Optimising Your Indoor Environment

BeagleA new environmental sensing system will soon be able to inform you on ways to enhance your indoor environment. Canadian startup Beagle Sense has just recently introduced the Beagle sensor system that promises to monitor only those atmospheric parameters that are required. The sensors achieve this by each sensing unit only monitoring one metric of either temperature level, sound, light, air pressure, air quality or humidity, allowing specific sensing units to be positioned only where they are called for. To install the equipment in the home, new owners just need to plug in their base station and link it to a Wi-Fi network as well as a mobile device for maximum functionality. When positioned about the house, they start relaying their sensor data back to the base station for owners to observe using a web or mobile app. The Beagle sensors are each powered by 2 AAA batteries and communicate with the base station using Bluetooth although they also have the ability to save up to 2 weeks of measurements using their own internal memory allowing them to be relocated out of range of the base station for a while before synchronising with it once back in range.

Robot Deliveries

starshipSkype founders Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla are leaving their offices and moving into the streets with their latest venture, Starship Technologies, which they hope will transform how goods are transported to consumers. Instead of the omnipresent man-and-a-delivery-van, they hope to be operating fleets of self-driving distribution robots that will take over delivery in the ‘last mile’. The notorious ‘last mile’ is known to be the most inefficient component of shipments in today’s delivery-focused society, especially in cities where the last few kilometres often takes up most of the total shipping cost. With setups in London and Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, the company is testing a wheeled robot that it expects to be cheaper and faster, and also more eco-friendly than the traditional man-and-a van delivery method. Each wheeled robot is built from off-the-shelf electronics, including an array of sensors to allow it to travel alongside pedestrians on regular pavements. Although the robots will be equipped with collision evasion as well as navigation software and are planned to run independently the majority of the time, they will also be able to be controlled by a human operator for safety reasons and to ensure that the deliveries are successful. The robots will have the capacity of a small car boot in which to carry items which will be locked inside the robot and openable only by the receiver. For the plan to be successful, deliveries will still be moved in bulk by current human methods to regional centres before being turned over to the robots for the final step. As they travel around, the robots will be monitored by the controllers and also accessible by the delivery recipients using an app.  Currently, the company is in the testing phase but expects initial trial services to begin operating in several countries in 2016.

The Gest-ure Controller

GestApotact Labs has recently revealed a four-fingered ‘glove’ called Gest that is designed to allow users to control any attached computer or mobile device using just their hand gestures. The Gest controller is fashioned to accommodate any shape or size of hand by means of a flexible palm strap and 4 adjustable finger attachments. Each glove has 15 sensors including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, which are commonly found in mobile devices. The specially-designed software makes the device very sensitive even to small finger motions and is designed to get to know just how each user moves his or her hands by producing a customized configuration distinct to each user. By adjusting the software program to each individual, the device is able to provide a very high degree of precision for all types of hand movements, even small finger twitches. The company has indicated that its first application will be for Adobe Photoshop with initial devices exhibiting 5 standard motions. For instance, pointing at the computer display permits you to position the computer’s mouse anywhere on the screen, while turning your hand readjusts Photoshop’s sliders, and 3D objects can be revolved by ‘grabbing and rotating them’. The device hooks up to just about any device that has Bluetooth, and is recharged with a Micro-USB interface. Apotact Labs also demonstrated the Gest controller working as a keyboard interface, but users will have to wait for this feature as it is still only in the experimental stage. Gest was just launched on Kickstarter and is expected to be delivered to early enthusiasts by late 2016.

Oral Insulin for Diabetes Sufferers

Many people unfortunate enough to have diabetes also have to suffer the negative consequences of having to have insulin shots every day. Yet this could be about to change with a new insulin strip that is being developed that affixes to the intestinal tract wall surface and discharges its hormone after being ingested. Orally-administered insulin is nothing new but it has always been difficult to achieve in practice due to its susceptibility to digestive system enzymes that degrade the hormone before sufficient amounts of it have been absorbed. Yet researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have produced an insulin-loaded strip which would be transported through the body within a protecting polymer shell. By putting the patch incorporating insulin and an intestinal wall-permeation enhancer inside a stomach acid-resistant coated pill, the scientists developed a tablet that dissolves once in the right location within the intestinal tract allowing the insulin strip to affix itself to the intestinal wall prior to delivering the drug. The scientists experimented with rat and swine intestinal tracts to analyse both the ‘sticking’ power of the strip and the efficiency of delivery of its contents, with the most optimal concentrations of the permeation enhancer and drug combination able to trigger blood glucose levels to drop to about 70 percent of normal levels. If human trials of the insulin strip prove as effective, it will be very good news indeed for diabetes-suffers everywhere.

Have a Heart

A scientific team at Carnegie Mellon University has just unveiled a 3D-bioprinting set-up that can be employed to generate soft interior body organs. Up until now, 3D-bioprinting has, for the most part, involved using components that supply their own structural support through their own intrinsic rigidity, for example, replacement bone structures that are made out of titanium.  But when dealing with trying to replicate soft organs in the body, a structural problem arises during printing in that subsequent layers do not have the required underpinning support from previous layers. The Carnegie Mellon University group led by Adam Feinberg have shown that bioprinting of soft tissues like hearts can be done using a method referred to as Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels or FRESH. The technique, involves printing the gel that will make the walls of the soft tissue completely within the confines of a second supporting gel allowing the soft-tissue organ to be synthesised. As with other bioprinters, the teams’s new 3D-bioprinter precisely injects layers of a tissue-building gel inside the supporting one to create the required shape. Then, much like quick-dissolving support filaments that are used to support gravity-defying structures within other 3D-printed designs, the support gel can be dissolved in 37C water, leaving behind the bioprinted organ ready for implantation into the patient. Donor organ transplants could very well soon be a distant memory.

WIFI everywhere…one day

smart_pavementIn the historic city of Chesham in Buckinghamshire, telecoms giant Virgin Media in collaboration with Chiltern Council have set up a “Smart Pavement” system with WI-FI connectivity hubs embedded within manholes and surrounding street furniture, a first for the UK. The system delivers publicly-accessible high speed broadband to locals, businesses and tourists when within the city centre, encompassing Chesham’s busy High Street as well as parts of the nearby Lowndes Park, and providing internet speeds of up to 166 Mbps, faster than what most people get in their homes. The network may be accessed by the public that are Virgin Media Mobile subscribers allowing them to effortlessly connect to the network through the use of a specially-designed App. According to Virgin Media, with a populace of  21,000 and counting, Chesham is the ideal size to test such a system before any future roll out across towns in the UK. Chesham is also ideal  due to its pedestrianised city centre and a plethora of businesses to encourage use of the system. But it is not all business-focused, as the system is also useful to the local council, which has been looking to provide fresh approaches to enhancing the local area.

The Ezviz Mini

ezviz_miniWi-Fi-based webcams or IP-cameras are becoming more and more prevalent in the home. A main reason for this is their decline in price in recent times as well as the ease with which they can be installed. A recent entry into this already jam-packed market is the new Ezviz Mini Wi-Fi camera. The Ezviz Mini is a simple, 8.9cm tall unit that weighs less than 120g featuring a 16GB memory card. It is very simple to install once the camera has been activated through the free Ezviz application available for both Android and iOS. The activation process involves making use of a basic QR code check to link the camera to the app followed by linking it to a nearby Wi-Fi network. After that, the video camera and its integrated microphone will keep an eye on everything in its field of view, with users able to access the device directly or through the internet. The application itself can supply live feeds from 4 Minis, as well as serve up saved pictures or video clips from either the integrated memory card or from the cloud. It can also be used to make real-time video captures and pictures. The included 16GB memory card is able to capture approximately four days of intermittent video clips even in the most active of domestic environments, but if more is needed, the SD card can be replaced with a larger size up to 64GB. When the memory card is full, the oldest clips are then overwritten with new ones. The Mini also has night vision which is very responsive to changing lighting conditions, automatic switching on when light levels are too low. The sound, meanwhile, was pretty much the only negative, as it tended to be inconsistent and sometimes difficult to understand. It also generated some pretty annoying feedback sounds if the smart phone application was open within earshot of the Mini’s microphone. Nevertheless, this is yet another good contender for keeping a close eye over your most valued possessions.

Monkey Business

monkeySmart home innovation has actually made it easy to manage home thermostats, light fixtures and even door locks using smart phones. However those of us who live in a gated community or flat are usually not permitted or able to fit such devices themselves. Locumi Labs hopes to change all that with its new smart gadget, the Monkey, that attaches to one’s existing intercom to make it capable of keyless access. A 5cm x 5cm square that is only 9mm thick, the Monkey is a chip that can connect to all intercom types out there. Although necessitating the removal of the intercom cover as well as a little bit of tinkering with the internal circuitry, the creators of Monkey assure us that installation is an almost brainless procedure that anybody can do. Then once connected to the home Wi-Fi network, Monkey allows users to set it to open doors from a smart phone, or using a mobile phone’s GPS signal, or even at specific times of the day. And since Monkey incorporates into the intercom’s internal power source, there’s no requirement for a power supply or to replace batteries. The Monkey app is available for both iOS and Android operating systems, allowing homeowners anywhere to be informed when somebody is ringing their doorbell. In addition, it also provides the capability of changing who has access to the property without needing to physically change locks or duplicate keys. And if you forget your cell phone inside the house, Monkey does not prevent you from using the traditional method of a mechanical key. Check out the promotional video on Kickstarter.

The Microsoft Band 2

Band_2Microsoft has just announced the latest version of its health and fitness wearable, the Band 2. Compared with the 2014 model, the fresh take on the personal gadget is more capable and feels much more comfy on the your forearm than its predecessor, but comes with a higher price tag. The Band 2 is challenging the other major players in the wearables market (Apple, Fitbit and Jawbone) especially when it comes to battery life, claiming that the Band 2 will last 2 days under normal use. As with the previous version, the gadget works with Windows, Android, and iOS operating systems. One of the most noticeable changes to the new model is that it has a much sleeker appearance than that of its predecessor, with a screen that curves around the wrist strengthened with Gorilla Glass 3 and a wristband that is much softer. As for the incorporated tech, whereas the first Band had a decent set of heart rate and step monitors, the new unit also includes an atmospheric pressure and elevation sensor that is useful on hiking treks. In addition, the Band 2 is fitted with a monitor for VO2 Max, which is an advanced metric of fitness that normally requires costly equipment to compute. The Microsoft Band 2 also supports a wider range of smartphone apps when it comes to their alerts and it even has a shot-tracking capability for golf enthusiasts. Speech support for Cortana, Microsoft’s electronic smartphone aide, has been added too. The company says that the Band 2 will be in US shops by the end of October.

Autonomous Road Shipping

Highway_PilotDaimler Trucks has just retro-fitted its self-driving system known as the Highway Pilot to a Mercedes-Benz eighteen-wheeler lorry and, as of late, has been driving it down a stretch of the German Autobahn. This has now become the latest milestone in the development of self-driving vehicles with it marking the very first time a self-driving production truck has been evaluated for its self-driving capabilities on a public highway. As with self-driving cars, Daimler says improvements to motorist safety is a convincing reason to also develop the technology for the road-shipping industry. By allowing self-driving systems to aid the lorry driver on any long-haul trips, Daimler claims it can help prevent operators from falling asleep at the wheel as well as limit the number of driver errors. In addition, when it comes to switching gears for speeding up or slowing down, the autonomous system can be more economical with fuel consumption reducing the carbon footprint of the vehicle in the process. The device uses both a short-range radar that can scan up to 70 metres ahead of the vehicle over a 130-degree arc, and a long-range radar that allows the vehicle to ‘see’ up to 250 metres ahead of it in a smaller 18-degree arc. The radars also operate in combination with Active Cruise Control, Active Brake Assist, as well as ‘steering’ cameras that keep track of roadway markings. However, as of yet, Highway Pilot is not yet advanced enough to allow drivers to completely relax on their journey as the operator still needs to be ready to take control of the vehicle in unexpected situations.  So, while self-driving trucks still seems a long way off into the future, the chance to assess the technology in real-world situations will certainly help in bringing it ever closer.