Food for thought #2

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Your brain refresher

Let’s dive into a selection of innovations powered by technology. This week we will discuss drones, “air charging”, and sensorial experiences. Time to spark our imagination!

Drones did not vanish into thin air

Since the early ages of their progressive mainstreamization, drones have been a topic of concerns for citizens and law makers due to the various threats they represent to privacy and public safety. However, regulations are being implemented throughout the globe, paving the way for a widespread, yet more rational, use of drones by corporations and individuals alike.

Amazon’s leadership

Amazon, the Seattle-based behemoth which focuses on e-commerce, cloud computing, digital streaming, and artificial intelligence, popularized the concept of drone deliveries in 2013, with Jeff Bezos revealing plans for such service during a televised interview.

Since then, Amazon founded a dedicated subsidiary named Amazon Prime Air in 2016, and while the service which aims to fly individual packages to customers within 30 minutes of ordering is yet to materialize, numerous tests are ongoing, and the company recently received federal approval to use drones to deliver packages.

While drone deliveries sound socially acceptable, what will people think of the Always Home Cam, an “innovative new approach to always being home” to be released this year by Amazon’s smart device subsidiary, Ring?

The security camera that flies around inside your house is likely to face scrutiny regarding potential breach to personal privacy but will hopefully bring joy to cats…

Walmart’s takeoff

The giant retailer has expressed interest in drone deliveries for many years, making its first tests back in 2015. Drone deliveries look very attractive when many businesses and customers are keen to avoid in-person interactions, so the current pandemic probably accelerated the retailer’s agenda: Walmart launched a pilot program in September 2020!

Flytrex’s automated drone used by Walmart. Walmart Newsroom
Flytrex’s automated drone used by Walmart. Walmart Newsroom

The pilot is held in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and focuses on “delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using Flytrex’s automated drones”. Most experts see the partnership with Flytrex as a smart workaround to avoid the need for direct certification: Flytrex is already part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program.

To explain the company’s incursion into drone deliveries, Senior VP Tom Ward emphasizes the positive impact on the consumer experience: “We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone. That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier”.

Walmart is so convinced by the potential of drones that they also partnered with Coca-Cola and DroneUp for a promotional campaign, last week!

Charging through the air

While Energous promises “wireless charging 2.0” since its founding in 2013, the company might not be the first to go to market.

Mi Air Charge

Xiaomi Corporation, the Beijing-based electronics company that recently surpassed Apple Inc. in the smartphone market, announced its Mi Air Charge tech last week. This technology manages to charge multiple devices simultaneously from a few meters away at up to 5W, and the company claims that having furniture and other obstacles in the way doesn’t affect charging speeds.

With this technology, Xiaomi’s goal is to “make the living room truly wireless”, with phones, smartwatches, speakers, lamps, and many other smart home devices all being powered by the same remote system. No release date has been communicated so far, but the company told The Verge that no commercial product will be released this year.

Sensorial experiences

We conclude this week’s Food for Thought article with a selection of products and technologies that will help you “feel” now or in the years to come.

Audio you can feel

Skullcandy introduced its lineup of Crusher headphones in 2017, and these included a revolutionary feature: adjustable bass with haptic feedback. Or “bass you can feel” as Skullcandy likes to call it out – which is not a lie! Their latest iteration, released at the end of 2020, includes “sensory bass with personal sound”  which adjusts specifically to your hearing.

The Skullcandy Crusher Evo is available for 129€ on the company store. This technology is progressively embraced by other gaming hardware makers, such as Corsair with its similarly priced HS60 Haptic.

Pain you can feel

Researchers from the RMIT University have developed electronic artificial skin that reacts to pain just like real skin, opening the way to better prosthetics, smarter robotics and non-invasive alternatives to skin grafts.

Electronic skin art. RMIT University
Electronic skin art. RMIT University

The prototype mimics the body’s near-instant feedback response and can react to painful sensations with the same lighting speed that nerve signals travel to the brain. According to PhD researcher Md Ataur Rahman: “While some existing technologies have used electrical signals to mimic different levels of pain, these new devices can react to real mechanical pressure, temperature and pain, and deliver the right electronic response. It means our artificial skin knows the difference between gently touching a pin with your finger or accidentally stabbing yourself with it – a critical distinction that has never been achieved before electronically.”

Heat you can feel

Considering the current temperatures, I thought it would be great to talk about something that packs much less tech all-around but that, as a tech enthusiast, you can proudly wear to socialize outdoors: heated clothes.

A shirt from Ororo Wear. Ororo Wear
A shirt from Ororo Wear. Ororo Wear

To learn more about heated clothes, check out this article from Wired.

Thanks for reading!

PS: as a follow-up to the previous Food For Thought article, I’d like to mention that the products designed in collaboration between IKEA and Asus ROG have recently leaked and should be available by the end of the year.

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