Giz Gadgets: Could This Clever Tech Replace Your Smartphone?

Giz Gadgets: Could This Clever Tech Replace Your Smartphone?

Each new week brings with it an abundance of new gadgets — whether devised by tech giants like Google and Samsung or pushed by hopeful entrepreneurs to Kickstarter, they run the gamut from useful to niche to tech that nobody really needs. This week we’ve got smart tech in the palm of your hand — and even gadgets that want to be your new smartphone.
Image: Shutterstock

VR Isn’t Just For Games: CSIRO, Augmented Reality And The Future

Gizmodo was recently invited to visit CSIRO’s Data61 team to try one of their fabled Microsoft Hololenses. While we were there, CSIRO’s Matt Adcock gave us a rundown of CSIRO’s history with VR, which goes back long before the Hololens, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive ever existed. Not only VR, however, CSIRO has also been playing with augmented reality and its odd lovechild with traditional VR, something they call ‘augmented virtuality’.

Augmented virtuality is the name of a third category that joins both augmented and virtual reality. While virtual reality is the replacement of reality with an entirely virtual world and augmented reality is the act of bringing virtual objects into the real world, augmented virtuality refers to bringing real world objects into a virtual space. While the consumer side of VR is seeing a little of this, with technology such as the HTC Vive’s room-scale technology, CSIRO has already developed a number of applications for augmented virtuality.

One was implemented in a partnership with Rio Tinto at their remote working facility. CSIRO built a VR application that controlled one of the rock breaking machines on site, with a virtual model of the machine that operators could view in VR. However operators still had to see the rocks they were breaking, as a large part of the job of operating these machines involves selecting the rocks that need to be crushed, through visual inspection. Real time images of the rocks being processed were incorporated into this program, allowing the machines to be operated remotely from Rio Tinto’s Perth centre.

While this tech has a huge number of uses for a huge number of fields, one of the other applications of augmented virtuality being developed by the CSIRO is a kind of virtual classroom. In one example, students can use virtual reality devices to tour a computer generated representation of the historical site they’re learning about, while their teacher is inserted into the space to offer instruction, or switched out to a live 360 degree video of the classroom.

Bionic Earbuds Are Like A Smartphone You Can Leave In Your Ears Forever

Doppler Labs, the company that wants to stick a Jarvis-like computer in every ear, will go live with its first bionic buds. Anyone can buy the device later this year, and it is some futuristic stuff.

We’ve been following Doppler Labs for a few years now. The company made its first inroads to your ears via a set of fashionably-designed earplugs. Since then Doppler has been plugging away at the concept of what it calls “active listening” with the idea that it might be the first company to turn in-ear computers into a thing. In February, we had the opportunity to test out Doppler’s proof-of-concept Here Active Listening System, a set of computerised buds that altered the sound of the world. It was an impressive if imperfect execution of its lofty ideas.

Available for pre-order now in the US and later this spring elsewhere, the new Here One is the company’s first proper consumer product. It will be available to anyone who can shell out $US300 ($408). Like the Here Active Listening System, Here One is a pair of smart wireless earbuds. They process sound from the world around you and either amplify, deaden or modify it, depending on what settings you use.

With the concept product you could use the company’s app to block out the unwanted sounds of your commute or modify the sound of live music. Some of the more experimental settings allowed you to do things like apply psychedelic flange to the world, just in case the bad trip scenes from Fear and Loathing are something you’d like to experience without taking drugs.

The company is also beefing up the audio powers for its first widely-available product. The Here One will be a set of truly wireless buds that can stream music and access phone-based assistants like Siri and Google Now. This is something of the white whale for the audio world. Despite a number of Kickstarters and even a few products that are coming to market, nobody has nailed it yet. And again, the combination of sound from your phone and sound from the real world can be customised, so you can wander around aware of what’s going on while also rocking tunes.

You Can Wrap SanDisk’s New Flash Drives Around Your iPhone

It doesn’t matter how much storage Apple stuffs into the latest iPhone, your ever-growing music, photo, video and app collections will max it out in no time. Instead of constantly having to delete files so you have room to keep adding new media, SanDisk’s new iXpand Memory Case will simply boost your iPhone’s storage capacity.

Available in 32GB, 64GB and 128GB models for $US60 ($79), $US100 ($132) and $US130 ($171), respectively, the protective iXpand Memory Case wraps around your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and connects via its Lightning port. It doesn’t just magically boost your iPhone’s overall storage capacity, though. You’ll need to use a SanDisk app to take advantage of all that extra space. But as a bonus the case can be set to automatically back up your phone’s Camera Roll, and has options for protecting everything stored on it through encryption.

There’s even a removable 1900 mAh battery attachment available for $US40 ($53), which allows the iXpand Memory Case to boost your iPhone’s run time in addition to its capacity for media. The new case is reminiscent of Mophie’s Space Pack, which provides both extra storage and extra battery life at the same time, but with less capacity on both fronts. And if you don’t want the added weight of an extra battery in your pocket, SanDisk’s iXpand can easily shed that extra power, without separating you from all of your files.


Sphero’s New SPRK+ Robot Proves Learning Is Evolving

Man, I wish I had one of these at school. Sphero’s new SPRK+ robot is more than just a ball. It is especially designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and invention through connected play and coding.

Powered by the Lightning Lab app, you can learn programming, complete hands-on activities, and share your creations with the global community. SPRK+, in conjunction with the Lightning Lab app, is designed to teach foundational programming through science, tech, engineering, arts and maths activities. Both the robot and app experience promote 21st century skills through the wonders of robotics across all subject areas.

A year ago, Sphero entered the education realm with the release of Sphero SPRK Edition. Today, Sphero’s SPRK products can be found in more than 1,000 schools reaching more than 300,000 students. Equipped with Bluetooth SMART, the new tap-to-connect feature increases the ease of use specifically for teachers in the classroom. There’s also an additional coating on the outside of the ball that makes for a more scratch-resistant exterior, while keeping the integrity of the see-through shell.

Additional SPRK+ features include inductive charging, an accelerometer and gyroscope, shock resistance, programmable sensors, a polycarbonate shell, LED lights and it is totally waterproof. David Millage, General Manager of Education at Sphero says with the SPRK+ students learn valuable skills for the future under the disguise of play.

“Learning is evolving and we are seeing a transition from consumption to creation in the classroom,” Millage syas. “Our robots are being used to teach everything from art to physics in a fun and hands-on way that engage students on a new level.”


40 New Tricks For Your Amazon Echo

Amazon recently announced that the Alexa AI powering its Echo and other hardware has now learned 1,000 “skills” (up from just 135 in January). In case you’re not up to speed with all the new tricks, we’ve picked out 40 of our favourites — you can discover the other 960 yourself.

Our previous Echo guide focused on some of the built-in voice commands you can use with your hardware. Here, we’re looking at the various third-party plug-ins (known officially as skills) added to Alexa — to get them working, install the Alexa app for Android or iOS and open the Skills menu.