Google Buys Nest Laboratories

Google and NestIt seems that Google is scooping up more than robotics companies these days. Google announced this week that it has acquired Nest Labs, a company best known for the manufacture of “reinvented” smoke alarms and thermostats, which includes, among other things, the ability to control both systems via an app.

Nest products, like so many others these days, are “smart,” meaning that, in addition to remote and mobile-control capabilities, they learn and adjust based on input from the user. The thermostat is particularly impressive, displaying the temperature digitally with a glass screen that also changes color to blend in with the wall it’s on. The thermostat learns by registering data about when users turn the heat up or down, and for how long. Eventually, it can predict users’ needs by preemptively turning off the heat when people leave for work or turn it up at night. It makes sense that Google would acquire a company making this technology, given Google’s use of deep learning and its systematic infiltration of consumers’ homes, lives, and minds.


NASA’s Only A Year Away From Pluto

New HorizonsPluto may not be a full-fledged planet anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in checking it out, even if it is quite a hike. It’s about 3 billion miles, one way, if you were wondering. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft set off for the dwarf planet back in 2006, and now that it’s 2014 we can finally say that next year, we’ll have our first close-up glimpse of the gatekeeper to our Solar System.

Pluto and CharonLast year, New Horizons’ telescopic camera LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) got its first image of Charon, Pluton’s largest moon. You can see it just to the upper left of Pluto, which is the bright spot in the middle. But don’t worry, the images will get better as the craft gets closer. When this was taken, New Horizons was still 550 million miles away. In the mean time check out the first images of Charon from 1978 when it was first discovered.


Scientists Levitate Objects With Sound

There aren’t many visual effects in a film more stunning than seeing something levitate. We’re all so used to gravity that seeing an item float around (without being powered by an engine) defies expectation and, seemingly, logic. While using sound to levitate objects isn’t exactly a new concept, I bet you haven’t seen it put into effect quite like this team from the University of Tokyo does.

You know the kind of sound waves that you can feel in your stomach? That’s like what’s going on here, except instead of your stomach bouncing around on a wave, minute objects such as drops of soap and little plastic balls float around on three-dimensional sound waves. In addition to sound waves, when music comes out of a speaker it also emits compressed air that matches the sound’s wavelength. When the waves overlap, they create new waves, such as in the image below where the blue and green waves create the red one.


3D Printing Pen Now In Production

Full disclosure (and maybe some bragging rights): I know the guy who came up with the 3Doodler. I even saw the 3Doodler in its prototype state in the fall of 2012. I first met Pete Dilworth, half of the brains behind Wobbleworks, at an electronic music show back in 2010. And it wasn’t Pete that drew my attention — it was his robot dinosaur, Butch. Butch is a triceratops about the size of a small dog, except it won’t take a crap on your floor. Pete and Butch were kind enough to attend an event I hosted last fall to promote my blog, Could This Happen (see photos of Pete and Butch here), where they both garnered legions of fans. In preparation for that event I visited Pete’s workspace just a few blocks from my house at a fantastic place called Artisan’s Asylum, where folks from the Boston area can build, 3-D print, hack, and program just about anything, and there I got my first glimpse of the 3Doodler, the world’s first 3-D printing pen. Since then, the 3Doodler has taken the world by storm. In a successful Kickstarter campaign, it eclipsed its $30,000 goal with pledges totaling over $2 million. Pete and his partner Max also got to show off the 3Doodler at the recent CES conference where they announced that the 3Doodler has gone into production and will be ready to ship in March.


One Fish, Two Fish, Bird-Eating Fish, Glowing Fish

The African tigerfish freaks me out more than I think a real tiger would. At least a tiger could, in sleep, appear kind of cuddly (maybe), but this South African piranha-like fish looks like a prehistoric torture device. The clip above showcases its ferocity, especially when it comes to these teeth working together to bring down much bigger land animals — maybe that’s where it got its name? Tigerfish can grow up to 22 pounds, but despite that mass they can really turn on the jets, going up to 30 mph to swallow their unsuspecting prey whole.


Next Up In Smart Technologies: The Smart Toothbrush

smartbrushEverything from recent NSA revelations to drones to remote-controlled roaches suggests that the future will inevitably hold numerous new ways of spying on people. In addition to robots, this year’s CES, featured plenty of smart gadgets, including a smart-toothbrush. Maybe 2013 won’t end up being the year for smart-gadgets after all.

Kolibree has made the first internet-connected toothbrush. Why? Because the smartwig and smartbra weren’t enough, perhaps? Or maybe because a toothbrush that monitors our brushing habits could turn us all into oral hygiene experts. Or maybe because dental insurance costs too much. Regardless, the Kolibree smart toothbrush analyzes how often you brush, how long you brush, and how you brush to keep long-term data about the progress of your teeth and gums. The toothbrush can be synced to a smart device via Bluetooth, and then brushing stats can be sent to a user’s Kolibree account and accessed via a mobile app compatible with IOS, Samsung Galaxy, and others, which will be available for download in July.