Plants are Alive with the Sound of Music, Hills to Follow in 2014

Today on this gadget blog designed to bring you all things exciting and hi-tech, I bring you plants.

What’s that you say? Plants aren’t hi-tech and are barely exciting? Well, on any other day about any other plant, you may have a point. These plants, however, were designed by students at Keio University in Tokyo to be just about the most exciting, and unique plants in existence. That’s because they are built with a series of LED lights, sensor modules, speakers, and good old fashioned programming that turn them into musical instruments.

Umm…..Not Quite.

Dubbed “Sound Gardening,” they’re designed for multiple users to experience at once. The plants are real, and respond to touch and movement to generate certain noises, music, and voices. Certain plants work together to create a melody, and when a series of proper sensors are activated, a bonus sound appropriate to the current melody is played. The technology that powers this invention is fairly impressive, yet oddly, according to one of the sound designers on the project, the most difficult part was actually getting the plants to sing. Along with voices being triggered by specific motions, the voice feature is also used to alert passerbys of the plant’s capabilities as it will whisper “Hey, over here” in Japanese after 30 seconds of inactivity.

The team behind this project imagines that it can be used as a group musical activity, but their main motivation behind it seemed to be as a creative outlet to allow them to work on something outside of the normal creative constrictions. In short, they wanted to have fun with this project, and they’ve already noticed how much fun others have when they try it as well. Being in nature is very relaxing in and of itself, and when you combine interactive social music in with that, you have a device that can produce sheer joy and pure imagination. In a world where technology seems to be aimed at making our lives more and more stressful, inventions like this that first look like mere novelties are sometimes more important than they appear.

Is Sony’s New TV the Worst Use of Money Since Setting it on Fire?

At this point I thought we’d actually hit something of a peak in modern television performance. I mean there’s always the concepts out there for ultra-realistic 3D models or virtual reality type systems, but strictly speaking about traditional displays, and improving current technology, I look at my HDTV and think, “This is about as good as it gets, and I don’t think I need anything more.”

Sony’s hoping there aren’t too many people in the world like me, as they are aiming to put a TV on the market by the holidays that can only be described as excessive. Specifically, it’s an 80 inch LED TV that makes use of the new, better than 1080p, 4K Resolution that will serve as the flag bearer to Sony’s new XBR line. There’s no way to sugarcoat the price, as it will retail for a clean $30,000.

Now understand this. This TV cannot make you a sandwich, wisely invest your money (quite the opposite), take care of your pets while your away, or anything like that. In fact, the only thing that we know it can do so far is display a really pretty picture on a really big screen, that we can’t really comprehend because the only thing that can display a picture as clear as itself, is itself. Not only that, but Sharp is already working on an 8K TV that could debut even cheaper than this model.

Some have already pointed out that this model is actually cheaper than a previously announced 36 inch model by Eizo Nanao, and have gone back in time to remind us that the first plasma TVs debuted in 1997 for $35,000 and weren’t even capable of true HD. While that’s all very interesting, I hate to say that I don’t think the argument exists yet that will justify the purchase of a $30,000  TV that will be outdated by this time next year. Plus, I’m fairly certain that there isn’t much technology out there that can actually properly make use of this kind of display.

But hey, to be fair I’m not an early adopter, socially awkward type with a trust fund who I assume this TV is marketed at.

This Chinese Robot Army Isn’t Quite What I Was Expecting

They say the art of making authentic Chinese noodles from scratch is nearly extinct. If you watch this video from “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” of one of the few people left who can truly do it (it starts at about the 2:18 mark), you’ll understand why.

Much like many other aspects of the ever expanding nation though, rather than lament or dwell upon what was, they are instead moving forward with incredible speed and extreme ferocity. How does one do that in something like the noodle making industry? Why robots of course.

That’s a noodle making robot that frighteningly resembles Ultraman. Now while they can’t make the noodles from scratch (yet) what they can do is slice the noodles with an accuracy and quickness that allegedly outstrips the average human chef capabilities.  They’re cheaper than the average chef as well, with the figure being tossed around that a cook costs $4,700 a year while one of these robots will only set you back $2,000.

But surely no one is going for this right? Replacing trained chefs with machines that can only act in a limited capability? Well in case you haven’t been paying attention to world industry the last several decades, of course they are. Since manufacturing has started in 2011, 3,000 of these machines have already been sold, and more are in production.

These robots are obviously pretty far away, technologically speaking, from completely replacing chefs, but the fact that they are taking jobs at any level right now is pretty incredible. Ignoring the gross moral questions that replacing humans with robots in these positions raises, you also have to consider that if this trend takes off in full, the restaurant industry will suffer long term for it. It takes years of hard work for chefs to become great, or even good, and this prevents entry level cooks from gaining the practical experience needed to start that path. In certain parts of Japan, if you want to cook sushi, you must first cook nothing but rice for years and years before you are even allowed to touch a fish. It’s not the point a machine could make the rice better, the rather that the chef must gain the necessary appreciation and technique of one of the most base and essential parts of the meal before moving on the part of the star making part of the dish.

Oh, and by the way, giving a robot glowing pulsating yellow eyes, a furrowed brow, and a knife under any circumstances is not cool. In fact, that whole design seems excessive for a machine that’s only function is supposedly to shave noodles. Are we really supposed to believe that’s this things only purpose?

Yeah, and the “Chopping Mall” robot just flips pizzas

Could a Realistic Smartphone/Tablet Hybrid be in the Works?

I remember foolishly thinking at the time of the iPad release that Apple had finally gone off the deep end in terms of design. I mean, as far as I could tell they were basically trying to push what appeared to me to be a big iPhone. Of course what I didn’t anticipate was its uses as a superior e-reader, gaming platform, business and education super tool, video player, practical laptop replacement, and…well let’s just say I didn’t give the iPad and the tablet market as a whole a fair chance at first.

Still, I believe that much like that awkward time period where people still carried their MP3 players, portable gaming devices, and their new smartphones before realizing the latter’s amazing all-in-one potential, that the tablet and current smartphone technologies are sill similar enough that one day another all-in-one device is bound to come along that provides the best of both worlds for a price none of us can reasonably afford.

I’m not alone in this way of thinking either. There is even a terrible, must be changed now word for these devices. Phablets (the only word in existence that is scientifically proven to make you roll your eyes upon hearing it). One popular example of a phablet (*roll*) is the Samsung Galaxy Note. While it’s hybrid design of both devices fits the bill, it’s bulky shape doesn’t really seem to fit easily anywhere else, and it ends up coming off as a bulbous smartphone, or an undersized, underpowered tablet, depending on if you’re a glass half empty or glass half full type.

Despite the lack of overtly successful phablets (*roll*) thus far, designers still aren’t giving up on the idea. One of particular note out there is Patrick Eriksson’s flexible OLED concept design.

The idea is so simple it could have been a popular cartoon in the 80’s created to sell toys. The device starts off in its native phone format, but thanks to an ingenious flippable hideaway screen, it can be transformed, if you will, into a tablet size device in an instant. There aren’t many further details about the device at this time, other than Patrick’s partnership with Sony on the model, who would be handling manufacturing and distribution duties should the concept see its way to completion. That’s something they are no doubt hoping for, as the company could use a big win in light of their financial troubles, and weak market share across many divisions

Sony has also released a similar device before in the Tablet P, but that model, along with the similar, Kyocera Echo, suffered from some serious design flaws that made them come off as gimmicky and unpractical. This new model, however, is the first of its kind I’ve ever seen that looks like it could compently complete the bridge that spans the current tech gap between smartphone and tablet. While time and public reaction will of course ultimately tell the tale, there is no doubt that from a strict concept standpoint, this new device does finally bring into the limelight the almost inevitable conclusion that tablets and smartphones will not always co-exist as separate, economically viable entities.

Only please, somebody needs to invent a better name for these devices. Phablets (*roll*) sounds like a fan group name for high school girls who were way into “The Beatles.”

Pictured: The original line of “Phablets”

Status Report: The Gadgets of Science Fiction

Either sci-fi film directors in the past were strangely prophetic, or the entire field of science is really just made up of geeks trying to recreate “Star Trek,” but for some reason there is quite a selection of gadgets available ripped straight from science fiction. From smartphones, to bluetooth headsets, to good old fashioned space ships, the amount of technology available that was once reserved for fictional far off worlds is quite impressive.

Yet for all of the progress made in the field of science fiction to science fact, there are a few notable items that are still not quite widely available as of yet. Tired of waiting (I blame this insta-result technology fueled world we live in) I’ve decided to check back in with some of the greatest sci-fi inventions of all time, and see where real life is in producing their equivalent.

Virtual Chess Board

In The Movies – The virtual chess board has made appearances here and there, but its spotlight moment has to be in “Star Wars” when R2-D2 played Chewbacca in a game. The game may not have exactly been chess, but it did show us two things. That chess would be much cooler if the pieces were homicidal holograms, and that you always let the wookie win.

In Real Life – While video games have been giving us virtual chess matches for years, we’re surprisingly behind as a society on recreating the physical experience. In fact, I had a tough time finding anything that comes close to the “Star Wars version” we are all familiar with, as that picture up there is just an LED set of chess pieces designed to give off the illusion (fooled ya). While several companies are investigating the potential for hologram technology (not to mention that Tupac thing), this is one seemingly simple (in comparison to some of the other items on this list) sci-fi invention that is lagging behind.

Laser Guns

In The Movies – There are too many incidents of laser guns in the movies to keep up with. From “Star Trek” to “Star Wars,” almost every science fiction work that feature shoot outs features lasers. Why? Well not only are they flashy, cool, and look better for the camera, but they’re really flashy, pretty damn cool, and look great on the camera.

In Real Life – Not surprisingly, while we are lagging on the recreation of  a holographic chess board experience, we’re well ahead of schedule on deadly laser projectiles. The army has several deadly prototypes available, but I’m more impressed by what’s being done on the civilian level. Particularly by the team down at laser-gadgets.com.

And to think respected scientists have been wasting their laser research time on medicine.

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With New Search Parameters, Google May Actually be Taking Action to Cut Down on Pirated Material

What happened to you Google? You used to be cool.

As part of their collaboration with the film and music industry, Google is working on modifying its search engine parameters to filter out pirated material. Google’s current search method works off of hundreds of variables to determine which webpages are the most relevant to your search. The largest factor is possibly your page rank, which is determined, in part, by how many sites link from you.

A new variable will soon be added, however, that takes into account the number of valid copyright removal notices a site receives. Basically, the more that a site receives, the lower they fall on the overall search rankings. Since Google is processing more copyright claims than ever before, they feel that they are primed to recognize sites with pirated material, and divert searchers to legal sites like Hulu, and Spotify instead for their content needs.

So far the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America are both highly supportive of this move as they feel it represents the largest step ever taken by Google to protect copyrights and combat piracy, and are happy to be getting support from one of the biggest companies in opposition against the recent Stop Online Piracy Act bill.

I’m not as convinced. This surely sounds like a proper move by Google, but really how much is it going to help? For one thing, can even Google process enough copyright claims in time to shut down that many websites from appearing in top hits, and even if they can couldn’t you just go to page 2, or *gasp* 3 on your search to find the site? Also, wouldn’t smaller sites with the same material just pop up instead in specific search results as the bigger ones go down, creating an endless loop of fresh pirated material? Speaking of search hits, will this still filter out specific searches? In the interest of not outing anyone, if I search say, Swashbuckler’s Cove for a torrent of “Game of Thrones,” wouldn’t Google still take me directly there regardless of the copyright claims?

What’s even better is that no mention of the Google owned YouTube is found in any of the statements on this matter. You know, one of the world’s most popular and prolific websites where just about any copyrighted material can be found free of charge (except for porn of course, in which case you need to go to PornTube, YouPorn, or PornPorn).

So wait a minute. Is it possible that Google just pulled a fast one on the continually technologically ignorant music and film industries by doing something to please them, while effectively doing nothing to aid them?

Pretty sneaky Google.

Intel Wants To Make Wireless Charging Standard By 2013

If you look hard enough, it’s pretty easy to cut wires out of your life.

Yet for all of the advancements in wired freedom we’ve enjoyed over the years, we still find ourselves needlessly tethered to an outlet, or USB port when it comes time to charge our phones. Not that there haven’t been innovations in the field of wireless charging, but they’ve been few and far between and, to be perfectly honest, not that exciting. This is due to the fact they usually still require a reliance on some sort of physical device, whether that be a pad or a case.

The trouble, as you our astute reader has no doubt considerd, is that charging requires electricity, and electricity sufficient enough to perform a charge has to come from somewhere. Plus the cost of using the little technology that is available for wireless charging, and the technical trouble that is still associated with the process, just isn’t worth it for most companies.

But according to Wired, Intel might have an answer to the wireless dilemma at hand.

Well soon anyway (hey, we are called Gadget Teaser). By 2013 Intel is looking to have wireless charging available for their lines of smartphones via certain models of Ultrabooks. There is no evidence to suggest that the technology is applicable yet, but the idea is that the Ultrabook will be able to act as a conduit of sorts to charge your phone. According to Intel, as long as the phone is within a reasonable range of the Ultrabook, it will charge.

Now Intel has been working on some pretty impressive wireless charging technology for a while now, but if this tech really does exist in the way that they claim it does this would be the most significant advancement in the field yet announced. If it is possible to use a single device as a wireless hot point to produce a charge, then the potential for a truly wireless future may be more imminent than anybody could have anticipated.

3D Printing Produces a Miracle

You know, until today I thought the best use for one of those 3D printers like the MakerBot was fashioning a Beethoven bust.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, people better than myself are always looking to use revolutionary technology for revolutionary purposes beyond garnering Youtube hits. In fact 3D printing has recently been used to help a 2 year old girl named Emma. Emma, was born with a rare defect known as arthrogryposis multiplex congenital. Its main effect is weakening and shortening an infant’s muscles and joints to the point they are nearly unusable. After a long and burdensome series of treatments, doctor were able to fix Emma’s legs and get them back to functioning again. However, modern medicine had no answer for Emma’s arms, which they felt she would never be able to use via her own free will again.

That’s where a research team in Deleware came in. Since Emma was so small, and underdeveloped, she would need a device to help her use her arms that was as lightweight as it was durable. Thanks to 3D printing technology, the team was able to build an exoskeleton that augmented Emma’s arm use, and allowed her to use them for the first time with few limitations.

Obviously this is a story of technology overcoming a horror that no one (much less an infant child) should have to deal with. However, watching that video, it’s also obvious that science isn’t the only victor here, as the triumph of human spirit makes a noteworthy appearance as well. The smile on Emma’s face even before being able to use her arms, was nearly identical to the one after, as her unwavering spirit refused to be burdened by mere physical limitations. Only the look in her eyes as she discovered she could do new things like play with blocks, or lift a cup, or a million other little actions changed to reflect a sense of unparalleled wonderment.

It’s that look though that makes it clear that any more research that can be done in this field should push forward with all support and full steam, so that we can continue to see news like this, and similar looks in the eyes of many children for years to come.