Fancy and fairly expensive new technology wins a lot of attention, but other interesting half-digested ideas, early prototypes, and quietly released products are always bubbling away behind the scenes. Let's take a look at some of products that are easing their way into our consciousness.
We're always looking for a better way to glue, tape and otherwise bind surfaces together. Usually, the most difficult part of the process is finding the right goo for the job. Years ago it seems as if I was always searching for something that bonds this-to-that.
The technologists have apparently overcome many of those bonding issues in the last decade or so. Sugru (sugru.com) is described as a Play-Doh-like, moldable silicone glue than can be stuck and shaped; when it cures it becomes a rubberized, flexible coating that will maintain a strong bond under hot or cold conditions, according to the Sugru website.
The glue is available in ten colors and claims to bond together a variety of materials. The website offers lots of ideas and has some modestly entertaining videos.
The functionality of the ubiquitous electrical outlet is being reshaped as we collect more devices that need to be powered or recharged. One of many designs available is the LivingPlug inlet (LivingPlug.com), which isn't particularly high tech or innovative, but illustrates how an old idea is being taken a useful step further.
The LivingPlug plugs into an existing outlet to give you three tamper-resistant outlets plus a USB port for charging your phone or other device. The LivingPlug starts at $25; you can dress it up with any of an array of 600 custom faceplates. The unit also has an on/off button to reduce so-called vampire energy drain.
Long in the Bluetooth?
Sometimes you just don't want to have to use earbuds to listen to music or to hold your phone
up to your ear to talk. The Clipster Active (ionaudio.com/products/details/clipster) works as a small Bluetooth-connected speaker that enables you to have a phone conversation or listen to music.
According to Ion Audio it's suitable for hands-free talking – for example, if you're riding your bike or if you don't have a Bluetooth connection in your car.
If you really want to never lay hands on your phone, The Clipster Active uses a carabiner to attach to a belt loop or keychain, and is rubber coated and waterproof. The devices charges via micro-USB and a charge will last for roughly three hours.
Health and Tech
New technologies are making it possible for individuals to contribute to broader societal goals at modest expense. HabitatMap (HabitatMap.org), a Brooklyn environmental health non-profit, is building an organization for monitoring, mapping, and sharing health and environmental data using smartphones and Bluetooth-connected devices.
The AirBeam (takingspace.org) is a handheld air quality monitor that can collect data on the fine particular matter floating in the air and send it to a smartphone using Bluetooth.
Fine particulate matter is one of the EPA's six key air pollutants; fine particles of dust, smoke or soot are inhaled into the lungs and absorbed into the bloodstream, contributing to asthma, bronchitis and other health problems that plague the world.
The AirBeam is designed to collect data at a given location and transmit it for inclusion in a worldwide database.
The Will of the Masses
Crowdfunding, of which Kickstarter is the best-known example, is an Internet-sparked method of raising money to support the development of new products and ideas. Basically, you put your financial goal and project plans out there and if someone likes your crowdfunded project they can invest a small amount of money in it. The approach is giving visibility to a lot of interesting products.
There's the inevitable dark side, featuring whackjob product ideas and clever scams, but in general, crowdfunding works. Prototype products are popping up that aren't available yet but sound promising.
I think one crowdfunded startup is taking the right approach – look for other fashion accessories that can be turned into useful devices. A company called BioSensitive Technologies (earosmart.com) is developing Ear-o-Smart, smart earrings that can connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone and monitor and report on daily activity, heart rate and calories burned. The earlobe turns out to be a good place to monitor blood flow to get the data.
Fashion certainly plays a key role in earring appeal, but earrings could be one more approach to seamlessly incorporating connectivity into the daily life of the active individual.
Some of the crowdfunded ideas are viable, but also hysterically funny. Myontec Mbody (myontec.com) smart athletic shorts look like what Darth Vader would wear in his workouts. Though the Mbody reminds me of the complex gizmos available to improve your golf swing (think Rene Russo in Tin Cup), it features built-in data collection and display capabilities; the wearer can listen to real-time audio coaching and the data can be ported to a computer via USB to help analyze one's training.
The shorts and necessary accessories currently sell for about $1000, but the company hopes to get future versions down into the $500 range.
So Cool, It’s Hot
The prototype device that comes closest to making me acquiesce to willingly suspending my disbelief is the Wristify (embrlabs.com). The Wristify is a thermoelectric bracelet that claims to be able to seriously cool you when you're warm and warm you up when you're cold--in other words, to enable you to stay comfortable on hot summer days or when you're chilly in winter.
See how science helps us progress? My desperate, unrequited teenage dream to own a full-body cooling suit that would ward off heat and humidity may be fulfilled by a simple wristband. I won't have to risk public humiliation to stay cool. I can be cool, and stay cool.
Founded by four MIT students (who won an MIT design competition for their product), the Wristify team discovered that heating or cooling a small patch of sensitive skin (the wrist being one convenient spot) with thermal pulses can quickly impact the entire body. The device will not only keep Wristify owners comfy, but it also promises to save the economy zillions of dollars in heating and cooling costs.
By the time you read this, the Wristify may actually be available. I won't be camping outside some retailer three days in advance, though – it’s too cold out.
Dan Logan is a freelance writer and photographer from Fairhaven, MA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.