Heads-Up Helmet, Rolling Camera Are an Eyeful

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Forty-one tech companies showed up at the DEMO Fall 2013 conference to introduce gadgets and apps that may or may not change your life (a Google Glass app that lets you buy things with Bitcoins? really?). A few of these demos stood out among the electronic esoterica on display at IDG Enterprise’s annual gathering in Santa Clara, Calif.

Skully Helmet: This Android-powered, Bluetooth-linked motorcycle headgear includes a tiny heads-up display, positioned so that the image appears in front of your right cheek, where you’d need to look to keep your eyes on the road. It can show driving directions, the weather and other basic interface elements — think of the kind of relevant-right-now data you’d want to see projected in Google Glass or a smart watch — as well as the view behind you, as captured by a 180-degree camera in the back.

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This Redwood City, Calif., startup hopes to ship its P1 helmet in the first quarter of next year at a price comparable to high-end helmets, which sounds like high three figures or low four figures. It won one of five “DEMO God” awards handed out at the end of the conference.

Bounce Imaging Explorer: The idea here is to allow first responders to perform a quick and safe inspection of a dangerous room ahead by chucking this camera- and sensor-stuffed sphere into it. Its monochrome cameras take pictures every half second, which software on a phone or tablet composes into an interactive panorama; it can also detect the temperature and hazardous gases like carbon monoxide.

The Boston firm expects a version for police use to cost under $1,000 sometime next year. It also foresees a military product (not with explosives on board) as well as civilian uses (spelunking, perhaps?). I was amused by how it reminded me of an Imperial interrogation droid from Star Wars, but company executives assured me that any resemblance is coincidental.

RealClarity: This upcoming app – $29.99 for iOS first, Android early next year — uses your smartphone’s processing power to filter out background noise and pipe a less noisy audio stream into your headphones. Testing in a loud exhibit area, it did that — although the fact that most of the background noise was other people talking seemed to limit its effectiveness.

RealClarity also offers presets to improve watching TV and listening to music, but iOS’s limitations on any outside app’s access to the system mean it can’t work any magic on phone calls. Needham, Mass.-based SoundFest also plans to ship a Bluetooth headset optimized for use with its system.

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EmoVu: Please write your own “In Soviet Russia, webcam watches you” joke for this one. Eyeris Technologies invites Web users to grant its site access to their computer’s camera so its software algorithms can gaze at their facial expressions as they watch video clips (for instance, an ad or a movie trailer), then judge their emotional reactions. The Mountain View, Calif., startup pitches this as focus-group testing at scale — though without the usual real-world bribe of the cheap pizza handed out to participants, what motivates people to let some other site stare at their faces through their webcam?

When I tested this, its “Disgust” meter spiked appropriately when I made a Mr. Yuk face. Then I tried to annoy myself by thinking of some horribly crufty editing software I once had to use, and “Anger” jumped–which set off a fit of giggling that, in turn, bumped up the “Joy” graph.

Credits: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery

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