Gadgets for Geeks

WSJ: Google Preps VR Android

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WSJ: Google Preps VR Android

The Wall Street Journal reports Google has "tens of engineers" working on an Android version designed for virtual reality applications, part of the search giant's plan to rival the Facebook-owned Oculus VR.

The VR Android will be freely distributed to headset OEMs, just as Android is for smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. Reportedly leading the development team is Clay Bavor, VP of product management and one of the people behind the cheap-as-free Google Cardboard VR headset, the WSJ adds.

One also has to keep in mind Google is a lead investor in Magic Leap, a mysterious startup working on augmented reality software.

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Google and Mattel Bring Back the View-Master

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Google and Mattel Bring Back the View-Master

Google and Mattel breathe new life in the View-Master, the venerable stereoscopic photo viewer, with a new version one can describe as a low-cost Oculus Rift for the young (and young at heart).

The View-Master first appeared back at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and uses cardboard "reels" to display a wide arrange of small colour slides. The Google-Mattel take on the viewer looks similar, only it is based on Cardboard, the low-cost (one can technically make one for free) VR headset from the search giant. It uses a smartphone, plastic "experience reels" and companion Mattel and Cardboard apps to push VR and augmented reality (AR) experiences.

One example of a View-Master experience seen at the show involves Google's home San Francisco. It allows wearers to navigate through 360-degree photos various San Francisco landmarks, as bolstered with simple animations and sound effects.

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The Next Smart Device: The Coolbox Toolbox

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The Next Smart Device: The Coolbox Toolbox

The humble toolbox is the next household object to receive a helping of smarts-- the Coolbox features a 12V battery, 2 USB ports, LED lighting, an integrated power bar, a tablet dock and even Bluetooth speakers.

As the team behind the so-called "toolbox of the future" puts it, the Coolbox offers "more features than have ever been offered in a single toolbox." It even features a 3m retractable power cord, the power bar carries 3 sockets and the lid includes a whiteboard for all writing needs. Oh, and most important of all, it also includes a built-in bottle opener and, presumably, enough space for all your customers' tools.

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Toy Bird Becomes Drone

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Toy Bird Becomes Drone

One of the more charming CES 2015 offerings brings to mind a childhood toy-- the Bionic Bird is a 21st century update on the mechanical toy bird, being an app-controlled flying drone created by the grandson of the creator of the original Tim Bird.

Initially funded back in November 2014 on Indiegogo, the Bionic Bird is described by its creators as nothing less than a "furtive drone." Like the mechanical bird toys of old it does little more than flap its wings to fly, if with the inclusion of battery power and remote control via Bluetooth, mobile device and companion iOS and Android app.

Taking care of charging duties is an egg-shaped "Turbo-Charge" accessory holding enough power to charge 10 flights lasting up to 8 minutes each.

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CES Presents Milk-Tracking Bottle

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CES Presents Milk-Tracking Bottle

Slow Control, the company behind the 10S Fork (aka the HAPIfork) presents another "smart" feeding device at CES 2015-- the Baby Glgl, a means to control how a baby drinks their milk.

Looking like a basic bottle clad in a plastic sleeve, the awkwardly named device uses 3 batteries and an inclinometer to calculate the weight and angle of the baby bottle before figuring out the optimal degree of milk inclination. Why? In order to prevent the baby from sipping air bubbles together with the milk, as this causes gas and colic.

Of course, one can simply listen to how the baby is slurping, but for the more high-tech of customers the Baby Glgl features a pair of light-up arrows to mark whether the bottle is too high or too low, as well as a "just right" signal.

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Connected Smarts Reach the Wallet

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Connected Smarts Reach the Wallet

StreetSmart suggests not even the humble money holder should be lacking in connected smarts as it debuts the SmartWallet-- supposedly the "world's smartest wallet," featuring built-in GPS locator and 1000mAh battery.

The GPS locator uses Bluetooth LE, and pairs with smartphones to prevent the loss of both devices. Should it get unpaired, the SmartWallet saves the GPS location it was last paired at before sending an alert on a companion SmartWallet app. If one lose their phone, a button on the wallet makes the device ring.

The app also helps one find the wallet, with direction range of around 15-45m.

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The iPad as Kitchen Companion

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The iPad as Kitchen Companion

Drop announces the Connected Scale and companion recipe app, a combination of digital scale and interactive recipes allowing customers to turn their iPad into a kitchen companion of sorts.

The concept is simple enough. The Connected Scale displays the weight of ingredients on the the iPad display (following connection via Bluetooth LE), while the app provides step-by-step recipe instructions complete with videos and real-time monitoring of ingredient weights on the scale.

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Amazon Has a Voice Assistant… In a Tube

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Amazon Has a Voice Assistant… In a Tube

In a surprise announcement Amazon reveals what is surely its oddest product yet-- the Echo, a black cylindrical speaker that is actually cloud-powered, voice-controlled, always-on virtual assistant.

Essentially the Eco is a lot like Apple's Siri, but within a piece of hardware. It promises room-filling sound via 360-degree speaker, and carries 7 microphones paired with beam-forming technology and "enhanced" noise canceling to hear speakers from any direction, even while it is playing music.

As for actual functionality, an adorably awkward video shows the various uses the Echo can find, such as assistant duties (wake up alarms, shopping lists, reminders, news, weather information), the answering of queries via Wikipedia, unit conversion, music playback (from Amazon Music Library, Prime Music, TuneIn and iHeartRadio). Powering all is the Amazon cloud, to which the Eco connects via mobile device and companion Echo app.

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App Controls Reach the Coffee Maker

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App Controls Reach the Coffee Maker

The coffee maker is the next appliance to get smartphone app-based connectivity courtesy of Bruvelo, a machine claiming to be "simple smart, and do one thing-- extremely well."

The smartphone app and wifi connectivity allow users to decide exactly how the machine brews their coffee, with "Recipes" providing custom settings for temperature, ground-to-water ratio and steep time. The less obsessive of coffee drinkers can also stick to a trio of preconfigured "flavour profiles" (delicate, balanced or robust).

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Connected Smarts Reach the Carry-On

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Connected Smarts Reach the Carry-On

The technology behind the humble luggage hasn't evolved much over the past few decades, but a startup wants to change that with the Bluesmart, a small suitcase promising to be "the world's first connected carry-on."

Essentially the Bluesmart is a connected suitcase. It uses Bluetooth to pair with smartphones, and makes use of built-in sensors and a companion app to provide features such as remote locking/unlocking, distance alerts, location tracking, an integrated digital scale and even device charging via   built-in battery.

It also promises to let one breeze through security with an easy-access compartment at the front designed specifically to hold electronic devices.

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The First Bluetooth Padlock

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The First Bluetooth Padlock

Fuz Designs suggests time is nigh for the end of padlocks using keys or-- with the Noke padlock, all users need to lock and unlock their belongings is a Bluetooth-equipped smartphone.

The Noke padlock pairs with smartphones via app (iOS and Android) and Bluetooth 4.0. When in range of the paired phone the Noke unlocks with a simple press of the shank, with no need to launch the app or removing the phone from one's pocket.

But what if the user forgets their phone or it runs out of power? The Noke also has a solution with "quick-click" technology. This allows the user to unlock the padlock by tapping a pre-assigned click pattern on the hook.

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