Category Archives: Interview

Smarten up the Garage Door with SkyLink at CES 2018



Converting a house into a smart home shouldn’t mean replacing every electrical device for a new smart model. A cheaper and greener way is to add smart features in with wireless accessories. A good example here is SkyLink Nova which adds smart capabilities to automatic garage doors at relatively low cost. Don and Frank take a closer look at SkyLink Nova and its accompanying ecosystem.

The SkyLink Nova is wired into an existing garage door opener using the standard connections used for the interior open/close button. Once connected up, the Nova can be remotely controlled with the SkyLink smartphone app (iOS and Android). Nova is also compatible with If This Then That (IFTTT) platform and Alexa so the garage door can be opened (or closed) by talking to an Echo.

The Nova itself looks like an LED light fixture and works as a smart home hub too, communicating with up to 100 smart devices. In addition, it can detect sirens from smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house. When one of those is heard, Nova will automatically open your garage door to aid in ventilation in the case of an emergency.

SkyLink‘s Nova will be on sale in the spring for under US$100.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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Get Smappee for Energy Efficiency at CES 2018



The efficient use of electricity is a win-win: it both saves money and saves the planet. At home, energy-efficient LED lightbulbs have all but replaced incandescent bulbs, which means the quick wins are gone. The next step is to identify the big energy consumers in the home and that’s where Smappee comes in. Stefan and Don save the world.

Smappee is an energy monitoring system that identifies the energy usage and behaviour of major appliances in the home. Each fridge, AC unit, cooker, TV has a unique electrical “fingerprint” and over time the Smappee monitor works out which appliance is starting and stopping, sometimes with a little help from the homeowner. With this information, Smappee shows the running cost of each one in the complementary Smappee app. Anything that consumes more than 20W can be identified but really the wins are with devices that use kilowatts of power.

Smappee doesn’t require an electrician to install Smappee as it uses a sensor clamped round the live cable coming from the meter. Nothing needs to be cut or permanently installed.

Smappee is available now for US$350.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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Encrypted Storage with SecureDrive at CES 2018



Encrypted external hard drives and USB memory sticks have been around for at least a decade, but most of the time it’s either locked or unlocked: if you have the password, you’re in. Sergey from SecureDrive shows Scott their security solution to this common problem.

SecureDrive specialise in hardware encrypted data storage. They’ve three product ranges with varying capacity (1 – 5 TB) to address different security and storage requirements.
– SecureDrive BT, which uses Bluetooth and an app for authentication
– SecureDrive KP, which uses keypad authentication
– BackupDrive, which backs up files and encrypts them with built-in anti-malware
For the rapid transfer of large files, all the devices use USB 3.0, and for security, it’s pending FIPS 140-2 level 3. That’s pretty secure.

The unique part of the SecureDrive solution focuses on the BT model, which uses Bluetooth and an authentication app. Instead of the drive only being locked or unlocked, the solution allows additional controls for geo-fencing and time schedules. For example, the SecureDrive BT can be set to only unlock between 9-5 M-F or only if the unit is within company premises. In addition, there’s remote management so authorisations can be revoked and the drive remotely wiped.

The drives are assembled in Ohio, USA, and they’re available for purchase priced at  US$299-$499. The remote management feature is a subscription service.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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The Turtles are Back with Root Robotics at CES 2018



When I watched Don’s interview with Raphael, I was transported back to my school days in the early 1980s and adventures with a BBC Micro ‘B’, Logo and a Turtle. While the user interface is definitely better, the patterns on the paper look just the same! To be fair to Raphael and Root Robotics, their turtle does do a bit more – it has over 50 sensors and actuators.

Root’s approach is to use the robot as a fun way to introduce coding to children and young adults. The coding environment has three modes, with simplest using big colourful blocks, through to the most complex which uses Swift, Python and JavaScript. The robot itself retains the pen for drawing patterns but today’s turtles are magnetic for sticking to white boards and have a dry eraser to wipe off pen trails. The robot has over 50 sensors and actuators so it can move and draw, but it can also sense touch, measure light levels and feel edges and walls. It’ll play music, respond to button presses and flash lights. Very impressive.

The Root robot will be shipping in June 2018 for US$199. Pre-orders are open.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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Track Time with TimeFlip at CES 2018



The nature of work today is often one of multi-tasking. An hour on this project, a teleconference with some clients, a few hours on a proposal and by the time it gets to the end of the day, it’s tricky to get the billable time down. TimeFlip have a simple and effective answer to this in the shape of a large gaming dice. Todd and Ilya spend some time understanding the solution.

The TimeFlip is a dodecahedron* about the size of a coffee mug. The shape is hollow and has a Bluetooth-enabled circuit board inside that’s really good at figuring out which way up it is. On the sides of the dice are symbols or words representing work activities. To accurately record time spent on a project, it’s simply a case of making sure that the particular activity is uppermost. At the end of the day, sync via Bluetooth to the TimeFlip app for a complete record of work activities and durations.

Aiming at both B2C and B2B, the TimeFlip can come in a couple of different polyhedrons, and there are versions available for download and 3D printing. The consumer version retails for US$49.99 and can be ordered from TimeFlip.

* Of course, a dodecahedron has 12 sides.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Feel the Heat with Vortx from Whirlwind FX at CES 2018



The gaming experience has steadily improved since Pong. Each generation of console and processor brings more detailed graphics, faster framerates, improved sound, force feedback vibration, VR, AR…. They’re all designed to make games more immersive and realistic without actually injuring the player. The latest addition to the gaming word is Vortx from Whirlwind FX: Todd takes the heat with Timothy, Founder and CEO.

The Vortx brings greater realism to the player by blowing hot and cold air in reponse to on-screen action. Imagine a demon throwing fireballs. As the player dodges a fireball, the Vortx blasts hot breath at the player as the ball slips past. Or imagine an adventure game, climbing through frozen mountains. The Vortx chills the air as the player climbs higher. It’s impressive.

About the size of a desktop speaker (9″ tall), the Vortx connects to a PC via USB and works with the Whirlwind FX engine. It uses object recognition and analysis to automatically trigger heat or cold, so Vortx can be used with any PC game without modification.

The Vortx is available for pre-order now at US$119, with shipping expected soon.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Azur Drones Spy in the Sky at CES 2018



Up to now, drones have been little more than toys and camera platforms, promising much but delivering little. Working with Directorate General for Civil Aviation, Azure DronesSkeyetech provides “100% autonomous and 24/7 operational drones” as a “security drone solution“. Antoine and Todd talk about the new security guard.

A market leader in France, Azur Drones has developed an airborne surveillance system for the remote monitoring of industrial properties. The system, called Skeyetech, is composed of a smart drone equipped with HD and thermal cameras, and a smart (weather) station which recharges the drones, monitors the weather and provides protection for the craft. Skeyetech drones can be programmed and undertake automated flights, before accurately landing on their docking stations to be recharged.

The docking stations aren’t just power outlets but relay instructions and information from the drones. Consequently, the drones can be controlled remotely making them capable of operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without any human intervention. It comes at a fraction of a cost of traditional video surveillance.

Technically, the drones can fly for 35 minutes before needing recharged for 30 minutes. Top speed is 50 mph and they’re waterproof to IP56. The drones can be configured to patrol premises on a regular basis, or respond to alerts generated by motion sensors.

This isn’t the kind of drone found on the shelves of Best Buy or Fry’s. Interested parties will need upwards of US$100,000.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Marvel-lous Massage Chairs at CES 2018



There are massage chairs and then there are BodyFriend massage chairs. With these chairs, it’s not so much getting a gentle pummelling from a recliner as putting on Iron Man’s exoskeleton with Jarvis as your masseur. Todd gets a sensational experience with Roy.

The premium BodyFriend chairs provide full body massage including shoulders, arms, waist, legs and feet, with more than a dozen massage modes (depending on model) including brain concentration and digestive massage. The brain massage uses sound waves to soothe the grey matter. There’s built-in heating, stereo speakers and Bluetooth.

Most recently, BodyFriend has partnered with Lamborghini for a new chair which is expected to ship in spring 2018. Other BodyFriend chairs are on sale now in the US with prices from US$5000 to $9000.

BodyFriend have partnered with Marvel for themed hugchairs including Spiderman and Captain America. Priced at US$1580, these are aimed at children and grown-up kids while providing a massage experience in a smaller, friendlier chair.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Clazio Spark Shows Off at CES 2018



The Amazon Echo Show might be getting all the headlines, but it’s not the only show in town. Here we have the Clazio Spark, the most powerful smart speaker on the market – it’s a mini-media centre with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Todd and Dake discuss getting the right colour for the rear of the device.

Previously known as Clarity, the Clazio Spark is an all-in-one smart speaker that combines a 7″ Android Nougat tablet with a professionally developed speaker and both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice services. The HD screen (1920 x 1200) is set into a retro-modern design and when combined with a 4K HDMI out, creates a lovely media centre that can play music, show films, make video calls. If you can do it with an Android tablet, you can do it on the Spark with the additional benefit of Alexa.

The Spark isn’t tied to a power cable as the 4,800 mAh battery gives around 5 hours of music and about half that for video. There’s a 5 MP front facing camera for video calls and a microSD card slot for more storage. Is there anything the Spark can’t do?

After successfully crowdfunding on Indiegogo in early 2017, the Spark is preparing to go into retail with an expected price of US$269. You can still contribute to the Indiegogo campaign with “pre-orders” to get some good deals but the usual caveats regarding crowdfunding apply.

I’m with Todd on the colour.

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Get the Whole Screen for Multiplayer Gaming with MirraViz at CES 2018



Having friends round to your house for multiplayer games is always fun, but the more there are, the smaller each player’s screen becomes as they share part of the TV. Split even a big screen into quarters and the immersive effect is lost. But what if all the players had the same large screen? MirraViz have got it covered.

The MirraViz projection screens are highly reflective but brightly reflect the light back in a tight cone, rather than scattering the light widely as a nomal white screen would do. When used with a video projector, this means that only someone sitting close to the projector sees the image. Think of the screen like a reflective street sign in the distance lit up by headlights: only the driver and passengers see the bright reflection from the sign.

As light beams don’t interfere with each other, the screen can reflect light back from multiple sources without distortion, so several projectors can be used with one screen. As a result, each player sees only their gameplay…..but on the full sized screen. Whoa!
It’s kind of hard to imagine, but think of walking round in front of the screen. Only one gaming screen is seen at a time but as you walk round the screen changes between players. Don’t worry, it takes Don a little time to get his head round it too.

The screens are entirely passive – there’s no electronics – and the video projectors don’t have to be massively powerful because the reflectivity is so good. Personal or pico projects with less than a thousand lumens are fine.

MirraViz sells combinations of hardware and screens for home entertainment or gaming setups, and they sell the screens on their own too. A 52″ screen costs US$699, 75″ is $899 and 94″ is $1299. Available now.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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