Friday, May 13, 2016

Virtual Reality Family Road Trip

I was inspired by this story to consider the possibility that the growing popularity of "virtual tours" could be extended to a multi-user experience. What if a grandparent could enter the virtual version of their childhood home or town with their grandchildren, no matter how far apart they actually lived? They could walk the streets together, visit the old school, park, etc.? All the old stories told could come to life. A true trip down memory lane.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Phone I Want

Sure, the newest phones are pretty cool. Bigger screens, faster processors, better data speeds, but there are a couple of big things that phones don't (and can't) really have that would make them the ultimate killer device for me. These things are either a) already on the market, or b) logical extensions of things that are out there.

Here's what I want:

1) A full-size keyboard. Obviously, a phone can't have this directly. It would make the phone too big to be useful. However, there are devices that use infrared technology to project a full-size keyboard onto any flat surface, such as this. If this technology could be made small enough to fit inside a standard smartphone, (say with the aperture next to the front-facing camera), that would work for me.

2) A bigger screen. Now, I don't want my phone to have a 13" screen. That's what my laptop is for. However, I still can't really get into watching TV and movies on even a 5" screen. So, why not include a miniature HD projector like this one in the back of the phone? Again, it's still too big right now, but if the components can be smaller, there is no reason not to make this happen.

3) Bigger touch screen. Combine the first two ideas, and I can see a future in which the phone has two projectors, one facing front and one facing back. Stand the phone up, and the front-facing projector gives you a large touchscreen (using the infrared technology) that you could manipulate, just like any other touchscreen device, while the rear-facing projector mirrors the screen onto the wall for viewing by others.

Also, if the components are small enough, and you can project the touchscreen onto any surface, it would do away with the need for the phone itself to have a large screen, paving the way for the phones themselves to stop creeping up in size, which is good...unless they can come up with a way to make pockets bigger on the inside.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

If I could hire Apple to design my kitchen...

There are lots of technologies out there that I would love to combine to create a kitchen that would let me save money, reduce waste, and cook much healthier meals for my family. Here's a scenario:

I am thinking about dinner, so I pull up the kitchen app. The app pulls data from the RFID chips in all of the products currently in my refrigerator and cabinets. An inventory is generated of everything currently at my disposal, and sensors check for chemical signatures that indicate which foods are closest to expiration and/or spoilage.

With the list of supplies and priorities compiled, the app culls through a list of my most frequently prepared recipes, as well as scanning popular food sites for related recipes. A list of possible menu items is presented to me, along with rankings based on preparation and cook times, difficulty, and reviews by other users. Another list is also provided that offers additional recipes that could be prepared by purchasing an additional ingredient or two.

I select the meal I want to prepare, and choose the time that I want to eat. The over sets itself to preheat at the appropriate time, and a reminder is added to my calendar that will alert me when I should begin preparations. When the time comes, digital balances built into the counters will ensure that I prepare the appropriate portions of each dish.

At the beginning of each week, the inventory is updated, menu options for the following weeks are suggested, including options that take advantage of coupons and special offers from the grocery store, as well as the expected share of my local consumer supported agriculture pick-up. I can choose meals that I want to plan for the week, and a shopping list is generated.

If the kitchen could be integrated with ordering software at the grocery store, I could have my entire order waiting for me when I arrive, or better still, have the items I select delivered right to my door. RFID chips in the new items are catalogued, and the process begins again.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The End of Long-Term Parking?

Our cars are becoming more autonomous and more connected. In the next decade, there is the possibility that cars themselves will take over much of the responsibility of driving, moving and communicating with one another in swarms that reduce traffic and save time.

Cars are becoming ever more connected to the web, with social networking and mapping applications being integrated into the cars themselves, and connections over wireless broadband networks.

If the car is able to navigate without a driver at the wheel, perhaps it could park itself, after dropping us off at the entrance to the mall.

Taking this a step further, imagine arriving at the airport, getting ready to depart on a family vacation for a week. Instead of dealing with remote parking lots, shuttle buses, and hundreds of dollars in parking fees, the car pulls away from the curb...and goes home.

The car can then monitor the airline website, watching for your flight information to be updated, taking into account delays, cancellations, baggage wait times, etc.. Planning to arrive at the optimum time, the car pulls itself out of the driveway, drives to the airport, and waits in a holding area until it detects your cell phone's GPS signal approaching the pick-up area.

Why can't we make this happen?

So, I was outside this afternoon, wrestling with hoses and sprinklers, trying to do the calculus in my head to find the combination that would allow me to water my irregularly shaped lawn without multiple trips to move things around, and it hit me: There are robot lawn mowers, why not a robotic lawn irrigation system? So, here's my pitch:

The basic principle is exactly the same as a robot lawn mower (Lawnbott ) - you set the boundaries of your lawn using perimeter wire that the unit can sense.

The Irrigator-inator (TM) fills up a tank from a docking station connected to your hose, moves through your lawn spraying a predetermined amount of water per square foot. It returns to the docking station to refill or recharge as necessary.

You can program the unit to water at specific times of day, or only on certain days. Ideally, the system would also include a sensor that could be inserted into the soil periodically to test the moisture level, reducing the amount of water applied if the ground is already wet.

Add a Wi-Fi connection and a weather app, and the unit could even autonomously skip watering on days that have a certain probability of precipitation.

OK, people, let's get to it!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mind over matter

So, on one front, the ways in which we interface with technology continue to become less and less about typing, and more and more about things like gestures, voice, vision, and even thoughts.

On another front, 3D printers and nanotechnology are continuing to advance in the number of tasks that they can perform.

On a third front, various radio transmission and receiving technologies continue to get smaller and smaller.

So that got me to thinking: If I could control a swarm of nanobots with my thoughts (even with a few simple commands), and those nanobots could manipulate matter at the molecular level - constructing and deconstructing objects out of carbon nanotubes, for instance - I can see a world in which I could remodel my kitchen, just by thinking about it. Or, say a few extra people show up to dinner, I could transform the bed into extra chairs and extend the table by borrowing some matter from the living room sofa.

I'm sure I'm not the first to think this through, but at a certain point, if I can shift my surroundings at will, reality does in fact become virtual. Of course, if everyone in the house doesn't agree on the decorating choices, it could get messy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Brick and Mortar without the Register

So, this afternoon, I had my first experience with a sort of shopping that's been written about for years. I went into a store, picked up the items I wanted to buy, and scanned the barcodes using the camera on my phone. When I was finished, I used my phone to pay by credit card, and walked out without visiting the register.

Well, that's how it was supposed to work, and for the most part, it did. There were a few glitches: some items were not in the database of the application, and so couldn't be purchased using the app. Entering in my credit card and account information took two tries and about 5 minutes. But, all in all, it's something I would like to try again, and see in more places.

This app was available at Magic Beans stores, and can be downloaded for iPhones and Android
(Magic Beans app). There were a couple of reps from the software company on hand, who were very helpful, and explained that the database was incomplete because the app had been backloaded with the store's stock before launch, and newer items were taking some time to get into the system.

I like shopping in the brick and mortar stores, getting the tactile experience of holding the items, but waiting in line, especially at holiday time, can be a chore. So this is a nice app that I will try again, now that the initial setup has been done. I'd like to see if they could link the phone app to the online store, so that I could shop for someone else, pay for the item while I'm in the store, and have the gift automatically shipped to someone else. Or maybe link in to a video chat, so that I could check in with my wife or brother before buying something for the kids. Hey, while we're at it, why not link to Facebook, and see what my friends recommend?

For a long time, I've been reading about the RFID future, where everything in your shopping cart would be scanned as you walked out the doors, and your account would be charged accordingly. They tried it in Germany back in 2007 (see this PC World article). Stop and Shop has their SCAN IT! system, which I've tried. I'm still looking forward to the day when my fridge and cabinets can keep track of what is inside them, and link up with the Food Network site to suggest recipes based on the ingredients I already have, or generate automatic shopping lists once I choose a menu. When I can do that, and then easily pay for my groceries using my phone, I will be a happy camper.