What is happening in the tech world...

10th July 2017

Blind assisted technology Blitab and AiPoly

As we venture deeper into the digital age, more technology becomes solely accessible through smart devices. This can cause issues with people who have limited access to these, such as those who are visually impaired. There are a couple of recent innovations emerging that look to greatly improve accessibility to devices and to assist visually impaired persons with independence.

One product that is gaining momentum is Blitab, self-described as “The world’s first tactile tablet for the blind and visually impaired people”. Blitab operates by using liquid-based screen that creates an interactive braille display using small bubbles that can change state. The device will give the user the ability to convert any text file, whether it’s from the internet, a memory card or a USB stick. Although there are been products working towards similar goals, Blitab is an affordable price and uses a unique method to create the braille patterns mirroring the tablet screen content. This invention aims to revolutionize the way that visually impaired people interact with computing devices by offering touch and audio accessibility to add another dimension to the users’ experience.

A further assisted technology AiPoly, is a neural network smartphone application. The software uses artificial intelligence that will understand the camera input and describe what it sees through audio. The app will identify objects and use colour recognition in order to assist both the visually impaired and the colour blind. Currently it can identify products, foods, faces, animals and plants at a speed that reportedly surpasses cloud solutions for image recognition.

AiPoly is available to download, although the creators are still looking to develop the software further to pick up complex scenes, positions of objects and to describe the relationships between items. The aim is for the application to be self-learning and capable of acquiring knowledge on new items to increase its intelligence.

Augmented Reality - Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft are a company known for continuously experimenting with exciting ideas. Previous examples include Cortana, the windows phone personal assistant, and Illumiroom, a short-lived, conceptual projection system that could expand a television screen onto the room around it. Their next big invention, ‘Microsoft HoloLens’ probes into the world of augmented reality, which is the concept of merging virtual reality and real life. Different to virtual reality, which will encompass the users’ entire vision, augmented reality lets you interact with the environment around you whilst being able to experience virtual elements. The inventor of the HoloLens, Alex Kipman, recently stated in an interview:

There exist two universes today. The universe you and I live in and the digital one made out entirely of bits. Mixed reality is the intersection of both these universes -- to suddenly be able to displace space and time without having to deal with all of these digital interfaces that are so unnatural. Without all of this magic being trapped behind a 2D screen

The HoloLens will map out the users’ surroundings and create a holographic frame in the centre of the users’ vision using a custom holographic processing unit in which they can view holograms. This preserves peripheral vision to not obscure the users’ vision or hearing, resulting in a mixed environment that can be specialised for different purposes. There are a wide range of applications for this technology that are still being explored. Up to now, Microsoft have seen the most effective use of the HoloLens is aiding designers in 3D modelling. Other uses that have been hinted include setting up multiple ‘digital’ TV’s around our room and watching 3D sport on a table top. The HoloLens may not be a flawless product yet, but it will certainly provide fertile ground for the expansion of augmented reality.

PowerRay Fishing drone

Created by robotics company PowerVision, the PowerRay aims to remodel the methods used to catch fish. The PowerRay is an underwater drone created to assist the user with fishing and therefore reduce the catching time. Not only can it navigate to depths of up to 30m but also has the technology to lure fish from up to 40m. It does this through using its integrated fish luring light in sequence with a precision remote bait drop. There is also an accompanying smartphone app that will give you information on fish distribution and temperature as well as being able to stream a live HD video. If that isn’t an immersive enough experience for you, it can be connected to a virtual reality headset that will let you see the underwater environment first hand. This drone would be a significant addition for any avid fisherman, however there will likely be speculation into whether this direction of technology would take the effort and experience out of fishing.

Dubai planning to launch passenger drones this summer (2017)

Another drone technology making headlines is an autonomous human-sized quadcopter that Dubai are looking to start rolling out as early as this summer. It has been announced by the head of Dubai’s road and transport agency that the EHANG 184 passenger drone will begin “regular operations” around the city in July of 2017. The eco-friendly, transport concept works by the passenger strapping in and punching in their location, the drone will then take off and fly them to their destination. The passenger drone would then be communicating via a 4g network to a control room from which it is auto-piloted, to guarantee a secure and reliable flight. Additionally, it has the ability to map out the airspace and surrounding areas, to pick out feasible routes and clearest locations to land. The drone can carry passengers up to 100KG and can stay airborne for 30 minutes on one charge. The passenger takes advantage of a touchscreen in order to select a destination and the drone is the “Auto-piloted’ by a command centre. The drone also has the ability to manually determine whether there is enough airspace to be working with. It will map out the surrounding area before finding somewhere to land, looking for the clearest locations before committing.

Testing has already been underway in Dubai, as well in other possible cities such as Nevada with the transport agency ready to put their plans into action as soon as possible. With an autonomous service such as this passenger safety is the number one priority. Akin to the smart self-driving cars and busses that are beginning to arise, the user must be completely reliant on the technology in place. Therefore, the EHANG 184 will likely be rolled out with great caution and emphasis on safety management.

5 of the Biggest Tech Rumours 2017!

1st February 2017

If we think back 10 years ago, we were being introduced cutting-edge products such as the first iPhone, Windows Vista and Blu Ray players. We see new technologies shape our world every year, whether it’s making our environment smarter, tasks easier or ground-breaking medical discoveries. With modern components and research becoming progressively more available it is no surprise that technology is developing faster than ever before. Intellectual property plays an increasingly important role when it comes to new inventions and innovations as our world becomes more digital and intangibles become vulnerable. Therefore, to give you some inspiration we have taken the liberty of finding you the juiciest tech rumours that could be hitting the market in 2017.

Foldable Smartphones

Foldable touchscreens are of the most talked about potential transformation of smartphones in the past few months. This innovation has been forthcoming for some time since Samsung announced plans in 2011. Now that this idea is coming to life, albeit six years later, there is certainly going to be a very carefully considered race for patents. There appears to be three major players here; Samsung, Apple and Microsoft. LG and Lenovo have also been rumoured to be planning similar concepts. So, what do we know so far?

Plans for the Samsung Galaxy X have been confirmed through the recent release of a patent, found by patently mobile. The patent expresses a touch-screen fold-out device that can be altered to be either a smartphone or a tablet. Microsoft have opted for a similar approach and are attempting to file a patent (discovered by MSPoweruser) that uses a hinged display to make the same transformation. Meanwhile Apple have just been granted a patent that describes devices with a flexible display using an OLED screen, the same used in the Apple Watch. It has been hinted that Apple are aiming to bring this to the market in 2018.

As with all phone innovations we will likely see many of the big brands begin experimenting, although it is still uncertain whether this will catch on to being a standard model, or just a phase that will die out in time (RIP flip phones).

Figure 1 Apple patent (USPTO)Figure 2 Samsung patent (Patently Mobile)Figure 1 Microsoft patent (MSPoweruser)

Advancements in Robotics

Traditionally when we think of robots, we picture a metal figure making beeping sounds and occasionally malfunctioning. However, modern day robotics has benefitted from plenty of research that branches into all the different paths and purposes. With so many innovations arising in this field it’s difficult to focus on one area, yet we can be certain that robotics will play a huge part in shaping the worlds technology.

In the past year, we have seen many breakthroughs. Lifelike robots have shown remarkable progress in movement, balance and speed. At present the first steps are being taken to give them the ability to hunt and even feel pain. This technology has also contributed to such things as autonomous delivery bots and self-driving cars and trains. On the medical side, we now have robot exoskeletons that can assist paralyzed people with walking, robot pharmacists and robot-assisted surgery.

Put simply, the possibilities are endless, and robots are coming. We are already seeing commercialised ‘smart-home’ products such as the Amazon Echo with the Alexa digital assistant and Google Home powered by the Google assistant. They have the look of simple Bluetooth speakers, but don’t be fooled. The always listening, voice controlled assistants can perform multiple tasks for you such as schedule events, call a taxi and adjust heating and lighting. Amazon are rumoured to not only be looking at ways of controlling more aspects of your home, but also embedding ‘Alexa’ into more products or appliances. One of the main trends throughout CES 2017 was that many of the devices announced were Alexa-supported. This included the LG smart fridge, car systems such as Ford and Volkswagen, phones such as the Huawei Mate 9, one of Samsung’s robot vacuums models and whirlpool are claiming that they intend to use the technology in many of their appliances in the coming year.

Figure 4Figure 5

Sony Xperia Mobile Projector

The current generation of smartphones can be used for just about anything, whether it’s to watch TV, utilise virtual reality or monitor your health. They have many functions that generally make people’s lives easier. Therefore, it is understandable why many modern inventions are constructed around these devices.

In the past, we have seen smartphone projectors of all sizes and varieties. Yet Sony’s latest version of the Xperia prototype projector, which made its first public debut at CES 2017, aims to revolutionize this market. Whilst this can carry out the same functions as a traditional mobile projector such as producing an 80-inch image onto a wall, what sets it apart from competitor models is the surface projector. It will project a screen in front of the projector onto any table or surface and uses infrared sensors to turn this image into a 10-point multi-touch screen, giving you a deployable, spill-proof, touch monitor. This gives the projector a multitude of uses, such as a method of effortlessly monitoring a child’s activities without worrying about damage to the device. The touch controls also allow pinch and zoom functions on the projected surface, allowing the user to navigate maps comfortably.

The well-functioning prototype has Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity whilst also having the ability to connect to PS4 controllers for remote navigation. This product surely outlines the future of touch-screens, but it may be a while before this reaches the market at a reasonable price. It is still very much in development so look out for more appearances from it in the coming months.

Figure 6Figure 7

DNA phone sequencing

Another technology attempting to be incorporated with smartphones is DNA sequencing (used to obtain the nucleotide sequence of DNA), a formerly complex procedure used for accurately identifying cancer. Swedish researchers have teamed up with UCLA to build a microscope that uses a smartphone camera to undergo this procedure.

It requires an attachment to a smartphone camera that contains laser diodes to assist the camera in fluorescent imaging. It can then distinguish fluorescent products of DNA responses in cells and tissues, a process that you would usually need to be in a well-equipped hospital to perform. This can be used for an in-depth molecular analysis on things like tumours, but from any location and for a fraction of the cost.

Smartphones have been developing so rapidly in recent years that it is no surprise the technology within them can be applied for advanced purposes. This is only the first step in utilising this technology and researchers claim there is still a distance to go before being able to roll out this technology on larger scale. However, this potentially demonstrates a new era of medical technology that can be adapted to work with smartphones.

Figure 8

Amazon going Airborne

Last, but certainly not least, are the latest innovations being developed at Amazon. They have recently been approved patents for two separate inventions, one being a collective UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and the other an airborne fulfilment centre, much like a floating warehouse.

Ever since they first started selling books online to capitalise on the internet business boom Amazon have been well known for their creativeness and influence in online markets. The issue of these patents comes shortly after Amazon have been implementing their first deliveries with standard unmanned drones. This has been recognised as a clever step in providing improved delivery service, although has raised concerns about reliability.

Nevertheless, these patents show that Amazon intend to take this one step further. The first patent dubbed ‘The Megadrone’ is a modular concept where multiple UAV’s co-operate with each other to support greater burdens, or in their case deliver heavier packages. The patent describes a vehicle that can rely on the cohesiveness of the group to share resources in order to function more efficiently. The idea is also that the individual modules will be able to detach themselves from the Megadrone to complete tasks independently without compromising the movement or functionality of the vehicle.

The second patent they have had approved follows a similar theme in attempting to capitalise on the aerial delivery market. As mentioned, the patent defines an ‘Airborne Fulfilment Centre’ which is essentially a flying warehouse. It pictures a blimp-like vehicle that relies on a system of smaller airships and drones to carry out all its delivery, fuelling and supply requirements. The main purpose for this appears to be focussed area events such as festivals and sports games as a method of distributing snacks and merchandise. Whether this will be a worthwhile investment is still yet to be seen, still we can be confident this is the direction delivery services are heading.

Figure 9 Amazon Collective UAV configurationFigure 10Figure 11 Amazon Airborne Fulfilment Centre

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