Dubai prepares for mid-year launch of Ehang’s crazy taxi drone

With its jet-propelled firefighters, million-dollar drone races and plans for its very own Hyperloop, Dubai ain’t a bad place to see advanced technologies in action. In the latest example of the city’s early-adoption mindset, the local transport authority has revealed that it has been testing Ehang’s personal taxi drone, with plans to launch real operations this July.
We first laid eyes on the Ehang 184 passenger drone at CES last year. As far as drones go, it’s actually much less drone and more automated helicopter, using onboard navigation systems to carry passengers to their desired location without the need for a pilot. It can be ordered via a smartphone application, fly for 30 minutes at a time and take passengers as far as 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 mi) away with a payload capacity of up to 100 kg (220 lb).
This might all sound pretty out-there, but the Chinese company has already signed an agreement with the State of Nevada to conduct flight testing and also teamed up with a biotechnology firm to use its pilotless choppers to deliver artificial organs.

But it looks like both efforts might be beaten to the punch by the UAE, with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority announcing the plans at the World Government Summit today. It revealed that it has already carried out a test run and has earmarked July 2017 as the launch date for full operations. If anyone seems capable of pulling it off …

Source: Government of Dubai (Facebook)

Solar Paper turns the page on portable solar chargers


While there’s a healthy selection of compact solar panels to keep our mobile gadgets charged up – light permitting – the vast majority of these are either too small to be effective or too bulky for carting around. The creators of Solar Paper are looking to buck this trend with a portable solar charger that generates up to 10 W of power, yet is lighter than an iPhone 6 Plus and only slightly wider and longer.

So called because its panels are thing enough to slot between the pages of a notebook, and touted as the “world’s thinnest and lightest solar charger” by its creators, Yolk, Solar Paper measures 9 x 19 x 1.1 cm (3.5 x 7.5 x 0.4 in) and weighs 120 g (4.2 oz), while the actual solar panels are only 1.5 mm thick.

But Solar Paper has more going for it than just its form factor. Unlike most solar chargers on the market, it features modular panels that connect via embedded magnets. If you want more power, you can connect up to four panels together. Each individual panel generates a maximum of 2.5 W of power, so four will provide up to 10 W via USB. On a sunny day, that’s just as good as a 5V/2A wall charger.

Solar Paper also has some built-in smarts to help users get the most out of it. To avoid the hassle of manual restarting when the available light drops, as is the case with most competing solar chargers, Solar Paper has been programmed to automatically resume charging when it detects sufficient sunlight. So when that cloud passes overhead, you won’t have to intervene.

There’s also a built-in LCD screen that displays the current being delivered to a connected device. This is useful to understand how weather, angle of inclination, and orientation to the sun affect the charge rate, so you can easily set it up in the best position.

Add in water resistance and grommet holes for utility/attachment options, and it’s easy to understand why so many have pledged their support to the device’s Kickstarter campaign, with it shooting past its US$50,000 goal in just the first two days. If all goes as planned, the project creators anticipate the first batch will ship in September 2015, with the second batch following in either October or November. Pledges range from $69 for a 5 W Solar Paper, all the way to $450 for a set of four 10 W Solar Paper.

The team’s video pitch can be viewed below.

Source: Yolk

How To Turn Your Smartphone Into Your Personal Therapist

Could the technology that causes so much of our stress and anxiety also be the cure?

Last spring, Paul Ford was sick of the self-sabotaging, disparaging voice in his head, so he decided to do something about it. He’d been living with anxiety all his life, but it was getting in the way of his professional career. So Ford, a longtime tech tinkerer, decided to turn his anxiety into a bot that he named AnxietyBox.

Ten times a day, at random he’d receive an email from his Anxiety with subject lines like: “Ask yourself, do you always want to be exhausting to know and undesirable?” The messages were nasty and uncannily channeled that negative voice in his head. “Dear Paul,” one email read. “I heard you when you talked about how you wanted to exercise. Where would you put your chances for success? Zero percent? Greater?”

Psychologists call these negative voices “cognitive distortions”—moments when your thinking goes awry and your anxiety gets the best of you.

Ford was just trying out a silly experiment, yet with a little distance between that negative voice and himself (about as much space as you give yourself from your email inbox), he could see just how disparaging and mean so many of his anxious thoughts were. Suddenly they didn’t have as much power over him. “My thing sends you emails that tell you you’re garbage,” he says. “You start to laugh at how bad your anxiety is.”

When Ford talked about AnxietyBox on the podcast Reply All in January, and the story was rebroadcast on This American Life, he struck a cord with listeners. Clinical psychologists have reached out to him, and more than 7,000 people have signed up for AnxietyBox, a volume that’s currently too big for Ford and his bot to accommodate.

The Anxiety Epidemic

There’s a zeitgeist of self-betterment through technology that our culture is embracing these days. And for good cause. If we were anxious before smartphones, we might be even more anxious with them. Studies have looked at the link between tech use and elevated levels of stress and anxiety. A 2015 research study demonstrated a measurable connection between negative psychological and physiological outcomes and iPhone separation.

But there’s also a growing interest in how technology can actually treat our anxiety. The list of relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation apps is long and growing. With 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety, and the mental health care industry raking in $200 billion in the U.S. alone, it’s no wonder the tech world is scrambling to find a way to digitize the therapy process.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Online therapy programs have been around for years, and they’re becoming increasingly sophisticated and refined in order to work more effectively for users. There are many programs out there claiming to offer relief from anxiety, but their effectiveness isn’t entirely clear. Research out of Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands has shown that when used properly, online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people detect negative thoughts or patterns and learn to redirect them, can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people detect negative thoughts or patterns and learn to redirect them, can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.

A recent New York Times Opinionator piece outlined some of the effective CBT treatments being used, like MoodGYM out of Australia and Beating the Blues, which teach cognitive behavioral therapy skills to help people cope with and prevent anxiety and depression.

A Therapist In Your Pocket


Pacifica App

More recently, developers have been trying to find ways to merge effective online treatment with user-friendly mobile interfaces. In January, for example, the app Pacifica launched, attempting to offer more than just relaxation tools, but actual ways to use CBT to help treat anxiety. “The mind has a tendency to play tricks on us,” says psychologist Ross Nelson, who serves as a health consultant and adviser to Pacifica. “When we are experiencing anxiety, it’s a series of mind tricks.” The features on Pacific are offered as tools to “untwist the tricks” of the mind, says Nelson.

The app, designed by 28-year-old Chris Goette, who says he’s “white-knuckled” his way through much of his life as an anxiety sufferer, includes a mood tracker, a feature that lets you record your voice and listen back for cognitive distortions, relaxation tools, and a community space where users can connect anonymously. Goette, who’s tried every form of treatment he could over the years, from dietary changes to therapy to meditation, says CBT worked best in treating his anxiety, which is why he wanted to create an app that mirrored its effects using your smartphone.

Pacifica offers a free version with rotating features and a $4 monthly subscription that gives users access to all the app features. Since its launch, the app has signed up 230,000 registered users.

Using Your Camera Phone to Measure Stress Levels

Other app developers are trying to take a less traditional approach, incorporating technology in more unusual ways. A new app called Mentally claims to transform your phone’s camera into a biomedical sensor that can look into your bloodstream when you cover the lens with your finger, offering a stress assessment and five-minute breathing regimen personalized to your own stress level. Whether this kind of thing has any science behind it isn’t entirely clear, but what’s certain is we’ll be seeing increasingly inventive and sophisticated ways in which tech entrepreneurs are attempting to break into the mental health industry.

With so many options available at the swipe of your phone screen, there’s ample room to experiment, see what works best for you, and at the very least, start to isolate that anxious voice. “A lot of people have great intentions in trying to improve upon their anxiety and aren’t really sure how to do it,” says Nelson. With a smartphone at your disposal, you’ve got more options than you imagined.


Can Wearable Tech Measure Our Stress And Calm Us Down?

A growing number of devices are trying to gauge when we’re freaking out. But as the latest entry into the market shows, that’s a harder task than we think.

Part of the premise behind a new wearable called WellBe is pretty depressing: Many of us are so continuously stressed out—or so disconnected from our feelings—that we can’t actually tell which parts of our day are making us most anxious.

So the WellBe, now on Indiegogo, was designed to make those feelings a little more obvious. In theory, if you slap on the new wristband and sync it up with your calendar, it will tell you who and what is stressing you out most each day. Then it gives a series of simple meditations and exercises to help you better deal with those situations.

“We believe that when you know the triggers and have the solution, this is how you really reduce stress,” says Doron Libshtein, chairman and co-founder of WellBe.

One problem, however, is that it’s not yet clear that the wearable can accurately measure stress. The WellBe is designed to track heart rate variability, which can correlate with how upset you are, and it uses a custom algorithm to analyze changes in heart rhythm. But heart rate variability is notoriously difficult to measure—especially through a gadget like a simple wristband.

“If you’re off by milliseconds then that’s problematic,” says Erica Simon, a researcher in respiratory psychophysiology at the National Center for PTSD. “It can really be thrown off by things like movement.”

The WellBe only works when someone is sitting down, as an attempt to improve accuracy. (That in itself is a drawback—as someone who walks and bikes, I’m pretty sure some of the most stressful parts of my day are when I’m trying to avoid being run over by cars). But even small movements can ruin data.


“Movement isn’t just somebody walking,” says Simon. “Movement means I moved my wrist because I’m typing, or I went to take a drink from my coffee, or I’m talking on my phone…even gesturing. Any of those things can completely reduce the accuracy.”

An algorithm that works for one person might not work for another, she adds. And even if the device can accurately track heart rate variability, that doesn’t automatically mean that it knows how you feel—someone who’s excited and happy, for example, might have similar patterns to someone who’s freaking out about a missed deadline.

“It’s really tough to use heart rate variability as a measure of stress, because you can’t really disentangle the different emotions,” says Simon. It’s also not the case that people are typically either “stressed” or “relaxed”—instead, our bodies are usually in complex state of both at the same time, making stress even harder to measure.


Other wearable startups try to measure stress in different ways, like Spire, a gadget that tracks breathing patterns instead of your heart or the Neumitra, which measures electrical properties of the skin as a proxy for brain health. These methods, too, can be prone to error. For example, the temperature and humidity of the room and the medication someone is taking could skew the Neumitra’s results.

Though WellBe plans to do an independent study, it’s not clear yet that their algorithm can solve the device’s challenges. It also only gathers data for three minutes each hour, so it isn’t clear how it can necessarily catch each stress trigger. It’s possible that the app might work better if it just asked people to rate their own stress—and then offered the same relaxation techniques. Still, the rest of the app seems like it could be useful: The company offers a library of over 1,000 different meditations and other relaxation techniques, and the app tries to quickly learn which methods work best for each person.

“Our passion is to bring it to more and more people,” says Libshtein. “Especially people who never meditate, who never took the time to reduce their stress, and to help them start this kind of practice. What we’re telling them is that we can help them choose the right method for them. It’s not one mantra, or just sitting and trying not to think. There are easy ways to reduce stress.”

The lesson is that there’s no one magical way to measure stress, though it may be more possible with more streams of data. Anyway, for some people, it may not even be desirable. Stress is often a side effect of actual work getting done.


Using Android Pay: 5 things you need to know

Goodbye, Google Wallet! It’s Android Pay’s time to shine. Google has finally souped up its mobile payments system—though not too much. It’s a pretty straightforward upgrade, with a few new features added to make it more secure than its predecessor. If you’re interested in using it yourself, here’s a quick primer on what you need to know about Android Pay.

What is Android Pay?

Android Pay is Google’s new mobile payment platform. It uses the existing NFC chip in your phone, just like Google Wallet. If you had Google Wallet setup beforehand, all of that existing payment information will transfer over to Android Pay—it’s essentially the same API. Android Pay will also work for person-to-person payment transactions and the app will also let you store any supported loyalty cards.

How does it work?

Let’s say you’re at a vending machine that accepts NFC payments. All you have to do is hold up the phone to the machine to pay for the beverage. An alert on the vending machine’s small display will let you know if the transaction was successful. Just make sure to aim your NFC chip at the machine.


Florence Ion

Android Pay works with even the most common of transcations—like getting a soda from a vending machine.

Those setting up the payment system for the first time will have to enable a device lock—either a numerical passcode, pattern unlock, or fingerprint unlock, if the phone has the hardware.

Will Android Pay work with my non-Nexus device?

Yes. Android Pay works with any Android phone, regardless of manufacturer, as long as it’s running KitKat or higher. Non-Nexus phones with integrated fingerprint scanning will also work—like the Galaxy S5 and S6, for instance.

As for carriers, Google has only announced that it’s working on Android Pay with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile. Sorry, Sprint folk.

How does Google keep my information secure?

Android Pay is very straight forward, and you can choose it as a payment option in supporting apps.

Android Pay uses a specialized virtual card for your transactions, so the merchant on the other end will never see your credit card number. It will, however, know if you paid with a Visa or MasterCard, for instance.

What’s the difference between this and Samsung Pay?

Samsung Pay doesn’t actually use NFC. It works a lot like LoopPay, which we tested against Google Wallet back in February. (You can read all about that experience here.) Anyway, Samsung’s mobile payments system won’t go live until this summer.

Google said that Android Pay will work alongside Samsung Pay on the Galaxy S6.

This story, “Using Android Pay: 5 things you need to know” was originally published by Greenbot.

Moky Bluetooth keyboard is also a trackpad

We’ve seen a number of ideas for making Bluetooth portable keyboards that are compact yet still not frustratingly tiny – these have included devices that project virtual keys, devices that fold, and that can be rolled up. The Moky keyboard, however, takes a different approach. It saves space by allowing its keyboard area to double as a multi-touch trackpad.

According to the Seoul-based Moky company, the device uses “infrared laser sensors” to overlay an invisible trackpad on top of the keyboard. It lets users perform actions such as clicking/dragging, scrolling, swiping, pinching in and zooming out, simply by making the traditional finger movements directly above the keys.

While it isn’t clear exactly how the system works, the principle appears to be the same as that used by Continental’s “infrared curtain” technology for multi-touch displays in cars. In that case, a raised rectangular frame around the display has a series of LEDs along two adjacent sides, and a series of photodiodes along the other two. Each LED emits a beam of infrared light, which is picked up and converted into an electrical signal by the photodiode located in the corresponding spot on the opposite side of the frame.

When the user reaches through the grid of infrared light beams in a given location, their finger blocks some of the beams. Those beams’ photodiodes temporarily stop receiving light, and thus cease sending a signal. By analyzing the combination of affected photodiodes, the system can determine the location of the user’s finger relative to what’s being displayed on the screen, in real time.

Some of Moky’s other features include pantograph (i.e: individually spring-loaded) keys, an aluminum body, a folding cover that also serves as a smartphone/tablet stand, and a rechargeable battery that should be good for a claimed three months of use per charge (based on about four hours of use per day). The keyboard utilizes Bluetooth LE, and is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows devices.

Moky is currently the subject of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, where a pledge of US$69 will currently get you one – when and if the keyboard reaches production. You can see it in use, in the pitch video below.

And although Moky may end up being the first true keyboard/trackpad hybrid to make it to market, this certainly isn’t the first time that the concept has been conceived of. Microsoft Research’s prototype Type-Hover-Swipe keyboard uses an array of infrared proximity sensors located between the keys to achieve the same ends, while Apple’s patent for the Fusion keyboard incorporates touch sensors in the surface of the keys.

Sources: Moky, Indiegogo

QromaScan scans and tags photos with an iPhone and your voice

By Simon Crisp

QromaScan is a simple scanning setup which might mean you finally get around to digitizing and organizing those boxes of old photos you’ve got gathering dust in the attic. The system, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, combines the camera and voice recognition of an iPhone, with a green-screen lightbox to make it quick and easy to produce digital files of printed photos.

We’ve all done it – taken a digital photo of a printed one because we can’t be bothered to scan it in properly. However, the resulting file typically suffers glare, is skewed, and lacks the digital tags to enable you to find it easily again. QromaScan attempts to address these issues by controlling the photo-scanning environment, while being able to scan and tag images in two to three seconds.

Key to ensuring quality scans is the QromaScan Lightbox, a fold-away lightbox into which printed photos are placed, while an iPhone running the QromaScan app is positioned on top. Inside, 12 cool white LED lights provide illumination, while a chroma green material isolates the photo for automatic cropping. Because the distance from camera to photo is a constant, focus should always be spot-on, and voice control illuminates the risk of camera movement and makes scanning faster.

Voice recognition is also used to tag images with metadata as the photos are being scanned. Users say sentences like “Qroma, the date is August 1st, 1957, the place is Honolulu International Airport” while the camera is taking a photo, and the right date and location tags are automatically created in the EXIF data of the image. Names of people in the photos can also be logged as IPTC keywords, with the app able to recognize names in your contacts list, or manually-entered ones.


The tags not only make finding images easy in the QromaScan app, but because the metadata is stored in standardized fields, they can be accessed in other programs like Lightroom and iPhoto. Basic editing is possible via Aviary photo editing tools, and a Back Scan function allows users to also record anything that’s been written on the rear of the image. While currently limited to iOS, an Android version of the QromaScan app is said to be in the works.

QromaScan is currently on Kickstarter and has until May 31st to hit its target of US$20,000. An early bird pledge of $35 is currently enough to secure you a QromaScan Lightbox, though the price will rise to $40 and then $45 if those are snapped up. Should funding be successful, kits should start shipping in July.

You can check out the Kickstarter video for QromaScan below.

Sources: Qroma, Kickstarter