Ease Your Mind In This State-of-the-Art Virtual Relaxation Pod

Ease Your Mind In This State-of-the-Art Virtual Relaxation Pod

If high stress levels tend to rule your days and you’re committed to living a healthier lifestyle, technology may be able to help you out. Cigna has unveiled the Cigna Virtual Relaxation Pod that gives you a chance to escape reality for a while — a two-minute break that works to push the reset button on your day.

The pod makes use of virtual reality technology using the Oculus Rift headset and headphones. You’ll enter a sound-insulated environment for a multi-sensory experience. The entire experience induces a state of mindfulness and relaxation, an opportunity to explore a virtual environment with expert-guided meditation. You’ll be locked in a sound-insulated pod and all you need to do is sit back, relax, and breathe deeply. You get to choose your environment: a Zen garden, a tropical beach, or a woodland campsite. You’ll go on a two-minute sensory journey that allows you to just let go, escaping from reality to experience a state of mindfulness.

In an interview with Medical Daily, Cigna Solution Architect Rachel Stein shares that Oculus technology helps transport the user to a relaxing environment where they can take advantage of the benefits of mindfulness therapy. The pod engages all the senses, making you aware of your current state of mind. The guided meditation helps you maintain a state of mindfulness, peace, and calm, in a relaxing setting.

The team behind the Cigna Virtual Relaxation Pod are hoping to see the pod installed inside hospital lobbies and other places where people tend to feel tense, nervous, or anxious. Just a couple of minutes in this pod can promote a meditative state which helps induce a state of calm and natural relaxation.

Would you be first in line to settle in to a virtual relaxation pod? Innovative experiences like these could be the next generation of health and wellness. Virtual reality can control the mind and in ways that make significant changes to our health and well-being.

The Power of Wearable Tech: Redefining Comfort and Style

The Power of Wearable Tech: Redefining Comfort and Style

As technology becomes omnipresent in people’s lives–people go about their lives smartphone in hand–it follows that we would no longer have to carry technology, but simply slip it on. Smartwatches and fitness trackers are the first widespread wave of wearable technology, but they certainly will not be the last. These wrist devices are already gathering vast amounts of information about their wearers that can be translated into lifestyle research, which will inevitably lead to even more convenient tech accessories.

The trick with wearable technology, however, has not been ease of use, but style. The trendsetters who pioneer new fashion styles could also pave the way for wearable tech, but it will need to look the part. The contradiction is in the name: for technology to be wearable, it will need to look enough like fashion. But tech geeks have never been known as fashion plates, so what happens when these two worlds collide?

For decades, Apple has been the frontrunner for sleek product design, and indeed, their Apple Watch–like their phones–can now command a wait. However, a wearable not only needs to look good enough to be shown off, but needs to function well enough to become essential. Otherwise, why wear it in the first place? Fashion is famously ephemeral, but wearable technology cannot afford to be so short-lived. Although new models will be released, both the functionality and aesthetic need to meet certain standards for wearable tech to be fully integrated into people’s lives.

Wearable technology also offers a valuable service to athletes that could make it a functional part of sports uniforms. Major League Baseball players experimented with wearable technology this past year on a voluntary basis. Approved devices were evaluated and tested before they were allowed on the field, and rules govern the gathering and use of information. But wearable technology could greatly help athletes and their support staff monitor players’ health and performance when they are most active.

Technology isn’t going away, which means it will likely become even more integral to our daily lives. What better way to weave technology into the day-to-day than by wearing it?

Are Wearables the Future of Space Exploration?

Are Wearables the Future of Space Exploration?

It turns out that the future of space exploration may look more like Avatar than other popular science fiction depictions. Those cinematic organic blue avatars are a form of wearables–mechanical exoskeletons that allow for remote control of robots. The immediate implications of such technology include deep space exploration that would drastically reduce risk to humans, as well as ambulatory capabilities for those paralyzed or without full control of their limbs.

NASA worked for years to build a robotic exoskeleton with The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). Weighing in at 57 pounds, the X1 exoskeleton could both restrict and enable limb movement. The former capacity could provide valuable exercise for astronauts through muscle resistance, particularly during longer spells in space or on expeditions, replacing bulkier exercise machines. The exoskeleton can also transmit biometrics back to scientists planetside. As the technology is developed further, a machine exoskeleton could provide extra power for astronauts on the surface of a distant planet, helping them to walk with less gravity, for example.

Astronauts at the International Space Station tested another form of wearable technology: a joystick developed by the European Space Agency. The METERON (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network) research collaboration between countries like the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, and Russia is interested in giving astronauts in orbit the ability to teleoperate robots on the planet’s surface. The highly-sensitive joystick will simulate the force of objects on a planet’s or moon’s terrain, resisting the astronaut’s control.

Testing in the International Space Station will help METERON better understand how this kind of control–which most people experience in video games–feels for those operating in little or no gravity, with extended exposure to weightlessness. Officials from the European Space Agency explained their vision: “’Future planetary exploration may well see robots on an alien surface being teleoperated by humans in orbit above them—close enough for real-time remote control, without any significant signal lag, to benefit from human resourcefulness without the expense and danger of a manned landing.’”

Just a year ago, in late 2015, NASA gave MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) the R5 robot known as “Valkyrie,” that is expected to be part of Mars missions. These humanoid robots can pave the way for astronauts’ arrival, reducing human risk, and stick around to assist astronauts on missions. “‘Human-robotic collaboration’” is seen as critical for longer missions like Mars.

Most recently, DFKI spearheaded the CAPIO project, which produced an exoskeleton that remotely steers a robot called AILA. This project improved on the fine motor skills of the robotic avatar: AILA can even send sensory feedback to the wearer of the CAPIO exoskeleton. The ideal test would involve sending AILA to the International Space Station and testing the remote connection from the planet’s surface.

All this research, development, and investment indicates that wearables are seen as the way forward for space exploration, at least until it can be made safer for humans. But even with improvements, wearables will likely still be an invaluable resource for exploring the true unknown, as we venture deeper and further into space.

How A.I. Is Ushering In The Age of Emotion-Reading

How A.I. Is Ushering In The Age of Emotion-Reading

Sure, it’s convenient to have voice-controlled bots that can turn on our music or dictate emails, but the real dream for artificial intelligence has always been to create an emotionally intelligent machine. Only when A.I. tech can accurately read human emotions will we truly see the full potential for this technology to change our lives in fundamental ways.

We may be on the cusp of major A.I. breakthroughs, but culturally we have been fascinated by its possibilities at least since 1872, when Samuel Butler published the satire Erewhon to popular acclaim. “There is no security against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness,” he wrote. And while A.I. has functioned as a sci-fi trope for good versus evil and human versus machine ever since, it’s only become more relevant as our technology has become more sophisticated. The ethics of A.I. are beginning to pose real and important questions now that our technology is catching up to our imagination.  

It’s this convergence of the real and the impossible that makes A.I. so gripping. Take the instant popularity of the new HBO hit Westworld, which poses the creepy questions we’ll soon have to ask ourselves in real life. Questions like, can we empathize with robots? What nuances make a robot seem human? And have we reached the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness that Samuel Butler warned about more than a century ago?

In many ways, A.I. technology is still catching up to the sci-fi realities presented in shows like Westworld. But thanks to the new convergence of A.I. and emotion recognition software, we are closer than ever before. These three startups are on the forefront of bringing emotionally controlled machines to life, stepping irrevocably across a line that has always separated fiction and reality.

1. Affectiva

By combining emotion research with big data and machine learning, Affectiva emerged from MIT’s Media Lab to lead the field in making software that can accurately read a wide range of facial expressions. Affectiva claims to have the world’s largest emotion database to date, with more than 4.5 million faces across  75 countries analyzed. Of more than 30 patents filed to date, Affectiva has secured seven so far.

Think about it: virtually any app on your phone could be enhanced by Affectiva’s analytics, from dating apps that could read your interest not by a swipe but a smile, to games that self-adjust based on the player’s level of engagement. Thanks to Affectiva, we’ll become even more addicted to our phones. The company is also working on software that can read emotion through voice, which would have a host of practical applications like better customer service interfaces. For now the technology is still making the rounds on the tech conference circuit, but we can expect to see Affectiva to partner with advertisers, app developers, and more. After all, it’s all about the user experience and creating technology that feels even more personalized and indispensable.

2. Lightwave

Lightwave is an “applied neuroscience platform” that promises golden data to marketers keen to understand audience engagements at peak moments in sporting events, movies, and more. By tracking real time biometric data from wearable wristbands embedded with sensors, Lightwave measures audience engagement at peak moments. Created by 29-year-old former DJ Rana June, Lightwave grew out of her frustration at not being able to read her audience’s engagement in real time. Major companies including Pepsi and Unilever have already utilized Lightwave to measure fan engagement at events like the NCAA basketball championship. 20th Century Fox also used Lightwave to track audience reaction to specific moments throughout The Revenant, providing much more precise feedback for the movie industry than self-reported metrics that were previously the benchmark for audience engagement.

3. Emotient

Earlier this year Apple bought startup Emotient in a bid to take the lead in the emotion recognition race. Emotient uses facial recognition technology to read feelings. While we’re still waiting to see how Apple will integrate Emotient’s technology, it could be used to help advertisers read consumer reactions, or to help doctors interpret pain levels in patients. Emotient can accurately read different emotional responses based on faces in a large crowd of people, which could provide valuable feedback for marketing insights in a number of different fields.

Reading The Future of Feelings

Affectiva, Lightwave, and Emotient are just a few of the startups trying to solve the puzzle of how big data, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition algorithms can accurately interpret human emotion. The winning combination will likely combine facial recognition software with biometric sensors for more nuanced data feedback. It’s not hard to see how this would transform marketing, healthcare, and other industries. Once this technology goes mainstream, we’ll be one step closer to stepping over that invisible line that has long separated sci-fi’s version of A.I. from the very real future we are living into.

The Importance of Keeping Sport Venue Tech Up-to-Date

The Importance of Keeping Sport Venue Tech Up-to-Date

These days, the stadium is more than just a vessel–it’s an experience in and of itself. With new technology cropping up and improving every year, sports venues are doing their best to stay up-to-date. Certain elements are this are more than just nice to have–they are both necessities and opportunities.

Take wifi, for example. While a decade ago, fans might be content to keep their smartphones away during a game, the stakes are higher now. Connectivity is a priority for younger fans, and Cisco reports that Internet is “as important as air, water, food and shelter to one in three college students and young professionals.” This may sound hyperbolic, but think about it. Many of us live a significant portion of our lives online, with our social and professional lives hinging on Internet access. Without wifi, you’re probably going to lose your fans at halftime.

Then, there’s improved home technology. High definition big screen TVs make viewing a game at home just as awesome, twice as comfortable, and much cheaper than visiting the game physically. So there has to be something at the stadium fans can’t get at home. How about in-arena interactive hotspots? Sports leagues and brands are both leaning into this trend by building high-tech experiences that enhance fans’ stadium experience.

But don’t forget, the smartphone might be the biggest opportunity of all, and with fast, easy-access wifi, both advertisers and national leagues can hook into fans’ phones. Think seat upgrades, easy food and beverage purchasing, insider facts and insights, or any other number of modern, digital conveniences.

For an example of a high-tech stadium, look no further than Brooklyn’s Barclays center, one of the most connected stadiums in the world. Thanks to smart design and innovative ideas, fans can upgrade seats and even get notifications when the restroom line is shortest.

There’s also the in-process Mercedes Benz Stadium, which I’ve blogged about previously. In partnership with the Atlanta Falcons, IBM, and Daktronics, the smart stadium will give fans 360-degree views of the on-field action, employing state of the art sustainable technologies all the while. The goal is to give fans the best experience possible, complete with awesome technology, while using as little energy as possible.

If the stadiums of the future keep integrating technology that delights fans, provides perks, and saves energy to boot, the world of sports is in for an exciting ride in coming decades. After all, sports are all about connecting communities over shared passions. What better way to do that than going all in on digital?

When Virtual Reality Meets Fitness Tech, The Mind and Feet Run Wild

When Virtual Reality Meets Fitness Tech, The Mind and Feet Run Wild

Virtual reality technology is slowly seeping into several industries, including marketing and casino gaming and even travel, as companies realize the power of virtual experiences. Now, we’re seeing virtual reality technology making waves in the fitness industry with the introduction of a full-body fitness program that aims to help players improve their fitness level without having to set foot in a gym.

Ryan DeLuca of Boise, Indiana, retired from Bodybuilding.com and then teamed up with tech designer Preston Lewis to launch a new company centered on fitness: Black Box.

Black Box creates a full-body workout program customized for the user and allows players to complete their challenges online with others from their home or office. Workouts are completed entirely in virtual reality so a gym membership becomes obsolete.

The creators of Black Box are currently testing the concept and experience in their office, working through all the drill sequences and developing a scoring system. It’s been coined, ‘the gym of the future’ and could very well lead a new generation of gym experiences that give users a chance to completely immerse themselves in a fitness experience while getting in shape.

The game is designed as an adventure or mission so it doesn’t feel like you are working out. According to Black Box VR, “You aren’t working out. You are saving a city. Or solving a mystery. Or finding the treasure….Functional fitness in a fictional world.”

The company has developed three 40-minute exercise routines with different scenarios and have integrated props, such as electronic cable systems, for resistance training into the game. The app that goes along with the game keeps track of performance and all the details of the workout so the user can make adjustments and set goals.

Black Box is getting ready to revolutionize the fitness industry with a no-gym-required workout program. It could very well be paving the way to the future of fitness where simulating movement in a fictional world is just as effective — and maybe even more so — than lifting a dumbbell or running on a treadmill at the local gym. 

Wearable Technology for the Holiday Season

Wearable Technology for the Holiday Season

As the holidays approach, it’s not just mistletoe, snow, and eggnog on people’s mind — it’s the anxiety-inducing prospect of gift-giving. What should you buy? What should you ask for? Socks, again? Or something more exciting? Whether you’re a confident shopper or not, it can be difficult to come up with good ideas year after year.

New technology can make a superb gift both to wrap and unwrap, but it can also be risky. Tech advances fairly rapidly, meaning most products have a shelf life that often ends with the next big upgrade. But if you’re constantly waiting for the “best” tech product, you’ll be waiting forever.

This seems to be the case with wearable technology. People sit around waiting for smartwatches to get smarter and end up missing out on all the great things they have to offer.

Maybe this is the year to embrace wearable technology, or maybe it’s not. Whatever the case, I submit to you several ideas that I think would make great gifts this holiday season.

FitBit Flex 2 & Charge 2

With the New Year comes new goals, of which fitness is often one. FitBits make great gifts for close family members or loved ones that have expressed an interest. The newest versions are even better than the last: the FitBit Charge 2 now includes cardio monitoring and guided breathing; the Flex 2 is now smaller, more stylish, and water-resistant.

Samsung Gear S3

Samsung Gear is less about fitness than it is style and efficiency. The release date and pricing have not been released yet, but it will likely hit the shelves before the holiday. The S3 will be the first device to connect to high-speed LTE networks from its carrier. With the look of a luxury watch and the function of a cellular companion, word has it the watch will have a four-day battery life compared to the Apple Watch 2’s 18 hours.

Sony PlayStation VR

Transitioning from the wrist to the head, one can’t talk about wearable technology anymore without mention of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Sony’s PlayStation VR, released on October 31, has a 5.7” display and a 100-degree field of vision.

Microsoft HoloLens

On to AR, the Microsoft Hololens has been the talk of the tech world for some time now, but has yet to become commercially available. That all could change between now and the end of the year. The HoloLens overlays “holograms” onto your field of vision and lets you interact by tracking your head and hand movements.

These are just a few of the up-and-coming wearables in the tech world. In my opinion, a high-tech holiday season is a happy one. And if you can’t have a white Christmas, you might as well have a wearable one.

Google Opens Up Machine Learning Tools to Businesses in Beta

Google Opens Up Machine Learning Tools to Businesses in Beta

Google has been on top of cutting-edge technology since its now-ubiquitous search engine rose to prominence. You may or may not have noticed, but the search engine has gotten smarter: it learns from your behavior and alters your results based on search trends and location.

Essentially, Google is the king of algorithms. And guess what? Its machine learning algorithms can belong to your business, too. Recently, Google opened its Cloud Machine Learning platform to all businesses in public beta. Essentially, it allows businesses to train their own models at a faster rate using Google’s system — just a few hours compared to days or more.

Google, now part of conglomerate umbrella Alphabet, is much more than a search engine now, so this service has little to do with your daily queries. Still, it encompasses what we’ve come to expect from Google: speed, intelligence, and constant improvement. That is machine learning in a nutshell, too.

So, how can businesses utilize Google’s Cloud Machine Learning? We can take one example for starter’s: Airbus Defense and Space. This company used the system to automate the process of detecting and correcting satellite images that contain imperfections, like cloud formations, for example.

According to Mathias Ortner, the company’s Data Analysis and Image Processing Lead, “Google Cloud Machine Learning enabled us to improve the accuracy and speed at which we analyze the images captured from our satellites. It solved a problem that has existed for decades.”

More problems can be solved with machine learning — this only scratches the surface. Google has launched two separate services: their Machine Learning Advanced Solutions Lab, which allows businesses to work with Google engineers to solve complex problems, and the Cloud Start program, which offers educational workshops to teach them the fundamentals.

Considering it was Google’s engineers that worked with Niantic before the launch of Pokemon Go, an opportunity to work with the tech giant could definitely be transformative for many. With more businesses in the machine learning game, more customers across the board will benefit from smarter services geared to get even smarter over time.

An Inside Look at The Gatorade Science Sports Institute’s Newest Satellite Lab

An Inside Look at The Gatorade Science Sports Institute’s Newest Satellite Lab

Gatorade is more than just a beverage that makes TV athletes sweat blue. The brand has long been associated with sports, science, and wellness, as is evidenced by the Gatorade Science Sports Institute. The Institute and its newest satellite lab in Florida are proof of Gatorade’s continued dedication to athletic innovation.

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) was founded in 1985 with the mission of “helping athletes optimize their health and performance through research and education in hydration and nutrition science.” In partnership with researchers and universities, they study the effects of nutrition on athletes before, during, and after exercise.

So, what have they been up to since foundation 31 years ago? GSSI has researched exercise, nutrition, and sports equipment using the latest tools in physiology, biochemistry, and sensory response. Their results have led to superior formulations in taste and functionality. GSSI has also partnered with physicians, scientists and athletic trainers to establish a Field Testing Program to study the effects of electrolytes on athletic performance.

In other words, GSSI scientists study and develop sports nutrition and hydration. This translates to improved Gatorade products and a wealth of scientific findings to back them up.

GSSI has expanded beyond its headquarters in Barrington, Illinois in recent years, having opened up satellite labs in the UK and most recently, Bradenton, Florida. Some lucky media insiders were able to get a tour of the Florida satellite lab at IMG Academy just this month, and their account shows off the innovative work behind the scenes.

Sport Techie brings us exclusive photos and videos from the GSSI satellite lab, where they sampled new Gatorade products and the technology used by GSSI and its athletes. This included the BodPod, an air displacement plethysmography test that determines body composition for athletes of all ages; the Fuel Profile Test, which evaluates of how an athlete uses energy across a range of exercise intensities; and the Gx sports fuel customization platform, which includes a bottle with flip cap, pods with Gatorade formula and additional tech to provide athlete fueling recommendations.

GSSI shows the amazing ways in which sport technology can monitor our health and maximize athletic performance. Ultimately, their research should help athletes understand what their bodies need to keep healthy, strong, and moving.  

An Olympics for E-Sports? Just You Wait

An Olympics for E-Sports? Just You Wait

The rapid growth of the gaming industry in recent years has turned many people into power players. We live in a new era of competition where video games and virtual reality gaming experiences are part of modern day culture, encouraging people to develop certain skills until they achieve a level of mastery.

Now, a company is launching an Olympic Games specifically for the $1 billion e-sports gaming industry, according to CNBC. Competitive gaming tournaments where participants play in teams to win medals may soon become the norm.

According to CNBC, the International eGames Group will be hosting the first ever e-sports Olympics in South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics. This will be a competition to earn medals and take home the gold for the participant’s country. National qualifiers for the 2018 Olympics will be held through 2017. Professional gamers from around the globe will be practicing their gaming skills and the event is expected to attract a large crowd.

E-Sports Gaming Culture

The concept of playing video games at a professional level is not something new. Until now, organizations like the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) have been hosting competitions in different countries to participate in world-renowned tournaments. Gamers play games like Street Fighter, Starcraft II and League of Legends, according to Mashable. The IeSF took the lead on pushing for E-sports to be part of the Olympic Games.

Multiplayer gaming competitions and tournaments have a history that can be traced back to the 1980s. Atari’s Space Invaders Tournament is one example of a highly publicized event that encouraged gamers to get out and compete at a professional level. Several other tournaments fueled by the rapid growth of PC games in the 1990s spurred the trend, according to The Market for Computer & Video Games.

Major League Gaming (MLG) was established in 2002 and since then, we’ve been seeings several competitive gaming tournaments and virtual arenas making their way into mainstream culture. In 2014, more than 11 million people simultaneously watched the 2014 League of Legends World Championship event; 71.5 million people watched pro-gaming in 2014, according to Red Bull, reports MCV.

While gamers around the globe are in full favor of making their mark on the world at the Olympic level, there is still ongoing debate as to whether playing a video game — and even the skillet to win a game — qualifies as a real sport. Many people are questioning whether the whole tournament is more like a competition rather than a sport someone would train for since there is no real physical component or rigorous training program involved. Others argue that chess was once considered to be a sport, and so gaming may fall under the same category.

Professional Gamers On the Rise

While some may not take professional gaming seriously, the process of becoming a pro does require many hours of practice and skills development. Many professional gamers join online forums to learn tips and strategies for playing different games. There are dozens of online tournaments for those who want to brush up on their skills or continue developing their skills without the pressure of having to win a medal. Major League Gaming, for example, hosts online GameBattles where players can participate for free and win cash.

Online tournament enrollment requirements vary by team and most are designed for team players which means gamers need to seek out people they want to play with and not just compete with. Some companies that host tournaments charge a fee for entry or participation. And, there is a wealth of information online for studying the techniques and play styles of successful gamers. Pros-in-training need to know how to maneuver their joysticks or touch pads, use different types of virtual reality gear, and troubleshoot different gaming tools.

An Olympic Games for E-sports is on the horizon and many professional gamers are busy training like athletes for these highly-competitive events. Video games as a sport is now being taken seriously but is not without its critics. As the gaming industry continues to innovate and grow with virtual reality technologies and advanced gaming systems, we may see players developing even more advanced skills and techniques that put them in a completely new category of competitive athletes of the future.