Orbotix, now simply known as Sphero, had the world in awe when it introduced its smartphone-controlled, ball-shaped toy back in 2010. Back then, we were still getting used to the concept of "connected" things. Today, nearly four years after making its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show, Sphero is one of the most popular peripherals around, on iOS and Android alike. But while the robotic ball may have started off as a knickknack for kids, or adults, to play with, it has recently started to break into another, more serious field: education. In an effort to boost that, Sphero launched an initiative called SPRK about five months ago, with the goal of letting schools adopt its product into education curriculum. Simply put, kids could not only learn about programming, but also have fun doing so.
The main aim of Handie, already a James Dyson award nominee, was to develop an artificial hand that offered a large degree of functionality without the brutal prices associated with prosthetics. With the latest model, it apparently skirts below a $400 price tag, substituting a smartphone for previously dedicated processing hardware as well as 3D printing. The use of printable parts makes Handie repairable, meaning it should last as long (or possibly longer) as models that use substantially more expensive materials. Because all the components (aside from the motors) can be printed, it means customization, design improvements and repairs are all possible -- and cheaply too. The team also has a customized mechanism for finger flexing, reducing the number of motors needed to just one per three-segment digit.
These single motors are still able to passively change direction of fingers depending on the shape of an object. The heavy thinking is all assigned to a companion app on a nearby smartphone, which cuts the costs once again. The prosthetic makers demonstrated the Handie's capabilities at an early press event for this weekend's Maker Faire Tokyo. After working on prosthetics in college, development has focused on the fact that high functionality might not be the biggest priority, especially for users that may require two hand replacements, bringing us back to Handie's simple aim: "sufficient functions at an affordable price." Compare and contrast the rougher fresh-from-the-3D-printer model against a glossier Portal-ish version in our gallery below, and check out the full video explanation after the break.
Scentee wants to expand your smartphone horizons and add smell to the senses your phone already stimulates. The plug-in accessory attaches to headphone socket on both iPhones and Android smartphones and, when told to by the companion app, releases a burst of fragrance, paired with a customizable LED light. It's ridiculous, but that's very much part of the Japan-made accessory's charm. The most important factor here is arguably the range of scents available, and Scentee hasn't held back. In no particular order, aromas include rose, mint, cinnamon roll, coffee, curry, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lavender, apple, coconut, strawberry and er, corn soup. And that's not all. They're joined by a special limited edition Korean BBQ collection that'll be available on November 15 and includes three extra 'flavors': two different type of meat and, well, baked potato. This bundle's particularly skewed towards Japanese customers, although we're already infatuated with some of the future scents currently being developed, like bacon and even more fruit smells. We've sniffed our way through several options during our time with the accessory -- the video (and more details) are right after the break.
When we saw a guy strapped to a crane, bounced between colored spots on the floor, we had to
have a go find out more. Within CEATEC, there are halls filled with companies you've not yet heard of. TE Connectivity is probably one of them, regardless of the fact that it's a huge producer of data connectors, power protectors and other things that mass producers like. Now, exactly why it's got this moon gravity simulator at the front of its stand is harder to explain, but it has a lot to do with promoting TE's other products. The simulator includes a high-speed USB connector right above the harness, floor sensors that detect your landing, some other NASA-authorized parts and dynamic sensors within the balance motor that ensure that any hobbyist astronauts in training (like ourselves) don't spin out of control while bounding around at 0.6G.
A computer behind the scenes continuously calculates and adjusts exactly how much lift it gives your body once you're strapped in. Then the aim to this demo is to hop between specific colored spots on the ground, which was a little harder than it sounds. We strap ourselves in after the break.
The Tokyo Game Show isn't just triple-A console titles and new hardware. Oh no, there's Food Practice Shooter too. It's the work of Takayuki Kosaka from Kanagawa's Institute of Technology, with the noble aim of getting kids to eat more vegetables. How? By making vegetable eating an integral part of a light-gun game. The shooting part is pretty standard: you pull the trigger and shoot the veggie enemies on screen just like any point-and-shoot game you've played in the arcade. However, to reload, you need to pluck one of three vegetable-based snacks from the cups on the surface in front of you. (We'd assume real-life tests would use vibrant, fresh carrot sticks -- these snack substitutes were a little too tasty in their own right). Then you chew. The PC running the concept game connects to a head-set with a distance sensor pointing at your cheek -- you calibrate your chewing before you get into the game itself.
As you chew on each snack, it recharges one of three ammo category, whether it's green peppers, tomatoes or carrots. Gnaw faster and you'll recharge more ammo. The game also snaps a brief shot of the player once they've finished reloading -- it's also another opportunity to calibrate the sensor to your (non-masticating) face. Catch our test subject's smile on the high score screen -- you'll find it at the end of our video, which is right after the break.
Yes, there's a fleet of camera-equipped, remote-controlled blimps live-streaming a bird's-eye view of Google I/O on YouTube, right now. It's called Google AirShow and it's taken over the airspace within Moscone Center. We briefly chatted with Chris Miller, a software engineer with AKQA (the company that put the dirigibles together for Google), about the technology used in each aircraft. It all begins with an off-the-shelf model airship that's flown manually via standard a 2.4GHz radio. Each blimp is outfitted with a servo-controlled USB camera and 5GHz USB WiFi dongle which are both connected to a Raspberry Pi board running Debian, VLC and Python. A custom-designed Li-polymer battery system powers the on-board electronics. The webcam encodes video as motion-JPEG (720p, 30fps) and VLC generates a YouTube-compatible RTSP stream that's broadcast over WiFi. Python's used to pan the servo-controlled camera via the Raspberry Pi's PWM output. The result is pretty awesome. But don't just take our word for it -- check out the gallery and source link below, then watch our hands-on video after the break.
Cornell University may be the host of the Cornell Cup competition, but that doesn't mean it can't bring its own robots to join in on the fun. This year, students brought along a few bots, dubbed dunebots, outfitted with all-terrain wheels and equipped with laser tag turrets. The rugged rig features a pair of cameras, a dustproof and water resistant chassis, air intakes capped with filters, and other components for suspension and steering. Not only does the team plan on releasing code and documentation for the project, but the hardware was designed with modularity in mind, so others can build their own modified versions.
Taking the robot into battle requires two pilots armed with Xbox 360 controllers: one directing where it travels, and another aiming the turret and firing. Driving the buggy over the web is also possible, though it takes a few seconds for it to react. The group also baked in voice controls, to boot. If you're not watching the car duke it out in person, you can even tune in over the web and watch a live video stream from one of its onboard cams. Its top speeds haven't been firmly nailed down, but the team says the bot was running at approximately 35 percent of its full potential, since it was deemed too fast for conference attendees. Hit the jump to catch us talk with the effort's Computer Science lead Mike Dezube, and to see a dunebot in action.
TitanArm already took home silver in a competition for senior projects at the University of Pennsylvania, and now the team behind it is visiting Orlando to compete in the Intel-sponsored Cornell Cup for embedded design. We stopped by the showroom and snagged a few minutes with the crew to take a look at their creation: an 18-pound, untethered, self-powered exoskeleton arm constructed for less than $2,000.
To wield the contraption, users attach the cable-driven mechanical appendage to themselves with straps from a military-grade hiking backpack, and guide it with a thumbstick on a nunchuck-like controller. If a load needs to be held in place, the wearer can jab a button on the hand-held control to apply a brake. A Beagle Bone drives the logic for the setup, and it can stream data such as range of motion wirelessly to a computer. As for battery-life, they group says the upper-body suit has previously squeezed out over 24 hours of use without having to recharge.
There are a lot of things you can have delivered to your home on a monthly basis: magazines, hot sauces, underwear and beer are just a few. The second place winner at the Husky Startup Challenge, genius.box, takes that basic concept but replaces the Fruit of the Looms with simple to perform science experiments. Aimed at children between the ages of eight and 12, the projects inside each package teach a basic lesson in science, technology, engineering or math through a hands-on experience. All of the materials needed for each experiment are included, along with a lesson plan, instructions and "factoid" cards with tidbits of interesting trivia, such as the number of elements on the periodic scale.
The two boxes trotted out for demo day by creators Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah covered the science and technology portions of the STEM equation. One was a kitchen chemistry set for growing crystals and the other a simple electronics kit, based partially around parts of a Snap Circuits set, that has kids building an electromagnet and lighting up an LED. This isn't exactly a return to hardcore chemistry sets of the past (you'll find no radioactive materials or poisons in here), but it's certainly a step in the right direction for an America whose love affair with science is on the rocks. Every four weeks a child would get a whole new educational playset for the target price of $20 a month. Which is quite a bit cheaper than your standard chemistry set or electronics kit. To be kept in the loop as genius.box works to get off the ground, sign up at the more coverage link.
The team at Breakfast NY never leaves us hungry when it merges the digital and physical worlds -- and this time it's created something that hits it out of the park for the start of this year's US baseball season. Here at the Major League Baseball Fan Cave in downtown NYC, the team has just unveiled its space program-inspired Mission Control Center. As creative director and co-founder Andrew Zolty explained, "The idea is try and pull in pretty much everything you can possibly imagine that's going on during the 2013 MLB season, and do it in a way that feels reminiscent of NASA's control room: Mission Control."
The 20-foot-long installation houses 30 screens measuring roughly eight inches each. The displays are grouped into two sets of 15 (one side for American League teams and the other for the National League), separated in the middle by a large LCD and a consumer-grade webcam. Below the screens you'll notice a plethora of switches with LEDs, info lights and a trio of gauges. Both sides feature three rows of five screens, each pertaining to one of the 30 MLB teams and their stadiums. At the flick of a switch, the screens display real-time connected data like recent Foursquare check-ins, weather, Facebook Likes and Instagrams, along with team stats, facts and more for each stadium at once.
Those smaller screens, by the way, are actually physically modded Android-tablets -- unfortunately, Breakfast wasn't at liberty to tell us exactly which kind they are. Essentially, they are all running custom apps, with support from MLB.TV to pull real-time, live streams from each stadium in the league. In total, we're told that 13 APIs and seven software languages work in conjunction to make up the Mission Control Center. The setup will also allow players visiting the Cave to have live chats with roughly 10 fans at a time who participate from MLB's site (sort of like Google+) -- of course, the chats allow an essentially unlimited number of spectators. Curious for more of the nitty gritty? Join us past the break.
Since getting outed just head of Microsoft's big reveal, Xbox 360's SmartGlass has been under wraps. When Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten officially introduced SmartGlass soon after at E3 2012, we learned a teensy bit more -- tablets and smartphones (Android, Windows Phone 8, and iOS, even) would get second-screen functionality via an upcoming free application -- and got some hands-on time with it. That application has yet to launch, but Dance Central 3's SmartGlass functionality is already here. Well, almost here -- the game becomes publicly available tomorrow, and the app won't launch for a few weeks still -- but we got our hands on Dance Central 3's SmartGlass companion app a bit early at a New York City review event last week.
Being the first SmartGlass application to launch has its advantages, such as setting the bar. By no means is Dance Central 3's SmartGlass application a thorough, necessary accompaniment (for a game that already requires Kinect, that's probably a good choice), but it does add some neat side fun for friends waiting in the wings to get their respective grooves on. "Party Time DJ" allows friends -- employing their iOS, Droid, or WP8 tablet/smartphone, via the Xbox SmartGlass app -- to queue up the next song in the game's neverending "Party Time" mode, or create a playlist. They can also queue downloadable tracks to the Xbox 360 (which thankfully requires approval on the 360 prior to purchase), or swap difficulty settings. Sadly, though the opportunity for real-time griefing presents itself rather clearly here, developer Harmonix chose not to allow song-swapping or difficulty changes mid-song. "Because it would kill them," Harmonix rep Nick Chester told us.
When Xbox Music goes live tomorrow on the Xbox 360, console owners will be the first to access the Spotify-esque service from Microsoft. Well, some of them will at least -- existing Zune Pass subscribers (now an "Xbox Music Pass") and folks willing to pony up $9.99/month or $99.90/year who also have an Xbox Live Gold account gain access to Xbox Music's 30 million global song database via data stream (18 million songs for those of us in the US). Okay, okay, a free trial is available for 30 days. After that, though, 360 owners lose access unless they pay up.
Then, on October 26, Windows 8 PC and tablet users get the service for free -- with or without the Xbox Music Pass -- albeit with ads laced in. Windows Phone 8 is in the same boat with Xbox folks: no song-specific streaming without an Xbox Music Pass. That won't arrive until some time "soon after" the PC/tablet version. Microsoft says the ad-supported free streaming is unlimited on PC and tablet, but that's only for the first six months, after which it becomes time limited. A bummer for sure, but Microsoft's banking on you digging the service enough to snag an Xbox Music Pass. But will you?
Like with Spotify and Pandora, some basic artist info, album/song info, and images garnish playing tracks, though not all artists are created equal -- some artists had no images, while others had a detailed dossier. Microsoft says it's adding more all the time, though. Xbox Music Pass holders can hang on to tracks for offline listening as well, which show up in your library and can be added to playlists. And should you wish to listen to a "Smart" radio station based on an artist/song/album, you can employ the "Smart DJ" (previously "Smart Playlist") to create just such a station. The whole shebang is tied directly to your Microsoft login, mirroring settings and library data on all your devices (Xbox 360 included) across the cloud. That same concept applies to playback, as you can pause a song on one device and pick it up right where you left off on another. Songs can also be purchased through the streaming service with or without the Xbox Music Pass, should you really want to hold onto that Barry Manilow track.
Another prototype from DoCoMo aimed at Nihon's commuters, the i beam concept tablet forgoes any touch at all, allowing the user (once they're at the specified 'sweet spot') to navigate around apps and screens using your eyes. Two sensors along the bottom edge of the tablet track both of your eyes and after a slightly laborious configuration setup, we were able to tour around the prototype slabs features without laying a finger on it. The navigational dot was a little erratic, but we'll put that down to prototype nerves. The tablet was otherwise able to follow our eye-line and fulfill what we wanted it to do.
Returning to the home screen by targeting the kill box in the top right corner proved to be the most difficult thing -- we soon resorted to tapping at the screen for that. DoCoMo showcased an eye-controlled game, alongside picture galleries, a web browser and a reader app. The e-book client seemed to be the most heavily involved, with the ability to look up words with a hard-stare, and flip pages by eyeing the two lower corners. The Japanese carrier isn't planning a consumer launch any time soon -- and the hardware comes with a pretty pronounced chin at the moment, but if you like staring at someone staring at a tablet, our eyes-on is after the break.
In a sort of reverse-Project Glass, one of DoCoMo's latest prototypes flips its cameras back at the wearer. This hands-free videophone headset ties together seven separate cameras, each recording 720p video from wide-angle lenses. Aside from the single camera pointing behind the user (and beaming the background image), the rest of them point at the users' face, recording different quadrants. These are then composited together, creating a three-dimensional avatar of the user that's then broadcasted to the other caller. The model then nods, blinks, and moves -- all based on the camera footage -- all in real-time.
In its current guise, the bottom half of the face is still composed from high resolution stills captured beforehand, but the program is able to animate the mouth based on the words and tones that the built-in mic picks up. NTT DoCoMo had some lighter, slight less clunky, future prototypes on show, and suggested that the headset could have medical applications, embedding further sensors that could gauge blood pressure, pulse and temperature and possibly broadcast this data during a call to your future physician. Work is currently underway to utilize smaller, higher quality sensors. We take a closer look at CEATEC after the break.