AR glasses from Facebook

Earlier this week, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the clunky VR headset, shipped to the market. But Facebook has hopes for the tech and form factor to be reduced to the size of a normal pair of glasses.

During a recent developer conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated a concept pair of smart glasses that he envisions being able to view both virtual reality AND augmented reality. It would be similar to what Google Glass has tried to establish.

To distinguish, AR provides you overlays of data and information while you view the real world through the glasses vs VR, which is a virtual rendering of worlds.

There may be a race to market heating up as Microsoft just shipped its HoloLens headset to developers and Snapchat is apparently working on its own augmented reality glasses.

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Why It’s Hot

AR and VR show true integration of the real world with information and data that can enrich our experiences. Particularly with augmented reality, overlaying information into your field of vision that is contextually relevant to what you are experiencing, can augment and enrich the experience.

VR to manage pain

With the overreliance on opioids to manage pain in the news today, one solution may be just a joystick away. Research has shown that psychology plays a critical role in how we experience both acute and chronic pain. The research also shows that pain sensations can be altered by what we think and feel.

Virtual reality games and rapid advances in technology have shown promise in tackling pain presumably by helping the person focus on other things. For example, virtual reality systems are starting to be used during painful procedures, such as dental procedures or changing burns dressings.
A new study published in the Royal Society Open Science let a group of healthy volunteers immerse their hands in cold water to the point where they could no longer tolerate it, while simultaneously playing a VR game. The study found that the highest pain tolerance levels occurred when both visual and sound sensory inputs were combined versus alone.

Why It’s Hot
With addition to prescription pain killers deemed an epidemic in the United States, alternative ways to manage acute and chronic pain are a necessity. Technology, specifically the use of virtual reality immerse technologies, may help provide one way to manage pain.

3D Doodler for Kids

3Doodler has launched a kid-friendly version of its popular Kickstarter device, called Start, that extrudes eco-plastic material to make 3D designs. The device is available now for pre-order on the company’s website for $39.

In addition to Start, the company has introduced a line of stencils called DoodleBlocks that allow young builders to create complex 3-D prints.

Why It’s Hot

It’s not hot to the touch, which is a good thing. But it is hot in that it brings the momentum of 3D printing to kids, enabling them to funnel their creativity and passion into a nearly limitless range of 3D designs.

China Makes HD Lunar Landing Photos Available

Back in 2013, China joined the US and Russia as the only countries to complete soft landings on the moon. Last month (January 2016), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) released all of the images from that lunar landing to the public. The release consists of hundreds of never-before-seen full color, high definition photos. The last soft-landing on the moon was 37 years ago when Russia completed the feat. High definition imagery was not available at that time.

All of the images are available to the public through China’s Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration–say that 3 times fast. However, a number of experts have been navigating the website and pulling down photos to share with the public, like these: untitled untitled23 yutu-lander-emily-lakdawalla 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why It’s Hot

While space programs, both public and private, look to explore Mars, Venus and further galaxies, the moon has been a bit neglected. Maybe these HD, color-rich images will reignite interest of our shining satellite.

Fully implantable bionic eye

A team of scientists from Australia’s University of New South Wales are ready to begin human trials of the Phoenix99–a fully implantable bionic eye. It is expected that the bionic will not only improve vision of the patient but will also be better than any current vision restoration devices. It has already been tested successfully in pre-clinical studies.

Not only is the Phoenix99 the first fully implantable device for restoring some vision, it is also the first implantable eye with neural stimulation technology.

A big goal for the research is to help restore sight in those affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa. There are 2 million people around the world that are affected by RP, a degenerative condition that can be found in patients in their 30s. Gradually, it can lead to complete blindness. The degeneration can only be slowed down with medicines, it cannot be reversed. In 2012, a team that included the same scientists from the University of South Wales, tried to restore some site in patients with RP through a partially implanted prototype device. The device was made up of an electrode array with some external devices that allowed the patients to see spots of light. The special cameras on the device helped the users to get a sense of distance. The Phosphenes appeared brighter when still objects came closer.

Unlike that device, the Phoenix99 is fully implantable and is expected to provide better vision to the user. The device consists of a small disc that goes behind the ear, which transmits data and powers the device. The user also wears glasses equipped with a special camera. The camera captures the images that then stimulate the nerve cells in the patient’s retina.

Why It’s Hot

If the human trials go well, the team says the bionic eye could be available to the mainstream public within 5 years. If so, this could help improve the lives of 200 million people around the World that have some form of progressive vision loss such as RP or macular degeneration.

This is also a significant step in the use of implantable technology to improve our health and lives. While work in stem cells and other areas looks to culture and grow new organs and tissues, technology is working in parallel to find ways to address these same issues with bionic parts.

 

Rickshaws go Uber, without Uber

Even while Uber has, for the time being, backed out of on-demand rickshaws, New Delhi-based startup Jugnoo confirmed this week that it is closed another round of fundraising to continue to help make India’s ubiquitous auto-rickshaw drivers more efficient while also meeting consumer transportation demands. The service launched in November 2014 and is currently operating in 22 cities and claims 2 million users, around 6,000 drivers and about 30,000 rides per day. The co-founder and CEO of Jugnoo, Samar Singla, told TechCrunch in an interview that he started the service when he realized that auto-rickshaw drivers are just 30 percent utilized. The goal is to drive utilization up to 60 percent.

Top priority for this year is to expand Jugnoo’s presence into an additional 25 cities in India, most of which will be second-tier. untitled

Why It’s Hot

Uber failed at their initial attempt to enter the auto-rickshaw market with UberAUTO. They were unable to localize to the Indian market. India is Uber’s second largest market outside of the US, but it faces significant pressures from rivals such as Ola and Jugnoo.

 

Netflix signs social media star for scripted series

As a recent “cord-cutter,” my family and I have found more programming on Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, Kodi, AmazonPrime, ChannelPear than we could watch in a lifetime. Good programming, too. Many of the Golden Globe winners earlier this week were not from network TV programming but from Prime, Netflix, and others.

YouTube is also part of the cord-cutting phenomena. My 6-year-old son can attest to that as he watches Minecart Dan talk about Minecraft playing strategies for hours at a time. We have to rip the tablet out of his hands. Dan and others rack up millions upon millions of views and make big bank with advertisers and content companies.

Well, it appears that social stars and over-the-top programming such as Netflix are joining forces. Netflix just signed a deal with YouTube star Miranda Sings for a scripted series. It will be Netflix’s first scripted series using a social media star, and one of very few examples of social stars crossing over.

Miranda has more than 5 million followers on YouTube and averages around 1.5 MM views per video. Some of her videos have received as many as 17 million views.

The series will be called Haters Back off.

Why It’s Hot

It further shows how the lanes between social and mass market TV are continuing to blur. As more and more people cut the cord and use their ubiquitous access to broadband to stream whatever they want, the paradigm of who the content creators are and what platforms are in demand and being used continues to be in flux. Advertisers will need to keep pace with these changes if they want to continue to reach their target markets.

 

Newest Sleep Number Bed Tracks Your Daytime Activities

The latest Sleep Number “It” bed not only analyzes how you sleep but also tracks what you do during the day to help you get the best sleep possible. In addition, it can pull in data such as weather forecasts and traffic reports to provide you with recommendations, such as going to bed earlier, to help you get the most out of your sleep.

The “It” bed was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas this week. In addition to using the existing sleep-tracking SleepIQ biometric technology that uses sensors to track presence, movement, and heart and breathing rates while using the mattress, the new bed connects to your mobile devices using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to track your activity throughout the day.

The data can include when you eat, exercise, your schedule for the day, etc. Based on this data, the mattress suggests ideal firmness levels and ideas for how to get the best sleep.

Why It’s Hot
 We spend a large percentage of our lives sleeping, and sleep is vital to our health. As mhealth and the Internet of Things continues to grow, it makes sense that data be used to optimize our sleep experiences. This in turn may lead to better overall health and improved productivity!

Hot Topic: Human Gene Editing

In April of 2015, Chinese scientists shocked (and horrified some) by revealing they had used DNA-editing techniques, one known as “germline editing,” to alter a gene in human embryos. The altered embryo was not incubated to birth, but the action did set off a large debate on ethics, etc of messing with the basic building blocks of human life.

An international conference just ended on Dec 3rd in DC, and it left open the door to gene editing in humans, a technique that alters an organism’s genetic material and what is thus passed on to future generations.

The 3-day conference included scientists from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; the UK’s Royal Society, and the Chinese Academy of Science.

While all parties agreed that “it would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing,” they did not close the door to eventual clinical use of this “editing,” in which DNA of eggs, sperm or embryos are altered in a manner that carries forward to all of the cells of the resulting progeny. These changes would also be passed on to subsequent generations and become part of the human gene pool. The panel concluded, “As scientific knowledge advances and societal views evolve, the clinical use of germline editing should be revisited on a regular basis.”

In the short-term, new gene-editing techniques on adult  human cells may have potential to create new therapies that harness the immune system to fight disease or blunt/reverse the effects of some hereditary diseases.

Why It’s Hot

This topic brings in a  host of perspectives and debatable platforms from ethics, religion, medicine, etc. A quintessential question is: just because we can do it, should we?

Smartphone-delivered Pheromones

Pura is a smartphone-controlled air freshening dispenser for your home. It is a Kickstarter-funded initiative, dubbed as the first freshener that can be tailored to your lifestyle. You can control the time and rooms and types of fragrances releases. Each Pura has 2 chambers for 2 fragrances. It automatically turns off when you leave the house, and you can program and control it remotely using your smartphone. In addition, each Pura has a smart nightlight and 60 million color-options.

But what is gathering more interest in some circles is what is NOT featured in this promo video but is mentioned in company emails and literature. According to literature from the company, the “Scents for Him” line of fragrances from the company will contain the pheromone androstadienone. Upper-lip application of a pharmacological dose of androstadienone in women has been proven in studies to improve mood and potentially facilitated women’s sexual response. Some studies have shown a beneficial effect of androstadienone on sexual desire and arousal.

The company is also working on a “Scents for Her” line that would have pheromones that may have an impact on male mood and arousal.

Scents are expected to ship in June of next year.

Why It’s Hot

Like you have to ask?

 

BlaBlaCar’s Chattiness Index

Paris-based BlaBlaCar is a popular car-sharing service in Europe, but not well known or established elsewhere. What makes them interesting is that during sign-up they have a “chattiness” index that asks the user how chatty they are in a car. They are either “blah,” “blah blah,” or “blah, blah, blah.” They can also select their fellow riders based on whether they smoke or what music they listen to. What is interesting and ironic in many ways is that the backlash to “Uber” in France has been tremendous. Unlike Uber, BlaBlaCar does not have contract workers or employed drivers, but is more a carpooling app. Drivers simply charge their fellow riders a small fee for gas and drop them off along the way to their final destination. And because it is more ridesharing that a car service, it does not have to deal with the regulatory hurdles that have challenged Uber in Europe. The company is valued at $1.6B, making it the only startup in France estimated at more than $1B.

Why It’s Hot

While Uber and other services may not be able to gain an enduring foothold in Europe, home-made solutions such as BlaBlaCar may be successful. It shows the universal need to find alternate solutions from getting from point A to point B.

 

The Power of Crowdfunding

In a heart-wrenching story over this past Halloween, 4 children lost both their mother and father in a fatal car accident after the 2 left the house briefly to shop for more Halloween face paint. The children will now live with their grandmother in Florida.

The Georgia State Trooper, Nathan Bradley, went to the house of the 2 deceased adults, and when the door was opened, he found 4 kids, none older than 13. He decided not to tell them the awful news until after at least their grandmother arrived from Florida, and instead he spent the night with the kids, taking them out to eat and trying to have some Halloween fun with them.

Trooper Bradley also set up a Crowdfund on GoFundMe with a goal of $7,000 to help the family handle funeral expenses. In just 2 days, more than 8,000 people have contributed more than $300,000 to the fund. All proceeds beyond what is needed for funeral expenses and the like will go into a trust for the children. UPDATE: Has now raised nearly $400K in 3 days from nearly 10K people.

This story speaks to the compassion of others and the power that technology and social media can have in bringing together the efforts of disparate people around a common cause.

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Why It’s Hot

The story is tragic. However, the outpouring of support both in words and in monies is uplifting. It would not have been possible to this extent without social and crowdsourcing/funding platforms. It makes you think about what is possible if we use technology to fund and focus resources from around the World around all sorts of problems and challenges facing the planet and mankind.

Cloud-based phone set to launch

Robin, the first smartphone from Nextbit, is now available for pre-order. It came to fruition through a Kickstarter campaign, and is the first Android phone that leverages the cloud in a seamless way.

While Dropbox and other services have allowed users to back-up files automatically, Robin claims to be a “smart” smartphone that keeps track of the apps and files that you use and archives those to the cloud that you haven’t accessed in a while without you having to do anything. And those apps that are archived retain all of their cached log-ins and preferences, that are often lost when archiving other ways.

In addition, one of the head designers at HTC came on board at NextBit and tried to introduce an entirely different looking phone with Robin versus what is available in the market today.

Why It’s Hot

As the Internet of Things and Cloud-based computing becomes more prevalent, it is logical that our most personal of electronic devices, do the same. Nextbit has suggested that Robin may just be the beginning as they look to use the cloud to improve battery life and other performance aspects of the smartphone in future models.

Smart stethoscope gets FDA stamp of approval

Eko Devices, a smart medical device startup, announced this Wednesday that its Eko Core product has been cleared by the FDA. The device turns standard stethoscopes into “smart” ones. It allows doctors to take digital records of patient heartbeats using Bluetooth technology. The records are transmitted wirelessly to Eko’s HIPAA-compliant smartphone app and web portal. Eko will also sell a smart stethoscope for doctor’s who want to abandon the traditional scopes altogether.

The device costs $199 and allows doctors to chart heartbeats over time and send the recordings to specialists for further review.

Eko, which has received $2.8 million in funding, is only just beginning its cardiovascular innovations.

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Why It’s Hot

While much of the medical field has gone digital, it’s been a slow transition for the nearly 200-year-old stethoscope.

Beyond the Eko Core, the company is conducting trials in 2 San Fran hospitals to pool heartbeat data from 200 kids and 200 adults. The data will be analyzed and tested to help develop a Shazam-like heartbeat functionality being built by Eko. This is slated to underdo separate FDA-testing starting early in 2016. It would allow clinicians to interpret the heart sounds based on algorithms developed by engineers that analyze the pooled recordings.

 

CNN: Bill Gates’ poop water machine gets a test run

Earlier this year, Bill Gates posted a video of himself drinking water made from human feces. The video went viral. The water Gates drank was proceeded by a machine that collects human waste and converts it into safe, reusable byproducts such as water and electricity.

According to a blog post from Gates this week, the processor referred to as the “Omni Processor,” is getting its first test run in Senegal. Specifically, it will be tested in Dakar, a city of more than 3 million people, with about 1/3 not having access to the city’s sewer system. Groundwater contamination is common.

The Omni Processor makes much of the current waste management process obsolete, potentially making sanitation much cheaper for Dakar. The machine also saves the city money by powering the rest of the sanitation facility with electricity converted from the waste it processed. Treated water can be drunk or used for irrigation, and ash can be made into bricks.

Gates said the Omni Processor is succeeding in its test run, and the results have been promising. Gates and Janicki aim to bring more Omni Processors to other cities in need.

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Why It’s Hot

According to the CNN article, more than 2 billion people around the world — nearly a third of humanity — use toilets that aren’t connected to a sewer system. Poor sanitation kills 700,000 children every year, according to Gates. This processor can radically improve waste management and create a renewable source for electricity generation, potable water, and more.

There’s No Crying in Baseball

Social media and broadband technologies coupled with how people use them for news and conversing has changed the way information is disseminated in society. As an example, during this Thursday’s Mets-Padres baseball telecast, it was widely reported over online and social media that Wilmer Flores, the Mets’ shortstop who had been in the Mets system since he was 16 years old, had been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for former Met, outfielder Carlos Gomez. ESPN, the New York Post, the Milwaukee Journal, all reported it as a done deal. Even Carlos Gomez’ teammates tweeted out a picture of Carlos and his team on a team plane, wishing him good luck in NYC.

Problem is, there was no deal completed. It was in the works, but had fallen through. Even the Mets manager, Terry Collins, didn’t know about it. Flores found out about it when he came to bat in the 7th inning to a stand ovation from the fans in NY and had no idea why he was getting the accolades until he returned to the dugout and checked online. Social media fanned the flames of this “telephone game” gone awry. Flores, still thinking he was traded, was sent out to play the field while literally crying. He had to be removed from the game in the 9th for emotional reasons.

Why It’s Hot

The Wilmer Flores-Carlos Gomez debacle shows how powerful (and dangerous) social media can be. Think about all the fans in the stands, most of whom are not listening to radios or watching remote TVs. No information was posted on the stadium boards about the trade. All of those fans that gave Flores a standing ovation heard about the non-trade through social media and then disseminated it via WOM or through their own social engagement. It is quite a sociological experiment on the diffusion of information, even false information, thanks to the impact of social media.

 

Google-Waze Tests Car-pooling service

Many drivers, including yours truly, depend on Waze to get to where they are going without unexpected delays. The Israeli company uses crowdsourced information from drivers to steer other drivers away from traffic, accidents, etc. Waze was purchased by Google in 2013 to help beef up the capabilities of the Google Maps platform that include turn-by-turn directions.

This week, Waze began testing its new RideWith ride-sharing app and service in Tel Aviv. The pilot program matches commuters who have similar rush-hour commutes so they can share rides and split the financial burden of traveling to and from work. If the pilot is successful, the service may launch in cities with a heavy suburban commuter population. These suburban commuters, who need a more regular car-sharing schedule, may find RideWith to be a useful alternative to Uber or Lyft that cater more to city residents that need a quick ride somewhere.

The app also calculates how much passengers should pay — a “pitch-in” cost based on gas and mileage and a “nominal” fee for using the app. Drivers are not paid for their services, per se.

RideWith service operated by Waze

RideWith service operated by Waze

Why It’s Hot

Waze has been hot for a while. So are Google Maps. For anyone who has used either of these apps (and they are integrated), they recognize how amazingly accurate they are. The Waze platform is inherently based on crowdsourcing, so it is a logical extension to include crowdsourcing to share available ride sharing to/from work. If the service does succeed and move out of pilot phase to a larger endeavor, it will provide provide another alternative to users who may be using Lyft or Uber.

The Rise of Big Data in the Classroom

According to the Associated Press, about 1,700 schools nationwide can be deemed “dropout factories,” which essentially means their senior class has 60% or less of the students who started there as freshmen. And every 26 seconds, a student in America drops out of high school, or in other words, 7,000 a day.

Education technology companies are leveraging big data to improve classroom engagement and make learning more effective. They’re focusing on everything from online courses to personalized testing to standardized APIs for K-12 schools.

One example is Knewton, adaptive platform that collects real-time data based on students’ learning habits. It has received $105 million in investor funding to predict failure in subject areas and enable smarter, more dynamic learning that’s tailored to the ways in which students learn best.

According to a study conducted by The New America Foundation, more than 87% of teachers believe that analytics can be a powerful instruction tool in the classroom. Perhaps these new tools can help ensure success for our students, understand what they learn and how they learn best.

 

Why It’s Hot

American schools are under fire as US students fall further behind students in other countries in aptitude tests. If more teachers utilized big data to monitor student progress and meet students at their level, perhaps our dropout rates wouldn’t be so high.

iPhone 6 Snafus?

Even though Apples iPhone 6 and 6 plus have broken records, selling more than 10 million in just the first weekend of sales. Reports from upset customers suggest that the iPhone 6 plus can bend after being carried in pocket for extended periods of time.

A hashtag has even started around it, #BendGate, with Apple insisting that the reports are not true or isolated to just a few customers.

Why It’s Hot

This release is considered to make or break Tim Cook’s legacy. Apple has seen exceedingly greater and greater challenges from Samsung and Amazon for smartphone and tablet market share.

 

 

Apple offers a way to ‘return’ that free U2 album

At the end of Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch announcement last week, the company trotted out the rock supergroup to announce a major marketing collaboration.

According to the New York Times, Apple spent ~$100 million on the U2 campaign.

The campaign consisted of Apple giving away U2’s first new album in 5 years, “Songs of Innocence,” to 500 million iTunes customers. For free. The objective was to get more people to sign up for iTunes.

But Apple didn’t just offer the album, it went ahead and dropped the album in all 500 million active iCloud accounts across 119 countries. The files would then make their way to the computers and mobile devices of users set up to automatically synch purchases.

This lead to many complaints of invasiveness and tone-deafness. Especially since the timing was shortly after iCloud’s security was scrutinized for its part in celebrity photo hacks.

One week after giving away a new U2 album to most iTunes users, Apple has announced a way for customers to get rid of it, reported CNN.

Why It’s Hot

Even the most visionary marketers can stumble, especially if they don’t keep the customer–their needs, their boundaries–front and center.

The World’s Most Connected Man

Chris Dancy describes himself as the “most connected guy in the world.” He uses between 300 and 700 tracking and lifelogging systems at all times that include Fitbit and the Beddit mattress cover.

He is even connected to his house as it can recognize if his breathing rate is off and then flicker the lights to remind him to focus on his breathing. This is possible through wearables that are patched into the home’s systems. Another example is having classical music play throughout the house should he lose his temper (based on measure of his heart rate going up).

He’s been called everything from a cyborg to an alien for his extreme data collection routines, but Dancy is the future tech experts say is coming.

Dancy, who quit his job in March 2014 as an IT specialist, has flown all over the world to give keynote presentations at major conferences and companies, including Google, and spent nearly $40,000 testing connected gadgets in the past year.

“Everyone wants to know if they will be like me in the future, but everyone is already like me; they just don’t think about it like that,” he says. “Your phone is already collecting information about you and your life. If you use a credit card or a car GPS system, you’re already being tracked. But that’s Big Brother. When you take control of it yourself, that’s Big Mother, and that relationship is nurturing, kind and not controlling.”

 

Why It’s Hot

Will this be “typical”?

Dancy is the ultimate example of 2 groundswells in tech: the Internet of Things (smart thermostats, garage doors, etc) and the quantified selft (what you learn about yourself from trackers).

First Oculus Rift Surgery

Surgeons in France used special 3D stereoscopic cameras to film a hip replacement operation that was then turned into a VR video experience for use with the Oculus Rift.

The intent is to use the virtual reality experience as a teaching tool. Positional tracking for virtual reality headsets does apparently work for the video, meaning leaning your head forward puts you closer to the action.

“When you are a surgeon in training, you watch a lot of procedure, but you are very rarely in place of the primary surgeon. This project uses virtual reality to improve surgical training by putting the trainee in the shoes of the surgeon,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Gregory, who performed the hip replacement at European Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris.

Why It’s Hot

Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion earlier this year. The headset displays a fully immersive 3D experience that makes you feel like you are actually in the experience. But others are unsure of the purpose of Oculus and why there’s so much fuss surrounding it. Oculus Rift, which is not yet on the market, has been discussed most significantly within gaming circles. This shows how VR can be used in other immersive application such as teaching.

 

 

New Wearable Baby Monitor Is Like a Fitbit for Infants

A new wearable for babies is trying to give parents some peace of mind, and maybe a few extra hours of sleep.

Sproutling launched its pre-order campaign this week, billing itself as the “world’s smartest baby monitor.” It is set to hit the market in March 2015 for around $300.

The wearable is designed by a team of former Apple and Google engineers, pediatric specialists and new parents and is made of up 3 parts: a wearable band, a smart charger, and a mobile app.

The wearable monitors heart rate, temperature and motion. All of the information is relayed to the mobile app. The app then uses the data to predict when the baby will wake up and tries to determine what mood the baby is in before parents even walk into the room.

Access to the app can be provided to a number of people including parents, sitters, family members. Emergency alerts can also be triggered if the baby spikes a fever, turns over, or if their heart rate goes down significantly.

Why It’s Hot

While high-tech baby monitors are not new, Sproutling expands the scope of the amount of information a baby monitor can relay. It also uses that data to help predict baby behavior and mood.

 

App for keeping politicians true to campaign promises

The Promise Tracker website and app are intended to allow everyday citizens to document examples of politicians either delivering or not delivering on campaign pledges.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Civic Media Center, and brainchild behind the project, has been carrying out experiments using mobile phones to enable citizens to become more active monitors of public servants.

“Our goal is not to criticize the government, but rather provide residents and politicians with the proper tools to understand the local context, make informed decisions, and transform their cities into better spaces for all,” said Leo Burd, a consultant for MIT on the Promise Tracker project.

Promise Tracker is being piloted this fall in Brazil. Brazil was a logical choice given several cities in the country have recently passed laws mandating that its mayors list and publish campaign promises and term objectives within 90 days of taking office. Over 1,100 “counselors” will be using the Promise Tracker in Brazilian cities to monitor the progress of each pledge of various politicians.

Promise Tracker has already generated interest from other countries and the MIT team plans to create a web and mobile app system that cities around the world can customize according to their needs.

Why It’s Hot

Unfortunately, politicians are often in the service of those who fund their campaigns versus the citizens who voted them in. The concept behind Promise Tracker brings crowdsourcing, data, social media, GPS, multimedia all together to give everyday people greater power to lobby for change and hold politicians accountable. This can help address infrastructure investments, fix inequalities, and improve public services.

 

Bionic Eye Lets Man See Again

Retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease, left Roger Pontz completely blind by the age of 40. His eyesight slowly deteriorated since he was a teenager, with doctors having no interventions to offer him.

The Argus II, also known as the “bionic eye,” consists of a pair of glasses with a small video camera mounted on it. A surgically implanted prosthesis the size of a pencil eraser is introduced to the surface of the retina. Information from the camera is transmitted wirelessly to the prosthesis, where it is converted to electrical pulses. Any remaining cells in the retina that have not been damaged by the disease are stimulated by the pulses, leading to a perception of light patterns in the brain.

While a long way from perfect vision, as the user does not perceive color or details, it does provide enough information for a totally blind individual to get around his or her surroundings.

The Argus II has been used in Europe since 2011 in countries including Italy and Germany, but wasn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration until last year.

Pontz became the second person in the US to have the Argus II implanted. The effects were immediate:: “They turned it back on and I’m sitting there and I’m thinking: there was a light flashing on the screen wasn’t there? And they said, ‘yeah.’

It’s been pretty awesome,” he says. “I can tell when my grandson runs around the house, I can tell when people step in front of me, I can tell when my wife had on a white top versus dark bottoms, vice versa. I could follow my mom around on Easter; she had a light top on. Every day it’s something small but something different.”

Why It’s Hot

Degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa have no cure, currently. In addition, conditions such diabetes have become an epidemic in the World and can rob diabetics of their vision if not managed properly. The Argus II is a rudimentary but important step toward leveraging technology to enable sight.

 

 

 

Drug-delivering Drones

Silicon Valley-based QuiQui is testing drones that would deliver medicine and anything else you would normally purchase at a pharmacy. The technology is still in prototype phase, but the vision is there, and QuiQui plans to make its first delivery by the end of this July.

QuiQui founder Josh Ziering envisions being able to use your phone to put in a pharmacy order and then having the drone deliver anything from aspirin and prescription drugs to greeting cards. The expected delivery time would be just 8 to 12 minutes after the order was placed, based on a pilot area consisting of San Francisco’s Mission District.

Ziering, a self described “aviation fanatic,” says over 600 users in the Mission District have signed up for the service. The company is looking to raise money to get the company off the ground. He’s also currently working to partner with pharmacies to offer prescription deliveries as well.

Access the video here: http://money.cnn.com/video/technology/2014/06/18/drugs-toiletries-delivery-quiqui-drone.cnnmoney/

Why It’s Hot

Like Amazon, QuiQui is working with the FAA to relax restrictions for commercial drone use. Current regulations prohibit these types of deliveries. Unlike, Amazon, QuiQui is a privately held, exceptionally agile company that is focusing its services in a very small footprint. Assuming the FAA relaxes restrictions, QuiQui could lead the way for other smaller players to join larger companies such as Amazon in offering delivery services via drones.

 

 

 

 

Smartcup Arrives

Imagine the cup you are drinking your beer from tell you that your alcohol intake has exceeded safe levels and urges you to reconsider?

That is what the Vessyl “smart cup” can do. This 13-ounce cup is fitted with a sensor that analyzes the molecular content of drinks in real time. It then displays selected nutritional information on the drink such as sugar or alcohol content.

Inventor and CEO of the parent company Mark One, Justin Lee, says the Vessyl is now available for pre-orders.

The cup can be synced to a smartphone, and in a matter of seconds can recognize a specific brand of smoothie, for example, and determine the exact flavor. In addition, as an example, it can then provide the sugar and caloric content of the smoothie.

Of course, beyond determining alcohol content, the cup can be used for people who are counting calories to try to lose weight. Or someone who is trying to build more muscle may be most interested in the protein content of the beverage. Caffeine consumption is another application. The device can be set to multiple “lenses” to meet a variety of needs.

Lee hopes that the cup will join and be used with existing and emerging health technologies that record heart rate, BMI, etc.

The Vessyl has a lot of backing, with leading innovators at Google and Apple among its admirers. Its ease-of-use design was developed in collaboration with award-winning designer Yves Behar, the creator of Jawbone.

Why It’s Hot

There is a medical imperative behind the Vessyl. Soft drinks are increasingly identified by health organizations as a leading cause of obesity. There are other products in development for analyzing food, but none may be as user friendly as the Vessyl cup.

 

 

Das 3D Auto

The Germans Have Figured Out How to 3-D Print Cars

If German engineers have their way 3-D printing is going to reshape how cars are made. EDAG, a German engineering company, has created the “Genesis,” a vehicle frame made from a range of materials and inspired by a turtle’s skeleton. It was developed entirely through the 3-D printing process. EDAG’s robot printer built the Genesis using a thermoplastic model but says they could use carbon fiber to make the structure stronger and lighter.

EDAG showed off the Genesis design concept at the Geneva Motor Show to demonstrate that 3-D printing can make full-size car components.

Why It’s Hot

EDAG’s design is unique because it shows that 3-D printing can produce a structure at a massively large scale. Rather than printing out tiny parts and them assembling them together to create the whole, Genesis shows that future cars could be produced through fewer steps and pieces by printing and assembling large, exceptionally strong unibody parts.

Genesis is “the opening salvo in an arms race for creating large objects with a single process.”

 

App to Stem the Incidence of Tommy John Surgery in Pitchers

There have been 20 MLB pitchers lost to “Tommy John” surgery this year. An alarming rate for a surgery that replaces a torn ligament in the pitching elbow of the pitcher.

Noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews has performed numerous Tommy John surgeries. Dr Andrews and his longtime colleague, Dr. Kevin Wilk, are developing an iOS app (Throw Like a Pro) designed to educate players, parents and coaches on how to prevent throwing injuries. It is targeted toward younger players as they begin forming good or bad throwing habits. It’s goal is to prevent injuries and also improve performance.

Throw Like a Pro

The app will be released in the coming weeks and consists of 4 sections.

One section includes recommendations for pitchers from the American Sports Medicine Institute, such as avoiding throwing to the target of a radar gun but focusing instead on throwing with proper mechanics.

The app also includes a preseason preparation guide and pregame warm-up routine. This includes video instruction of various specific throwing exercises from Wilk and tips to avoid common mistakes.

The app also includes a pitch counter and rest calculator. The pitch counter can track the number of pitches thrown during a game and throughout the season. By inputting the pitcher’s age, the app will also create specific guidelines for cap of number of pitches. The rest calculator outlines appropriate rest prior to resuming pitching.

Why It’s Hot

Younger players are now getting TJ surgery at an alarmingly high rate. Part of it is probably due to better diagnostic methods, but there is belief that pervasive poor mechanics and throwing techniques may be a factor. With 20 pitchers having already gone under the knife in 2014 alone, and the season is only 2 months old, any way that technology can make an impact is a positive thing.