A sporting chance?

I don’t really write about sport, so I won’t go on for long about this. I must admit, though, to being a little fascinated by the technology suggested as part of ‘refereeing changes‘ in World Cup football.

Two companies claim they can solve a particular refereeing challenge – goal line technology. In fact both of them must have been ecstatic about Frank Lampard’s unawarded goal against Germany (clip below) for reigniting interest in their previously rejected ideas.

Hawk-Eye, a name any cricket or tennis fan will be familiar with, is technology developed by Winchester-based Hawk-Eye Innovations. The company proposes setting up 500 frames-per-second recording cameras around the goal posts. These will detect to within 5mm whether the ball has crossed the line and alert the referee to this (either via his earpiece or watch) within 0.5 seconds of the incident, enabling him to award goals accurately.

German company Cairos Technologies has taken a different approach: a smart ball instead of smart goalposts. It works by embedding a sensor in the ball, which transmits to receivers behind the goal line and back to a computer, which then alerts the referee via his watch. Coverage of their test solution can be seen below.

Both very cool ideas, that will no doubt solve the problem but even so, look to be expensive and cumbersome to implement. If the flashy new Jabulani ball designed for the World Cup costs £60, who knows what an Adidas ball with a sensor and transmitter embedded in it will set clubs back. The goalpost solution from Hawk-Eye looks interesting but it’s not clear how it will account for the massive movements undergone by the goal posts when they are struck by the ball or players. More information is required on how this is cancelled out to stay within the 5mm accuracy level.

Festival tech must-haves

It’s my favourite time of year… Festival time! Yet as much as I love Glastonbury, Latitude, Bestival and the others, there is always a degree of discomfort. Coping with burning sun, torrential rain, cold nights and smelly toilets is mostly common sense but there are a few pieces of tech out there that make the whole festival experience so much more comfortable.

I’ve chosen my top five tech must-haves for the season – all of these should make a big difference to festival-goers without clearing out your bank balance or taking the place of your beer crate in the car.

Pop-up tents

I’ve never had too many problems putting up tents but I was still amazed the first time I used one of these. Pop-up tents tend to be pack up small (normally in a disk shape) but once unzipped from the protective cover, transform into tent shape in a matter of seconds. The only human labour required is pegging out the base and guy ropes to secure it. The video below from Quechua shows that it’s not too hard to put away, either.

Granted, these tents aren’t designed for extreme weather but they should certainly stand whatever the British summertime can throw at them. If you’re arriving at a festival late at night or in the rain, pop-up tents can really make the difference between a cosy first night and abject misery. Gelert, Outwell and Quechua all do a decent range.

Phone-charging wellies

There are hundreds of gadgets around for charging your phone on the go: solar chargers, battery chargers, in-car chargers. Most of these are good pieces of kit but they share a common drawback – they all require you to carry around something extra. The Hot Stepper Orange Power Wellies (ok, stupid name) are only in prototype at the moment but claim to allow your phone to be charged while you walk around. They do this by converting the heat generated by your feet into electricity – the full explanation of how this works makes them sound very expensive!

Until the Hot Steppers are ready to make their festival debut, people who don’t want to queue for the phone charging tent or carry around a separate charging device might like to consider a solar charging backpack. These vary in price (and quality) from £20£200 so make sure you check the specs before ordering.

The light that never goes out

However many spare batteries you brought, when you’re desperate for the loo in the middle of the night, your torch is bound to flicker and leave you dodging guy ropes and comatose drunks in the dark. Wind-up torches are an absolute necessity and some, such as the Wind Up LED Camp Light from I Want One of Those, use low-power LEDs to minimise the need to give your arm a workout every few minutes. This one also has two modes – full light and night light, so you needn’t blind your tent-buddies while you search for the toilet roll.

Pocket towel

Ok, so some people don’t shower for the duration of a festival but for those of us with a greater interest in personal hygiene, trying to dry out a towel without dropping it in the mud is a total nightmare. The Sea To Summit Pocket Towel is a fantastic invention. It packs up into a fist-sized pouch, absorbs a lot of water and dries very quickly. It’s cheap as chips too: a no-brainer.

Hand warmers

The change from hot to freezing cold happens surprisingly quickly when you’re outdoors and holding a cold beer after the sun goes down can be painful. Hand warmers are the obvious solution – snapping the button inside the fluid pouch activates a chemical reaction, keeping the pads warm for around an hour. After this, they cool off but boiling them in water resets the contents for reuse the next day. There are lots of these little gems out there, so search around to find the best. I particularly like the VW Campervan versions.

3D without the eyewear

Reading the story about Nintendo’s new 3DS, which displays 3D images and facilitates three dimensional gaming without glasses actually caused me to breathe a sigh of relief. At the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo last November, I walked past a screen showing an image of a plane flying through the air. The image of the plane wasn’t on the screen but a few inches in front of the screen and seemed to have depth. A double take revealed that I wasn’t seeing things and I immediately reached for my camera… before realising how stupid that was.

Not having seen anything on the market that claimed to portray 3D without glasses since returning, I assumed that integrating this sort of technology into a marketable device must be too expensive or cumbersome, at least for the time being. I actually assumed I had mis-remembered or, worse, hallucinated it. Not true, if Nintendo’s latest effort is anything to go by, hence the sigh of relief.

The image at the robotics show wasn’t the best quality 3D. While it clearly appeared free of the screen, it didn’t seem to have the solidity that I’ve come to expect from 3D experience – although I couldn’t say for sure that it wasn’t down to the lack of immersive experience I’m used to at the Imax, for example. With a smaller screen, it’s possible that the Nintendo device will suffer similar problems but whatever the case, I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do.

Oh, and one more thing… 3D Wii please!

Feel-good fashion

A great story about wearable tech in the form of mood-detecting clothes caught my eye this week. According to manufacturer Wearable Absence, the clothes contain sensors which use biofeedback to detect the wearer’s emotional state and respond with ‘digital memories’ pre-determined by the wearer. The garments then produce an appropriate response to help alter the wearer’s mood.

Prototype wearable tech is nothing new – the Gadget Show has covered it quite a bit (video below) and even challenged Jason and Suzi to come up with their own items in one episode. Most of the applications of wearable tech seem to be either emotional (such as the shirts that send and receive hugs from the vid below) or for entertainment purposes (the various different hats containing headphones are probably the most practical and popular example).

There’s not yet a lot of tech small enough to fit into clothing that is also practical and stylish – I can imagine a mobile phone in a hat, for example, but not one with full smartphone functionality. If body temperature and heart rate can be monitored discreetly by garments, however, couldn’t fabric be engineered to get warmer and colder to maintain the wearer’s comfort? Ideally, you’d preset it to maintain a chosen temperature to take into account people’s preferences.  For power and weight reasons, it would also help if the temperature changes were created by modifications to the fabric rather than separate heating and cooling devices woven into the garments.

I’ve had a quick look and can’t see any clothes out there that do this convincingly (let me know if I’ve missed some) but there could be a huge market for them. People who are out and about in changing temperatures – park rangers, festival goers, walkers, outdoor emergency services – older people particularly susceptible to winter weather, menopausal women having hot flushes, people like me who just get hot and cold easily.

International Robot Exhibition, Tokyo

Some of my favourite pictures from the International Robot Exhibition at the Tokyo Big Sight in November…

The Big Sight itself was pretty impressive. It kind of looks like it has been accidentally dropped on Odaiba upside down by passing aliens.

An impressive biped robot – he’s about 12 inches high.

All-terrain car bot – there were a few in this vein at the show and all of them could manage very rough terrain. I need a car like this for Glastonbury…

Geeking out in Tokyo

For complete and unadulterated nerdism, there’s nowhere quite like Tokyo.

The first clue that I was in for a particularly geeky time on the trip I made in November came from the guide book on the way over: International Robotics Exhibition, every 2 years, last held November 2007. Obviously, I made sure to go there and nerded out along with my friend Katy and my little point-and-click camera (reflected in the quality of the videos here).

One of the weirdest robots was one supposedly made as a toy for kids. Personally, I think it’s pretty creepy…

Then there were the robot dogs – much more child friendly with really smooth, ultra-maneuverable joints:

One of several remote-controlled robots (controlled by the chap whose feet you can see), this football playing bot was cool but not quite right. There’s a spectacular missed kick, which although funny reminds you how difficult biped locomotion is to replicate. The crab-like sidestepping is also very amusing – listen for the clacking of the legs as they come together.

Another remote controlled bot, which I nicknamed Spiderbot, advanced slowly on me when the guy controlling it realised I was filming. I know it’s a robot and not a spider but I still found it a little scary!

Wait for it…

This isn’t going live til 2010, so you’ll have to wait a bit, sorry!

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