The Dependence on Smartphones [infographic]

With the CES 2014 in full swing, we have decided to start this year with an infographic about one of the most used technologies in recent years: the smartphone. With almost 60% of the world population owning and using a smartphone there no doubt that this technology will only become bigger and better. Bendable screens, holographic video calls or antibacterial devices are only a few of the smartphone updates we might see in the near future. Until then here are some interesting stats about the devices we can never leave our home without:

Dependance On Smartphones Interesting Stats

This Infographic is produced by Coupon Audit (provides Converse promo code) and Augmented Tomorrow.

7 3D Printed Things That You Can Get Right Now

Out of the box dual head 3D printers, easy to use 3D scanners or expiring 3D printing patents are only some of the latest signs showing that the consumer additive manufacturing market is expanding rapidly. Every day new revolutionary 3D printed objects are announced, from human organs to modular houses, but most of them will only be available to you and me in a few years at least if not more. So what can we 3D print right now that we are going to use in the long term?

3D Printed Bikini

3D Printed Bikini N12Despite their uninspired name, the N12 are, according to their designer, the first completely 3D-printed, ready-to-wear, garments. Although not the first 3D printed clothing item, this bikini is surely the first one available to the larger public and not just as a one-off demonstration of skills and 3D printing technology. The material used to create the 3D printed fabric is a waterproof type of nylon (N12) that becomes more comfortable in water. Its structure uses circles of different sizes which respond to the shape of the body creating smooth edges. So if you are after a unique piece for your wardrobe this might be what you are looking for. We would be very interested to find out how practical this is especially after a few uses.

3D Printed Musical Instruments

shakuhachi-flute-3d-printedAlthough many 3D printed musical instruments are currently printed with industrial 3D printers and may require some other materials and non-3D printed parts made from wood or stainless steel, there are a few that you can print right now or buy them online ready-made. If you are fan of Japanese fantasy movies you will surely love this Shakuhachi flute made entirely from 3D printed stainless steel which you can buy for “only” $239.95. It is fully functional and definitely something that will last for decades. If you are more of a romantic and free type of person, you can try a new instrument called Bajolele (a fusion between a banjo and an ukulele). This is available for free to download and then you can either print it yourself or order it online.

3D Printed Clocks

3D Printed Kaleidoscope ClockThere are many models of clocks available for 3D printing, some more intricate than others, however the one showcased here is both beautiful and not very complicated to put together. The Kaleidoscope clock is made of 2 separate printed parts and a high torque movement mechanism. They can all be purchased online separately for a total combined price of no more than $50. With a few colours to choose from, this 3D printed clock makes for a great present.

3D Printed Shoes

3D Printed ShoesIf you are one of the lucky ones to own a 3D printer or you just want to use one of the many companies printing your 3D models, a pair of 3D printed shoes is surely something you can try. The files you need to feed your additive manufacturing cravings are free to download and available in a range of sizes. With endless variations of colours for your raw materials (ABS or PLA plastic) you can create your unique and bespoke shoes overnight.

3D Printed Coffee Cups

3D Printed CupsNot the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of 3D printing, coffee mugs have traditionally been made either through mass manufacturing processes or hand-made by artisans. The experimental project called One Cup a Day wanted to challenge this concept by designing and printing one cup in Glazed Ceramics per day for 30 days. Even though you can’t print these in your own house from porcelain you can still print them out of plastic, or you can buy the original ones online for prices between $36-$77.

3D Printed Jewellery

3D Printed Gold JewelleryThis is one of the first industries to adopt 3D printing and to start a new business model around unique and fully customisable shapes. Many 3D printed jewellery online stores now offer materials such as silver, stainless steel and even gold for bespoke pieces. Prices vary from a few dollars to thousands without the added premium for personalised jewels that you usually get with traditional hand-made techniques.

3D Printed Furniture

Batoidea 3D Printed Chair3D printed furniture has surely been in the spotlight in the last 3 years and it is becoming more prominent in the 3D printing world, however very few of the 3D printed designs are actually available to buy or download and print yourself. Many require selective laser sintering (SLS) machines which use a very accurate 3D printing technique available usually in industrial environments. Nevertheless, we have managed to find an example that you can buy right now, although in very limited edition. The Batoidea chair designed by Peter Donders uses aluminium to create a very “fluid and airy chair that defies practical conventions”. Unfortunately there are only 12 pieces to buy and they are on display in Moscow until the end of November.

If you have any other examples of functional 3D printed objects that might replace the mass manufacturing ones in the near future please share them with us in the comments section below.

Leap Motion: Drawbacks and Potential Applications

Leap Motion HandLaunched only 3 weeks ago with the promise of changing the way people interact with their computers, Leap Motion has already reached the 1 million app downloads milestone through the app store that accompanies the device. Will this be the new iPhone in the world of motion-tracking technology or another hi-tech gimmick that will soon ‘leap’ into the unknown?

More than a year ago we wrote a small article announcing a San Francisco start-up’s daring project of creating a small gadget that will be “more reliable than a mouse, as reliable as a keyboard and more sensitive than a touchscreen” and which will be available for as little as $70. Although at that time it seemed like something taken from a Sci-Fi film, the company managed to raise almost $45 million by now in three rounds of investment and built some strong partnerships along the way. The latest one is with the tech giant ASUS, who wants to incorporate it into their computers. With so much traction building around this piece of hardware what can it actually do and how can it be used?

How Leap Motion (Should) Work

The small rectangular device, no bigger than a computer mouse, can be easily plugged in the USB port of your device and after you download a small piece of software your Leap Motion device is fully functional. According to the company’s specifications it can detect the position of your hand and fingers with a precision of 0.01mm within an eight cubic foot volume of space. To translate this, it means every finger twitching can be detected above the device within a space the size of a 33 inch screen in a square box.

The Leap can track any movement, pinch, wave or any other motion you can make with your fingers, hands or any other small devices such as pens. These are then translated into actual computer commands through the device’s software and the apps that you can download from their Air Space app store. In this way you can control your computer, play games, draw, compose music, create 3D graphics, turn the pages of a digital newspaper or scroll through your digital photo albums.

Drawbacks of Leap Motion

Although the launch price is slightly higher than the promoted price of $70, a device capable of doing what ‘it says on the tin’ should still be a bargain at a price of $79.99. We don’t know if the production costs are to be blamed or just the thriftiness of the investors who wanted a better return for their buck.

The real problems arise when we look at the usability of the Leap Motion device. Many ‘proud’ owners of the new controller have intensively complained about the lack of accuracy of the device. Now we are not talking about 0.01mm or 0.02mm accuracy but about not being able to recognise hand movement in normal lighting conditions or loosing track of your fingers during an activity. Some people even say that they have tried to use a pencil (as it says on the Leap Motion website) but couldn’t even register it as being in the active area (the trackable space). All these problems got even worse in certain apps, a few users talking about not even being able to draw a line without continuous interruptions and a final drawing looking more like a dash or a bunch of random dots.

Leap Motion AirSpace StoreIf the issues surrounding the hardware weren’t enough, many Leap Motion owners also complain about the Air Space app store and the apps they can find there or maybe it would be more truthful to say “the apps that they can’t find there”.  With a little more than 85 apps available, despite a software developer programme launched in October 2012 that was supposed to get a good number of apps in return, Air Space is seriously struggling to keep up with the demand for more apps, and therefore annoying many users. They are also complaining about the high price they have to pay for the majority of the apps with only about 15-20% being free to download. With these costs taken into account, a new Leap Motion owner has to get out of their pocket at least another $20-$30 to get a good app starting set, pushing the total price closer to $110 for a full Leap experience.

With many people having all kinds of accuracy and tracking problems even with the paid apps and with some of them spending hours in order to learn how to use The Leap, there’s no surprise that many conclude that it might be just an expensive toy and, despite its potential, it is not yet ready for daily use. Not even trying to get some support from the company hasn’t proved successful as apparently there wasn’t any.

Note: User comments from BestBuy, Amazon US and Amazon UK have been used for some of the issues described above.

The Potential Applications of Leap Motion

With such a wide range of issues surrounding the device, it might be a surprise for many that Leap Motion has reached the 1 million mark in their Air Space app downloads. Although it benefited from a great hype raising the interest of thousands of early adopters, the potential of The Leap is more important than any other publicity and even then the initial drawbacks and it is certainly the one thing that will determine the long term success of this piece of hardware.

Medicine

Leap Motion in MedicineImagine Leap Motion integrated into hi-tech medical computers through which doctors can perform highly complicated and very delicate operations across continents, with the device calibrated in such a way that it can actually remove the normal shake that even surgeons have to a certain degree and eliminate any possible errors related to this. Helped by augmented reality, doctors would be able to see and control everything without being in the same room as the patient. This can also be used to drive remote cameras through very sensitive areas of the body without touching or putting any mechanical pressure on the patient.

Household

Having a few Leap Motion devices spread across your house could help you turn on and off lights, open and close the blinds, control your TV and all other electronic devices without actually touching anything. This can be particular useful for disabled people who cannot move very well, or in buildings where contamination is a real danger (e.g. a laboratory).

Entertainment

Leap Motion DrawingAlthough this is already the first application of the technology it is still only at the beginning in terms of its potential. Coupled with augmented reality, The Leap could help control your character in an AR game that happens around you. Controlling radio devices (e.g. cars, planes, boats) without the need of physical controls can give you more accuracy and freedom.

3D Modelling and Graphics

Leap Motion 3D ModellingIt is the only device that gives full control of a 3D object on all three axes. Architects and designers can really benefit from this by getting the freedom they have always wanted when it comes to 3D modelling and 3D graphics. They can turn, scale and fully transform objects without having to use a physical 2D controller (e.g. mouse, keyboard, trackpad), thus saving precious time and allowing more creativity.

Manufacturing

Operating heavy machinery and industrial robots with the help of a Leap Motion controller can allow better control, improved accuracy and finer detail, particularly helpful in industries that cannot completely rely on automatized methods such as luxury goods. Creating a unique car, an extraordinary piece of jewellery or a marvellous boat can receive a new meaning when aided by motion-controller technology.

This short list of potential benefits is only a small percentage of what The Leap could become, certainly overcoming any initial hardware and software drawbacks. It all comes down to the company’s response to these weaknesses. Fixing them quickly with a firmware update or a new version of the controller and accelerating the development of new apps would most likely pave the way to success.

Would you buy a Leap Motion controller and what other applications of the device can you think of? Please leave your comments in the section below. 

Augmented Reality Glasses Helping Students

AR Glasses in ClassromHow many of you remember the school moments when the teacher’s explanations were like hieroglyphs for you, but you were too embarrassed to raise your hand and say “I don’t understand”, afraid of the embarrassment and sometimes even mockery you could face from your colleagues? We have all been at least once in such a situation and the new generations are going through the same experiences. That’s what triggered researchers from the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid, Spain to develop an augmented reality system that would overcome this social student taboo.

They have developed a pair of glasses that take advantage of two elements many school children are interested and fascinated by: their smartphones and augmented reality. The proposed system, called Augmented Lecture Feedback System – ALFS, wants to improve the communication between students and teachers during classes without affecting the teenagers’ self-esteem and social image.

How the augmented reality system works

Lecture AR GlassesThe professor is wearing a pair of augmented reality glasses than enables them to see symbols above each student, while a normal teaching session is carried out. These symbols are activated by the students via their smartphones and give feedback regarding their comprehension of the subject discussed.  These can tell the tutor if they have understood the explanation, if they know the answer to the question that has just been asked and even if the professor needs to go more slowly with the lesson. This way, the teacher knows by simply looking at the symbol above the student’s head what the student wishes to communicate with them. The system even aggregates all answers in a diagram which can be particularly useful in large groups.

The main advantage of this AR system is the continuous communication that it facilitates between the professor and the student which is immediate and private, things that you could never achieve in a normal classroom environment. This in theory should allow for more effective teaching and better prepared students.

What the AR system needs to work

The prototype the Spanish researchers created uses gesture and image recognition through a Microsoft Kinect, a database preloaded with the student photos or markers used to aid the system, smartphones for students that have to be connected to the server where the system is installed and a pair of augmented reality glasses for the teacher which displays all the information received from their students.

Although this prototype is only at the beginning the results achieved so far have encouraged further research to simplify the technology and improve the benefits delivered. And who knows, maybe in a few years, this augmented reality technology will become a normal sight in all classrooms.

Augmented Reality: The Social Implications

wall-e-fat-people-in-chairs-250px

Wall-e: people immersed into their technologies

There is no doubt that augmented reality is slowly making its way into our daily lives. It is already a global industry worth billions of pounds (mobile AR will be worth $5.8 billion by 2017 according to a Juniper Research report) and with big players such as Google, Microsoft, IBM or Apple trying to get in the game, AR is here to stay. However, looking beyond the profits and ignoring the hardware involved in bringing this technology to the masses, how will augmented reality affect us as people?

A few months ago I read a very interesting article by John Havens about the social consequences of augmented reality. Although I agree with most of his ideas, his wide focus on related technologies (and not necessarily AR per se) eludes the purpose of his title. He sees augmented reality not just as a technology, but as a shortcut between us and the technology. The social effects of augmented reality become blurred and mashed with the effects of other technologies which lead us to the question “is AR only the facilitator of other technologies?” I think AR is more than this; it is the glue that brings many technologies together and connects them to the human brain at a very personal and intimate level.  Augmented reality is the portal to our imagination.

Some might argue that this is not completely true as AR is still a ‘reality’ despite the fact that it is a technology-enabled one, while our imagination is very personal and unreal. However, according to the Oxford Dictionary imagination is “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses” (does this sound familiar?!). With imagination considered one of the strongest and unique human abilities, how is a technology that has the potential of bringing our imagination to life going to influence our existence?

Lost in Our AR Imagination

All of us have tried daydreaming at least once in our lives, even if involuntarily. Do you remember how difficult it was to come from that immersive experience back to reality?! It was as if our brain sometimes preferred the world where we were in control of everything, where our wildest dreams could become reality, where our loved ones were next to us and where we felt no stress or sorrow. And who could blame us; humans have always been searching for perfection although we have never managed to come close to it, at least not in what we consider real life. That is why we have created several art forms to allow us to portray personal versions of flawless images and maybe this is one of the reasons for which we feel so fascinated by augmented reality.

AR has opened our minds allowing us to perceive a socially-accepted reality in bespoke ways. We already see special offers ‘flying’ towards us, tweets from our friends hovering above different locations, our idols walking next to us or step by step interactive instructions on how to change the cartridge of our printer.  We can see how we look wearing the latest designer glasses or the outfit we always wanted without having to step in a store or spend a penny. And these are only a few things we can do with augmented reality NOW. In the near future artists will be able to “see” their creations before they are physically created, doctors could perform complicated surgeries aided by augmented reality, AR relaxation might become the next technology craze and the entertainment industry will blow our minds with bespoke AR movies and shows.

Person lost in the digital world

Lost in the digital world

An increased personalisation of AR experiences (which is already happening) followed by a new wave of augmented reality where we can create our own digital representations of our thoughts and desires (like in a Sims-style world) will mean that, at some point, we may start to prefer the augmented world versus the real one. The danger comes when some of us may no longer be able to make the difference between the real elements and the computer generated ones. Being so immersed in the AR world, a new type of life threatening situations could emerge – the ones where we are literally ‘lost’ in our own perceptions of reality. In this case, a Wall-E scenario where we get so addicted and immersed in the digitally enhanced world that we no longer know what is happening in the real life around us may not be so far from reality.

‘Naked’ in Front of Everybody

Danger of augmented realityAll these technologies that provide us with bespoke augmented reality experiences need a constant feeding with data. The more bespoke the experience the more personal the information that is shared and despite all security measures, filters and firewalls placed between us and the world, our augmented reality data does not belong to us completely. Our personal thoughts, wishes, preferences and choices we make every day have an impact over what we “see” in the AR world. Companies who have the technologies and capabilities to tap into our imagination will ‘rule our world’ in the near future. They can store, exchange and even sell this information to whoever has the interest and financial resources. No matter how regulated this industry will become, a black market and grey practices will always exist.

And this does not concern only big organisations. Because we are social beings, our AR worlds will most likely ‘collide’ with others’, exchanging information and creating an AR universe in which every person on this planet can connect with anybody, a world where geographical, cultural and social boundaries will no longer exist.

This idealistic view also means that data exchanges between individuals could become a routine. And with any data transfer there is a high danger of data leaks where anything from contact details to your sexual preferences could potentially be available to anybody. It will be interested how AR information will be protected in the future to avoid such scenarios.

My Augmented Reality Enhanced Relationship

Augmented reality girlfriend

Augmented reality girlfriend

Developments in communication technology have always been made responsible for changes in how we interact with other people. On one hand, the ‘always-connected modern man’ that cannot live without technology has been intensely criticised for losing their humanity and for becoming alienated from their peers. On the other hand, the opposite perspective is equally possible. Who could disagree that having an Internet enabled device hasn’t allowed us to keep in touch with friends from the other face of the Earth?! Both views are not perfect but one thing is sure when we introduce AR in the mix: augmented reality is likely to further expand the gap between pure traditional relations and technology-based ones.

Think about the ‘legendary’ Google Glasses (so much promoted even before being released), and how they could help you (or not!) on a potential date as shown by this spoof video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhedhC7tXvs

Despite the humoristic angle, this video unveils a potentially disturbing truth, that augmented reality might start playing an active role in our social relationships. From the innocent help it can bring to a date to a long term dependence on AR where we will be able to overlay on our partner’s body the image of anybody. In the future this can be taken one step further; we can have our dream relationship with a character that exists only in our imagination, based on our most personal and intimate specifications. Artificial intelligence, speech recognition and even sensory receptors can make it appear as a real person with whom we can have a discussion and even physical contact.

Despite the lengthy blog post, this only covers a small percentage of the effects augmented reality could have on our lives in the not too far future. The amount of interaction and merger between our reality and the augmented one is difficult to quantify, but one thing is for sure: it is already happening. The move from the gimmick phase to the practical and functional phase of this technology is revealing a new set of questions and possible concerns, whose answers will set the direction of the AR (r)evolution.

What other social implications do you think should be considered when talking about the future co-habitation between our reality and the augmented reality? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Augmented Reality App ‘Translates’ Newspaper Articles

Augmented Reality App that Translates Newspapers ArticlesHow often did it happen as a child to read one of your parents’ newspapers and to not get much out of it? The language was difficult for a child to understand; the subject was presented in a boring way and the images weren’t very attractive either. This is all about to change (according to a Japanese company). A new augmented reality application claims to be able to ‘translate’ newspapers articles into child-friendly versions.

The idea is not necessarily new but augmented reality makes it easier to be put into practice. A child can now wave their smartphone’s camera (with a preinstalled app) over one of the news articles and it comes to life. Animated characters pop up and explain the text, rewriting it in a child-friendly manner and thus making the subject more interesting and interactive.

Using image recognition, the app actually shows a pre-written version of the article, and does not ‘translate’ the text in real time. We are still far away from a full semantic recognition and interpretation of written documents, although small steps are being made in this direction. Until this becomes reality, all articles have to be written twice (in a normal format and in a child-friendly one) which requires more work and raises a number of questions.

If a newspaper already puts all this time and work in creating both an adult and a child-friendly article, why don’t they create a child focused website where they can post everything? It requires less effort from children and it is not dependent on a smartphone (although this might not be a problem in Japan). Has anybody done any research to see if children actually want this? How long will it be until they get bored in waving their smartphone over these newspapers?

Although this app might not be more than a PR stunt, the idea of presenting different versions of the content to younger and older audiences might prove highly beneficial for many newspapers and magazines who are struggling to engage with a younger audience. However, the current AR technology is used as nothing more than a gimmick and until digital semantic interpretation becomes reality, traditional websites with different versions of the same content are still the way forward.

3D Printing In the News

3D Printed Nokia Lumia 820 CoversThe year has only started and 3D printing already tops the list of the most talked about technologies of 2013. And we are not talking only about technology blogs, small online communities or tech start-ups, but about mainstream media and technology giants.

Nokia is one of the first smartphone manufacturers to back up 3D printing by releasing to the public a set of documents, templates, recommended materials and best practices that will allow anybody with some 3D printing knowledge and a 3D printer to ‘manufacture’ their own cases for the Nokia Lumia 820. Referred to as the 3D printing development kit (3DK), this will allow enthusiasts to create their own personalised shell with ruggedized margins, dust protection or even wireless charging capabilities. In the future Nokia envisions selling some sort of phone template which will then be customised on a local level by companies specialised in 3D printing who also know the needs of their community better.

Although this does not look like a major breakthrough in the 3D printing world, the fact that names such as Nokia and BBC (that quickly reported this announcement on their website) back up this technology gives it credibility and momentum.

Another 3D printing news story, although on a bigger scale, comes from Netherlands where an architect plans to 3D print buildings with a futuristic shape (a continuous loop with only one side) as early as 2014. Large scale 3D printing is not a new subject in the additive manufacturing landscape however no other projects have been given a deadline until now. It remains to be seen if this is realistic or only an optimistic goal.

This mainstream awareness of 3D printing is expected to continue for the whole 2013 and comes to no surprise for many, considering the multitude of benefits and advantages it has versus the traditional mass manufacturing processes.