Can a blanket gauge your mood? British Airways certainly thinks it can. The airline is testing out a “happiness blanket” to help make its passengers more comfortable on flights. Loaded with fiber optics, the blanket connects to a neurosensory device and acts like a big, cozy mood ring. Not every passenger flying British Airways will get to try out the blanket, though. The limited experiment, being tested on some flights between London and New York City, also requires a headband loaded with electronic gear to measure activity in the brain, which sends that signal to the blanket via Bluetooth. The blanket then turns blue if you’re relaxed or red if you’re anxious. That way, flight attendants can immediately tell whether or not they need to check on you. What has the study proved so far? Passengers are anxious when they first board a plane, but calm down after falling asleep being served food or drinks. So next time you fly somewhere, grab a snack, take a nap and relax.
What if benches in public parks were more than just a place to sit? That’s the thinking behind a new project in Boston, where solar-powered benches called “Soofas” will let you take a load off – and also give you a place to plug in and re-charge your smartphone. Designed by a Verizon Innovation Program at MIT, the Soofas are more than a traditional recharging station. The benches also connect to Verizon’s network to upload data about the space around them, including air quality and noise level, as well as how many people sit on each bench every day. And you can even check out the data the benches collect through Soofa’s website. The first of these benches are being installed throughout July in various Boston parks, including Titus Sparrow Park and the Boston Common. If you live in the Boston area, the city wants your help in planning out future Soofas. Boston’s city officials are asking residents to recommend additional parks to install the benches – as well as names for each bench.
If you’re one of the early adopters of the Ouya, your video game library just got a lot bigger. Ouya, the video game console that got over $8 million from Kickstarter two years ago, just launched a program called “Ouya All-Access” that gives you access its entire 800 game library for $60 a year. The program doesn’t include games that make their money off microtransactions – think of games like Candy Crush that give you five extra lives for 99 cents – but every other title in the Ouya library is fair game. The new program comes at a pivotal time for Ouya – right after Google’s I/O conference, where Google announced the Android TV and video game “microconsoles” designed by Razer and Asus. Google’s new products won’t strike fear in the hearts of Microsoft’s Xbox One or Sony’s PlayStation 4, but they’re direct competition to the Ouya. This new program is only in its pilot stage right now and may not stick around, so if you want to unlock Ouya’s entire library for sixty bucks, you better act fast.
If you’ve seen the third Harry Potter movie (or read the book), you probably remember the Marauder’s Map, which tracks the footsteps of everyone at Hogwarts. Kamin Whiteouse, a researcher at the University of Virginia, has turned that fiction into reality. Whitehouse said people want to know where everyone is in their home, so he decked out four homes in Virginia with sensors to track who entered what room and what appliances and utilities they used. That data was then sent to the “Marauder’s Map” companion app. The homes, which have been tracked for nearly four years, have sensors built into each doorway to measure the height of who enters a room. The rest of the sensors – anywhere from a few dozen to over a hundred – track just about everything else, like water and power usage. The study, which harnesses the power of the Internet of Things, aims to make us more aware of what’s happening in our homes and make smarter decisions about the energy we use. It’s also got the added benefit of being really cool.
If it seems like your Facebook friends are a bit more depressed than usual, blame Facebook. The social media site recently revealed that it tweaked the news feed of about 700,000 users to see how they reacted to positive or negative posts. Facebook’s researchers were studying how emotions can be spread on social media, and basically used us as its lab rats. The study found that moods are, in fact, contagious – if you see more positive statuses, you’re more likely to post something positive, too. While Facebook has defended and praised the study, everyone else is less than thrilled. Researchers have condemned the study and said it breached ethical guidelines because of “a lack of informed consent.” Facebook argues the study was okay because we give the company permission to do research when we agree to its Terms and Service. But reports say Facebook’s Terms of Service didn’t include the word “research” until after the experiment was over – which is all the more reason for us to read those lengthy agreements before we click “OK.”
Just about every week, a popular website – or two – gets hacked and leaves you vulnerable. Making your social media accounts more secure is relatively quick and easy. Here’s what you should do. First, enable two-step verification on every site you can. Two-step verification, adds another layer of protection to your account by making you enter a new code from your phone every time you log in. Next, disconnect third-party apps. You’d be surprised how many sites you’ve given access to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Most are perfectly harmless, but the more you have, the more likely it is that one will get hacked and leave your account vulnerable. Be smart about what you click on. If a Facebook friend sends you a message that looks like a virus, it probably is. Clicking an unknown link could infect your account, too. Finally, add a passcode or password to your device. Even a simple code adds another layer of security and makes it tougher to mess with your accounts.
Yo. It’s one of the simplest ways to greet someone – and now the simplest messaging app on iOS. The entire point of the app is to send your friends a push notification that just reads “Yo.” After launching as a joke on April Fool’s Day, Yo has recently gone viral and now has more than 50,000 active users. It may seem pointless, but Yo has a hidden purpose: a new type of real-time notifications – ones where the notification itself is the entire message. Right now, the Yo account WORLDCUP can send a “Yo” every time a goal is scored in a World Cup game. In the future, other companies could create similar accounts. Restaurants could “Yo” you when your table was ready, airlines could “Yo” you when your flight is boarding, or news sites could “Yo” you whenever they post a breaking news story. It’s these possibilities that have brought in more than $1 million in funding so far – and why you should download Yo and give it a shot today.
After months of debate and speculation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against internet TV service Aereo in a 6-3 decision, effectively killing the service, at least in its current form. Barry Diller, Aereo’s biggest financial backer and one of its most vocal supporters, said the ruling means “it’s over now” for Aereo and that there’s “no Plan B.” The ruling doesn’t directly affect too much of the current TV landscape – Aereo only has about 100,000 subscribers. However, the ruling’s ramifications for the future are much, much greater – especially considering that in three years, more people will watch primetime TV programming online than on broadcast TV. This ruling only delays the inevitable sea change coming to the broadcast world – and helps broadcasters keep their heads in the sand. It’s likely this is the end of the road for Aereo, unless it completely re-works its business model, which doesn’t seem likely. I would hate to think that this ruling inhibits innovation in any way, but only time will tell.
Google recently showed off the future of Android at its I/O conference. The most exciting thing on display might have been a $20 piece of cardboard. Google’s Cardboard project is the company’s take on Virtual Reality – an area of tech that saw Facebook spend $2 billion to acquire VR device maker Oculus. So how does Google’s version work? The unofficial $20 kits include cardboard, lenses, magnets and a rubber band that creates a pair of “goggles” for you to slide your phone into. The system is almost the direct opposite of Oculus’s high-end Rift headset, which requires a hefty investment to experience virtual reality. Google’s inexpensive version – along with its newly-launched VR toolkit – should prompt developers to build support for Cardboard into their apps and services. The virtual reality dream has been around for a while, but has seen a surge in popularity thanks to the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus. Google’s Cardboard may turn out to be little more than a gimmick, but it’s got people talking – and that’s a great start.
Love the Quantified Self movement but wish there was a device to help take your strength training to the next level? The PUSH Band, an app-enabled wearable fitness tracker, is here to help. PUSH, launching later this summer, is the world’s first fitness tracker that also tracks metrics on strength training by logging your workouts and visualizing your results. PUSH keeps track of your reps, sets, force, power, speed and strength, and makes sure you don’t over-exert yourself by going over your weight limit. All this data can be viewed on PUSH’s companion app, which lets you review every rep and is designed to help you track your workouts, optimize your training, review your session and share your results with friends, teammates, personal trainers and coaches. The PUSH app even has a “live view” that lets you compare your training with your friends to see which of you is in the best shape. The PUSH Band is available for pre-order now for $149 at PushStrength.com and will ship in August.