The wearables from NASA that made it back to Earth

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What has spaceflight ever done for us? A hell of a lot, actually – and aside from trying to get humans to Mars, NASA’s technology has trickled down to a host of wearable gadgets.

NASA makes a huge investment in technology and each year it releases a report called Spinoff. This details all of the innovations that have been developed as a result of space travel, from Sony’s latest ‘magnetic fluid’ speakers to more realistic 3D mapping in video games like SSX.

NASA estimates that over the last decade or so, its spinoff innovations have saved 449,850 lives, created 18,888 jobs and created $5.2 billion of revenue.

From healthcare to aviation, sports and product manufacturing, the benefits of spaceflight have filtered down into almost every aspect of our lives, and there are several pieces of wearable kit that have been developed as a result of space exploration. Here are some of the best so far…

Zephyr Bioharness

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NASA was in need of a gadget with real-time sensors for astronauts to track their own physiological symptoms in order to prevent vomiting caused by microgravity.

Step forward Maryland-based Zephyr Technology which developed a product for the space programme, while also giving it the opportunity to improve its own technology. The Bioharness is now used for tracking health and fitness by the US military, firefighters and several pro sports teams in the NBA, NHL and NLB as well as numerous college teams.

Jockey Staycool

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Famous US underwear maker Jockey’s Staycool range was created using the ‘phase change materials’ that NASA developed for astronauts’ space gloves. The special material is designed to maintain a suitable temperature for optimum comfort. Basically, space pants.

Jasper Systems compression wear

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NASA’s Ames Research Centre originally developed liquid-cooled garments to keep astronauts’ airtight spacesuits from becoming hot and humid. The technology has since been used by California-based Vasper Systems to produce compression garments which are designed for more efficient exercise by concentrating lactic acid buildup in the muscles.

You can read the rest of the article at Wareable (originally published 8 April 2015).

Impossible Project Instant Lab Universal review

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The first thing you need to know about the Impossible Project Instant Lab Universal is that it produces Polaroid-style photos from your smartphone snaps. The second thing you need to know is that it’s a camera, not a printer.

Unlike the rather disappointing Polaroid-branded Zink printers, the Instant Lab produces actual Polaroid-esque photographs. That’s because Impossible Project cleverly bought Polaroid’s remaining factory a few years ago in order to manufacture its own film, which is designed to work with vintage Polaroid cameras and, of course, the Instant Lab Universal.

The original Instant Lab was launched in 2013, but only worked with the iPhone 4, 5, 5S and iPod touch. The new Universal model, however, is designed to work with more devices thanks to new “touch location technology”. This means it supports phones from Samsung, HTC and Google (Nexus), as well as the iPad. Screens need to be high-res (approximately 300ppi) and run on Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or above.

We’ve unleashed our inner hipster and have been testing the Lab using an iPhone 6iPad Air 2 and the HTC One M8. It’s a lot of fun, like a big kid’s toy.

Design and build

The Lab Universal sports a simple yet functional design, with a sturdy metal base along with a plastic bellows-style extendable turret with a phone cradle on top. The only controls you’ll find are the latch for opening the film bay door at the bottom – where the film cartridges can be easily slipped in – along with an eject button to pop out the exposed photo.

To the top are three sensors on the cradle – representing the touch location technology part of things – used to detect when a phone is placed there. For larger devices, such as an iPad, these act as essential points to communicate with the app and let it know which portion of the screen is in play, then re-adjust the photo’s placement on screen so the Lab can make a duplicate exposure of it.

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A removable adaptor can be used with iPhones 4/4S/5/5S/5C, but for Android devices not everything is compatible just yet. The brand new HTC One M9 is one such unsupported example (we did try it out, but it was a no go). Check with Impossible Project for compatibility prior to purchase if you’re concerned.

You can read the rest of the article at Pocket-lint.com (originally published 25 March 2015).

Super Bowl XLIX: How wearable tech is changing the NFL

Wearable tech in the NFL
Like most other major sports, the NFL is currently enjoying a wearable technology explosion that’s changing the game. As the players walk out to contest the 49th Superbowl on Sunday, their training, preparation, tactics and plans will have been influenced by technology like never before.

From on-field tracking to improved safety and tactical HUDs, wearables are ushering a new era of football. Not only does this help coaches to get the best out of the players by monitoring their stats on the field and in practice, it also offers fans unprecedented insights into the game.

The stat-heavy nature of American football is why NFL works so well as a fantasy league compared to other sports and one of the reasons why it’s important for fans to have access to this kind of in-game performance data.

On the eve of one of the world’s greatest sporting events, here are the wearables dominating football.

Catapult trackers

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Founded in Australia, Catapult Sports is one of the biggest suppliers of athletics tracking tech in the sports world. The company’s gadgetry is used by a quarter of all NFL franchises, along with 10 college football teams and is used primarily for preventing injuries.

GPS trackers around the size of a small mobile phone are worn by the player, usually on the back using a chest harness, although some teams have sewn special pockets into the back of training tops.

By monitoring key data, coaches can monitor players’ work rates and inform game rotations and practice schedules. The technology can also be used to safely rehabilitate injured players.

The NFL doesn’t currently allow use of GPS devices during games, but they’re fast becoming a must-have for training.

GoPro

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As NFL players wear helmets, the sport is well suited to player cams, which can be integrated into their head gear to help coaches with tactics and provide ‘player cam’ POV for the fans.

Several teams in the league, such as the Cincinnati Bengals, have already started using GoPro cameras in training, while New York Giants rookie Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jnr – and the man responsible for the most amazing one-handed catch we’ve ever seen – has also been spotted wearing a GoPro on a chest harness in a Pro Bowl practice session.

GoPro has just done its first major sports league deal, signing up as official partner to the NHL. Could the NFL be next on the list?

Reebok CheckLight

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Produced in conjunction with tech company MC10, Reebok’s concussion-busting skullcap was designed to tackle one of sport’s most dangerous problems. American Football has worryingly high concussion rates – not surprising, given the physical nature of the game.

CheckLight aims to keep players safe by using multiple sensors to capture head impact data during play. A green light indicates a low impact, yellow indicates a moderate hit, while a red light means a heavy impact – giving an indication of when a player needs a medical check before returning to the field.

You can read the rest of the article at Wareable (originally published 30 January 2015).

Astrophotography: How to shoot the night sky

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Long exposure showing the astrophotography setup (Libby Plummer)

For those of us living in large towns and cities, we rarely get to see the stars due to round-the-clock light pollution so it’s often assumed that photos showing spectacular starscapes have been produced in Photoshop. However, as the stunning pictures of the recent Geminids meteor shower prove, it is possible to capture incredible starscapes on camera, just as long as you step away from the street lights.

Professional snapper Andrew Whyte (@LongExposures) makes a living from doing just that – he’s one of the UK’s leading night photographers and is also well known for his quirky Lego man photos. We tagged along on an astrophotography shoot with him to learn how to shoot the night sky.

Where can I shoot the night sky?

While it’s possible to shoot the night sky in the UK, plenty of preparation is needed and that all starts with the location. Wide-field astrophotography – which involves capturing the night sky with a normal camera, without the need for a telescope – requires a location that’s largely free of light pollution.

These areas are known as ‘dark sky’ sites and can be found all over the country. It’s also a good idea to research the area and find out about any features – like buildings and monuments – that can be used as a foreground to your starry backdrop.

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Long exposure with star trails (Libby Plummer)

We took our shots around Douglas on the Isle of Man, but you can find out which sites are closest to you with a quick internet search. Dark Sky Discovery is a useful place to start.

It’s also important to check the weather, as too much cloud cover will prevent you from seeing the stars at all. Andrew Whyte pro snapper Andrew Whyte, who specialises in long exposure photography which includes astrophotography and lightpainting, offers some advice:

‘I’ve found XCWeather to be fairly reliable for forecasting cloud cover, and timeanddate.com provides my lunar phases and timings. A guy known as @VirtualAstro does a great job of updating Twitter with information like the times of the International Space Station passing over and aurora alerts’.

What kind of camera do I need?

While most cameras offer a range of pre-set shooting modes with some even including ‘night sky’ options, you really can’t hide behind these when it comes to astrophotography, says Whyte.

He argues that you really need to get to grips with your camera’s manual settings to get good results. But what qualities do you need to look for in an ‘astro’ camera’? Whyte explains:

‘Ultimately what makes a good camera for astro is image quality. Current models with a high ISO range, like the Sony Alpha 7S, which has a range of 40-409,000, are especially well suited to low-light photography. This particular camera also has a full frame sensor which is good for dimly lit conditions’…

You can read the rest of the article at Yahoo News UK (originally published 19 December 2014).

From Quill To Stylus, The Evolution Of The Pen

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From disposable plastic pens that cost mere pence to high-tech pens that link paper notepads to apps, the pen has changed immensely over the years. And as touchscreen technology becomes increasingly popular, the stylus has become the gadget fan’s alternative to the traditional pen.

But while, styluses and pens with on-board gadgetry are popular, the traditional pen isn’t dead yet – far from it. High-end pens are still considered to be a status symbol, which is perhaps no surprise considering their long and productive history.

History of the pen

As with many inventions, pens can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians who forged reed pens from sea rushes to write on papyrus scrolls. Meanwhile, styluses crafted from reeds were first used by the ancient Mesopotamians to ‘write’ on clay tablets.

Reed pens were gradually replaced by feather quills around the 7th Century and quill pens were also famously used to produce some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Pens with metal nibs weren’t mass produced until the 1800s although they had first been used long before, with a copper nib reportedly found in the ruins at Pompeii.

Quill pens and a copy of the 1774 Continental Association agreement on display in CarpentersÆ Hall in Independence National Historical Park.

Romanian student Petrache Poenaru invented the fountain pen which was patented by the French government in 1827, while the first patent for a ballpoint pen was issued in 1888.

Hungarian newspaper editor László Bíró, whose named has since become synonymous with pens, first filed a patent in 1938. Felt-tipped pen was invented in the 1960s in Japan, while rollerball pens in followed in the 1970s.

What makes a good pen?

There’s no one answer to the question ‘what makes a good pen’, simply because there are several different types – the most traditional variants are the ballpoint, rollerball, fountain and marker pens. However, the Parker Pen Company attempts to sum it up, explaining that:

“A good pen is a mark of quality and style – unrivalled aesthetics, technical innovation and the care of advanced and skilled craftsmanship are all key factors when qualifying the ideal pen.

“The most important element in the making of a pen is its ‘engine,’ which includes the finely sharpened nib and its ink feed system regulating the flow of the ink.”

Many people prefer using fountain pens as they require no pressure to write, unlike ballpoints.

Pens are generally made from either a lightweight metal or plastic and while the former is more robust, it’s also heavier on the hand. Nibs can be made from a variety of materials from steel to gold and titanium.

Even before touchscreen styluses emerged, there has always been plenty of innovation when it comes to pens. In 1965, the Fisher Space Pen Company produced the first ‘zero gravity’ pen, designed to work in space, under water, on wet paper and at any angle.

Fisher developed the pen independent of the space programme, but after NASA tested it in space, the US space administration reportedly bought up around 400 pens to use on the Apollo missions. Legend has it that the Soviets simply used a pencil.

You can read the rest of the article at The Huffington Post UK (originally published 10 December 2014).

Calling the shots: 10 women leading the way in wearable tech

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Ayse Ildeniz, VP New Devices Group, Intel

A feature for wearable technology website Wareable on the ladies that are shaping the future:

Here at Wareable, we’ve already argued as to why we need more smartwatches designed for women, so it’s encouraging to see that an increasing number of female CEOs, designers and influencers setting the wearable agenda are female. Obviously it’s not just women that are emerging as the leaders of the wearables pack, but it does appear to be area of tech with a noticeably large number of females calling the shots. This is important, not just in terms of levelling the playing field in the traditionally male-dominated world of tech, but it also ensures that female consumers aren’t fobbed off with ‘unisex’ products that are clearly designed with only men in mind. So without further ado, we list the ladies flying the flag for wearable tech:

Isabelle Olsson Senior Industrial Designer, Google isabelle-olsson-2-1416486435-hKma-column-width-inline

While it has yet to hit the mass market, it’s fair to say that Google Glass is one of the most talked about products in the wearable tech sphere, perhaps the entire tech world. It was Isabelle Olsson who was tasked with the job of the making the original clunky Glass prototype both comfortable and attractive to look at, defining the look of the most recognisable wearable around. Olsson grew up in Sweden where she studied fine art and industrial design and also worked on Samsung TVs and the Nook Color ereader before joining Google.

Liz Bacelar Founder & CEO, Decoded Fashion liz-bacelar-copy-1416486484-AFnT-column-width-inline

Bacelar founded Decoded fashion back in 2011 with the goal of bringing together tech founders and ‘decision-makers’ in fashion beauty and retail through dedicated events. An Emmy-nominated CBS news producer, Bacelar was quick to spot the the natural correlation between fashion and technology and argues that designers need to embrace tech, not just from a design angle but also when it comes to mobile, commercial and social strategies. While not started as a women’s initiative, Decoded has become a popular platform for pitches from female-led tech startups.

Camille Toupet Designer, June camille-toupet-1416486986-wRQ8-column-width-inline

Independent french jewellery designer Camille Toupet was responsible for the look of June – a bracelet with a gem-like stone that incorporates a sensor to monitor sun exposure. The wearable was announced at CES 2014 by Neatatmo, better known for its smart thermostat. The wearable pairs with an iOS app to keep you posted on how much sun you’re getting, what SPF you should be wearing and when to don a hat or sunnies. With Toupet having previously collaborated with luxury fashion brands Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston, she has blazed a trail for high-end designer input into wearable design, something we’re likely to see even more of in 2015…

You can read the rest of the article at Wareable (originally published 20 November 2014).

Lomo Instant review

LomoInstant-BannerLomography’s Lomo’Instant is the most advanced instant camera yet, and the result of a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign.

With the rise of the selfie and concerns over cloud storage of digital snaps, Polaroid-esque instant cameras have made something of a comeback. This model from analogue camera expert Lomography is the latest version to hit the shops, but what sets it apart from the others?

The Lomo’Instant offers far more control than you get with any other instant camera, including a selection of removable lenses, different shooting modes, aperture control and the ability to take multiple exposures.

The first models went out to Kickstarter backers in October, and the Lomo’Instant is now available to everyone.

Lomo’Instant – Design and Handling

The Lomo’Instant sports a pleasingly retro design, although the box-like design means that it’s rather bulky. With the exception of the incredibly cool Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, instant cameras in recent years have tended to feature slightly ugly, uninspiring designs, but the Lomo’Instant is cool and blocky.

The camera sports a similar faux-leather covering to the Lomography Lomokino and Belair models, and is available in black or white. There’s also a model that’s covered real brown leather with a slightly higher price tag of £109. We like the white version best, as its shows off the minimalist design more, but the finish is rather prone to picking up marks and scuffs, and there’s no protective case available to keep it in.

The only accessory that is available – aside from the optional lenses which we’ll look at in more detail later – is a shoulder strap (£8.90), which is good news as it makes the hefty camera slightly less cumbersome.

As with most Lomography cameras, physical controls are kept to a minimum, but these all feel well placed and intuitive.

Lomo’Instant – Controls and Features

The key control that you’ll need to get to grips with is the mode switch, which enables you to choose between having the flash on, off or on auto, where a sensor will automatically set the flash to the most suitable level based on the ambient light…

You can read the rest of the article at TrustedReviews (originally published 23 November 2014).