A surprise product which everyone is likely to fall in love

•November 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Today Amazon surprised me, introducing Echo, a talking, listening piece of electronic furniture. It’s like having the internet on your kitchen table, cracking jokes and settling bets, and it’s the most innovative device Amazon’s made in years.

The easiest way to describe Echo is by comparing it (her?) to its peers. It’s like Siri, but furniture. It’s like Cortana, except in your living room. It’s like the voice recognition speaker Aether, or any number of other voice-controlled devices you can put in your home, except it does more. And it’s made by Amazon. The genius of Echo is that it’s a more nimble, leaner version of a technology that’s been caged up inside of other devices for years. As Apple and Microsoft have struggled to engage consumers in the idea of voice recognition for your phone or your computer or your game console, Amazon snuck a device that puts essentially the same software front and center for no other purpose than to chat with you. Oh, and play you some tunes while it’s at it. And importantly, it’ll be cheap as hell for Amazon Prime members: Only $100, compared to a few hundred bucks (at least) for a phone or computer that grants you Siri or Cortana access. In that sense, there’s no other product on the market that can do what Echo does: Put dedicated, seemingly reliable, truly hands-free voice recognition in your home for a hundred bucks.

For Amazon’s hardware team, this is an important moment. Kindle’s new Voyage e-reader was awesome, but crazily expensive, and its other dependable e-reader options haven’t broken any molds. Meanwhile, all its other successes and failures have involved following in the footsteps of other companies: Fire phone was a flop. Fire TV was well-received but limited by its price, and Fire TV Stick has a powerful direct competitor in the form of Chromecast. With Echo, the hardware team has hit on a design paradigm that’s pretty much radical, and they’ve made it inexpensive and accessible for just about everyone.

If it sucks, Echo could easily become yet another product on a long, decades-old list of failed AI. If it works, it will be world wide web floating through your house, the internet made tangible and speakable and liveable. Either way, Amazon’s trying something brand new. And that’s an exciting change of pace.

First take on a food 3D printer

•October 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Everyone thinks today that 3D printing is going to revolutionize the world….and I could’nt agree more. As the internet democratized the creation of content, 3D printing is sure to democratize manufacturing of products. More so customized products which are absolutely tailored for you.

A startup Structure3D has just opened up a paste extruding machine that can be hooked up to any 3D printer, capable of spitting out Nutella, cookie dough and inedible materials like silicone.  The Discov3ry offers printing enthusiasts a simple, ingenious and affordable hardware add-on solution for printing a wide range of pastes. Now Makers can quickly and inexpensively experiment with easily sourced materials, like silicone, clay and cake frosting — allowing them to do more. You connect the box with the printer via a tube. Inside the box, a syringe sits upright and a disk slowly pushes up on it, causing it to squeeze material into the tube.

See the Disocov3ry in action:

There are also quite a few people who are trying to break this barrier of creating custom food through 3D printing. Earlier this year Barilla had teamed up with Dutch scientific research firm TNO to work on a custom 3D pasta printer, capable of printing 15-20 pieces of pasta every two minutes. The eventual idea would be for customers to head into a restaurant, possibly with their own pasta CAD files, and print them right at the table.

After its largest competitor, Hershey, teamed up with 3D Systems to develop 3D printed chocolate and non-chocolate products, Nestle has decided to up the 3D printing ante.  The company’s research division, the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS), is working on tools to analyze and measure the levels of a number of essential nutrients in a given person’s body.  Then, once they’ve tackled the analysis side of the equation, the company imagines using 3D food printing to create meals tailored to the nutritional needs of an individual.

As India’s 3D printing industry starts to grow at a rapid pace, a group of students at Manipal Institute of Technology took it upon themselves to use chocolate as their 3D printing medium. And the result is: the ChocoBot. While plenty of companies, like Nestle and Hershey, have explored 3D foodprinting, we’ve yet to see much of a tangible result. If these can produce an inexpensive chocolate 3D printer for consumers, it may spur more serious entries in the market.

Recently I came across a very good TED talk by Avi Reichental on the future of 3D printing. He talks about how this technology could give way to hyperlocal manufacturing by the new generation making custom fabrication and manufacturing available to all.

Watch his talk here:

What do you think of this trend?

Taking a Selfie : Innovation through wearables

•September 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Meet Nixie, a wearable camera concept that flies off your wrist and turns into a remote-controlled quadcopter. It’s the bizarre-yet-appealing wearable camera drone nobody asked for… and now I kind of want it.

Intel is holding a competition to encourage new wearable technology ideas, and the Nixie is one of the finalists. So far, it’s still in development, so the flying wristlet camera is rough around the edges. Team captain Christoph Kohstall eventually wants you to be able to send the the Nixie flying with a gesture. It would recognize where you’re standing, snap a picture, then return to the wrist, like a futuristic paparazzi boomerang.

If sticking your arm out to capture photos makes you feel like a lo-tech peasant, you’re probably Nixie’s target demographic.

All of that seems to be a long way off still; they’re going to have to make the Nixie extremely consistent to make it worthwhile. After all, getting one of those GoPro stick mounts to take a farther-away shot might not be as convenient of simply flinging a camera off your wrist, but it’s also a lot less complicated. In a crowded area, I’d guess it’d be hard for the Nixie to tell which person it was meant to fly back towards.

The Nixie team has a lot of work to do, but if they can polish their prototype, this is a weird wearable worth watching.

Wearables will get more innovative and creative as we move along. The ones that will stand out will be the ones that provide differentiated consumer value.

Watch the other contestants here: https://makeit.intel.com/finalists

Media Consumption Device Lets You Flip and Shake to Alter News Perspectives

•September 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The way we read news has vastly changed in the last 25 years. From newspapers to radio, televisions to computer screens and now even phones and tablets can tell us what’s happening in the world no matter where we are. Instant updates on our social media make it so leaving the rest of the world behind on the commute back home or our weekends off if we want to keep in touch with friends or colleagues. What if there were a way to contain both broadcast and social media news in a way that makes it easy to switch back and forth between these two different perspectives rather than being bombarded on all fronts?

Created by Dhairya Dand and Dan Sawada of the MIT Media Lab, the FlipIt is a new of viewing news in the comfort of your own home. This hardwood-framed book allows you to hear both radio and tweets from one end, and seeing pictures of emerging or ongoing stories on another, changing to world news with a simple shake of the frame. The device also carries a simple button on top to allow the user to share news they enjoy instantly to their social media account.

Will you go for this?

Powering ‘The Internet of Things’ using ant-sized radio chips

•September 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Stanford engineer Amin Arbabian has managed to create a wireless radio just a few millimeters across that is so energy efficient that it doesn’t need a battery. Instead, it harvests power from the incoming electromagnetic waves. The extremely low cost and small size of this technology means you could soon be surrounded by tiny radio chips in an interconnected mesh network.

The Stanford radio chip is designed to compute, execute, and relay signals. What sets this technology apart is that it all happens on a single chip that doesn’t rely on any exotic materials or theoretical principles. Arbabian sees this chip as the possible missing link in the so-called Internet of Things. If you want your lightbulbs to be connected to your other devices, you don’t need a high-power wireless radio–this one would do just fine. It uses so little power a single AAA battery could power it for more than 100 years.

Arbabian had 100 of these pint-sized radio chips fabricated for testing, and they work exactly as predicted. With a cost of just pennies per unit, it would be trivial to build them into any product you wanted to connect to your home network. Arbabian sees a future where one of these radios-on-a-chip will be scattered throughout a home every meter or so, making it into one big network.

Think this as the “Internet of Everything”!

Apple going wrong with one, but in the right the other!

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Steve Jobs is probably rolling in his grave right now!

No one’s going to buy a big phone,” mocked Steve Jobs when asked about large smartphones at a press conference four years back. Four years later, current Apple CEO Tim Cook decided otherwise and unveiled earlier this week the iPhone 6 family, the first phones designed post-Steve Jobs. And it shows. The 6+ is a Hummer-sized phone that now rivals the biggest of the Android and Windows smarpthones from Nokia , Samsung, Sony and LG, with a huge 5.5-inch screen.

However, in an effort to help the majority of users who can’t reach the far sides of the new iPhone display, Apple released a very “clunky” feature dubbed “Reachability.” Double-tap on the Home button – which is different from the double-click that brings up the multi-tasking interface – and the entire interface slides down to the bottom half of the screen. Double-tap again, and it goes back up. A similar feature can also be found on current Samsung devices.

It looks like Apple is losing its innovative soul, chasing after Android and Windows rivals with bigger sized iPhones, while still lagging on fundamental features like screen and camera resolutions, and inductive charging for example.

While the world’s most valuable technology company might have fallen behind the innovation curve, it has unfortunately lost another of its most precious gift from the Steve Jobs era: common sense.

On the other hand the iWatch brings back a bit of the common sense into product design. First of all, the Apple Watch will either look sleek or sporty, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s heavily customizable, with two different watch face sizes, three styles, and a variety of straps and customizable watch faces.

In addition, Apple’s health app capabilities are on prominent display with the Apple Watch. It not only tracks steps, heartbeats, and calories, but it helps you set fitness goals and reminds you when to stand up.

The Watch also will use near-field communication to use Apple’s new Apple Pay system, meaning you’ll be able to tap the watch to pay at some retailers. A few participating ones that were announced on Tuesday include Whole Foods and Bloomingdale’s.

In addition, it has new communication capabilities, including a walkie-talkie feature (for use with other Apple Watches), the ability to draw and send pictures to friends, and even the capability to send your heartbeat to another Apple Watch-wearer.

The only dampner albeit a big one is absence of GPS and in-built wifi, which means you will always need that phone around.

Apple has a knack for taking existing technologies and making them into must-have devices. When Apple made the iPod, it wasn’t exactly an mp3 player pioneer. But shortly after, everyone was sporting the white earbuds. When Apple released the iPhone, BlackBerries already abounded. But soon the sleek rectangular phone became everyone’s smartphone lust object. Tablet computers existed when the iPad was released, but soon everyone seemed to have iPad tucked into their bag or briefcase. Likewise, Apple might take the fringe phenomenon smartwatches into the mainstream. If it does, then watch out Switzerland!

First Transatlantic “Scent Message” Sends Smell of Paris To New York

•June 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Last Tuesday, an email message encoded with the scent of Paris, winged its way across the ether to land in the inbox of a Harvard professor waiting eagerly in a skull-littered basement room in New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

The onote, as such scent-embedded mail is known–originated at Le Laboratoire in Paris as a picture of a plate of macaroons and a glass of champagne, and was tagged via an iPhone app called oSnap, with the elements–tropical fruit, cocoa beans and champagne–that comprised their aroma.

ophone

When played on an oPhone–the device designed to decode scent-embedded messages–the aroma was, well, undeniably smelly, if a tad muddled. A hint of chocolate was there; something sort of fruity came through; the champagne would have been hard to detect without knowing what to smell for. Did it evoke wine and cookies? Not really. But, to its credit, the gadget worked.

While potential users can currently download the app for free from the Apple app store, there’s no way yet for them to play their aromatic missives without going to an oPhone-equipped hotspot. Starting on July 12, and continuing for three consecutive weekends, the museum will host a hotspot in New York where people can come and retrieve the onotes they’ve been sent. There will be other hotspots in Paris and Cambridge, with more to come. Since tagging photos with scent is a skill that few people have yet mastered, the museum will also host free “scent adventures,” where an olefactorially-skilled expert — a chef, a coffee connoisseur, or a chocolatier, for example — will coach aroma newbies in how to compose a scent that resembles what they’re smelling. The app itself comes with a vocabulary of “notes”–green vegetation, grilled bread, onion, jasmine, cedar, for example–that allows users to compose more than 300,000 different scents.

The technology behind the platform is still in development, and is being funded, at least in part, by an indiegogo campaign. Sign up by June 19, and for $149, you get an ophone Duo (with two scent receivers; an “Uno” model for your pocket will come later), a pack of “foodie” chips and a pack of base notes.

Will this invention be a boon to businesses where scent is important? You tell me….

 
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