'Museum in a Box' Brings Interactive Museum Collections to Classrooms

Museum in a Box, Vimeo
Museum in a Box, Vimeo

Museums hold a wealth of information, but they're not always accessible to everyone. Visiting a museum takes time, money, and opportunity. Even if you make it to a museum, most collections are so vast that only a tiny fraction of the collection is available to view. But a new initiative aims to make it easier for museums to reach schools and communities outside the exhibition gallery.

Museum in a Box is essentially a mini interactive exhibit that can be sent out to schools and other organizations that serve kids. Each box comes with a Raspberry Pi computer, a speaker, an amplifier, and a near-field communication (NFC) reader—like the kind that lets you pay with your phone at retail checkouts. Museums and cultural institutions can then add their own objects for kids to learn about using that technology, whether it's 3D-printed versions of statues from the museum's collections, postcards, puzzles, or anything else curators think kids might want to see. Students can place these objects on top of the box, triggering the NFC reader to start playing a recording related to the object.

How it works from Museum in a Box on Vimeo.

Much of the content museums might want to include in a box might already be digitized on the institution's website or in its collections, but the box provides a tangible, curated way to present it. For a prototype designed for the Smithsonian Institution, for instance, the Museum in a Box team created Frogs in a Box, combining photographs of North American frogs from the Smithsonian collection with a narrated collection of frog-sound field recordings produced by Smithsonian Folkways in 1958. When you tap a postcard featuring a species of frog on the top of the box, it plays audio from Sounds of North American Frogs, including the commentary from a herpetologist and recordings of frog calls.

Though much of the work is still in the prototype phase, the Museum in a Box team has been commissioned to create boxes for institutions like the Barnsley Museums in the UK, the University of Melbourne, and the Swedish National Heritage Board.

A Museum in a Box with red flowers designed for the Jewish Museum London
A Museum in a Box designed for the Jewish Museum London
Museum in a Box

The technology isn't necessarily limited to museum collections, though. Another prototype Museum in a Box, this one aimed at language learners, allows users to place flash cards featuring different words on top of the box to trigger recordings of native speakers pronouncing those words. The team is also developing a pilot for a DIY box that would let kids come up with their own themes and content for a box. You can currently support that project on Crowdfunder.

Smart HVAC Systems Promise the Perfect Temperature—and Energy Bill Savings

Alea
Alea

Smart home technology is often touted as a luxury convenience. What if you could turn on your lights with your voice, or see who’s knocking at your door using your phone, or play online quizzes in your kitchen while you cook? But smart home technology has the potential to do far more than just give us new gadgets to mess around with. It can help save energy and solve some of the issues that have plagued homeowners for decades. Like, for instance, the problem of an air conditioning system that works better in some rooms than others. Alea Air, a new smart HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system, does just that, as Fast Company reports.

Keeping your environment at just the right temperature in every room isn’t exactly a sexy issue, but it’s one that touches just about everyone. Try to find an office that stays at a comfortable temperature throughout the day, year-round, in both conference rooms and cubicles. You probably can’t, because there are so many factors that go into keeping a building with many rooms—like an office, apartment building, or house—at just the right temperature. Variables such as how many vents there are, where they’re placed, how much sun the windows get, how big the room is, and how many people are in that room can all affect how much heating or cooling power a particular area needs.

A black vent sits on the floor before installation.
Alea

Whereas most HVAC systems only have one temperature sensor to track the environment of the whole house, Alea Air features WiFi- and Bluetooth-connected smart vents that can be installed in every room to track temperature, air quality, room occupancy, and other factors to keep houses at the right temperature no matter what room you’re in. The vents have 11 sensors to track air conditions, including infrared temperature sensors, humidity sensors to track the real-feel of the temperature, air quality sensors, UV and ambient light sensors, audio sensors that can detect if your system is emitting those loud whooshing sounds, and more.

That means the system can tell that your kitchen with its giant south-facing windows and active oven is always way too hot, or that your guest bedroom never has anyone in it. You can use the app to adjust your bedroom to be cooler than the rest of the house, so you can snuggle up under your giant comforter at night, but still keep your home office toasty enough that your fingers don't freeze while you work.

Screenshots of the Alea app showing temperature monitoring and adjustment functions
Alea

You don’t have to install a totally new heating and cooling system. If you have a central heating or heating/cooling system, you can replace your old vents with the Alea Air vents and plug into your old system. You can use your existing smart thermostat, too.

Though you will no doubt save money on your energy bill with your newfound ability to micromanage your household heating and cooling, there’s a hefty pricetag that comes with being an early adopter—especially if your house has more than three rooms. A kit of three vents and one Airhub costs $379, with additional vents starting at $119 each.

The vents come in black or white and are available for pre-order here.

[h/t Fast Company]

Italian Scientists Created a Robot Toddler and It's Kind of Terrifying

Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Scientists have already given us creepy headless dog robots and robots that squirm around like eels. Now, Futurism has spotted a different kind of robot to haunt our nightmares. Meet iCub, a humanoid machine that's designed to look and move like a toddler.

Created by scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology, iCub was designed as a tool for researching child development. It's made to study embodied cognition, the theory that cognitive function is directly influenced by our physical experiences. In particular, iCub can help researchers study how interacting with the physical world can influence how children's brains develop.

With iCub, researchers can recreate the motions of a toddler in a controlled environment. The first prototype of the robot debuted in 2009, but recently, researchers developed a technique that lets them control iCub's movements and see through its eyes in virtual reality [PDF]. (You can see it at work in the video below.)

The science sounds intriguing, but to a layperson, iCub looks like a bit of a horror show. It walks with outstretched fingers and an awkward gait that's more zombie than toddler. The face, which has a huge set of eyes but lacks a mouth, also fits snugly in the uncanny valley.

iCub's design is open source, so if any roboticists out there think they can tweak the design to make it less unsettling, they're welcome to do so.

Behold the nightmare in action:

[h/t Futurism]

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