TechSummit Rewind #011: January 11th, 2014

Editor’s Note: Welcome to season two of the TechSummit Rewind, which presses pause on the technology newswire.

Smartphone concept incorporates LiFi sensor for receiving light-based data

Oledcomm LiFi

The lights have dimmed at the Las Vegas Convention Center as another CES came to a close, but none are more perturbed by darkness than Oledcomm. After all, they specialize in illumination, or LiFi technology more specifically. What is LiFi, you ask? It facilitates high-speed data transmission via pulsating light sources that seem static to the naked eye. In Vegas, the firm showed off various demos, including a two-way, 10 Mbps link typing a MacBook to a router. However, most interesting, was a concept smartphone that took instructions from the many lamps scattered throughout the booth.

The unbranded Android handset underwent one key change: its front-facing camera got swapped out for a light sensor. A similarly unbranded tablet underwent the same procedure, and a cheap, gummy bear-shaped LiFi dongle showed a way to retrofit devices through the headphone jack. After loading up a smartphone app, holding it within range of lamplight immediately triggered events like displaying a picture or playing a video. Images and clips went on the phone, obviously, but the demo showed LiFi’s true potential. Oledcomm, which provides other companies with LiFi infrastructure and software services, imagines implementations from precise indoor geolocation to in-store advertising. For mainstream adoption of the technology, though, the outfit first hopes smartphone manufacturers will add light sensors to their handsets as standard.

Tesla will give Model S owners safer wall charging adapters to prevent fires

A Tesla Model S electric car is shown for sale at a Tesla store in a shopping mall in La Jolla

 

Tesla isn’t relying on software alone to cut down on garage fire risks for Model S owners. The automaker will offer drivers a free, upgraded wall charging adapter with a thermal fuse. The new device will cut electricity when overheating’s detected, even if circuit breakers in the car or house don’t intervene. While Tesla doesn’t believe that the chargers are necessary to reduce the danger to customers, it doesn’t want to chance anything — even if it’s prepared for the worst.

SmartThings shows off ridiculous possibilities of its connected home system

smartthings

 

SmartThings had no presence on the CES 2014 show floor, but there was a mansion 45 minutes outside the Vegas Strip that was (obviously) tricked out with sensors, connected light bulbs, smart locks and cameras. It was home to a rather impressive connected home demo meant to showcase the company’s Labs program. The program was announced during the trade show, which gives users early access to third party apps and devices. Philips’ Hue, Belkin’s WeMo and Sonos were the first three partners to join, and many of the demos revolved around those product families. For example, they built a “wake up” routine triggered by a Jawbone Up 24. When the wearable is taken out of sleep mode, it tells SmartThings to turn on the lights in the kitchen, start brewing a pot of coffee and fire up NPR News on a Sonos Play1. In other examples, the Sonos was used as an alarm or virtual guard dogs.

A funner example had a motion sensor attached to a hammer inside a piano. When that particular key is hit, it tells a Sonos to playback a file, allowing SmartThings founder and CEO Alex Hawkinson to mime his way through a challenging classical piece. Obviously, there aren’t many practical purposes to rig up your piano with sensors but it shows just how versatile the young ecosystem already is.

Android distribution numbers: Jelly Bean claims 59.1 percent as KitKat inches forward

android-versions-january-2014

Google’s first batch of Android device share data for 2014 made it clear that users were flocking to a newer OS version, just not the latest one. While Android 4.4 KitKat did climb to 1.4 percent of active devices, Jelly Bean was the real winner jumping 4.6 percent. There’s no real mystery about what happened, however. KitKat remained limited to mostly Google hardware, whether it’s the Nexus line or Motorola (which was then a Google company) hardware. Large numbers of third-party devices didn’t have KitKat upgrades or ship with the update pre-installed, but Mountain View can at least take a victory lap for the fact that over 60 percent of Android’s active customer base is in the bleeding-edge ballpark.

Researchers develop tiny windmills that can power your gadgets

micro-windmills

Portable solar chargers are becoming more and more commmonplace, but minuscule windmills that can charge your phones? Now, that’s something new. UT Arlington researchers Smitha Rao and J.C. Chiao have developed wind turbines so small (1.8mm at their widest), you can stick 10 of them on a grain of rice. One possible application is to embed a bunch of the Lilliputian devices onto a phone sleeve — allowing you to then hold your phone out the window or in front of a fan to recharge. Since the tiny windmills are made of a durable nickel alloy, you won’t have to worry about strong winds blowing their little blades off, either. It’s still too early to see if this would lead to an actual product, but a Taiwanese company is arleady exploring commercial opportunities, so you might be able to check “Own a wind farm for ants” off your bucket list eventually.

 

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