Showing posts with label futuretech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label futuretech. Show all posts

Thursday, 16 October 2014

British Gas sets its sights on home automation


Hive launched last year and the smart thermometer is now installed in more than 100,000 homes across the UK, according to British Gas. That gives it a significant lead over its other smart home rivals, such as Nest and Honeywell.
The company has now unveiled the second generation of its Active Home system, which it claims will take it beyond just measuring the temperature into the house towards full home automation.
According to Kassir Hussain, director of connected homes at British Gas, the second generation of the gadget will come with smart sensors that are able to detect which room people are in and when they leave the house.
“Infrared presence sensors and little keyfobs you put on your bag that tell you when people in and out are on our radar,” Hussain told Engadget.
However, he conceded that while the technology is there to increase the intelligence of device – such as knowing you’re five minutes away and putting the heating on – privacy issues mean it is too soon to take things to that extreme.
“We’re also looking at geolocation but we’re being very careful with that due to privacy issues. Knowing that you’ve stepped through the front door is a good first step, but whether we’ll go beyond that remains to be seen.”
Other features the company is testing out include detecting when a certain member of the family enters or leaves the home. It is also looking at tying it into security systems to detect when someone who doesn’t live there enters the property.
Hussain said that the company isn’t planning on adding 101 features to the gadget though. British Gas is instead focusing on working with other companies who specialise in other complementary areas.
“We don’t believe in closed ecosystems. Customers are going to want to choose a variety of different products, which could be from other manufacturers or they could be from us. The key for us is to create an open ecosystem and platform that allows people to collect the products they choose, not the ones we curate.”
That openness extends to Apple and Google’s own platforms. “We’re excited about Apple HomeKit and Google’s recent home automation announcements, and are actively looking into Bluetooth LE, ZigBee and Z-Wave standards to ensure we remain open,” Hussain added.
The second generation of Active Home is currently scheduled to launch next summer.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Why computers of the next digital age will be invisible

The author Douglas Adams once made a witty point about technology: the inventions we label “technologies” are simply those which haven’t yet become an invisible, effortless part of our lives.

“We no longer think of chairs as technology,” he argued. “But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs…and we will cease to be aware of the things.”

Adams’s prediction was prescient. Computers have been such a prominent, dazzling force in our lives for the past few decades that it’s easy to forget that subsequent generations might not even consider them to be technology. Today, screens draw constant attention to themselves and these high-visibility machines are a demanding, delightful pit into which we pour our waking hours. Yet we are on the cusp of the moment when computing finally slips beneath our awareness – and this development will bring both dangers and benefits.

Computer scientists have been predicting such a moment for decades. The phrase “ubiquitous computing” was coined at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the late 1980s by the scientist Mark Weiser, and described a world in which computers would become what Weiser later termed “calm technologies”: unseen, silent servants, available everywhere and anywhere.

Although we may not think about it as such, computing capability of this kind has been a fact of life for several years. What we are only beginning to see, however, is a movement away from screens towards self-effacing rather than attention-hungry machines.

Take Google Glass. Recent news stories have focused more on intrusion than invisibility. (There’s even a young word, “Glassholes”, describing the kind of users who get kicked out of cafes). Beyond the hand-wringing, though, Glass represents the tip of a rapidly-emerging iceberg of devices that are “invisible” in the most literal sense: because a user’s primary interface with them is not through looking at or typing onto a screen, but via speech, location and movement.

This category also includes everything from discrete smartwatches and fitness devices to voice-activated in-car services. Equally surreptitious are the rising number of “smart” buildings – from shops and museums to cars and offices – that interface with smartphones and apps almost without us noticing, and offer enhancements ranging from streamlining payments to “knowing” our light, temperature and room preferences.

Intelligent cloud

The consequences of all this will be profound. Consider what it means to have a primarily spoken rather than screen-based relationship with a computer. When you’re speaking and listening rather than reading off a screen, you’re not researching and comparing results, or selecting from a list – you’re being given answers. Or, more precisely, you’re being given one answer, customised to match not only your profile and preferences, but where you are, what you’re doing, and who with.

Google researchers, for example, have spoken about the idea of an “intelligent cloud” that answers your questions directly, adapted to match its increasingly intimate knowledge about you and everybody else. Where is the best restaurant nearby? How do I get here? Why should I buy that?

Our relationships with computers, in this context, may come to feel more like companionship than sitting down to “use” a device: a lifelong conversation with systems that know many things about us more intimately than most mere people.

Such invisibility begs several questions. If our computers provide such firm answers, but keep their workings and presence below our awareness, will we be too quick to trust the information that they provide – or too willing to take their models of the world for the real thing? As motorists already know to their cost, even a sat-nav’s suggestions can be hopelessly wrong.

That’s not to mention the potential for surveillance. More than a decade ago, critics of ubiquitous computing suggested it is “the feverish dream of spooks and spies – a bug in every object”. Given this year’s revelations about the NSA monitoring our communication, it was a prescient fear, and one that has had recent commentators reaching for that familiar adjective “Orwellian.”

There are, of course, causes for celebration about this technology too: hopes for a world in which computers, like chairs, simply support us without draining a particle more of our time, attention or effort than required. And in any case, subsequent generations may not share the same concerns as us. As Douglas Adams put it, everything that already exists when you’re born is just normal – but “anything that gets invented after you’re 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it.”

Yet as computers slip ever further beneath our awareness, it is important that we continue to ask certain questions. What should an unseen machine be permitted to hear and see of our own, and others’, lives? Can we trust what they tell us? And how do we switch them off?

Invisible computers are here. But we must remember to keep at least some of their facets within sight.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

James Dyson Award 2014 now open for submissions

The James Dyson Award for 2014 has officially begun accepting submissions as of today - with the winning designers picking up £10,000 in prize money to further develop their project.
Bringing together the world's brightest young engineers, the challenge of the award remains to design a new product that solves a particular problem.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the award which, in recent years, has discovered and supported inventors with ideas such as an upper-body robotic arm and a more efficent device to harness wave power.
“Young design engineers have the ability to develop tangible technologies, which can change lives," said James Dyson. 
"The award rewards those who have the persistence and tenacity to develop their ideas – it is an exciting but challenging process. Often the simplest ideas have the biggest impact,” he said.
The award is run in eighteen countries and is open to any university level student of product design, industrial design or engineering. Entrants have until August 1st to submit prototypes along with stories detailing their design process and inspiration.


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