Friday, January 25, 2013

First hands on with the Leap Motion developer edition – the $69 gesture controller for Mac and PCs

Disclaimer: This is a developer unit of the Leap Motion and not the final stage of the product. Therefore, this review is not on the final hardware that has yet to released.
Few innovations truly change the way we interact with our devices. Touchscreens—once just a fantasy reserved for science fiction—are now more common than ‘dead screens’. Just show any iPad-wielding, 3-year-old kid a screen, and he’ll try swiping it. In a few years from now, eye-tracking technology may have a similar impact on devices. Today, though, Leap hopes to make motion and gesture control the next big thing with the announcement of its first consumer product, the Leap Motion. Promo video:
Due to the “overwhelming response” from developers who say their app idea will help make the Leap a better product when it launches sometime this year, Leap has decided to send out over 10,000 beta units to developers. Fortunately enough for us, we were able to get our hands on one, and, after a few hours of somewhat extensive testing, I have my verdict on the Leap Motion.
Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 7.33.50 PMComing in a sleek black box with a hand-pasted sticker only reading “Leap Motion”, it’s no secret Leap took a cue from Apple on how to make a minimalist package. Opening the box reveals the Leap along with a letter from the CEO that briefly explained how valuable the developers are to the Leap’s success. You will find a micro USB-to-USB cable, as well. Plugging the Leap in and seeing your motions visualized on the screen only takes a quick download of Leap’s SDK (now at version 0.7.1) that is only available to developers from their online “Dev Portal.”

The software is extremely “thinned out,” as once downloaded, the Leap software doesn’t open an app, but it instead reveals a small icon in the task bar with a pull-down menu. The only way to tell if your Leap Motion device is working is to open the visualizer and test it. The visualizer is a 3D grid that displays your finger movements with a long colorful tail. Each finger has its own color, but the device has trouble recognizing which finger is which, so you’ll usually get a different color for the same finger each time.

While the Leap didn’t usually have too much trouble sensing one, two, or even three fingers at a time, using four fingers created difficultly with the Leap as it usually didn’t pick up all four at a time. The Leap’s major disappointment, though, comes when you want to use five fingers. As advertised in its promo video, using five fingers with the Leap should not pose a problem. However, in my real-world testing, the Leap almost never was able to recognize five fingers at once. While it’s not such a major problem now, this could cause havoc in the future for developers hoping to utilize all five fingers in one motion in their app.
Another problem I found troubling was the failure to recognize two fingers when next to each other. I hoped that when placing my index finger next to my middle finger, the Leap would recognize the input as two separate fingers, but, unfortunately, the Leap only sees that as one finger. In the future, we may possible see and update that fixes this. In the meantime, though, that input option is not available.
The Leap’s final flaw is its ability to recognize inputs…in general. The Leap claimed there is an 8-cubic-foot radius on its ability to pick up inputs, but that’s not even remotely the case. After moving your hand back more than one foot, the Leap stops picking up inputs completely. The 1-foot “limit” remains on both the left and right side, as well. If I moved my hand two feet to the left side, my movements no longer showed up on the visualizer. The same went for the right side of the device. We’re not sure if this is simply a beta limitation or a long-term issue, but we’ll get back with more when/if we get word.
The Leap isn’t all negative, though. A few key features that Leap possesses show its strengths against the little competition. The Leap’s “visualizer” software consists of a 3D graph, for instance, with an X- and Y-axis, as well as a Z-axis. This means the Leap recognizes how far or close you are to the actual device. While this could very well just be a gimmick, it could turn out to be very useful and practical with enough developer support and creativity.
The Leap’s other advantage is its size. After seeing the Microsoft Kinect, most thought a gesture-and-motion device for computers would be of a similar or only slightly smaller size. The Leap breaks those presumptions and measures in at about the size of a normal USB stick. With the Leap being so small, we can only imagine how it could only get smaller with the creation of the second and third generation—and eventually built directly into laptops or keyboards/mice. We’re already seeing this happen: Asus’ announcement at CES 2013 said all-new PCs will ship with the tech pre-built-in. Hopefully, though, as the technology expands and improves, we see it come standard into all PCs, and eventually—maybe—with a little glimmering Apple logo over it.
While the Leap looks extremely promising in the promo video online, the developer unit does not have the same consumer appeal. 

The Leap we are testing is a beta product, but it feels more like something you’d classify as an alpha-stage product. While it is wonderful for what it does, our Leap is in the final casing enclosure, and not just a motherboard, so we’re not getting all the features promised (whether it be the ones found in the video online or written on the site). Of course, though, even if the hardware isn’t final, and it presumably isn’t, the software is still long away from version 1.0. Even then, I have doubts at how much improvement there can really be.
The Leap is the kind of device that can change the game, but the innovation cannot move forward without some major software and hardware tweaks first.

Doctors see Apple's iPhone as life saver in 'the future of medicine'

While some iPhone users see their smartphones as a figurative life saver, Dr. Eric Topol put Apple's popular smartphone to such use literally on a recent flight from Washington, D.C., to San Diego.

Visit for breaking newsworld news, and news about the economy

As Rock Center with Brian Williams details, Topol used his iPhone, in combination with an AliveCor — an iPhone-mounted sensor capable of delivering clinically accurate electrocardiograms — to measure the vital signs of a passenger experiencing severe chest pains at 30,000 feet. 

When the readings indicated that the passenger was, in fact, having a heart attack, Topol recommended an urgent landing. The passenger survived after being rushed to the hospital. 

According to Topol, the proliferation of apps that allow patients to measure and monitor their vital signs represents a revolution in the medical world. Devices like the iPhone, he says, will soon be able to pair with ingested or injected sensors: monitoring blood flow, sugar levels, sleep habits, heart rates, and more.

When one of these sensors picks up data of note, it will be able to contact a patient's smartphone, or even a patient's doctor in order to alert the physician and schedule an appointment. Such technology could cut down on inefficient practices such as mass screenings for things like breast cancer, with patients instead monitoring their own hormone and blood chemistry levels with smartphone-paired sensors. 


The medical community is moving toward and adopting technologies such as these in fits and starts, encouraged by the utility and portability of devices such as the iPad mini, but occasionally stymied by regulatory concerns. Physicians have by some accounts, been quicker to adopt the iPad for use in their practices than they have the electronic health record systems mandated by the Affordable Care Act. 

The other end of the medical future that Topol envisions, though, will be slower to come. While advancements have been made in wireless technologies and sensors, the medical community has been slower to adopt those devices than it has tablets and smartphones. 

The pace of improvement in those devices continues to accelerate, though, and it may not be too far in the future when smartphone users won't have to call their doctor for an appointment, because their smartphone will have already done so for them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is this 3D-printed robot the first of thousands?

InMoov is an open-source DIY printable robot that can obey voice commands. It's slightly creepy, but at least it's cheap.

I love the one-upmanship going on in the word of 3D printing.
At CES 2013 I saw 3D-printed skateboards, flowers, and gear assemblies, and meanwhile there are now plans to print everything from body parts to buildings. So printing robots was only a matter of time.
InMoov is a full-size humanoid robot made from 3D-printed parts. Designed and built by Gael Langevin of Factices Ateliers in France, InMoov began last year as a hand, then an arm. It's now two arms and a head.

It may be a little on the
 Uncanny Valley side of robot aesthetics, but that could easily change.It was designed with Blender, runs on MyRobotLab, and requires Arduino and other electronics and cables to work.
Check it out coming to life with gesture capture while responding to voice commands in the vid below. Other videosshow the progress in building it.
So far, the manufacture and parts have come to at least $900, not including the torso and head, as well as the 3D printer. Still, it's a great deal compared to conventional humanoid robots that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Files for InMoov's 3D-printed hands are available for download on Thingiverse, and Langevin welcomes collaborators to develop the bot.
If you've got the time and skills, why not help build a robot army?

Vine, Twitter’s Instagram for Video, Launching Soon — At Apple’s App Store

Vine app logoYep, that was Twitter CEO Dick Costolo using video from Vine, thevideo-sharing startup he bought last fall, in a tweet he sent out today. And yes, that means Vine is ready to go.
Perhaps as soon as tomorrow, people familiar with the company tell me.
But when Vine does launch, you won’t find it on Twitter, at least not as a fully integrated feature.
Prior to the Twitter acquisition, Vine was going to be a standalone iOS app. And that’s still the case: The startup still operates on its own, and if you want to use the service you’ll need to download it from Apple’s App store.
Why would you want to download Vine? Because it’s supposed to be a fun tool for making and sharing very short video clips — no longer than six seconds a pop — in the same way that Instagram worked for photos. And it’s designed in a similar way, with the ability to follow other Vine users’ clips, explore stuff from people you don’t know, etc.
There are other apps that do something similar, but one notable difference with Vine is the way you use it — after hitting a “record” button on the app, you hold your thumb on the screen to start filming. Take it off, and the camera stops.  You can use the app to create one straight take, or take lots of little shots, and make digital montages or flip-books (take a look at Costolo’s clip, below, which looks like it’s composed of eight or nine very quick takes).
All of that’s according to people who’ve seen the app.
Those people also tell me that one thing you don’t see on Vine is any kind of Twitter branding. This is a Twitter-owned video service, but for now, at least, it’s not “Twitter’s video service.”
As Costolo demonstrated today, you’ll be able to share video from the app to Twitter. But that’s about it as far as integration goes. You could see how Twitter might want to link more deeply with Vine at some point, perhaps with a “record” button on Twitter’s own app, but not right now.
For more info, you might want to follow Vine’s own Twitter account, which hasn’t had anything to say quite yet.


Unlocking Cellphones Becomes Illegal Saturday in the U.S.

 for TechNewsDaily 
The clock to unlock a new mobile phone is running out.
In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking mobile phones would no longer be allowed. But the librarian provided a 90-day window during which people could still buy a phone and unlock it. That window closes on Jan. 26.
Unlocking a phone frees it from restrictions that keep the device from working on more than one carrier's network, allowing it run on other networks that use the same wireless standard. This can be useful to international travelers who need their phones to work on different networks. Other people just like the freedom of being able to switch carriers as they please.
The new rule against unlocking phones won't be a problem for everybody, though. For example, Verizon's iPhone 5 comes out of the box already unlocked, and AT&T will unlock a phone once it is out of contract.
You can also pay full-price for a phone, not the discounted price that comes with a two-year service contract, to receive the device unlocked from the get-go. Apple sells an unlocked iPhone 5 starting at $649, and Google sells its Nexus 4 unlocked for $300.
Advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) questions whether the DMCA has the right to determine who can unlock a phone. In an email to TechNewsDaily, EFF attorney Mitch Stoltz said, "Arguably, locking phone users into one carrier is not at all what the DMCA was meant to do. It's up to the courts to decide."
If you do buy a new phone and want to unlock it before the deadline, you must first ask your carrier if the company will unlock your phone for you. The DMCA only permits you to unlock your phone yourself once you've asked your carrier first.
(Note that unlocking is different from "jailbreaking," which opens the phone up for running additional software and remains legal for smartphones.)
Christopher S. Reed from the U.S. Copyright Office noted in an email toTechNewsDaily that "only a consumer, who is also the owner of the copy of software on the handset under the law, may unlock the handset."
But come Saturday, you'll have to break the law to unlock your phone. If you want to get in under the gun, you can search the Internet for the code to enter to unlock the phone or find a tool that will help you accomplish the task.
The change could crimp the style of carriers like T-Mobile, which have pushed "bring your own device" as an incentive for switching service providers. Such carriers promise savings in exchange for using your existing phone on their network.
T-Mobile has promoted this notion for iPhones, in particular, since the company is the only one of the big four U.S. carriers that doesn't sell the iPhone. The carrier goes so far as to feature ads displaying an open padlock, with an iPhone replacing the body of the lock. T-Mobile declined to comment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 photos leak ahead of the official announcement

The Galaxy Note 8.0 slate was already confirmed by JK Shin – the head of Samsung Mobile Communications. The official announcement is expected to happen at MWC 2013 next month in Barcelona.

We already know the specs of the device – it will be powered by the same quad-core platforms as the Note 10.1, but will come with an 8.0″ display of 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. Now we also got to see the first real world images of the tablet.
If the slate on the picture is indeed the Galaxy Note 8.0, then you can expected hardware Android controls and an earpiece. This means the Note 8.0 will be intended mostly to be used in portrait orientation.
There is one thing bothering me though, I can’t see a slot for the S-Pen and with the recent rumors about a Galaxy Tab 3 lineup in the pipeline, this device might as well turn out to be the Galaxy Tab 3 7.x or similar. After all it just doesn’t make sense for a Note device to be intended for mostly portrait handling.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 should be announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month, probably followed by a few Galaxy Tab 3 devices if rumors turn out to be truth. We’ll be there to cover everything for you so stick around.

Apple's "smart shoes" notify users when they need replacing

An interesting Apple patent application discovered on Thursday describes a sensor and alarm system that can be embedded into footwear, granting users a more empirical method on which to rely when deciding to replace worn-out shoes. 


Apple's worn-out shoe alert system. | Source: USPTO

First filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in July 2012, Apple's application for a "Shoe wear-out sensor, body-bar sensing system, unitless activity assessment and associated methods" looks to make "smart shoes" that can alert owners when they need replacing. 

As Apple describes it, shoes not only provide comfort and protection, but also stability for feet during physical activities such as sports or training. Over time and continued use, a shoe's support decreases, thereby reducing the effectiveness of its protection. There comes a point when a "critical wear level" is reached where a shoe may not provide enough support and can in some cases actually cause foot damage. Because this level of wear may not be apparent to the user, a sensor and alarm system could be a solution to preventing injury. 


Illustration of system with external display.

The patent basically involves three main components: a detector for sensing when the shoe wears out; a processor to measure the detector's data; and an alarm for alerting the user when a shoe is no longer stable. Sensors can be of any type, including accelerometers, pressure sensors and piezoelectric flexing sensors, among others. Data is processed through an algorithm, which can be set according to a shoe manufacturer's specifications, that determines at what point a shoe is at the threshold of failure.

In one embodiment, a "unitless" activity number may be assigned to the sensed motions by the processor, which in turn generates an "activity value" based on a predetermined maximum number. The unitless system can also be applied over time by taking samples at periodic intervals. For example, if a shoe is rated for 500 hours of use, the alarm would sound after the system recorded that amount of activity. 

Other physical metrics not directly associated with one's shoes are also accounted for as another embodiment involves a body bar sensing component that is used to quantify the repeated movements of lifting weights. These repetitions can be processed and ultimately represented graphically on a display device. 


Illustration of body bar sensing detector with bar weight.

Powering the system is either a built-in battery or a mechanical electric generation device, while the alarm can take the form of an LED light, speaker or display. Also incorporated in some embodiments is a wireless interface, suggesting compatibility with portable devices like the iPhone or iPad. 

Apple envisions the processor, alarm and other necessary electronics to reside in a shoe's heel or any other location where there is ample room for the circuitry. The sensor, or sensors, can be placed in the outsole, heel and other various locations ripe for wear-out detection.


Complex system with periodic sampling processor.

While an Apple-branded pair of basketball shoes may be far off, similar technology is already being used by major brands like Nike to track athletes' performance. 

The patent application credits Curtis A. Vock; Curtis and Perry Youngs as its inventors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

5 Tools to download videos from YouTube

There are several online tools that will allow you to download videos from popular online video destination...
5 Tools to download videos from YouTube
Internet is home to millions of videos that are a rich source of information, and you will find videos for almost any topic under the sun. Whether you want to learn photography, learn how to play guitar, want to know how to nurture a bonsai plant, impress others with your culinary skills, or simply satisfy your curiosity about outer space, you will find videos that are useful. Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct way of downloading these videos to make them available offline in case you want to view them at your own pace, especially in the case of tutorials. However, there are several tools that will help you download the videos from popular online video destinations. Keep in mind though, that downloading copyrighted videos can have legal implications and will land you in trouble. Also, there is a risk of exposing your system to malware, spyware and adware by using these tools, so use them at your own discretion.    

KeepVidClutter free layout, easy to use
Clutter free layout, easy to use

One of the most popular tools to download videos from the Internet is KeepVid. You can add the bookmark to your links toolbar and thereafter simply click on the ‘Keep it’ icon as you are watching a video that you would like to download. Alternatively, you can copy the link and enter it on the site, and click on download. However, you will need to have Java enabled on your system for it to function. Once you enable Java, you will be able to download videos from sites like YouTube,, Facebook, Metacafe, TED, Vimeo, 4shared, Dailymotion, eHow and other sites. You can choose from the flv, MP4 or WebM format. It also supports HD videos. The site is easy to use and most importantly, the layout is free of clutter.

SaveVidWith SaveVid you can easily download videos
With SaveVid you can easily download videos

Another popular tool is SaveVid. It works similar to KeepVid and requires you to download Java. However, unlike KeepVid, the site has several other elements to it. You can browse categories like music, celebrity videos, movies, TV, travel, gaming, sports, pets, how-to, science, animation etc. You can also browse the Top Videos downloaded in each category and chances are you will find the video you are looking for right here. Apart from this, it will also show you the latest videos that have been downloaded, daily 20 downloaded and even top 50 videos. SaveVid supports sites like YouTube, Google Videos, Metacafe, Facebook, Vimeo, and more. You can choose from flv, avi, mov, mpg or wmv formats.

YTD Video DownloaderYTD Video Downloader is a effective software you can look at
YTD Video Downloader is an effective software you can look at

If you are looking for a software to download videos from Internet, then YTD Video Downloaderis what you will find handy. It’s an easy to use tool using which you can download videos over sixty sites including YouTube, Facebook, Google Video, Yahoo Video,, ESPN Videos and Metacafe. You can even download HD and HQ videos with considerable ease. Additionally, you can convert the downloaded videos into other formats or even for specific devices. For instance, you can convert the video to play on your iPad. A plus point is that you can download and convert multiple videos at a time. However, this last feature of multiple download/convert is restricted to the pro version. The pro account will cost you approximately Rs 800.

VideoGrabberVideoGrabber provides several options
VideoGrabber provides several options

With VideoGrabber you can download videos from several sites including the popular ones like YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Metacafe, myspaceTV, theonion, Nationalgeograhic, and break. VideoGrabber, which claims support for over thousand video sites, provides options to download videos even from some of the more obscure sites. In case there is a site you want to download videos from, then you can just write to the VideoGrabber team and they will try and provide support for the same. With VideoGrabber you can also download HD videos. When you paste your link in the browser, it will grab the video for you and will display the format options available and you can choose which one you want to download. It supports MP4, WebM, flv, MP3 etc. Additionally, VideoGrabber also has a video conversion tool.  It also provides you with the option to record the audio, create a demo video by opting for screen recorder and even burn videos on DVD.

Firefox Video DownloadHelperThis Firefox extension is very handy to download videos
This Firefox extension is very handy to download videos

If you use Firefox, then you can install the Video DownloadHelper add-on. Once installed, you will see the add-in icon in your toolbar. On clicking the icon, you will see the list of sites it is compatible with, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Google Video, National Geographic, HowStuffWorks, NASA and more. So when you are on the site that is compatible with Video DownloadHelper, you will see the icon highlighted; clicking on it will provide you options to download the video. It will show you the options of the available video resolutions and you can select one from here. It also provides an option to convert the video to popular video and audio formats like MP3, mpeg, avi etc. and even device specific formats for Galaxy Tab, iPad, iPhone, Zune and more. It’s a quite efficient and easy to use tool.

Kim Dotcom launches Mega - a new 50GB free storage service

The enigmatic Dotcom declared "we cannot be stopped" at Mega's launch party

Kim Dotcom at the launch of Mega. Image Reuters
It's been precisely one year since notorious file-sharing site Megaupload was taken down.

Not one to shy away from the spotlight, the controversial internet tycoon has launched a brand new service - Mega - which will offer 50GB of free online storage to anybody that signs up.

Mega's signup page is currently seeing thousands of registrations per minute and claimed over 100,000 users within the website's first hour.

Once registered users can share files via a public link - if you've ever used other file-sharing sites (such as Dropbox or SkyDrive) you'll be familiar with the method.