Thursday 19 January 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets from January 2017

In this month's 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe I looked at some technology that had been on show at CES, the annual consumer electronics trade show in America.

Hushme voice mask

Hushme is being called the world’s first voice mask for mobile phones. It’s been created to stop mobile phone conversations from being overheard. That has two benefits: if you’re talking about something private – whether it’s personal or confidential – it prevents other people from listening in. And if you’re working in an open-plan office or even out in a public space, it makes life a little more pleasant for other people.

The device consists of a pair of Bluetooth earbuds and a mask that clips together in front of your mouth with magnets. If you’re not using it, you can leave it hanging round your neck like a large pair of headphones.

Built into the mask is acoustic insulation designed to stop your voice from getting out while still allowing your mouth to move. There’s also some kind of active voice suppression. Together, that should muffle your voice pretty effectively.

But what the company has also done – and you’ll either think this is brlliant or completely daft – is add loudspeakers to play noises that’ll mask your voice even more.

You can have something pleasant and natural, like the sound of rain or the sea, you can have animal noises and you can even have Darth Vader’s breathing or R2D2’s beeping from Star Wars.

If you want one, the company isn’t selling them yet but is planning a crowd-funding campaign later this year, with pricing expected to be around $200 (€190 / £165).

BACtrack Skyn wearable alcohol monitor

This is apparently another world first: it’s being described as the world’s first wearable alcohol monitor.

BACtrack Skyn is a kind-of bracelet that measures alcohol through your skin and synchronises with an app on your phone. Whenever you want to check, it’ll tell you how much alcohol is in your body and can also warn you when levels are starting to get a bit high. And this is all passive: you don’t need to blow into a tube or worse.

The way it works is by measuring your Transdermal Alcohol Content (TAC), which is the tiny amount of alcohol that passes through your skin when you’ve been drinking. Your TAC can then be converted into a figure for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). That’s the figure the police talk about for drink driving.

If you’ve got an Apple Watch, there’s a version of the BACtrack Skyn that can replace your watch strap, so you don't need to wear two separate devices.

And this isn’t just about people who are curious about their alcohol consumption or who want to double-check they’ve not had too much: it also has clinical uses because it’s a practical way for doctors to keep a constant record of patients.

BACtrack Skyn will be available sometime in 2017. At the moment there’s no official idea of pricing but I’ve seen suggestions it could be around $100.

Withings hair coach

Claiming to be the world’s first smart hairbrush, this next device comes from tech company Withings and beauty specialists L’Oreal.

Inside there’s a collection of sensors including a microphone, a gyroscope and an accelerometer.

The gyroscope and accelerometer will detect how forcefully you’re brushing your hair. If you brush too hard it’ll vibrate as a warning. And the microphone is there to listen to the sound your hair makes, providing you with information about hairs breaking, split ends and frizziness. (Sadly it can't connect to iTunes for a spot of bedroom karaoke.)

The information from all the sensors is then sent to an app on your phone that analyses the way you look after your hair – it can even sense if your hair is wet or dry – and gives you a hair diagnosis of dryness, damage, breakage, tangling and so on. You can check if your hair is getting better or worse over time and can see recommendations to help with hair care.

It’s all powered by standard batteries and will be available this autumn at a price of around $200 (€190 / £165)

FLIR ONE thermal camera attachment

Back in February 2016 I mentioned a smartphone that had a built-in thermal camera. The company whose technology was inside that particular phone has now released a couple of clip-on thermal cameras, which means you don’t need to buy a new phone just for thermal imaging

Thermal imaging lets you take photos that show different temperatures as different colours, so you can use it for things like detecting heat loss around windows and doors, working out where insulation is failing, seeing if electrical equipment is getting too hot and – surely everyone’s favourite – going outside in total darkness to detect people or animals creeping about.

FLIR have announced the FLIR ONE Pro – which is a high-spec professional camera – and the new FLIR ONE, for people who haven’t used a thermal camera before. Each comes in two versions: one for the Apple iOS Lightning connector and the other for Android phones or tablets.

The new FLIR ONE is a little box that connects to the bottom of your phone and has an adjustable length connector, which means most people can plug the camera in without taking their phone out of its case. It’s even got its own built-in rechargeable battery.

There are actually two cameras in the device: there’s a thermal camera and a visible light camera, with the images combined to create a more detailed picture. It can measure temperatures between -20° to 120°C and can detect temperature differences as little as 0.1° C.

Pricing for the new FLIR ONE is from £199.99, with availability expected in the next few months.