Six slick technologies re-shaping the future

Six slick technologies re-shaping the future

Summary: The future of human-computer interaction was the theme at the Blur conference's jaw-dropping demo day.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

A few weeks ago, I went to the annual Defrag conference in Broomfield, Colo., to check in on a few identity related tracks and while I was there the future broke out in the form of the Blur Conference.

What I found was a glimpse of the future in gaming, touch-sensitive phone cases, multi-touch tables, viable consumer market 3D printers and thought-controlled apps. They would all make smile-enducing entries on any holiday shopping list.



Sharky the Beaver
Sharky the Beaver loves cupcakes

This little robotic ball rolled onto the scene a few years ago is now moving into augmented reality (AR) games with the introduction of Sharky the Beaver. The 3-D cupcake eating Beaver looks to be moving through your real-world surroundings as you control the animal from your tablet or smartphone. (see him in action).

The Sphero ball acts as the AR marker, which allows Sharky to enter your physical world. Sphero has an API and an SDK so developers can add to the fun. As the company says, it’s not just a ball.


Sphero Glider:

Just to give an idea what the API and SDK can do, two developers have come up with a mobile flying game that incorporates real gliding physics and uses Sphero as the game controller. The robotic controls in the ball give the game a life-like feel. Developer brothers Casey and Skylar Graika quit their jobs at Boeing, began a Kickstarter program, and are taking a flier (no pun intended) on becoming mobile game kingpins. Their first effort is modeled on Pilotwings 64 and runs on iOS and Android devices. The proto-type has been in testing for two months, said Casey.



Sensus, a touch-sensitive phone case

Canopy has come up with a touch sensitive mobile phone case that includes dual micro sensors for gesture and recognition, according to marketing coordinator Ian Spinelli. What does that mean? Instead of touching the screen, the touch navigation happens on the back of the device. The proto-type includes a drawing app and more apps are on the way. Sensus adds a row of graphical buttons to the phone interface and comes with a free developers kit to light them up with logic.


Touch Table

Ideum showed off its elegant multi-touch tables with a 55-inch screen and some simple applications built with the company’s Gesture Works gesture-based development environment. The firm has been building these tables since 2008 with the goal of creating a user-centric experience that uses visual queues to direct users instead of traditional menus, said company CTO Paul Lacey. They can be used as home accessories, wall mounted monitors and in museum settings. See this video showing an exhibit at the Penn Museum supported by a multitouch table.


MakerBot. Printrbot.

Mainstream (and affordable) 3D printing is reality and you could use it to print out your holiday decorations. Or whatever strikes your fancy. These amazing machines print physical objects layer by layer. “People at NASA are prototyping their prototypes with MakerBot,” said CEO Bre Pettis. “We are living in the best time to be creative.” In October the company started shipping its Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. In the same vein but with a more affordable entry price, PrintrBot has hit the market with a line of 3D printers, including the Printrbot jr. ($399), Printrbot LC, Printrbot Plus and Printerbot GO, which comes with its own airline-worthy carrying case. Founder Brook Drumm is living his mantra that 3D printers should be affordable.



If you’re not interested in buying a 3D printer and printing your own items, Shapeways is the next best thing. The commercial printer is a sort of crowd-sourced retail outlet for 3D printed stuff. People can make, buy, and sell their own products printed in stainless steel, sterling silver, ceramic, plastic, sandstone and a number of other materials used as a foundation or a finish. In 2012 alone, Shapeways printed over a million products. “3D printing is the future of stuff,” says Charlie Maddock, director of business development at Shapeways. “Mass produced items are boring." Independent designer David Bush was at the Blur conference and said he got started by buying a $129 3D modeling program to design mini-sculptures, including Gear Heart, which won first prize in Shapeway's Maker Faire content in 2009. The design was a tribute to papercraft artist Haruki Nakamura's sculpture, Gear's Heart.

Shapeways products
Shapeways shows off some of its 3D-printed items at Blur



Thought-controlled computing is coming to the mass market this summer in the form of InteraXon’s Muse headband. Slip it on and fire up apps that let your brain control video game play, or workout with brain fitness apps that improve attention span and increase working memory.

“Current brain games build your brain like carrying groceries in from the car,” says company CEO Ariel Garten. “This builds your brain like doing bench press reps in the gym.” (Listen to her Ted Talk).

Muse, which talks to devices via Bluetooth, is an electroencephalograph (EEG) that records brainwaves and reads the brain's overall pattern of activity to detect certain states such as relaxed or alert. The output is converted to ones and zeros used to control anything electric.

Topic: Emerging Tech


John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

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  • Nice

    Background Touch pad is best among ..
  • Some innovative technologies for a change

    and not just obvious money-spinners.

    Even Shapeways, which could be considered a little mercenary considering its host technology does at least make it accessible... Current 3D printer systems are becoming very commercial, and both the ability and resources to print are metered to extract money - not the intention of its designer at all. (It actually doesnt surprise me that the very weapon against mass production should be co-opted into it by the industry, but at least it hasnt been destroyed or buried. Many other brilliant ideas went that way...)

    I also hope the Muse headband delivers all it promises, because it seems to me thats the direction to go in. It is neat and tidy, non-invasive and literally reads your mind - it reacts to what you pay attention to, and when you think about it, thats all you need.
    Its an active interface rather than a passive one, and coupled with some relatively simple AI, it may even replace the keyboard in time. Not by reading the letters from our brains as we mentally type, but by learning us so well it can predict from context and offer us more limited choices than 26 letters.

    This machine can learn us better than another human because we cant be evasive in any way, which prompts me to wonder if it has a networked application - say through (shudder) FacePlant or maybe the cellular networks as a P2P type stream.

    All rather interesting, I think.
  • Not entirely sure I see the point ...

    Not entirely sure I see the point.

    AR is interesting, but something that would work best with HUDs and glasses, not phones. Sure, I have an AR game on my iPhone (reflow), but it's rarely played.

    Not sure I get the point of sensus - put the touch sensors where you can't see what you're touching? Huh?

    3D printing is cool and all - but honestly, it seems to be a solution looking for a problem at this point. It's super easy to get what you want in 10 mins or so at Wal-Mart.

    It will certainly appeal to the creative geeks - but other than that, who does it appeal to? Most people aren't creative geeks.

    And of course there's the question of the cost of materials and inks - and people are complaining enough already about the cost of inks in 2D.
    • Just to clarify

      the cost of 3d printing is considerably cheaper than traditional methods because of its flexibility.

      This is what makes it so attractive to the industry its billed to replace. Because you can go from a design directly to a coloured production piece in one step, without molds, casting, machining, finishing or colouring phases, the production cost is simple.
      Secondly, you dont have to be a design geek to use it. You go to a library and download a piece as a file, then upload that to the print-service. You pay for it, and you receive the part in the post. You can, if you wish, design that part yourself...

      The touch device as shown is more of an upgrade to existing touch capability. Average hand-eye coordination isnt good enough to guide a fingertip to a specific point, no, but thats not what its for. Swipes, and even biometric type data (which hand is holding the device, or where/how) is incredibly useful to determine landscape / portrait / projection / stream modes without actually doing anything like access a menu - and it can be retrofitted as an overlay to existing devices. Its not very futuristic, just a damn good idea that I expect to see as a standard feature in mobile computing as standard pretty soon.
  • Great post...

    Nice one, when everyone is so eager to write their crap reviews about smarphones and tablets, this one blog stands out of the crowd. Superb!!!
  • Muse headband for my Sphero

    That's I want. An API to control Sphero using the Muse and the android/iOS device as a simple go between.
    Andy Loerch