Tech Trends

Self-driving cars – the best part of CES

Look ma, no hands required. A modified Audi A7 drives on its own.

Look ma, no hands required. A modified Audi A7 drives on its own.

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas used to be all about…consumer technology. From sleek new 4K TVs to next-generation connected home devices to wearable fitness trackers, most analysts and journalists appeared to ignore the automotive side of the show, until now.

This year, several keynotes were delivered by auto industry bigwigs as they flaunted the latest features their cars will ship with next year, or next decade.

From better connectivity to cars that drive themselves, CES is now one of the biggest shows to show what’s next for the auto industry.

Volkswagen at CES: Golf R Touch virtual dashboard

Volkswagen, for example, showed off the Golf R Touch. Its dashboard is comprised of several touchscreens. There’s no traditional tachometer or speedo, just a display you can customize to show exactly that.

Although the dash can be controlled with touch, controls can also be managed with motion from the driver or other occupants.

No longer will drivers be distracted by searching for the rear defroster button, buried at the bottom of their dash centre stack. It’ll be just a matter of waving your hand over a certain part of the cabin, with a twist of the finger to control the intensity of the heat.

Audi shows off self-driving cars

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Last year, Audi unveiled a self-driving car which contained a computer that was significantly smaller than the self-driving A7 they brought to CES in 2013. This year, the Germans sent their cars driving around Vegas on their own.

(more…)

Curved OLED TVs, big tablets and smart jewelry: 5 things at CES you’ll want to buy

From self-driven cars to voice-activated thermostats and TVs that bend on command, the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show was rammed with the latest gadgets and a peek at what’s to come in the years ahead.

But what really stood out? And what’s more, what at the show would you actually want to buy?

Here’s a roundup of our Top 5 picks:

LG’s 77-inch 4K OLED TV (pictured above)

Whether curved or not, OLED TVs are just so damn thin — and LG’s curved 4K OLED TV stood out amongst all others.

The technical difference between OLED TVs and most other televisions — the majority of which are now LED — is where the light comes from.

The latter uses light-emitting diodes (LED) to illuminate the liquid crystal display (LCD). Organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) can light themselves, leading to fewer parts and thinner screens.

With a super slim display panel and the curve for viewing comfort, LG’s 77-inch OLED TV displayed gorgeous picture. Now with webOS, it appears to be the slickest smart TV interface around.

(Availability, pricing TBA)

Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2 tablet

Samsung's Galaxy NotePro

You don’t realize how nice it is to have a big tablet until you go back to using a smaller device. That’s when the extra screen real estate is missed.

With a 12.2-inch screen, the NotePro offers users enough space to multitask on the Android platform with up to four separate “windows.” This device, just larger than a standard 8.5×11 sheet of paper, has the potential to blur the lines between a tablet and a notebook computer.

The NotePro 12.2 jumped from app to app with ease and appeared to show no lag when tapping around, a trait that can be credited to the tablet’s two quad-core processors.

Sure, it’s a little big to lug around. But that hasn’t stopped people from buying phablets.

(Available Q1, pricing TBA)

Mio Link & Mio Go app

Mio's Link and Go app

This smartwatch from the Vancouver-based company Mio monitors your heart rate, and then uses that data to create a virtual workout adventure for you.

The wristband is simple, with three LEDs that can light up depending on the heart zone you’re in (green, yellow, red). It’s the interaction with the app, however, that really sets this product apart.

Using the heart rate data from the wristband, you can go on virtual exercise adventures shown on an iPad.

For example, cyclists can take a virtual bike ride using the Mio Go app via an iPad mounted on a stationary bike. Especially during our cold Canadian winters, this could be a nice way to feel like you’re exercising outside, while staying warm inside.

(Available in March, MSRP $99)

Revolv

Revolv home kit

The Revolv home “awesomation” kit is designed for the do-it-yourselfer who wants to connect various parts of their home, without having to get a second mortgage to afford it.

The teardrop-shaped device packs seven different radios designed to communicate with a range of connected home devices, like the Nest thermostat, Sonos speakers, or Belkin WeMo plug-in hubs.

While the list of compatible devices is a little short, Revolv tells me they packed seven different radio transmitters inside the unit for future compatibility. Compliance with ZigBee is expected later this year.

(Now shipping, $299)

Netatmo June

Netatmo's JUNE bracelet

This smart bracelet is designed to protect you from the sun’s harmful rays, measuring exposure throughout the day and suggesting ways to protect yourself.

It syncs with a user’s smartphone using a low-power Bluetooth connection, regularly sending exposure readings to the phone.

The app then uses that data to suggest whether the user should slap on some sunscreen, seek out shade or even be outside in the first place. It’ll also suggest what SPF rating you should be using.

The app learns its user’s schedule and can predict if they’re going to get too much sun based on the weather forecast.

(Available this spring, MSRP $99)

What gadget from CES did you hear about that interests you most?

How do you get linked home devices to play nice? Solving smart home problems

LAS VEGAS — Booths showcasing connected home devices spanned several hundred square feet at the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. But the fact remains that not all of these devices can play nicely together.

Proprietary software, different frequencies and different software can make settling on an affordable solution as easy as it is to untie a knot while wearing gloves.

For example, there’s a Bluetooth-enabled door lock that can turn on the lights and warm up the house as soon as your iPhone gets within range.

But unless your light switches are made by a particular company, home automation could leave you in the dark.

“In the case of the smart home, there is no one winner,” says Ron Goldberg, content director for the Z Wave Alliance.

Z Wave is a system that lets locks from Kwickset speak to thermostats from Honeywell, and allows your mobile device to control light switches from Leviton, for example. That connectivity, however, can only work when they’re all a happy family.

Goldberg says the fragmentation in connected home devices is like the battle between VHS and Beta, or Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, but just colossally bigger.

When there are different platforms in your home that can’t speak to each other, the benefits of home automation are nixed.

With some 1,000 Z Wave approved products now available, Goldberg says the alliance’s ecosystem is growing well.

Another alliance, ZigBee, appears to have fewer vendors in its own ecosystem, but it’s still a separate platform that requires consumers to stick to one — or the other.

One Toronto-based company wants to change that.

MMB Networks, which makes other devices for the ZigBee alliance, is working on a hub that will let consumers enjoy the benefits of home automation, without locking into an ecosystem.

“We want to support everything out there,” says Daniel Lee, account manager at the Toronto-based company.

He says that the device, about the size of a wallet, will have ZigBee support, but they’re also hoping to add Z Wave alliance compatibility as well.

With it, there’s the potential for one app to control all of your home systems, rather than a separate app for each separate component of your house made by different companies.

Soon, perhaps, consumers will be able to have the choice of even more connected home platforms.

Lee says MMB wants to partner with an OEM for a 2014 launch of the gateway, expected to sell for $30 per unit.

The future has curves: Samsung, LG show off bendable big-screen TVs at CES in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — In the race to build the biggest — and most flexible — TV, Samsung threw the first punch at CES with a prototype 85-inch HD TV that goes from flat to curved with a push of a button.

But then LG swung back, announcing late Monday afternoon that it was unveiling a 77-inch TV that could do the same, except it was an OLED model — which means it consumes less energy and can be built very thin.

If you can’t tell how fierce the competition is between the two, just check out the respective taglines for the show. LG: “It’s all possible.” Samsung: “Discover the world of possibilities.”

The two South Korean electronics companies, along with Sony, showed off their latest and greatest televisions at International CES on Monday.

Samsung announced it will sell the world’s largest curved 105-inch UHD TV, and more sensibly-sized U9000 Series TVs in 65-inch and 55-inch flavours. The sets look gorgeous and are as slim as a picture frame.

The press conference wasn’t without any hiccups. Hollywood blockbuster director Michael Bay appeared to get confused when the teleprompter didn’t show him the right line. After a few awkward moments, he stormed off stage.

But a fair chunk of Samsung’s presentation focused on the company’s growth into the connected home sector with the launch of Samsung Smart Home.

It’ll consist of three main features: device control, home view and smart customer service. For example, voice control will be used to dim the lights and turn on the TV.

At CES Unveiled on Sunday, Samsung already previewed Dropcam-like surveillance cameras. But there is still more to be explored here.

On the appliance front, Samsung is launching a high-end appliance lineup called the Chef Collection. Android capability and innovative features (a dishwasher that won’t miss the corners of the tub) are the feature’s you’ll find in this bracket.

In the mobile segment, Samsung didn’t unveil any new phones but it did pull the wraps off a new “Pro” series for its tablet lineup, anchored by the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2.

A 2,560×1,600 pixel display, quad core processor and 3 GB of RAM highlight the 12.2’s feature sheet.

The Pro series will also have faster wireless connectivity thanks to 802.11ac MiMo (multiple in and multiple out) WiFi, faster than the transmitter affixed to the iPad Air (and most other tablets).

Samsung says users can also have both WiFi and LTE connections active simultaneously, to speed up the time it’ll take to download movies and TV shows.

Sony stresses 4K, wearable tech

Over at Sony, the company pulled the wraps off new 4K TVs and really preached about how great the super-high resolution standard is.

Newly appointed Sony president Michael Fasulo stressed how the company delivers 4K content “from the scene to the screen,” through equipment that shoots live sports in 4K to the TVs that display the finished product.

For those who want to shoot their own 4K material, Sony unveiled a new Handicam video camera that can record the super-high resolution material, but costs only $2,000.

Sony isn’t immune to the wearable tech craze — it’s gone to the dogs. Literally.

The company says its Action Camera can be attached to your dog with a special harness.

Back to humans, the company announced the Sony SmartWear platform, which takes the shape of a “Smart Band” bracelet that tracks everything you do throughout the day.

Other than that, few other details were announced about SmartWear, other than more details will be announced at the mobile phone conference in Barcelona next month.

Tomorrow, the doors of the convention centre are open to all — and expect to hear about more wearable gadgets and connected appliances.

Follow @mcacho and @hainsworthtv for more updates from CES

Sorry hunny, I’m instant messaging our washing machine: CES highlights from Monday

LAS VEGAS – Appliances that talk to you and the return of webOS highlighted LG’s offerings at CES on Monday.

The Palm brand behind webOS might be a distant memory, but LG has brought the intuitive mobile operating system webOS to the big screen in its latest smart TVs.

The new smart TV platform features what appears to be a simple way to interact with television sets.

LG CTO Scott Ahn told reporters Monday that most consumers think smart TVs are too complicated, and the hope is that webOS on TV will make watching content on the big screen simple again.

With a user interface that seems like a hybrid between a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox One but as simple as a light switch, people guide a playful pointer icon (BeanBird) to select what it is they want to watch, from whatever source it’s available on.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was also on hand to announce that the company will offer 4K streams of select shows, such as House of Cards.

Next-generation 4K TVs, such as the latest from LG, will be able to play back such content from the video streaming service.

Flex phone

Reporters got a chance to see the LG G Flex, a curved phone, for the first time in North America. (It was unveiled late last year in South Korea).

The 6-inch curved OLED screen is designed to offer a more cinematic experience when watching video, LG says.

The company also had to design a curved battery to fit in such a device, while improving the amount of charge it can hold.

“Innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t work with consumers. We’re looking for products that offer tangible benefits,” says Frank Lee, head of LG’s mobile phone unit.

What are the other benefits to having a curved phone? After spending a few minutes with the handset, it did actually feel more comfortable to hold, slip in my pocket, and hold up to your head.

Connected appliances

Meanwhile, LG is launching a platform designed to let all your home appliances talk to each other – and people that use them.

LG HomeChat will let users message their appliances to find out how they’re doing, such as asking the clothes dryer: “How long until you’re done?”

Likewise, the appliances will be able to message users, informing them of completed actions or just to wish them a nice vacation.

Panasonic sets sights on cars

Sure, the company still makes TVs and typical home electronics, but Panasonic spent considerable time talking up its work with automakers.

Indeed, Panasonic North America CEO Joe Taylor said Panasonic is moving beyond TVs to automotive innovations.

“Automotive is the largest and fastest growing segment in North America” for Panasonic, Taylor said Monday.

For example, the company is making smaller heads-up displays that are designed to distract drivers less, and it says it will supply electric automaker Tesla with millions of lithium ion battery cells for the next two years.

Sharp TV bridges gap to 4K

Sharp, meanwhile, unveiled a full HD TV that attempts to look as ‘sharp’ as a 4K TV, but not cost 4K money.

The Aquos Quattron+ TV lineup with Revelation Technology can upscale normal HD video and take advantage of Sharp’s subpixel technology to display images that appear better than what you’d see from a typical HD TV set.

It’ll also be able to play back 4K content in a downscaled manner, theoretically future-proofing yourself from the next generation of display technology.

While pricing hasn’t been announced, expect these TVs to cost more than HD sets, but less than pricey 4K TVs.

Beware of Philippines typhoon scams on social media, email

typhoon_scamSecurity experts are warning people to avoid scams linked to the deadly typhoon that swept the Philippines.

With thousands feared dead, many aid organizations and NGOs have been appealing for people to donate to rescue and relief efforts.

While there are several legitimate campaigns, security experts at Symantec warn that some scams are circulating online – scams that might not be apparent as such.

Emails have been sent out containing fake donation requests, along with social media pages that have been set up to direct people to make donations on compromised pages.

One email chain Symantec has tracked appears to come from a news anchor/reporter from a major news organization.

We’ve seen similar scams from “reputable” sources before, such as when someone sent out a fake breaking news email newsletter from CNN claiming to contain exclusive Snowden details.

To avoid becoming a victim, always be extra careful with opening unwanted emails, make sure the organization or sender is authentic and never send your personal details to someone over email.

Have you seen any online scams related to Typhoon Haiyan?

Twerk, selfie & bitcoin added to Oxford Dictionary

If you think these words were just for teens sending texts to each other, think again.

Several digital words that have budged into our everyday lexicon have been added to the Oxford dictionary.

Well, not the printed dictionary yet…it’s not like they can just quickly print an updated version. But the Oxford University Press, which is behind the Oxford English Dictionary, is adding several new words to the online dictionary.

One of the words being added is something you’ve heard used a lot since Sunday, when Miley Cyrus stunned the world as she performed at the MTV Video Music Awards and twerked on stage. So, if you’re wondering what that is:

Read more

Major password security flaw exposed in Chrome

Look out - your passwords are easily accessible in Google Chrome. Photo: Elliott Kember

Look out – your passwords are easily accessible in Google Chrome. Photo: Elliott Kember

People who use Google Chrome – and save their passwords in the browser – should be aware of a feature that critics are slamming as a major security flaw.

Security experts have found that the web browser stores passwords (saved by users) in an unencrypted format.

All someone needs to do is go into Chrome’s password settings page, accessible by typing this into the address bar: chrome://settings/passwords
The browser will show a list of websites requiring usernames that you’ve saved in Chrome and the hidden passwords beside each login. Just click the ‘Show’ button beside a blocked out password to reveal the actual password.

So if anyone got access to the computer, or if the right virus wound its way on to your laptop, the password can be easily exposed and then used maliciously.

While you may have created the most challenging password containing upper and lower-case characters, numbers and symbols, it could be useless.

The flaw was exposed by software developer Elliott Kember on his blog (see photo attached).

Since the “bug” got attention, it’s prompted a response from Justin Schuh, who works on Chrome’s security.

In a response written on Hacker News, he points out that saved passwords are only as secure as the password attached to the operating system of the computer in question.

So if you don’t have a password to log into your Windows or Mac computer, you probably should start locking things down. Also, you should avoid lending your computer out to “friends,” and don’t leave your laptop open – even if you’re just stepping away for a quick moment.

He goes on to write:

Consider the case of someone malicious getting access to your account. Said bad guy can dump all your session cookies, grab your history, install malicious extension to intercept all your browsing activity, or install OS user account level monitoring software. My point is that once the bad guy got access to your account the game was lost, because there are just too many vectors for him to get what he wants.

University students fake GPS signal, misdirect $80 million yacht

It turns out that the GPS signal guiding you to your summer vacation or to a client meeting could easily be hacked.

A team of students managed to distort a GPS signal near an $80 million yacht, sending it off course on the open seas.

The university students at the University of Texas at Austin set out to see if they could “spoof” the GPS signal being received by navigation equipment.

Their test subject: a giant 213-foot $80 million yacht travelling just south off the coast of Italy, on its way from Monaco to Rhodes, Greece.

Well, the students didn’t exactly hijack the luxury vessel without asking. They did have permission to board the White Rose of Drachs – but the findings of the experiment may bring about uninvited consequences.

From the upper deck of the boat, the students emitted a faint GPS signal from a device the size of a briefcase.

Directing the signal toward the ship’s GPS antennas, the students gradually turned up the strength of their spoofed signal to drown out the signal sent by real GPS satellites.

And then, they began transmitting a spoofed location that was slightly different than where the yacht was really located.

Little by little, the crew noticed their location was slightly off-course. So, they would turn the ship to correct the direction.

So while the GPS map in front of the yacht’s crew showed it was going in a straight line, the students could see the ship’s wake was leaving a “pronounced curve.”

This is almost like what Elliot Carver and his evil henchmen did in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

All this just shows how GPS isn’t all that secure – especially when it comes to devices such as ships and planes that rely on it to guide their path.

Power your phone with your pee

Is your cellphone running low on battery? Why not charge it up…using your waste produced in the bathroom.

Researchers have found a way to charge a smartphone using urine, releasing the potential to produce a reliable, renewable energy source.

According to the BBC, researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have created the first way to generate electricity from urine.

They were able to charge a Samsung smartphone by passing water through a cascade of microbial fuel cells (MFCs).

The MFCs use the metabolism of live micro-organisms to convert the organic matter (urine) into electricity.

With the charged phone, they were able to send text messages, browse the web and make a phone call – a brief call, at that.

The phone wasn’t completely charged, however. That’s the next step…

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun, we are actually re-using waste to create energy,” researcher Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos told the BBC.

But maybe it’s not just your smartphone that can be charged during your bathroom breaks. There’s the potential to use urine to charge more bathroom-related things, such as hair dryers, razors, lights, etc.

But keeping our gadgets charged has always been the main challenge that many of us deal with. A dead smart phone is as useful as a seatbelt on a bicycle.

Solar chargers exist – and they work. I’ve tried the Goal Zero Nomad 7 and it works great. But by the time it gets a charge, you’ll have a sunburn.

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