Michell Prunty is Semico's Senior Consumer Analyst.  See her bio here

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Terrifying Robots: Part 3

When Adrienne first let me know about termite robots, I was ready to see something like the previous post on roaches.  

I was pleasasntly surprised to read these are just termite-inspired robots, not actual termites with controls attached.


And they're kind of adorable.  

But this is the Terrifying Robots series, afterall, so what do we have to fear from these little creatures? 

HOW ABOUT THE FACT THAT THEY'RE SOCIAL?  They learn by monitoring their environment and each others actions.  Social, learning robots are always terrifying because what happens if someone goes in and changes their code?  What if their orders get changed?  Has no one seen Eureka and the little robot mites? 

Of course, not having to send humans into dangerous environments to do construction is a benefit, but that's always how these robotic revolutions start, isn't it?  Take a look: 

Terrifying Robots: Part 2

Ugh. Roaches.  

Osaka University & Tokyo University have created a fuel cell that uses the insides of the roaches to power sensors.  So what... they're going to release thousands of roaches into the sewers of New York?  I can't handle this information.  

The fuel cell uses trehalose, a sugar found in the roach's body to generate 50.2 microwatts of power.  As long as the roach secretes the fluid, the cell will have power.  The roach itself can live up to 3 years depending on the type used, but madagascar hissing roaches are most often used in research due to their cleaner nature, and can live up to 5 years, but cannot be released into the wild in some regions.  But don't worry, North Carolina has that covered; they're going to add a remote control system to the roach.  They're adding little sensors to the roach that will make it think a preditor is approaching from a certain direction in order to spur it in the direction the researchers want.  No veering off course for these little cyborgs.

Image from Techon and Osaka and Tokyo Universities


Terrifying Robots: Part 1

Yes, I'm starting this list out with a toy.  But just look at it: 

They're bringing DISCO back.  In toy form.  

The robot actually looks like a pretty cool birthday or christmas gift for that kid with the parents you want to drive crazy.  It has apps for iOS, Windows and Android, which let the user choreograph new dance steps for the robot when the 56 preprogrammed dance moves start getting old.  It has 8 different facial expressions, and will dance to clapping or really, any sound at all.  Which means, better yet, get that kid 2 Disco Robos so the fun never ends!  

Actually though, what really brings this robot into the terrifying side is the commercial.  

And that I kind of want one.

Degrees of Freedom vs Axis

There are two common terms when describing sensors.  One is “degree of freedom” (DOF) and the other is “axis.”   They're often used synonymously, originating when accelerometers, vibration sensors and tilt sensors were first used in industrial and military applications for monitoring movement, such as a robotic arm or a space craft.  Yet, they don't mean the same thing.  Technically, a DoF is a parameter that determines the state of a physical system and it takes six numbers to characterize a movement. 

So, six degrees of freedom indicates the sensors track up and down, side to side, forward and backward, pitch, roll, and yaw.  A device can really only have a maximum of 6 DOF, because there are only 6 degrees of freedom in a 3D space.  When a company claims a higher DOF (like 9), they’re really implying a higher degree of accuracy within the linear and angular 3D space.

Which means the more accurate term when discussing sensors is "axis."

The axis term refers to the X, Y, and Z axis, so a 1-axis sensor most likely goes up and down on a Y axis or side to side on a X axis.  A 3-axis sensor would track on all three axes.  A sensor platform that is said to have 9, 10, or 12-axes indicates that it tracks multiple data points along the X, Y, and Z axes. The number of axes a device is said to have can be as high as the developer wants - as long as each additional axis tracks data along one of the x, y, or z axes, it can be added on to the total. 

Mobile Health Feeds Big Data

Healthcare has been changing in big ways.  These days, a good system can monitor a patient and then use that data to enact behavioral change for an entire society.  Changing society for the better is basically the end goal of Big Data.  

Big Data in healthcare means mining personal data that can be applied either to personal care or combined with large demographic segments to spot trends and improve care to either cure or manage disease and sickness or to change behavior in a positive way.  

For example, technology like Dexcom’s glucose monitor, watches blood sugar levels every five minutes for five days, and is approved by the FDA.  Since controlling sugar is so important, someone who is diabetic can now send complete data to their doctor.  This is something patients have never before been able to do.  This constant stream of data is “Big Data” in that, even if there isn’t a cure, disease and sickness can still be managed by understanding our smallest reactions to daily stimulus.  

This becomes predictive modeling, which means decreased health costs, and implies an upcoming data deluge.  It is possible to get a trillion GB of data for each individual.  The amount can be astronomical, and apps will need to sift through the data to get to the relevant and actionable data (Market Opportunity for new Tech).

Stand Back, BigDog Gots This

So have you seen what DARPA is up to lately?  They appear to be giving robots cinder blocks to throw around willynilly.

Take a look at how BigDog has evolved over time.  It can take some abuse.

Is the BigDog too much for you? How about the LittleDog. Cute, and isn't throwing large boulders at us. I like it.

TransferJet and Wireless Charging Toshiba Style

At CES Toshiba announced the industry’s first microUSB Adaptor Module for the TransferJet standard.  Production will begin March 2013 and will be targeted for smart phones, tablets, and the PC peripheral market.

The astounding thing about TransferJet is that it can transfer a one-minute HD movie in about three seconds, and it takes about two minutes to transfer a full DVD sized movie.  At CES they had a few demos showcasing how easy TransferJet is to use between tablets, smart phones, cameras, and notebooks.  Basically, you simply pick the data you want to transfer, tap the two devices together (after each device gives permission), and voila.  Done.  It really does take just a few moments before you’re able to watch the video on a completely new device.

The rate of transfer is about 375Mbps, which is about 8X faster than WiFi, and about 1000x times better than NFC.  For security and functional reasons, the data transfer only works up to 5 centimeters before the devices are disconnected.  The farther the devices are from one another, the slower the transfer speed.

Semico recently released an NFC report and had this to say about TransferJet:

Crushing on PNI Sensor Corp

I'd love to give an unbiased review of SpacePoint, PNI's 9-axis motion tracker module for games, but I can't.  At CES they were demoing their motion tracking module with a gun controller and a first person shooter custom game.  They put that controller in my hands, and as I leaned forward, my avatar moved forward.  As I leaned backward, my avatar moved backward.  The pointing technology was accurate, and very responsive.  I was in love almost immediately.

See, their pointer technology is the most accurate I've experienced for a pointer controller.  I could point the controller in an intuitive manner, and it aimed at and hit the right targets with little drift.  Given a bit more practice, I doubt there would be any drift at all, a hypothesis I’m more than willing to test out (was that too strong of a hint?).

But this is basically tech that anyone will be able to pick up and use accurately. Their demo included a gun controller with a joystick next to the trigger to make looking around within the game environment super easy and intuitive.  Forward and backward movements are done by slightly leaning forward or backward, something that anyone could easily take to.

I can see something like this being very popular with friends who want to play Halo together, and I hope someone in the future makes a controller like this that could work with Tribes (a flying game).

We Are All Fitness Fanatics

For most of 2012 Semico has focused on how new data is driving the consumer industry.  This isn’t just for servers or cloud storage, but also for smart phones, tablets, etc.  New ways of interacting with our devices, like augmented reality, are becoming increasingly more available to the average consumer, and our current phones are more powerful than most computers were just a few years ago.

With all this advanced technology surrounding us, its no wonder that we’re moving back to the basics… of a sort.  Self improvement is the next driving force behind innovation, and we’re already seeing some quite popular products hitting the market.  All of these new self improvement products are really just new display options for infographics, enabling us to personalize our obsession with data.

Of course, the new fitness craze isn’t just for people looking to improve our health care.  We’re gravitating toward fitness products so we can understand our bodies and how the environment affects us.  There are a million and one questions that data mining our every day lives can answer.

Except for Work, Is the PC Age Over?

It may be tempting to say that the current shift in user trends for consumer devices is limited to a generational shift, but in reality, it's affecting our grandparents and parents as well as our children.

The shift is crossing platforms from gamers to casual users and business clients, and it's changing the types of services we purchase for our homes and how we assign value to products.

This is the shift away from the computing segment to the consumer segment. As a society we are leaving our desktops and notebooks behind and moving to smartphones and tablets. But we're not going to be a society of just smartphones and tablets, no. We're going to be a society of smartphones, tablets, and SmartTVs.

How many people do you know who have already stopped using their desktop? Do you still use your laptop for anything other than business?

The first move in this shift was when we all moved from landlines to the cellular network. During the last five years or so, many people have been abandoning their TV services and switching to cable or DSL. How many people now watch their favorite shows on services like Hulu or Netflix or Amazon Prime?