Beatboxing in 360 VR. Whatever next?

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I may be showing my age, but when I first started off as a tech journalist back in the early 1990s, TVs were virtually square, weighed a ton, and most people were listening to grunge music coming out of Seattle.

Nearly 30 years later, everyone has a super light flat widescreen TV and early adopters (admittedly mostly gamers at the moment) are getting into virtual reality headsets for an even more immersive experience. Thankfully the music has changed a fair bit too!

For the last few weeks I’ve been working with Kodak, testing out its little VR camera, the Kodak PixPro 4K VR360 and looking for different types of content to shoot in 360 to do it justice.

Obviously the first things that spring to mind are action videos which is why we went to Go Ape to film as well as a skateboard park in Tottenham.

Both were great in showing off the immersive experience of 360 filming, although shooting with a camera strapped to your head or holding it as you negotiate a zip wire (especially if you a broken hand like my son did at the time) are never easy. Thankfully we didn’t break the camera though!

Live music in VR

However, what interests me are alternative uses for VR and 360 outside of the obvious genres. For example, YouTube now has its own virtual reality channel where you can check out thousands of the latest 360 videos in different categories.

These include a live MTV version of Ed Sheeran singing Shape of You at the 2017 VMAs and, for those of a certain age, Duran Duran’s performing Hungry Like The Wolf filmed to commemorate this year’s Duran Duran Appreciation Day (#DDAD17) – who knew?

In both you can choose to see a close up of the performers on stage or pan round and check out the audiences just as you would do if you were there in real life (there is of course a considerable difference in age between the two audiences!)

For our 360 video, filmed with the Kodak PixPro,  we chose to hire the talents of our very own wolf: Frankie Rowley-Walker, a.k.a Wolfie.

In the video below he shows off his beatboxing skills in full VR 360 (you can check out his own music channel here //soundcloud.com/user-27733578.)

And while the audience is a little smaller than for Ed Sheeran and Duran Duran (just two cameramen and a stray dog), the experience is nevertheless very immersive.

Sometimes I miss the early 1990s. But I must admit when it comes to the size of the TVs and the music, I much prefer 2017!

You can see Frankie performing in our YouTube video below:

And if you want the full 360 experience with footage taken entirely from the Kodak PixPro VR360 then go here:

You can see all of the videos shot with the Kodak PixPro camera here.

 

Huawei Eco-Connect Europe 2017: Connected cows, delivery drones and more!

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You’ve probably never heard of Huawei, pronounced Waa-Wey. But chances you will have come across them at some point and not realised.

As well as manufacturing various digital set-top boxes, including the YouView box rolled out by TalkTalk in the UK, the Chinese giant is also the world’s third largest mobile phone manufacturer.

Earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to be invited to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona by Huawei and was given one of their P10 smart phones. And I can honestly say it has the best digital camera I’ve ever seen on a smartphone – much better than the iPhone 7.

This time, I’ve come to Huawei’s Eco Connect Conference in Berlin to find out what some of their commercial partners are up to for a piece I’m writing on digital banking for The Telegraph. I’ll also be writing up some of the content for my own tech blog, Tech Digest.

Yesterday I learned all about various applications for the Internet of Things, iOT, most memorably how they work with agriculture tech companies to make dairy farming more efficient.

Not only do farmers can use IoT sensors to detect when a calf is born in order to ensure everything is OK, they also know when is the best time for a cow to mate with a bull – the ideal ‘rutting’ period as it’s known!

Less graphic perhaps was finding out about applications for narrowband IoT, a low power wide area network which can be even be used underground to monitor water usage/wastage for the development of smart cities.

Today, it was the turn of companies like DHL to show how they are using augmented reality glasses, drones and robotic trolleys to make the process of sorting items at their depots more efficient. DHL is even using drones to send important deliveries such as medicines to mountainous regions in the Alps, cutting down delivery time from days to minutes.

But you’ll be pleased to know it hasn’t all been work, work, work. I’ve also had time to take in Berlin, a city I’ve been coming to on and off for 25 years. Yesterday we went to former Eastern Berlin where I took this picture below of the famous Fernsehturm TV tower near Alexanderplatz.

Built in the 1960s by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as a symbol of Communist power, it’s easily the most striking of Berlin’s buildings. It’s fair to say though that technology has moved on a little bit in the last 50 years with many of us now watching TV programmes over IP (Internet Protocol) – via our Chinese manufactured Huawei set-top boxes of course!

Alexanderplatz

Digital Assistants: Alexa v Google v Apple

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There really is so much to say about voice recognition technology that I don’t think you can do it justice in a 1000 words. But I gave it a go in this piece for Tech Radar which briefly compares Amazon Alexa with Google Assistant and Apple Siri.

Personally I love my little Amazon Echo Dot, which I use mostly for playing music and checking the weather. But Google seems to be catching up fast with Google Assistant on its Google Home devices.

Arguably, Google Home is probably better for multiple users in the same house and is more intelligent than Amazon Alexa. However, it isn’t compatible with anywhere near as many home automation devices. Yet.

Certainly, Amazon is leading the way in terms of sales of Alexa products following a trajectory that is looking to outstrip that of Apple iPhone in the early days. Could the next couple of years see digital assistants become as ubiquitous as the smartphone?

I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility, especially with units costing from £49.

As for Apple with Siri, it seems that the company is now at the back of the pack. While Siri was introduced well before its rivals back in 2011, Apple fails to have capitalised on its early lead.

Will its promised smart speaker, the HomePod, be a case of too little, too late? Personally I think so.

You can read my full article here. 

How technology can help improve our health and save money

healthcareInevitably, the cost of health care is rising dramatically as people are living longer. Obviously this is putting pressure on health systems across the world, including the NHS.

However, technology can play its part in improving our health and reducing costs, for example by analysing ‘big data’ to improve patient outcomes and by the introduction of telemedicine – where it’s possible to monitor patients remotely.

In this piece for the Telegraph’s Social Innovation Forum, taking place on November 28th, I interview Rachel Dunscombe, Chief Information Officer of Salford’s Royal NHS Trust about some of the initiatives they have been working on to improve patient outcomes.

You can read the full interview here.

Taking a trip with Olympus. Getting creative with the new E-M10 Mark III.

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Yesterday I spent a nice afternoon taking pictures on board a boat cruising down The Thames, courtesy of Olympus. I was essentially there to test out its latest digital camera, the Olympus E-M10 Mark III which meant taking lots and lots of pics of London’s iconic buildings and generally behaving like a tourist .

It’s an interesting mirrorless camera, half way between a standard compact and a digital SLR. Aimed at people like me who are perhaps bored of smartphone photography and want to move onto something which offers more creativity but without the bulk, it offers plenty of manual features including the ability to set your own aperture and shutter speed.

It’s also got lots and lots of filters including two black and white film filters which as you can see from the examples below I really enjoyed using.

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Will the iPhone 8 be the first £1000 phone?

iPhone8.pngAmazingly it’s 10 years since the first iPhone launched and it’s highly likely that Apple will mark the occasion next week with the announcement of the iPhone 8, a dummy model of which (apparently) is pictured above on the right.

As you might expect the iPhone 8 is widely expected to have all the latest bells and whistles including an OLED screen that goes right to the edge pretty much, a dual camera system and, possibly, a glass back in order to enable wireless charging.

But what it will also have is an enormous price tag. Rumours have it that even the basic 64GB model will set you back $999 with the 512GB costing a cool $1199.

With the pound falling against the dollar, that means almost certainly you will be paying over £1000 for all but the very basic model.

A few years ago that would have seemed unthinkable, but then I suppose people routinely spend £1000 on computer equipment and for many the iPhone is just as valuable and just as useful.

I don’t think I will be rushing out to buy one just yet though.

8 things we know about the iPhone 8 already
Image courtesy of Marques Brownlee. See the iPhone 8 video here. 

 

Samsung Futurescape – What is the ‘new normal’?

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Most people probably know Samsung best for its range of mobile phones, but it’s fair to say that the Korean giant offers a wide range of tech solutions for businesses as well as consumers.

Recently I went along to the manufacturer’s Futurescape event on behalf of The Daily Telegraph to see how Samsung is working with companies on everything from Virtual Reality to Artificial Intelligence.

For example, one of Samsung’s partners is Thomas Cook which is introducing Gear VR headsets in some of its 700 stores to help bring holidays and holiday excursions to life when people are thinking about booking them.

Other exhibits at this year’s Futurescape included a start-up estate agent that is using VR to guide people through homes and a company using wearable devices, such as Samsung’s Gear 3 smart watches, to alert retailers if a VIP walks into the building.

Says Graham Long, Vice President, Samsung Electronics, UK and Ireland: “I used to apologise to our enterprise customers about Samsung being a predominantly business to consumer brand and our lack of business heritage, but now the behaviour of the market has swung completely to our advantage.”

You can read the full article here.  Or see the content from the newspaper below.

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Furbo treat tossing dog camera! Of course

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I love gadgets. I love dogs. So what isn’t there to love about a treat tossing dog camera. Yes you did hear me right. The wonderfully named Furbo has come up with a gadget that lets you toss treats via the smart phone app to your furry friend.

So you could be sitting in a meeting bored out of your tiny mind when you decide to chuck a treat to your pet. Or if your dog is barking you can talk to him/her via the two-way audio provided.

Warning, at first the dog will freak out at the noise of the Furbo, but pretty soon they’ll get used to it. Also, the gadget does sometimes randomly spit out two or three treats so best to avoid if your dog is on a diet! Apart from that it’s great.

You can see my YouTube review video below.

I test out some of the best pet gadgets for ShinyShiny

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I really don’t need much of an excuse to write about pet gadgets. But as it’s #NationalPetDay in the US tomorrow, I thought I’d put together a feature on ShinyShiny, showcasing some of the best and most interesting out there.

What’s great is that thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things) any product can now become ‘smart’, whether that’s a dog collar or a camera so it’s now possible to monitor your pet more closely than ever before.

For example with a smart collar, available from a company like Nuzzle, you can track on a map exactly where your furry friend is. Furbo, on the other hand, takes things a little further, allowing you to talk to your dog via a two-way audio connection, view what they are getting up to in high definition video, even dispense treats from a machine!

Other smart devices for pets though I’m not so sure about including the Pellet which is basically a doorbell for pets. The idea is that the dog presses a big buzzer which sends an alert via an app to their owner that they want to go outside to play or go to the toilet! Sounds a little more hassle than its worth to me.

Testing out swimming gear for the summer

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When I’m not teaching in secondary schools or writing freelance tech pieces I’m often swimming, usually during the Winter in the outdoor HEATED pool at David Lloyd in North Finchley.

But in the summertime I like to venture a little further afield and swim in lakes and the sea.

Sometimes I combine journalism with swimming (though not at the same time as the Mac gets a bit wet). So this month I’ve been testing out some new Arena gear I’ve been sent which you can read about on my swimming blog, Goggleblog here.

Next week I’ll also be testing out some underwater MP3 players or SwiMP3 players for gadget website, Tech Radar, now that I’ve finally got enough players that actually work! Watch this space.