Wednesday, December 31, 2008

High-Income Shoppers Slashed Spending Most Over The Holidays

Hitwise has just released a brief report examining the spending habits for web users over the holiday season. The study found that the biggest drop off in traffic was among
shoppers that fell under the ‘high-income’ demographic,
which is classified as households earning more than $150,000 per year.
Traffic from these upper-class buyers dropped 12.33% comparing December
2007 to December 2008, versus a drop of around 1% for those making less
than $30,000 a year and an increase in traffic from everyone
else. The report doesn’t make any guesses as to why this happened
(perhaps the more wealthy users were losing more money in the stock
market?), but it’s an interesting trend nonetheless.

Article Link (TechChrunch)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sensor-Equipped Footballs to Make Refs More Accurate

Dr. Priya Narasimhan of Carnegie Mellon University has developed the football and gloves, loading them up with wireless sensors that can precisely determine whether or not a ball hit the ground before being caught or whether or not someone had control of the ball before fumbling. It could also, using GPS, determine whether or not the ball cross the goal line. But the applications don't stop there.

Eventually, the same kind of sensors used in the gloves could be adapted to shoes, to measure stride and running patterns, or even shoulder pads, to calculate blocking positions and force.

The current version of the glove has 15 touch sensors on the fingers and palm, running to a wireless module on the back of the arm, said Adam Goldhammer of Richboro, Bucks County, a master's student in electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

"Knowing these contact points can tell how a ball is being thrown and how different people throw," he said, "so you could train how someone is throwing to match how they should throw."

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Consumers prefer vague product specs to utter ignorance

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research has confirmed something we suspected all along: consumers love specs, even vague ones, and when deciding between two products people will gravitate towards the one for which more specifications were given. According to the journal, the research sheds light on both how preferences are formed in theory, and on how marketers can sell you more crapgadgets.

Article Link (Engadget)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Robot Rinses Dishes, Puts them In Dishwasher

Panasonic and the University of Tokyo have developed a robot capable of rinsing any dish and put it into the dishwasher. The dishwashing robot has three joints and enough sensitivity not to break your china. It moves on a rail, guided by TV cameras placed in the ceiling and sensors in the arm itself. According to the research team in charge, this is only the beginning.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 Launches Muxlim Pal Open Beta has launched its Muslim-friendly virtual world, Muxlim Pal, to open beta. The social network, which serves 1.5 million uniques per month first discussed launching a virtual world in October.
The inspiration for the virtual world grew from observing where
Muxlim's users spent the rest of their time on the Internet. They were
interested in virtual worlds, but there weren't many that the creators
found family friendly. The PG nature of the world, Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder of,  told the BBC, is aimed at more than just religious groups. Half of those members are from the United States with another 20%
coming from the UK, and the typical user is a woman in her mid-20s
looking for online entertainment content.

Article Link

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advertising gloom

Most forecasts for next year say that ad spending in America will decline by 5% or more. Much depends on the fate of the automotive industry: carmakers and dealers normally spend around $20 billion a year on advertising, but Chrysler and Ford scaled back their expenditure by more than 30% in the first nine months of 2008, and are expected to make further cuts in 2009 as they struggle for survival.

The car industry’s woes will hurt all media, but especially television. Analysts at BMO Capital Markets predict that total spending on television ads will fall by almost 9% next year. Only newspapers, where a decline of 12% is expected, are forecast to fare worse. Carmakers have already shifted some of their advertising spending to the internet, and are likely to go further in 2009. Car ads make up 25% of advertising revenues for local television channels, and carmakers have been among the most consistent buyers of high-priced ads on national television.

Article Link (Economist)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waterflux Art Museum Is Clearly an Alien Cockroach Nest

Horrific yet incredibly intriguing is the only way I can describe
this spiked and gelatinous alien nest that mimics the landscape around
it. Fortunately, it won't hold any eggs waiting to snatch human bodies.

reality, it's an art museum and alpine ice research station that will
be completed next year in the Swiss alps. The construction of the
building will use a computer numerical control drilling machine, which
will manufacture 180 pieces out of 2,000 cubic meters of wood. The
pieces will be assembled on sit

Article Link

Michael Arrington on Entrepreneurship

The joy of life is great, but all these two hour lunches over a bottle or two of great wine and general unwillingness to do whatever it takes to compete and win is the reason why all the big public Internet companies are U.S. based.

Too many people choose to be entrepreneurs as a lifestyle, without realizing that it takes everything you have and more to win. And if you aren’t in it to win, why not just take that nice job down the street that gives you five weeks of vacation.

Two hour lunches are great. But when you have investors to answer to and employees (and their families) to provide for, something has to give.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lil Drum and Bass Bot

Few robots are as charming as this little drummer bot. Armed with a rudimentary pill-jar plastic drum and a beep-bop-boop synthesizer, he somehow gets quite the groove on.

The Lil Drum and Bass Bot's creator Calculon320 claims only humble aspirations for the little $50 beat box—"plays his drum, provides his own soundtrack, simple object avoidance"—but there's an awesomeness here that puts even the Wall-E toys to shame.

Not only can he parumpapumpum with the best of them with his two swivel-action drumsticks, responding to tempo changes up to a super-vibrating roll, but in "object avoidance" mode, he can stroll up to a Lego Duplo brick or a wall and just start beating the hell out of it. To the rhythm. My favorite nuance is that the creator takes a robotic bummer—noisy servos—and turns it into a boon, a sort of wiki-wiki scratch track to accompany the beeping and drumming.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toy Robot Battlemodo

Keep in mind, though two of these list for $400, most cap at $250, and they're alltoys. They don't have a heck of a lot of AI, though they do have an impressive array of user-triggered functionality and some goofy "spontaneous" behavior.

The Winner: U-Command WALL-E. One of the few bots here that is fun to play with more than once, this WALL-E is cute, interactive and kids can enjoy him without driving parents crazy by playing the same thing over and over—*cough*Elmo Live*cough*.

Rolly. I can't stop looking at this little dude. His syncopated dancing demands attention from anyone who sees him, and he is the bot that performs his most essential function—playing music through a speaker—the best.

Honorable Mention:
iDance WALL-E and Ultimate WALL-E. I like you both a lot, but why did you get me all excited with your decent prices, and then double them when I wasn't looking? Not cool guys.

The Loser:
Rovio. No offense here Rovio, we really like the though of a remote controlled, customizable webcam and we think you will get it right one day, but right now you cost too much and the most important feature you have—your webcam—is absolutely terrible.

Mr. Personality - $245

This is one weird bot. Turn it on and it will act like one of the many "personalities" you have downloaded to it, telling jokes, reading fortunes and interacting with you along the way.
Pros: 3-legged, multi-directional wheels move in all directions easily; multiple personalities technically mean relief from boredom; depending on the personality, it'll call you "master"
Cons: The default personality is very annoying; not enough functions to stay entertaining; obstacle sensors are too sensitive
Worth the money? Doubtful. Depending on the power of the development community some fun personalities may emerge, but they are severely limited by the options on the remote.

Rovio - $240
Maybe the most technical bot of the bunch, the Rovio is a webcam-on-wheels controlled via an internet interface. With some smart maneuvering, you can snoop on your daughter's date in the living room from the privacy of your bedroom. Or, if you have your own domain server, you can control the Rovio from anywhere in the world. It has major limitations, like an awful camera and outside of Internet Explorer you can't hear any sound, but its API allows customization so there's true potential that has yet to be reached.
Pros: Good looking, highly interactive UI; like Roomba, can return to its base to charge itself when batteries run low
Cons: Seriously shitty webcam; setting it up on a Mac is torture; if you bought this thinking you can easily control it from anywhere in the world for free you're SOL
Worth the money? Not yet. The Rovio is a great concept, but you'll be much better off waiting for version 2.0... or maybe 3.0.

Femisapien - $50

She's the female companion to Robosapien, and she'll blow you kisses, dance to music or speak in her very own gibberish language with you. She doesn't do anything very fancy, but she's the only girl here, so she looks better doing it than most of these other bots.
Pros: Fairly interactive; relatively inexpensive; giant robot boobs
Cons: Command system very complicated; routines aren't all that exciting
Worth the money? Only if your name is Zoltan.

iDance WALL-E - $53
The cheapest WALL-E of the crop, and a less expensive alternative to the Rolly, iDance WALL-E dances—if you can call it that—to the beat of your MP3 player, or his own built in sound bank. A one-trick pony, but I'll be damned if it isn't an adorable trick.
Pros: Look at that little bot—how could you not love it? His dancing is fun and silly, and he couldn't be any easier to use
Cons: The speaker sucks; WALL-E's moves don't match the music closely like Rolly's do
Worth the money? When we first saw the iDance WALL-E, he was only supposed to cost $25 bucks. But now, at twice the price, it's definitely one bot we can live without.

Ultimate WALL-E - $400
The name says it all: The biggest WALL-E of the litter is ultimate in every way. It will follow you around, dance to your music, or perform a pre-programmed series of movements and noises. Best of all, it uses a really interesting controller that can move WALL-E using a touchpad.
Pros: Big enough to seem realistic; a ton of features so it won't bore quickly
Cons: Expensive; controller has too many buttons that don't do very much; did I mention "expensive"?
Worth the money? Who has that kind of money to spend on a robot? Especially one that isn't programmable, upgradable or all that intelligent. It should've stayed at its original $190 price.

U-Command WALL-E - $130
U-Command WALL-E is the Baby Bear of the WALL-E bunch, just right in almost every way. Its controls are comparable to the Ultimate WALL-E, it can move, dance and make noises on your command, all for a much more attractive price.
Pros: Essentially a "lite" version of the Ultimate WALL-E for less than half the price, versatile controls allow for repeated play without getting too stale
Cons: The only WALL-E without a line-in speaker for MP3s; not as technically impressive as other over-$100 contenders
Worth the money? Totally. Even at $130, it's one of the cheaper robots on the list, and the most fun right out of the box.

Sony Rolly - $400
At first glance, the Rolly doesn't fit the traditional robot mold. The egg-shaped MP3 speaker looks like it's just another smooth white gadget with an "i" in front of its name. But when you see it in action, it's one of the most exciting little toys around, dancing wildly and putting on a light show to the rhythm of the songs coming from its body.
Pros: Great speaker; customizes dance/light shows to your own songs; amusing even after repeated viewings
Cons: Can't customize songs on a Mac (but you can on a Vaio!); can't jump to a specific track on the device
Worth the money? Surprisingly, it might well be. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I get a huge kick out of the Rolly. The fluidity and snazziness of the movement and lights explains the steep cost.

D-Rex - $150
The scariest bot of the lot, D-Rex growls, attacks and lets out the sounds of bodily functions from every orifice. Rubbery, lizard-like skin and huge, moving yellow eyes add to the effect.
Pros: Creepy; fun to play with (for a while); the coolest looking of all the robots
Cons: Doesn't do too enough; may scare little kids (or is that a "pro"?)
Worth the money? Tough call. D-Rex is probably the biggest robot here and isn't that expensive for being so big. But since it only performs a few functions, don't expect anything close to a Pleo.

Elmo Live - $60
What's left to say about the newest version of every kid's favorite fuzzy friend? It raps, dances and tells stories and jokes, all in the body of the most popular Muppet of a generation.
Pros: Buy this for your kids and they will love you forever.
Cons: Don't buy this for your kids and they will hate you forever; also, the song "Elmo's Gotta Get On Up" has been stuck in my head for damn near six months
Worth the money? Do you have a choice? At $60 it's a steal compared to most of these other bots... but good luck finding it.

Article Link (Gizmodo, with video)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jollbot Jumps Like a Grasshopper, Rolls Like a Ball

There are robots that can jump and there are robots that can roll, but the Jollbot is the first robot that can do both. These skills could be vital for future space exploration.

The University of Bath's work on the Jollbot was first brought to light last year, but it appears that their design has evolved considerably in that time. Not only can it roll and jump over difficult terrain, it can do it without the awkward drawbacks of leg-based contraptions—which makes it ideal for space exploration. Plus, it is super light.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Visits to online retailers up 11%

According to Hitwise,
U.S. visit numbers across all tracked retail categories declined for
Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday 2008, with the exception of
online-only shopping websites. Among the top 500 Retail sites, Walmart
was the top visited on Thanksgiving Day, but took over as
top visited Retail site on Black Friday.

Overall, the numbers showed an expected but sharp decline: the
percentage of U.S. visits was down 11% on Thanksgiving Day in 2008
compared to last year, and U.S. traffic on Black Friday was down 5%.
But online-only (not brick-and-mortar) stores, of which there are 100
in the list of 500 top retail websites, had a pretty good run: the
percentage of U.S visits to those shot up 11% on Thanksgiving Day, and
went up 10% on Black Friday compared to 2007.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Ridemakerz Builds a Virtual World For Boys Filled With Its Toy Cars

There is a gap on the Web between Webkinz and Club Penguin and the more
adult social networks of MySpace, Facebook and beyond, particularly for
boys. Other than Pirates of the Carribean Online, there is not much out there yet. Andreini wants to parlay the loyalty of his customers into a virtual
world where they can design and play with the exact same cars they can
buy in his stores. Making that connection between the virtual and the
real, even if it’s just a toy, is where he thinks he’ll
have a leg up on the competition.

The Ridemakerz virtual world is being designed by the Electric Sheep
Company, which has a lot of experience designing virtual experiences
for corporate clients in Second Life. But this virtual world will be
entirely browser-based, built on top of its Webflock technology platform.

Andreini opened his first store in June, 2007, and now there are a
dozen across the country. His first store in Myrtle Beach, SC hit $1
million in sales 87 days after it launched. This year, that same store
hit $1 million in sales 53 days after June 1. He’s raised $23
million to date from Norm Pozez, whose father founded Payless Shoes,
and Build-A-Bear Workshop. Build-A-Bear, which operates a retail chain
with a similar concept around building teddy bears, is also a strategic
operational partner.

Andrieni estimates the e-commerce business will bring in about $250,000
this year. But he plans to invest $3 million to $4 million a year in
his new virtual world.

Electric Sheep took CAD files of all the body designs and measured all
the parts with micrometers to render how each car looks. Then they
converted that into Flash using 3D Studio Max and Papervision3D.

Alternatively, a child who buys a car at a store can enter the unique
Ridez Identification Number (RIN) number printed on each one at
checkout and he will get a virtual replica of that exact design. So he
can play with the same car at home and online.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Friday, December 5, 2008

$20 Co-Robot

It comes in a simple to build kit and has only one motor (batteries are in the feet) and no servos. It operates entirely through gears and linkages and passive mechanical sensors, which is quite a feat of engineering in of itself. Co-Robot has three modes: walk, somersault, and dance, although it kinda looks like it’s trying to do all three at once in the video. It’s actually really impressive for only $20, if you ask me.

Article Link (BotJunkie)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nerf projectile speed test: high-speed photography

High Speed Photography of Popper: These images were used to compute velocities and geometries required for the final iteration. 

The Atom Blaster started as a concept called the Hand Popper. It is a simple and effective way of projecting foam balls a good distance. The Hand Popper utilizes a bistable spring called a "Hopper Popper" to store energy. The foam ball can be loaded off of any surface or out of hand and is retained until the user presses the trigger. The projected foam balls from the Hand Popper can reach distances further than foam balls projected from the state of the art blasters.

Article Link (WonderBarry)