Category Archives: Interview

Clap for Kano’s Camera Kit at CES 2018



Kano‘s mission is to encourage people, particularly children, to see computers not as unchangeable appliances but as tools to be made, shaped, coded and shared. Their kits plug together bits, boards, buttons and cables to make individual and personalised computers. Bruno gives Todd a hand to develop a selfie camera from their new Camera Kit.

Kano’s approach is to challenge each young developer into programming simple apps that achieve technical goals. Using Kano’s development tools it’s really easy to build programs as the tools come with code building blocks for things like taking a picture or responding to noise via a microphone. Consequently, even Todd can code an app to take a picture when someone claps.

The Camera Kit‘s not expected until next year but you can sign up to hear the latest news. Expect the price to be around US$99.

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

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You Can Feel It with Ultrahaptics at CES 2018



Playing games using bare hands for controllers goes back as far as the Eye Toy for the Sony PlayStation 2 but it was really Microsoft’s Kinect that brought gesture recognition mainstream. Fantastic as these cameras were, players only received visual feedback, e.g. the in-game character moved in the desired direction. But what if there is no TV screen to show feedback? How could the user know that they’ve pressed the right button? That’s where Ultrahaptics come in with their ultrasonic speakers. Todd gets a feeling for the tech with Heather.

Simplistically, Ultrahaptics uses ultrasound to project sensations onto a hand. Small highly controllable speakers can focus sound waves to make a hand feel on object that’s not there. It’s pretty clever technology but what it means is that a hand action can receive feedback directly, without needing a screen.

Heather splits the use cases into two, controls and experiences. Want to turn on a light switch? Feel the imaginary switch and flick it up. For experiences, a two-dimensional object could be given three-dimensional properties. Think of a film poster that responds to a hand approach it. The force awakens!

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

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Grow Your Own with Opcom Indoor Hydroponics at CES 2018



When I hear “hydroponics” I always think of scifi and long missions to deep space. Fortunately, hydroponics is much more rooted in reality than the genre suggests, and this brings us neatly to Opcom Farm and their indoor hydroponics systems. Todd digs with Ray from Opcom and discovers how to garden in your garage.

Opcom offers everything needed to setup a home hydroponics garden except the space. Even then, the GrowPod can create space within another area, such as a garage, for the racks and shelving needed for a hydroponic garden. These days all the lights are LED, so energy costs are kept low, and there’s a range of units from the simple O2-Light to a full GrowWall. It all depends on the budget – a GrowPod starts at US$2000.

There’s plenty of information on Opcom Farm‘s website and some products are available from Amazon.com. Others are on pre-order for delivery in 2018.

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

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Wander the World with the Fonebud W at CES 2018



Mobile data charges abroad can be prohibitively expensive and tethering for wifi burns through the phone’s battery. The new Fonebud W wireless hotspot solves this problem for over 80 countries worldwide. Don chats with Dixon about the features of this new device.

Using your home SIM while in a foreign land typically ends with a large bill when you get back, though seasoned travellers will have a pocketful of SIMs for local telcos. Mind you, it’s still a pain making sure that your smartphone is unlocked and forwarding your calls to your new number (unless you have a dual SIM phone). A much better solution would be the upcoming Fonebud W personal WiFi hotspot which works in over 80 countries, particularly in Asia and China. The 10,000 mAh battery will run the Fonebud W for well over a day and can be used to wirelessly charge a smartphone. Yes, it has a wireless charger built-in, though you can still charge with a cable. The small LED screen shows details of connectivity and battery life.

The Fonebud W will be available in Q2 2018 and will cost US$129-$169 including 24 GB data which is valid for a year.

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

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Get in the Spirits with PicoBrew’s PicoStill at CES 2018



At CES 2017, PicoBrew showed off their personal beer brewing machine and this year, they’re back with a little something to take home alcohol production to the next level. Todd finds out more from George.

For existing PicoBrewers, the PicoStill brings an opportunity to “up their game” and start distilling small batches of spirits safely and more precisely. 500 ml takes about 4 hours to produce, and up to 180 proof is possible with will multilevel distilling. Alternatively, the PicoStill can capture the essence of hops and other oils to give unique flavors and aromas to food and drinks.

The PicoStill is on pre-order for US$249 ($349 SRP) but it’s an accessory for other brewing appliances (Pico S/Pro/C) so check compatibility before ordering.

Also on show is the Pico C, a smaller and cheaper beer brewing machine for US$549.

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

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Fibion Brings Science To Activity Tracking (Part 2)



In the first interview, I chatted with one of Fibion‘s partners, Olli Tikkanen, about their approach to activity tracking and how the Fibion team can produce accurate data on movement and lifestyle from the Fibion tracker. This time, I’m speaking with Jonathan Bloomfield, MD of Support2Perform, Human Performance Specialists, here in Northern Ireland, who use Fibion trackers to carryout assessments on clients.

The team at Support2Perfom use the Fibion tracker and the analysis tools to do a deep dive into the wearer’s daily behaviour. The tracker is typically worn for about a week before the data is uploaded and analysed. The results are displayed in different graphics to show the person’s activity in a meaningful way. How much of my day is sitting around?

 

 

This data forms the baseline for change and having made lifestyle changes, the Fibion analysis can be redone to check that they’ve had the desired effect.


Fibion Brings Science to Activity Tracking (Part 1)



Fitbits and other activity trackers are popular: I see them on the waists and wrists of colleagues everyday and I have one myself. Good as they are at encouraging activity, they tend to be a fairly broad brush with an emphasis on hitting targets, typically 10,000 steps. While some trackers attempt show the breadth of activity across the day, they’re not very good at the detail. When was I sitting? When was I standing? How often did I stand up?

The team at Fibion can help answer these questions with their professional sitting and activity analysis, which aims to move away from the gamification of fitness to a scientific assessment for improving health. By combining the Fibion device with algorithms based on scientific research, the Fibion analysis gives accurate results for a week-long measurement, showing how much time is spent sitting versus standing and active.

The device itself might be considered overly plain, but that’s by design. If you don’t see your steps, there’s no incentive to do more, and so the Fibion is more likely to record a representative lifestyle. It’s all about the science.

In the first of two conversations, I interview Fibion partner Olli Tikkanen on their approach and the dimunitive tracker. In part 2, I’ll talk to a professional who uses Fibion to assess activity in the workplace.


Personalised Packets for Pills



As with much of the developed world, life expectancy in the Northern Ireland has increased considerably in the last few decades. With this growth, people are now living with long-term medical conditions. For those 60-69 years old, more than 50% of the population will have at least one medical condition. For 70-79 years old, 50% will have two or more medical problems. We might be living longer, but we’re sicker.

Medication can help with many conditions, but medicine only works if it’s taken and multiple conditions can lead to a bewildering array of pills that need to be taken on a schedule. Trays with Monday-Sunday and am/pm can help but it’s all too easy to make a mistake.

PillPacPlus provide a service that helps with this increasing problem. Instead of giving people many boxes with each box containing a single drug, pharmacies can now dispense medications in sachets, with each one containing all the drugs to be taken at a time. Each sachet on the roll is labelled with the time and date, and this makes it perfectly clear to the patient what has to be taken and when.

For those with dementia, even pre-labelled sachets can be a struggle. To help further, the sachet rolls can be loaded into a dispensing machine (Evondos E300) that is programmed with the schedule. If the patient forgets to take the medication, the machine sounds an alarm to alert him or her. If this doesn’t work, the machine can alert pharmacists and carers about the problem.

It’s all aimed at making sure that the right medication is taken at the right time to manage those long-term conditions. To find out more, I interviewed Lindsay and Sara from PillPacPlus at NICON17. Listen below.


JAM Card Gives People Time



It’s a fast paced world out there and you need all your faculties to keep up. Take too long, and it’s “Next please!” while you’re still standing there. Imagine how much more difficult it is if you do have a learning disability or condition such as Asperger’s and you just need a little more time.

To help people in this situation, the NOW Group has created an app that asks people for “Just A Minute”. The JAM Card app shows staff in retail outlets, transport and other areas of public life that the person needs “Just A Minute” of patience and time when interacting with them.

The smartphone app is based on the original concept of a plastic card and was the idea of people with a disability who said they often felt under pressure when they were out and about in everyday life. They wanted a discreet way of letting people know that they needed a little extra time.

The app is available for both Android and iOS (search for “JAM Card”). At present the app only caters for four specific conditions though they hope to extend it to more over time. The app also allows users to score retail stores and transportation for their helpfulness towards people with disabilities.

For more information, listen to my interview with NOW Group’s Jayne at NICON 17.  If you like what the NOW Group are doing here, you can vote for them over at Digital DNA and help them become a partner charity.


Real and Virtual Play Combine with Sam’s Curious Cars



Learning is best done when fun and what’s more fun than play? Sam’s Curious Cars fall right into this sweet spot and Todd gets an interactive demo from Joachim.

Sam Labs have created a series of component-based toys (think chassis, wheels, motors) that can be built up to make a vehicle – in this instance a car. The components are compatible with Lego bricks, so builders can really express themselves.

Once constructed, the car can be controlled by other components, like a switch for power and a slide for left and right. The car can also be controlled by an app and for advanced learners, the cars behaviour can be built up using control blocks in the app. It’s designed to introduce some of the key concepts of programming without actually having to code.

There’s a series of six different sets, priced from US$99 and the Curious Cars are $199. Additional sensors and motors can be bought separately. Available now from the Sam Labs shop and other good retailers.

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

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