Scientific American’s 2014 Gadget Guide: 10 Technologies That Boost Mobile Devices
More than ever, there’s an app for that (and that, and that).
SA examines new devices that enhance smartphones and tablets
Heads-up display for bikers Motorcycle riders know the dangers of distracted driving: taking your eyes off the road even for a split second can end in disaster. Fortunately, so-called “smart helmets” are in the works that will give riders all the information they need—including rear-vision cameras—without having to move their heads. Unfortunately, most of these helmets are still prototypes. In the meantime clip-on heads-up displays are coming to market, including BikeHUD, made by England-based Motorcycle Information Systems Technologies (Bike Systems). BikeHUD’s small display fits onto the helmet to give riders useful information without them needing to take their eyes off the road—including speed, fuel level, engine revs, turn signals, gear in use, time and directions. The BIKEGPS app helps them plan their route.
Starts at $534 Image courtesy of Motorcycle Information Systems Technologies, Ltd.
Custom-fit, 3-D-printed earphones Ear buds come in many shapes and sizes but, until now, there weren’t any that took the specific shape of your ear. New York City–based Normal changes that with earphones 3-D–printed to your ears’ specific dimensions. They’re able to do this using digital photos of your ears, which you send them via a mobile app.
$199 Image courtesy of Normal
Smart listening system What’s that you say? You have difficulty hearing people in crowded settings. You might want to get your hearing checked. I SAID, “YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET YOUR HEARING CHECKED.” Or you could check out Soundhawk’s smart listening system, which comes with a wearable earpiece called “Scoop” that filters out background noise while enhancing the strongest signals—although Soundhawk makes it clear that its product is not a medical device nor is it meant to be used in place of a hearing aid. There’s also a wireless microphone that you can put closer to whomever or whatever you’re trying to hear. The mobile app lets you tune the Scoop to your particular hearing needs.
$300 Image courtesy of Soundhawk
Thermal imaging smartphone camera
Wouldn’t you like to be able to use your phone camera to sniff out possible warm or cold air leaks in your home, identify wet areas and potential leaks in ceilings, walls and floors before mold starts or spot overloaded electrical connections at the source? FLIR Systems's ONE smartphone case for the iPhone 5 and 5S is equipped with a heat-seeking camera that detects and highlights changes in thermal patterns.
$249 (holiday sale); normally $349
Image courtesy of FLIR Systems, Inc. Advertisement
Build your own mobile device charger and stand Who says LEGO toys are good only for hours of frivolous fun? Now you can use these fitted plastic blocks to charge your phone or construct a stand that holds your device in place for video viewing or phone calls. The COI+ LEGO Power Brick 4200mAh comes with only a handful of blocks but maybe your kids will loan you a few of theirs so you can get really creative.
$49 Image courtesy of COI+ Creative Singapore
Levitating Bluetooth speaker A magnetic field keeps the floating orb speaker of OM Audio’s ONE suspended above the base by a few centimeters, giving the whole gadget the look of a tabletop Death Star. OM Audio says that ONE, expected to ship by the end of the year, delivers high-quality audio because the desk, table, bookshelf, etcetera on which the base sits, do not absorb the sound coming out of the speaker. The base also features a mic and can double as a speakerphone.
$199 Image courtesy of OM Audio
Dual-screen smartphone Most smartphones can alert you to new e-mails, texts and other messages even when your screen is locked. Moscow-based YotaDevices, however, has come up with a smartphone that delivers this info to an always-on electronic paper display (EPD) located on the back of the device. The YotaPhone 2 essentially gives you a choice between viewing content on the bigger, brighter five-inch AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) screen on the front or the energy-saving 4.7-inch EPD, which has a built-in light that enables it to be read even in direct sunlight.
Currently not available in the U.S. but sells in England for about $850/₤550 Image courtesy of YotaDevices
Fashionable personal alarm
Once useful exclusively for controlling long locks, headbands can now be used to help people take control of their personal safety. Mace Security International, known for its pepper spray products, has added First Sign’s Mace Wear Pod to its lineup of personal protection products. The pod can be worn several ways, including inserted into a Bandiwear headband. The pod features a three-axis accelerometer, gyroscope and Bluetooth sensor that, when worn in the Bandiwear and connected to the First Sign Mobile app, can detect impact to the head, sound an alarm and alert a central monitoring service.
Image courtesy of First Sign Advertisement
Bluetooth in a knit cap If ear buds and headphones cramp your style, you might consider this knit cap by BE headwear or something similar from Rotibox. Both come in a variety of styles and colors and feature a removable Bluetooth speaker, so you can talk on the phone or listen to music without putting anything in or on your ears.
$40 (for most BE styles); Rotibox starts at $40 (some styles are more expensive) Image courtesy of BE headwear
Smart standing desk
We’re oft reminded of just how detrimental long periods of sitting can be to one’s health. Furniture makers have made this an opportunity to offer all sorts of standing desks. The Netherlands–based MisterBrightLight takes a higher-tech approach than most, offering a tricked out work space that serves as a wireless smartphone charger, features LED mood lighting around the edges and, if you own an iOS device, works with an app to monitor surrounding temperature and humidity.
Starts at $2,000 and cost climbs quickly with add-ons
Image courtesy of MisterBrightLight Advertisement