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Innovation Lab: Amazon's Magic Mirror, E-Ink Credit Cards and Really Green Energy

Tim Maytom

At Mobile Marketing, we’re proud to help tech companies showcase their cutting-edge solutions, whether its on our website, in our magazine or at our Mobile Marketing Summits. Giving a platform to companies that are breaking new ground in their market brings audiences one step closer to the ideas and developments that will shape tomorrow.

In that spirit, our Innovation Lab feature takes a step beyond the world of apps, ads and handsets with slightly bigger screens, in order to share some of the tech world’s newest ideas. They might be interesting, disruptive or just outright strange, but these are the stories that have caught our eye over the past week.

Alexa’s next device? A magic mirror

Amazon has filed a public patent for the next iteration of its ever-growing live of smart devices that integrate its Alexa digital assistant, and this one is pushing the envelope into the world of science fiction. The new device is a smart mirror that can transform into a ‘blended reality’ display, enabling users to try on virtual versions of new outfits or transport their reflections into digital scenes.

Amazon already has a fashion-focused version of its Echo device available to selected users. The Echo Look camera, which is currently being marketed on an invitation-only basis, adds a voice-controlled camera to Alexa’s capabilities, along with a range of style-focused features like machine-driven advice on outfits and a digital lookbook for cataloguing your wardrobe.

The blended reality display would represent another step up on this idea, using a complex system of cameras, mirrors, lights, projectors and displays to superimpose digital elements over a reflection in real-time. The device would combine cutting edge computer vision capabilities with an updated version of illusions that magicians used to dazzle audiences back in the 19th Century.

According to the patent description, “when the user views the mirror, the user sees a reflection from the mirror of illuminated objects in the scene and the transmitted images from the display device through the mirror, the transmitted images being perceived as part of the reflected scene.” If successful, the technology would enable users to change both the background of the reflection they are in, and superimpose virtual clothes on top of themselves.

Smart credit card can warn you about spending limits or display rewards
The fintech revolution has brought a wealth of new money-management tools to consumers, enabling them to track their spending and manage their finances like never before. However, most of these new methods rely on a smartphone and an accompanying app, and that can be as easy to ignore as a bank statement in the mail when all is said and done. Connected card manufacturer Dynamics has revealed a new way of passing on information that’s harder to disregard, because it’s embedded in the actual payment card.

The firm’s Wallet Card is the world’s first cellular-connected secure payment card, and includes a 65,000 pixel E-Ink display that can show everything from card details to customer messages. It builds on the firm’s previous development, which enabled multiple card profiles to be linked to a single physical card, so users could switch between a card for cash withdrawals, a credit card and a loyalty card, all with the press of a button.

The E-Ink display adds a whole new range of advantages to Dynamics’ existing system. Because the card number and other details are all part of the E-Ink display, it means there’s no waiting time between signing up for a new account and getting access to the card. It also means that replacement cards can be issued instantaneously if your details are compromised. Beyond holding multiple card profiles, the E-Ink display can also be used to notify owners about special discounts from loyalty cards, or be set-up to show your remaining credit limit after every purchase.

The Wallet Card was revealed at CES 2018, and proved a hit at the conference, with the Consumer Technology Association, which runs the show, awarding the card and the team behind it with four CES Innovation awards, including the Best of Innovation Award for Security Technologies. Jeffrey Mullen, CEO of Dynamics, said that he was “humbled” by the recognition, and that he believed “Wallet Card is poised to redefine the way consumers and businesses think of credit cards”.

Boeing’s new prototype drone can carry 500lbs of cargo

Aerospace manufacturer Boeing has unveiled a new prototype drone for moving heavy cargo, and it is a behemoth. The drone doesn’t yet have a name beyond being called an “unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing cargo air vehicle (which hardly rolls of the tongue), and was developed in less than three months based on previous work by Boeing HorizonX, Boeing Research & Technology and Aurora Flight Sciences, a firm acquired by the aerospace giant late last year.

The prototype measures 15 feet long and 18 feet wide, and is capable of carrying 250 to 500lbs of cargo in addition to its own 750lb weight thanks to eight heavy duty rotors. The drone has undergone several successful test flights at Boeing’s Missouri laboratories, and the team is hoping that a more advanced version of the drone could carry full loads up to 20 miles.

“This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our Boeing eVTOL strategy,” said Greg Hyslop, chief technology officer at Boeing. “We have an opportunity to really change air travel and transport, and we’ll look back on this day as a major step in that journey.”

New more efficient algae-powered fuel cells take us one step closer to truly green energy
With the energy demands of the global population still growing and the threat of climate change creating an urgent need for cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels, research into solar energy has never been more important. In recent years, algae-powered fuel cells (known as biophotovoltaics or BPVs) have emerged as an environmentally-friendly and low-cost way of harvesting solar energy, and now research from the Algal Biotechnology Consortium at the University of Cambridge has found a way to dramatically boost the efficiency of these cells.

During photosynthesis, algae produce electrons, some of which can be exported outside the cell to provide an electric current to power devices. Previously, BPVs have conducted all of this process in a single compartment, with the electrons generating current as soon as they have been secreted. The new method separates out the charging and power delivery processes into two different chambers. As a result, power can be stored for later use, and researchers have been able to create miniaturised cells which were much more efficient.

Conventional silicon-based solar cells are still more efficient than this new method when it comes to converting solar energy into electricity, but the research has improved on existing BPV power generation by five-fold, and because algae grow and divide naturally, continued improvements could create an extremely low-cost method of power generation and storage.

3D-printed radio requires no batteries, no power and no experience

The level of detail and intricacy that 3D printers are capable of is growing every day, thanks both to advances in technology, and the people who are willing to push the envelope of what current systems are able to do. The latest miracle of 3D production is a 3D-printed radio that requires no external power source, created by Texas-based electronics enthusiast Sage Hansen.

The design uses a crystal radio receiver, also known as a ‘cat’s whisker receiver’, a simple form of radio receiver developed in the early days of radio that is still used today. This type of radio converts received radio signals into power by channelling them along an inductor made of coiled wire, then a diode converts the alternating current into direct current, and finally a piezo speaker (which is where the crystal is) converts this energy into sound.

The resulting radio transmission isn’t very loud, but it’s pretty impressive for something that requires little know-how to create and absolutely no power. Even more impressive, Sage was also able to substitute the diode for a homemade equivalent made from a razor blade, a pencil and a safety pin. He has posted step-by-step instructions on how to create the radio, along with the files needed to 3D print the frame, all online for anyone to use.