NTT Firmo transmits data through skin

Posted by on April 24th, 2008

NTT has begun selling a device that transmits data across the surface of the human body and lets users communicate with electronic devices simply by touching them, the company announced on April 23.

The new product, called “Firmo,” consists of a card-sized transmitter carried in the user’s pocket. The card converts stored data into a weak AC electric field that extends across the body, and when the user touches a device or object embedded with a compatible receiver, the electric field is converted back into a data signal that can be read by the device. For now, Firmo transfers data at 230kbps, but NTT is reportedly working on a low-cost 10Mbps version that can handle audio/video data transfers.

Firmo is based on NTT’s RedTacton human area network (HAN) technology, which is designed to allow convenient human-machine data exchange through natural physical contact — even through clothing, gloves and shoes.

NTT initially hopes this human area network technology will appeal to organizations looking to boost convenience and security in the office. Obvious applications include secure entrances and keyless cabinets that recognize employees when they touch the door handle (thus bypassing the need for card-swipers and keys), or secure printers that operate only when you touch them.

Link via

Scientists Want Your MacBook for Earthquake Detection

Posted by on April 7th, 2008

….Cochran and Stanford seismologist Jesse Lawrence have made use of the sensors built into many new laptops that sense when the computer is being dropped, and turned them into earthquake monitors. They hope to sign up thousands of users to act like a grid of detectors that can sense an earthquake before it does too much damage.Like many earthquake early warning systems around the world, when a quake strikes, this system will send a warning to people living in large cities. Because electronic communication systems (in this case, the internet) are much faster than seismic waves, the warning should arrive before the shaking, giving people 10 or 20 seconds to take shelter.

However, it may be awhile before the Quake Catcher is up and running. For one thing, it is extremely hard to decide if a set of movements is an earthquake or, say, just someone working next to a jackhammer.

Link via Wired

Even gravestones are getting QRCoded

Posted by on March 30th, 2008

From WIRED – Japanese Gravestones Memorialize the Dead With QR Codes

Japanese gravestone maker Ishi no Koe (“Voice of the Stone”) recently announced plans to begin selling gravestones with the two-dimensional bar codes embedded into them.

By simply snapping a shot of the tag with their cellphones, visitors will be able to view photos, videos and other information about the deceased. The device would also keep a log of each time the code was scanned so family members can keep up to date with when other relatives last visited the site.

It’s just missing holograms really.

via mopedronin

proto-ShriekyWare technology – BuddyBeads for teenage girls

Posted by on March 6th, 2008

buddy beads

Live from the talk page for Shriekyware on the DoktorSleepless wiki, Patrick b brings the knowledge; sharing what looks to be just the kind of technology that could see the teenage girls of today transform into the Shrieky Girls of tomorrow.

The idea’s explored in Ruth Kikin-Gil’s Master’s Thesis and named Buddy Beads. (OK, it’s probably not the best name in the world, get your mind out of the gutter – this is for kids people!)

It breaks down like this:

Girl A chooses the type of message she wants to send (for example: I’m talking to the boy we like), records a sequence of presses that conveys her current mood (Excited) and sends it to her friend, which receive the message in her bracelet as a combination of light and vibrations.

The concept’s pretty well worked out. This diagram shows how it piggy-back’s off the user’s phone:

buddy beads system

If Mattel aren’t making something like this soon I’ll be surprised. Anyone following the so-called “tween” market knows that kids today are getting cooler gadgets at younger ages. There’s already the Barbie cell-phone and Disney mp3 players. Hook this into a child-friendly SNS and it’ll be good to go.

Coming soon: Bluetooth/WiFi hybrid for fast local file transfers

Posted by on February 12th, 2008

From Wired News – AP News:

The combination devices will use the regular low-power Bluetooth radios to recognize each other and establish connections. If they need to transfer a large file, they will be able to turn on their Wi-Fi radios, then turn them off to save power after finishing the transfer, Foley said.

While it started out as a specific radio technology, Bluetooth is turning into an umbrella standard for a variety of different radio technologies. Apart from the high-speed flavors, the SIG has incorporated an ultra-low-power wireless technology developed by Nokia Corp. and previously known as Wibree. Products like watches and pedometers that use that technology are also expected to hit the market next year.

Oh, this is great – lots of good applications there. Not only will it allow the development of wearable devices that capture data with a high level of granularity, but it could also make for some fun on-the-go peer2peer applications. (Is some guy watching the latest ep of your favourite show on the bus/train/plane? Bam – point/click/grab – there, you can too!)

the pros and cons of mobile sensors

Posted by on February 6th, 2008

As we’ve already seen, researchers continue to make great strides fitting sensors to mobiles:

A network of cellphones fitted with radiation detectors could monitor cities for “dirty” bombs.

So say Andrew Longman and colleagues at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. They have equipped phones with detectors so small they add only an imperceptible weight to a regular smartphone, and just a few dollars to the cost. Readings from thousands of phones, plus their location, can be combined to produce a “radiation map” of a city, says Longman. “Every cellphone sold should be carrying a detector,” he says, to guard against terrorist bombs.

Sounds like a great idea, right?! And not just to ‘watch’ for dirty bombs, but they could also measure pollutants, poisons, gas leaks, etc. What better way to leverage consumer technology to provide benefits for everyone? A free, people-powered distributed network of mobile sniffers. Sure, they’d probably get better coverage in downtown and/or tech heavier regions, but eventually (as everyone upgrades) they’d provide a snapshot of most cities.

All cities but New York that is, if plans put forward by the Police and Mayor are accepted:

After 9/11, untold thousands of New Yorkers bought machines that detect traces of biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. But a lot of these machines didn’t work right, and when they registered false alarms, the police had to spend millions of dollars chasing bad leads and throwing the public into a state of raw panic.

OK, none of that has actually happened. But Richard Falkenrath, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, knows that it’s just a matter of time. That’s why he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have asked the City Council to pass a law requiring anyone who wants to own such detectors to get a permit from the police first. And it’s not just devices to detect weaponized anthrax that they want the power to control, but those that detect everything from industrial pollutants to asbestos in shoddy apartments. Want to test for pollution in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma? Gotta ask the cops for permission. Why? So you “will not lead to excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety,” the first draft of the law states.

“There are currently no guidelines regulating the private acquisition of biological, chemical, and radiological detectors,” warned Falkenrath, adding that this law was suggested by officials within the Department of Homeland Security. “There are no consistent standards for the type of detectors used, no requirement that they be reported to the police department—or anyone else, for that matter—and no mechanism for coordinating these devices. . . . Our mutual goal is to prevent false alarms . . . by making sure we know where these detectors are located, and that they conform to standards of quality and reliability.”

Sounds like a pretty tenuous case to me. Surely there’d have been a rash of false alarms by now, if there was ever going to be; it’s been over six years since 9/11. This smells more like an issue of control, rather than of wasting police resources.

The Institute for the Future sums it up beautifully:

Futurists regularly talk about the potential for cheap environmental sensors to serve as tools for sustainable development, more efficient energy use, etc.; I’m not sure how many of us (or how many computer scientists, ecologists, and others) ever thought that it would make sense to have the police “know where these detectors are located, and that they conform to standards of quality and reliability,” any more than they would have a compelling interest in making sure all clocks and watches were accurately set.

Ambient Intelligence – how we will come to have conversations with buildings and objects

Posted by on January 26th, 2008

A scenario:

Ellen returns home after a long day’s work. At the front door she is recognized by an intelligent surveillance camera, the door alarm is switched off, and the door unlocks and opens. When she enters the hall the house map indicates that her husband Peter is at an art fair in Paris, and that her daughter Charlotte is in the children’s playroom, where she is playing with an interactive screen. The remote children surveillance service is notified that she is at home, and subsequently the on-line connection is switched off.

When she enters the kitchen the family memo frame lights up to indicate that there are new messages. The shopping list that has been composed needs confirmation before it is sent to the supermarket for delivery. There is also a message notifying that the home information system has found new information on the semantic Web about economic holiday cottages with sea sight in Spain. She briefly connects to the playroom to say hello to Charlotte, and her video picture automatically appears on the flat screen that is currently used by Charlotte.

Next, she connects to Peter at the art fair in Paris. He shows her through his contact lens camera some of the sculptures he intends to buy, and she confirms his choice. In the mean time she selects one of the displayed menus that indicate what can be prepared with the food that is currently available from the pantry and the refrigerator. Next, she switches to the video on demand channel to watch the latest news program. Through the follow me she switches over to the flat screen in the bedroom where she is going to have her personalized workout session.

Later that evening, after Peter has returned home, they are chatting with a friend in the living room with their personalized ambient lighting switched on. They watch the virtual presenter that informs them about the programs and the information that have been recorded by the home storage server earlier that day.

This is not science-fiction. OK, so it’s not quite real either – but it’s a future that a consortium of corporations are working very hard to bring about. They’ve just finished their first iteration, and have just begun work on the next attempt.

As the ZDNet article says:

“‘The idea is to integrate sensor networks into wireless communication systems and to ‘capture’ the user’s environment, perhaps using a mobile phone as a gateway, and then transmit this context to a service platform to deliver a personalised service and act on situations,’ says Laurent Herault, project coordinator of a research scheme developing new ways of capturing ambient intelligence in post-3G mobile communication systems through wireless sensor networks.”

“The context captured can be an environmental one, such as location, but also the subject’s emotional context — what is known as the ‘physiological state.’ ‘We capture physiological parameters, such as temperature, heart rate and skin conductance levels [measuring sweat gland activity],’ says Herault who heads the e-Sense project. ‘We analyse the evolution of these signals and the function of emotional input. For instance, we show [people] films and we analyse their reaction via sensors. We can determine if a person is afraid, happy, sad…’”

e-Sense Network

Clearly there’s a lot of technology still to be developed to fulfill this vision; but something along these lines is coming. And if people think they have privacy issues now…

via SmartMobs