Echo Loop: Literally Talking to the Hand

Amazon on Wednesday unveiled the Echo Loop, a smart ring that offers access to the Alexa voice assistant by using two microphones, a tiny speaker, a piezo haptic vibrator, and a button. Press the button once to ask Alexa something, hold it for one second to ask your smartphone’s voice assistant something instead, or press the button twice to call your favorite contact. Yes, the Echo Loop can handle short phone calls where the wearer moves their finger between holding it to their ear and to their mouth to complete the conversation.

It’s a bold idea for a new wearable device, particularly as smart rings have never quite taken off despite large amounts of excitement. Kickstarter is filled with hopeful breakouts aiming to do what Pebble did for smartwatches: candidates include the Xenxo S-Ring, Aina Ring and ORII. These rings cover all manner of functionality, including music controls, card payments, and even file storage.

The Echo Loop is a simple ring with no screen and a black titanium finish. It offers a button, two microphones, a tiny balanced armature speaker and a piezo haptic vibrator. The device is powered by a Realtek RTL8763BO, a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4F processor with 4MB of flash memory. When the wearer receives a notification, a call, or when the button is pressed, the haptic vibrator will give a short pulse.

The device connects to the wearer’s smartphone using a Bluetooth 5.0 chip, with Alexa voice controls supported on Android 8.0 and iOS 12 and later. That means all the connections run through the user’s existing data plan, and it’s administered through the Alexa smartphone app. This also enables the use of the smartphone’s voice assistant, like Siri or Google Assistant. Holding the button for one second will invoke the smartphone assistant instead.

Battery life depends on usage. Amazon is promising “a day of intermittent usage.” It charges in a little dock, measuring 0.92 inches high by 2.17 inches wide and weighing 1.17 ounces, that brings it to full capacity in 90 minutes. The dock connects to a USB port via micro-USB, and the box comes with a one-meter cable.

It will come in four sizes: small, medium, large and extra-large. All the rings are 0.1 inches thick and vary between a width of 0.45 and 0.62 inches. Weight varies between 0.32 and 0.42 ounces. Amazon will send a fit kit before purchase to find the ideal size.

The Echo Loop is expected to cost $129.99 initially, available through invitation. After that, the ring is expected to cost $179.99.

Why It’s Hot:

The Echo Loop is a risky product for Amazon. It could be a massive flop, with the public viewing it as another example of technological advancement with no real added value. Alternatively, it could be a success and lead to the popularity of smart rings similar to how the Apple Watch did with the smartwatch industry.

The Most Heartbreaking ‘Back to School’ Ad

Sandy Hook Promise, the group founded after 20 first graders and six adults were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, released a video on Wednesday that begins like any typical back-to-school commercial – with middle schoolers talking about their new backpacks, binders, and headphones.

But halfway through it takes a dark turn as the sound of gunfire and screams become prominent, and students use their back-to-school items to save themselves and their classmates from a school shooting.

A young girl uses knee-high socks to stop the blood that’s coming from an injured classmate’s leg, a boy uses his new skateboard to break a window so he and and his peers can climb out, and another student squatting in a toilet stall, sends a text on her new phone that says, “I love you mom.”

“This PSA is a gut punch, it’s uncomfortable, it’s hard to watch, but you can’t sanitize a school shooting,” said Mark Barden, the co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise (SHP). “My hope is that folks will see this and be inspired to take action.”

Barden’s seven-year-old son, Daniel, was one of the casualties of the Sandy Hook school shooting in December of 2012. Barden says that the prevention work done through SHP’s trainings and advocacy is a way “honor Daniel’s life in a meaningful way”.

The Guardian

Why It’s Hot:

A great example of a campaign putting an unexpected twist on a familiar theme to deliver a powerful message.

IPhone 11: The Device of Nightmares

Apple unveiled its new iPhone models on Tuesday — but while some tech fans applauded the new phones’ design and specifications and others weighed in on their pricing, another feature has caught the eye of trypophobia sufferers everywhere.

The Pro and Pro Max phones feature three camera lenses. And while the design is likely to appeal to photography fans, some social media users say it is triggering their trypophobia — an intense, irrational fear of small holes and clusters of circles and bumps, such as those in a honeycomb, lotus flower or bubble bath.

Research into trypophobia is limited. Geoff Cole, a visual scientist at the University of Essex in the UK, told CNN that while it might seem “a little bit odd” for people to feel uncomfortable at the sight of holes clustered together, for people with trypophobia, the images can cause a range of reactions, with varying levels of severity.

According to research from the University of Essex, “the phobia arises in part because the inducing stimuli share basic visual characteristics with those of dangerous organisms.”

Trypophobic images generally display “high (color) contrast at mid-range spatial frequencies” — cycling from bright to dark three or four times per centimeter, seen at arm’s length — and have a “very unique spectral composition (brightness and contrast), something you don’t see in the natural world — except in poisonous animals,” Cole told CNN.

Cole said his research had shown that 16% of the UK’s adult population found the image of a lotus seed pod — considered a typical trypophobic image — “uncomfortable or repulsive to look at.”

Why it’s Hot:
Will the new phobia inducing camera stop Apple’s devout followers from taking advantage of all the movie quality options now at their disposal? Probably not

ConCreates: A Stigma Breaking Agency

Vincent Bragg served five years, one month, and 22 days in federal prison on drug charges. In that time, he studied corporate and real estate law and read more than 400 books.

He also started a creative ad agency.

Today, though, marks the official launch of ConCreates, a creative shop staffed entirely by men and women who have been, or are currently, incarcerated, with an overall goal to challenge the stigma society so often applies to people with criminal histories. The agency operates on a crowdsourcing model, tapping into a network of 436 men and women currently behind bars, and 319 former prisoners on the outside, for skills depending on the work needed.

“We built a creative network based on certain individual skill sets,” says Bragg. “Where most might see a bank robber, we see a strategist.”

“Our mission is to challenge the stigma of how society views people with a criminal history, as well as how people with a criminal history view themselves,” says Bragg, who cofounded ConCreates with Janeya Griffin. “If we’re able to show them they’re not just a bank robber, or not just a drug dealer, that they have creative potential, then we can show them an opportunity to take a new career path.”

The original idea for ConCreates came to Bragg while serving time. While in prison, ConCreates contributor Joe Nickson consulted with MeUndies cofounder Jonathan Shokrian on a few campaigns. “We were able to give that founder some ideas that took his company from doing $50,000 in sales a month to $934,000 with only two campaigns,” says Bragg. “That was the birth of ConCreates.”

When he was released from prison on March 1, 2016, Bragg enlisted in the entrepreneurship program at Defy Ventures, an organization that works to help steer currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and youth toward the creation of legal business ventures and careers. Through that program, he met Tim Jones, executive strategy director at 72andSunny New York, an agency that works with such brands as Smirnoff, Samsung, Facebook, Seventh Generation, and more.

What really impressed Jones was how ConCreates wasn’t just about helping former inmates successfully reintegrate with society but taking it a step further and actually using the skills that may have landed them in prison and aiming them at a different outcome. “That was the real light bulb for me,” says Jones. “That criminality is often just creativity without opportunity. We don’t think one mistake should define a human lifetime. We think there is this raw creative force that resides in prison today. How do we help that become a positive force for society and for those locked up?”

The best phone calls Bragg has are with prisoners who have seen an avenue for their talents beyond crime. “Some of them think this is all they can ever do, and it’s all they know,” says Bragg. “It’s really powerful to give these individuals the idea that their skills are useful.”

Why it’s hot:

According to a 2018 report from Prison Policy, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is more than 27%. ConCreates is seeking to give former prisoners a second chance in life by using their talents in a positive way.

Should the Super Bowl be a National Holiday?

An estimated 100m face paint-wearing, chest-pounding football fans chowed down on chicken wings and chugged beers yesterday as they watched the Super Bowl.

But today, 17.2m of those same fanatics are taking sick days from work, according to research reported by The Washington Post.

The Rams aren’t the only losers this morning: The total amount of lost productivity on ‘Super Sick Monday’ is expected to exceed $4B.

Most managers get it: 62% of execs “think it’s funny” when their employees call out sick the day after the big game, according to a recent survey.

But the hangovers also seem to be getting worse: Research shows that the number of workers who surrender to sleeping in on the day after the Bowl has been rising since 2005.

The amount of productivity lost in the aftermath of the Super Bowl is so consistent year after year that some managers want to throw in the towel and make the Monday after the Super Bowl a national holiday and, according to research, 72% of HR managers agree.

Why It’s Hot:

A National Hangover Day sounds like a nice idea especially if your team lost the big game. The chances of this happening are slim to none: the last new holiday that was created was MLK day in 1983.

Rent Your Apartment Out By The Minute

Recharge, a San Francisco startup that made headlines a few years ago for offering hotel stays by the minute (for a nap, shower or phone call, the company says), is expanding to offer the same service in people’s homes.

The big picture: Technology has enabled the creation of online marketplaces that segment the use of physical space in new ways — from Airbnb’s home-sharing service to companies like Breather that let you book office space for a meeting or call. Even Airbnb recently acquired Gaest, a marketplace for renting out office space.

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How it works: Guests in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York can book a stay in an available home via the Recharge app just as they would book a visit in one of its hotels.

For hosts, Recharge offers two options: a self-managed option, which means the host takes care of the cleaning and gets to keep most of the revenue, and an “autonomous” option, for which Recharge provides the cleaning, but takes a much bigger cut of the fee.
Hosts have to apply and be vetted, including providing a copy of their lease if they don’t own the home to ensure the service won’t violate its terms.
Recharge co-founder and CEO Emmanuel Bamfo says that the company’s service is legal, even in cities like San Francisco and New York with strict home-sharing laws, because there are no overnight stays.
But ultimately, it remains to be seen whether landlords react negatively to Recharge, he admits.
By the numbers: To date, Recharge has had 50,000 bookings, with an average stay of two hours, says Bamfo. It works with 50 hotels and has approved 1,100 homes. Eventually, says Bamfo, Recharge wants to purchase and manage its own hotels to have more flexibility.

Funding: Since raising $2.3 million in seed funding in 2016, Recharge has brought on strategic investors like JetBlue Ventures and Fifth Wall (which has ties to the real estate industry), bringing its total funding to $10 million.

Why It’s Hot:

Cities like San Francisco and New York are notoriously strict with home-sharing laws. By not allowing overnight stays Recharge found a way to bypass these laws one minute at a time.

What’s Better Than One Fyre Festival Documentary?…Two!

Festivals are all the rage with this generation: millennials. From Cochella to Burning Man to Lollapalooza, it’s a time to get away from all their troubles, which sure does help a lot. When new festivals pop up, asking this demographic, “Wouldn’t you like to get away?,” thousands of young adults flock to the desert or into the middle of a city to hang among their peers and dance the night away. However, not all of these festivals go smoothly.

In 2017, entrepreneur Billy McFarland attempted to put on a fantastical music festival in the Bahamas called the Fyre Festival. This elitist and very expensive event ended up being a total disaster. Now, both Netflix and Hulu have competing documentaries about this moment in history, but which one should you watch?

Both of these movies pretty much come to the same conclusion, that event coordinator Billy McFarland is a functioning sociopath, compulsive liar, and a modern-day snake oil salesman. However, how both these films come to that conclusion is very different.

Netflix’s Fyre and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud recount the events leading up to the Fyre Festival and how it all came together, which was way too quickly and without any experienced leader running it all. From having to switch the island where it was going to be held, to FEMA tents being used instead of villas, to the bands dropping out the last minute, it is the story of someone who desperately wants to be something he is ultimately not, a tech billionaire.

Fyre, Netflix’s documentary about the event, has a bit more of a mature take on the events and presents them as seriously as possible. This is one of director Chris Smith’s best documentaries, which is saying quite a lot as he also directed 2017’s Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond for Netflix and 1999’s cult classic American Movie. The story is delivered as more of a mystery, asking the audience, “What went wrong?” It’s apparent, from the get-go, that the problem was lack of planning and trying to rush out a product–which rests squarely on the shoulders of Billy McFarland.

The subjects being interviewed for the piece are those who worked on the festival, from the ones who set up the stages and “sleeping” areas to those involved in the planning of the event. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that it’s nothing short of a “clusterf***,” with McFarland’s response to most problems being something along the lines of, “think positive and it will all work out.” It doesn’t.

Fyre feels like a smashing success as it is a wonderfully engrossing movie from start to finish. It is essentially a rollercoaster ride of a story, for those who are only semi-familiar with what happened at the event.

Over at Hulu, Fyre Fraud almost has a comedic bent to the entire piece, especially with the musical cues transitioning between each scene, which is hard to take in when the thesis for the film is that Fyre Media founder Billy McFarland was knowingly defrauding everyone around him. Fyre Fraud lets the audience know that everything about this festival was a part of the malicious intent that McFarland had. It’s clearly a leap away from what Netflix’s Fyre.

It feels as though Fyre Fraud is geared much more to a younger audience, yet at the same time, a chunk of an early portion of the movie focuses heavily on what “celebrity influencers” and “social media” are, so choices like that are a bit bizarre. Additionally, the movie jumps around quite a bit in the Fyre Festival timeline.

Fyre Fraud is much more about a Cliffsnotes version behind-the-scenes before and after the event–including from people that attended the event–but the one thing Hulu’s documentary has over Netflix’s is interviews with Billy McFarland. However, it’s not as in-depth as you may hope for. There are even portions left in the movie where McFarland states he refuses to answer questions or simply says, “I don’t know.” However, the McFarland interviews alone make it worth your while to watch Fyre Fraud. Additionally, the Hulu documentary makes it a point mention that Jerry Media produced the Netflix documentary, and Jerry Media who were behind the social media marketing for Fyre Fest, and needless to say, Fyre Fraud is not kind to Jerry Media, while Netflix’s documentary tends to paint them in a much better light.

Why It’s Hot:

Although Fyre Festival was an epic failure and Billy McFarland refuses to admit to any wrongdoing his marketing campaign was genius. McFarland was able to utilize the FOMO culture and influencer marketing on social media perfectly. He knew his target audience, affluent millennials, would jump at the opportunity to go to an exclusive “once in a lifetime” event. Fyre Festival highlighted the stereotypes older generations love to attribute to millennials and in the end the desire impress strangers online enabled McFarland to cheat partygoers out of millions of dollars.

Nike Goes Back to the Future

After unveiling their self-lacing HyperAdapt 1.0 sneakers in 2017, Nike is finally bringing their most ambitious footwear technology development to the sports world with the Nike Adapt BB, the first basketball performance sneaker with the Beaverton-based footwear giant’s automatically-cinching power laces.

Much like in the popular 1985 film Back to the Future, which featured a glimpse of what was to come, Nike’s Adapt shoes have special laces in the sneakers which will be powered by a tiny motor and controlled by the owner through either a button provided on the shoe, or operated by a specialized app on the owner’s smart phone.

In a January 15 news release, Nike provides more detail about how the shoes will work:

“When a player steps into the Nike Adapt BB, a custom motor and gear train senses the tension needed by the foot and adjusts accordingly to keep the foot snug. The tensile strength of the underfoot lacing is able to pull 32 pounds of force (roughly equal to that of a standard parachute cord) to secure the foot throughout a range of movement.

That’s where the brain, or FitAdapt tech, kicks in. By manual touch or by using the Nike Adapt app on a smartphone, players can input different fit settings depending on different moments of a game. For example, during a timeout, a player can loosen the shoe before tightening it up as they re-enter the game. In a forthcoming feature, they can even prescribe a different tightness setting for warm-ups. Plus, players can opt in to firmware updates for the FitAdapt technology as they become available, sharpening the precision of fit for players and providing new digital services over time.”

Why It’s Hot:

Are bluetooth enabled, self tying basketball shoes necessary? Absolutely not
Are they cool? Definitely.
Will the Nike Adapt BB set a new trend and have we seen the last of shoe laces? Only time will tell.

Harley’s First Electric Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson announced that it will begin taking preorders for its highly anticipated electric motorcycle, LiveWire, this fall and expects to have them on the road IRL by August.

And, for all you rough-ridin’ traditionalists worried that going electric may strip your street cred, Harley-Davidson released some specs that may bring you peace as you roll into Nazareth and take a load off that fanny.

The LiveWire will rev from 0 to 60 in under 3.5 seconds, can travel 110 city miles on a single charge, and — for those who need that Harley rumble — will reportedly produce a “new signature sound.”

But it isn’t going to be cheap: The LiveWire’s list price starts at almost $30k, which is significantly more expensive than other electric motorcycles poppin’ wheelies into the market today.

For example, Zero (hailed as the “Tesla of motorcycles”), which starts north of $10k and has seen a compounded annual growth rate of about 40% each year since it hit the road in 2006.

The motorcycle industry as a whole has struggled since the recession but, as emission standards change, demand for alternative transportation is expected to increase — hence H-D’s push into EV.

But it’s not just Harley. The moto market as a whole is accelerating, expected to grow nearly 42% by 2021, with around 40m units projected to be sold by 2023.

Why it’s hot?

With a US sales drop of 13.3% and an inability to attract the attention of young customers, Harley decided to add an new layer to its brand identity. Focusing on a environmentally conscience audience they are hoping to replicate the success of Tesla by becoming the manufacturer of the latest “cool” electric vehicle.

Uber Self Driving Cars Return

Eight months after one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian, the ride-hailing company is close to putting its autonomous vehicles back on the road in a drastically reduced version of earlier efforts. Uber was driving its autonomous vehicles on public roads in four cities — sometimes at night — at speeds as high as 55 miles an hour when testing was halted after the accident. Starting within a few weeks, it plans to run the vehicles on a mile loop between two company offices in Pittsburgh. They won’t operate at night or in wet weather, and they won’t exceed 25 m.p.h.

But even as the company has lowered expectations, its autonomous car technology has faced considerable issues. The cars have reacted more slowly than human drivers and struggled to pass so-called track validation tests, the last step before returning to city streets, according to a dozen Uber documents and emails as well as interviews with seven current and former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk publicly about the company. The scaled-down street testing would be a humble return for a cutting-edge effort that Uber’s executives once considered a key to its prosperity.

While Uber is growing fast and is expected to make its debut on Wall Street next year, it is wildly unprofitable. The company lost $1 billion in its most recent quarter.

In conjunction with Uber’s request to resume testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, Uber also published a safety report, a letter on safety from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and a summary of internal and external safety reviews. Uber also linked to the full 56-page external safety review completed by the law firm LeClairRyan.

Self-driving cars were supposed to help cut Uber’s losses by eliminating the need for drivers, perhaps the company’s biggest expense. But expectations were well ahead of the technology.

While Uber’s cars have been off the streets, its competitors have pushed ahead with similar projects.

Google’s autonomous vehicle unit, Waymo, started a driverless ride-hailing service in Arizona on Wednesday. Another contender, Lyft, started a robotic ride-hailing service in Las Vegas this year with the manufacturer Aptiv. General Motors acquired the self-driving start-up Cruise in 2016, has since netted major investments from SoftBank and Honda, and has been testing the vehicles in San Francisco and other locations.

Why its hot: Once fully implemented the self driving cars will be the key to Ubers profitability while eliminating a vital source of income for countless drivers.