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June 22, 2013

"Hands-Free" May Not Equal Risk-Free

Motorists have been warned in recent years, through legislation, public service announcements and ads, that talking on the phone or texting - things that take at least one hand off of the wheel while simultaneously distracting the eyes and mind- are dangerous and to be avoided while driving. In response to these concerns, some automakers have come out with "hands-free" systems that allow users to access GPS, place calls, text, and more, using only voice controls.

While hands-free systems have been heavily marketed as being safe for drivers, recent studies suggest that mental distraction caused by trying to accurately communicate to your dashboard can be almost or equally as dangerous as taking a hand off the wheel and looking at your cell phone.


Voice-dictating a text message to the dashboard can result in a dangerous state for the driver, called inattention blindness (casually referred to by law enforcement officials as "looking but not seeing.") The driver will be looking straight ahead at the road, but is thinking about the words that he or she is conveying, rather than what is happening on the road in front of his or her car.

Studies suggest that activities like voice-controlled text messaging or listening and responding to an e-mail can possibly be more distracting than simple driving-related tasks.This may be in part because synthetic voices can be harder to understand than human ones, and because dictating a text message or e-mail requires a significant amount of concentration.

While studies into the safety of the technology are fairly recent and still a bit inconclusive, drivers should be conscious of avoiding any distractions that could lead to an accident, including voice-activated technology.


June 14, 2013

New Phone Battery Technology

Smart phones have a lot to offer that older model cell phones might not - apps that are fun or practical, internet at your fingertips, and more. However, older models can often boast better battery life because less power is needed to simply text and make phone calls. In fact, too-short battery life is one of the main problems reported by smart phone users. While battery technology has not evolved as quickly as one might like, there are a couple of companies who are trying to find a solution.

Solar Screen Batteries:


French startup SunPower Group is developing an attachable smart-phone screen that can extend the life of smartphone batteries up to 20% by harnessing solar power. The screen includes a layer of solar cells underneath a layer of specially designed lenses. The overlay is now about 82% transparent, and the company is aiming for 90% transparency in the future.

This design is considered an improvement over older versions of the solar phone, namely Samsung's Crest Solar model which was released in India in 2009. An hour of sunlight would allow this model 5-10 minutes of talk time. The phone's Achille's heel may have been that the solar cells were on the back of the phone - forcing users to keep their phone face-down (and preventing them from looking at their screen), for hours at a time. With the solar cells positioned over the screen, the user won't encounter this problem.

This new technology should also be relatively inexpensive for consumers.

Walk It On:

SolePower is a kickstarter that aims to kickstart your phone or electronic device using power generated by walking. The device consists of a sole insert, a wire that threads through the laces of your shoe, and a detachable battery pack that can be wrapped around the ankle. The impact of the walker's heel on the sole is converted to energy that is then stored in the battery. The battery can completely charge a mobile device after 2.5 - 5 miles of walking.

Kudos to SolePower for finding a way to charge a battery while encouraging both exercise and green living! This technology is slated to become available around December 2014.