Hmm, that’s interesting…Our latest take on the IOT
One of my favorite duties in the lab is to keep track of the various internet-connected gadgets that pop up on crowdsourcing websites, trade shows, and around the Internet. These generally fall into two categories: “The world needs this” and “Hmmm. That’s… interesting.” (Quite often, the latter is our polite way of saying “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.” But we never want to be unkind…so we stick with “interesting.”)
We encountered a slew of new connected gadgets in 2015, from awe-inspiring to downright unsettling. Here are some of the head-scratching highlights of this year:
Hello Barbie, $75
Hexo+ Selfie Drone, $1,349
This one is equal parts cool, silly, and unsettling. Hexo+ is a camera-equipped drone that uses pattern-matching technology to follow a given target – think “selfie hovercraft.” The idea is, you can use the app to make the drone follow you at a given speed and distance as you’re shredding some singletrack. Or it can hover around you as you dangle off the face of a mountain. Or catch a wave. You get the idea. This way, you can document your outdoor prowess without bothering your friends to photograph you — or break your neck taking selfies. Other potential uses include investigating insurance fraud, stalking (eww), and following your child to the bus stop. The mind reels!
VVFly Intelligent Snore Stopper, $56
This ear-mounted device from Chinese company VVFly is designed to stop the wearer from snoring, in addition to tracking sleep time and quality. VVFly uses bone conductivity to tell when the wearer is snoring, and then discourages them from doing so with “soothing, gentle voice” in their ear that rouses them just enough to stop the racket. Which is theoretically better than the alternatives: “YOU’RE SNORING!”, or, the elbow treatment. Until they fall right back asleep, of course! We’ll stick with last year’s anti-snoring bed, or just our pointy elbows.
ICPooch Video Treat Dispenser ($100, plus mobile devices)
This device is a prime example of how a gadget can be equal parts brilliant and impractical, depending. The ICPooch treat dispenser was invented by 14-year-old Brooke Martin, and quickly blew past its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. ICPooch provides a two-way video stream between people and furry friends using the companion mobile app (you’ll need a tablet for your pet in addition to your own mobile device in order to do video). You can also dole out treats from afar, using a “drop cookie” button on the app. The dispenser itself connects to WiFi, so you can control it from the app even if the dog’s tablet gets buried in the backyard during your absence.
The concept has a lot of merit — it’s hard to be away from our pets, and ICPooch is a novel way to interact with our furry friends from afar. On the other hand, those of us with very food-motivated pets might think twice about having a fragile screen as the gatekeeper for the dog treats.
This smart garbage can, the brainchild of students at Newcastle University, is designed to analyze and improve trash and recycling habits in its users. Here’s how it works: You throw something away. A camera in the lid of the trash bin takes a photo of your trash. This photo is then sent via Amazon Mechanical Turk — a crowdsourcing marketplace that coordinates human intelligence for tasks that aren’t easily done by computer — to be analyzed by an actual human being (plausibly in a developing nation), to see how much of your trash could have been recycled or composted. While we fully support the mission, we can’t imagine many people paying to have their trash dissected by another person. Oh, and did we mention? BinCam uses Facebook as its platform, so you can easily share (or worry about your trash can accidentally sharing) photos of your garbage with your whole social network.
Um, yeah, no thanks.
Check back next time to see our favorite picks from the best of IoT file!
Refreshing the Stream
Now that Colorado’s epic Indian Summer is officially over, we’re into the season of long nights and TV marathons. And this year, there’s a treasure trove of new OTT content options and refreshed devices to choose sample. Here are some of the new arrivals you might want to check out as we hurtle toward the holiday shopping season:
Apple TV ($199)
Apple TV finally released new hardware this fall — for the first time since 2010 — sticking with a hardware design nearly identical to the last version.
The box is just a fraction of an inch taller, and they’ve given the remote control a refresh too, adding a landscape orientation for gaming. Like all the other devices in this list, the new Apple TV includes a voice search feature – here in the form of the beloved (and/or detested!) Siri.
Google also released an updated version of its popular Chromecast streaming player this Fall, with the same low price point as the original but with a very different design.
The new Chromecast is a complete circle that dangles from a flexible HDMI cable, making it easier to fit into tight HDMI ports. It comes in three color choices (red, black, and yellow) and has three WiFi antennas, for a more reliable connection (the original had but a single antenna).
The new Chromecast also includes a feature called “Fast Play,” which begins pre-buffering videos before you press the play button to cut down on loading times.
Roku 4 ($130)
Roku’s latest flagship device is capable of playing videos at 4K resolution, and also includes a few other features to help sweeten the deal — which is good, because many of us haven’t shelled out for Ultra HD TVs yet, and the 4K content selection is still pretty limited. Our favorite new Roku trick is the way it can page a lost remote control from the Roku 4 box – a big help in houses with dogs, kids, or greedy couches.
The OTT (over-the-top, or available without a pay TV subscription) content selection really took off this year, as did the selection of streaming content available to cable subscribers. HBO and Showtime are now both available as a la carte streaming services ($15 and $11/month, respectively) — a scenario that just three years ago seemed about as likely as a unicorn ride. Here are some other new updates to the streaming content scene:
Playstation Vue ($50/month)
Playstation Vue is a live streaming service that came out in March, but was only available on Playstation consoles . It finally announced expansion to new devices on November 12, starting with Amazon Fire TV devices and expanding to Chromecast in the “near future.” The base package is twice the price of Sling TV, and carries about twice as many channels.
Hulu’s “No Commercials” plan
Hulu started in 2008 with free, browser-only content supported by ads – and when Hulu Plus launched in 2010, it kept the commercials while other premium OTT services streamed ad-free. Hulu finally introduced a “No Commercials” plan, for $12/month, while keeping the $8 plan available for those of us who don’t mind a break in the action.
*There’s always a catch! Be sure to check out the fine print for a handful of shows that are not available commercial-free.
On October 28, YouTube launched its own ad-free streaming service called YouTube Red, for $10/month. Red gets rid of the commercials, and also allows subscribers to download videos for offline viewing. YouTube Red also includes a few features that are often requested by users, including the ability to play content in the background or with the screen turned off – making it easier to use YouTube as a music player, for example. And on that note, the YouTube Red subscription includes access to Google Music’s streaming catalog of 35 million songs (and vice versa, if you’re already a Google Music subscriber). Heads up, Netflix: Google is gunning for you (again!)
To be sure, OTT video has changed a lot (understatement) since we started the blog 4(!) years ago – and while we’re not seeing a lot of new entrants to the device or service categories these days, we’re still seeing plenty of improvements to the user experience. Stay tuned for more updates, including our annual roundup of brilliant and “oh, that’s… interesting” ideas from the Internet of Things.