‘TechSci’ column: Wearable tech


Google Glass started in on smart glasses around 2011, when it made its first prototype. As its design grew more popular, other companies tried to make their own smart glasses. In fact, there were approximately eight pairs of smart glasses in development in 2014 from different companies, including Google and Samsung.

Jackie Peterson, B&W Staff

Jackie Peterson, B&W Staff

Though these several companies are making their way into the smart glasses world, buzz about the new technology seems to have died down after Google Glass was released to the public. However, Sony hasn’t received the memo, it seems. Their new smart glasses look like a pair of too-wide safety goggles with thick, plastic black frames. This “SmartEyeglass” was launched as a developer preview unit for $840 in March and will go on sale next year.

Sony’s problems don’t end at just coming late to the party. First of all, its platform is only compatible with Android phones—which cuts out a huge market for iOS users. Second, users will need to use a puck-shaped remote control wired to the frames just to get the glasses to work. Third, and most important: Sony isn’t doing anything new. It is going to rely on developers making the SmartEyeglasses worth their salt, and if developers don’t like it, those smart glasses will likely never make it in the market.

Smart glasses, though, seem totally normal when compared to the WearSens necklace developed at UCLA. The piece of tech looks rather like a metal shock collar for humans. Basically, it polices your eating habits. It won’t actually shock you — but it will vibrate when you’re dehydrated or miss a meal. It can tell what you’re shoving down your throat fairly accurately, too. It can tell when you’re eating soft foods or hard foods, it can tell the difference between eating and drinking and it can even tell with 90 percent accuracy whether you’re drinking a hot or cold beverage. This is all done by tracking vibrations on the neck, which differ with each thing you eat.

WearSens is one of the creepiest pieces of smart tech yet. But the UCLA team wants to use it not only for nutrition purposes, but also for other medicinal purposes, like tracking breathing patterns after a lung transplant.

If you would rather use a less invasive piece of tech while you eat, the Meld smart knob is for you. It can actually take over your stovetop to cook food at the right temperatures. Meld hopes to take some of the guesswork out of stovetop cooking by connecting to either a gas or electric stove and using three fairly simple parts to cook food to a T.

Those components include a thermometer, an app and the actual knob. The app is where you can control the cooking temperature and choose from hundreds of preset recipes. The thermometer clips to pots and pans to monitor the temperature of your cookware, and the knob itself has a battery-powered motor and connects wirelessly to the app for easy adjustments.

Meld is on Kickstarter, where early birds purchased it for $99. If you weren’t so lucky, you can still get one for $149 — cheaper and with more uses than its competitor, Anova, which is $179 and can only be used for sous vide, or immersion cooking. Just to be clear, Meld can be used for immersion cooking, too, along with a range of other cooking methods like poaching, frying, simmering, slow cooking and candy making.

Cooking is a great use for smart technology, but using gas for making pasta is so last year. Use butane to charge your phone instead with the Kraftwerk fuel cell. Butane is indeed the same gas used on cooking stoves, but now you can fill up a fuel cell with it and convert it into power via USB. The fuel cell has some obvious positives, from its light weight (only 200 grams when full) to the few seconds it takes to “charge,” or fill, the power bank. Unlike other chargers, it can retain power for weeks without losing any change and can supposedly change an iPhone 11 times on a single fill. Kraftwerk is hoping to ship the chargers later this year for $149.

Just to be clear, there are creepier things in smart technology right now than a food-tracking collar. Things much less useful and more dystopian than butane chargers or smartphone controlled stoves.

In Sweden, RFID microchips are being implanted under the skin of Epicenter employees. Currently, the practice is optional — thankfully. But those who opt-in to the implants trade in any privacy they had for ease of access. Doors open at the wave of a hand, using company copy machines is as easy as placing your hand on a card reader instead of fumbling through a wallet for your ID card.

Only time can tell if smart technology will go on to favor dystopian worlds of chip implants or helpful tech like Meld that enhances rather than overshadows human tasks.

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