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Tech gets in touch with human – and animal – needs

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The annual IFA tech expo in Berlin delivered both the usual cut and paste slew of copycat devices and some truly new technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

One of the standout features of the annual IFA technology trade expo in Berlin, Germany, is how much effort brands make to stand out. The result is that many of the big launches happen two or even three days before the main event, to avoid getting lost in the noise.

As a result, the likes of Huawei, Sony, Acer and Lenovo had all made their big announcements well before the crowds began arriving on Friday morning.

Huawei in particular stood out, with its most aggressive assault yet on the high end of the smartphone market. Until recently, it was best known for its network infrastructure, from base stations to 3G and 4G wireless Internet devices. As Glory Cheung, chief marketing officer of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, put it, “We have base stations as far north as the Arctic Circle and as high as the Himalayas. The smartphone is the human extension of what we do.”

Huawei unveiled its new Mate S, a 5.5-inch device that packs in every gram of the company’s innovation in an effort to demonstrate that it is no copycat manufacturer. There were numerous cut-and-paste phone and TV makers at IFA, with one very average brand plastering its stand with the overused and meaningless slogan “Game changer”.

Huawei-Force-Touch-Huawei-ForceTouch-Technology-Huawei-IFA-Berlin-Mate-S-Smartphone-602471

For Huawei, if the game is about positioning it alongside the market leaders like Apple and Samsung rather than the entry-level copycats, the Mate S does indeed change its own game.

It introduces several new and enhanced features around touch and control of the device, starting with what may be the best fingerprint recognition technology on a phone today. Dubbed Fingerprint 2.0, it allows the fingerprint pad on the back of the phone to be used not only for quick and accurate biometric identification – and therefore secure mobile payments – but also as an additional control and navigation mechanism. This means that it becomes a trackpad on which the user can swipe down or across to activate various functions.

More impressive but still a feature in search of a function is a technology called “force touch”, which makes the screen pressure sensitive – to the extent that it can be used as a scale to weigh small items.

And then there is Knuckle Control 2.0, which appears to combine the knock code of LG phones with the drawing function of Samsung Note devices, and then takes it to a new practical level. With a knuckle, the user can draw a crop line around any shape in a photo – whether a shoe or a ship – and crop out only that shape, rather than be confined to the usual geometric shapes. The knuckle can also be used to activate shortcuts by drawing, for example, a C for Camera or W for Weather.

Huawei’s slogan for the launch, “Touch. Made powerful.”, was one of a handful that did not come across as mere hype.

Another brand that has tried to keep pace with the smartphone leaders through its own innovation, Sony, also got in ahead of IFA to launch its new Xperia range in Berlin. Its direct competitor to the Mate S, the Xperia Z5 Premium, is a world first. It is the first handset to feature 4K display and recording – linking the phone to the current high-end in TV display.

Translated into numbers, that means 3840×2160 resolution. Translated into English, it means a dazzlingly sharp display that is almost outrageous in its visual quality.

The handset features a 5.5-inch screen and 3400 mAh battery, addressing Sony’s consumer research finding that battery life is currently the number one concern of phone buyers. Sony also launched a standard Z5 with 5.2-inch display and a Z5 Compact, with a 4.6-inch screen that is likely to retain the enthusiasm that the similarly sized Z3 Compact generated in the market.

But Sony and Huawei showed off the latest iterations of their wearable technology, joining Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit, Runtastic and Withings, among many others, in the race for attention.

Once again, Huawei surprised, taking a leaf out of Apple’s marketing book by calling its new device simply the Huawei Watch. But it was also no cut-and-paste job: the watch has an elegant, round face that gives it the appearance of a regular fashion watch rather than a geek tool.

Under the surface, though, it pushes the Android Wear standard for wearables to the limits. It’s not only a full activity tracker – with 6-axis motion sensor – and heart-rate monitor, but is also compatible with both Android and iOS devices. That’s a first for a major smartphone manufacturer.

While the big names compete for share in such intensively competitive segments, new niches are also emerging within these segments. For example, health-monitoring

One of the most intriguing is activity tracking for dogs and cats. A company called Tractive used IFA to showcase its GPS pet tracking device. While the initial focus was on locating lost animals, it raises fascinating possibilities, like solving the mystery of where cats go wandering in the course of a day. Some of the Tractive devices also measure body temperature, warning the owner when the pet needs water, shade or rest.

It’s a great example of technology getting in touch with more than just human needs.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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