Powerocks with New Battery Products at CES

Powerocks LogoUSB power packs for charging smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous and companies are striving hard to find their niche in a market that’s full of products from both established names and up-and-coming specialists. Todd talks with Craig Miller from Powerocks about how they’re going to set themselves apart.

Powerocks has adopted a two pronged approach. In its established market for mobile devices, it’s taking USB battery packs and giving them a lifestyle makeover, in this case a leather covering, to make them more appealing to a wider audience and sold in mainstream stores.

Secondly, Powerocks is using its battery expertise to be build products that aren’t only smartphone chargers but still have a battery at the core. The Jump Starter vehicle emergency unit includes a 10,000 mAh battery, USB charging ports, an LED signal light, a torch, a distress alarm, a steel break-glass and a car jump-starter all in one unit. Seriously!

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Velodyne LiDAR at CES

HDL logo_single

Lidar is a version of radar that uses laser light rather than radio waves to measure distance and although it may seem like a new technology, it’s been around since the 60s. It’s come to greater prominence recently as it’s been used as one of the sensing technologies both for 3D mapping and driverless vehicles. Jamie and Todd find out more about lidar from Wolfgang Juchmann, Director of Sales and Marketing at Velodyne LiDAR.

Velodyne LiDAR has been one of the leading companies developing lidar technology, bringing down both the size and price of the lidar units over the past ten years. What previously was the size of a dustbin, costing $80,000, is now the size of a large food tin and costs $8,000. As sizes and prices fall, the cost and practicality of autonomous vehicles becomes more feasible, with lidar building high resolution 3D maps of the world around the car. The on-board computer can use the 3D information to tell the difference between cyclists and buildings, and drive the car on the road avoiding other road users.

Interview by Jamie Davies of Health Tech Weekly and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Ford SYNC 3 at CES

Ford LogoIn the good old days, cars had heaters and radios. if you were lucky it might have had a cassette player. Getting directions involved winding down the window and asking a local. Today’s vehicles have zoned environmental controls, multi-source AV, GPS with maps and drive train telemetry to three decimal places. All this is fantastic but while you’re figuring out the way to San Jose, you don’t have your eyes on the road.

Ford wants its drivers and passengers to have a great journey but to get to their destination safely, and in an unprecedented move, Ford invited customers to their advanced car simulator in Dearborn to help design the next iteration of their infotainment system. With over 20,000 pieces of feedback, Ford developed SYNC 3 with safety and ease of use at the fore. Big touchpoints keep hands on the steering wheel longer and voice commands now produce what the driver wants rather than purely what is said.

Todd chats with Gary from Ford about the company’s approach to the latest iteration of Ford SYNC, which will be available on 2016 model cars.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network

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RoadEyesCams M6 Brings HUD to Your Car

Road Eyes Cams LogoOnce the realm of James Bond fantasy, French firm RoadEyesCams is bringing out an aftermarket heads-up display (HUD) with an affordable price. Todd takes to the road with Axel and the Aston.

The RoadEyesCam M6 HUD is a small dash-mounted unit that simply mirrors the display of a smartphone via wifi, projecting the image upwards and into the driver’s field of view. Whatever the smartphone shows, the M6 will reproduce on-screen, so it can be anything from GPS directions to motorsport data such as acceleration or lateral G. The M6 HUD will be available in the US in 4 to 6 weeks for $299.

Todd also takes a look at some of RoadEyesCams new dash-cams.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Bracketron Expands Earth Elements Magnetic Mount Line

Bracketron Earht Elements Ti Smartphone Power DockBracketron has announced new additions to its Earth Elements series that use specialized plates to securely mount your smartphone in your vehicle. They have models available for your windshield, cup holder, dash, and even your car’s 12V port for charging. These magnetic mounts allow you to keep your devices powered up and out of your hands while driving.

To use the Earth Elements mounts, you need to adhere the included mounting plate to the back of your device. Or, you can slip the mounting plate between your phone and its case with no attachment needed. In your car, place the phone on the magnetic mount and it will quickly snap in place to remain mounted when you hit the road. The magnets are capable of working through the case on your smartphone, so you won’t need to remove the case if you don’t want to.

The Earth Elements Ti Smartphone Power Dock (shown above) plugs into your vehicle’s 12V port and offers two USB ports for dual-charging capability. Its flexible gooseneck design allows you to adjust and position your smartphone in any angle. Support feet keep your phone securely mounted while traveling or while driving over bumpy roads.

Bracketron H20 Smartphone Cup Holder Mount

The H20 Smartphone Cup Holder Mount its snugly into your vehicle’s cup holder. It can expand to fit different sized cup holders up to 3.75 inches. The mount works with large phones, GPS devices and phones with cases, featuring the same support feet to keep the phone securely mounted.

Bracketron Zn Smartphone Windshield Mount

The Zn Smartphone Windshield Mount attaches to your vehicle’s windshield providing a stable, secure and easily accessible mounting solution attached to the glass. It has the same gooseneck design as the Ti Smartphone Power Dock, which allows you to position your phone vertically, horizontally, and at any angle most convenient for you. Integrated cord management will keep cables out of the way.

The Bracketron OS Smart Pack is a weighted dash mount for smartphone GPS devices that also doubles as a convenient carrying case. It is easily stored in the glove compartment or center consile when not in use.

Bracketron OS Smart Pack

The new Earth Elements magnetic mounts by Bracketron work with virtually any smartphones including popular models like iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy Note, and Google Nexus.

iSadde ELM 327 Bluetooth OBD2 Module

iSaddle_ELM_327Being a geek can sometimes become pretty expensive. Different devices offer differing amounts of geek fun for the buck.
Every car and pickup manufactured from 1996 forward has what is known as an OBD2 port. OBD is short for on board diagnostics. The OBD2 port was originally mandated as part of emission control efforts.

There are plenty of consumer-oriented OBD2 port scanners. However, with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, something new has come along that many people have yet to become aware of. Inexpensive Bluetooth and WiFi enabled OBD2 modules are just the ticket to pair up with your favorite smartphone or tablet.

Torque ProI purchased an iSaddle ELM 327 module from Amazon which is currently priced at $14.99 and is an Amazon Prime item. This particular unit will work with Android and Windows only, so I can only use it with my Android devices and not my iPad Air. If I want to use an OBD2 scanner with my iPad I would need to buy one that says it specifically works with iOS devices. So, if you intend to get one of these devices for use on an iOS device, be SURE that you search for iOS OBD2 and read the user comments to make sure what people that have purchased the specific item you are looking at have to say about it.

The iSaddle ELM 327 module simply plugs in to the vehicle’s OBD2 port. OBD2 ports are always located on the driver’s somewhere immediately under the dash. On my 1998 Ford F-150 pickup, the OBD2 port is located almost directly below the steering column just under the dash back a bit from the bottom edge. I can easily leave the unit plugged in full time if I wish.

To make use of the device after plugging it in, simply start up the engine and then pair it up with Bluetooth to your Android phone or Android tablet. On my unit, the Bluetooth password is 1234.

Next, it is necessary to have an app that can take advantage of the ELM 327 Bluetooth unit. In my opinion by far the best app available is an Android app called Torque. There is a free version of Torque and a paid version called Torque Pro that sells in the Google Play store for $4.99. I went ahead and purchased the Pro version figuring that the extra functionality was well worth the price.

With this setup, I have Torque Pro in my Galaxy Note 3 set up to automatically connect to the iSaddle ELM 327 module every time I take a trip in my vehicle. I have Torque Pro set up to automatically monitor various engine operating parameters and create a CSV or comma separated value file of each new trip. I have included GPS position history using the phone’s GPS, which enables me to bring each separate trip up on a map right inside of the Torque Pro app.

Torque Pro also comes with standard virtual gauges such as speedometer, tachometer, etc. However, it is possible for the end user to easily create his or her own virtual analog or digital gages. The graphics in Torque Pro are really quite good making for very realistic-looking virtual gauges.

Torque Pro is extremely customizable, so I would suggest spending a significant amount of time with the app looking through all of the different options. For example, I now have an instant MPG readout on a 16-year-old vehicle which I think is pretty darned cool!

I have to say this is one of the most enjoyable $20 dollars I’ve spent in a long time for this combo. Once upon a time people who were serious about knowing what was going on with their vehicle’s engine would spend a fortune on physical gauges. Torque Pro in conjunction with an ELM 327 OBD2 port module makes it possible to create as many virtual gauges as you would like and your particular car supports.

The Gadget Show Live

Gadget Show LiveThe Gadget Show Live is the UK’s closest thing to CES, but that’s like comparing a boxing match to invading Iraq. Where CES takes over most of Las Vegas, the Gadget Show occupies a couple of halls at the NEC outside Birmingham. Nevertheless I popped over for a day to see the latest and greatest tech on show to us Brits and it was fun. I was there for GNC two years ago and this year the show was definitely bigger with a bit more variety. 3D TV was the thing in 2012, but 2014 is electric vehicles, 4K / UHD TVs and multi-rotor aerial vehicles. That’s not to say there weren’t other niche products and I’ve captured a few in audio interviews that I’ll post over the next few days.

Samsung were demonstrating their curved Ultra HD TVs and all I can say is, “Wow!” The screens were totally amazing – almost more real than real – and the detail was incredible. Even the flat, non-curved, versions were pretty stunning. Although the curved versions still have crazy prices, I can’t help but wonder if flat 4K resolution TVs will only be on-sale for a few short years before curved ones become mainstream.

Curved Samsung Screen

Volkswagen brought along the XL 1, a diesel plug-in hybrid, which surprisingly is not a concept car: it’s for sale if you have a fat enough wallet at somewhere in the region of £100,000. At a more realistic level, VW had a bunch of demonstrator e-up! electric cars, which at a little under £20,000 are much more affordable, though the equivalent petrol version costs closer to £8,000. I took a test drive in one and can report that it’s exactly like driving an automatic car, only quieter and with plenty of low speed torque. Top speed of 80 miles per hour and a range of 100 miles make it a perfect second car for the well off.

XL1 Front

 

XL1 Side

 

XL1 Rear

Sony’s been touting the waterproof features of the Xperia Z2 devices and they put their money where their mouth is at Gadget Show Live with a water-filled tank. Not content to simply leave the smartphone in the bottom, a team of scuba and free divers showed that the Z2 was usable under water to take photos. Outstanding.

Xperia Z2 Underwater

Finally, when I was at the show in 2012, Parrot were showing off the AR.Drone and pretty much had the airspace to themselves. Quadricopters were everywhere this year with DJI‘s mulitrotor devices (below) down to Hubsan’s tiny copters that fit in your hand. The future is three-dimensional but not quite in the way the TV manufacturers were hoping.

Multirotor Aerial Vehicle

There was plenty more and I’ll be putting the interviews out over the next few days – expect content from Sony, Canon, Optoma, Toca Boca, TP-Link, DJI and others.

The Gadget Show Live is on until 13th April 2014.

Ford Electric Concept Car

Ford LogoTodd takes a look at Ford’s C-Max Solar Energi concept car, which amongst other things, features a solar panel roof that uses a special light concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass to improve the efficiency of the photovoltaic cells. Ford reckons that a day’s worth of sunshine is enough to charge the hybrid’s battery, which is good for 21 electric-only miles.

This is good news for the environment as it would reduce yearly carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions from the average US car by as much as four metric tons – the equivalent of what a American house produces in four months. This probably assumes a perfect sunshine record and maximum electric mileage each day, but, hey, every little bit helps.

Review by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Velodyne Lidar for Driverless Cars (and other things) at CES

HDL_pageheaderTodd and Don interviewed David Oroshnik from Velodyne about their lidar systems.

The lidar system David demonstrated has 32 infrared beams that can see 360 degrees from the spinning sensor and 10 degrees up and 30 degrees down for a 40 degree field of view.  These sensors are used in self-driving cars and mapping applications.

Velodyne Lidar sensors are not available to the public and, as David said, would cost as much as the car does right now. Look for Velodyne Lidar sensors to become part of future consumer products.

For more information see VelodyneLidar.com

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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Uber – Google Driverless Cars: The End of Drivers?

uberlogo[1]When I went to L.A. in July, I used Uber to travel back to the Airport. Of course, that was during rush hour, which is not a smart move. But the driver – an L.A. native – knew the shortcuts to get me from Venice Beach to LAX in a faster time.

So how would a driverless car do it?

Local independent transportation company Uber announced today they want to invest up to $375 million for 2,500 driverless cars from Google when they become available toward the end of the year. Their investment also included a commitment to share data with Google for the trips.

Google – who has been developing driverless cars since 2008 – just showed the GX3200 earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show. The GX3200 is a four-person, 3 suitcase car with built-in Wifi and a charge that can get up to 750 miles.

For Uber, this could mean faster rollouts in cities they never planned to be a part of. Having 1-2 cars in towns with populations less than 10,000 is a reality. You don’t even a dispatcher living there, since the app takes care of the process.

Uber is in 24 cities in the U.S. – Just adding Honolulu last week – and 18 worldwide locations. Of course, major hurdles in some areas as labor unions petition this service and new regulations trying to shut down the Uber Taxi service.

Still, the question begs – do you want a driverless car? I would be more happy to have a car show up for me to get in and drive to my desired location. Having some control at this stage in the autonomous car period will make me feel safer.

With newer Google Maps – including the recently purchased and implemented Waze software (predictive software that finds alternate routes) – I could see a driverless car act just like my Uber driver from July.

Would you get into a driverless car?