‘Human Uber’ Lets a Surrogate Socialize For You

Has the process of interacting with other human beings become too much for you, but you don’t have the heart to ditch your social obligations completely? Then you’ll be very interested in what virtual reality researcher Jun Rekimoto showed off at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech conference in Asia this week.

Called the “ChameleonMask,” this apparatus allows you to be a member of the outside world in spirit, all from the comfort of the couch you decided was more important than society. Basically, this telepresence helmet allows for a FaceTime-like experience that is piloted by a surrogate body. This surrogate shows up to whatever function you wish to skip, wearing headgear with a screen strapped to the front that livestreams a remote user so they can interact with the world around them.

There is a public line of communication in the helmet that allows the remote user to speak to the room through a voice channel, and a private one, where only the surrogate can hear the user (the surrogate can still be heard by everyone physically around them, so the team behind the device suggests they speak at a lower volume). There are also written commands the user can send to the surrogate that will pop up on the screen from which the surrogate views the world.

When conducting experiments with the device in 2015, an iPhone 6 was placed in a Hacosco VR helmet so the surrogate could use the smartphone’s camera function to see the real world around them. The main screen featuring the remote user's face is attached to the front of the helmet with the iPhone behind it, placed in such a way that the camera isn’t obstructed. There is also a feed of the remote user that the surrogate can see in the corner of their screen, as seen in this video.

According to the team’s study, the choice to use a surrogate human body instead of just an autonomous robot with a screen attached was because “Humans inherently have crisis-control capacities and five highly developed senses. If the remote user can find a surrogate who looks like him or her, the impression of his or her appearance can be maintained.” Basically, the more your surrogate looks like you, the more seamless the illusion of it actually being you will become.

Jun Rekimoto—the deputy director of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.—says the whole process feels “surprisingly natural,” and his team conducted studies to see just how comfortable people would be around these surrogates. The results were much more positive than anyone had imagined.

While they believed the participants would “look at it in disbelief, and immediately request the surrogate to remove it,” they found that people “seemed to believe that the remote user was in front of them” and that they were having a conversation with the person on the screen, not the body standing in for them.

There’s no commercial model of the ChameleonMask available yet, so for now you’ll have to brave your niece’s dance recital in the flesh. But in the not too distant future, a lucky surrogate can become the social butterfly you were never meant to be.

[h/t Select/All]

Innovative New Device Uses the Air to Create Drinking Water for 100 People a Day

iStock.com, dinadesign
iStock.com, dinadesign

Clean drinking water is one of the world's most vital resources. Humans can only survive a few days without water (compared to more than a month without food), and yet more than a billion people around the world live with water scarcity, either due to a lack of natural resources or poor water management. And climate change will likely only make the problem worse in the coming years. New technology, however, promises to cheaply create potable water from just air, Fast Company reports.

Two water-centric tech organizations, The Skysource and Skywater Alliance, teamed up to develop a shipping-container-enclosed device that can turn water vapor (i.e., humidity) into drinking water at a significantly cheaper rate than other, similar technology or techniques like desalination. The group's technique recently won the $1.50 million Water Abundance XPRIZE, a two-year competition devoted to coming up with energy-efficient ways to harvest fresh water from the air.

Women carrying water buckets on their heads walk past a shipping container.
The Skysource and Skywater Alliance, The Water Abundance XPRIZE

The competition required teams to create a device that could extract at least 2000 liters (528 gallons) a day from the atmosphere using renewable energy, at a cost of no more than 2 cents per liter. That would be enough to provide for about 100 people for $40 a day or less. In response to the challenge, the Skysource/Skywater Alliance team created WEDEW, or "wood-to-energy deployed water."

The system uses technology Skywater had already developed to pull water from the air. The Skywater machine essentially creates a man-made cloud inside it. It pulls in warm air from outside that, when it hits the refrigerated cold air inside the device, turns into condensation. That water can then be stored in connected tanks. The pre-existing technology required a lot of electricity, though, meaning it wasn't cheap.

The prize-winning version is powered by biogas, making it easy to operate almost anywhere. The biofuel gassifier creates renewable energy cheaply from cast-offs like wood chips, coconut shells, and dead plants, vaporizing the material to generate power. The system also generates a lot of heat, which is good for pulling water out of the air—think of how humid it is in the summer versus the winter. In the process of generating energy, the biogassifier also creates biochar, a type of charcoal that can improve soil fertility.

In places where biogas isn't a feasible option (like if there is no available wood or other fuel sources), the device could also be run on solar power or batteries.

[h/t Fast Company]

4 Times Caps Lock Got Someone Into Trouble

iStock.com/ufukguler
iStock.com/ufukguler

The caps lock key, as we know it today, debuted in 1984 with the release of IBM's Model M keyboard. Prior to that, there had been a lock key, and a shift lock key before that. According to Daily Infographic’s history of the caps lock, the idea that typing in all caps is akin to yelling originated in the early days of the internet. You couldn’t use bold or italics on message boards, so block letters were the only way to ensure your comments would get noticed. It’s still a necessary key, but it can also get people into a whole lot of trouble when it’s used inappropriately. In honor of Caps Lock Day (which is today), here are four cases where typing in all caps went all wrong.

1. THE NEW YORK LAWYER WHO GOT SUSPENDED

Gino L. Giorgini III wasn’t pleased with a judge’s decision. In 2005, the Long Island-based lawyer sent the judge a note requesting reargument which read, “THIS IS LA LA LAND ON STEROIDS ... I CAN NOT COMPREHEND THE #%*%#$^%* THAT IS THIS DECISION.” Three years later, in an unrelated case, he hit the caps lock button again and included this comment in an affidavit: “Nice Joke. DISGUSTING.” According to The New York Times, a state appeals court issued an opinion last month which determined that Giorgini’s caps-riddled comments had gone “beyond the bounds of zealous advocacy and were derogatory, undignified, and inexcusable.” To be fair, three of the six comments that had been submitted to the court for review contained no unnecessary capitalization (although one had seven exclamation points). The shouting tone of the other written comments likely didn’t help Giorgini’s case, though.

2. THE NEW ZEALAND WOMAN WHO SENT WORK EMAILS IN BIG, BOLD, BLUE LETTERS

Vicki Walker, a financial controller for a cooperative of healthcare workers in New Zealand, was fired in 2007 for sending “confrontational” emails in bold, capital letters—often in a red or blue font. Walker subsequently sued her employer, and although her colleagues had complained about several of her emails, only one was submitted into evidence. It concerned the proper procedure for filling out staff claim forms, and in it, Walker wrote an otherwise ordinary sentence in bold, blue font: “TO ENSURE YOUR STAFF CLAIM IS PROCESSED AND PAID, PLEASE DO FOLLOW THE BELOW CHECKLIST.” The joke was on her employers, though. Two years after her firing, Walker was awarded just over $11,000 for “unfair dismissal,” partly because her workplace didn’t have any corporate guidelines pertaining to emails.

3. THE DAD WHO KEPT EMAILING HIS KIDS IN ALL CAPS

In 2014, a father found himself in court for a custody dispute involving his 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, who had moved back and forth between England and his native Israel. To help restore relations, a judge in England’s High Court told the dad he must stop sending emails to his children in capital letters because it was insensitive and looked like he was shouting at them. A family assistance officer was appointed to help the man write more “suitable” emails. "He needs help to make his messages appropriate and child-friendly," the judge said, according to The Telegraph. "There's nothing worse than an email suggestive that the sender is shouting at you."

4. THE PENNSYLVANIA MAN WHO WAS FIRED FOR WRITING AN OMINOUS EMAIL

Joseph F. Aversa, a sales manager in Pennsylvania, was terminated in 2011 after sending an email to another manager which read, “Hey Jim, you set me up pretty good ... I WON'T FORGET IT." The man was reportedly angry that one of his clients had been reassigned to another sales manager—the recipient of his ill-fated email. Unfortunately for Aversa, the all-caps message was perceived as a threat, and he was subsequently fired for threatening a fellow employee and violating the employer’s violence prevention policy. However, he filed suit against the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which denied his claim for benefits, and the Pennsylvania court reversed the decision. The judge in this case argued that writing “neutral words” in capital letters doesn’t automatically make an email a threat.

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