In the blink of an eye, 2016 is almost over and while we may not have flying cars or hoverboards that the movies from our past predicted, we still have some pretty interesting technological advances. There’s a common misconception that new and exciting inventions are reserved only for the rich. Luckily that is no longer the case. These new devices and electronics are affordable and available to anyone, anywhere.
As unbelievable as it sounds, one of the biggest technological advances popular right now is virtual reality (VR) masks. They’re here and they’re incredible. Virtual reality masks seem to transport the viewer anywhere with high quality views of over 100-degrees. Typically, masks connect to a video gaming console or a personal computer (PC).
One such popular mask is the Sony PlayStation VR, which hooks up to a PS 4 game console, and can be found on Amazon. To play within this particular VR realm, however, players need a lot more than just the mask. The PlayStation 4 camera is needed to detect player movements and Move Motion Controllers create easier control of movement. Although a lot of hardware is required, it’s all incredibly worth it because of the games Sony offers for the full VR experience. From Star Wars and Batman to other role-playing immersion games, the VR set allows players to “enter” the game as if they were actually within the screen.
Another popular VR mask is the Oculus Rift which connects to a PC and can be purchased at Best Buy and online. Oculus requires Windows 7 or higher in order to work properly, as well as an Oculus Sensor camera and Touch controllers. Retailers even sell Oculus-brand PCs. Players can “enter the worlds” of a variety of games, such a first-person shooters and role-playing games. They can even watch movies in 3D.
While those devices are a little pricey, don’t worry. Virtual reality masks can still be affordable. The Xtreme Cables’ VR Vue II, priced around $15, features a slot in the mask that a smartphone slides into, enabling the viewer to watch movies and videos from YouTube as well as play games all in 3D. Apps can be downloaded from an app store to play mystery, horror, and action games through full-immersion videos that feature rollercoasters, underwater adventures, and sights never even imagined. Some of the apps are free while others require a little spending money. Move over hoverboards, virtual reality masks are here and making strides.
Although a skateboard still won’t hover off the ground, a camera will. Say goodbye to asking strangers to take pictures (and praying they don’t run away with your phone or camera), or stretching uncomfortably with a selfie stick. AirSelfie is a small drone that slides into a customized phone case. When removed, the drone is powered by a smartphone app and can be flown for up to one hour to get elevated “selfies” or pictures of an entire family or group of friends — no matter the size. Imagine standing in front of a beautiful waterfall: a selfie stick can’t extend out far enough to capture the scenery, but an AirSelfie with its high definition camera can. It will become available early 2017 but if preordered on their KickStarter website, it could be delivered as soon as February.
While asking strangers for assistance can be a 50/50 proposition, asking technology for help is a lot easier than it was even a few years ago. Although Siri has been around for several years and can be accessed via various Apple products, there are two virtual assistants that seemed to have overpowered Siri’s capabilities. Amazon Echo’s Alexa and Google Home have been competing head to head ever since Google Home was released in November 2016.
There are a multitude of articles debating which product is better and the verdict seems to depend entirely on consumer usage. Although Amazon Echo had a couple years head start, Google Home appears victorious when it comes to answering questions based on its search engine algorithm. Alexa doesn’t understand context or conversational cues and requires more direct questioning. However, Alexa learns as she goes and can “learn” new skills based on the apps the consumer chooses to add.
Both virtual assistants work well for entertainment purposes, updating calendars, checking the weather, etc. While both excel in their own ways – with Alexa the user can call an Uber or order a pizza, and with Google Home they can receive answers based on contextual evidence (i.e. if you ask it to play a song from a certain artist based on only one line) – both are excellent additions to any home or lifestyle. The Google Home price is relatively solid at around $130, while Amazon Echo’s price varies on which of three models is purchased.
Not only is amazingly advanced technology entering homes but it has arrived at the local library. The Keller Public Library is introducing a new program called Hoopla digital, a free library app that has grown in popularity across North America. Hoopla digital only requires a valid library card and access to an Android or IOS device. Users can also access Hoopla on the website, hoopladigital.com. Rae Cheney, library services manager, says, “[This] fantastic new resource called hoopla [will provide users] access to movies, TV shows, music, e-books, e-audiobooks and comic books.”
The digital service eliminates library late fees, or the hassle of waiting for something to become available because titles can be streamed immediately or downloaded to a tablet, smartphone or computer to enjoy offline later. There are thousands of titles to choose from in each genre and patrons can “check-out” up to five titles per month. Books are downloaded for three weeks, movies for three days and music for one week, after which time they are automatically “returned.”
The Keller Public Library continues to grow in it’s non-traditional offerings to patrons, from STEM kits and workshops that teach children more about electronics, to readily available Wi-Fi hotspots.
From your home to your city, there’s no doubt that 2017 is going to be a technologically exciting year.