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Innovation Lab: Invisible Violins, Runaway Robots and Autonomous Chewtoys

Tim Maytom

At Mobile Marketing we're proud to help tech companies showcase their cutting-edge solutions, whether it's 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 innovative ideas. They might be interesting, disruptive or just outright strange, but these are the stories that have caught our eye over the past week.

Google's Project Soli Plays World's Tiniest Violin for You



Project Soli is one of Google's more exotic tech projects, exploring the capabilities of contactless interaction using a custom-built radar sensor that tracks the movements of the human hand. While Google itself has focused on applications like object recognition and interacting with wearables, design studio Design I/O has taken a more creative approach to the technology.

Design I/O's project has created an 'invisible violin' by combining the alpha development kit from Project Soli with a Wekinator machine learning tool and programming toolkit openFrameworks, which work together to interpret movements and transform them into music.

Using the machine learning program, the designers trained the device to recognise which finger movements corresponded to playing the violin, and which should be dismissed, giving users more precise control over the types of sounds the device would produce.

The violin was described by the team behind it as a "speed project" aimed at demonstrating what a few days of programming could produce when combined with Project Soli's technology, and given that, we're eager to see what more ambitious applications of the project bring in the future.

iss-3d-printer-wrench-2International Space Station Puts Low-Gravity 3D Printer to Use
3D printing has a whole range of uses, but giving astronauts aboard the International Space Station the ability to produce the tools and parts they need as and when they need them may be one of the most extraordinary.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) is the second 3D printer set up aboard the ISS, and is considerably more advanced than the first. NASA recently used the device for the first time, creating a wrench that will enable astronauts to carry out vital maintenance work, complete with special fastening clip designed to stop it drifting away in zero gravity.

The printer was created by Made In Space, a California-based company that designed a way of making use of 3D printing technology in zero-g following a multi-year collaboration with NASA. The printer had to be designed with special safety considerations, had to be reliable enough to work for long periods of time in space, and needed to be able to survive its rocket launch to the ISS.

The printer's bed is only around 4" by 6", but the AMF already has a print queue of around six months' worth of parts and projects to attend to, demonstrating how important having a reliable way of manufacturing tools about the ISS is, and the potential savings that the AMF could drive by reducing the need for expensive launches carrying equipment.

Russian Robot Causes Traffic Chaos After Escaping Lab



A Russian robot that was testing its ability to navigate environments and avoid obstacles got a more thorough test than its engineers originally intended after it left the lab and wandered into traffic, causing disruption as drivers had to avoid the robot, and slowed down to observe the surreal scene.

The robot, called Promobot, is designed to work in customer relations, and approximately 200 similar robots are already in use in countries including Russia, China and Ireland, in theatres, business centres and conference spaces.

"At one of the stages of the testing, our engineer, who left the office and opened the landfill gates, forget to close them," said a spokesperson for Promobot. "The robot, not seeing any obstacle, quietly left the testing field, drove fifty metres, entered the roadway and stopped, because it battery was dead."

The robot's absence was discovered around 40 minutes later, by which time it had attracted quite a crowd, and it was recovered by the engineers, who, while rather embarrassed, were pleased their creation had managed to successfully navigate its way through such an uncontrolled, hazardous situation until its battery died.

olli watson busIBM's Watson Powers Autonomous Bus
The first autonomous vehicle powered by IBM's famous Watson cognitive computing  technology has been put into use in Washington DC, with plans to roll it out to roads in Florida and Las Vegas.

The bus, dubbed 'Olli', was created by vehicle technology specialists Local Motors from 3D-printed parts, and can carry up to 12 people. The bus runs on an electric motor, and uses a vehicle-specific iteration of IBM's Watson to improve the passenger experience and allow natural language interaction with the vehicle.

"Olli offers a smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue," said John B. Rogers, CEO and founder of Local Motors. "Olli with Watson acts as our entry into the world of self-driving vehicles, something we've been quietly working on with our co-creative community for the past year. I'm thrilled to see what our open community will do with the latest in advanced vehicle technology."

GoBone Can Spend Eight Hours Playing Fetch For You



We've seen a number of smart dog toys and devices in the Innovation Lab, aimed at keeping your pet entertained while you're at work or away from the house, but most rely on remote control to operate, meaning that while you can keep an eye on your pet, for most of the time they remain unstimulated.

The GoBone aims to rectify that by operating autonomously, able to provide your pooch with eight hours of entertainment while your away, as well as offering owners a remote control ability via an accompanying app.

The toy can be filled with treats to encourage your dog to play with it, and is programmed with games like Fetch or Hide-and-Seek to keep activities varied. It also adjusts its actions based on your dogs size, breed, age and other factors, and, having been designed by a firm that works with the US military, is tough enough for even the most boisterous of pups.

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