CES 2016: A Place for the Insane and (Sometimes) Useful Technologies

CRB_1271The international Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas gets underway today. This popular show gathers tech companies, reporters, advertisers and analysts for one giant sprawling series of events dedicated to showing off thousands of new gadgets.

The CES typically offers a mix of cutting-edge tech products that range from exciting and potentially world-changing to insane ideas, with a likely mixture of both. However, most of the time, the CES offers an excellent window at the big new trends in consumer technology that companies hope will be successful in the coming year. Some technologies, like 3D TV or ultrabook laptops, have fallen completely flat. But others, like virtual reality and 4K TV, are steadily making their way into our living rooms.

What are some of the things we should expect to see this year?

Wearables

The year 2015 was a big one for wearables. The release of the Apple Watch, updated Android Wear OS and new versions of the Pebble Watch made their way to our wrists. This year, we could see many of the same themes: fitness tracking, notification serving and always-connected will likely play a big role in the new year. Most of the wearable tech present at CES in 2016 will take the shape of small gadgets. But those looking to make a statement have no shortage of options either.

Virtual reality

It looks like 2016 will finally be the year that consumers will be able to get their hands on powerful VR headsets. Major players in VR like Facebook-owned Oculus and Sony-owned Playstation VR will drum up pre-launch buzz at each of their CES booths by showing off some of the most advanced headsets on the planet.

Smart Homes

At this year’s CES, almost all of the Tech West hall will be covered by new smart home gadgets. Products that are compatible with Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat, Apple HomeKit, Wink, and Thread are expected to be there in numbers.

Driver-less Cars

Driverless cars are set to come onto the scene in a big way. Appearances from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Hyundai, Mercedes, Toyota and more could bring some interesting features to the car industry in their own right. Chevy and Volkswagen are expected to unveil new electric automobiles. And Ford might be looking to unveil its Google-powered self-driving cars.

Drones

A newly designed drone from Amazon was revealed for its fleet of proposed delivery drones in a video posted to YouTube. The new Amazon “hybrid” drone can switch between flying like a helicopter and airplane, and has a range of 15 miles, according to the company.

Times have changed for drone technology. As recently as 2014, there were only four exhibitors at CES that were offering drones. This year, there will be 27 different exhibitors, with a massive marketplace taking up a large percentage of the showroom floor. Today’s demands for drone technology is that they have advanced sensor arrays that monitor the environment, keep them from crashing, remain in legal airspace, and make flying them easier.

The Possibility of Pliable Electronics

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Panasonic has recently developed a soft, flexible, and stretchable polymer resin insulating film which stretches 2.5 times its length and returns to its original shape. It can be folded and adapts to varying free-form surfaces, as to reducing existing design constraints.

The possibilities for this type of technology could be endless! For an example, it would enable the construction of soft and stretchable electronic devices that are adaptable to various forms such as clothing and the body. This would open the window to many wearable technologies, and make clothing “smart” clothing.

Overcoming the Numerous Challenges

Polyurethane and rubber materials need to overcome challenges associated with adhesion, heat resistance, and the fact that they are brittle. Panasonic’s insulating material, made of thermosetting resin, is, both flexible and stretchable.

Devices implemented on clothing or worn on the body should be made of materials that withstand repeated use and allow no change in mechanical properties even after repeated deformation. In normal circumstances, materials subjected to repeated stretch and restore would tend to degrade in mechanical strength and recovery performance. Going beyond simple softening, Panasonic employed a unique resin design technology that makes optimal use of the characteristic three-dimensional cross-linked structure of thermosetting resin. By relaxing internal stresses arising from stretch, the newly developed insulating material returns to its original shape and withstands repeated use

Usually, copper or other metal wiring would break when its base material stretches or contracts. Due to this problem, it is not easy to use metal wiring to form complex circuits. Furthermore, metal fatigue resulting from deformation makes it difficult to achieve metal wiring that withstands repeated stretch. Panasonic has developed a technology to combine a stretchable resin as a binder with a silver filler. The result is conductive paste that retains a conductive path, hence conductivity, even after stretch and restore.

It will be interesting to see where this technology’s future lies, and how it will evolve over time.

The Internet of Things in 2016

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For 2015, it seemed as though the world around us got a whole lot smarter. We are now experiencing “smarter” homes, cars, and things we use every day. What will 2016 bring?

Market demand shifts from consumer to enterprise

The IoT reached everyone’s consciousness in 2015 a little more than it did in 2014. For the coming year, many industries will want to get ahold of these IoT. Away from the slightly gimmicky consumer applications such as smart homes and intelligent vehicles, connected technology has the potential to truly reinvent a wide number of industries, which can benefit from a huge range of advantages provided by IoT technology.

“While the Internet of Things hype reached its peak in the consumer markets this past year, 2016 will be the year of IoT in the enterprise market. Currently, we are seeing a slump in sales for the once buzz worthy, consumer IoT devices, such as fitness trackers, whereas just the opposite is happening for commercial IoT products,” explains Jason Shepherd, director of IoT strategy and partnerships at Dell.

He continues: “As companies begin understanding the value of IoT, commercial IoT solutions will gain traction and the enterprise will emerge as the largest market for IoT adoption.”

The importance of security

All of these things, and all of the data they produce, will need to be secured, and safely stored, in order to ensure both businesses and customers stay protected. The new connected IoT world will also need to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make educated decisions about the products they purchase, including the level of security offered by new products and solutions.

Big Data will become more profitable, and even bigger

More and more data is being produced by the increasing number of devices connected to the IoT. Now the challenge is to determine what to do with it. It has been forecasted that there will be 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ used worldwide in 2016, which means there is a huge amount of ‘big data’ being created each day, all of which needs to be analyzed and stored.

This explosion is also creating a need for further investment in IoT infrastructure, as more bandwidth and power is needed to cope with all the information.

The communication between technology and humans

Wearable technology offers the most direct way for us to interact with the IoT, providing a wealth of useful information that can then be uploaded and analyzed.

Wearable technology can play a big part in industry, allowing workers to quickly visualize and analyze situations without the need to be in danger or at risk. Heads Up Displays (HUD), smart gloves, and wearable cameras all have the possibility to revolutionize working in a wide range of industries.

The evolution towards the “Internet of Everything”

The IoT could soon be directly affecting every point of our lives. From health to work to travel to entertainment, the possibilities are truly endless.

The Attack of the Drones

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This past Monday marked the first day that drone owners could register their drones with the FAA. And while it is expected that many drone owners think that they can get away with not registering, the program is somewhat of a success as the FAA has seen 45,000 registrations within the first 48 hours.

If you own a drone (or any model aircraft) that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds (including payloads like cameras), you now have to register with the FAA. Registration will be free until January 21. After that, it’ll cost $5. Registrations are valid for three years and if you don’t register, you risk penalties of up to $27,500 and even up to three years of jail time.

The FAA announced that “The agency has seen strong initial demand, with more than 45,000 registrations completed since the site opened for business Monday afternoon. According to industry estimates, as many as 400,000 small UAS could be sold during the holidays.”

However with 400,000 drones estimated to be sold and in addition to the number already available, 45,000 seems like a drop in the ocean but a good sign all the same.

Understanding the Evolution of the Universe Through 3D Printing

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When you think of the capabilities of 3D-printing technology, you might think of iPad stands, guitars, lawnmowers and cars. However, a physicist from the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe a little bit better. How it is structured, the evolution of cosmic structures within it, and galaxy formation.

“These problems in cosmology are very difficult to visualize, even using computer graphics,” said Miguel Aragón-Calvo, a visiting assistant researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “By 3D-printing them I am able to interact directly with the models and ‘see’ the problem at once. In some cases this results in ‘eureka’ moments.”

Aragón-Calvo is trying to develop an automated method to identify and track the cosmic web across time in computer simulations.

“This is usually done by identifying structures at different times and then somehow linking structures in adjacent times,” he said. “Current techniques using this approach are far from optimal.”

By 3D-printing a simpler 2D simulation and assigning the third dimension to time he realized that this was in fact the solution to his problem.

“Tridimensional cosmic structures can be easily identified and tracked as four-dimensional objects where time is taken as another spatial variable,” he said. “Even though I had visualized the cosmic web many times before in the computer screen, the solution only became obvious once I held the model in my hand.”

Aragón-Calvo believes that tactile information gained when holding a model of a problem in the hand plays an important role in how we understand the problem.

The Future of Human Skin Detection Technology

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For the purpose of locating people in aerial search and rescue operations, color-image based systems are excellent, but simply fall short when it comes to differentiating between actual human skin and objects with similar hues. To overcome this problem, researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) have developed a novel two-dimensional feature space which uses the spectral absorption characteristics of melanin, hemoglobin and water to better characterize human skin.

Spectral imaging systems use information from the entire electromagnetic spectrum to provide digital images with much greater information per pixel than traditional cameras. Feature spaces in a spectral imaging system are vectors that numerically represent an object’s characteristics.

The AFIT research team used feature spaces to key in on specific constituents of human tissue by using a skin index concerned with how water and melanin’s presence in skin manifests at two different wavelengths in the near-infrared region. These changes would cut the overall cost of hyperspectral-based search and rescue systems to a seventh of what they currently cost.

Afraid of the Needle?

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Google has filed a patent for a needle-free blood drawing system for people who frequently test their blood levels, of which the device is called “”Needle-Free Blood Draw” and can penetrate the skin without the needle. Such an application might be used to draw a small amount of blood, for example, for a glucose test.

The patent suggests that the device works by firing a microparticle into the skin using a high powered gas barrel. Thanks to the negative pressure, the device is able to collect a small amount of blood from the skin at the point where the microparticle entered – meaning no needles are used in the entire process.

This isn’t the first device Google has been working on that is aimed at the 9% of adults aged 18+ who have diabetes; Google Life Sciences – once a division of Google X until the Alphabet restructuring – is working on contact lenses that can measure a patient’s blood sugar levels by analyzing their tears. They are also making a bandage-sized, cloud-connected sensor to help people monitor their glucose levels.

Create Your Own Virtual Reality with Google Cardboard App

487582-google-cardboard-cameraGoogle is taking its virtual reality efforts to the next level with the launch of a new app called Cardboard Camera, which enables Android users to create their own virtual reality content using the cameras on their phones.

With the app, you can just hold out your phone and movie around you in a circle. Then, when you put your phone in a Google Cardboard viewer, you can experience the photo in virtual reality. The photos are 3D panoramas that provide “slightly different” views for each of your eyes. This makes it so that near things look near and far things look far. You can look around to explore the image in all directions, and even record sound with your photo to hear the moment exactly as it happened. With Cardboard Camera, anyone can create their own VR experience.

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Can You Imagine the Possibilities of Affective Computing?

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We all know that computers are very fast, and precise about doing calculations, but what if they could also sense the emotional state of the person using the technology? This field is called affective computing, and soon it will be an important factor in the way people and computers communicate with each other. This theme is explored in the 2015 television series “Humans.”

Computers will interpret your body language to determine how you are feeling and then tailor its response intuitively, just as we do with each other. What makes it even more applicable, is that it is far more intuitive than the keyboard, mouse and touch screen as an input method.

Non-verbal communication is still the principal way that we get information from each other, with around 70% of a message’s content being conveyed by body language, about 20% by tone of voice and only 10% by words. Affective computing allows humans and computers to go beyond keyboards and use these rich, non-verbal channels of communication to good effect.

Emotions can be read by much the same process that humans do. It begins by connecting an array of sensors (cameras, microphones, skin conductivity devices) to a computer that gathers varied information about facial expression, posture, gesture, tone of voice and more. Software then processes the data, and by referencing a database of known patterns it is able to categorize different emotions from the sensors.

Can you imagine the possibilities from this type of technology? It will be interesting to see how this develops into the future, and how broad of a range it can become implemented in technologies that already exist!

Creating New Technology to Understand Cancer Growth

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Engineers at the University of Toronto are “unrolling” the mysteries of cancer… literally. They have developed a way to grow cancer cells in the form of a rolled-up sheet that mimics the 3D environment of a tumor, yet can also be taken apart in seconds. The platform offers a way to speed up the development of new drugs and therapies and ask new questions about how cancer cells behave.

The difficulties of studying cancer cells in a traditional petri dish are well known. Growing tumors in petri dishes is a standard approach for this kind of work, but it has a problem: in a real tumor, cells near the center of the mass have less access to oxygen and nutrients, and these subtle differences are tough to replicate in a flat dish. Another approach, growing cancer cells on building blocks made of porous sponge, results in a 3D model with differing oxygen levels but leaves researchers with discontinuous blocks of cells to keep track of.

The rolled-up cancer strip, on the other hand, is essentially a 3D model that can be laid out in 2D. Its cells get less and less oxygen along the strip on a smooth gradient towards the center of the device, making it easier to analyze. Because of this, it can also be a boon for basic research into what makes a normal cell turn cancerous.

Personalized cancer treatment is a growing field. At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, fruit flies are being modified to have the same genetic defects as individual cancer patients, so they can be tested for cancer treatments that might work on the patient.