Turn Your Bike Helmet Into a Smart One

ahead bike helmetRiding a bicycle is fun and good for you, but it’s not a good thing to be doing while you’re using your phone.  You need both hands to ride a bike, and riding while handling a phone can be dangerous.

It can also be dangerous to ride your bike with ear buds, as they can get tangled up or even hurt you if you should happen to crash.

That’s why a clever new gadget called Ahead was developed – so you can use the phone and listen to music, hands free, while riding your bike and wearing the helmet of your choice.

Ahead was funded through Kickstarter, and it’s a small device (weighs about 2 ounces) that can mount to any bicycle helmet in several different ways.  The device connects to any iOS or Android smartphone as a Bluetooth device, and you can use it to talk on the phone or listen to music while riding.

The device uses a custom oscillator to pass sound directly to your helmet so that you can hear music and conversations directly.  This works with virtually any kind of helmet on the market.  The device also has two built-in microphones so that it will clearly pick up your voice when you’re on the phone.

Ahead is good for 8 hours of use or three days of standby time.  It can recharge in an hour and a half via USB.

If you’re done with your bike ride, you can take Ahead off of your helmet and take it to your desk.  The box in which the device was packaged acts as a resonator, so you can use Ahead to listen to music at your desk.

The device is also water resistant and dust proof, so that it will withstand the rigors of riding outdoors.  In addition, there is built-in noise cancellation circuitry that works at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour to ensure that your music and conversations remain crystal clear while you’re riding.

A lot of Kickstarter projects never get off the ground, but Ahead has been fully funded, and the device should begin shipping shortly.

Riding a bike is great, and if you’re doing that on a regular basis, you should keep it up.  Riding a bike with a phone in your hand is just looking for trouble.  You could crash, hit a car, fail to hit the brakes, or drop and damage your phone.  With Ahead, you won’t have to worry about any of that.

You can learn more about Ahead at the Kickstarter site.


A Does-It-All 3D Printer

zeus 3d printerCool gadgets come along all the time, but 3D printing is one of the more interesting new trends in technology.

It’s nice to be able to print on paper, but a 3D printer will allow you to actually create physical objects.  The problem with many 3D printers is that you first have to scan the image, and then you have to get some clunky software to model whatever it is you scanned and then you have to import that to the device and hope that it all works out.

The Zeus, from AIO Robotics, is designed to be an all-in-one solution to 3D printing needs that basically allows you to do all of the work that you need to do on a single device.  The Zeus can scan and then you can tweak the image using the software that’s built in to the unit.

The software is said to be so easy to use, via the built-in 7″ touchscreen, that you can supposedly start printing within 10 minutes of taking the unit out of the box.

In addition, the filament system is not proprietary, which means that it may work with filament that you have from a previous project.

The turntable and some other parts are easily removed for cleaning and/or troubleshooting, and several of the Zeus parts are themselves 3D printable, making it possible to fabricate replacements should they break.    I’m guessing that none of these parts are essential to printing, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to print them if they were broken.

The Zeus has built-in wi-fi and can automatically report any problems to tech support, which promises 24 hour response time.

The Zeus 3D printer started out as a successful Kickstarter project and now is being sold o the public.  The unit features a 1.7 Ghz quadcore processor, a 7″ color touch screen, a simple quick color change mechanism, a built-in scanner, and a removable turntable with auto bed-leveling.

zeus 3d printingIf you don’t have a wireless network, the Zeus can also connect to the Internet via USB.  The unit is truly plug-and-play, and they say you can use it in minutes.

There are some limits to the capabilities of the Zeus; at the moment, it can print objects of up to 6 inches in length, 8 inches in width, and 5.7 inches in height.  It can print to a resolution of 80 micros.

The built-in touchscreen controls printing, scanning, online file search, on-board editing, and slicing of files, all of which can be done without the use of an external computer.

Of course, all of this technology, while cool, doesn’t come cheap.  The Zeus sells for roughly $2300, and doesn’t include any filament, which you’ll have to buy separately for about $20 per roll.

Still, if you’re not a tech whiz or a design guru, the Zeus offers a good way to get started in 3D printing without the need for an engineering degree.

Quick Power at Your Fingertips

belkin pocket powerIf you use a smartphone, you’ll know that they’re convenient, easy to use, and power hungry.  When older phones might go for days or even a week without charging, a smartphone can often run out of power before you’re done for the day.

That’s why it can be helpful to have some extra power on hand that isn’t going to take up a lot of space or be too much trouble to carry around.

Belkin’s new Pocket Power series of portable battery packs seem to fit the bill.  Their press release says they have three new models (though their Website currently only shows on for sale.)   Apparently, the two larger models will be available at a later date.

Belkin has quite a track record of making computer and mobile phone accessories, so you know that these will likely deliver as promised and be fast and reliable.

The three models of the Pocket Power provide 5000 mAh, 10,000 mAh, and 15,000 mAh, depending on your needs.

These Pocket Power units use new polymer battery technology, which provides more power at a lighter weight.  The chargers themselves are slim and somewhat smartphone shaped, and will be available in several colors.  Each will come with a 6″ micro USB cable and 4 LED indicators that will show you the remaining power level.

The 5000 mAh unit can charge most smartphones at least 1.5 times, giving you an extra 19 hours of talk time or another 11 hours of 3 G time on an iPhone 7.

A built in safety circuit will automatically shut the Pocket Power unit down in the event of any circuit abnormalities or overheating.

Not only that, but you also get a $2500 Connected Equipment warranty, which will protect you in the event that a defective Pocket Power unit should damage your phone.

The case is made of durable, lightweight plastic, so it will be easy to carry and sturdy enough to withstand day to day use.

The Pocket Power unit is compatible with most smartphones; you should check the compatibility list to make sure that it works with yours.

The World’s First Smart Suitcase

Ordinarily, it’s hard to get excited about a suitcase.  If it holds your clothes and it shuts, that’s usually good enough for me.  But yes, sometimes suitcases get lost.  Sometimes you need to weigh them and don’t have a scale handy.  Sometimes…

…you just wish you had more features.

The Bluesmart suitcase does that.  It’s small enough, at 24″x15″x10″ to fit as a carry on in an airplane.  It’s made of strong, lightweight polycarbonate and aluminum, so it’s going to be sturdy without taking up a lot of weight that you could be using for contents.

Generally, if you’re carrying a piece of luggage onto a plane, you won’t have to worry about the weight, but what if you have to check it?  What if you’ve packed it full of bricks and you aren’t sure that it won’t be overweight?

Not a problem; the Bluesmart has a built-in scale.  That’s right; the suitcase can weigh itself.  I’ve always carried a portable scale with me, but the scale takes up space, and requires batteries, and has weight itself so it contributes to the weight problem.  That’s not the case here; the scale is built-in.

What if you lose it?  You’re not likely to lose it, but an airline employee very well might.  It happens to everyone, sooner or later, and it’s frustrating to be standing there without any idea where your bag might be.  Bluesmart has the answer, as the suitcase has built-in GPS capability.  Not only that, but it can talk to your smartphone via BLE + 3G + GPS.  Your phone will always know where your suitcase happens to be, and that’s true no matter where it might be anywhere in the world.  If you’re outside the United States, you’re covered there, too, with help from Telefonica.

You can also use your phone to lock and unlock your Bluesmart suit case.  No need to remember combinations anymore.

Even if you haven’t lost your bag, you can easily find it in the airport with this feature and your phone.  But what if your phone needs a charge?  You can charge it directly from the Bluesmart, which has a built in 10,000 mAh battery.  That’s enough juice to charge your phone a half a dozen times, or to charge 6 phones one time each, if you happen to be traveling with 6 phones.  It comes with a charging cable.

You’ll find room inside the Bluesmart for clothes, shoes, and more, as well as room for a 15″ laptop.

The Bluesmart isn’t exactly cheap; the start at a bit over $300 and one model costs twice that.  On the other hand, if you travel a lot, and many people do, then you may well find it to be a good investment.

You can buy the Bluesmart at the company’s Website.

Weld and Repair Plastic

Bondic plastic welderWhen plastic parts break, you usually attempt to fix them with super glue, and when that doesn’t work, you throw them away and buy a new one.  Sure, if you’ve got deep pockets, you can buy a 3D printer and make a new part, but that’s overkill for a lot of small repairs, where the investment in time to design the part just isn’t worth it.

A new product called Bondic offers another solution.  Bondic, which their Website says is “not a glue,” is actually a welder for plastic.  The applicator works rather like a pen, and you can “draw” plastic wherever you need it.  You can use this handy tool to fill cracks, attach two pieces together, or even create a new piece.  The liquid is fairly sticky, so it will stay in place until it hardens.

Here’s the fun part – Bondic will not harden until it has been exposed to ultraviolet light.  You can work with it to your heart’s content, and when you’ve finally got it where you want it, then, and only then, can you harden it by exposing it to UV light.  That’s easy to do, as there’s a UV light source attached to the other side of the pen.

How long does it take to harden?  Four seconds.

Even super glue doesn’t set that quickly, and Bondic isn’t glue.  It’s plastic.

Apparently, the product was created by a German dentist who was using similar material in his dental work.  He got to wondering why we couldn’t use the product for everyday repairs.  A short time later, he found a partner in the U.S. and brought the product to market.

The various videos on the site give numerous examples of how to put Bondic to use.  You can do all kinds of things with it.  The thing that impressed me the most was using it to attach something to the inside of an aquarium that was already full of water.  Put Bondic on the part, immerse it in the water, press it up against the glass, and then shine the UV light on it from the outside.  Four seconds later, it’s stuck to the glass wall.

Not only does Bondic get rock-hard in just four seconds, but once it hardens, you can do whatever you like with it.  You can paint it, you can drill holes in it, you can cut it with a saw, or you can sand it to shape.

There are a lot of good things about this amazing product, but here’s the best one – it’s cheap.  The basic starter kit includes the applicator with the built-in UV light source, a 4 gram tube of plastic, and a carrying case.  The price for all of this cutting edge technology?

Twelve dollars.

People have become pretty attached, if you will, to this product, and if you visit YouTube, you’ll find hundreds of videos showing how people have found interesting uses for this product.

I don’t have an immediate use for it, but it strikes me as the sort of thing that I should just keep in a drawer.  When you need it, you’re going to want to have it right now and not have to wait a couple of days for someone to mail it to you.


An Erasable Smart Notebook

rocket wave notebookDifferent people work best in different media.  While some people work best at a computer, using spreadsheets and word processors, others find their muse and get better results taking notes the old fashioned way – on paper.

That’s fine; paper still has its uses.  But paper tends to build up a lot of clutter.  You sometimes can’t find your notes when you need them.  And what if you decided that something you wrote down by hand would serve you better in the Cloud?

That’s where the Rocket Wave notebook can help you.  At first, I thought the concept was a silly one, but as I read more about it, it started to make more sense.

The Rocket Wave looks like a regular paper notebook with a spiral binding, just like the ones you used in school.  You can write in it with a special pen called a FriXion, which is available in different colors.  You can write in the Rocket Wave with this pen just as you would on any other notebook.  You can take notes, do calculations, draw doodles – whatever you like.  It acts just like a paper notebook, and you’ve got 80 pages to work with.

Then what?  Ordinarily, when a notebook gets full, you either file it away or throw it away.  You could do that with the Rocket Wave, but you really don’t have to, as it’s erasable.  To erase, just put the notebook in the microwave.  A logo on the front cover will change color when it’s done.  The special paper heats up and the ink turns clear when it reaches a temperature of 140°.   When it reaches that temperature, your pages are erased, and you can reuse the notebook.

According to Rocket Wave, the notebook can be erased five times.

That’s great, but for $25, it’s sort of an expensive notebook, given that you can buy five paper notebooks for a lot less money.  That’s where the Rocket Wave app comes in.  If you install the app on your smartphone or tablet, you can use it to transfer anything you’ve written in the notebook to the Cloud.  Each page in the notebook has 7 special icons, and you can assign those icons to specific online applications.

Then you can mark an icon on a page, and take a picture of it with your phone or tablet.  The page will be instantly converted into an online document and uploaded to your online application of choice.  You can send it to Google Docs, or Dropbox, or Evernote, and more.  That way, you can collaborate with others, even using handwritten notes.

The app works with both Android devices and the IOS, so you can use it with pretty much any device you like.  The Rocket Wave is also available in two sizes – standard (8.5 x 9.5 inches), executive (6 x 8.9 inches).

rocket wave appThe real magic is in the FriXion pen, which uses the special thermal ink.  You can use that pen on regular paper and heat it to erase it, but that doesn’t work as well as the specially treated paper in the Rocket Wave.  Besides, heating paper often leads to bad results.

Not everyone is going to need the Rocket Wave, as a lot of people have learned to work with other media.  If you’re old-school and like working with good, old fashioned notebooks, but still want to stay connected to the online world, the Rocket Wave offers a good opportunity to do both.

You can find the Rocket Wave for about $25 at Amazon, as well as at other retailers.

Affordable Tunes – The Audio Technica ATLP60BK Turntable

audio technica turntableVinyl is back, and records are selling more briskly than they have in decades.  While most people seem content to listen to music on their phones or tablets these days, a lot of people are embracing the “old school” method of playing vinyl record albums.

For that, of course, you’ll need a turntable, and you can spend a bit or you can spend an absolute fortune, if that’s your thing.  Most people who are just getting into vinyl are looking for something in the entry-level category.

At rock bottom, there are some players from Crosley, but they’re terrible and are made almost entirely of plastic.  They also come with a stylus that’s good for about 50 hours of play, tops, before it will have to be replaced.  Since most people won’t get around to doing that, they’re likely doing a lot of damage to their records after just a few plays.

A nice entry in the lower price range is the Audio Technica ATLP60BK.  This is a fully functional belt-drive turntable with an aluminum platter.  A metal platter helps with speed stability, as more mass is good.  Belt drive turntables are less prone to having problems with vibration, which can adversely affect the sound during playback.

One problem with most turntables is that you’ll have to have a phono preamplifier to connect them to some sort of stereo system.  Phono cartridges have lower outputs than other devices, such as MP3 players, so an additional preamplification device is necessary.  Back in the 1960s through the 1980s, premplifiers were routinely built into stereo receivers, but as vinyl died out and compact discs took over, most manufacturers started removing preamps from receivers as a cost-cutting measure.

The ATLP60BK solves this problem by having a preamplifier built in.  There’s a switch on the back that allows you to enable it or disable it.  That way, you can connect it to a receiver with a built in phono preamp if you have one, or a standalone phono preamplifier.   If you don’t have one, and just want to connect it to an amplifier or some powered speakers, you can use the built-in preamp and you’re good to go.

If there’s a downside to this turntable, it’s the outputs.  While the ATLP60BK includes two sets of output cables, you won’t find traditional cables in the box.  Traditionally, turntables have cables with male RCA connectors on the end, as that’s what most receivers and phono preamps are expecting.  This model includes two cables, but they terminate in either a male 1/8″ miniplug or a female version of the same thing.

If you want to go with the traditional hookup, you’ll have to acquire a set of RCA cables separately.  Aside from that, this turntable will play at 33 1/3 or 45 RPM and a 45 RPM adapter is included.  It’s available in either black or silver, depending on your taste, and a magnetic phono cartridge with a replaceable stylus is included.

It’s not high end audio by any means.  But if you want to get started playing back some vinyl and learning to understand why people like records so much in the first place, the ATLP60BK is an OK place to start.  It’s affordable, at about $99 or so.

If you want to spend about $30 more, there’s another model in the line that also has a USB output, so you can connect it directly to a computer.  From there, you can rip your vinyl to MP3 or some other audio format, and you can play back your records through your desktop computer system, if you’re so inclined.

Turn Your TV Into a PC

asus cs10 A lot of us like to keep our gadgets separate.  A PC is a PC.  A TV is a TV.  A smartphone is a smartphone.  If you have the luxury of space, you can do that, and allow every device to perform its single function.

Not everyone has that luxury, however, and sometimes necessity requires that you bundle devices into other devices just to save space…or money.

If you’re having that problem wit your PC and/or your TV, here’s the solution – you an turn your TV into a PC with the ASUS Chromebit CS10 stick computer.

The CS 10 looks like an oversized flash drive, but it plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, rather than a USB port.  You’ll also need to plug it into the wall, as HDMI, unlike USB, doesn’t provide power.  The CS 10 has Bluetooth capability, so you can use it with a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard and mouse and that, combined with your TV, gives you a fully-functional desktop PC on your television.

The operating system is Chrome, which is a Linux derivative.  The CS10 uses a ROckchip RK 3288 processor and has 2 GB of integrated system RAM and another 16 GB of storage memory.  You can also add a flash drive for additional storage capability.

Wireless networking is built in, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so you’ll be able to connect to your router and on to the Web.  You’ll also have access to a 100 GB Google drive in the cloud, so you’ll have plenty of additional storage space.  On the downside, you will have to sign into a Google account to use it, which could be a problem if you’re one of those people who isn’t a Google fan.

The CS 10 is surprisingly affordable, as it’s priced at under $100.  That’s pretty impressive for anything that can call itself a computer, though you’ll have to pay extra for the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, unless, of course, you just happen to have those lying around.

asus cs 10 kitHooking up a device like the ASUS CS 10 to your TV can be a bit awkward, as I found out when I tried to hook up my FireTV stick a while back.  Fortunately, like the FireTV stick, the CS 10 includes an HDMI extender cord so you don’t have to plug it directly into the TV.  You’ll also receive 4 hook and loop fasteners which will help you organize your cables.

While the CS 10 is a fully functional PC, it obviously has some limitations.  It doesn’t have an optical drive, for instance, and some TVs are going to provide a better experience for doing work than others.  I’m not sure, for instance, that I want to do work on a 55 inch monitor.  Still, in a pinch, it’s a nice solution for someone who occasionally needs a PC or for someone who is just short on space.  If you’re in a small apartment and you’re having to make a choice between having room for a computer or room for a TV, and you don’t need to spend all your time on the computer, then a CS 10 might make sense.

It’s certainly about the most affordable functional computer out there.  Even if you have to buy a keyboard and a mouse, you’re still in for a bit over $100.  That’s pretty cheap.

You can find the CS 10 at Amazon, and probably at a zillion other places, too.


Your Smart Pillow Has Arrived

These days, it seems like everything is becoming “smart,” including a bunch of things that don’t need to be.  Since the notion first occurred to someone that a device could become either Web-enabled or microprocessor controlled, it seems that just about everything is now being built that way by somebody.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of room for improvement in the world of, well, just about everything.  Some ideas, however, seem a bit silly, like the smart padlock that I recently saw at Home Depot.  You can open it with your smartphone, but you can’t use it outdoors.  It was expensive, and frankly, didn’t look all that sturdy, which is usually the first thing you want in a padlock.

That aside, the Zeeq Smart Pillow might actually be an OK idea.  I don’t know that the world actually needs a smart pillow, but since the device manages to combine the functions of several things that you may already have in your bedroom – an alarm clock, a radio/music player, and a pillow, this one might not be a bad idea.

The Zeeq originated as a Kickstarter project and apparently did well at the funding stage.  In fact, it’s now available for retail sale, though at the moment, it’s only available in the UK.

What does the Zeeq Smart Pillow do?  For starters, it is said to be a very comfortable pillow, which is always a plus if you’re trying to sleep.  It’s also impressive if you’re talking about something upon which you’re going to rest your head, given that it has all kinds of gadgets inside of it.  If they can load it with hardware and still keep it comfortable, then we’re all the better off for it.

What kind of gadgets are inside?

  • A programmable music player.  There are 8 speakers inside the pillow, and you can set the timer so the music plays for a predetermined amount of time.  It connects to your smartphone via an app, so you can feed it music from the source of your choice.
  • A snore alarm.  A built in microphone triggers the pillow to gently vibrate when you’re snoring, which may encourage you to roll over to a different position without being awakened.
  • Sleep analysis.  The Zeeq connects to your smartphone and keeps track of your sleep data as well as your Snore Score.
  • A smart alarm.  The Zeeq keeps track of your sleep and awakens you at the proper time in your sleep cycle.  At least, that’s what they say…
  • Comfort.  This pillow has a foam outer shell and removable memory foam clusters
  • Two week battery life.  That’s impressive in a world where most smart devices have to be recharged on a daily basis.
  • Tencel fabric.  This material is washable and is said to be naturally bacteria resistant.

Honestly, I don’t know if anyone needs a smart pillow, but you likely already have an alarm clock and a music player and a pillow in your room.  If you travel, you could take the Zeeq with you and have all of your bases covered with just one gadget.

There is a downside, of course, and that’s the price.  New technology never comes cheaply, and that’s certainly the case here.  While the original stated price for the Zeeq was £249, it’s now available for £199, which is a bit over $200 for those of use who pay in dollars.

Expensive?  Yes, it is.  Necessary?  Not really.  Useful?  Perhaps.  The snore monitor may be useful, and if the smart alarm works as it’s supposed to, waking you at the proper time in your sleep cycle, then you may be a lot less groggy in the morning.

I don’t know if the Zeeq Smart Pillow is really necessary, or if anyone really needs a smart pillow at all.  But the music feature is nice, and the whole thing makes a lot more sense than the smart padlock does.

The Zeeq is available here.

Aerix Aerius – A Really Small Drone

aerix aerius world's smallest drone
The world’s smallest drone

Drones are pretty popular these days, and they’ve come a long way from the days when they were large bulky flying machines that were owned and operated by the government.  Today, there are hundreds, or even thousands of drones that are available for consumer use, and thanks to Chinese manufacturing, they’re largely quite affordable.

If you don’t own a drone already, chances are that you know someone who does.  Some of them are just fun playthings, but many of them can carry cameras so you can engage in surveillance or a bit of unauthorized snooping on your neighbors.   Most drones that can carry cameras have some significant size to them, and that can be a drawback, particularly if you have limited space available for flight or storage.

That’s where the Aerix Aerius comes in.  Aerix is a New York state-based manufacturer of drones, and the Aerius is one of their latest products and currently claims to be the world’s smallest quadcopter.

How small?  The Aerius measures 3cm x 3cm x 2 cm.  That’s about 1 3/16″ square, and about 3/4″ tall.  It’s small enough that the remote controller for it has a built-in storage compartment for the drone itself.

What about features?  It’s got plenty.  The Aerius features 6 axis gyro stabilization, which makes it really easy to fly.

If you’re new to flying drones, don’t worry, as the Aerius includes several pre-programmed maneuvers that allows it to make flips and rolls at the push of a button.  No more crashing into furniture while you’re learning to do tricks.

You’ll find that the Aerius also has brightly colored LED lamps that make it easy to see and which make it easy to see the drone’s orientation.   If you’re new to flying, the “headless mode” locks the orientation to make the Aerius easier to fly.

aerix aerius controllerThe Aerius can fly for 5-7 minutes on a charge, and it takes 15-20 minutes to recharge the device using a USB cable.

If you care about such things, you can choose from four different colors.  Actually, at a price of just $22, you could buy one in more than one color, if you like.

Crashes are inevitable with any drone, and Aerix sells a set of four extra blade just in case you crash into something and break one.

Aerix isn’t new to the micro-drone field, their Turbo X model was previously the smallest drone, but it’s about 1/3 larger than the Aerius.

Admittedly, a drone this small isn’t particularly useful.  At that size, you can’t really do anything with it aside from flying it around.  It’s not going to carry any cargo or a camera.  It certainly isn’t big enough for a bumper sticker.   It’s just a novelty.  On the other hand, it’s a pretty cool novelty, and one that’s a lot of fun to fly.

Reviews on the site are overwhelmingly positive, as well.  Buyers say the thing works well right out of the box.

I haven’t yet jumped into the drone market, and I’m not sure that I really have a use for one.  On the other hand, it looks like a pretty fun toy, and it looks like something that might just make a pleasant diversion while taking a coffee break from work.

If you’re looking for a fun, eye-catching (barely!) toy at a great price that’s sure to please a crowd, you might want to take a look at the Aerix Aerius.

Here’s a demo video:

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