Tag Archives: Smartphone

Let Spinpod & Hobie Hold Your Smartphone

Smartphones are getting smarter all the time and their camera functions are improving too. With 13MP+ cameras becoming common in phones, it is possible for anyone to capture stunning photographs. The only requirement to get those shots just right is to have steady hands – especially with panoramic shots. However, gadgets such as the Spinpod and Hobie are now available to take care of that. These are portable motion control unit making it easier to create panoramas. At the same time, you do not have to spin on the spot holding your smartphone.

Independent time-lapse panoramas

You can use the Spinpod for shooting motion time-lapse videos. A simple device with a rotating dock holds your smartphone in the proper position, while allowing it to rotate with a continuous motion. The rotation is smooth and you control the pace, which means there are no more overlaps, disruptive seams and lost pixels, all so usual with handheld panoramas.

Although the slot is 64×13 mm, it fits most Apple and Android phones and a thumb-wheel locks the phone in position. Smaller or larger phones can also be fitted with adapters. Users can use these adapters for holding their smartphones horizontally also. After the device is locked in position, controlling the Spinpod is simple, as it has capacitive touch buttons and LED indicators.

For shooting difficult panoramas, you can delay the start of rotation by 5, 10 or 15 seconds. That gives you ample time to place the Spinpod in its proper position to start the panoramic selfie. In the time-lapse mode, you can set the device to rotate in steps of 0.5, 1, 2, 5 or 10-second intervals. The re-chargeable battery can last for 10 hours of panoramic shoots or 100 hours of time-lapse photography.

Tilted time-lapse photography

However, when you want to tilt your smartphone at any angle for the panoramic shot, you will have to use the Hobie. Looking more like a modified kitchen timer, Hobie is a smartphone-holding gadget that allows users to capture panning time-lapse photos at almost any angle.

According to Mattia Ciuccaiarelli, the designer of Hobie, using a kitchen timer for time-lapse photography is like giving an existing product a new life. However, Hobie does include some clever features and functionalities.

Hobie comes across as a large static wheel mounted atop a kitchen timer. The wheel holds a crossbar with bungees that can rotate 360 degrees. You use the bungees to secure your smartphone (8 cm and below only) in place – that means, no phablets. The rotating crossbar allows the smartphone to be angled in almost any angle, overcoming the limitations of products such as the Spinpod.

As the timer operates on its wind-up mechanism, no batteries or charging are involved. However, you cannot alter the speed of rotation – it always takes 15 minutes to turn 90-degrees. With Hobie on the kitchen timer, you can take still pictures or moving time lapses.

Hobie is a simple, cheap and portable means of capturing time lapses and panoramas with a smartphone. Expect it to start shipping this November.

Your Smartphone Can Work as a 3D Scanner Now

Barring professional photographers, almost all possessing smartphones capture images of everyday objects using the onboard camera. Additionally, most smartphones today come with cameras of respectable resolution, with recent ones reaching 21 MP. Now, you can use the camera on your mobile to scan objects to reproduce a 3D image.

Researchers from the Computer Vision and Geometry Group at ETH Zurich have created an application that can transform your smartphone into a portable digital scanner. The 3D mobile technology created by the researchers allows users to scan objects by snapping pictures on the fly. Scanning in outdoor environments is also possible for modeling scenes or arbitrary objects.

Very soon, using the 3D mobile technology, people will be able to use their ordinary mobiles to capture visual 3D representations of scenes and objects as realistically and easily as they take photographs today. Although alternate solutions for 3D scanning do exist, they require hardware dedicate to 3D scanning. With the 3D mobile technology, scanning and generating a three dimensional image becomes as easy as taking pictures. This is of great benefit to the DIY and hobbyist crowd, especially for those without design or engineering degrees.

The user only has to move his phone all around the object of interest. Instead of a conventional photo, the mobile will generate a 3D model of the object on its screen. If any part is missing from the 3D image, the user can add that by [pointing the camera and cover the missing parts. The important part is all the calculations for generating the 3D image happens within the phone, so the results of the calculation are immediate. According to the researchers, apart from being of immense use in daily life, this technology will be of use in the fields of commerce and cultural heritage as well.

Businesses and industries are also showing great interest in the technology, as this has the potential to reshape the 3D scanning and printing industry. As this relatively low-cost duplicating method takes shape, companies begin to grapple with the implications. According to some experts, this method of object reproduction, needing no knowledge of computer design software, will break down the existing barriers in large sections of industry – probably sparking the next industrial revolution.

There is another aspect to this innovative technology. According to professor Pollefeys of Computer Vision and Cultural Heritage, this new 3D mobile technology can also modify the way cultural assets are digitized and preserved at present. This will make the assets accessible to all and will unlock the potential for reuse of the assets. Archaeologists and other cultural heritage professionals can use this technology to combine computer vision, 3D modeling, and virtual reality.

Museums could make exact replicas and precisely simulated objects that visitors could handle or touch without causing damage to the real artifact. A new market could open up with the demand for 3D portraiture or personal statuettes, which people could generate on their own or order. It would be possible to enhance, morph or tweak the models using a computer, opening up space for creative play or editing.

Power Your Smartphone by Your Sweat

Anyone can power a smartphone by manually running a small electric generator. Without a doubt, some will sweat in the process. However, this technology is somewhat different. Here, a small tattoo will detect whether you are sweating (for whatever reasons) and generate power directly from your sweat.

Researchers at the University of California in San Diego have developed a sensor to monitor a person’s progress when he or she is exercising. Although this is not something new, but the sensor is in the form of a temporary tattoo and it also doubles as a bio-battery. It can detect when the person is perspiring and produce power from it.

According to one of the researchers, Wenzhao Jia, when a person sweats, one of the naturally occurring chemicals is lactate. The sensor detects and responds to lactate, which is a very important indicator of how the person is progressing with the exercise. That is because with more intense exercise, the body produces increasing amounts of lactate. With strenuous physical activity, the body activates a process called glycosis, which produces energy and lactate.

Professional athletes test their performance by monitoring the levels of lactate they produce. This is one of the ways they evaluate their training program and their fitness. Moreover, some conditions cause abnormally high lactate levels in the body such as lung or heart diseases. Doctors measure the lactate levels during exercise testing of their patients. However, lactate testing is intrusive because it needs blood samples of the person to be collected at different times during exercising and then analyzed. Therefore, the current process is inconvenient.

The team led by Joseph Wang, of which Jia is a member, has developed a faster, easier and more comfortable way of measuring lactate during exercise. They imprinted the biosensor onto a temporary tattoo paper. The sensor has an enzyme that strips electrons from the lactate produced during the workout and generates a weak electrical current.

In practice, the tattoo is applied to the upper arm of the person exercising. When the person exercises on a stationary bicycle, it is easy to monitor the performance against increasing resistance levels. The researchers were able to monitor 10 health volunteers for 30 minutes and checked the lactate levels in their sweat over time and with changes in intensity of their exercise.

One of the startling discoveries from the research was that different people produced different amounts of electricity. Surprisingly, people who exercised less than once per week and hence were less fit produced more power as compared to moderately fit people who exercised between one and three times per week. Those who were the most fit, working out more than three times per week, produced the least amount of power.

According to the researchers, less-fit people become fatigued sooner and glycosis kicks in earlier for them. Therefore, they produce more lactate because of their increased fatigue. In the low-fitness group, the maximum amount of energy produced by a person was 70μW for every square cm of skin. Although the power generated is not very high, the researchers are confident of eventually increasing it to power small gadgets.

How does a smartphone camera autofocus?

How does the camera of a super slim smartphone autofocus?

As long as cell phones were over 10 mm thick, manufacturers had no problem of getting the camera to autofocus. Of the 2 billion cameras manufactured for the phone and tablet market, nearly half of them autofocus. Usually, one of more of the lenses in the camera are moved in or out using a linear actuator, while an algorithm calculates a figure of merit for the sharpness of image for that location of the lens. The best focus for the scene is achieved by repeating this procedure.

This was going fine, until form factors started to get thinner. Manufacturers made thinner phones, and people took this as a paramount design consideration. As the 5 mm form factor was approached, compressing an 8-13 M Pixel auto focus camera that would still produce high fidelity images became a challenge. In addition, the requirement of speed, power and performance also changed, and altogether, forced manufacturers to abandon the old method of Voice Coil Motor in favor of a MEMS linear actuator.

The Voice Coil Motor (VCM) operated using the principle of electromagnetism. This is the same technology used in loudspeakers to produce sound from electricity. When electricity passes through a coil, it produces a magnetic field that reacts with a permanent magnet to either repel or attract the coil. The movement of the coil is restricted such that it can only move along its axis. Springs attached to the coil help to bring it back to its rest position once the electricity in the coil stops flowing.

The main disadvantage of the VCM is the hysteresis of its stroke. Usually, the coil does not return to its original position after a displacement and this prevents rapid tracking of focal distances in a VCM controlled camera lens. Other disadvantages are the high requirement of power for operating the VCM and de-centering and lens-tilting while operating. All these problems became increasingly acute with increasing image sensor resolution, decreasing pixel dimensions and f-numbers. Moreover, with the VCM technology now over 100 years old, the opportunities for further cost reduction are virtually nil.

This paved the way for a competing technology with a commercial opportunity that can deliver improved performance at a reasonable cost. This is the MEMS or Micro-Electro-Mechanical-System that uses components from one to 100 micrometers in size.

The MEMS technology for autofocus integrates the three functions of a linear actuator. It provides a linear vertical movement, has a spring to provide the restoring force and uses an electrostatic comb as a drive to displace the lens. The MEMS technology saves on power since it does not use electromagnetism.

The comb drive is more like interlocking fingers, only the fingers never touch. The electrostatic charge developed when a DC voltage is applied, develops an attractive force causing the combs to be drawn to each other. The lens, which is attached in the center, completes the silicon MEMS autofocus actuator.

The MEMS technology allows only one lens to move very precisely, while the other lenses are locked in the most optimal position. This approach offers an excellent image quality over the entire focal range within the 5 mm allowed in a thin smartphone.