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Samsung shines a new light on indoor health with artificial sunlight

(TECH GADGETS) Samsung’s C-Lab venture creates windows that simulate natural sunlight, so now you can stay healthy while being stuck inside!

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The light therapy market just leveled up. C-Lab Inside, an in-house idea incubation program to develop innovative ideas from Samsung employees, unveiled a window-shaped artificial sunlight device called the SunnyFive window. According the Samsung Newsroom, it enables the user to enjoy sunlight that changes by the hour by copying the full spectrum of the actual sunlight.

Light therapy lamps have been around for decades as a way for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and some skin issues to get the benefits of sunlight all year long, without the risk of sunburn. In a time when many people are spending more time indoors than before as they shelter in place during the CoVID-19 pandemic, the audience for more accessible in-home sunlight may be greater than ever.

A device like the SunnyFive window promises a full spectrum of natural light that can simulate a real window through a changing light angle which adjusts throughout the day, including sunrises and sunsets. For SAD sufferers and others who can benefit from exposure to light, it can helps users synthesize vitamin D while indoors or in low-light places as they would in natural sunlight, according to the Samsung Newsroom.

samsung sunnyside

And because it is 2020, of course there is an app with that. It is set for easy integration with Samsung’s SmartThings smart home system, so users can personalize their light by adjusting brightness and color temperature from their phone, and set a schedule to wake up with a simulated sunrise. It can be mounted on the wall like a picture frame, and is designed to look like a window with diffused light, instead of the light box design used by many current light therapy lamps on the market.

This seems like an interesting product with a lot of upsides, but there are still a number of question marks around the technology and safety of this device. If UVB lighting is what is being emitted, what type of health consequences might users be exposed to? Did SunnyFive integrate any health safeguards or mitigating elements to address UVB exposure? Though Samsung showcased the SunnyFive window at the 2020 CES, the product, pricing, and details have yet to be released.

Yasmin Diallo Turk is a long-time Austinite, non-profit professional in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and graduate of both Huston-Tillotson University and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. When not writing for AG she should be writing her dissertation but is probably just watching Netflix with her husband and 3 kids or running volunteer projects for HOPE for Senegal.

Tech Gadgets

Google acquires AR manufacturer, North, but what for?

(TECH GADGETS) Google has recently purchased North, an AR startup that boasts impressive 3-D holographic visual displays, but what they plan to do with this new merger is unclear.

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If you allowed pop culture to influence your beliefs about what the 21st century might look like, then you — like most of society — have probably not-so-secretly been hoping that today might vaguely resemble the marvels promised to us from the Back to the Future franchise. After all, we were all assured that we’d have hoverboards to shuttle around on, 3-D holographic advertisements to admire, and a Florida baseball team to root for.

Reality, however, has proven to be starkly different than this fantasy. Sadly, we only got one of these three incredible offerings, but the tech startup, North, is now trying to change all of that by providing us with a new, augmented reality alternative.

It’s fair to say that North, an AR smart lens manufacturer, has been met with both significant hype and equally significant challenges. While the enthusiasm about this company has been reasonably justified (a holographic real-time display in your field of vision is admittedly a pretty cool idea), they still somehow managed to repeatedly fall short on expectations. There have been numerous problems from the get-go that can be blamed for holding them back, too.

What issues, you might be asking? Well, for instance, the price of getting your hands on a sweet share of these sci-fi specs was an exorbitant $999. And if you wanted to get properly fitted in them, you had to not only shell out those beaucoup dollars, you also had to pop into one of two of their only brick-and-mortar retail shops. Even lowering the price of their AR glasses (dubbed “Focals”) down to a mere $600 per pop couldn’t save North from floundering.

Their struggles gradually became public in an assortment of actions performed by the company. First, they laid off something like 150 of their current staff. Then it was brought to light that North secured $40 million in bridge financing to help them stay afloat. Their next step was to cut out the middleman (the retail shops) and take their business entirely online. And if that wasn’t enough, they then finally pulled Focals from their inventory, with a vow to roll out an even better product (Focals 2.0) sometime in 2020.

If you were wondering where this new and improved product was, then wonder no longer: it was never made. Perhaps coronavirus squashed operations. Maybe North couldn’t drum up any more capital for their product. Either way, it was obvious that they needed another major bailout…and we now know that their much-needed helping hand has come from an unexpected place. In an announcement this week, Google has revealed that they have acquired this flailing AR tech company, and the two companies now plan to join heads to potentially (finally!) see this project through.

Google themselves are no stranger to AR, and many people may recall their attempts to get their own AR smart lenses (called “Google Glass”) up and running. Like Focals, though, the company simply couldn’t gain enough traction for Glass to become a popular product from the tech giant. While Google Glass is still available for purchase, it never became the mainstream tech revolution that Google had hoped it would be.

It’s exciting to see these two augmented reality greats come together with a unified goal in mind. After all, they already have a lot in common, with both companies serving as notable innovation masterminds, highly capable of designing and creating impressive AR technology. With that said, it’s still unclear what Google plans to do with its new purchase. Details of the acquisition are understandably hush-hush, and it’s been reported that all evidence of the first-gen of Focals will be scrubbed from the app store by the end of July 2020.

Perhaps this merger will finally allow us to see the much-anticipated Focals 2.0 come to life. Who knows? We eventually got to see the Miami Marlins not only become an actual baseball team, but also win the World Series (not once, but twice!). So is it that much more of a leap to also expect to see affordable holographic displays in our visual field? It’s an intriguing premise, and one that’s exciting to consider. Heck, we’re right there on the cusp of having real-deal hoverboards, too, so maybe this new version of augmented reality can finally become a true reality, as well.

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Tech Gadgets

Google Glass didn’t succeed, but Apple’s AR glasses might

(TECH GADGETS) Apple Glass: Are AR glasses gimmicky, or can Apple improve where Google failed? The potential is enormous, but can Apple meet the expectations?

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Apple may announce a new addition to the iFamily this year: Apple Glass, a set of AR glasses to complement existing Apple products. Even though we’ve seen this story before, here’s why Apple’s rumored eyewear might deserve your attention–if not your money.

This certainly isn’t the first time a technology company has taken their brand name and slotted the word “Glass” after it to create hype. In 2015, Google Glass was discontinued–quite publicly, in fact–due to a variety of issues, chief among which were privacy concerns, and an untenable price tag of around $1500. Lacking a clear market and suitable demand, the shades were put to rest, though it should be noted that a rebranded version is available now (for $999).

Apple is a company that has, in the past, showed a propensity for iteration rather than innovation; the Apple Watch, while a stylish and functional improvement on existing wearable technology, wasn’t even close to the first of its kin, and early versions of the iPad were scrutinized against similarly sized, lower-priced counterparts. This isn’t to say that Apple doesn’t do tech better–just that they are, often enough, pretty late to the party.

In the case of AR glasses, this is a habit that may suit Apple well.

Put bluntly, there isn’t a clearly established need for smart glasses, and while critics of the Apple Watch were quick to say the same thing about that implement, anyone who has worn one for a few hours can recognize (if not fully appreciate) the handiness–no pun intended. It seems fair to afford Apple some grace with this in mind, but the fact remains that the demand for a set of AR glasses simply isn’t there for now.

On the other hand (again, no pun intended), Apple is the master of creating demand and hype where previously there was naught but slumber. For this reason, it behooves us to keep an eye on Apple’s unveiled tech this year–if for no other reason than to know for sure how the company plans to address the sticky issue of AR wearables.

After all, there are numerous medical, exploratory, and generally functional applications for which one could feasibly use AR in a beneficial (not gimmicky) manner, and if Apple is able to expedite that process, far be it from us to criticize. Yet.

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Tech Gadgets

The Apple Watch isn’t just a way to ignore calls, it could save your life

(TECH GADGETS) A lot of people balked at the idea of an Apple Watch, and even though many of its features seem superfluous, it has actually saved lives.

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Apple Watch

Apple products are known for invasive yet convenient features–Face ID, Keychain, and AirDrop being some of the more notable ones–but the Apple Watch emergency dial feature might be the most useful one of them all.

If you’ve had the pleasure of setting up an Apple Watch from scratch, you know that the Healthcare app asks some invasive questions. This app, among other things, is responsible for curating a list of emergency contacts (something you can also populate via the Contacts app on your iPhone)–and this list might save your life if you take an unexpected tumble, at least if you have a Series 4 or 5 watch.

The way the feature works is relatively simple: If the watch senses that a user has rapidly or heavily fallen, it will initiate a haptic pulse along with a message asking the user to confirm that they are okay. Should the user fail to address this notification, the watch will call emergency services–and the user’s emergency contact list–with details including the user’s GPS coordinates.

The fall detection feature has reportedly worked for a few Apple Watch owners, one of whom passed out and didn’t wake up until emergency services arrived.

It is worth noting that the Apple Watch has another potentially life-saving feature: an ECG attached to the Heart Rate app. In theory, the Heart Rate app can detect abnormalities in one’s heartbeat and warn the user of an impending issue such as a stroke or a heart attack. Anyone who owns an Apple Watch knows that the Heart Rate app can be finicky, but Apple seems likely to continue tweaking this app as the watch ages.

While several owners have publicly attested to the effectiveness of these features, this shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of the Apple Watch’s ability to save a life. An Apple Watch is still, first and foremost, a novelty–one that won’t always perform the way it’s meant to.

Future iterations of the watch–starting with the Series 6–are expected to expand on these medical features by adding monitoring for blood oxygen levels as well as improvements on existing features.

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