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istock

This Airplane Seat Knows When You're Nervous

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istock

Airplanes are one of the safest ways to travel. Your chances of dying in a plane crash are roughly one in 11 million. The odds that you’ll be killed in a car accident, on the other hand, are much better: one in 5000. Still, about 30 percent of us find there’s something disconcerting about rocketing through the air at 500 miles per hour, 40,000 feet above the ground. Occasionally a passenger will experience a panic attack mid-air, causing chaos in the cabin or even forcing an emergency landing. A new concept for airplane seating is designed to know when you’re distressed and alert the cabin crew early on so they can comfort you, hopefully mitigating mid-air freakouts or illnesses before they get out of hand. 

The seats were designed by a group of industrial design engineering students from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in partnership with Zodiac Aerospace and KLM. Each seat comes equipped with sensors that measure a passenger's heart rate. “The seat sensors are capable of reading the heart's electrical impulses through clothing and are able to use one’s natural contact with the seat to maintain a reading,” the students say

Data collected by the sensors goes to an app called Flightbeat, which cabin crew can use as a guide for how people are feeling. A higher heart rate in seat 15B may suggest a panicked or uncomfortable traveler, so the flight attendant could drop by with a glass of water or a blanket and provide some support. 

Sensors could also be used to measure how nervous passengers react to certain kinds of in-flight entertainment or meals. Do comedies calm their nerves? Can a complimentary glass of wine help reduce stress? Are certain areas of the cabin more nervewracking than others? A calm traveler is a happy traveler, and this kind of tracking could be a valuable tool for airlines looking to improve overall customer experience. 

Flightbeat is just one of many recent attempts at redesigning the dire seating situation on airplanes. The hunt is on for a design that lets airlines pack on as many passengers as possible without making them more uncomfortable than they already are. Some are more respectable than others: one concept called Morph uses a single sheet of fabric stretched over three chair frames, which can be easily adjusted to fit an individual’s body type. The concept eliminates the seatback versus knees dilemma and “brings the ergonomic, high-tension style of the Aeron Chair to air travel,” writes Joseph Flaherty at Wired.   

In 2017, Airbus is rolling out its A380 superjumbo plane that will feature a whopping 11 seats per row in the economy section—three at the windows and five in the middle. 

And then there’s this patent, from Airbus, for a seat that “looks like a cross between a bicycle seat and an office chair.”

The students behind Flightbeat think pairing sensors with wearable tech like smartwatches could provide even more personalized in-flight service. “It will be interesting to look deeper at the possible connections with smart watches in 2020 that could, together with Flightbeat, deliver added value to the experience of a passenger on-board,” they say

And if by chance you don’t like the idea of being monitored by your airplane seat, you can always opt out.

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Logitech
This $40 Wireless Keyboard is Solar-Powered and Might Just Revolutionize Your Workspace
Logitech
Logitech

Meet the $40 solar-powered keyboard that's about to make your life a whole lot easier.

The Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard can be charged by sunlight as well as artificial lights, like your desk lamp, and stays juiced up for at least three months in total darkness. With this innovative gadget, Logitech is eliminating the annoyances that come with other wireless keyboards, like constantly having to change the batteries or plug it in to recharge. Best of all, the Windows-compatible model is on sale at Amazon for $39.99, down from $59.99. Never fear, Mac users—there's a model for you, too (although it's slightly pricier at $54.88).

(Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy.)

Having a reliable wireless keyboard can save you time and undue stress, whether you work in a cubicle or a home office. Plus, at one third of an inch thick, the keyboard is so sleek that Logitech compares it to typing on a laptop (and Amazon reviewers agree). You can monitor the gadget's power level by downloading the Logitech Solar App for your computer. Setting it up is easy: Just plug the receiver into your computer and you're done. It also comes with a three-year warranty for peace of mind.

solar keyboard
Logitech

Customers rave about this gadget on Amazon: One person writes that it's "the single best keyboard I have ever owned." Another loyal customer notes, "I first encountered one at work, and I liked it so much that when I switched jobs, I had to get another!"

Take advantage of this deal on Amazon while you can. While you're at it, check out the $95 mattress that Amazon customers are losing their minds over.

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Focus Features
How Mister Rogers Saved the VCR
Focus Features
Focus Features

In 1984, a landmark case laid down a controversial law regarding technology and copyright infringement. Here's a look back at the "Betamax Case," including the role Fred Rogers played in the Supreme Court's decision.

For many years in the pre-DVD/Blu-ray, pre-streaming era, the BetamaxSony’s prototype videotape player-recorder—was a punch line. A piece of technology that was quickly superseded by VHS and the VCR, it limped along in the shadows for two decades. And yet, it was the Betamax that gave its name to a court case that has played a pivotal role in both technological progress and copyright law over the last 30-plus years.

Like many other cool electronic products, the Betamax came from Japan. In late 1975, it was introduced to the U.S. by Sony, who touted its ability to “time-shift” television programming. In an era when most viewers still had to get up off the couch to change channels manually, this innovation was as futuristic as it sounded. Record a TV show right off the air? Are you kidding?

If the public was wowed by the idea, the major entertainment corporations were not. Universal Studios and Walt Disney Productions filed a lawsuit in 1976 to halt the sale of the Betamax, claiming that film and TV producers would lose millions of dollars from unauthorized duplication and distribution of their copyrighted content.

When the case finally went to trial in 1979, the U. S. District Court ruled in favor of Sony, stating that taping programs for entertainment or time-shifting was fair use, and did not infringe on copyright. Further, there was no proof that the practice did any economic harm to the television or motion picture industry.

But Universal, unhappy with the verdict, appealed in 1981, and the ruling was reversed. Keep in mind that up until the arrival of the Betamax, movie studios had received a cut of the box office or fee whenever one of their films was shown. Now suddenly here was a rapidly expanding scenario that undermined that structure. And in this scenario was the seed of much that would follow over the next 34 years, right through today’s ongoing battles over illegal streaming sites.

MISTER ROGERS GOES TO WASHINGTON

With large sums of money and copyright ownership at stake, the Betamax case arrived at the Supreme Court in 1983. By this point, nearly 50 percent of all homes in America had a VCR (VHS replaced Betamax, mainly because its tapes had longer recording capability) and sales of videocassettes were competing with theatrical box office. Universal Studios vs. Sony Corporation of America, nicknamed the “Betamax Case,” was argued for a year. It was a trial of extremes. On one hand, you had Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, yelling about the “savagery and ravages” of the VCR, and claiming that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." On the other, you had the testimony from Fred Rogers. Defending the VCR, he said:

"I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the 'Neighborhood' off-the-air ... they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions’ ... I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important."

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony and cited Rogers's comments: "He testified that he had absolutely no objection to home taping for noncommercial use and expressed the opinion that it is a real service to families to be able to record children's programs and to show them at appropriate times."

The decision set two major precedents. The first upheld the original decision—that recording a broadcast program for later viewing is fair use. The second was, and still is, controversial—that the manufacturer of a device or technology that can be used for copyright infringement but also has “substantial non-infringing uses” can’t be held liable for copyright violations by those who use it. It’s kind of technology’s version of “don’t shoot the messenger.”

The same points of law would reemerge two decades later in cases against file-sharing sites Napster and Grokster (in the latter, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against them for trading copyrighted material). Of course, despite the popularity of legal movie and TV streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, file sharing continues. Whether it can be, or should be, stopped is a subject for another day. But it’s worth remembering that all the manufacturers of technology capable of copyright infringing (from computers to iPhones to DVRs) continue to sell their wares without fear of lawsuits because of the once-laughed-at Betamax.

To discover more about the fascinating life of Fred Rogers, check out Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the new documentary from Focus Features, which arrives in theaters on June 8, 2018.

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