Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Windows 10 update

The latest update to the Windows 10 preview is out, Build 10158, with a couple of improvements in addition to the usual bug fixes.

Microsoft Edge:
  • Favorites import from other browsers
  • Home button
  • Password manager with auto-fill and form-fill
  • Drag and drop tabs to a new window
  • Audio works with hidden tabs or minimized tabs
  • Better tablet-mode animations
  • Better support for desktop applications and “modern” apps
  • Swipe up to view All Apps
  • Click a letter heading in All Apps to view a jump grid (like Windows Phone)
  • Flight and package tracking alerts
  • Voice-email now works
  • Office 365 integration features (not in the consumer version I’m using.
Snipping tool and Photos app updated
Surface 3:
  • Works with Windows 10 (previous build had some problems)
  • Better battery life
Windows 10 should be available to the public on July 29.

I've loaded it on a couple of different platforms (a Lenovo touchscreen laptop, an old Dell E6420 and on a Mac Mini running Parallels) and it seems to work fine. 

If you're a Windows 8.1 user, I think you'll like it - Windows 10 is what 8.1 should have been...

See the update from Microsoft for more details:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cellulose recycling into 3D materials

UmeƄ University researchers in Sweden are working on turning cellulose waste material into raw materials for 3D printing - things like doors, frames, walls and, ultimately, complete homes.

Working with Sliperiet, a research coordinator that has just received €1.9 million from the EU, they're developing a regional center for sustainable building.

Along with other researchers in Sweden, they are working on technology to turn scrap wood into building materials - it's a way to recycle carbon from the scrap that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.

While this work is in the early stages there are already some 3D printer "wood/polymer" products (Laywoo-D3, for example) being used to create wood-like objects that can be shaped, sanded and milled like wood.

This is an exciting time in materials science with new products emerging every month.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Office for Android

For those of you who are Android users, here's some good news from Microsoft.

Yesterday they announced Word, Excel and PowerPoint general availability on Android - replacing the older Office Mobile product.

These can work with files from OneDrive, DropBox, Google Drive or Box.  Some business uses:

  • Presenting PowerPoint presentations from your phone
  • Quick reviews and edits of documents 
  • It’s free (however, if you’re a paying Office 365 user, you get additional features)

They require 1GB of memory and Android 4.4.x or above (but not Android M.) Available now on Google Play.

Check out the announcement for more details.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wearable environmental monitor

We’re getting used to wearable computers – things like the Pebble Watch, the Apple Watch, FitBit, etc.

Wearables continue to evolve and one of the newest iterations is the TZOA environmental monitor wearable.

It has 5 sensors to monitor the environment wherever you go:
· Air Quality (particulate matter – 2.5um and 10um)
· Ultraviolet light exposure
· Visible Light
· Humidity
· Temperature

These are monitored real time and the sensor data is uploaded to your smartphone via Bluetooth for reporting and analysis. It’s small (it clips on to your shirt or jacket) and rechargeable.

The information obtained from the TZOA is aggregated by geography, so if many people are using them in one area, you can get an idea of the pollution at different places and times.

They’re currently in Indigogo funding and the earlybird pricing is $119 (retail looks like it will be $139.)

As these devices become smaller and cheaper, they might be used to monitor environmental conditions in and around the plant or office.

Visit TZOA for more information.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Another digital "pen" for capturing notes.

I often take notes on my iPad using a stylus. I've tried so-called "active" styluses, but they're a little slow and I end up having to correct a lot. Even so, I still often take a paper tablet with me to meetings to take notes, then I take a picture of it for storage and throw away the paper.

There are other stylus/pen devices that use special paper with tiny dots on it that the pens use to calculate their position for transcription to digital. The Surface Pro has a special stylus that works great for handwritten notes - but the Surface Pro is also over my budget for a personal device.

The "Phree" pen is currently in Kickstarter (at about 10X their goal) and claims to be the "world's first unrestricted, high resolution, write-virtually-anywhere input device."

The Phree form factor is that of a pen. It allows you to take digital notes as you write them (or paper, your pant leg, dashboard, your hand, etc.) You can use it for handwriting to text transcription, as a Bluetooth mouse, you can even receive, write and send text messages from the display on the device. You can use it to dial your phone by simply writing down the number you want to dial (I'm not sure how much I'd actually use this feature other than in demonstrations....)

It uses a highly accurate and precise sensor to detect your hand writing and you can "write" on virtually any surface. They list compatibility with a number of apps (Office, OneNote, EverNote, Acrobat, Google Handwriting Keyboard, etc.)

It uses a wireless charging case (at additional cost) that works with a wireless charging pad (not included.)

The Kickstarter early-adopter pricing is $168 without a case and $219 with the charging case. They're planning to ship in March of 2016.

See Kickstarter for more info. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Trackpad - with "lasers!"

A couple of years ago, I demoed a gadget called the Celluon Magic Cube laser keyboard – it projects an image of a keyboard on your
desk and you can use it to type into any Bluetooth enabled device.

It was definitely an attention grabber, but it wasn't particularly easy to use – you have to hover your hands over the keyboard (so it’s not good for touch typing) and there are some weird effects trying to use the shift keys. I used it for a couple of weeks, but it just didn't work very well for my purposes - maybe it would have worked better as a portable keyboard for use on a plane?

A variation on that model has been developed that projects a trackpad on your desk. "ODiN" projects the image of a track pad (using a laser...) and uses an infrared projector and cameras to track finger movement and taps. There isn’t any haptic feedback since you’re just tapping on your desk, but it looks like it would be pretty easy to use. Works with anything that accepts a Bluetooth mouse or trackpad (so, no, it doesn’t work with iOS devices.) They say it reduces the potential for carpal tunnel issues and it’s smaller and easier to transport than a trackpad or mouse.

It should be in full production in July and is available for pre-order from the Kickstarter site for about $60:

Here’s a video of it in use.

The only problem I have with it (having only seen pictures of it) is that it looks like the head of a tiny Transformer. I would have preferred a plain, black monolith…

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Every last milliamp

Did you know that when the mouse “battery low” message shows up on your computer that there’s still a lot of  juice remaining in your battery? The voltage has just dropped too low to power your mouse.

One way to get at this wasted power is the “Batteriser” – it’s a very thin cylinder that contains electronics to boost the voltage from your batteries – making a 1.5V battery useable down to 0.6V. 

The Batteriser is a sleeve that you slide your disposable batteries into. It has miniaturized circuitry that maintains 1.5V at the terminals, until the batteries are completely drained. The device is re-usable and should be able to fit in most devices.

I think the next phase should be deploying this technology into the devices themselves. This could also increase the useful battery life of rechargeable batteries as well.

They plan to have it in the market this fall and are targeting 4 for $10.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Personal radar

Yesterday’s post about Google IO mentioned a new technology from the Google ATAP group (Advanced Technology and Products) called Soli. I thought I’d take a few minutes and outline this interesting technology.

Soli is a radar emitter/detector system that sees and interprets hand and finger motions. It is a very small (smaller than a dime) and is designed to be included in smartphones, tablets, PCs, Internet of Things, etc. It is very precise due to its high sampling rate (at 10,000 frames per second) and processing power included on the chip.

During prototyping the device started out the size of a pizza box, and has since been drastically miniaturized to the point that it could be included in smartphones and other consumer products.

It should be available to developers later this year.

Here’s a video demo that shows how it works at a high level. https://youtu.be/0QNiZfSsPc0

Monday, June 1, 2015

So, what happened at Google IO last week?

Every year Google's IO conference has a flurry of announcements. Here's my take on this year's big ones.

Google Inbox is now broadly available. I used it for a few days when it became available by invitation last fall. I don't think I used it long enough, because I went back to the standard email interface after a week or so. If you want to try it, it's available.

The next version of Android, "M", will be available later this year - pre-release available now on Nexus 5, 6, 9, in case you're tired of Lollipop. M is focused on reliability and stability and it looks like they'll be incorporating popular features that carriers have been adding to try to get to a more "standard" platform across carriers. there are some security enhancements as well (authorizing the use of the camera, for instance, on a case-by-case basis.) They’ll also be incorporating a new power-saving "Doze" mode and USB-C support.

Brillo/Weave - a low level Internet of Things operating system and cross-platform language system.

Soli is a very small radar sensor that allows you to use finger movements to do high-precision interactions with your phone/tablet/PC - or even your smartwatch - allowing you to interact without having to deal with a tiny screen.

Google Now is being baked in to lots of apps - to better serve information just when you need it.

Google Maps will be enhanced to support offline maps and navigation later this year.

Google Cardboard virtual reality headset was announced for iOS devices - more on this later.

Project Jacquard is a technology that embeds touch in fabric. They've announced a partnership with Levi to explore this technology.

Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP) is responsible for a bunch of these. The idea is to ramp up short-term projects that can either result in the-next-big-thing or be trashed very quickly. ATAP is responsible for Project Ara, Project Jacquard and Soli (among others.) 

Are you planning to upgrade your Nexus phone to the M preview? If so, I'd be interested in your impressions.