Google is reportedly putting considerable brain power into a smartwatch and we couldn’t help wondering just what they’d add to the burgeoning technology. More than any other company, Google is positioned to solve the single biggest shortcoming in wearable technology: pattern recognition. What is it about our daily activities makes us fatter, more alert? What helps us get better sleep and be more productive?
Buried within the big data of our everyday decisions are gems of truth about how we can become the best versions of ourselves. Last Summer, Google’s new head of engineering and artificial intelligence pioneer, Ray Kurzweil, let me know his plans to build everyone a “cybernetic friend”.
So, we know Google wants build the perfect lifestyle recommendation engine; a watch that tracks our vital signs and movement could do just that. Here are two things it would need:
Connecting Devices – If I walk an extra 2,000 steps per day, but get less sleep at night, do I still lose weight? It’s really hard to tell, because humans are not naturally good at intuitively assessing cause and effect when there’s more than one variable involved (i.e. we love a good and bad guy).
Self-improvement tech has consumers up to their eyeballs in smart scales, watches, headbands, and apps. Only a device that vacuums up this data and mines it for patterns could make these devices useful.
In the (very) near future, health devices are going to able to assess our productivity and eating habits as well. The Muse, for instance, is a brain-wave sensing headband that can monitor our levels of concentration throughout the day. Google’s watch could easily sync with the muse and let me know if my focus goes up on days that I do interval sprints or go to bed earlier.
We hope Google puts the lion’s share of its brain power into the software of the Smartwatch.
The Latest In Vital Sign Monitoring - Steps taken, body temperature, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, motion tracking–all of these measures can be combined to learn essential aspects of our fitness. For instance, the Basis B1 smartwatch is the only wrist health tracker on the market to measure the stage of sleep associated with alertness, Rapid Eye Movement, since it has a laser that measures resting heart rate.
Similarly, Polar’s pending smartwatch for athlete’s purports to know when users are under or overtraining based on the variability in heart beats.
Samsung’s Galaxy Smartwatch can even automatically count reps during a workout. The Focus Trainer app assigns users a calisthenic workout and can sense how many pushups are done during each set. I got an early demo and it did a pretty good job sensing my movements.
Over the next year, there will be more devices that won’t even need to be told when users are working out–it’ll just automatically count each rep. Even better, it’ll tell users if they’re form is off.
To date, wearables have been resigned to self-improvement nuts. To mainstream, it’ll have to do the heavy mental lifting for us. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information. Every decision we make about our health and productivity is a data point–data points that desperately need simplification.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Making hardware is easy. Making sex toys and selling them on Kickstarter is, sadly, hard. Though sex toy makers have long been lumped in with pornographers and and other businesses of ill repute, there is a new crop of sex toy makers looking to get real and hit the mainstream. And we must remember that the sex toy industry isn’t some furtive little market. The industry is worth over $15 billion per year and, whether Kickstarter likes it or not, millions of toys are sold per year to millions of happy customers.
It’s time for Kickstarter to experience a sexual awakening. Here’s why.
These toys are far more interesting than some secret massager hidden deep in your dresser. Modern sex toy makers are enabling cloud features, adding powerful silent motors, and expanding their selection from the traditional to the downright exotic. But Kickstarter as a company still can’t figure out its relationship with these devices, despite the fact that many of them clearly fall within the stated guidelines of the crowdfunding platform.
In the past, Kickstarter has ejected a number of projects that went on to blow way past their funding goals on other crowdfunding sites. Yet other products, most notably this MUA sex toy storage box, are accepted on the platform.
For example, Kickstarter rejected Crave Innovations, a company started by serial entrepreneur Michael Topolovac who had previously raised over $35 million for his software startup. In September, some six months after Kickstarter rejected Crave, the company raised $2.4 million from more than 60 prominent angels and entrepreneurs. For the record, that was $400,000 more than Topolovac had asked for to fund his first batch of toys.
In fact, after launching the Duet (Crave’s first pleasure product) on an alternative crowdfunding site CKIE, Crave blew past its $15,000 goal in the first two days, landing $100,000 in six weeks.
Meanwhile, Kickstarter also rejected LovePalz, a Wifi-powered set of devices that mimic sexual behavior remotely AKA teledildonics. In other words, one partner could feel the movements of their partner with a boy version (Zeus) and a girl version (Hera). The company claims to have sold 10,000 pieces since February, when the product officially launched. Each sells for $189, which accounts for a little under $2 million in sales.
Vibease, a company that created app-controlled vibrators in 2012, first tried to go the Kickstarter route before being rejected and instead used Indiegogo. With a goal of $30,000, Vibease went on to raise $130k during the summer campaign with shipments heading out in January.
Vibease is currently raising a seed round.
It would be OK if Kickstarter were consistent with its no-sex stance. But even though sex toys are out, misogynistic pick-up artist guides are fine.
This summer, for example, Kickstarter allowed a seduction guide with ethically questionable advice for men. Kickstarter grappled with removing the book before letting it live on, deciding that the 2 hours left on the campaign wasn’t enough time to investigate.
It all started after a comedian named Casey Malone wrote a blog post about the seduction guide, posting offensive excerpts from it. The author, Ken Hoinsky, argues that these quotes were taken out of context and were meant to inspire confidence, not violence.
Kickstarter later apologized for letting that kind of content live on the site and banned seduction guides.
But it seems the cold winter of sexual squeamishness is thawing. A designer named Lidia Bonilla launched the MUA box. That product lived on Kickstarter and eventually reached its funding goal. In Bonilla’s defense, however, she paid careful attention to Kickstarter’s guidelines to ensure that the project would be accepted on the end-all, be-all crowdfunding platform.
So with all this back and forth and outright banning, what exactly do Kickstarter’s guidelines say about sex-related products?
Well, nothing actually.
Privately, the company has told rejected parties that they don’t accept vibrators at all, but this isn’t stated anywhere in the guidelines. I spoke to Kickstarter representatives repeatedly about this and they refused to go on the record but suggested that they haven’t figured out the rules internally.
Kickstarter starts out by giving two overarching guidelines: First, everything must be a project, which means that it has a clear end, a completion date of some sort, and that something will be produced as a result of the project’s completion. The second is that every project must fit into one of the following categories: Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology, and Theater.
Like any other hardware project on Kickstarter, the above sex toys would definitely be considered “projects”. They would also clearly pass muster of being either a technology or design project. Even both in some cases, as they evolve the original design of sex toys and include features never-before-seen in sex toys thanks to Wifi, various sensors, Bluetooth, and other improvements.
“We don’t curate projects based on taste. Instead, we do a quick check to make sure they meet these guidelines,” reads the website.
Then, the company moves beyond these main guidelines into more specific rules. None of them relate to sex toys at all, except for one:
No offensive material (hate speech, etc.); pornographic material; or projects endorsing or opposing a political candidate.
The pornographic material bit is unclear. One can assume that any Kickstarter video that shows sex or feigns sex of any kind is considered pornographic, but is a sex toy (independent from people or a sexual scenario) considered pornographic? And more importantly, should it be?
The MUA box, for example, shows various sex toys within the promotional video. They aren’t being used, but rather are stored in a pleasure product organizer. So what is the difference between the MUA video and, say, this video, submitted by Crave?
Both are informational, focused on the product, its design, and its viability as a business.
The LovePalz video is admittedly more racy than the other two, but does that mean that two people, fully dressed, in a bed together is pornographic?
Am I splitting hairs? Perhaps. But is Kickstarter’s policy on sex toys important? Absolutely.
It’s 2014, people.
There was a time when a woman’s sexuality was seen as a disruption to man’s harmonious relationship with God or the State. As recently as the fifties, Freud argued that women should only achieve vaginal orgasms. If they couldn’t, they were a failure. If they could achieve clitoral orgasm, on the other hand, they were considered masculine or immature. That is wrong.
Before vibrators were a key function of our smartphones or our sex toys, they were first invented to help male doctors treat female hysteria. Instead of wearing out their wrists masturbating women (yes, this happened), they just built a steam-powered vibrator.
And yet look how far we’ve come. In the U.S., we’re more sexually liberated than we’ve ever been. Sex toys are fun, flashy, and no longer objects of derision. Sex has driven almost every major breakthrough in technology in the past few decades. The internet speaks for itself — sex is everywhere. The invention of chat gave us cyber sex. The ubiquity of video on the internet started with the desire to digitize porn. Even new technology like Vine and Instagram and Snapchat left us with Vineporn and Nastygrams and Snap Spam.
So why should participants in the hardware revolution miss out?
Despite multiple requests to discuss the line between pornographic and not, Kickstarter offered no clarification. But that’s their right.
If they worry that a teenager might see a sex toy on the site, the company has every right to avoid that scenario, no matter how ridiculous the concern might be. (Most sex toy sites don’t have an 18+ gate. If a teenager wants to find sex on the internet, Kickstarter is the last place they’d go.) Still, if Kickstarter is concerned about sexual or adult content, the crowdfunding site can simply exclude sex toy makers from the service.
What’s not so cool is the fact that Kickstarter can’t give more insight into the line between too sexy and suitable. Why does a box that stores sex toys make it on the site but a discreet vibrator gets rejected?
Entrepreneurs for hardware companies have to be as frugal as possible because they’re building something physical that costs money to make and to distribute. Kickstarter has made that journey easier for many of them, who can afford to make a few prototypes, a nice video, and send in an application. But not for those who make sex toys. They are forced to go to other crowdfunding sites (and still succeed wildly) after wasting time and resources on Kickstarter.
Maybe Kickstarter isn’t the home for makers?
The sex toy industry is worth $15 billion annually. Breakthrough technologies like the smartphone, various sensors, and the ubiquity of connectivity have paved the way for a true era of disruption in the sex toy industry, transforming what has long been a store full of awkward, dick-shaped vibrators into shelves full of connected, intuitive, design-centric pleasure products.
Kickstarter has the opportunity to be a part of this just as much as it has the right to avoid this sexually charged hardware revolution. That decision is entirely up to the company. Where Kickstarter shouldn’t have a choice is in the guidelines regarding what is accepted and what isn’t.
The Kickstarter business is entirely dependent on entrepreneurs. By alienating certain entrepreneurs, or being unclear about the guidelines of the platform, Kickstarter is ultimately damaging the key to its own success, as well as the success of these sex toy makers.
People want to get off. Why won’t Kickstarter let them?
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Like most people, I depend on fast-paced music to stay motivated during my workouts, which usually consist of running around a park or flailing along to cardio fitness videos. But even adding new tracks to my playlist isn’t enough to keep me from getting bored sometimes. That’s where the Jalapeño Beat Maker comes in. It’s a portable device that you can attach to your workout gear or wear, and it remixes music in real-time based on your movements. You can hear the fruits of your labor through an Android or iOS app. The waterproof Jalapeño Beat Maker was created for snowboarding and other action sports, but its settings can be customized for a wide range of activities.
The Jalapeño Beat Maker was developed by Beat Farm, a startup that creates music-driven products, and its Kickstarter page just launched today. The project has already raised $3,700 in the past few hours, so it has a decent chance of reaching its $53,000 goal by Feb. 7. The device starts at $199 for an early bird package, with an estimated delivery date of October 2014.
Beat Farm was founded by John Huncher, Ben Harmer and Kenneth Liew, who met while studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s Integrated Product Design graduate program. The Jalapeño Beat Maker combines the team’s love of action sports and music.
Harmer has been playing the drums and skiing since he was 10 years old. Liew studied the piano when he was growing up, then started DJing in college. Huncher is an avid hockey player and snowboarder who enjoys music despite being afflicted with what he describes as “questionable” musical skills and tastes.
While developing the Jalapeño Beat Maker, the three “went out and conducted research and ethnographic interviews to see what was out there and what people really wanted and needed,” they told me in an email. ”Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the mountain [snowboarding] with headphones in, rocking out to their MP3 players or smartphones. Six or seven years ago, that really wasn’t the case. Snowboarding is naturally rhythmic, so it clicked that maybe there’s a way we can use music to accent the awesome moments in your ride and ultimately create a better experience.”
The Beat Farm team came up with the Jalapeño Beat Maker’s concept a year and a half ago. Since then, they have refined its design, engineering and user experience. The name Jalapeño was chosen because it describes the experience they want users to have: an extra layer of fun on an experience that’s already exciting. The pepper’s size and shape also helped guide the design of the prototype.
“We wanted to create something that somewhat resembled a jalapeño, but wasn’t literal–something visually exciting but also functional. It needed to be durable, waterproof, and compact (like the size of a jalapeño),” Liew explains.
The Jalapeño Beat Maker has two modes. The multi-track model lets you select and mix up to four track layers (including drums, guitar, bass or vocals) created by Beat Farm’s “farm-ily” of artists. Tracks are synced so they stay in tune and in rhythm to your movements. The one-track mode, on the other hand, works with the music already on your smartphone, and is currently in early beta stage.
The team describes multiple uses for the Jalapeño Beat Maker besides adding an extra piquancy to snowboarding and skiing sessions. For example, bikers and break dancers can use it, as seen in the gif above. Musicians can perform with the device or use it to modify their tracks. I haven’t gone skiing in a long time, but I think Jalapeño Beat Maker might make following along to fitness videos or jogging a lot more fun and keep me motivated. Tracks made using the Jalapeño Beat Maker can be exported into video editing software. It can even be used to keep hyperactive children entertained.
“Some people have suggested putting it on their kids or their dogs (not that the two are the same) and have them run around,” says Liew. “We want to try it on a lawnmower.”
Ultimately, the team says the want the Jalapeño Beat Maker “to change the way people create and experience music,” regardless of whether or not they are experienced musicians or athletes.
“At the end of the day, it isn’t really about taking things too seriously but about having fun,” says Liew. ”If we can motivate people to get out there, to move and create, that’s just the kind of extra spice we like.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Mobile health tech startup Healint wants to make life better–and safer–for patients suffering from neurological conditions like strokes, epilepsy and migraines. Their first product, Android app JustShakeIt, is an emergency alert system triggered by shaking a smartphone. You can help its development by signing up for the app’s public beta test.
JustShakeIt is only the beginning for the startup. Healint’s co-founders say their upcoming products will focus on preventative care and helping patients monitor their health between doctor visits. The startup has received early funding from JFDI.Asia‘s accelerator program, as well as individual investors in India, Europe, Japan and Singapore. It is currently seeking pre-seed funding.
Co-founder Francois Cadiou says Healint is developing predictive analysis tools using smartphone sensors and proprietary algorithms to help identify warning signs for chronic neurological conditions.
JustShakeIt is designed to let people who are at risk for strokes and other conditions send an alert to their caregivers by shaking their smartphones, which sends a SMS and email blast to designated recipients with the user’s real-time location. The company hopes to log at least 5,000 active usage hours on each of the 10 Android smartphone models they are currently testing to maximize the app’s reliability. JustShakeIt completed its close beta testing round by 50 active users earlier this year.
The app uses Healint’s machine learning algorithms and data sourced from users to continuously improve the reliability of the app. Strokes can affect a person’s ability to speak, see and move, so JustShakeIt was designed to be operated with one hand. The app runs in the background and works without needing to unlock the smartphone.
The team’s tasks during public beta testing include ruling out movements that can accidentally trigger the app, so users can keep their smartphones in their pocket or bag without worrying about false alarms. Low battery consumption is also key; JustShakeIt is designed to run in the background, but use less power per day than the equivalent of a five-minute phone call.
The status of the public beta, with current test results for each Android smartphone, is currently available on Healint’s site. The startup says they are ranking which devices collect the most accurate data so they can recommend certain smartphones to patients.
Though its products will be available for users around the world, Healint is headquartered in Singapore because the country’s high smartphone penetration rate and rapidly increasing number of older residents gives the startup a good test market.
Healint’s team all have backgrounds in the pharmaceutical or med-tech industries. CEO and co-founder , is also the founder of Asia’s INSEAD Healthcare Alumni Network, a group for people in the pharmaceutical, med-tech and bio-tech industries. Veronica Chew, Healint’s CMO and co-founder, was a global project manager GE Healthcare. Lead researcher Edouard Amouroux, is a data scientist who focuses on behavior modeling using Agent-based modeling methods, which help simulate social interactions.
For Cadiou, Healint’s mission is personal.
“My father had two strokes and we saw that there was a need to be able to make life simpler and safer for those types of patients and work better with doctors,” he tells me. The startup has collaborated with neurologists and neurosurgeons from hospitals in Singapore including Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles, Raffles and Tan Tock Seng, as well as patients, to get product design feedback.
Healint uses sensors in smartphones instead of wearable tech devices because people are used to carrying a mobile phone with them everywhere, Cadiou explains.
“You cannot ask a patient with a neurological condition to wear a lot of sensors because that changes his behavior,” he says. “You have to find a way to measure the patient’s quality of life without changing his behavior massively. You have moments where they forget their Fitbit, for example, so you have a chunk of missing data, which is a huge problem in terms of data quality.”
Healint is currently developing tools that can help stroke, epilepsy and migraine patients keep track of their movements and warn them if their health is at risk. Before joining Healint, Amoroux worked on a project in France that made it possible to detect when Alzheimer’s patients needed extra care based on how they were consuming electricity in their homes. The startup hopes to apply to create products that are just as easy to use for patients and caregivers.
For example, the startup is currently working on a tool that can “intelligently display all possible symptoms and warning signs before you have a migraine,” says Chew. “Neurologists sometimes give patients a paper diary but there are things that you can record and things that you can’t. You might remember that you slept five hours last night, but you can’t remember how much you slept last week. We’re looking for more intelligent ways to collect data for patients.”
Other data that Healint’s migraine tool might track include the frequency of headaches during weather fluctuations or the efficiency of certain medications and treatments.
For caregivers, Healint’s tools can collect data that shows how active patients are or how much they sleep. Its founders say that balancing the privacy of users with their safety is a major goal. For example, tools focus on tracking movement, not location.
“For example, I know when my father wakes up, and I can see if he woke up, so I don’t worry. I can also see if he woke up during the night,” says Cadiou. “But you can choose who sees the information. We don’t want people to be pressured by relatives into giving too much information, so we don’t take too much.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Sometimes you just need a robotic cameraman at your side and when you do, the Soloshot is the gadget for the task. Just set it up, strap on a wristband, turn on your video camera and go surf, bike or ski. As long as you’re within about 2,000 feet of the device, it will automatically track all of your movements and capture them for posterity (or your next YouTube hit).
At $299 on Amazon, this isn’t exactly a budget gadget and the first time I heard about it, I couldn’t quite fathom why it would be useful. I’m not exactly into extreme sports, after all, and you won’t see me on a ski slope anytime soon, either. After the company sent me a test unit, though, I have to admit that it’s actually a pretty cool machine.
The design is a bit reminiscent of the equipment you sometimes see surveyors use at the side of the road. It’s functional, sturdy and orange, but it won’t win an award for sleekness. More interesting than its looks, however, is that it actually works. The panning is surprisingly smooth, even as it closely tracks all your movements.
Here is a cool example video that’s pretty representative of the videos you can shoot with the unit:
The unit comes with a tripod, the base station and a wristband. Setting everything up is pretty straightforward. The base station can spin 360 degrees, making it pretty versatile for a number of sports. Because you supply your own camera, it also doesn’t try to zoom for you or do anything else fancy with the image. It’s worth noting, though, that while it tracks you across the horizon, it doesn’t actually tilt up or down.
The wristband is waterproof and should hold its charge for about five hours. You charge it right from the base station and the transmitter has a couple of LEDs that show the status of the unit. This transmitter, too, won’t win any design prizes anytime soon, but it, too, works just as advertised. It’s a bit on the bulky side, but the armband that holds it is comfortable enough that you’ll quickly forget about it.
While the company is mostly gearing its marketing to surfers and motorbikers, I could easily see some college or high school teams buying one or two of these to track players across the soccer or football field during practice.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Anything that encourages people to stop hunching over their iPhones like a tech-literate Mr. Burns is a good thing–especially when it also looks cool and makes fun noises. The AUUG Motion Synth, a grip that attaches to your iPhone or iPod touch and creates sound by tracking your movements through its app, was designed for electronic musicians, but I can see other people using it, like dancers, artists or music teachers looking for an engaging way to teach kids music scales. It recently launched on Kickstarter and is scheduled to start shipping in April if it reaches its fundraising goal.
The AUUG platform, which consists of an aluminum grip with an elastic strap, app and cloud-based platform, can wirelessly control software on a PC or non-wireless music hardware with a MIDI cable. It was developed at product engineering studio SGW Designworks by a team led by neuroscientist Joshua Young, who wanted to release electronic musicians from their laptops and give them a more expressive way of creating sounds and connecting with audiences.
The AUUG app doesn’t product its own sounds, but instead gives users a wide array of options by converting motion data from their iPhones or iPod Touches into signals that are then transferred to other sound apps or external devices. Its performance screen has 8 buttons that line-up with the AUUG grip’s overlay and let musicians play diatonic scales like C Major. Once the AUUG launches, users will be able to connect at www.auug.com to share app presets or setup ideas in an online forum.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Earlier today a Brazilian newspaper broke the story that ABIN, the top intelligence agency in that country, has employed low-tech spying techniques on foreign diplomats.
This is sticky for the country as it has been intensely critical of the NSA and its practices of mass surveillance the world around. If the NSA is spying, and ABIN is spying, do we come to a wash, all walking away simply saying that everyone spies, so calm down?
Not in the least.
Let’s review a few facts. Governments spy. They even joke about how they all do it. This is the normal state of affairs, as it has always been the state of affairs.
Here’s the New York Times discussing Brazil’s efforts to spy on people, as originally reported by Folha de São Paulo:
The statement followed a report in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo describing how the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, commonly known as Abin, had followed some diplomats from Russia and Iran on foot and by car, photographing their movements, while also monitoring a commercial property leased by the United States Embassy in Brasília, the capital.
So, we’re talking about activities so basic that they aren’t uncommon among ex-partners who are a bit hung up on the end of a relationship. And if the United States didn’t expect that its embassies on foreign soil might be target for local surveillance, I’ll shave my head.
Now for context, here’s a partial roll of the NSA’s activities that have been recently revealed:
That’s just a taste and doesn’t include the domestic efforts of the agency and even most of its foreign work.
If governments are going to spy, why am I unhappy with the NSA and its efforts? Because there is a difference between walking behind a visiting diplomat to see where she goes than ending digital privacy for all global citizens. If you can’t feel the difference between the two, I doubt that we are going to be able to come to comity on this issue.
I find it frustrating that people are comparing two things of utter disparate scale as if they are commensurate. They are not.
And no, I would not be either offended or surprised if the United States government dispatches gumshoe hacks to walk 15 feet behind certain diplomats. Sure. Go for it. But the fact that governments do that has nothing to do with the NSA’s offenses to privacy, and therefore democracy. Don’t trivialize the destruction of the fundamental core tenet of democracy.
I know this is terribly radical, but 1) the privacy rights of Americans matter, and 2) the privacy rights of non-Americans do, too.
- Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 27, 2013
Top Image Credit: Mike Vondran
Article courtesy of TechCrunch