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istock (lightningbolt) / getty images (nikola tesla)

Pull Power Right Out of the Air with This New Phone Case

istock (lightningbolt) / getty images (nikola tesla)
istock (lightningbolt) / getty images (nikola tesla)

Innovators from Nikola Labs recently spoke on stage at TechCrunch's Startup Alley, and unveiled a new iPhone case that could give your phone an extra 30 percent of power from seemingly nowhere.

"In the 1800s, Nikola Tesla pioneered the transmission of electricity over wires," co-founder Will Zell said on stage. "Shortly thereafter, Hertz proved that energy could be transmitted through the air. These two technologies have become the foundation of the consumer electronics industry that we both know and love today. But there remains a huge problem. We're using 19th century technology to power 21st century mobile devices."

The solution? A new phone case that converts radio frequencies into DC power. Appropriately, the team launched their first product, an iPhone 6 case, in the Manhattan Center, which is attached to the Hotel New Yorker, where Tesla lived out the last years of his life (he died in Room 3327). The case absorbs the 90 percent of wasted power expelled by the phone when it transmits a signal, and it puts it back in the phone. Nikola Lab says that this recycled energy can give the phone a boosted 30 percent in power.

There's no battery, so there's nothing to charge. The device passively uses the radio frequency energy already being produced by the phone.

Partnered with Ohio State University, Nikola Labs hopes to put out a product in the next year. From there, they hope to expand into other small gadgets like wearables and medical devices. A Kickstarter will be launched in the upcoming month, where the new case will be sold for around $99.

[h/t: TechCrunch.com]

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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Google Home Is Finally Able to Multitask
NBD Photos, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
NBD Photos, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The hallmark of any great assistant is a talent for multitasking. Now, CNET reports that this ability is now a part of Google Home. The voice-activated device can finally process and execute two tasks that are said in a single command.

With earlier versions of the software, if you wanted to ask Google Home to cancel an alarm for a certain time and set a new one, for example, you would need to speak the first command, wait for it to be completed, and then say the second. The new feature allows you to string together both requests without pausing. This is the case for tasks that are related, like playing a song and turning up the volume, as well as those that are unrelated, like checking football scores and asking for cake recipes.

To save even more breath, you can combine this tool with Google Home’s Shortcuts feature. Shortcuts lets you assign short phrases to more complicated commands (like replacing “play workout playlist on Spotify” with “workout time”). Now you can use Shortcuts to have Google tackle multiple tasks at once by saying just a couple words.

The home assistant’s new ability is limited: Three tasks is still too much for it to keep track of, even if you’re pairing a two-task shortcut with one straightforward command. So after asking for a time and weather update, you’ll have to be patient before asking Google the answer to the universe.

[h/t CNET]

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