Innovation Nation: Project Loon

Originally published at http://www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog

project-loon

There’s nothing worse for most people  in today’s world than a spotty wi-fi connection. It interrupts your work, your play–even some applications you don’t even realize you rely on can be impacted by a faulty wireless connection. But, many people forget that, as annoying as .1kpbs per second downloads are, there are large swathes of the world with little to no access to the internet at all. These areas tend to be low-income, rural, and forgotten by mainstream society. With information access being redefined as a human right, the gap between those with internet access and those without has served to reinforce power imbalances as old as society, creating an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Enter Project Loon.

Google, ever determined to usher us into the future of our collective imaginations, has begun an initiative to bring internet access to the most remote areas of the world. This project could mean that billions of people in regions like India could gain internet access for the first time. It isn’t hard to imagine a future where all of our internet operates on satellite systems as opposed to the underground and undersea wiring system we have used since the ‘net was born.

The “Loon” in Project Loon is short for ‘balloon’, referring to the weather-balloon-like apparatus used to keep the transmitters in the air. They are deployed to 20km over the Earth, in that ambiguous area between space and the atmosphere. Perhaps in the future, this technology will be upgraded to full-on satellites as opposed to the balloon-sattelite-hybrid seen here.

What do you think of this new technology? What will the internet look like when its population suddenly swells by, potentially, billions of new users? How will this change the economic landscape of the net? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Innovation Nation: The Pilot

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One of the most frustrating experiences in life can be trying to communicate with someone who does not speak your language. If you neither of you are familiar with the other’s language, it can quickly become a frustrating exercise in futility.

The universal translator has been a staple of science fiction since the mid-1900s, first appearing in the 1945 novella “First Contact”. While it has, for many years, been regarded as a nearly impossible device by linguists, it seems we are on the cusp of having this technology for ourselves. Meet The Pilot.

The Pilot has the capability to translate French, Italian, and Spanish into English in real time. Just hook it up to your phone’s companion app and select the language you’re listening to, and in theory, you will receive a real time translation. The project raised $1.8 million on Indiegogo, and will be available, in theory, in the coming months.

It seems too good to be true, but only time will tell whether or not it is truly viable. If it does work, we can all rest assured that soon no traveler will go anywhere without them.

Interested in getting one the minute it comes out? You can sign up at http://www.waverlylabs.com/ for updates and a coupon when the device is released.

What language would you most want to see on The Pilot? Let us know in the comments.

Design Spotlight: The Gloves that Speak Sign Language

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Quick. When’s the last time you had a conversation in sign language?

If you’re like the majority of Americans, your answer to that is most likely “never”. Maybe you learned a little in elementary school– enough to perform a song, or say the alphabet– but unless you’re deaf yourself, or have a deaf family member, chances are you never learned to converse. The hearing community tends to rely on the deaf to be able to lip read, or to have an interpreter. This is in spite of the fact that between 500,000 and 2 million Americans communicate primarily in ASL. In fact, more Americans use Mandarin Chinese in their daily communication than ASL. Many family members of the deaf don’t even learn ASL. The question remains: why not?

Well, that question may be about to become moot. Thanks to an enterprising pair of undergraduate students at the University of Washington, the hearing impaired and the hearing-privileged may finally be able to communicate freely and easily, without any of that pesky learning curve.

They call their invention “SignAloud”. The idea is so simple and elegant that it’s a wonder no one came up with it sooner: a set of gloves which translate sign language gestures into audible speech. As recently as 10 years ago, devices like these would have been seen as sci-fi flights of fancy, but as computer technology continues to decrease in size, technology is able to advance that much quicker.

The gloves are lightweight, with sensors throughout the fingers and a computing system around the wrists. The sensors detect gestures and translate them into speech. The goal is to make them as lightweight and ergonomic as possible, allowing them to become an everyday use item, such as glasses or a hearing aid.

While right now, the gloves can only translate a few hundred words, the future is bright. With any luck, we will see this device hit the market soon, and open up a whole new world of communication.

Originally posted at http://www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog

Quicksilver Spotlight: Hertha Marks Ayrton, First Lady of Engineering

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Originally posted at quicksilver-mfg.com/blog/

When you think of engineering in the 1800s, many things come to mind. The industrial revolution, the steam engine, and figures like Thomas Edison and, if you’re particularly nerdy, Nikola Tesla. Lesser known, however, were the female engineers of the time. Thankfully, we live in the information age, and so information on the more obscure figures of history is easier to come by than ever. Thanks to Google, last month Hertha Marks Ayrton was honored: a Polish-born British engineer, physicist, and inventor who, without the internet, might have been lost to history along with dozens of other female innovators who lived before women were allowed to wear pants.

Hertha was one of nine children and grew up with only her mother, as her father died when she was 7. She became a governess by age 16, but wished to further her education and enrolled in courses in mathematics and physics at Cambridge. There, she constructed a blood pressure meter, lead the school’s choral society, founded the Girton fire brigade and founded a mathematical club. While she did not receive a degree, as Cambridge did not award degrees to women at the time, she later took an exam at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree in 1881 on her successful completion of the exam.

She returned to London and earned money however she could. At the same time, she took care of a sick sister. She took up teaching mathematics, running a club for working girls, and embroidery. In this time, she also patented her first invention. In her lifetime, she would patent 26 inventions.

In 1885, she began experimenting with electricity alongside her husband, Professor William Edward Ayrton. She began studying the electric arc in this time, and published a paper of her findings on the subject. She brought the paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the first woman to do so, and she was elected to the IEE shortly thereafter–also the first woman to achieve membership. The next would be in the mid-1900s. She also had her paper brought before the Royal Society and received the Hughes Medal, becoming the first woman to receive a prize from the Society and one of only two female recipients in its history, despite the fact the award has been given out annually since 1902.

Her works became internationally recognized, and over the next five years, her work became gospel in the field of electrical engineering. While at first, many institutions were hesitant to accept the works of a woman, her brilliance was undeniable, even in the face of the backwards attitudes towards women of the time.

Ayrton’s work in breaking into the sciences allowed other women to follow suit, though even in 2016, there’s a long way to go. You can read more about Hertha Marks Ayrton at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hertha_Marks_Ayrton.

Tech Trends: Special Delivery – Who needs a Gas Station?

It seems the world can’t get enough of Silicon Valley startup apps. From Paypal to Uber to Slack, it seems we as a whole are ready for all of our day to day tasks to be relegated to our smartphones. While we are a solid seven years past “There’s an app for that”, it seems it is truer now than ever. But many of these apps aren’t just making life more convenient for a select few. Companies like Uber are up-ending the entire taxi industry and reshaping economies. As the landscape of day to day life rapidly shifts, lawmakers, established industries, and other entrepreneurs all scramble to keep up. Perhaps no where is this truer than in the emerging “gas on demand” industry.

Over the last year, several startups in California have begun developing apps and fleets to deliver gasoline straight to your car. It’s a little pricier than getting it from a gas station; while the gas prices will be calculated based on the cheapest stations available in your area, all of the apps charge an additional delivery fee, which can sometimes add about 50 cents per gallon. Still, the service has become quite popular throughout California for those who value convenience over saving a few dollars.

Technically, gasoline delivery on this scale is not permitted by many city and county fire codes. These entrepreneurs don’t seem perturbed, though, and see what they are doing as paving the way for new legislation which would allow their businesses, similar to the legal processes happening with regards to Uber. Some of these companies have more stringent safety protocols than others, though, and legislation would help to bring them all up to a standard which is safe for the road.

So, would you pay extra for gas to avoid having to go to the gas station? While the scope of these companies is currently limited to large cities throughout California, and a few others scattered through the country, it will likely not be long before they are within everyone’s reach. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Tech Trends: Holoportation

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Originally posted at http://www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog

Ever since the invention of the internet, it’s become easier every year to stay in touch with old friends, family, and even your business contacts. But most would agree that talking to someone through text, the phone, or even a Facetime call can’t compare to being in the same room as someone. There’s something special about the intimacy of a physical space that a screen just can’t capture.

But what if it could?

Even in the early days of sci fi, we have imagined elaborate technologies that would allow us to be present in two places at once. From the simple blue-tinted holograms of “Star Wars” all the way up to the titular avatars in James Cameron’s “Avatar”, it seems science fiction has covered all manner of methods to travel across nations, and even planets, without the actual travel part.

Well, it seems we might finally be there. New 3D capture technology, combined with virtual reality headsets–which are finally becoming affordable for consumers–have opened the door for Microsoft’s Holoportation, Microsoft version of a hologram. Microsoft’s system is expensive requiring a room full of specialty cameras–but most new technology starts out that way. It isn’t hard to imagine a future where our home, office, schools, even our self driving car incorporates Holoportation technology. If you both have the cameras and headsets, you can interact with each other like you were really in the room together. Applications could range from business to international relations to personal use. Imagine world leaders being able to go to peace talks in “war zones” with no fear of danger, simply by turning on a program. Imagine enabling a Solider to see their child’s first steps, or read their kid’s a bedtime story, overseas in a warzone as if they were in the same room. The implications are far reaching, with the ability to port ourselves anywhere, even the need for conventional transportation would significantly reduce. Imagine for a moment the effects on life as we know it!

What would you do with it?

So how does it work? The program uses a series of cameras to create a 3D image of the subject, and the objects in their room. When you put on a VR headset and connect, you can experience the space as if you were there with the person. Just be careful not to sit on a holo-couch if you don’t have a real one in the same spot.

Still confused? See it in action here:

 

Innovation Nation: Project Ara

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Originally posted at www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog.

Years ago, a video went viral. It proposed a radical change in the way that we view and consume electronics–a phone with exchangable parts, which would allow users to swap out components when they broke, became obsolete, or even just weren’t needed that day. It challenged us to come up with a way to create a modular smartphone that didn’t need to be ‘upgraded’ every 2 years. The plan would reduce costly electronics waste, save consumers money, and allow us all to get out of our phones exactly what we wanted.

 

A bigger camera? Sure, you could get a module for that. Better battery life? No problem. Just want a phone to make calls with? The fully customizable nature of the phone would allow you to choose the most cost-effective components and cut out all the bells and whistles.

The video spread like wildfire, and the idea was picked up by Google. Prototypes were made. Teams were created and shifted. Programs were written, then re-written. And then, after months and months of progress updates and tech demos, Project Ara, as it was dubbed by Google, went dark.

The challenges of designing a modular phone were certainly greater than imagined by the creator of the original Phonebloks video. But if Google couldn’t pull it off, who could? The hype died down in the following months of radio silence, and Project was all but buried and forgotten.

But, towards the end of March 2016, some observant tech bloggers noticed something–Project Ara’s site had been given a facelift. Currently, it is only one page, emblazoned with a new logo for the project. But, could they be gearing up for something big? Websites cost money, and it’s hard to see even Google bothering to update the site if they weren’t planning on going somewhere with it.

While we’re not holding our breath for the rumored 2016 launch, we may see more on Project Ara soon. The fantasy of the ‘last phone you’ll ever buy’ isn’t dead yet.

Would you buy a modular phone? What components would you want to put on yours? Let us know in the comments.

Rapid Randomness: The 3D Printed Dress

When you think about 3D printing, the last thing you probably think about is “fashion”. Not so for Nervous System, however, a leading company in creading 3D printed “cloth”, accessories, and more.

 

The company has created a process using 3D printed “petals” to create a cloth-like material which can be made into clothing. The video above shows the intuitive process by which users can design a dress just for them.

Don’t get too excited just yet–at the moment, just one dress can run you $3000. But the company is always looking for ways to bring down the price, and they have a wide variety of stunning 3-D printed jewelry available for purchase through their website.
So what do you think? Will we all be running around in 3D printed jumpsuits ten years from now? Or does that sound too uncomfortable? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Originally posted at http://www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog.

Quicksilver Life: How to Make a Genius

Those with kids in school may be familiar with the United States’ reputation in the education world. We barely make the top 1/3rd of countries in terms of math, science, and literacy education. But a new method of learning, facilitated by technologies like the internet, may be emerging in countries like India and Mexico.

When you walk into an American classroom and see a group of students huddled around a computer, your first reaction may be to wonder where the teacher is. Indeed, in America, that’s generally a sign that a student is playing a game, goofing off on Facebook, or any one of the infinite, unproductive things one can do on a computer. But if you walked into the classroom of Sergio Juárez, a teacher at the José Urbina Lopéz Primary School, you may be surprised to find the exact opposite is happening.

Using a method first tested by Indian teacher Sugata Mitra, Sergio gave his students access to information on a computer and asked them to research a topic for him. He found this method was by and large more effective than the cookie-cutter, industrial revolution-styled classroom in helping students to retain information. They tackled complex subjects, such as molecular biology, from the start, and were more effective in answering questions on the subject than when they had been taught simpler subjects in the by-the-book, dry lecture format that the Mexican, American, and many other world education systems purport as the standard.

This idea extends into moving education resources into the cloud, where anyone with an internet connection could access them. This could ensure that all students, regardless of their place of birth, have access to the same quality education materials. Teachers around the world could host video conferences with hundreds of classrooms at once, teaching materials in more effective ways than previously thought possible. The benefits of the system are still being explored, but early research is encouraging. It seems that putting children in charge of their education by having them research it independently works wonders.

So what are your thoughts on this approach? Do you think students should be encouraged to use the internet as a tool of learning? Or do you think we should stick to the “by-the-textbook” methods which have landed the United States 49th of the 148 developed countries in terms of its education quality? Let us know in the comments.

Originally posted at http://www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog.

Tech Trends: Project Loon

 

There’s nothing worse for most people in today’s world than a spotty wi-fi connection. It interrupts your work, your play–even some applications you don’t even realize you rely on can be impacted by a faulty wireless connection. But, many people forget that, as annoying as .1kpbs per second downloads are, there are large swathes of the world with little to no access to the internet at all. These areas tend to be low-income, rural, and forgotten by mainstream society. With information access being redefined as a human right, the gap between those with internet access and those without has served to reinforce power imbalances as old as society, creating an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Enter Project Loon.

Google, ever determined to usher us into the future of our collective imaginations, has begun an initiative to bring internet access to the most remote areas of the world. This project could mean that billions of people in regions like India could gain internet access for the first time. It isn’t hard to imagine a future where all of our internet operates on satellite systems as opposed to the underground and undersea wiring system we have used since the ‘net was born.

The “Loon” in Project Loon is short for ‘balloon’, referring to the weather-balloon-like apparatus used to keep the transmitters in the air. They are deployed to 20km over the Earth, in that ambiguous area between space and the atmosphere. Perhaps in the future, this technology will be upgraded to full-on satellites as opposed to the balloon-sattelite-hybrid seen here.

What do you think of this new technology? What will the internet look like when its population suddenly swells by, potentially, billions of new users? How will this change the economic landscape of the net? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Originally posted at http://www.quicksilver-mfg.com/blog.