Posts tagged " Technology "

Your next activity tracker could be a pair of glasses

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Latest News, News No Comment yet

If wearing a Fitbit on your wrist is too difficult, maybe you should consider a fitness tracker on your face. Eye insurance provider VSP Global is launching a pair of smart glasses today called Level that keep track of a wearer’s movement. They pair over Bluetooth to a companion iOS / Android app. A frame costs $270, which doesn’t include lenses.

The inside of the glasses is relatively simple and what you’d expect. There’s an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer that work together to track steps, distance, calories burned, and total activity time. It charges over a magnetic connector and should last about five days on a single charge. There are three different frame styles available in four different colors: black, tortoise, slate, and grey tortoise.

VSP has also added gamified the experience: if wearers reach daily step goals, they earn points that translate to care for people who need help affording vision care. So 50 points provides an eye exam and eyewear to someone in need, which is nice! But strangely, users can qualify their donations so that they only go to one specific group, including veterans, children, painters from dublin, the elderly, or people who are homeless. 

As far as the product goes, activity-tracking glasses seem useful. Most spectacle wearers wear their glasses every day. However the challenge may come when keeping them charged, charging will have to happen at night when wearers are sleeping. If that’s forgotten then the lenses won’t be ready to track fitness as wearers will need to wear them during the day not charge them!

The future is now – the Cornwall Lecture 2018

February 6th, 2018 Posted by News, Uncategorized No Comment yet

Last night Microcomms had the pleasure in attending the newly realaunched ‘Cornwall Lecture’ at Hall for Cornwall. The very first lecture happened in 1997 with the key speaker Sir Nicholas Grimshaw discussing the future of environmentalism, buildings and global responsibility. Last night the keynote was delivered by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, space scientist and co-presenter of ‘The Sky at Night’. The focus was “Innovation – the big picture” focusing on the space and technology sectors.

We heard Dr Aderin-Pocock’s life story, how her ‘desire to aspire’ pushed her through child-hood barriers such as dyslexia, 13 schools and growing up in a world where space scientists were still very much thought of as nerdy boffins with massive brains. It was an inspiring story and very much spoke to the heart of the blossoming space sector here in Cornwall. Our country is known for it’s beautiful natural landscapes, surfing and tourism – it’s not often spoken of as a tech hub  – even though through Superfast, we are one of the best connected places in Europe. We also have a long history of space innovation at mexico vehicle insurance– scientists there received the first messages from the Telestar programme. Cornwall gets overlooked and left in the ‘remedial class’ as Dr Aderin-Pocock put it, because our underlying potential is hidden by what people see on the surface.

At the Q&A session after the lecture, a very pertinent question was asked “If Cornwall wins the Spaceport bid, what will that mean for local businesses? What jobs will it create?”. This was answered by Toby Parkins of Headforwards, who said that if we are successful in the bid, it will be time for local companies to start thinking laterally – what transferable skills do we have to move into this  sector? How can we take the knowledge and expertise that already exist in Cornwall and translate them into commercial space ventures? We may not think we have anything to offer – but many companies do.

This is a really exciting opportunity. Here at Microcomms, we are going to be putting our heads together as a whole team to look at our collective skills and knowledge and look at where we are best placed to work within the market. There are many complex challenges faced by space progress and it will be a mixture of skills and disciplines that work together to overcome them. 

 

Voice is the future

January 5th, 2018 Posted by Voice No Comment yet

Intelligent Services will not only learn to talk with us, but also to recognise emotion so they can truly engage with our lives.

For years we have interacted with machines by touch – using a keyboard, screen or mouse. But this is not the natural way for humans to communicate. As humans, we prefer voice. In 2018, we’ll see more machines communicate the way humans do, with the potential for technology to become more ingrained into our lives than ever.

We’re at the beginning of a voice-fuelled technology transformation where new types of devices and services, such as the Echo and Alexa, allow us to communicate more naturally. They are being embedded into everything from cars to home automation services to the factory floor.

Ford, for example, has integrated Alexa into its vehicles, allowing its customers to engage in a more intuitive way with its cars. Drivers can speak to their car and ask it to play their favourite audiobooks. They can do their shopping and get directions. They can connect to all sorts of services outside of the vehicle, being able to manipulate lights and doors in their smart home. From home, customers can communicate with their car by remote starting, locking or unlocking doors and obtaining vehicle information.

At AstraZeneca, Alexa is being used by manufacturing teams to ask about standard operating procedures and to find out what to do next. At Nasa, rather than rearranging a conference room for different mission meetings, they speak to Alexa and the building does the rest. For many, voice computing is already here, and the potential is limitless.

20160318-prism-2

The International Rice Research Institute, just outside Manila in the Philippines, has built a digital system to help farmers find the right amount of fertiliser to apply to their land at a particular time. To increase engagement, they opted for a natural interface for the farmers, building it as a voice-based system in the cloud. Farmers simply take the village phone, call the service, select from a variety of dialects and describe the patch of land. The service, using machine learning, provides advice on the amount of fertiliser they need to use and when they should plant their crops.

UK-based Inhealthcare is another voice example. One of its core tools is using automated telephony as a communication channel to deploy digital health services at scale. For many older people, the telephone is a piece of technology they are comfortable and confident using, and nearly everyone can access it, even if they don’t have access to the internet or a smartphone. Using Amazon Polly, Inhealthcare can deliver medication reminders, health advice and help with treatment. A phone call could last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes depending on the complexity of its nature, but with the low latency they can achieve, patients can have a natural conversation, meaning they feel comfortable with the advice they receive and don’t hang up.

Are you integrating voice in to your digital strategy and the way you work?

This sensor-packed pedestrian crossing is fit for a modern city

October 13th, 2017 Posted by News No Comment yet

A prototype LED crossing uses sensors to respond to the movement of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

The crossing grows wider to prevent overcrowding

Paint-on-the-floor pedestrian crossings don’t cut it anymore. They are outdated, and the cause of 20 incidents a day in the UK. Architectural firm Umbrellium reckons it’s got a solution: a sensor-packed digital crossing that responds to your movements.

“We’ve been designing a pedestrian crossing for the 21st century,” says Usman Haque, Umbrellium‘s founding partner. “Crossings that you know were designed in the 1950s, when there was a different type of city and interaction.”

This smart crossing doesn’t just look more modern than the 60 years old versions; it uses machine learning to make the crossings safer. Figures from the Transport Research Laboratory show that 7,000 incidents happen on them each year in the UK.

The crossing doesn’t appear until someone stands in the red area

The actual crossing doesn’t exist until it’s safe for you to cross – then LED patterns appear to direct people and stop cars. These are patterns we already know well; the classic white zebra crossing, the pedestrian symbol, a cycle area in front of the cars, and red and green for stop and go. These arrows and colours are designed to be much more in your face, so your attention is pulled from your phone and onto the road.

“The speed that the animations appear is much more than graphics design; it’s a careful consideration of how fast it can react so that people aren’t startled, but stay safe,” Haque said.

That reaction is less than one-hundredth of a second – enough to respond to kids running into a busy road or cyclists racing past a van. The crossing is built into 22 metres of responsive surface, which would be embedded under a normal road. Haque and his team at Umbrellium developed a substructure made of steel that is bolted together, so when vehicles go over it they don’t pull apart the panels and the cables. Then there’s a layer of normal, ultra-bright LEDs covered in high-impact plastic so they can support the weight of vehicles and avoid water damage.

Once embedded into the road, two cameras are installed to film the street from opposite ends. They merge these images and, using machine learning, classify the objects in the scene: whether they are pedestrians, cyclists, a car, or high-sided vehicle. This helps the system figure out how best to react by tracking movement and assuming their trajectory. It will also learn the safest point in the road to cross to decide where the crossing should appear.

The camera sends this positional information to a computer which generates the right patterns. This is passed onto a system that sends the signals to the specific LEDs needed to make whatever pattern or colour is necessary. A fully-working prototype has been installed on a fake street at a TV studio in South West London, complete with pedestrians, cyclists and van and car drivers. The Umbrellium team spent days testing out the tech and mocking-up real life scenarios.


The default crossing mode, which is meant for less busy times

The default crossing looks like a digitised zebra crossing – but the pedestrian symbol, which switches between red and green, is on the floor at the edge of the road. Once the system recognises someone standing there, a crossing appears just like normal. Once you have crossed the crossing and markings disappear. This would be in an area where people don’t cross that often, or early in the morning. When the crossing isn’t needed, it vanishes.

If lots of people try to cross at once, the crossing markings will widen. It also moves the stop line and cyclist area back, so vehicles don’t get too close. In the real world, the system would automatically decide how best to respond.

The machines could also learn to project the crossing at a slightly different orientation if, for instance, everyone makes a beeline for a certain shop after a school days. The idea comes from ants, Haque says. “Ants put down pheromones when they go foraging – that pheromone attracts more ants to that same path, so they build up their pathway. If people were always tending to go in one direction – that’s the safe place to put the crossing,” he explains.

The project, developed in collaboration with insurance firm Direct Line, is still some way from completion. To speed up the process, the code behind it is being made open source. “The actual deployment will come later, when we figure out the logistics of implementation,” Haque says. In the real world, there would be multiple detection systems, to be fail safe. If the camera systems still failed, Umbrellium have a version that has a pressure sensor which detects where footsteps are.

It doesn’t work on the road surface just yet, but by detecting footfall, the system could infer weight and stride length. From this, it can work out how fast your are moving, and in what direction. “We have to question whether traffic lights even make sense anymore,” Hague says. “This crossing is a step toward a near future re-imagining of how pedestrians can use technology.”

Thanks to Sian Bradley at Wired for the story.

Phone boxes across the UK are being turned into free 1Gbps Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations

July 4th, 2017 Posted by Subjects, Voice No Comment yet

Abandoned phone boxes scattered around London and other major UK cities are being transformed into Wi-Fi hotspots offering free calls and digital services.

BT has partnered with Intersection and Primesight to launch LinkUK, following the launch of LinkNYC in New York in January 2016. As part of the scheme, existing phone boxes are being turned into “sleek, ultramodern kiosks” – called InLinks – across the capital and new kiosks are being installed in areas where phone boxes have been removed.

“Hundreds of users within range of a Link will be able to access free ultrafast Wi-Fi on the move, with speeds of up to 1Gbps – the fastest free public Wi-Fi service available,” said BT.

InLink kiosks also offer premium calls to both landlines and mobiles, charging points, access to maps, directions and local services. These services will be paid for by advertisers, being led by Primesight.

Elsewhere, InLinks have sensors that capture real-time data about the local environment, including air and noise pollution, temperature and traffic and 55-inch (139.7cm) high-definition displays for public service announcements and “neighbourhood advertising”.

However, despite the promise InLink kiosks bring, the launch in New York raised some concerns. Browsers on the New York Link kiosks had to be disabled after people would “linger for hours, sometimes drinking and doing drugs and, at times, boldly watching pornography on the sidewalks,” reported the New York Times.

Intersection told WIRED that it learnt a lot from this beta period in New York and, as a result, InLink tablets in the UK will not include web browsers meaning there won’t be the opportunity for people to monopolise the kiosks.

For Senior Citizens, the future is VR

April 28th, 2017 Posted by News No Comment yet

Craig Palmer Hasn’t left his Manhattan apartment in four years, but on a recent afternoon, the 78-year-old made a transatlantic voyage—while seated upright in his bed. He visited Stonehenge, a favorite vacation site of his; the streets of London’s Russell Square, near his old apartment; the stretch of Broadway where he lived and worked for so many years. A singer and actor for most of his career, Palmer was eager to poke his head backstage at the Triad, an Upper West Side nightclub he used to frequent. Back and forth the man moved his head, his eyes obscured by the Gear VR headset he wore.

Sitting at the foot of the bed, Jake Kahana kept a close eye on Palmer, guiding the trip via tablet. Show tunes played quietly in the distance, and car horns blared from a window outside. “This is awesome,” Palmer said, tilting his head under the weight of the headset. “I get homesick for everything.” The experience was among Palmer’s first with VR, but that made it no less important. The bedridden man represents a population that Kahana fears has been forgotten by the VR industry: seniors.

Elderly VR

Everyone talks about VR as a millennial thing,” says Kahana, a New York-based designer and film director. “But the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the population, and there really weren’t that many people looking at how this could work for them.” Kahana wanted to be one of those people, so he created , a series of films designed to benefit seniors. The films, which he officially unveils today, are the result of more than 18 months of production, testing and focus groups. “They want entertainment,” Kahana says. “I know this sounds silly, but seniors are just like us.”

Kahana’s idea for the project came about through his own struggles in communicating with his own grandmother. First they spoke on the phone, but transitioned to writing letters. When that became too difficult for her, he told her that he wished she could be in his living room in New York—a realization that inspired him Kahana, to try and find a solution.

Despite precipitous growth in VR research over recent years, less exists around applications for the elderly. However, findings in other fields may hold a clue to VR’s benefits. Researchers have learned that listening to music from the 1930s or 1940s can jog memories for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. At Stanford, researchers found that virtual reality simulations had a direct impact on how people behaved in the real world, even after they took off their headsets—in fact, as neuroscientists at UCLA discovered, the part of one’s brain that responds to their VR surroundings is different than the part that responds to the real world, raising questions about the new ways in VR it could affect memory.

Given the dearth of literature, Kahana opted for field work. He spent close to six months visiting community centers like DOROT, a senior facility in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, talking to seniors about what they might want from a VR experience. (Headsets and phones were donated by Samsung and software by Rendever, an MIT startup focused on bringing VR to the elderly.) His work with the Clinton Foundation had involved grandeur—sweeping vistas, the streets of Nairobi—and he expected that his new audience would also thrill to the possibility. Yet, the seniors he spoke with simply missed the everyday experiences they could no longer physically access: museums, concerts, tours. Despite being anxious about using a new technology, Kahana says, the seniors were above all excited. “They love to learn,” he says. “They had these limitations, physical or otherwise, but they still wanted new experiences.”

Kahana then set out to direct the 10 films that make up his series. In one, a pair of violinists play a cozy apartment concert for friends. In another, viewers experience a concert at an LA bar today where patrons and performers are still clad in World War II-era clothing. There’s a tour and concert at the a Lower East Side museum; a peek into a dance rehearsal; a guided mediation and chorus. Hoping to avoid the motion sickness that can affect VR users, Kahana’s shots are mostly from a stationary standpoint, surrounded by movement that isn’t too jarring or sudden. They’re simple, yet powerful in concept and execution, highlighting elements of a experience many take for granted while creating a sense of intimacy. The technology and films will be donated to DOROT to use for senior programming—and Kahana is already training nursing home staff how to use the headsets on their own.

Thanks to Wired for the story. Let’s hope the tech is in UK nursing homes soon.

 

How A New Sensor Could Turn Your Smartphone Into A Molecular Scanner

January 31st, 2017 Posted by News No Comment yet

A Japanese city has introduced a novel way to keep track of senior citizens with dementia who are prone to getting lost – tagging their fingers and toes with scan-able barcodes. A company in Iruma, north of Tokyo, developed tiny nail stickers, each of which carries a unique identity number to help concerned families find missing loved ones, according to the city’s social welfare office.

In 2017, an estimated 222.9 million people in the US will have smartphones, worldwide that number is expected to surpass two billion. Through apps and wearables, we’re using those smartphones to help us track our health, fitness, sleep patterns, ovulation, heart rate, water intake, etc.

But, what if we could use our mobile devices to scan and then instantly analyse the molecular make-up of the food we eat or the health of soil for crops or an on-the-spot analysis of a tissue sample by a doctor or nurse regardless of where they are?

NeoSpectra Sensor

The NeoSpectra Sensor

Si-Ware Systems has developed a small, near infrared spectral sensor that can analyse materials in real-time without sending samples to a lab. It’s small enough to be built into a smartphone for an on-the-spot analysis of anything you can scan with a mobile device. The company says it has applications for both the consumer and industrial markets. The sensor could be used in food safety and analysis, evaluating the health of soils, oil and gas composition as well as determine the purity of pharmaceutical drugs.

Currently, the device is being tested in the agriculture, petrochemical and healthcare markets. Because of its small size, smaller than a finger joint, it can be incorporated into consumer electronics products. Spectroscopy and material analysis has been missing from consumer applications because of size, cost and form restraints.

In the same way that inertial sensors, accelerometers and gyros became small enough and low-cost enough for consumer electronic products, enabling a host of applications for motion sensing, NeoSpectra Micro can give performance material analysis to the consumer electronics world,” said Scott Smyser, executive vice president, Si-Ware Systems.

Last December 2016, a collaborative team of researchers from Stockholm and Uppsala University in Sweden and UCLA in California, turned a smartphone into a microscope. In a paper published in Nature Communications, the team created a mobile-phone-based bio-molecular analysis and diagnostics prototype that could analyse the mutations in a cell’s DNA. This type of analysis at the point-of-care opens up new opportunities for digital molecular analysis and telemedicine.

Thanks to Jennifer Hicks at Forbes for the article content.