Well, it’s practical…

After the Nobel Prize, er, a more mundane discovery. We just got this press release:

“The Pee Pocket  is a single use, waterproof disposable funnel allowing women to pee while standing. Its convenient tri-fold design easily fits in purse or pocket and includes a  hygienic tissue wipe and disposable bag. Use without getting hands or other body parts wet…[this]  female urinary device is perfect for athletes, travelers, the elderly, disabled, pregnancy, parents of young girls, post-surgery patients…”

This is a picture of what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.52.29 PM

There’s a how-to video on their website, which includes a rather unpleasant example of why you’d want to keep one handy. The Pee Pocket is available for $1.75 or three packs for $4.95. 

New wallet makes using cards easier

ID cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, life seems to be filled with cards that need to be dug out of purses and wallets, which as fingers get older and joints get stiffer becomes increasingly painful. There’s currently a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new type of wallet that might make using all those cards easier.

Designed by two brothers, the “Glider” is a hard-shelled wallet that resembles an iPhone in both form and function. It’s small, extremely thin and made from a glossy polycarbonate, with a sliding bar in its center. Moving the bar makes a card emerge just far enough to be swiped. Thus, if there’s a card you need to use frequently, say to swipe at the gas pump or supermarket, all you need to do is slide the bar, rather than remove and replace the card. If you need to use a full card, pressing a button makes it emerge.

For more information on how it works, see the video on Kickstarter.

For more information on how it works, see the video on Kickstarter.

The Glider is not yet available because it is still raising funds on Kickstarter. If you want one, you have to pledge that you will buy at least one (there are various tiers of pledges available). If the fund-raising goal is met, you will receive one (or more) and be on the hook for your pledge. If it is not met, you will owe nothing, but alas, you will not get a Glider either.

Caveat: While the design is both clever and practical, we suggest you watch the video to see if either the slider bar or button might be too small for your hands. The wallet in the video is a prototype, so we can’t judge how much pressure it will take to work the slider.


The KNFB Reader App released for iPhones

With apologies, we get just as frustrated writing about “one day real soon now” prototypes as you do reading about them, so we’re delighted to announce that the long-awaited KNFB Reader app for the iPhone has just been released.

KNFB, developed in a partnership between Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind, is an uncannily accurate text-to-speech translator, which uses a cell phone’s built-in camera to perform optical character recognition. For examples, see this side-by-side comparison of an earlier version of KNFB, not yet available for iPhones, to the iPhone friendly Pizmo reader. The KNFB readings are virtually error free, while the competing responses are often sadly gibberish.

Equipped with the KNFB app, an iPhone can be aimed at anything from a menu to a street sign and give an accurate reading. It even lets users know that it’s incorrectly positioned over a piece of text or that an “unidentified printed object” that came in the mail has no text on the side the phone’s being held over.Continue Reading

A prototype for automating computer log-offs

The term “backronym” was coined to describe a phase constructed to fit a suitable word, as opposed to the simpler process of making acronyms. NASA is an acronym. ZEBRA, which stands for Zero-Effort Bilateral Recurring Authentication, is a Dartmouth research team’s triple-axel effort at a backronym.

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

So what does this ZEBRA do and why should seniors care? Well, it’s a somewhat complicated sounding way to solve a basic computer security problem: People forgetting to log out of websites or log off computer terminals. As the Dartmouth team’s research abstract says, “The most common solution, inactivity timeouts, inevitably fail security (too long a timeout) or usability (too short a timeout) goals.”

To solve the problem, they’ve created a prototype bracelet that has a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and radio. The bracelet records the wearer’s precise movements during mouse and keyboard use and communicates them to the computer terminal. If the movements start to differ, the computer knows to shut out this (presumably) different user. The team claims 85% accuracy in correctly identifying users.

We realize this seems more than a bit Rube Goldberg, but highly accurate hand movement sensing could one day find a place in medical diagnostics and physical therapy, as well as helping to keep forgetful seniors password-protected information secure.

In addition to computer security, user sensing might even be the ultimate lock-out in battles over the television remote. Now there’s a market!

Hands-free Page-turning

Is your life filled with desk-crushing textbooks or Everest-high piles of murder mysteries? Are you dreading reading them because of arthritis, repetitive stress or other hand injuries? Musicians and choristers are in on a solution that could be useful to seniors.

The music world’s equivalent of the doorstopper book is the bulky score. For just one example, the score of the holiday classic Handel’s Messiah can easily run 250 pages. That’s a whole lot of turning, not to mention the embarrassment of stuck or skipped pages while performing.

To solve the problem, concert pianist and former Curtis Institute of Music faculty member Hugh Sung co-created a company called AirTurn, which produces a page-turning system that consists of a holder for a tablet computer and a wireless foot pedal to move the pages forward.

The system can also work with .pdfs (although not, unfortunately, Amazon’s Kindle), so it can be adapted as a general book reader. It will take some configuring, but it’s well worth considering if you own a tablet computer and would like to minimize the use of your hands or are just tired of having sheet music fall at your feet.

In fact, according to AirTurn’s Tanya Unger, many physical therapists are already helping their patients learn to use AirTurn, which also has a bite switch available for those for whom a foot pedal may not work. As Unger says, “We like to promote freedom and independence; it’s nice to not have to rely on a family member to help you read a book.”

Below is a quick overview of the system for the iPad. It is also available for Windows and Android-based tablets, and can work with a music stand as shown or with AirTurn’s tiltable tablet holder.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80OVgx5Q7T4]



JIBO: A new world of robot apps?

Despite its record-breaking crowd-sourced funding, it’s hard not to see social robot JIBO as anything but a novelty appliance without a long-term impact. With its retro-future resemblance to a Videosphere, it just feels like something that will be an upscale must have for a year or two and then, along with ice cream makers and rowing machines, become part of the garage sale circuit.

But there is one aspect that could save it from trend oblivion. JIBO isn’t simply a piece of pre-programmed hardware, but a robot with a full-fledged operating system. Developers are invited to create programs for it—and it is in this respect, as perhaps the first device to allow for the popular creation of robot apps, that JIBO may radically change the adoption of robots. In other words, don’t think of it as a more fully featured Roomba, but as an Android or iOS phone in a more responsive form.

Still, that opens another question: Most of the suggested uses for JIBO, such as delivering messages or giving reminders, could be performed by a phone app. There are, however, some unique features that could increase its usefulness and adoption. Its facial recognition software allows it to tell people apart, while its swiveling head allows it to track individuals as they move about a room. While we remain skeptical about its value as a digital companion, these features could allow it to become an excellent telepresence bot for families concerned about relatives who are aging-in-place.

In addition, it can be trained to recognize voices as well as faces. Given that certain conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, are initially indicated by changes in voice, we can also foresee custom diagnostic apps that could make JIBO a valuable health-monitoring device.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3N1Q8oFpX1Y]

Prototype Robotic Fingers from MIT

MIT is showing off a robotic hand extension. Worn like a glove, the prototype is not intended as a prosthesis so much as an enhancement: Instead of replacing lost fingers, it gives the wearer two long, flexible prongs that act as stronger additional fingers.

The current version is both bulky and awkward, but Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says in a press release, “This is a prototype, but we can shrink it down to one-third its size, and make it foldable. We could make this into a watch or a bracelet where the fingers pop up, and when the job is done, they come back into the watch. Wearable robots are a way to bring the robot closer to our daily life.”

Yup, folks, it took no less than MIT to figure out how arthritis sufferers could open child-proof caps.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTJW5YSRZhw#t=43]


3-D Printed Houses?

As interest in the possibilities of 3-D printing grows, UCLA architecture students have created a proof-of-concept 3-D printed house. It’s touted, as other 3-D projects have been, as a possible low-cost answer to housing shortages. Certainly, for budget-conscious seniors, it’s an intriguing possibility. Or is it?

UCLA’s prototype is a claustrophobic, 50-square foot structure that consists of two shell-like halves that close together to form a living space with everything from bed to bathroom. It was designed with young professionals in mind; the notion of wheelchair use seems not to have occurred to anyone.

It joins a short, but growing list of printed house projects, including one from cross-town rival USC. The USC approach proposes layering concrete to form houses. A FAQ on their site says that once the technology hits the market it should be possible to build a 2,400 square foot house in less than 24 hours. It also says, “We hope to see entry-level construction models on the market within one to two years.”

A Chinese firm claims to have already built ten houses using a similar process. While it looks convincing, we wonder about the ultimate quality and durability, given China’s notorious history of construction standards and code enforcement. A Dutch effort is currently building a house from a plant-based plastic.

The UCLA house, made in conjunction with 3-D printing pioneers Voxeljet, is a giant piece of sand casting, and thus a 21st century update of a manufacturing method that goes back at least as far as ancient Babylonia.

Given all of this, as much as we’d like to join in the general enthusiasm about what 3-D printing could mean for senior housing, for example, printable age-in-place bathrooms, in the end, we can’t help but be a little skeptical.

According to Voxeljet, the printing costs were “approximately EUR 60,000.” At today’s exchange rate, that’s over 81,000 dollars. Meanwhile, a quick Google search shows that currently you can buy a brand new, four-bedroom, two-bath manufactured home on sale for a little over 72k. (Although given some of the comments on the company’s YouTube page, you should thoroughly research such a purchase.)

Obviously, given economies of scale, future projects will surely be less than $1600 per square foot, but that’s a fairly daunting start-up cost.

The utopian dreams of 3-D printing enthusiasts are reminding us a little too much of Montreal’s poured concrete Habitat, design star of Canada’s Expo 67. It too was touted in its day as a cheap way to create comfortable, low-cost housing. Instead, it’s become a sought-after luxury property.

Academic Prototype:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yv-IWdSdns]

Current state-of-the-art:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDU3s9Kf0HY#t=14]

FTC rules video clips should be close-captioned

In 2010, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act to great fanfare, including a White House Press Conference appearance by Stevie Wonder. The purpose of the legislation is “to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications.”

Four years later, the FTC is still working on refining its implementation. The latest rules regard short video clips, which the FCC now mandates should be closed captioned, in line with a previous ruling that full-length clips should be. From Chairman Tom Wheeler’s prepared remarks:

“Accessibility of programming must evolve with technology in order for us to maintain our commitment to universal access. When the number of U.S. households viewing TV programming exclusively on the Internet is poised to surpass the number viewing only via antenna, and 77% of Internet users regularly watch video clips online – often to get news, sports, and entertainment programming, it’s time to update our closed captioning rules to reflect these changes.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNmTyVG2xd4]

You may notice that this video of the 2010 press conference is not close-captioned. That’s because the FTC has mandated rolling deadlines, based on the type of video clip. According to their press release:

  • January 1, 2016, will apply to “straight lift” clips, which contain a single excerpt of a captioned television program with the same video and audio that was presented on television.
  • January 1, 2017, will apply to “montages,” which occur when a single file contains multiple straight lift clips.
  • July 1, 2017, will apply to video clips of live and near-live television programming, such as news or sporting events.  Distributors will have a grace period of 12 hours after the associated live video programming was shown on television and eight hours after the associated near-live video programming was shown on television before the clip must be captioned online in order to give distributors flexibility to post time-sensitive clips online without delay.



Lift Hero Wants You

San Francisco start-up Lift Hero is a variation on Uber and Lyft specifically targeted to serve seniors. We found a Craigslist ad spelling out what they’re looking for in drivers. Sounds well-intended, we just hope a criminal background check is part of the final vetting process:

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 9.39.20 PM

Please click to enlarge.