The Light Side: A Look at Modern TV Viewing Habits

March 28, 2014

Your Robotic Doppelganger Is Here

Invisible Bicycle Helmet Deploys in Nick of Time

On-demand TV is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Digital video recording (DVR), YouTube, online streaming services, and now mobile device apps and "TV-to-go" services that cable and satellite providers offer to subscribers let us gorge on our favorite programming when we want and where we want, without impinging on our busy lifestyles. But content mobility in and out of the home, on favorite devices and through new mediums, has brought about unorthodox and newfangled TV-viewing behaviors, all in the name of efficiency and convenience. Let's review some of these behaviors:

The Marathon Binge-Watch. All your colleagues around you are stark-raving mad about Mad Men and anticipating the seventh and final season. Why didn't you jump on this bandwagon before? What's past is past, and you finally don't feel like being left out of office-cooler talk anymore. You block out a free weekend where you can go into full lock-down mode to catch up. Six seasons ... that's a lot. Maybe you'll need to call in sick on Monday ... and Tuesday... Although less intense, The Marathon Binge-Watch is applicable to movie trilogies.

The Obsessive Repeat Viewing. Wow, that Game of Thrones episode just blew your mind. Your friend Sam just sent you nine text messages. Did Tyrion really do what he just did? You really want to see again what went down, and the replay is coming up, but that load of laundry isn't going to wash itself and you still haven't prepared for that presentation tomorrow. You also forgot to DVR. You could wait seven days, when it plays again just before the next episode premiere, but that's a millennium. Quick... think. Yes, that's right, HBO Go will have it in 24 hours. Crisis averted.

The Sports Double-Play. It's a big game night. The Astros are at home against the Tigers, and the Rockets start their playoff push versus the Lakers. You've got the beer, and the pizza is on the way. There's only one TV, and you have no clue how picture-in-picture works anymore -- but you are master and commander of that iPad. You download your TV provider's live-streaming iPad app and voila. Next thing you know, Astros are on the iPad and Rockets on the big screen. Someone just hit a home run, so you flip it around: baseball on TV, basketball on the tablet. Rinse and repeat for the next three hours. Booyah.

The YouTube Cheat. Your wife is channel-surfing and accidentally happens upon a South Korean soap opera. It's obviously an old series but it has English subtitles, and both of you now fully understand the gravity of two sisters being in love with the same man. It's riveting, you can't pull away, but it's only a half-hour long. You need to know what happens next. You go online and blindly trawl foreign websites for it, not even sure of the program's English name. As a last-ditch attempt, you look on YouTube, and there is apparently a Robin Hood of Korean soap operas out there saving the world. The next 20 hours spent on the couch with your spouse are Seoul-ful. See also The Marathon Binge.

The Airport Crash. That Sunday-to-Tuesday industry trade show really cramped your Walking Dead style. While the rest of the America found out whether Daryl gave up the ghost in the latest zombie ambush and engage in post-episode therapy sessions on social networks, you spend Monday and Tuesday closing deals and dodging spoilers. Finally, you're on your way home and have some downtime at the airport. You crack open the laptop. Internet connection -- check. AMC's TV-to-go site -- check. The show's opening theme, drenched with dread, plays. At last. No no no no no, the battery indicator is flashing. No no no no no. Argh.

Your Robotic Doppelganger Is Here

Have you ever dreamed about a sidekick robot who is your best mate and knows you just about as well as you know yourself -- and who looks like you? Of course you have, and dream no more, as it is now a reality. UK robot artisans at Engineered Arts, the company behind the wise-cracking RoboThespian

, have created SociBot, who can be your artificial friend for an affordable $25,000.

SociBot has an interactive talking head fitted onto a torso base and will learn its owner's, er, human buddy's face and expressions and react accordingly. The robot, whose molded-plastic translucent head can project an image of your face (Engineered Arts

takes care of that prior to shipping), can also recognize hand waves, body poses, and other gestures. It can also track up to 12 people at a time, if you want your robot to get social with a crowd.

Credit: Engineered Arts[/caption

On board the humanoid is an infrared depth sensor and a high-definition webcam. SociBot features LED pico projection technology, with custom-developed optics, and whose LED light source will run for up to three years. Its image processing software suite allows it to accurately tell a person's gender and estimate his or her age, as well as make eye contact without prompting and react based on the person's body language.

According to New Scientist

, which recently interacted with SociBot in Germany, the robot also has some speech recognition abilities and comes with chatbot software so that it can hold simple conversations in 20 languages. "We have social software and a social Internet, but we don't have social hardware," said Engineered Arts' Will Jackson, conversing with New Scientist.

Aside from serving the personal whims of owners, SociBot is being envisioned by Engineered Arts as the next generation of information terminals and service kiosks at malls, shopping centers, airports, and other public places. When fitted with an accompanying touch-screen interface, SociBot can be pre-programmed with scripted behaviors and interactions with passersby, delivering content with a more human touch. The fiberglass body shell makes SociBot robust enough for unattended operation.

Another application is a sort of different take on telepresence. For the road-warrior boss whose face is terribly missed by staffers back at the ranch, a SociBot can serve as his proxy for voice conferences, projecting the boss' favorite expressions. "It's as spooky as hell," Jackson quipped, about this particular use of the robot.

Of course, any face -- even custom-designed fictional ones -- can be ordered from Engineered Arts for SociBot. New Scientist suggests putting a friend's face. We think that's even creepier than putting your own face and might make your friend jealous of being replaced by a machine.

Invisible Bicycle Helmet Deploys in Nick of Time

Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt were industrial design graduate students who found inspiration in bicycle helmets. They were inspired not by the good qualities of helmets, but the bad. They felt that helmets were too bulky, suppressed a cyclist's vision, and looked ugly. Their solution was to design a product with all of the safety requirements without the traditional helmet qualities.

The Hovding is an airbag for cyclists that is worn as a scarf. Sensors within the collar are triggered during a crash incident and deploy the airbag. Extensive crash testing was done to build the algorithm that distinguishes between normal cycling activity and an accident.

The airbag itself is designed in a hood shape, made of nylon fabric that resists rips when scraping across the ground. After inflation the bag remains intact for several seconds to protect against multiple impacts from one accident. Helium gas is contained in an inflator that sits at the back of the collar.

Crash testing and development for the Hovding have been in process since 2005 and are constantly evolving. Research was done with help from airbag manufacturer Alva Sweden. Hovding has outfitted every collar with a black box device that records 10 seconds of data of the cyclist's movement. They ask that any users who have an accident to add that data to the decade's worth of information already collected.

The Hovding unit zips around a users neck, with a zipper that must be fully in the up position and an on/off switch to activate the device. Five LEDs on the collar and a sound signal notify the user that the device is switched on. Several designs are available to enhance the black outside collar, and shells can also be purchased to give the collars a different look.

Currently the product is sold in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and in the inventors' native Sweden. Sales to North America are not active at this time. The GE Focus Forward video

is very well done, and the company's website

is full of good information but short on technical details. The Hovding is an exciting step forward in cycling safety.


Top photo credit: graur razvan ionut at

This article by Tom Spendlove

was originally published on

and is adapted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit



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