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Category Archives: Innovation

Toyota Unveils Winglet Mobility Robot

This post is syndicated with permission from

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announced today that it was developing what it calls a Personal Transport Assistance Robot known as Winglet. TMC says that it is still in the process of refining the Winglet and it plans the device to be a small and compact robot that will offer ease of movement and expand a user’s range of mobility.

I can’t tell from that description if it intends the Winglet to be a scooter for the masses to use rather than a car, or if this is one sort of assistance device for those with problems walking like the elderly. At any rate, TMC has created three different Winglet models that only vary in how tall they are. The height difference for the models is from the different length handles used that give riders something to grasp.

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Oh Buoy, Something To Keep Your Keys From Disappearing In The Lake

By Jonathan Kimak

I like being out on the water in a boat, be it a kayak or a speedboat. I’m usually pretty good about keeping all my valuables safe from falling overboard and sinking to the bottom of the lake where it will stay forever. But even though I’m careful, it would be nice to have some extra protection, and this is where the Water Buoy comes in handy.

This little device looks like a standard key chain but if (or when) it gets submerged underwater it inflates a balloon that will float it and whatever it’s carrying to the surface.It also has an LED light that will start blinking for up to 24 hours. It can hold up to 1kg(2.2 pounds) so in addition to holding your keys it could hold onto your cellphone or any of your other beloved gadgets. Of course the electronic devices might still be damaged from even a few seconds in water. But at least you’ll be able to retrieve it and have a chance at repairing the damage.

[ Water Buoy ] VIA [ New Launches ]

At Least It Won’t Hit On You When You’re Drunk

By Jonathan Kimak

The Asahi Robot Bartender was unveiled at Selfridges Department store in London, England a couple days ago. “Mr Asahi” as the creators like to call him can serve beer in draught pints, half-pints and can take the cap off a bottle. He can serve a person in 2 minutes and even has a few programmed replies to customer questions.

He was “trained” for six months before being revealed to the public on July 2. It took 200 hours and eight engineers to assemble this robotic beer baron. He is also lifesize and weighs over 250 pounds so if he had working legs he could probably throw you out of the bar if you were drunk enough to pick a fight with an inanimate object.

For a bar this could be a great addition. An employee that never needs to get paid, doesn’t need to keep it’s own tips, never takes a break and never steals drinks. And maybe after a few hundred years he’ll turn into Wall-E but with a built-in keg.

[ Selfridges ] VIA [ Trusted Reviews ] VIA [ Ubergizmo ]

Bar of Soap Multigadget Knows What You Want

Bar of Soap

By Evan Ackerman

Leave it to the MIT Media Lab to come up with a concept as innovative as this. The Bar of Soap is a prototype gadget that figures out what it’s supposed to be doing based on the way you’re holding it. So, if you pick it up and hold it like a camera, it’ll operate like a camera. Hold it like a cellphone, and it becomes a cellphone. TV remote, MP3 player, whatever… As long as you hold it in a unique manner (and research suggests that people have clearly distinguishable ways of holding different gadgets), it can theoretically be anything you want. The unit itself is a plastic block, with a touchscreen, an accelerometer, 72 touch sensors, and internal bluetooth. At the moment, it’s not offering much in the way of functionality, since it’s designed to test the grasp classification concept (currently, it’s about 95% accurate at knowing what you want). This is one of those things, though, that’s an easy trickle-down technology for things like the iPhone, which already is a touch sensitive gadget with an accelerometer and multiple modes of functionality.

[ Bar of Soap ] VIA [ Architectradure ]

Aerion Supersonic Jet Costs $80,000,000; We’ll Take Two On Pre-Order

aerion supersonic jet

By David Ponce

The guys at Gizmodo are in Dubai for an air show, and spotted this bit of news. Sheikh Rashid, the ruler of Dubai, just purchased the first unit of the Aerion Supersonic Business Jet. And some jet! Even at $80,000,000 the bird seems to be worth every penny. It’s able to sprint up to 1.6 Mach, and cruise at 1.5 Mach where allowed, which is pretty much only over oceans. At this speed though, an Atlantic crossing is done in just two hours. Over land, it can fly along at 0.98Mach in the USA (due to regulations) at a similar cost-per-mile than competing subsonic private jets; in other parts of the world, where regulations only require no sonic boom to reach ground, it can speed up to 1.1 Mach without a boom. Its twin Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines produce 19,600 pounds of thrust and it has a ceiling of 51,000 feet.

Expect delivery around 2014, and if you’re serious about getting one, you can leave a $250,000 deposit now. Then, you can call me and buy me lunch, you rich bastard.

More pictures, and video after the jump.

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RoboDevelopment: ViPR Visual Pattern Recognition


By Evan Ackerman

Even though the RoboDevelopment Conference was primarily about, well, robots, there was a lot of potential crossover technology that has huge applications for consumer electronics. One of the most impressive of these that I saw was the ViPR pattern recognition technology, under development by Evolution Robotics. ViPR uses a camera (like the one you probably have in your cellphone) to look for distinctive patterns in an image. For example, a piece of text would be a distinctive pattern of pixels that the software could then translate into a meaningful letter. But the technology goes way beyond that: whenever you see something, your brain is recognizing a distinctive pattern of light and saying “hey, that’s a tree!” or “hey, I’m in my living room!” Your brain can do this even if it’s seeing only a piece of an object, or seeing a place from a different perspective. ViPR is capable of making the same sort of inferences. It works with >80% accuracy at recognizing objects or places, even when it’s dark or when it has to deal with distortion. It can identify an object when up to 90% of the object isn’t visible. Basically, this lets electronics “see” in a meaningful manner, much in the same way that we do.

Applications for the ViPR system are everywhere. The military is using it to look for guys holding RPGs, since an RPG has a distinctive visual pattern that ViPR can identify, even if the RPG is being held at an angle and partially concealed at a distance in low light. Current commercial uses (in Europe, mostly) include ViPR acting as a tour guide on your cellphone: take a picture of a landmark, and your cellphone will recognize it and provide information. What I’d personally like to see is the integration of ViPR with Google Street View to provide a highly accurate urban pseudo-GPS system. All you would do would be to take a picture of where you were, the ViPR system would query Google’s Street View database and find a matching pattern, and you’d get your location back. Easy, right? Well, they’re working on it… They just need to get some major companies (cough Google cough) actively interested.

[ Evolution Robotics ViPR ]

Better LEDs From Salmon Sperm

Bio LEDs

By Evan Ackerman

I have to admit that sperm is only the second thing that leaps to mind when I think about LEDs. Not so for Professor Andrew Steckl, an expert in light-emitting diode technology from the University of Cincinnati. It turns out that you can enhance LEDs by using biological membranes to slow down electrons, getting them to emit more photons:

“DNA has certain optical properties that make it unique. It allows improvements in one to two orders of magnitude in terms of efficiency, light, brightness — because we can trap electrons longer. Some of the electrons rushing by have a chance to say ‘hello,’ and get that photon out before they pass out. The more electrons we can keep around, the more photons we can generate. DNA serves as a barrier that affects the motion of the electrons.”

So, where can you get a whole bunch of DNA for cheap? Two words: salmon sperm. “Salmon sperm is considered a waste product of the fishing industry. It’s thrown away by the ton. It’s natural, renewable and perfectly biodegradable.” Any sort of DNA will potentially work just as well, but I’m not even going to touch that one. “I’m receiving salmon sperm from researchers around the world wanting to see if their sperm is good enough,” says Professor Andrew Steckl. Um, good luck with that.

[ Salmon Garnish Points the Way to Green Electronics ] VIA [ TreeHugger ]

Color Changing Smart Lid System Tell You When Drink Is Too Hot

lidmagic.jpg By Ryan Nill

Color Changing Smart Lid System is a lid. For your coffee. Or other hot beverage. It apparently changes color from a dangerous shade of red to a more normal looking brown color as the coffee cools. One of the more important features of this product is the fact that it can also be used as a sealing indicator; it shows whether or not the lid is securely attached properly to the cup. I have, on occasion, grabbed a cup and had it explode over both myself and the barista.

Business 2.0’s latest magazine contains a list of “the 29 best business ideas in the world.” Apparently the Color Changing Smart Lid System has made the cut. While it isn’t in production now, the company that makes it, Smart Lid Systems, which is working in tandem with Thermo International to have them ready for public use by the end of the year.

[ Smart Lid Systems ] VIA [ Crave ]

Phase Change Memory Is The New Hotness

Phase Change Memory

By Evan Ackerman

It’s only been, what, about six years since 3.5″ floppy disks were the epitome of non-volatile rewritable memory? Flash memory changed everything for the oh so much better, but if Samsung (and Intel) have their way, we’re going to be seeing a new type of memory as soon as next year. It’s called phase-change memory, or PRAM. Made from the same materials as rewritable CDs and DVDs, PRAM stores bits (the equivalent of 1s and 0s) by changing a glass alloy between crystalline and amorphous states with the application of heat.

Intel PRAMCompared to flash, PRAM writes about 500 times faster while using half the power, is 1000 times more durable, and can be packed into a much denser area. PRAM also has significantly higher radiation resistance for those of you who work in nuclear power plants or outer space. So what’s the downside? Well, although it’s actually simpler to manufacture (in general) than flash, PRAM can’t be soldered after being programmed since it’s sensitive to high temperatures. This means that manufacturers are going to have to add a method of programming the PRAM after it’s been soldered to a circuit board. PRAM also requires a higher writing voltage than flash does.

My guess is that, due to the obvious advantages, PRAM is going to start replacing flash in the same way that flash is now replacing magnetic storage. It’s not gonna be quick, but it’s probably inevitable. There’s no information on pricing or availability of the first production units, but it’s rumored that we could start seeing some of this technology become available by 2008.

[ Samsung Press Release ] VIA [ CNet ]