S PLACE The end came with a whimper. My personal laser printer showed a persistent error message. In the past, closing the cover cleared the message and let me print. Not this time. I surveyed guidance on the Web, even studied the remedies proposed by the printer’s maker. No joy.

After weeks, and then months after opening and closing the cover, and turning the printer off and on, I surrendered. Last week, I unplugged it, removed the ink cartridge (for re-use) and carried the printer to a nearby responsible electronics recycler.

I cringed and wondered. Should I feel shame for contravening the nifty dictum of the self-styled “right to repair” movement, which insists that “instead of throwing things out,” we should “reuse, salvage and rebuild?” 

In the case of my zombie printer, I’m convinced the recycler was the best destination. A near-identical model, brand new, sells on Amazon for $99. The ink cartridge costs a third as much. Even if the printer could be repaired, at what expense in parts and labor?

So I bought a new printer.

When I ponder the wisdom of my decision, I think “Shame on me.” Rather than fight to repair my wounded device, I did what Big Tech and other manufacturers increasingly want owners to do. I threw it away.

Today repair remains an option, one that makers want to monopolize or eliminate. Apple, the world’s most valuable company, is the worst offender, effectively forbidding owners to repair or maintain their smart phones. Not even the battery is replaceable by an owner. Forbidden also are repairs by owners of cracked screens. Such brazen actions void Apple’s warranty.

Many people have a tale of trying to bootleg an iPhone repair. My favorite is when I found a guy on Yelp! who asked me to meet him inside a Starbucks. His nom de repair is ScreenDoc, and he ran our rendezvous like a drug buy. He only entered the shop after I ordered a coffee and sat down. Seated at my table, working with tiny tools, he swapped my broken screen for a new one. I slipped him $90 in cash, and he left.

Sound tawdry? The nationwide campaign, led by Repair.Org, agrees, which is why Repair.Org supports legislation in at least 20 states to promote “your right to repair,” by requiring manufacturers “to share the information necessary for repair.”

Long before the advent of the repair campaign, and a related movement called the Maintainers, there were loud critics of “planned obsolescence.” During Depression-era America, an influential book published 1932 advocated “creative waste”—the idea that throwing things away and buying new things can fuel a strong economy. One advocate, Bernard London, wrote a paper in 1932, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence,” in which he called on the federal government to print expiration dates on manufactured goods. “Furniture and clothing and other commodities should have a span of life, just as humans have,” he wrote. “They should be retired, and replaced by fresh merchandise.”

Manufacturers purposely made stuff that broke or wore out, so consumers would have to buy the stuff again. Echoes of this practice persist. In shopping for new tires, for instance, drivers pay more for those “rated” to last longer.

The big threat to devices today isn’t failure, but rather “creative destruction,” or the new advent of new and improved stuff. Who needs to think about repairs when we are dazzled by the latest “upgrade.”

The newest iPhones, for instance, are promoted on the appeal of their improved cameras. The latest Apple watch series boasts new band colors. Such incremental improvements long pre-date Apple’s popularity. One hundred years ago, General Motors decided to release new models, new colors, and faster engines every year. “The changes in the new model should be so novel and attractive as to create demand…and a certain amount of dissatisfaction with past models as compared with the new one,” wrote Alfred Sloan, then automaker’s CEO, in his 1963 autobiography My Years With General Motors.

Some of us never grow disenchanted with certain machines. We love them forever. And we strive to keep them going. Some cherished cars fall into this category, and computers do, too. I’m typing this article on my beloved 2014 Mac Powerbook. My battery is toast, so I can only securely use the laptop while plugged in. And I type on an external keyboard because the original keys are so worn out that a few won’t function at all even though Apple has twice replaced the key caps for me.

I don’t want my PowerBook Pro to die; yet my repair options are ruled by Apple. And a cruel master is she. My best path forward is to ask Apple to replace the keyboard and battery. I dread finding out whether Apple continues to offer this option. Though I feel no shame regarding my utter dependence on Apple for repairs, I do feel outrage and puzzlement. I am aware that the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement that has transformed how we maintain our homes and our bodies, how we eat and drink, work and play.

But DIY maintenance is not for everybody or appropriate for every situation. Nor does it inevitably produce greater “caring.” Results vary. Quality can suffer. While a person’s self-esteem may rise with every home improvement they carry out, the value of their home may decline as a result (because of the quality of the DIY fixes). I favor a simple rule: encourage consumers to repair if they wish but not insist on self-repair under every circumstance, and leave the option that original makers of complex devices will repair them the best (Tesla owners, take heed!)

When self-reliance becomes non-negotiable, the results can be dispiriting. But when the impulse to do things yourself, like brewing your own beer, baking your own bread, raising your own chickens and building your own computers, takes hold, the results can be good for your soul.

In 1974, a repair enthusiast named Robert Pirsig published a book that proved highly influential and sold millions of copies. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance came to define a spiritual and mental outlook by contrasting the approaches of two bike owners. One rides an expensive new bike and relies on professionals to repair. The other rides an older bike that he repairs on his own and, by doing so, hones his problem-solving abilities and, unexpectedly, connects to a deeper wisdom that enhances his sense of dignity and endows his life with greater meaning.

The shift in attitudes a half-century ago was dramatic, reflecting the profound expansion of the human-built world. Once humans sought to “connect” with nature; now they wished to do the same (or more) with their machines. In many ways, the repair movement is a revival of this venerable counter-cultural tradition.

Today’s repair enthusiasts would have us believe that the well-maintained artifact is the new beautiful. But denying consumers the ability to repair their stuff is, to me, chiefly an economic, not a spiritual or aesthetic, issue.

The denial of the repair option is not limited to laptops and smart phones. Automobiles are now essentially computers on wheels. Digital diagnostics make repair no longer the dominion of the clever tinkerer. Specialized software, reading reports from the sensors scattered throughout your car, decides which “modules” to replace. The ease comes at a price. Your dealer now dominates the repair business. Independent car shops often can’t or won’t invest in the car manufacturer’s expensive software. And the hardy souls that once maintained their own vehicles, in their driveway or on the street, are as close to extinction as the white rhino.

The predatory issue is central. The denial of the repair option is often a form of profiteering. The manufacturer earns money from what he or she considers the “after market.” Many makers of popular devices now see repair and maintenance as a kind of annuity, a stream of revenue similar in type to that provided by sales of a printer cartridge or razor blade. For auto dealers, profits from “service” now can exceed profits from sales of new cars. Increasingly products are designed, across many categories, to render impossible, or greatly limit, repair by owner.

I am not sure the practice is wrong, and certainly not wrong in all cases. The profits from repair are often justified by claims of superior service. Brand-name makers, in theory, can control reliability by maintaining their own devices. Reliability easily conflates with “peace of mind,” so that the repair path collides squarely with another basic human urge: convenience.

Not everyone opposes convenience, so the Repair movement might regret choosing to advocate for a “right” to repair rather than an “option.” An option implies protecting a consumer’s choice, not mandating a specific repair scenario. I’m skeptical about applying the language of legal rights to the problem of repair and maintenance; because there are many cases where technology companies especially have the obligation to repair problems, and not foist them onto their customers.

Here’s a live example. Among my chief reasons for my loyalty to the iPhone is that Apple supplies updated software that protects me against viruses and security hacks; Apple even installs this software on my phone sometimes without my conscious assent, or awareness. If I had to assent explicitly to each iPhone software update, I would invariably fail to have the latest protection and then suffer the negative consequences. So I don’t want to be responsible for repairing or maintaining a phone that is inherently collective in nature. I am freer and happier when Apple does it.

I understand that ceding the repair to an impersonal System might seem to libertarians like a road to serfdom. But having the System in charge of repair probably makes sense for essential products and services.

The artifacts in our world are profoundly networked now, and even though some devices look and feel individual to us, they are not. Their discreteness is an illusion. Increasingly no person is a technological island. Our devices are part of systems that depend on collective action and communal support.

Given the deep interconnectedness of our built environment, the distinction between repairing your own devices and letting others do so breaks down; and insisting on maintaining the distinction strikes me as inherently anti-social and destructive to the common good. At the very least the question of who repairs what should be viewed as morally neutral. Our answers should be shaped by economics and practicality, not romantic notions about individual freedom and responsibility.

Because the right-to-repair movement is based on a romantic notion, and pits those who maintain against those who don’t, a backlash against the concept is inevitable. A healthier approach to the genuine challenge of maintaining technological systems, and their dependent devices, would be to also strengthen collective responses and systems of repair and maintenance.

Much is at stake in this argument. Thinking about who is responsible for what aspects of our techno-human condition helps clarify what forms of resistance are possible in a world dominated by Big Tech companies and complex socio-technical systems. Resistance can and should take many forms, but resistance will be far more effective, I submit, if we do not choose repair and maintenance as a proxy for democratic control over innovation.

So I offer different solution. Rather than burden individuals with enhanced rights and duties for repair and maintenance of our devices, let’s demand that makers of digitally-controlled stuff make repairs at fair prices, quickly and reliably. Or maybe we go further and demand that these companies repair and maintain their products at a slight loss, or even a large loss, in order to incentivize them to design and build high-quality stuff in the first place; stuff that requires less maintenance and fewer repairs.

By insuring that repair is fair, reliable and low cost by law and custom, we can achieve the best of both worlds: keep our gadgets running and feel good knowing that the quality of our stuff is not the measure of ourselves.

Bosch Gets Smartglasses Right With Tiny Eyeball Lasers

Post Syndicated from Evan Ackerman original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/bosch-ar-smartglasses-tiny-eyeball-lasers

My priority at CES every year is to find futuristic new technology that I can get excited about. But even at a tech show as large as CES, this can be surprisingly difficult. If I’m very lucky, I’ll find one or two things that really blow my mind. And it almost always takes a lot of digging, because the coolest stuff is rarely mentioned in keynotes or put on display. It’s hidden away in private rooms because it’s still a prototype that likely won’t be for ready the CES spotlight for another year or two.

Deep inside Bosch’s CES booth, I found something to get excited about. After making a minor nuisance of myself, Bosch agreed to give me a private demo of its next-generation Smartglasses, which promise everything that Google Glass didn’t quite manage to deliver.