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Samsung Begins Smartphone Assembly in Indonesia

Samsung Electronics Co. has begun assembling smartphones at a factory outside Jakarta to meet demand in fast-growing Indonesia, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The move is the latest sign that the South Korean technology giant is shifting some of its operations to low-cost, fast-growing emerging markets where it is looking to build its presence and cut costs.

The Indonesian unit of the South Korean technology giant aims to assemble 1.5 million handsets each month at a plant in Cikarang, an industrial town east of Jakarta, according to this person, who added that Samsung would manufacture its latest 4G-enabled smartphone at the plant and sell it to consumers starting this month. Samsung currently assembles its phones in South Korea, China and Vietnam and last year sold more than 300 million smartphones globally, according to research firm IDC.

The shift in production is partly a response to new Indonesian regulations aimed at keeping the production of mobile phones in the country, this person said, who added that Samsung started making the phones in January.

A spokesman for Samsung declined to comment, but confirmed that the company has a manufacturing facility outside Jakarta that started production of mobile phones for the local market early this year.

In August, Samsung said it was considering producing mobile phones in Indonesia to meet fast-growing domestic demand.

At the time, government officials said Samsung would use its facility in Cikarang, where the company produces various consumer electronics.

Producing mobile phones there required Samsung to modify its facilities to accommodate the new products, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The move by Samsung is part of an effort to manufacture its products closer to consumers in emerging markets.

In 2013, Samsung’s Indian subsidiary won approval to make mobile phones at a facility in Noida, just outside Delhi, and said earlier this year that was considering building a new plant in the country.

The company has also invested about $8.5 billion in Vietnam in recent years, though its facilities there make products for export to consumers around the world

Indonesia has long been wooing global cellphone makers such as Samsung and Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. to set up manufacturing facilities there. The aim is to create jobs in the country, as well as to cut imports of cellular devices, which rose in value to $3.16 billion in 2014 from $2.69 billion in 2013.

So far, foreign technology companies have been reluctant to answer the call of Indonesian authorities, arguing that Indonesia doesn’t have a reliable supply chain to support the manufacturing of consumer electronics.

In 2012, Indonesia’s government introduced regulations requiring importers of mobile phones to set up assembly plants in the country by the end of 2015. In 2013, it imposed a 20% luxury tax on imported cellphones to rein in its current-account deficit. In September 2014, the government issued regulations requiring all 4G devices sold in Indonesia to include at least 30% locally-sourced contents by 2017.

Other Indonesian large cellular importers, such as PT Erajaya Swasembada, which distributes mobile phones from major global brands such as Apple Inc., Samsung, BlackBerry Ltd. and Lenovo Group Ltd., are also setting up their own factories in Indonesia.

Samsung is still the leader in the Indonesian smartphone market, with market share of about 30% in the first quarter, according to research firm IDC, though that fell from 38% a year earlier.

Intel Xeon E7-4800/8800 V3 Launched: Bigger, Faster, And Now With AVX2 + TSX

Intel announced its new Xeon E7-4800 V3 and E7-8800 V3 line-up. Traditionally, these are the x86 chips Intel positions to go after the lower end of the IBM Power and Oracle (Sun) SPARC architectures. These V3 chips scale from 2-way designs up to 8-way designs and include extra RAS (reliability, availability and scalability) features to serve mission-critical applications.

The new V3 release is socket-compatible with the V2 parts for ease of integration with existing DDR3 designs, but they can also utilize DDR4 in newer platforms. What we are essentially seeing is an upgrade from the Ivy Bridge-EX architecture to the new Haswell-EX architecture, bringing 20 percent more cores and cache, as well as faster memory. The new Haswell-EX family scales to 18 cores and 45 MB of last level cache and can handle up to 6 TB of RAM.

Intel provides a market share view against IBM and Sun in terms of units sold, and the trend shows clear growth. What it does not do is note that the average selling price for the IBM and Sun machines are much higher than Intel platforms.

How Samsung Became the World’s No. 1 Smartphone Maker

I’m in a black Mercedes-Benz (DAI:GR) van with three Samsung Electronics PR people heading toward Yongin, a city about 45 minutes south of Seoul. Yongin is South Korea’s Orlando: a nondescript, fast-growing city known for its tourist attractions, especially Everland Resort, the country’s largest theme park. But the van isn’t going to Everland. We’re headed to a far more profitable theme park: the Samsung Human Resources Development Center, where the theme just happens to be Samsung.

The complex’s formal name is Changjo Kwan, which translates as Creativity Institute. It’s a massive structure with a traditional Korean roof, set in parklike surroundings. In a breezeway, a map carved in stone tiles divides the earth into two categories: countries where Samsung conducts business, indicated by blue lights; and countries where Samsung will conduct business, indicated by red. The map is mostly blue. In the lobby, an engraving in Korean and English proclaims: “We will devote our human resources and technology to create superior products and services, thereby contributing to a better global society.” Another sign says in English: “Go! Go! Go

More than 50,000 employees pass through Changjo Kwan and its sister facilities in a given year. In sessions that last anywhere from a few days to several months, they are inculcated in all things Samsung: They learn about the three P’s (products, process, and people); they learn about “global management” so that Samsung can expand into new markets; some employees go through the exercise of making kimchi together, to learn about teamwork and Korean culture.

Video: Exclusive: What’s in Samsung’s Secret Sauce

They will stay in single or shared rooms, depending on seniority, on floors named and themed after artists. The Magritte floor has clouds on the carpet and upside-down table lamps on the ceiling. In a hallway, the recorded voice of a man speaking Korean comes over the loudspeakers. “Those are some remarks the chairman made some years ago,” a Samsung employee explains.

She’s referring to Lee Kun Hee, the 71-year-old chairman of Samsung Electronics, who declined to be interviewed for this article. Despite making headlines in 2008, when he was convicted of tax evasion, and 2009, when he was pardoned by South Korea’s president, he maintains a low profile. Except within Samsung, that is, where he’s omnipresent. It’s not just the slogans over the sound system; Samsung’s internal practices and external strategies—from how TVs are designed to the company’s philosophy of “perpetual crisis”—all spring from the codified teachings of the chairman

Since Lee took control of Samsung in 1987, sales have surged to $179 billion last year, making it the world’s largest electronics company by revenue. That makes Samsung Electronics the world’s largest electronics company by revenue. For all its global reach, though, the company remains opaque. We all know the story of Steve Jobs and Apple (AAPL), Akio Morita and Sony (SNE). But Samsung and Lee Kun Hee? People may bring up the South Korean government’s support of local champions and access to easy capital, but within the company it all goes back to Chairman Lee and the Frankfurt Room.

Story: The iPhone 5’s A6 Chip Could Be Apple’s Sweetest Revenge Against Samsung

It doesn’t look like much: early 1990s vintage décor and a large table with a fake flower centerpiece. But the Frankfurt Room is to Changjo Kwan as the Clementine Chapel is to St. Peter’s Basilica: an extra-special place inside an already special place. Photography is forbidden; people whisper when inside. It’s a meticulous recreation of the drab conference room in the German hotel where, in 1993, Chairman Lee gathered his lieutenants and laid out a plan to transform Samsung, then a second-tier TV manufacturer, into the biggest, most powerful electronics manufacturer on earth. It would require going from a high-volume, low-quality manufacturer to a high-quality one, even if that meant sacrificing sales. It would mean looking past the borders of South Korea and taking on the world.

Samsung is having a moment. It’s dominant in TVs and sells a lot of washing machines, but it’s smartphones that made Samsung as recognizable a presence around the world as Walt Disney (DIS) and Toyota Motor (TM). If Samsung isn’t yet as lustrous a brand as Apple, it’s finding success as the anti-Apple—Galaxy smartphones outsell iPhones. And Samsung is probably the only other company that can throw a product introduction and have people line up around a city block, as they did in New York City on March 14 for the launch of the Galaxy S 4. That never used to happen when Samsung unveiled a refrigerator—although the kimchi-specific models made for the Korean market are really quite impressive

Samsung Galaxy S6 Review: The iPhone 6 Has Met Its Match

samIn this unpredictable world, it’s the constants in life that I can count on.

The sun rises in the East, Starbucks lattes always taste the same, and Apple’s iPhones are always better than Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

Since the dawn of the smartphone wars, there have been basic truths about Samsungs: They’re made of flimsy plastic, their cameras can’t keep up with the iPhone’s, and their modified Android software is ugly and intolerably cluttered.

With the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, which arrive at U.S. carriers on April 10, none of that is true anymore. I am not afraid to say it: I love Samsung’s new phones, maybe even more than my own iPhone 6. Like a child who just found out that Santa isn’t real, I have spent the past week questioning everything I know.

OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic for smartphones, but I’m serious about how drastic the change is. Samsung has taken direct aim at Apple’s smartphone, this time even seeming to copy some of the iPhone’s design and features.

No, neither of the new Galaxys brings any original ideas to the evolution of the smartphone. If anything, Samsung has actually sucked out the differentiators, including the waterproof design and removable storage and battery. And Samsung still needs some schooling in the software department.

Yet with a series of improvements, the Galaxy now has a leg up on the hardware of other Android phones and the iPhone. It’s got me, a once extremely satisfied iPhone 6 owner, wishing for a better screen, sharper camera and faster charging.

Designed by…Samsung?

One reason I probably like the new Galaxys so much—especially the white models I’ve been testing—is that the design looks like a compilation of the iPhone’s greatest hits.

The screen’s glossy frame, the metal edges and the silver trim surrounding the home button look so very similar to my iPhone 6. Both Samsung phones even measure just 0.27-inch thick—just like the iPhone 6. With the speaker strip and ports on the bottom edge, Samsung doesn’t even try to hide its similarities to Apple’s work.

The back of the phone looks nothing like the iPhone 6. Covered entirely in a reflective piece of durable Gorilla Glass, it’s more similar to, you guessed it, the back of the iPhone 4.

The Galaxy S6 is a stunning device that is as equally pleasing to hold as it is to look at. If you had told me a year ago I would use the word “stunning” to describe a Galaxy phone, I would have called you crazy

Here’s one thing my iPhone doesn’t have: a curved screen. The main difference between the S6 and the S6 Edge is that the Edge’s display slopes down on both sides. It also will cost you more—too much more. The 32GB version of the Galaxy S6 starts at $600 without a two-year contract (or about $25 a month with many of the carriers’ installment plans). The 32GB Edge starts around $700.

There is really no logical reason to buy the Edge. You can tap its side for notifications and other information when the main screen is off, but that wasn’t too helpful. Like with designer sunglasses, you’re mostly paying to look cooler.

Dream Screen, Fast Charging

Things appear even in the race with the iPhone, until you look at the Samsung phones’ 2560 x 1440-pixel, 5.1-inch screens, which have 577 pixels per inch, compared with the iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch display with 326 ppi. Translation: sharper photos, video and text. You can also see more on the screen, and using Samsung’s dual-app view, I find myself naturally putting two apps side by side.

ENLARGE Unlocking the screen is also much faster with the vastly improved fingerprint sensor embedded inside the home button. It actually felt a hair faster than Apple’s Touch ID, and not once did I encounter any error messages. (Later this year, the company plans to update the phone with its Samsung Pay software.)

Despite the higher-res screen, the Galaxy S6 gets slightly better battery life than the iPhone 6. All of these phones should make it through the day, no problem. However, in our grueling battery test, which cycles through a series of websites with brightness set at about 75%, the S6 lasted just over seven hours (a little less than the Galaxy S5). The iPhone 6 conked out after 6½ hours; so did the Galaxy S6 Edge.

And there’s no more swappable battery, though Samsung tries to make up for that with faster charging. I was able to get a 50% charge within 30 minutes. Samsung will also sell a $50 wireless charging pad, but it’s up to you if you want to wait the three hours it takes to charge up the phones.

A Camera Worth the Wait

I really suspected I was living in an alternate universe, though, when I saw that the new Galaxys took photos as well—in some cases, better—than the iPhone 6.

In indoor and outdoor shootouts, Samsung’s 16-megapixel camera (which protrudes like a blister from the phone’s back) captured crisper photos. In many cases, colors were more vibrant in iPhone photos, yet the Galaxy shots showed more detail.

Low-light shots were more mixed. In a dimly lit restaurant, the Galaxy’s photos picked up more details and looked sharper but had an orangish cast. While the iPhone’s shots were more washed out, the coloring was more accurate. The Galaxys also struggled to autofocus quickly in low-light environments.

The Galaxy S6 destroys HTC’s new One M9 and other flagship Android phones—not to mention all of its own predecessors—on photo quality.

The front-facing 5-megapixel selfie cam trumps the iPhone’s, too. And in case you don’t have a selfie stick handy, you can tap on the heart-rate sensor on the back of the phone to snap the photo.

But About That Software…

The user experience is where the Galaxy S6 still struggles against the iPhone and even Android phones, like the Moto X and Nexus 6.

To its credit, Samsung has swept a lot of its own software clutter under the rug, making its tweaks to Android 5.0 far more benign than they have ever been. The settings and camera menus no longer require a user manual to navigate. The Samsung-built email and calendar apps are also much cleaner, with a nice balance of white space on each of the screens. And rejoice! The dripping-water sound you’d hear when tapping the screen has mercifully been plugged.

None of those updates slow down the phone either. The octo-core processor and 3GB of RAM keep things running at record pace.

Samsung even tidied up many of its ugly app icons. Still, from the app tray to the pull-down notification menu, the styling of the operating system isn’t nearly as polished as stock Android 5.0. On top of that, Samsung’s keyboard seemed to hate my fingers, constantly inserting typos. A phone this beautiful deserves equally beautiful software

And Samsung continues to insist on having two browsers, two photo gallery apps and its own app store—not to mention filling the phone with extra widgets and apps.

That’s why, even though the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are in many ways more impressive pieces of hardware than my iPhone 6, I’m sticking with Apple.

Finally, smartphones are equal on both sides of the iOS/Android divide. That’s a great thing, but it means the decision now really comes down to your software platform of preference. Right now, I prefer Apple’s app selection and product ecosystem. That…and I’m still under a darned two-year contract.

But if yours is just coming up or you need a new phone, I’m finally recommending you check out a Samsung before you look at HTC or Motorola. These are the best phones Samsung has ever made and the best Android phones you can buy. Plus, every time I look at my iPhone, I wish it had a curved screen

SpareOne Emergency Phone AT and T

Between earthquakes, hurricanes, polar vortexes, superstorms, and any other number of potentially dangerous natural phenomena, it’s always good to be prepared. The $59.99 SpareOne Emergency Phone for AT&T is a handy tool to keep in the glove compartment of your car, or your emergency supply kit at home. This cell phone offers 3G connectivity for phone calls and location tracking, with voice interaction to make dialing easier. And you don’t need to worry about charging it, as the phone can last for up to 15 years on the shelf with just two AA batteries. It’s a nice upgrade over the unlocked 2G model, which the company no longer sells in the US. But it requires an annual prepaid plan in order to take full advantage of its Locate and Alert services.

Design, Features, and Usability

At 5.7 by 2.0 by 0.8 inches (HWD) and 3.2 ounces, the SpareOne is a larger than your average candy bar-style phone like the Blu Tank II (4.8 by 1.9 by 0.5 inches; 3.5 ounces), but that’s because it needs space to accommodate two AA batteries.

The front of the phone is white plastic, with a clear screen that proudly shows the batteries inside. The back is bright red, with another clear screen that holds a paper insert on which you can write up to eight numbers on speed dial. The top is home to a somewhat dim LED flashlight, with a lanyard attachment to the right. The back is removable, giving you access to the SIM card slot, a nano SIM adapter holder, and the battery compartment. According to SpareOne, the phone can last up to 15 years on the shelf with just two AA batteries, though obviously that number will diminish much more quickly if you actually use it.

The number pad is your standard dialer layout, but you can’t use it to text. An Alert button above is set to dial 911, but you can reprogram it to call a different number. Next to the Alert button are Call Answer and Flashlight buttons on the right, and Call Decline and Volume buttons on the left. A pretty loud panic alarm can be activated by holding the Volume button for seven seconds. At the bottom right you’ll find a Lock button, which disables the number pad. All the buttons glow in the dark, and can be seen clearly even when the lights are out.

There’s no display, but the phone uses voice interaction to make it easier to tell what number you are dialing. The phone speaks numbers out loud and tells you when the call is going through. It will also notify you when the battery is low. Adding numbers to speed dial can be confusing, and I often had to refer to the manual while getting everything set up.pite its simplistic appearance, the SpareOne isn’t meant to serve as a simple phone for everyday use. For that, you’ll be better served by a different device like the Blu Tank II or the Verykool Garnet IX i129. For seniors, the Samsung Jitterbug Plus and the Snapfon ezTWO are better options. The SpareOne works best when used as an emergency backup for times when your regular phone just isn’t available, and in that regard, it succeeds admirably.

Samsung’s mobile phone sales decline

Samsung Electronics has reported a 4% fall in sales at its mobile phone unit.

Revenues in the sector fell to 33.4 trillion won ($32.3bn; £23.3bn) in the January-to-March period.

But the South Korean company said operating profit for its mobile phone unit rose 18% from the previous three months, in part due to “positive impact from adjustments of one-off expenses”.

Samsung is the world’s biggest mobile phone maker and handsets account for the bulk of the firm’s profits.

The figures came as the electronics giant reported a net profit of 7.57 trillion won (£4.4bn; $7.5bn) for the first quarter, up from 7.3 trillion won (£4.2bn; $7bn) in the previous three months.

Maturing market?

This is further evidence that the global market for smartphones is maturing

Andrew Milroy, Frost & Sullivan

The success of its Galaxy range of smartphones has been one of the biggest drivers of Samsung’s growth in recent years.

It helped the company dislodge Nokia as the world’s biggest phone maker in 2012.

However, competition in the sector has been increasing, forcing manufacturers to lower their prices and hurting their profitability.

At the same time, demand for smartphones in developed markets – which have been key drivers of growth of the sector so far – has also begun to slow.

“This is further evidence that the global market for smartphones is maturing and as the pace of growth which firms such as Samsung have enjoyed in recent years is slowing,” said Andrew Milroy, an analyst with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

He added that “the company will have to look at introducing lower cost models in emerging markets to sustain the business.”

For its part, Samsung has been looking to tap into the emerging markets by launching low cost handsets there.

However, it has been facing increased competition on that front as well, especially from Chinese firms such as Xiaomi, Huawei and ZTE.

Exploding Samsung Galaxy phone leaves teenager with third degree burns and smelling like a ‘burnt pig’

A Swiss teenager suffered second and third degree burns when her smartphone apparently exploded in her pocket.

Fanny Schlatter, 18, was injured when the Samsung Galaxy S3 allegedly blew up in her trouser pocket.

She claims to have been left with no feeling in her right thigh and said she will be launching a criminal complaint against Samsung

French language paper Le Matin reported that Ms Schlatter was working as an painting apprentice when she heard a large bang.

She told the paper: ‘All of a sudden I heard the sound of an explosion – like a firecracker.

‘Then I noticed a strange chemical smell and my work trousers began to catch fire.’

By the time Ms Schlatter’s boss, Stephane Kubler, had come to her assistance, the flames had reached her shoulders.

She was rushed into the nearest bathroom where colleagues doused the flames before driving her to hospital.

Ms Schlatter explained: ‘Luckily my hair was tied up and my sweater didn’t have time to catch fire.’

However, she added that her burns were severe enough to make her smell like a ‘burnt pig’.

The burns have left Ms Schlatter with no feeling in her right thigh and the teenager has been signed off work until 15 August.

She now plans to file a legal complaint against the Korean phone maker.

In a statement, a Samsung spokesperson told the MailOnline: ‘Once we have gotten hold of the product in question, we will conduct a thorough examination to determine the exact cause of this incident.

‘We would like to assure our customers that we have always employed strict quality control and safety standards to ensure a safe and pleasant user experience.’

This is not the first time a Samsung Galaxy S3 battery has supposedly exploded.

In May this year, Reddit user Vizionx1208 posted pictures of his destroyed Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, claiming he was ‘awoken by a loud noise and a weird squeaking sound.’

He states the phone was on the verge of setting alight and his bedroom had filled with smoke and had a ‘pungent smell.

He was able to put out the smouldering phone by chucking a glass of water over it but the phone had already burnt his mattress cover and left a small burn on his finger.

Last year, an Irish Samsung S3 owner claimed his handset burst into flames as he was driving his car.

However, it was later discovered, following tests by the Fire Investigations UK (FIUK) team, that the phone had been previously placed in the microwave to remove water damage and this may have been the cause of the fire.

It isn’t just the S3 model that has this supposed fault either.

In South Korea in 2011, the battery from a Samsung Galaxy Note allegedly exploded in a man’s pocket as he walked along the street.

The explosion caused second degree burns and a one-inch wound to his thigh

It was the second time that year a battery from the Galaxy Note was said to have exploded in South Korea.

Elsewhere, a phone battery spontaneously caught fire in a man’s back pocket at the Defcon hacking conference in the U.S in 2010, and in 2009, a man was killed when his exploding phone severed his neck artery.

Last month, a fire in a Peterborough house was thought to have been caused by an exploding phone battery after a handset was left on charge overnight.

The fire crews did not release what make or model the battery came from but said damage was caused to the bedroom, where the phone was on charge, including the bed, furniture and serious smoke damage to the walls

How Portable Power Helps Planes Take off More Efficiently

When you’re settling into your seat at the airport, you’ll notice some interesting mechanical sounds coming from outside the plane. If you’re afraid of flying, this mystery can cause a great deal of anxiety. It’s a good thing there’s nothing to worry about pre-flight checks. In fact, you want everything to go smoothly during this time frame. One of the methods airports use to keep planes ready to go is by supplying portable power supplies that literally jump start the plane on the runway.

According to Start Pac, that’s the mechanical sound you hear in many cases.

Standard airplane battery packs function like a car, so the plane needs to be moving in order for the pack to charge. Unlike a car, a plane’s battery must power a great deal of electronics so passengers can sit comfortably prior to takeoff. These systems power everything from air conditioning to in-flight movies.

In order for the plane to function properly, it needs a jump start from a portable battery pack. This will also give the turbine engines a boost, which enables the plane engines to turn over and the plan to function properly.

Airports service many planes in a single day, so portability is key. There are power packs embedded into the concrete, but many commercial airports will taxi a portable unit to the runway and charge the plane through that method. Portable power can also recharge quickly, so multiple units can be used for a boost while others are charging for the next shift.

Crowdsourcing iPhone App Lets Sighted People Lend Their Eyes to the Blind

With VizWiz, the blind can take a picture, ask a question, and get an answer back from a real person in seconds.

What’s the News: With the web as their eyes, the blind will able to read menus, identify canned foods, and tell whether that park has any free benches without having to walk over. That’s the vision of a team of computer scientists behind an iPhone app called VizWiz, which lets people take a photo of whatever’s perplexing them, record a question like “What denomination is this bill?” and send it off to real people online who’ll respond in a matter of seconds with “That’s a 20.”

How the Heck:

  • Blind people have workarounds for the kinds of tasks the sighted use their eyes for—folding dollar bills in certain shapes, keeping the cans of tomatoes separate from the cans of beans, and so on—but these measures often require the input of a sighted person at some point, and they’re not very efficient. An app like this would give the blind more independence.
  • Many simple tasks, like reading an address off a letter, are phenomenally difficult for computer intelligences. So the scientists are working with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a system that employs people around the world to do odd jobs computers can’t, like choosing the best picture for a product website or reading signs in photographs.
  • Then, to solve the problem of speed, the team wrote a program called quikTurkit that works to recruit people even before the question is sent, so there’s always someone on hand to answer. In the latest version of VizWiz, the average turnaround time on a question was 27 seconds. Not bad.

The Future Holds: VizWiz, which is being tested by teams of blind volunteers, hasn’t left the lab yet. But the volunteers are fans: it would be “very useful,” one said (via New Scientist), “because I get so frustrated when I need sighted help and no one is there.” Though an in-depth study [pdf] on VizWiz was released last year, there’s no word yet from the scientists on when this will hit the market. Soon, one hopes.

The App That Lets Users Lend Their Eyes, And Blind People See Things In A New Way

It’s always nice when you can lend a hand to someone in need, but this new app takes that idea to another level: Thanks to Be My Eyes, you’ll now be able to actually lend your eyes to a visually impaired person.

The new iOS app provides a video stream, similar to Apple’s FaceTime video calling, that connects someone visually impaired with someone able to see and willing to help out. The app’s inventor, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, was inspired by FaceTime and how some of his blind friends were using it for visual help.

“With FaceTime, you can’t call a random volunteer,” says Wiberg. “That’s where I came up with the idea of making this group of volunteers who can easily answer a question whenever they have time and if not, someone else will step in.”

The examples the company shows in its product video include visually impaired users getting help with things like reading an expiration date, figuring out what a photograph looks like, and reading signs in an unfamiliar location. The app is more about helping with particularly difficult moments, rather than long periods of assistance.

Opening the app, you’re prompted to select if you are sighted or if you need help (assuming you have accessibility features turned on), and then sign up for an account. If you sign up as a helper, that’s it, you wait until you get a notification to be someone’s eyes. You can share that you’re using the app across social media to gain points in the app, which you also gain for successfully helping someone. The points are used to create a rating system for determining the best helpers. If you need help seeing you’ll be taken to a screen that says “connect to the first helper available.” The screen automatically enables voiceover (reading text on the screen) from this point on as well.

You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it’s a little incompatible that someone who can’t see—or has trouble with their vision—would be using a touch-screen mobile phone to begin with. That’s not the case at all; Apple has been particularly aggressive with its accessibility features. “From what we find, a clear majority of blind smartphone users are on iPhone—in Europe almost exclusively,” says cofounder Thelle Kristensen. “IOS has had accessibility functions for the blind since iOS 3 that came with iPhone 3GS in 2009 and has since gotten continuously better.”

Be My Eyes is currently only available for iOS, but Kristensen hopes to add Android in the future through grant funding. The nonprofit also has a GitHub repository for developers interested in speeding the process along for another mobile operating system like Android or Windows Phone.

Of course, beyond the platform issues one of the main challenges a service like this faces is having someone available to help when they’re needed. “We do not have a clear picture of how many helpers are needed, but our estimate is that if we have two helpers per blind person we should be good,” explains Wiberg. “And right now it is more like 10 to 1.”

Within 10 hours of the app’s launch, the service already had about 4,000 helpers and about 500 visually impaired people signed up. In the small-scale testing done prior to launch there weren’t any problems reaching helpers when they were needed. Wiberg is visually impaired himself and came up with the idea for the app when he was a consultant in the Danish blind community. He first gave a TEDx talk about Be My Eyes back in September of 2013.

Be My Eyes is just one of the ways mobile devices are helping assist those in need. Apple, for one, touts its accessibility features, not only for vision, but also for hearing, physical and motor skills, and learning and literacy. And there are other third-party developers building things like a Braille keyboard or light sensor. The Light Detector app, for instance, uses the phone’s camera to turn natural or artificial light into sound so someone knows if an area is dark or light.

For now, Wiberg does not have plans to evolve Be My Eyes to products like Google Glass, but he hasn’t written off the idea entirely: “We would love to try it out,” he says.

New technique controls crystalline structure of titanium dioxide

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for controlling the crystalline structure of titanium dioxide at room temperature. The development should make titanium dioxide more efficient in a range of applications, including photovoltaic cells, hydrogen production, antimicrobial coatings, smart sensors and optical communication technologies.

Titanium dioxide most commonly comes in one on of two major “phases,” meaning that its atoms arrange themselves in one of two crystalline structures. These phases are “anatase” or “rutile.” The arrangement of atoms dictates the material’s optical, chemical and electronic properties. As a result, each phase has different characteristics. The anatase phase has characteristics that make it better suited for use as an antibacterial agent and for applications such as hydrogen production. The rutile phase is better suited for use in other applications, such as photovoltaic cells, smart sensors and optical communication technologies.

“Traditionally, it has been a challenge to stabilize titanium dioxide in the desired phase,” says Dr. Jay Narayan, John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work. “The material tends to transform into the anatase phase below 500 degrees Celsius [C], and transform into the rutile phase at temperatures above 500 C.

“We have now developed a technique that precisely controls the phase, or crystalline structure, of titanium dioxide at room temperature — and stabilizes that phase, so it won’t change when the temperature fluctuates. This process, called phase tuning, allows us to fine-tune the structure of the titanium dioxide, so that it has the optimal structure for a desired application.”

The process begins by using a widely available sapphire substrate that has the desired crystalline structure. Researchers then grow a template layer of titanium trioxide on the substrate. The structure of the titanium trioxide mimics the structure of the sapphire substrate. The titanium dioxide is then grown on top of the titanium trioxide template layer.

The structure of the titanium dioxide differs from the titanium trioxide — but is dictated by the structure of that template layer. This means that you can create the titanium dioxide in any phase, simply by modifying the structure of the titanium trioxide and sapphire substrate.

This works because of a process called domain matching epitaxy (DME). In DME, the lattice planes in the template layer line up with the lattice planes of the material being grown on that template. Lattice planes are the lines, or walls, which constitute a crystal.

The researchers have also demonstrated how this technique can be used with silicon computer chip substrates, which can be integrated into electronics such as smart sensors.

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