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Think your house is smart now? Here’s a peek at what it’ll be like with AR

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the influential Greek philosopher asks us to imagine a group of prisoners living their entire lives inside a cave. All that they can see of the real world comes from shadows which appear on the cave walls. Eventually, a prisoner escapes and realizes that his or her previous view of existence was based on a low resolution, flat understanding of how the world actually operated.

A slightly pretentious way of starting an article on augmented reality? Perhaps. But the broad idea is the same: Right now, in the pre-AR world, we have a visual perspective that contains only the details of things around us that we can see on the surface. AR, a technology which has been talked about increasingly in recent years, promises to let us go deeper.

Imagine walking down the street and having landmarks, store opening hours, Uber rider credentials and other (useful) contextual information overlaid on top of our everyday perspective. Or walking around your home and being able to determine, for instance, the live power draw of a power strip simply by looking at it. Or how much battery life is remaining on your smoke detector. Or the WiFi details of your router. Or any other useful number of “at a glance” details you might want to know.

Like the shift in perception described in Plato’s Cave, this won’t be an occasional “nice to have” supplement to the way we view the world. Augmented reality will, its biggest boosters claim, fundamentally alter our perception of real, physical places; permanently altering the way we view and experience reality and the possibilities offered by the real world.

The future of AR interfaces?

Right now, it’s not yet at that point. AR is still all about games and, if we’re lucky, the opportunity to pick and place virtual Ikea furniture in our apartments to show us how much better our life might be if we owned a minimalist Scandinavian bookshelf or a handwoven rug. There’s still much progress to be made, and lots of infrastructure to be laid down before the world around us can be rewritten in AR’s image.

One group working hard to achieve this vision is the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon University. The group has previously created futuristic technology that ranges from conductive paint that turns walls into giant touchpads to a software update for smartwatches which allows them to know exactly what your hands are doing and respond accordingly. In other words, FIG anticipates the way we’ll be interfacing with technology and the world around us tomorrow (or, well, maybe the day after that).

In its latest work, the group has developed something called LightAnchors. This is a technique for spatially anchoring data in augmented reality. In essence, it creates a prototype tagging system that precisely places labels on top of everyday scenes. It marks up the real world like a neat, user friendly schematic. That’s important. After all, to “augment” means to make something better by adding to it; not to crowd it with unclear, messy popups and banner ads like a 1998 website. Augmented reality needs something like this if it’s ever going to live up to its promise.

“LightAnchors is sort of the AR equivalent of barcodes or QR Codes, which are everywhere,” Chris Harrison, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Future Interfaces Group, told Digital Trends. “Of course, barcodes don’t do a whole lot other than providing a unique ID for looking up price [and things like that.] LightAnchors can be so much more, allowing devices to not only say who and what they are, but also share live information and even interfaces. Being able to embed information right into the world is very powerful.”

How LightAnchors work

LightAnchors work by looking for light sources blinked by a microprocessor. Many devices already contain microprocessors used for things like controlling status lights. According to the Carnegie Mellon researchers, these could be LightAnchor-enabled simply via firmware update. In the event that an object does not currently display these blinked lights, an inexpensive microcontroller could be linked up to a simple LED for just a couple of bucks.

As part of their proof-of-concept, the researchers showed how a glue gun could be made to transmit its live temperature or a ride share’s headlights made to emit a unique ID to help passengers find the right vehicle.

Once the lights have been located, LightAnchors then scour video frame images to look for the right area to position a label. This is found by searching for bright pixels surrounded by darker ones.

“These candidate anchors are then tracked across time, looking for a blinked binary pattern,” Karan Ahuja, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “Only candidates with the correct preamble are accepted, after which their data payloads can be decoded. LightAnchors allow ‘dumb’ devices to become smarter through AR with minimal extra cost. [For example,] a security camera can broadcast its privacy policy using the in-built LED.”

Right now, it’s still a concept that has yet to be commercialized. Implemented right, however, this could be one way to let users navigate and access the dense ecosystems of smart devices popping up with increasing regularity in the real world. “At present, there are no low cost and aesthetically pleasing methods to give appliances an outlet in the AR world,” Ahuja said. “AprilTags or QR codes are inexpensive, but visually obtrusive.”

Could LightAnchors be the answer? It’s certainly an exciting concept to explore. Suddenly we’re feeling more than ready for AR glasses to take off in a big way!

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InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes review

There’s really no way around it, we live in a different world right now. A global pandemic has taken the lives of nearly 200,000 Americans in roughly six months.The majority of us are doing what we can to be a bit cleaner than we were previously. That includes washing our hands regularly, wearing masks out in public, and just doing the best we can to not spread a disease we may not even know we have.With that said, we need to remember that the thing we touch the most during the course of our day needs to be cleaned, too. I’m talking, of course, about our phones.There’s been an uptick of new devices such as mophie and InvisibleShield UV sanitizers that promise to sanitize your smartphone and pretty much whatever else you can fit inside. Heck, some of them even charge your phone when you’re done sanitizing.Let’s say you’re nowhere near your UV sanitizer and your child hands you the phone with their germ riddled hands. After you’re done chasing them around with hand sanitizer you still need to take care of your phone.You can’t exactly wipe your smartphone down with a Clorox wipe. I mean, I guess you can, but they’re not made with that incredibly expensive slab of glass in mind. That’s where the InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes come in handy.Available in packs of 10, 25, or 500 for $4.99, $9.99, and $69.99, respectively, they’re like Wet Ones designed for phones. Throw a couple of these in your purse, pocket, or backpack and whenever you need to ensure your electronic devices are clean, just give them a good wipe down.The AndroidGuys team was provided the opportunity to test these babies out and I jumped at the chance. Having two goobers of my own, one of which that loves his tablet, I figured if anyone could put these to the test, it would be my very own little germ factory.The wipes themselves are pretty small and are packaged very similarly to your standard Fresh Naps or a Zeiss lens wipe. Although they are on the smaller side, they have enough juice in them to clean two smartphones, or maybe a tablet.They’re not just for smartphones, you can wipe down just about any nonporous surface. What made me so excited to get these was the fact they won’t damage the oil-resistant coating on your smartphone or tablet screens.I would say the convenience factor alone is enough to get the InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes. You can pretty much keep them anywhere and have them handy any time you need them.I love having the peace of mind of knowing my smartphone is clean clean. It’s just one less thing I have to worry about. I’ll definitely be buying more of the InvisibleShield disinfecting wipes as the price is just too good. If you grab that 500 pack it comes out to about $0.14 per wipe. Sold.Learn more about the InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes at the ZAGG/InvisibleShield website where they’re available for purchase. You can also find the wipes at carriers and retailers like Verizon, AT&T, and Staples.

Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC Traveller Headphones Review

Up for review today are the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones from Beyerdnyamic. Priced about $250, you can get your hands on them today.How do they sound? Are they comfortable? What about the app experience? Read on to learn what we thought about these headphones.DesignAt first glance, there isn’t anything too special about the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones. They are mainly made of plastic with accents of artificial leather on the padded earcups and headband.However, once you turn them on the light show begins with hidden lights inside of the earcups. The ring of light inside each earcup is activated by a sensor when removed and helps the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones truly stand out. It is unfortunate that you rarely get to enjoy this splash of light though, because most of the time it will be completely hidden while you are wearing them.Not only do the lights look cool, but they also serve a purpose. Taking off the headphones and glancing at the color informs you of the current battery level, Bluetooth connection, and even which side is left or right.Beyerdynamic has included rotating earcups that swivel on the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones. This design helps make them fold up into a compact shape to fit in the included case, as well as making them more comfortable to wear on your head or around your neck when not in use.ComfortThe Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones use memory foam on the headband and the earpads, and unfortunately, both are inadequate in my opinion. The sparse level of padding on the headband is most apparent due to the heft of the headphones. You can really start to feel it on the top of your head after extended periods of time. The cushioning on the ear cups also left a bit to be desired. During my listening sessions, I could feel the inside of the headphones grazing up against my ears, which lead to some early-onset ear fatigue.I wouldn’t classify the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones as uncomfortable by any means–but a little extra cushioning would have made a massive difference–especially if you plan on wearing these for long periods of time.User ExperienceThe Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones incorporate touch-sensitive controls on the right earpad. Touch-sensitive controls have never been one of my favorites, but they work extremely well here. The most common commands include double-tapping to play/pause music and swipes to skip songs or adjust the volume. I found myself using these gestures often, especially the swipes, because of how convenient and reliable they are to use.One issue I ran into while using the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones, was that they wouldn’t consistently power on and connect when sliding the power button. This happened more than a handful of times and required me to slide the switch back to off and back to Bluetooth up to one or two more times before it would connect. Perhaps this was user error, but I feel headphones should not be this difficult to power on.Another minor gripe of mine, is that in order to update the firmware on the headphones, it required using a computer. This is the first time I’ve ever had to update headphones that didn’t utilize the app on the phone, and it seemed like a bit of an oversight to not include this capability. Especially when Beyerdynamic has a well-designed app for the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones.AppThe MIY app helps enhance your experience with the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones by allowing you to change the color of the light in the earcups, adjust the sensitivity of the touch controls, personalize the audio for your ears, and more.In order to tailor fit the sound signature to your ears, the MIY app uses a hearing test. Beyerdynamic is not the first to try this, and my experience with these types of customizations has been mixed in the past. As far as the test itself, I found it to be more similar to playing a game, where your reaction time was being tested more than your hearing. I’d love for Beyerdynamic to tweak this to make it easier to take the test more accurately.Regardless, the results from the MOSAYC sound personalization were actually positive in my experience. I found the adjustment elevated the mids and added a bit more depth to the sound overall. That’s far better than I can say for some others I’ve tried, so good job Beyerdynamic.Unfortunately, the MIY app does come up short on a couple of features. For starters, there is no way to control active noise cancellation. That means, you cannot enable or disable it from the app, nor can you adjust the level of cancellation being used. This is a very common setting for headphones that include ANC, and I was disappointed to find it missing here.Another feature I would have loved to see is an equalizer. Sure, you can rely on the hearing test to adjust the audio automatically, but some of us like to tweak the equalizer manually for our own preferences.One unique feature from the MIY app that I’ve never seen before, is a way to monitor how much strain you’ve put on your ears for the day. I assume this is in an effort to protect your hearing, because it gives you statistics based on how long you’ve been listening and at how loud of a volume. It then provides you with tips such as, “Feel free to turn the volume up a bit.” I can’t say I would make much use of this feature, but if you’re someone concerned about your hearing, this may be useful for you.Sound QualityOverall, I was impressed with the sound quality of the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones. There was plenty of detail in the highs, although they were a little reserved so you won’t get an overly bright or crisp sound.The soundstage was fairly wide, giving plenty of space for the instruments to breathe and provide separation, making it possible to hear all the layers in each track.Finally, the bass was strong without being overpowering. As someone who enjoys a little extra kick of bass, I really enjoyed this. It may not be enough for bass heads, but if you prefer a little more in the low-end then these headphones won’t disappoint.ANCThe Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones do a decent job at muting noise with active noise cancellation turned on. It’s not quite as good as flagship models from Bose and Sony, but it’s good enough. As long as you have the volume set to 40% or above, it should be enough to drown out repetitive noises in the background between the passive and active noise cancellation it provides.Battery LifeBeyerdynamic rates the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones for a whopping 45 hours of playback time without ANC and 24.5 hours with ANC enabled. The majority of the time I was using them with ANC off and the battery life measures up to Beyerdynamic’s claims.When it came time to charge them up, I was pleased to see that the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones went with USB-C over micro USB. This has become more common in recent years, but I’m still thrilled when I don’t have to dig out a micro USB cable when a new gadget comes in.If you ever do run out of juice on the go, don’t worry, because there is a 3.5mm headphone jack you can use as a back up. That is assuming your phone still has a jack, or that you didn’t forget or lose your dongle.Final ThoughtsThis was my first time with a pair of Beyerdynamic headphones, and overall, I have to say I was impressed. There is a lot of competition in this price range, and Beyerdynamic has done a fantastic job of combining stellar audio quality, smart features, and a long-lasting battery.At the same time, they were also able to undercut other major players like Sony and Bose with a price of only $249. If you’re looking for a high-quality pair of ANC over the ear headphones that won’t break the bank, then I’d have no hesitation recommending the Lagoon ANC Traveller from Beyerdynamic.Buy from Amazon Buy from Beyerdynamic