Tag: Wearables

Apps and gadgets for the ‘Blade Runner’ future we didn’t ask for

Punks, monks and Harrison Ford running scared through a poisonous cityscape were just a few of the details that made the original Blade Runner feel like its environment was a standalone character in the film. It felt as alien and familiar as the way we live today, with an environment turning against us, a government that couldn't care less, and a corporate ruling class that would make the Tyrell Corporation jealous.

The dystopian world of Blade Runner felt like it had naturally come to be. Unlike the version of Blade Runner we seem to be living in now, which feels like someone threw a switch at New Year's, and surprise, we're living in hell. Suddenly we have to catch up to living in dystopian fiction really fast, lest we die from fires, hurricanes, connected Nazis or nuclear war. So it's probably best that we use every bit of tech to our advantage so we make it to the next noodle bar, as it were.

Roy Batty's survival kit

Despite the best efforts of our federal government to deny it, climate change is real and the planet has had enough of our foolishness. From hurricane destruction to extreme heat and cold, everyone needs to plan for a local disaster -- at the very least. The way things are now, with fires and floods, and even hurricanes hitting Ireland, it seems like we need to prepare for everything. But not everyone can afford a survival pod.

Survival kits start with the basics: A "go bag" to keep by the exit, a kit (or extra supplies) for staying in your house, and an off-site stash in case you have to literally run from disaster (such as a "car kit"). Pick one, or all three if you have the luxury. The American Red Cross has a good starting list, while the Disaster Supply Center has a multitude of readymade kits.

Now that we're living in a Blade Runner future on Krack, we'll have to fill in the details of true life in a future gone wrong. Like many in Northern California, this past week set a record for locals comparing life in San Francisco to existing in the film itself. That had a lot to do with the fires, which have us investing in daily-wear face masks and conditioned to air quality worse than Shanghai. We realize that we're just catching up with the rest of the world in so many ways in terms of life with poisoned air.

Prep your cyberpet

On the Set of 'Blade Runner'

As Pris surely knew, real animals are rare in Blade Runner's universe. Animals were the first to start dying of the pollution which pushed humans Off-World. From fires to dust to gale-force winds, or bombs, your kit needs a face mask with N95 and N100 ratings.

Sure, you can get any old thing at the hardware store or Amazon, but this is the future. You can take advantage of living in a time when even product designers are allergic to everything, and get an air mask fit for a city dweller. In many instances, these nouveau air-pollution masks are better than what you'll get in that prepper survival kit.

Great daily use (or temporary daily use) masks that look good are now a competitive market. For the Cal Fires, a number of SF locals grabbed a Vogmask off Amazon for getting around town. Other recommended masks that will make you actually want to wear it are those from Airinum and the Cambridge Mask Co.

If Pris had survived her encounter with Deckard, she'd surely have an animal companion -- and the gear to make her darling doggo or kitteh ready for anything. For starters, she'd make sure that sweet little manufactured beast stayed far away from any actual blade runners with GPS tracking. One option is the Whistle Pet Tracker; internet famous travel cat Willow stays connected with the Tabcat tracker and a long-range (no cell service needed) MarcoPolo Tracking System.

Pris would also have a Pet First Aid Kit, certainly, but for the oppressive heat in a climate gone wrong, she'd own a swamp cooler pup jacket or a canine cooling harness. Or like me, she'd have read about the woman fleeing the Cal Fires who put her 80-lb pit bull in a backpack and bicycled to safety, and would want a quick escape solution -- like a U-Pet escape pod.

Off-World isn't yet an option

Blade Runner

Fire is one thing, but looking at recent events, everyone will probably need waterproof everything. When you can, get a waterproof (or water-resistant) case for all your devices, or try to invest in the newest versions of things like the Kindle, which is now waterproof.

Harrison Ford's character Deckard drank whiskey -- Johnny Walker Black Label, to be precise -- so that's one way you might be able to avoid the poisonous drinking water of our collective future. For those who may find this impractical for daily applications, a top-end water filtration device is the gadget you want. The most advanced consumer model is the MSR Guardian™ Purifier, but day trippers living in the future-now will want a handheld UV water purifier like the SteriPen.

Your biggest asset in a dystopian climate change emergency might just be your backups. You can make your backup with a reputable cloud service, like Crashplan or iCloud. But to be safe from today's security threats, you should have a secure backup hard drive that you keep at home (or in another safe place) and one that you can grab and go.

This portable drive can hold copies of everything you might have to leave behind, from family photos to scans of your passport. It should also be waterproof, shock-proof, and password protected. The gold standard for this type of external hard drive is IOSafe, which claims to also be fireproof. For a small drive to keep in a bag, in case the replicant hunters come looking for you or a hurricane strikes out of nowhere, consider a Silicon Power drive, with small versions storing up to 4TB.

Power will be a concern, no matter if you're in a sci-fi climate disaster future or just on the go in our Blade Runner day-to-day lives. For those who are oppressed by the sun, solar chargers are now easy to use and take everywhere with you. Adafruit's DIY solar charger tutorials will have your devices constantly charged, and can help you keep others charged as well.

If your modern-day Blade Runner experience doesn't include DIY tinkering, the American Red Cross FRX3+ All Purpose Weather and Radio Charger has it all. It includes a NOAA AM/FM weather alert radio, LED flashlight, a charger via its USB port, and it stays powered for a week when fully charged via hand crank, its solar panel, or its 2600 mAh rechargeable battery.

Alcon Entertainment

Apps for humans and replicants alike

One of the apps that made day to day living safe in the Bay Area over the past two weeks was AirVisual's air quality app. More immediate than local alerts, it let us know when we needed to wear masks to go to the grocery store, and when we'd expect to get a break with some fresh air.

That said, many were stuck inside worrying how fast we were dying from the air in our apartments. That's where the AirVisual Pro would come in handy, showing inside air quality as well as that outside our doors. Yet, inside is really where it counts in polluted dystopias like ours, which is why an air purifier is probably the "coolest" gift anyone can give in this coming holiday season. For the most tech-inclined, Dyson's pricey hot-cool air purifier is definitely the Cadillac of purifiers, and comes with its own app to help you monitor your space.

Radiation wasn't an influence on the original Blade Runner's storytelling, but it might be in ours. In case our dystopia takes a Fallout 4 turn, Idaho National Laboratory scientists created an Android app for detecting radiation -- and they tested it on several different smartphone models (Samsung Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung SIII and LG Nexus 4).

The CellRAD app wasn't released to the public, but a similar app called Radiation Alarm works on the same functionality. It uses an Android's camera app to detect gamma radiation, as long as you follow the instructions closely (and keep the camera covered to get a reading).

There are apps I wish I'd had before the fires, and apps I've found that make me glad I'm installing them now. Climate change has made Weather alert apps completely invaluable. Weather Underground, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, RainAware, and Hurricane by the American Red Cross would've helped me decide to get an air purifier in time, and will probably save me and my replicant cat before the next disaster.

It's too bad that IBM's mesh network weather alert app isn't available in America yet, but I'm setting an alert to download it when it can help us out. This will negate the need to have cell service to get alerts, and I wonder how many lives it might've saved this year so far.

Should hurricanes hit San Francisco, or if Deckard comes looking for me and my friends, I've now got the Red Panic Button. This app sends email, text, and GPS coordinates to trusted contacts in the event of an emergency, as well as notifying 911. The "ICE" app (In Case of Emergency) from American Red Cross keeps an unlocked medical alert on the lockscreen of my phone, just in case.

While we're on the subject, the American Red Cross has its problems, but the apps they provide are invaluable. Those include a Shelter Finder app, a hurricane/wildfire/earthquake app, and their first aid apps. The medial aid apps come in both human and pet versions, and they are stored offline should you end up without cell service and need to save a fellow replicant's life.

Some might say that Blade Runner was just a movie. But for the rest of us, it's suddenly a way of life, and also a guide to survival. Hopefully this little guide helps, too.

Images: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images (Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty); Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images (Joanna Cassidy as Zhora Salome with Snake); Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images (Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos as Deckard and Gaff); Alcon Entertainment / Blade Runner 2049 (Weather display)


Earbud translators will bring us closer: The Future IRL

The moment Google Pixel Buds were used earlier this month to demonstrate real time translation from Swedish to English, people started freaking out about potential use cases for this kind of technology. But the thing is, Google isn't the only company taking this on.

Doppler Labs offered me a chance to try the beta version of its translation software, used inside of its existing Here One earbuds. It plans to release the translation feature in a software update early next year. I jumped at the chance, and first exchanged pleasantries with a fluent Cantonese speaker, then let folks in San Francisco's Dolores Park use the buds to translate Spanish. Everyone that tried them in front of me loved them, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. Proper nouns are enormously difficult to translate with ease across languages, and that was apparent when we asked one person in Spanish whether she preferred House Stark or House Targaryen in Game of Thrones. The translation spit out mostly gobbledygook. I struggled similarly when trying to understand where my conversational partner lived (Near Ocean Beach in San Francisco, from what I could tell) but it took about three tries to get there.

Doppler Labs plans to up their earbud ante even future in Q3 of 2018, when an updated earbud will give even longer battery life and power for translation, enabling some compute either on the earbuds or on a paired phone, without having to touch the cloud for translation, a pretty common occurrence in most products like it now.

The wise gadget lover might wait for that updated bud, or for that matter, v.2 of Google Pixel Buds or other competitors. But if you imagine yourself an intrepid explorer of the world, translation earbuds are probably already on your wish list. You could wait for generation two or later products from Google, Doppler, Bragi and more, but let's be real: This technology is simply too life-changing to make yourself wait.


Levi’s is already working with Google on a second smart jacket

Levi's connected denim jacket went on sale three weeks ago, but CEO Chip Bergh said it's already working with Google on a version 2.0. At Wall Street Journal's D. Live conference, Bergh said that the new one will have even more functionality. If you don't need a screen for it, he said, then there's a possibility that feature could be incorporated into the next Levi's and Google collaboration.

Bergh showed off a few capabilities of the current Google-powered jacket on stage. He swiped his sleeve to tell him the time, and another swipe told him directions. The jacket uses a conductive fiber that was developed as part of Google Advanced Technology and Product group's Project Jacquard. It's meant primarily as a jacket for cyclists, so they don't need to look at a screen when riding. "We've come up with a solution so people aren't constantly taking phones out of their pocket," he said.

He went on to say that this is just the start of wearable computing. Bergh foresees a future where conductive thread and fabric is weaved into all items of clothing. For example, a future swimsuit might have embedded fibers that could keep track of lap turns and heart rate. As for whether the new Google jacket will have a voice interface, he said that the fibers don't listen just yet.

"We have to honor our past," Bergh said regarding Levi's heritage. "But we have to also put one foot going very confidently into the future with innovation."


Google’s second Daydream headset is all subtle improvements

Samsung's Gear VR ushered in an age where we strap our phones to our faces for entertainment. But when it debuted last year, Google's $79 Daydream View managed to make the whole process look just a little less geeky. To coincide with the launch of its new Pixel smartphones, Google whipped up an updated version of the Daydream View that costs $20 more than the old one. So, what's actually new here? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

First off, no one could blame you for having trouble telling the new Daydream View apart from the old one. Google's cozy design language is still in full effect — it's all gentle curves and soft fabric here -- and you still just place the phone onto the headset's flap and cinch the whole thing shut with a bit of elastic.

Don't be fooled though, there's more going on with the new View than you might expect. Some phones were prone to overheating and shutting down in the original headset. Obviously, this is no bueno for a device that sits so close to your face, so Google added a magnesium heatsink to help phones shed heat.

So far, it seems to be working pretty well. I spent the better part of my weekend sitting on the edge of a virtual lake angling for virtual fish in hourlong chunks, and the Pixel 2 only got about as warm as it did after playing a typical mobile game. Then again, your mileage may vary depending on how long you stay in your virtual realm of choice — most of my time with original Daydream was spent watching videos or playing games like Don't Talk and Nobody Explodes in short bursts.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

This has its drawbacks, though. The heatsink's placement means you can't just stick the Daydream controller into a slot on the front flap anymore. Instead, Google stuck an extra elastic loop on the back of the new View's headband for the controller. It's functional, sure, but it's far less elegant than Google's original solution. At least the controller's buttons are more pronounced so you'll never mix them up. The Home button feels a touch more concave than before, and the Apps button is raised instead of flat.

More important, the new View is much better at shutting out stray light that can distract from the VR experience. The original was notorious for letting light bleed through small gaps where the headsets rested on people's noses, and I'm glad Google finally got around to fixing it by improving the foam cup your face pushes up against. You'd think a more secure seal against your face might get a little uncomfortable, especially because the View largely relies on a single elastic strap to keep everything snug. Not so. The pad that presses into your face now seems to spread the weight around more evenly, and the new View comes with an extra strap that sits atop your head to help make the whole thing a little less front-heavy.

The other major change to the View's design becomes apparent when you look into the headset for the first time. Comparatively speaking, the new Fresnel lenses used to magnify a phone's screen are huge. Google made the change to increase the headset's virtual field of view by 10 percent, and while that sounds like a pretty modest bump, it meant I take in more of whatever world I was in at a glance. More important, these new lenses also make the sweet spot -- that point where your eyes can perfectly focus on the screen -- a little larger than before. After five or six minutes of trial and error, I got the ideal strap lengths locked in, and I've been staring at the sweet spot ever since.

So yeah, the hardware has been improved in subtle, helpful ways. The software experience, meanwhile, hasn't really changed. You'll be plopped into the same virtual forest in front of the same virtual menu to access the same virtual apps. That's what makes the new Daydream such a hard sell: Because all of the heavy lifting is handled by the smartphone, the actual experience isn't hugely different from before. When it comes to content, Google still has a ways to go -- at current count, Google has around 250 Daydream apps, but the Gear VR's head start still means it has a stronger catalog of exclusive apps to work with. In particular, Samsung and Oculus' mobile headset has a better selection of licensed experiences -- you'll need a Gear VR if you want to cruise through Blade Runner's techno-noir LA or peer into a handful of Disney-themed worlds.

Ultimately, the new Daydream View is a solid new choice for people with compatible phones looking for a crash course in virtual reality. If you already have an old View and haven't run into the trouble others have, there's no pressing need to upgrade. And if you fall into the category of people who yearn for a more powerful mobile VR experience, well, you should probably just wait for Google's standalone headset instead.


Steam will support VR in very large rooms

If you want to play a room-scale VR game using Steam's current tracking method, you need to do it in a 13-by-13 foot area. That's fine for your living room, but what if you want more space? Don't fret: Valve has announced that SteamVR Tracking 2.0 will support a cavernous 33 feet by 33 feet space starting in early 2018. You'll need four trackers to do it instead of two, but this could be very helpful for arcades or any other experience that could benefit from greater freedom of movement.

The company is looking at support for even more tracking stations and thus a larger space, but it doesn't have a timetable to offer. Don't expect to run around a warehouse-sized VR environment, folks. There also won't be an official mounting option for SteamVR until later in 2018, and the finished next-generation tracking system won't work with existing HTC Vive headsets. Developers can use the Vive through engineering samples that add a blinker for backwards compatibility.

As you might guess, this won't make a huge difference if you only ever experience VR in your den. It's more about public or commercial VR, where you want as few arbitrary boundaries as possible. However, it's advances like these that could be crucial to VR as a whole. Walkabout VR should ideally be limited only by the size of the room, not the trackers. This isn't technically unlimited, but it's close enough that more developers could let their imaginations run wild.

Via: Gamasutra

Source: Steam


Chinese startup’s ‘8K’ VR headset is surprisingly advanced

As much as I enjoy the occasional VR gameplay, I've been waiting for headset manufacturers to boost the pixel density in order to reduce the screen door effect, as well as to widen the FOV (field of view) for a more immersive experience. There's no doubt that the big names like HTC and Oculus are already working on it, but to my surprise, a Chinese startup by the name of Pimax simply went ahead. At CEATEC, I came across the Pimax 8K headset which not only features an incredible 7,680 x 2,160 resolution (more on that later), but also laser tracking that works with HTC Vive's base stations, plus an impressive 200-degree FOV which is almost double that of existing offerings.

Before we go any further, yes, the 7,680 x 2,160 resolution here isn't the "8K" you're thinking of (that's 7,680 x 4,320, twice as many pixels), and some went as far as accusing the company of misleading people with the product name. Pimax argues that the "8K" here is to highlight the much higher horizontal resolution which, to be fair, is an industry first. A more accurate way to describe this is that each eye is looking at a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) panel with a 90 Hz refresh rate inside the headset, and if you ask me, this sounds just as impressive in today's market. Maybe "Pimax 4K Duo" would be less controversial?

Speaking of display panels, unlike the PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, the Pimax 8K uses CLPL or "customized low persistence liquid" panels instead of OLED. Pimax claims that with CLPL it has "completely eliminated ghosting and improved brightness" (presumably a comparison to traditional LCD). CLPL and OLED apparently only have some minor differences in terms of contrast and color temperature, but the former can achieve a higher pixel density for the same cost. It's unclear what sub-pixel arrangement has been applied to this CLPL technology, but I'll update here if I hear back from Pimax about this.

As I waited in line for some hands-on time, I noticed that the demo setup was running on an MSI laptop equipped with an NVIDIA GTX 1080 GPU. I thought: surely that would struggle with an "8K" output? I later found out that Pimax 8K is actually designed for 4K input or less (the prototype was using HDMI, but the final version will likely use DisplayPort instead), and then it upscales the signal to "8K" internally. This means your PC could get away with using just an NVIDIA GTX 980 or GTX 1070, and you'd still be able to enjoy the invisible pixel grid on the displays.

Indeed, the brief session of Fruit Ninja through a Pimax 8K was literally the most immersive VR gameplay I've ever had. As soon as I put on the headset, I was amazed by the lack of black border within my vision. For the first time ever, I finally felt like I wasn't looking into a VR headset! The device felt comfortable to wear and didn't feel heavy despite its bulky look -- unlike the StarVR with a similarly wide 210-degree FOV. Pimax claims that its headset is actually lighter than a Vive, but it has yet to finalize the weight.

As expected, I could not see any sub-pixels thanks to the insanely high display resolution, nor did I notice any ghosting. Interestingly, I only found out after the demo that the laptop was actually just pushing a 2,560 x 1,440 output, but what I saw was still significantly better than what I'm used to on other VR headsets. So far, this whole package is basically everything I've ever wanted in a VR system. Head tracking and the Vive-like controller worked fine, too, though I'll need more hands-on time to assess their reliability.

For those who originally assumed that the Pimax 8K would take an "8K" signal, well, that's what the higher-end Pimax 8K X is for. This special model is made for the hardcore users who plan to use the headset with at least an NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti (pending further testing but may require SLI configuration) or the next-gen NVIDIA Volta, and the headset will likely have two DisplayPorts -- one for each 4K panel. The image quality here would obviously be better than the upscaled view on the Pimax 8K, but given the demanding hardware requirement for an "8K" output, the Pimax 8K would make more sense for most of us.

In fact, there's also a more affordable Pimax 5K based on the same headset design but houses two 2,560 x 1,440 CLPL panels instead. Still, this resolution is higher than what PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are offering, so this "5K" model will no doubt appeal to those who want to try high-end VR with a smaller budget. At the time of writing this article, this is still available for $349 on Kickstarter if you already have a Vive base station plus controllers, and it's expecting a January 2018 delivery; though if you want the two base stations plus two controllers as well, you'll have to fork our an extra $300 and wait until February for the delivery.

As for the Pimax 8K, it's starting at $499 and is also expecting a January 2018 delivery; but like the Pimax 5K, you'll need to add $300 for the controllers plus base stations, and expect a February delivery as well. Alas, the higher-end $649 Pimax 8K X is no longer available, but its backers will have to wait until May.

The company added that expansion modules are in development, and these will provide features like inside-out tracking, eye tracking, wireless transmission, scent and more. It's a highly ambitious move from a startup, but we'll be happy enough just to see the delivery of the headsets themselves.

Source: Kickstarter, Pimax


Samsung’s Gear Sport smartwatch hits stores this month for $300

Samsung's latest wearables, the Gear Sport smartwatch and IconX 2018 earbuds, are hitting stores in the US on October 27th. The company announced that pre-orders for both products will begin tomorrow, with pricing set at $300 for the Gear Sport and $200 for the refined IconX. If you recall, Samsung introduced these at IFA 2017 in Berlin at the end of August, but we didn't know specific pricing or availability details until now.

Featuring a 1.2-inch Super AMOLED round display, the Gear Sport promises to be a strong rival for Fitbit's Ionic watch -- thanks to a solid lineup of supported fitness apps. Meanwhile, the 2018 edition of the IconX earbuds are lighter and more comfortable than the previous model, and there's a longer battery life to boot.

Those of you who are into the thought of wearing a Gear Sport or IconX can head to Samsung's site to get one (or both).


Oculus’ VR avatars are coming to Daydream and Steam in 2018

Oculus' virtual reality avatars are clever stand-ins, but they have a few glaring problems: most notably, you can't see them outside of Oculus' own platform. Thankfully, they're being set free. Oculus has revealed that the avatars will have cross-platform support in 2018, including Steam VR and Google's Daydream. Whether or not there are any limitations to use on other platforms isn't clear, but Oculus is promising tangible upgrades to the avatars themselves.

Most notably, they'll look more natural: you can expect speech synchronization, skin shading and eyes that track for interesting objects (such as your finger or a bouncing ball). They won't look like today's glasses-wearing ghosts, in other words. Developers will even have the option of contributing their own apparel (including content that you have to unlock). All told, it sounds like you'll have a chance at creating a virtual self that looks and behaves more like you.

Source: Oculus


Oculus Rift and Touch bundle gets a permanent price cut to $399

That summer sale on the Oculus Rift and Touch combo must have paid dividends. Oculus has announced that the price of a Rift and Touch combo has permanently dropped to $399 in the US. That still isn't trivial, but it's inexpensive enough that you can get a high-end VR experience on your PC without paying as much as you would for a high-end video card. And now that the Rift bundle costs $200 less than the HTC Vive, it's safe to say that Oculus has the price advantage in VR outside of some Windows Mixed Reality headsets -- it may be tough to consider anything else until competitors offer price cuts of their own.

Source: Oculus


Oculus Santa Cruz offers standalone VR with full motion control

Oculus isn't limiting its new stand-alone VR experiences to the Go headset. It's introducing a much more refined version of Project Santa Cruz, the stand-alone VR headset it showed off last year. The new prototype is far sleeker, and importantly includes true six-degrees-of-freedom motion control. This is the first headset with full "inside-out" tracking, Oculus says. There are no wires and no external sensors, whether you're tilting your head or waving your hands. There aren't many details as of this writing, but it'll take a while before you can strap one to your head -- it's reaching developers within a year.

It's also introducing a brand new controller, simply called the Santa Cruz controllers. They look a little similar to the Touch with a grip button and a touchpad, but it looks different too -- a little more streamlined and a little more compact. It uses the same four ultralight sensors on the Santa Cruz that it uses for inside out tracking.

Source: Oculus