New Tech

#CES2014: Gaming, Printing, Excercising

Last week, I was lucky enough to break out of the balmy -20 degree Milwaukee weather and take a trip to Vegas to the Consumer Electronics Show. I had a great time at last year's show, and this year did not disappoint!  

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But let's skip the technobabble. Here are three things that will potentially change the way we entertain, build, and excercise in the next few years. 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness.

 

3D gaming

Imagine walking down a street in a video game, and being able to look up, down, left, right.  Now imagine being able to look in back of you. That's what the Oculus Rift. promises to bring to gaming.

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Looks stupid, right? It was. And I loved it.  Reminds me of the horrible virtual reality games in the arcades of the 80s and early 90s. Remember these?

Transient

Also. Display port had an amazing 3 monitor setup. 3 FREAKING HUGE monitors. I couldn't even fit this inside of my apartment, but I want it!

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3D printing

I've blogged about 3D printing in the past, and there was a huge showing at the conference. 3D printing is pretty much what it sounds like - a printer that can print a plastic object such as an action figure, a ball, or a mask.  Tons of cool companies like Makerbot, Kevvox, and Sculpteo were printing small 3D trinkets left and right. Some great examples are below.  3D printing is still a little too expensive ($2000+, plus printing material) to bring into the mainstream, but give it a good 5 years or so and we'll be printing our own toys at a reasonable price. Secret Santa will be even more awesome.

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Fitness

I've been borrowing a Fitbit Flex from Verizon Wireless for review, and it's become my best buddy.  I leave it on my wrist (even in the shower - it's waterproof) and it automatically tracks my steps, active minutes, calories burned, etc.  

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I forget that it's on, which is exactly the point.  The only time I don't forget about it is when I have to charge it by removing a smal part and plugging it up to a computer, which is more often then I'd like (every day or two). For these things to really go mainstream, wireless charging would be a huge benefit. Imagine that I can just throw my Fitbit Flex on a wireless pad like a Powermat. Or even better, placing a wireless charger under my pilow (or make the whole pillow a wireless charger) so that going to sleep instantly charges the device. I know, big dreams, and I could fry my head ... but it would be awesome.

My favorite fitness gadget was the Infomotion 94Fifty - a basektball with a bunch of sensors in it that measure ball rotation, velocity, the arc of your shot, and tons of other variables.  As you dribble, shoot, and pass, you get instant feedback from the voice of a snarky coach.  

For example, when shooting a free throw, you shoudl shoot at an arc of 40 degrees, which is REALLY hard for the average person. All I heard most of the time was the coach saying "Get that arc up" and other remarks. If I had this as a kid, I might actually have been a good basketball player. Maybe it would have helped me grow to 6' tall to.

 

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Keep an eye out on 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness gagdgets in the next few years - things are gonna change!

Put Your Money Where Your Drone Is

Amazon is researching Prime Air, the use of small drones to deliver packages to its customers in 30 minutes or less. They're throwing around a "as early as 2015" release date for release, pending FAA regulations.

Seriously.

I'm all for bring science and technology forward, but this seems like an idea in search of a problem. I don't hear many people complain about not getting their packages quick enough from Amazon.  Regular old Amazon Prime (free two day delivery and $4 overnight for $70 a year) seems like it would be good enough for anyone that needs products quickly.  

I get it. Amazon head Jeff Bezos wants to get ahead of small nimble upstarts that may be able to quicker delivery than they can. But I'd rather see these R&D resources go into process improvements, employees, stockholders, charities, SOMETHING. Those suggestions, and others, are plenty of ways to stay ahead of the competition that are a little more grounded.

I don't want these annoying little thinks buzzing all over the damn place. I don't want people jacking my packages. The video shows a nice family in a house with a huge lawn - just imagine if you live in an apartment, or even worse, in a crowded city. Although it may be hilarious to see some drone collisions.

In the meanwhile, check out my favorite flying robots of all time from the 1987 movie Batteries Not Included

The Uncanny Valley to our Robot Overlords

 Creepin up on ya

Creepin up on ya

Technology improves at a rapid rate - so fast that most people can't keep up. One of the key ways that we can recognize tech is by visual improvements.  Movies and video games have been on a steady trajectory toward realistic approximations of humanity.  Playing my Atari 2600 in the early 80s is way different from strapping on those virtual reality goggles at Sportsworld in Paramus NJ.  And that is a far time away from video games like Splinter Cell: Blacklist (shown above).

But when does the technology get too real? There's a gap between technology that's clearly fake and us, and straying within that gap can lead to creepy results. Being in that gap, known as the uncanny valley, is offputting because our brains like things to be categorized and orderly.  If we can't immediately peg the source of something, we begin to hyperfocus on anything that would make it different.  If we see a perfect stack of books, we'll look for imperfections in the pages, covers, etc - anything to categorize.  

The BBC has a great article on the uncanny valley:

"There are a few explanations that might account for our strange aversion to humanoid robots. One is that not being able to tell whether something is human or not can be a deeply unsettling feeling in itself. Artists and directors take advantage of this all the time for dramatic effect. The dread that viewers feel while trying to figure out who is a zombie, or Cylon, or alien might be the very same dread they feel when faced with a very realistic robot. "
"An unexpected break in humanness can be an unpleasant shock, one that sets off fearful and distrustful instincts. "

Interestingly, the creepiness doesn't only involve trying to act human. Some things are just damn creepy - like Teddy Ruxpin.

A Curious Year for NASA

Curiosity Rover's First Anniversary  (201308060002HQ)

When you think about government accomplishments in the past year, many of NASA's achievements get overlooked. As entertaining as constant partisan deadlock between the legislative and executive branches can be, let's not forget about our tech success! Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has been steadily moving toward exploring space.

This week marks a year since NASA landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. You can check out the multiple posts that I did last year on the "7 minutes of terror" landing process here. For some new media, relive the landing with the crew in the following 4 minute video from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) site. And yes, that is Mohawk guy (MSL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi) front and center.

A longer, in depth video celebration by NASA is below. It clocks in at about an hour.

Your Library May Have 3D Printing

Inside 3D Printing Expo

As I've blogged about before, 3D printers are awesome! They are a little expensive - Makerbot's 3D machines hover around $2000 - but you can print out small 3D trinkets and have a blast! The main store where you can see demos is the Makerbot store in NYC.  Luckily, some libraries are getting into the act and opening up their own 3D printing stations so that you can get in on the fun! 

According to the Washington Post :

Cleveland and D.C. are part of an expanding club of public libraries making 3-D printers available to patrons, often as part of a “maker lab” type environment. The Johnson County Public Library in the Kansas City suburbs debuted a “MakerSpace” in the spring with a MakerBot 3-D printer, iMacs, cameras and other equipment and software people might not normally be able to access at home.
The Westport Public Library in Connecticut launched a similar Maker Space with a 3-D printer this month after a successful “Maker Faire” showcasing the tech in the spring.   Ben Miller, director of the public library in Sauk City, Wis., called their acquisition of a 3-D printer in 2012 part of a larger move to “creation rather than consumption.”

Check out a video of the 3D printing area at the Harold Washington library in Chicago: