It looks like a trashbag coming out of a finely patterned neck pillow. But if you find yourself colliding with a car while on your bike, it could actually save your life.
Meet Hövding, the invisible bike helmet. It’s a real, actual thing. But it won’t be so easy for it to come to market in the United States.
Here’s a three-minute documentary about the Swedish helmet and its founders:
Bicycle injuries are obviously serious business. The 677 cycling deaths in 2011 (the last year for which there’s data) made up 2% of all motor-vehicle traffic deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 48,000 bikers were injured in crashes. At the same time, bike ridership has been on the rise in the United States.
And yes, helmets make a big difference. Helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by 85%, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But use isn’t at all universal. The most recent government study in 1999 pegged helmet use at about 50%. And state laws that mandate helmet use, according to this map from IIHS, aren’t really forcing anyone’s hand:
Part of the issue with helmets comes down to a simple matter of clunkiness. Sure, making a bicycle helmet a bit less bulky and ugly won’t necessarily save hundreds of lives. But the invisible helmet has the potential to help kick up the number of people who use helmets and feel comfortable on a bike in general.
If the documentary above didn’t convince you that a battery-powered helmet with sensors could save your head from a crash, check out this crash test video, which has been viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube:
The helmet didn’t just pass European inspection. It also succeeded in a test by a Swedish insurance company that went at higher maximum speeds than the European standards, and it performed better than 12 other more-standard bike helmets.
But there are a couple problems. First and foremost: government regulation.
The helmets are on sale right now in Sweden, but they can’t legally be sold in the United States as a safety helmet until they pass the tests of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The tests, which are known to be stricter than those in Europe, have a few obviously difficult elements for the invisible helmet. Many of the regulations have to do with the positioning of the helmet in different situations, which can be a bit confusing when the helmet is, you know, an airbag that comes out at the last minute.
The government isn’t the only thing in the way. The helmets retail right now for around $537. Without getting that price down, it’s hard to imagine all that many people buying an invisible helmet, no matter the fashion appeal.
Google Glass’s voice commands could extend far beyond “OK Glass,” the device’s firmware suggests.
Android Police reviewed the latest firmware update and found a long list of potential new features, including voice commands such as “call me a car,” “translate this” and “tune an instrument.”
SEE ALSO: Now Your Classes into Google Glasses
Android Police explains that certain commands may work with specific applications, much like how Glass’ current “take a note” command allows a wearer to virtually jot down thoughts within Evernote.
For example, the newly discovered “find a recipe” command could be used with “KitchMe, an app that currently allows Explorers to send recipes to Glass,” Android Police writes. Likewise, the firmware includes a “play a game” voice command, which could be used with existing Glass apps and inspire more development for games in the future.
In total, Android Police found 19 new voice commands: add a calendar event, call me a car, capture a panorama, check me in, created a 3D model, find a recipe, learn a song, play a game, play music, record a recipe, remind me to, show a compass, start a bike ride, start a round of golf, start a run, start a stop watch, start a timer, translate this and tune an instrument.
In addition to new voice commands, the firmware features new eye commands, too.
“They’ve added a ‘double blink’ detector, potentially for control by blinking twice in rapid succession,” Android Police reports.
We’re not sure what utility a double blink would command, but Glass already allows users to take a photo by winking.
The review also shows an expanded emphasis on music. There’s now a layout for album art, album names, track names and artists’ names, which pairs nicely with the new “play music” voice command in the updated Glass firmware.
“I’m not really sure whether my dog helped me become a Glass explorer,” Dr. William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University, said. He was being serious. “In my pitch to Google to be part of its Glass Explorer program, I said I would share the social global classroom. But I also said I’d bring my dog — Ty the Wonder Dog — into it.”
Ward is making good on that pitch to Google and teaching two classes this semester, Social Media for Communicators and Social Media Theory and Practice, in which Google Glass doesn’t just augment learning — it’s the focus of the curriculum.
The class involves one semester-long assignment: Try out Google Glass, dream up ideas for useful apps, develop those ideas in teams and use social media to garner votes for the best concepts. The winning ideas will be developed into actual Google Glass app prototypes.
Last week, students had 10 minutes each to pitch their Glass app ideas before a panel of expert judges, comprised of startup founders and professors, who offer constructive feedback. One app promised to help children with autism learn through videos; another would interface with restaurants to find out accurate wait times; yet another would allow “time travel,” to show what an area looked like 50 years ago (“Ancestry.com meets real life,” the student developers called it).
Now, students are refining their concepts and preparing to launch them on a slew of social networks to see which ideas gain traction and which ones flop.
“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,”
“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,” Ward said. Glass is expected to be a $3 billion-plus market. “Hopefully, that experience helps them prepare to jump into a company grappling with those issues — or start their own business.”
The class then rallies around the “winning” apps — the ones that receive the most positive feedback, Likes and shares on social platforms — and helps to build them into prototypes, perhaps eventually launching them on Kickstarter. (At that point, Ward said, they’ll reach out to alumni to help with funding.) App development takes up the rest of the semester; a developer at the university will provide coding assistance.
But this doesn’t mean a ton of tweets equals an A for the semester. Grades aren’t based on the final product; students’ projects are scored along the way.
“They’re rated on how well they tell [their app’s] story,” Ward said. “If you can’t convince people of your idea’s merits, you’ll never get it off the ground.”
Even as Apple has been trying to rework its maps efforts — with a radical new redesign for iOS 7 and Hopstop acquisition — Google has been consistently adding features in its Google Maps app after it came back on iOS in December 2012 and quickly surpassed 10 million downloads. Google has since rolled out update after update, like live traffic alerts and transit updates in major cities. It bought traffic navigation app Waze in June.
Directions for multiple destinations: This seems like an obvious feature to have, and after stripping it out initially, it is back. And it is available for driving, walking and biking directions.
Multiple destinations for city attractions: A subset of the above feature, this allows users to add museums, historic squares and other attractions by dragging and dropping in the order desired, and it adds the Views carousel in the bottom right corner, a way to preview Street View, Photo Tours and other imagery.
Seeing pre-booked flight, hotel and restaurant reservations right in Maps: This is potentially the biggest out of the four, and it’s borrowed from Google Search. Users can find their existing flight, hotel and restaurant reservations right in Maps, using airport codes or names of dining destination, and it’ll instantly show your upcoming plans. This info is only available when a user is signed into Google, and only they can see it for privacy reasons. This feature is currently rolling out to Maps users in the U.S. and is available in English only.
Search for upcoming events: Adding events information based on venues. For example, searching for Radio City Music Hall or the O2 Arena and clicking on the Upcoming Events card shows a schedule of concerts, sports matches and other events happening near the users. Or users can start with a more generic search like “music venues.”
Google’s Ngram Viewer lets you search keywords in millions of books over the span of half a millennium, a useful tool for finding trends over time. For power users, the Ngram Viewer also has advanced options, such as searching for particular keywords as specific parts of speech or combining keywords. Just in case you ever wanted to see how big cocaine was in Victorian times, now you can.
A part of Google Trends, Google Correlate allows you to look at search trends over time. For example, input “soup” and you’ll see a clear increase in searches during the winter months. The more fascinating part of Google Correlate is the Search by Drawing function. Draw a fun graph and Correlate will give you search keywords that best match your graph creation.
Look at trends in hot searches with Google Trends. Browse by date, or look at top searches in different categories with the new Top Charts function. Finally, with the Explore function, input a search term and see how it trended over time and location. You can also now view popular searches in acolorful fullscreen format.
Home to an abundance of resources, Google Think Insights is a useful tool for entrepreneurs and industry professionals. There are case studies, new findings and tips on how to grow your business, as well as showcases of exemplary projects. Finally, there are also tools for maximizing your site analytics and ad campaigns. A particularly useful collection is how to “Make Your Website Work Across Different Platforms.”
Search through databases from around the world, including the World Bank, OECD, Eurostat and the U.S. Census Bureau. After you find what you want, filter through categories to make graphs with the axes you want. Google’s Public Data Explorer then displays the data in a line graph, bar graph, scatterplot or on a map.
A useful calculator for businesses, Google’s Full Value of Mobile will calculate just how much having a mobile site is worth. The tool will help you analyze how customers interact with the various aspects of your business, from mobile sites to calls to cross-device ability.
Get Your Business Online is Google’s initiative to get more local businesses on the web, in an effort to boost the local economy as well as help small businesses grow. The initiative also encourages people to get other businesses online, with an end goal of reaching every local business in America. There are also listings for events and lessons. The free service also includes hosting for one year.
Schemer is like a combination to-do list and social event planning app. Connect via your Google+ account, enter your preferences, and Schemer will offer some things to do around your area. A great tool for travelers who want to make the most out of a visit, as well as for locals who want to find something to do on an otherwise boring day. You can also collaborate with the friends in your Google+ Circles and see who wants to do the same things as you.
Google Fonts offers open source web fonts for all to use privately or commercially. As of now, there are 629 font families available. Filter fonts by thickness, slant, width and script.
Google Developers houses a plethora of resources that developers can use, tools such as internationalizing different websites and live presentationsof tutorials. Developers can also join groups in a local area for meetups and collaboration.
Launched earlier this year, Google Keep app connects to your Google Drive. Sync-able across all your devices, Google Keep allows you to keep notes, voice memos, pictures and checklists in order. The easy-to-use interface is a simple app for those looking to do basic note-keeping on-the-go.
A part of Google Earth, Google Sky allows you to explore space and star systems. In collaboration with NASA, using images from the Hubble Telescope, Google Sky is one of three subsidiaries of Google Earth, the others being Google Mars and Google Moon.
Now that you’ve written your eulogies for Google Reader, it’s a good time to remember thatGoogle has an abundance of other resources that may not be as popular but still deserve a spotlight.
We rounded up some lesser-known Google tools and applications that could help you cope with the loss of Reader and rekindle your love for Google.
Take a look at tools we have missed and let us know what your favorite Google tool is in the comments.
Google Map’s newest version continues to deliver impressive upgrades, and now has the ability to display multiple routes on one page when plotting a trip.
When users search for directions by entering a starting point and destination, they can continue to add destinations to the maps without losing sight of their original route, Google announced in a blog post published Wednesday. During a test run of the feature, the number of destinations we were able to display on a single page topped out at nine.
As each destination is added, the map view automatically shifts to accommodate viewing all destinations on a single page. What’s more, the order of the destinations can be shuffled to offer different options in regards to time and mileage via foot, bike, car or public transit.
Once a user enters their destinations, they’ll notice a string of snapshots along the bottom of the map, which offer a look at some of the locations they’ve selected. But the photos aren’t just for show: If you roll your cursor over one of them, a grey line shoots out to indicate where on the map the photo was taken, delivering a bit more context, as you plot your journey into unfamiliar terrain.
Yet another practical addition to the new version of Google Maps is “upcoming events.” Users simply type in the name of a venue and, along with its location, they’ll find a drop-down list of upcoming events scheduled for that particular location.
Currently, these features are only available in English to users across the U.S. But as they roll out globally over time, touring unfamiliar locales around the world — as well as in your own country — will only get easier, and probably a lot more fun.