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New device stops your smart speaker from listening without a safe word

(TECH GADGETS) Don’t like your smart devices spying on you? There might just be a solution. Paranoid is a device that stands between you and companies listening to you.

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Paranoid smart speaker

Okay, I’m the first to admit I do not trust smart home devices. Between the threat of corporations, hackers and the government all potentially tapping into private information, there’s a lot to be worried about. There’s something disquieting about random Amazon employees listening to my conversations, y’know?

That said…I still sometimes wish for voice activated devices. What can I say, they’re convenient. It would be nice to command my speaker to change the song when my hands are covered in flour or something.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who wishes for a smart speaker that wasn’t always listening in.

Paranoid, which hails from major security company Pleasant Solutions, will serve as a way for you to have your cake and eat it too. Or, in this case, have your smart device and cut down on its ability to spy.

How does it work? Essentially, Paranoid keeps a device from listening in until you say the safe word – “paranoid” – in which case it allows your smart device to listen to your command. For most devices, Paranoid will provide you with a device that easily attaches to your speaker and either jams the speaker or engages the mute button until you want to use the device. More complicated devices can be sent to Paranoid for internal alterations that will provide something similar.

For the moment, Paranoid only services specific models of Amazon and Google speakers, though they hope to expand to tackle any smart speaker on the market.

Of course, if you’re as wary as me, you’re probably aware that this just means Paranoid will be spying on you instead. (My first thought was seriously “out of the frying pan into the fire” when I learned about Paranoid’s technology.) I was relieved to learn, though, that unlike the smart devices, Paranoid doesn’t connect to the cloud. It doesn’t even connect to the internet, which means you don’t have to worry about anyone hacking into the system.

The initial devices will cost $49 USD each. Sure, this could double the price of a cheap smart home speaker, but when the alternative is potentially allowing almost anyone to listen in to your private conversations? I’d say it’s worth it.

This article was first published on February 05, 2020.

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

Tech Gadgets

Augmented reality start up shifts focus to handle new COVID-19 world

(TECH GADGETS) Augmented reality start up Magic Leap changes up their game plan to deal with what they believe the post-COVID-19 world will be like.

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Magic Leap 1

This week augmented-reality startup Magic Leap, Inc. announced a shift away from consumer business towards enterprise products. A report by Bloomberg says the move has caused the company to cut about 1,000 employees, around half of its workforce to accommodate the change in business models. Once seen as the future of AR in the home, this move represents a drastic change for the startup darling.

Magic Leap was founded in 2011 whose IP (a lightweight headset using spatial computing technology to create sophisticated augmented reality experiences) attracted investment attention from big-hitters including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Alphabet Inc., and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The startup raised more than $2.6 billion, becoming one of the most well-capitalized consumer hardware startups ever.

The company’s first headset was revealed in 2018 priced at $2,300 after years in development. Magic Leap emphasized a consumer-driven product, marketing the Magic Leap 1 Lightwear for its uses at home such as remote work, games, social media, and entertainment.

CEO Rony Abovitz wrote in a blog post that this shift is driven by the current pandemic. “The post-COVID economy will be one of resiliency and the ability for businesses to operate across vast distances and connect with their customers in ways that mimic physical interactions, but benefit from the speed and scale of high-speed networks, will be critical. Spatial computing will very much be part of that coming economic change. Magic Leap’s pioneering work in the field provides us with a rich platform of technology and know-how to help usher in this era of Spatial Transformation.”

According to TechCrunch, Magic Leap was already adapting their hardware for enterprise applications. Late last year, the release of the Magic Leap Enterprise Suite was announced, a $3,000 package that could compete with Microsoft’s AR HoloLens.

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Tech Gadgets

COVID-19 is a VR gaming boom-VR chair startup raises $1.8 million

(TECH GADGETS) New VR gaming chair could be just the push the VR industry needs to hit mainstream. Roto vr actually got better funding because of COVID-19.

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roto vr chair

The COVID-19 pandemic has not been a great time for most of us, but for some startups there has been a silver lining. Certain products have begun to look more attractive to investors when faced with countless days sitting at home and looking for ways to pass the time. Roto VR, a startup that markets an interactive, 360-degree chair, is on the receiving end of this pandemic good fortune.

Roto VR recently raised about $1.8 million in a funding round led by Pembroke VCT. The chair is designed to address some of the problems with VR and make it more accessible to everyday users. The company was founded in 2015 by a pair of video game industry veterans, Elliott Myers and Gavin Waxkirsh.

VR games have not been the smash hit that some in the gaming industry were expecting. There are many challenges to the product from the consumer point of view. For one, many people experience minor to extreme motion sickness while playing. The amount of room required to essentially move around your home blindfolded is also a major pain point. People often find themselves tripping over cables and other house hold items, which ruins the immersive experience and leads to injuries.

The Roto VR is a motorized chair that allows people to play VR games while seated. The product developers argue that finding a way for people to experience VR gaming while seated will make the medium more accessible to people.

Most people sit down to watch movies, work, play games and browse the internet whilst seated and we see no reason why the exciting new medium of VR will be any different,” said Myers.

The chair also provides haptic/vibration feedback as a way to enhance the virtual gaming experience. It can be connected to various input devices such as keyboards, joysticks, racing wheels, and other gaming accessories.

Roto VR is compatible with most VR head mounted displays and can be used for both movies and games. In addition to marketing to consumers and offices, Roto VR is setting their sights on the B2B market by reaching out to movie theaters and arcades. This product could be just the push that the VR industry needs.

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Tech Gadgets

COVID-19 killing robots are on the loose

(TECH GADGETS) Robots are helping disinfect hospitals and airplanes and reduce contact between healthcare workers and infected people to slow down the COVID-19 spread.

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xenex lightstrike

Don’t fear the robot takeover! What if the robots are here to save us instead? Xenex germicidal UV-light radiating robots may help save us from the COVID-19 pandemic. These no-touch disinfecting robots are already in use in hundreds of hospitals, and have been helping reduce healthcare associated infections (HAIs) for years.

Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots can disinfect various spaces, including hospital rooms, aircrafts or larger public areas, such as schools or malls–and quickly. In fact, these Germ-Zapping Robots have been leading the way in fighting HAIs since the prototype was launched in 2010. They help reduce MERS and staph infections, and helped hospitals disinfect rooms and equipment during the most recent Ebola outbreak.

Two infectious disease epidemiologists, Dr. Julie Stachowiak and Dr. Mark Stibich, who earned their doctorates at Johns Hopkins University, came up with the idea for these no-touch disinfecting robots. The robots work by emitting pulsed xenon UV light that can disinfect a hospital room in minutes.

In an ideal scenario, the robots disinfect a room after a manual cleaning. However, with the high rate of infection to healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19, Xenex Germ-Zapping Robots can disinfect an area both before and after manual cleaning. They usually cost around $100,00 each, though in the long term they save hospitals money due to reduced HAI occurrences.

The company reportedly is offering to lend the robots for free to select, high risk areas. CEO Morris Miller offered to lend one to disinfect San Antonio’s North Star Mall after a confirmed coronavirus patient was released, before having another test come back positive. She had gone to the mall in the meantime. San Antonio is not only the company’s home base, but also where Lackland Air Force Base is testing, quarantining, and treating patients with confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Xenex and public health officials are also discussing how to get them to China and other places where the need is greatest. More than 500 hospitals already had these robots in use before COVID-19 reared its ugly, crowned head.

Another company with a similar concept, specifically targeted at disinfecting airplanes between flights, is Dimer UVC Innovations, with the GermFalcon robots. Dimer has offered their robots for free to at least one airline running international flights in its home base, Los Angeles.

Now that the virus has spread to several other countries, with new hotspots appearing weekly, both Xenex and Dimer are hopefully expanding these offers to help in the interest of public health. Imagine being able to disinfect schools, libraries, and office buildings as well as hospitals, clinics, and airplanes.

More traditionally-conceived service robots are serving to bring food and medical supplies to COVID-19 patients in China to minimize person-to-person contact. Vici is another robot, a telehealth device on wheels. Vici allows healthcare providers to communicate with and observe patients without being in personal contact. Reducing interaction with infected people is crucial. The tragically high rate of healthcare workers, especially in Wuhan, who contracted COVID-19 after caring for patients has made that clear.

COVID-19 has led experts to strongly encourage social isolation as the safest, smartest way to avoid catching the novel coronavirus. Social isolation should also help flatten the curve, or slow down the spread enough for medical resources to keep up with need.

Bring on the robots, y’all. Modern problems require modern solutions, after all. So you’d better learn to speak robot – it’s time. BEEP BOOP BLORP – ZARRP.

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