How the Smartstone helps people speak

A small device that looks like a white river stone lets people communicate and speak in their own language of touch, sound, and colour.  This invention is intended to help those who are blind, autistic, elderly, or otherwise find it difficult to communicate verbally.  It’s a sensory I/O device that is less complex than Braille or sign language, and it can be worn like a piece of jewelry.

This is the Smartstone.

Creator Andreas Forsland says he was inspired when his mother got pneumonia.  She was on a ventilator, thus she couldn’t speak and had very limited mobility. “She was really kind of locked in her mind,” he said, “and when you have a fairly serious illness, you really just need comfort and to know that somebody is there.”

Many people were reaching out to him for something like this to be developed.  According to Forsland, the problem with modern technology is that it isn’t tailored to a person’s specific needs.  The user interface was the biggest impediment, and so he intended to help create something where the language could be customised for each individual.

The Smartstone acts as a remote control for their app :prose, where a user can make touch and motion gestures to send messages to a friend or family’s phone in order to communicate.  It’s never been easier to say “I love you”.  In addition, the :connect app adds location trackers and push reminders for those family members  who want to keep an eye on their loved one.

And most recently, Forsland has teamed up with Emotiv to develop a headset.  Brainwaves can be recorded and give commands to the Smartstone and its app.

Although the indigogo campaign raised only $35 000 of its $50 000 goal, the response has been huge, and the production of these inventions have been long underway.  There is demand in a device like the Smartstone, and it’s important for every person that needs it, especially today in a world where communication is everywhere.

Forsland concludes, “If you think about a room like a day program, where you have people who are sitting there just locked in… imagine a future where these people can have a laptop next to them, and they are literally saying things and having a conversation with someone else who can’t speak. That’s a future that I believe in.”


Crosstalk: The Dark Side of Information

“In the not-too-distant future, there is a simple outpatient procedure which increases empathy between romantic partners, and Briddey is about to go through with her boyfriend Trent.  But things don’t quite work out as planned, and Briddey finds herself connected to someone else entirely—in a way far beyond what she signed up for.”

One of my favorite authors, Connie Willis, touches base with how we communicate in her most recent novel, Crosstalk.

For those unfamiliar with her and her work, Willis is recognised as a highly acclaimed science fiction writer, having won prestigious awards such as the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award.  She often weaves technology into her stories in order to prompt readers to question what impact it has on the world.  In Crosstalk, she came up with some very interesting points about privacy and communication.

Throughout the book, this operation—called an EED—is explained to reinforce (or deteriorate) a couple’s relationship by feeling each other’s emotions no matter where they are.  This brought up questions about how private our thoughts and feelings would really become if such a thing were possible… With how we are posting and storing our information digitally more and more, we are finding that in today’s society, privacy and security aren’t as interchangeable as we thought.

And Willis dares to take that privacy away in Crosstalk—whether it’s due to the characters’ choices or not.  It became chilling to think that someone could read your thoughts whenever they’d like, especially once we learn of how unhappy and aggressive our thoughts can become.  Whatever we are thinking, we filter it through our communication, and that filter is much less prevalent with our smartphones and social media.

Another concept Willis plays with is how there is “entirely too much communication”. As Briddey faces her new-found telepathic powers, she spends less time focusing on work and being bombarded by her all-too-eager-to-communicate-at-all-times family, and begins to notice how no one speaks to each other and instead uses their phones as a third party to interact with everything and everyone, essentially isolating themselves.  Willis calls it “the dark side of information”, and I can see how the author is trying to express her own feelings about the issue.

Of course, the book’s themes are much more complicated and humorous than just what I’ve tried to explain here.  The real world is changing with how we can access more and more information daily.   It’s inevitable that our social relationships are changing, and we need to think about how we communicate and interact with each other.

The Movement of Air

The Cirque du Soleil of Holograms

Since 2004, Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne, and their company Adrien M / Claire B  have been exploring the digital arts in unique, creative ways.  Through performances in dance and exhibitions, they harmonise reality and virtuality in visual poetry, and play with the imagination.  Most of all, they specialise in using technology that they customise for their stories—that is, they use light.  But before you begin to think that this is just an ordinary dance, consider this:

They use the light as holograms.

Holograms have been around for a long time—going back as early as 1893 in Jules Verne’s novel The Carpathian Castle.   Holography—real holography—has been theorised and developed since 1947, where scientist Dennis Gabor first coined the term from the Greek words holos, meaning “whole”, and gramma, meaning “message”.

However, light sources that were necessary to create such a thing were not available at that time.  In 1962, the development of the laser enabled the first practical optical holograms that recorded 3D objects—such as a bullet in flight.  The first hologram of a person wasn’t created until 1967.

The technology has been around for decades now, but I didn’t get my first real taste of it until Homer from The Simpsons made an appearance at the San Diego Comic Con in 2014.  And the technology is still evolving: BBC created an experimental ‘holographic’ TV to see how we might watch our shows and movies in the future.

When I stumbled across Adrien M / Claire B ’s collaboration of “Pixel” (2014), it sparked my curiosity and my imagination.  The duo and their technical staff managed to use holograms in such a way that they seemed influenced by the dancers in the film.  Someone unaware of the technicalities of the film wouldn’t realise that the dancers were simply well-choreographed in time to the holography.  This was what made the holograms so real.

Aside from several other performances, such as “Le movement de l’air” (The Movement of Air) , “Hakanaï”, and “Cinématique”—which are still travelling around Europe—there is also an exhibition named “XYZT: Les paysages abstraits” (Abstract Landscapes).  XYZT featured ten interactive installations to physically engage audiences via holograms.

The company’s newest upcoming exhibition, titled “Mirages & Miracles” is to embrace a much larger scale of installations like those found in XYZT.  It will be opening in the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma (Italy) in October 2017.

I encourage you to check out Adrien M/Claire B’s work on Vimeo and at their website!

Interactivity vs “Interactivity”for Children

The way technology is evolving may be overstepping its boundaries when considering child learning and education.

What do I mean by this?

More and more children nowadays are on screens than they were several years ago, and they are getting younger and younger.  They use phones and games and computers almost as much as adults do.  Because of how common we are seeing these devices in their hands, many developers find that this would be the most attractive way to give them their education.

They’re not entirely wrong: many younger minds are finding that with the fast-paced demands of society, screens provide the means of getting them the information they need.  Plus, it can gives great distractions that can leave parents’ hands free.

However, how old do they have to be for this to be effective?  Not only does this discourage children from physical activity, but the screen-time becomes an addiction that keeps them away from learning proper social activity.  Children’s brains at different developmental stages process information in specific ways in relation to that technology.  Essentially, they think like adults, but have less experience, and need to move more.

There have been several studies of interactive children exhibits in museums that suggest there needs to be more than just touch screens to give them information.  It’s widely accepted that interactive attractions are more engaging and connect more deeply in the minds of children that have been raised on computers, tablets, and smartphones—but what does “interactive” mean to make children’s exhibits effective?  You can’t simply replace traditional signage with iPads and call it “interactive”.

It’s not like technology is ineffective—but it’s been shown that exhibit designers need to move beyond the surface touches of technology and make something truly interactive.  “Interactive” should be defined as “concepts like hands-on play, experimentation, role-play, and environments that stimulate the kind of play that helps children understand and integrate ideas”.

Consider this: many people learn better by doing, but children have to learn this way.  They learn via example, and develop important problem-solving skills by learning themselves.  Of course, not every child’s mind is the same.  It may be in the future that children’s minds will evolve to think different as technology and social issues influences us to change the way we teach them.  Until  then, it may be beneficial to give them what works best.

What do you think?  Do you agree?  What’s interactive to you?

Food of the Future—in 3D!

Welcome to the future of food: that is, 3D printed food.

It has been around for several years, now, made popular by chefs and designers who can merge their 3D modelling knowledge with their love of food.  Before 3D printing technology, creating foods as intricate as a hollow polygonal sugar cube would have been impossible.  There’s also a lot of promise that this method could provide healthier alternatives that are also better for that environment, as consumers can customise the actual nutrients they use to create their food.

It’s already being used across the globe, and has many applications.

Products you can find in the store, such as frozen waffles in the Netherlands, are all created via 3D printing.

3D printed carrots are easy to chew and swallow for the elderly.

“Even NASA is using this technology to look at ways to 3D print food in space.”

However, to create food of this sort, we are restricted to certain ingredients: foods which can be melted or turned into pastes.  Algae, beet leaves, insects, cookie dough, chocolate, pancake mix, ice cream, coffee, cheeses; various fruits and vegetables and sauces can be used.  The process of printing food is slow, and often has to cool before it can be eaten.  And of course, the cost of making such specialised food can be very expensive.


Europe is said to be the leader in this industry, but 3D food printing is also being used all around the world.  “Natural Machines, a company in Spain, have been trying to introduce 3D food printing technology into domestic settings.”

One day, this technology will be able to reach our homes.  Imagine personalising your own chocolates: that sound delightful and delicious!  It could become the perfect gift for someone else.  Even without familiarity with a 3D modelling program, we could be offered templates and customise them similar to customising an avatar or video game character.

3D printed food might also give us a unique way to provide nutrients for people who cannot get to them, or bring foods to places that would not normally have them.

As for the environment, and vegetarians, researchers and developers are discovering ways to create steaks that look and taste exactly like steak—without it being steak.

Soon we’ll be able to create popsicles in any shape we want.  What are your thoughts?  Would you try out some 3D printed food?

CHIP: World's First $9 Computer

C.H.I.P.: The World’s First $9 Computer

Create your own word documents, spreadsheets, and slide presentations.  Play games—from classic Zork to Minecraft.  Browse the web and stream videos via Wi-Fi.    Connect Bluetooth devices.  This, and more, is what C.H.I.P. can offer.

Brought to you by the Next Thing Company: C.H.I.P., the world’s first nine dollar computer.  A computer you can hold in your hand, but it’s unlike any other mobile device out there.  C.H.I.P. was first introduced through Kickstarter in 2015, which successfully raised 2 million dollars over its $50 000 goal.  There’s some very good reasons why, and it’s not just because of its price.  The idea of it appeals to many people.  This is a cheap, portable computer that will, and does, do what you’d expect any computer to do, and without disappointment.

It has its own storage: 4GB worth of it.  It’s “powerful enough to run real software”, using Linux as its operating system, and versatile for any hardware you want to attach—monitors via HDMI, speakers, mouse, keyboard, headphones, USBs.   Even MIDI equipment!  It even has a rechargeable battery built in, giving its small size a portable purpose, but can otherwise runs on wired 5V DC input power or charged with a microUSB cord.

How is C.H.I.P. only $9?  Next Thing Company says it’s mostly through quantity—by ordering tens of thousands of chips, costs are reduced significantly.  I wouldn’t worry about quality—it works quite well for its size and capabilities—and the price more than justifies what might not be available.

On top of this, the developers also created what they call PocketC.H.I.P just for the minicomputer.  This accessory allows you to plug in the C.H.I.P. and use it as a mobile device, complete with a 4.3” touchscreen and keyboard.  It might cost an additional $69 USD, but that is still a steal.

It’s fascinating that technology has provided us with the means of creating something that’s almost too good to be true.  Kickstarter has a way to offer funding opportunities for many technologies people want to see exist, and C.H.I.P. was one of those projects people were excited for.  Up next in the company’s line is Dashbot: the hands-free AI car accessory you can connect to your phone.