Be your own CSI with GelSight

The guys at GelSight are on to something big – or at least, magnified.

Their specially designed rubber lens lets one see details as small as two microns thick, through their patent-pending and newly perfected approach. This video demonstrates how it all works:

And this video shows off the extent of GelSight’s sensitivity:

The stuff looks really cheap to produce, but with a wide range of applications, especially for ballistics or engineering. Personally, I’d buy some just to use as a desk toy, alongside my Intelligent Putty and other cool shit.

It’s the simple combination of rubber and reflective paint that makes GelSight’s patent so valuable, albeit so simple. Yet it took two MIT alumni to spot the gap and to productize. Goes to show what other great combinations are still out there waiting to be discovered!

Experience a Glimpse of 3D Web Browsing

Coming Soon: 3D computing. Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

3D Windows XP Icons
image credit: http://goo.gl/98PXI

My claim is that 3D is the next step in object-oriented user interface (OOUI), which is the way most of us interact with computers after someone (at Apple, I think) had idea that we’d store ‘documents’ in ‘folders’ rather than access them via a command line. Ever since, we’ve  been using ‘object-oriented’ analogies to interact with our machines.

Now is the age of 3D screen technologies, with Hollywood fighting back from piracy with a new golden age for cinema, Samsung outperforming Sony to becoming the number one manufacturer of 3D TVs, and the Nintendo 3DS making use of prismatic 3D in it’s menus, and of course in-game (think I might be buying Ocarina again soon). Not to mention Microsoft’s Kinect, which changes the way we interact in the three dimensions of physical, as opposed to virtual space.

But before all of this, there were innovators trying to make 3D compliant with everyday use, such as TATMobile who, without the power to print prismatic screens, force a behaviour change through the use of 3D glasses, or sell expensive stereoscopic 3D projectors, had come up with a pretty cool lo-fi solution:

The video above demonstrates the use of a front-facing camera on one’s mobile phone to track the location of your eyes, augmenting what’s onscreen, allowing you to see ‘behind’ icons or onto different screens by peering around. Hopefully you can imagine how a 3D screen might alter the way you interact with your device, so it’s no wonder they were bought by RIM and are now developing UI for BlackBerry.

While we’re at it, also check out the work of Bumptop (sadly now defunct), Johnny Lee‘s Wii hacks, and even YouTube‘s foray into 3D video.

Another lo-fi solution to making 3D useful comes from Mozilla, outlined in this fascinating article. Their technology, called Tilt, is not a way to physically see in 3D (it’s just software at this point), but certainly nods towards the future 3D stereoscopy web content. You can test Mozilla’s Tilt plugin in Firefox with their beta plugin at that link, but here’s a demo:

All we need now is for computer, laptop, tablet & mobile screens to become 3D-enabled, and for vast swathes of web designers to optimise their sites for WebGL, and suddenly those social buttons become a bit more clickable.

The Ultimate Android Homescreen

I recently upgraded to a brand new phone, the Samsung Galaxy S2, and let me tell you, her beauty is a thing to behold.

This is my second Android device, my first being an HTC Hero, whom I loved like a little brother. But I love my Galaxy like she’s a sexy robot from the future, trained to be awesome.

Given I’ll be spending the next couple of years with her, it’s important that I maximise all that awesomeness. For me, that boils down to the following areas:

  • She needs to look attractive
  • She needs to let me do my thing
  • She needs to last ’til at least midnight
  • She needs to be constantly surprising
  • She needs to feel like she’s all mine

It’s quite possible to achieve these things from your Android device: it just requires a bit of time to work out your priorities, and sometimes the advice of a few well respected sources. Ultimately, it’s experience that leads to a happy relationship. By the way, yes, I’m still talking about mobile phones.

With all of this in mind, I think I’ve found my ultimate Android setup, the perfect relationship, if you will. So without further ado, I present to you my Ultimate Android Homescreen, a perfectly-tuned combination of sexiness, usefulness, battery life and entertainment.

At just three screens, she’s the most efficient I could conceive of – the product of several hours hard thinking!

  1. The ‘Immediacy’ Screen – stuff you need right now
  2. The ‘Entertainment’ Screen – stuff to feed your head
  3. The ‘Productivity’ Screen – stuff to get shit done

A couple of things glue this all together: Tasker, and LauncherPro. I also advise JuiceDefender, but like all of the apps listed below, it’s not an essential. After all, this is more a ‘what worked for me could work for you’ article (like this one).

(click the graphic to view in fullscreen)

Whether you follow this exact recipe, or you choose to develop your own ultimate Android homescreen, I hope you’ll be very happy together, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Are You Ready For Your Close Up, Miss Colada?

BevShots have discovered what you’d call a niche: they take your favourite alcoholic drink, crystallise a single droplet of it in an airtight container, photograph it at 1000x under a microscope, and then sell the resulting image on a printed canvas.

And man, are these things selling! Since August last year BevShots estimate sales of over 20,000 prints ($24.99-$549). The product is aimed at the ‘hedonist with a mind for science’ segment: those who appreciate good photography, laboratory conditions and a damn-tasty cocktail now and then.

Here’s my favourite image, the classic Vodka and Tonic:

The shots are taken in Florida State University’s chemistry department, where founder Lester Hutt developed the approach, which can take up to three months to produce an image.

Lester says:

“What you can see in the magnified pictures are the crystalised carbohydrates that have become sugars and glucose. With my background in chemistry, I saw the potential in these kind of pictures and am so glad to be able to offer them up as art works. It is a pleasure to show people what makes up their favourite drinks and how beautiful it can look.”

Most alcohols are blends, with varying levels of carbohydrates, sugars, acids and glucose, so each shot taken is entirely different from the last. Some favourite drinks are so pure that when they crystallise  into their component parts, they fall apart or don’t dry out properly. So, not unlike the perfect Margarita, they’re pretty hard to get ‘just right’, sometimes taking up to 200 attempts.

Here’s some more of their work – click through for the full images or visit BevShots.

I’m thirsty! Who’s for a drink?

Mobile Telephone

The Internet and the mobile phone are two mighty forces that have bent contemporary culture and remade it in their form. They offer immediacy, connectivity, and social interaction of a wholly different kind. These are technologies that have brought profound changes to the ways academia consider technoscience and digital communication. Their relationship was of interest to academics in the early 1990’s, who declared that their inevitable fusion would be the beginning of the age of Ubiquitous Computing: “the shift away from computing which centered on desktop machines towards smaller multiple devices distributed throughout the space” (Weiser, 1991 in Manovich, 2006). In truth, it was the microprocessor and Moore’s Law- “the number of transistors that can be fit onto a square inch of silicon doubles every 12 months” (Stokes, 2003) that led to many of the technologies that fall under this term: laptops, PDA’s, Digital Cameras, flash memory sticks and MP3 players. Only recently have we seen mobile telephony take on the true properties of the Internet.

The HARVEE project is partially backed by Nokia Corp. which recognises its potential as a Mobile 2.0 technology: user-generated content for mobile telephony that exploits web-connectivity. Mobile 2.0 is an emerging technology thematically aligned with the better established Web 2.0. Nokia already refer to their higher-end devices as multimedia computers, rather than as mobile phones. Their next generation Smartphones will make heavy use of camera-handling systems, which is predicated on the importance of user-generated content as a means to promote social interaction. This strategic move is likely to realign Nokia Corp.’s position in the mobile telephony and entertainment markets.

Last year, more camera phones were sold than digital cameras (Future Image, 2006). Nokia have a 12 megapixel camera phone ready for release in 2009, and it will be packaged with a processing unit equal to the power of a Sony PSP (Nokia Finland: non-public product specification document). MP3 and movie players are now a standard on many handsets, stored on plug-in memory cards and viewed through increasingly higher resolution colour screens. There is a growing mobile gaming market, the fastest growing sector of the Games Industry (Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA) sales chart). The modern mobile phone receives its information from wide-band GPRS networks allowing greater network coverage and faster data transfer. Phone calls are the primary function, but users are exploiting the multi-media capabilities of their devices in ways not previously considered. It is these factors, technologic, economic and infrastructural that provide the perfect arena for Mobile AR’s entry into play.

Mobile Internet is the natural convergence of mobile telephony and the World Wide Web, and is already a common feature of new mobile devices. Mobile Internet, I would argue, is another path leading to Mobile AR, driven by mobile users demanding more from their handsets. Mobile 2.0 is the logical development of this technology- placing the power of location-based, user-generated content into a new real-world context. Google Maps Mobile is one such application that uses network triangulation and its own Google Maps technologies to offer information, directions, restaurant reviews or even satellite images of your current location- anywhere in the world. Mobile AR could achieve this same omniscience (omnipresence?) given the recent precedent for massively multi-user collaborative projects such as Wikipedia, Flickr and Google Maps itself. These are essentially commercially built infrastructures designed to be filled with everybody’s tags, comments or other content. Mobile AR could attract this same amount of devotion if it offered such an infrastructure and real-world appeal.

There is a growing emphasis on Ubiquitous Computing devices in our time-precious world, signified by the increased sales in Smartphones and WiFi enabled laptops. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mobile Internet use has increased as users’ devices become capable of greater connectivity. Indeed, the mobile connected device is becoming the ubiquitous medium of modernity, as yet more media converge in it. It is the mobile platform’s suitability to perform certain tasks that Mobile AR can take advantage of, locating itself in the niche currently occupied by Mobile Internet. Returning to my Mixed Reality Scale, Mobile AR serves the user better than Mobile Internet currently can: providing just enough reality to exploit virtuality, Mobile AR keeps the user necessarily grounded in their physical environment as they manipulate digital elements useful to their daily lives.