Charles in charge: Nav system knows how you feel

A Cambridge University professor is developing a navigation system that does what most boyfriends can't: read your emotions, sense what's going on, and adapt to the situation.

Just kidding about the boyfriend part.

Charles is a robot that is more co-pilot than GPS device. Frustrated by unintuitive gadgets that aren't helpful--let alone interactive--Professor Peter Robinson, who leads the Rainbow Group working on computer graphics and interaction at Cambridge, developed an emotionally intelligent navigation system that can tell how you're feeling and respond accordingly.

The system uses sensors and algorithms of predefined mental states to track facial cues, tone of voice, body language, and posture. Using this information, Charles can read human emotion with a 70 percent accuracy rate, which is on par with human ability, Robinson says in a YouTube video demonstrating his project.

But reading emotion is only one aspect of the robot's capability. Charles can also respond with human-like emotion.

With cameras for eyes and 24 motors for muscles, the robot's head and mouth moves as it gives directions and mimics human expressions. Unlike current GPS systems, Charles politely tells you where to go based on conversation. Should you not agree with the directions Charles provides, you can suggest an alternate route. Instead of saying it's recalculating or insisting on the programmed route, the robot actually agrees with your decision. … Read more

Google Maps 5.0 adds 3D mode, offline features

Timed to coincide with today's release of the Nexus S, Google made good on its promise to launch an update to its Google Maps app. Now available in the Android Market, Maps 5.0 offers a few major improvements over its predecessors.

First up is the 3D capability, which lets users see a simulated skyline for more than 100 cities around the world. And thanks to the use of vectors, you can get a different perspective by tilting the map forward for an angled view. To get there, just drag two fingers downward across the display. The same multitouch … Read more

Android app Tell My Geo helps track loved ones

We've written about people-tracking devices before, typically to keep track of elderly loved ones with some form of dementia. The downside has always been that those being tracked must remember to wear or carry the device that tracks them (i.e. a pendant, a watch, a shoe, etc.). The problem is built-in, so to speak.

Today the firm Iconosys, which develops safety-related mobile communication apps, has released Tell My Geo, a new app for Android OS smartphones to help keep track of those with dementia.

The app requires at least two phones, one for the person being looked after, … Read more

Google ad: Nexus S is better than your car's nav

Stating bluntly what many automotive manufacturers are starting to realize, Google released an ad that says the future of navigation and infotainment is probably on your phone.

The ad depicts a boy reiterating directions from Google's new Nexus S smartphone, with the subliminal message being that the new phone's navigation application is so easy a child can use it. Actually, most kids are probably better than adults at using any computer, phone, or in-dash navigation system, but that's beside the point. … Read more

A unique GPS app and an arcade golf game: iPhone apps of the week

A news item this week over at AppleInsider uncovered a troubling practice by a developer at the iTunes App Store. Apparently, users who downloaded a free massive multiplayer online game from a Chinese developer complained of unauthorized in-app purchases, running up the bills on their iTunes accounts. One user reported the situation to Apple resulting in him getting a refund for the fraudulent purchases and Apple promising to investigate the claims.

Even with a closed system like iTunes, apparently it is still possible for dishonest people to find a way to steal our money. Let's hope that Apple gets to the bottom of this case and finds a way to prevent these unauthorized purchases in the future. Until there's more news about this problem, be sure to regularly check your iTunes receipts (sent to the e-mail address attached to your iTunes account) for strange charges and report the issue to Apple if you have any problems.

This week's apps include a unique location-based social network app and an arcade golf game where you flick to win.… Read more

Next-gen Google Maps for Mobile previewed

The next generation of Google Maps for Mobile has been previewed by Google's Andy Rubin while demoing a prototype tablet running Android Honeycomb at D: Dive Into Mobile.

The fifth iteration of Google Maps for Mobile will feature an overhauled visual style that is based on vector graphics rather than the flat, bitmap images of the current version. The upshot of this change in graphic architecture is that maps now require much less space for storage and less bandwidth to download. Overall performance of the Google Maps software should be improved, but more importantly, lighter map data requirements makes … Read more

Solution to blocked satellite signals: Shoe radar?

With GPS devices popping up in everything from cars to cell phones these days, getting lost is getting harder. But what are the GPS-dependent to do when a blocked satellite signal confuses their wanderings (besides panic and curl up in the fetal position)?

Researchers from North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University think they've come up with a solution: a shoe radar system that likely will never make it onto the average Joe's sneaker but could have implications for the military and those who work in mines, tunnels, and other remote or high-risk environments.

The prototype system involves a portable radar sensor that attaches to a shoe's heel and also hooks up to a small navigation computer that tracks the distance between your heel and the ground. If that distance doesn't change over a set period of time, the computer figures your foot is stationary.

The low-power system works in conjunction with an inertial measurement unit, or IMU, an electronic device that measures acceleration and deceleration to determine speed and distance traveled. IMUs are frequently used to supplement GPS devices once a satellite signal drops (if you entered a remote canyon, you could use the IMU to retrace your steps to the last known GPS location and find your way back out).

But IMUs can be faulty, as minor errors can accumulate, leading to an increasing difference between where the system thinks it's located, and where it's actually positioned. … Read more

Magellan GPS app adds free traffic updates

I hate, hate, hate getting stuck in traffic, especially on the freeway (where you're usually trapped until the next exit). That's why I always drive with a GPS that can receive live traffic updates and steer me clear of congested areas.

Or a GPS app. CoPilot Live, MobileNavigator, and TomTom are among those that offer a live-traffic option, but all three charge you extra for it--usually on a monthly or annual basis.

Magellan RoadMate used to be the same way, but now, with the release of version 1.3, RoadMate offers free live traffic updates for life. I'… Read more

SIM cards to grow beyond mobile phones

The world's largest mobile phone network operators today revealed an effort to expand the GSM wireless communications technology to navigation devices, cameras, handheld gaming systems, music players, and more starting in 2012.

The GSM Association, the consortium overseeing the widely used mobile phone network technology, said a task force of members including AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, China Mobile, and Deutsche Telekom has begun working on adapting SIM cards so they can be embedded in many more devices than phones. SIM cards are small, removable chips that provide phones an identity on GSM wireless networks, but the embedded SIM will be more an intrinsic part of devices and will be able to be activated remotely, the GSMA said.

GSM technology began its life as a technology for phone calls, but with today's 3G and just-arriving LTE incarnations, it's used for data transfer as well. The embedded SIM effort signals a further growth of the GSM lineage beyond just voice needs.

So far, SIM cards haven't made it far beyond mobile phones, though some tablets such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab and some laptops include them. But it's easy to see why mobile phone network operators would be interested: mobile connectivity is ever more important, Wi-Fi networks are an incomplete patchwork, WiMax at least thus far hasn't lived up to its promise of bathing large areas with network access, and there's abundant subscription money to be made in connecting new devices to the Net.

"As our industry moves from connecting phones to connecting a wide range of devices, it is apparent that the embedded SIM could deliver even greater flexibility," GSMA Chief Executive Rob Conway said in a statement.

One trick will be to get new devices onto wireless networks without overtaxing the networks even more.… Read more

Audi A1 E-tron to use Google Earth navigation

Audi is raising the bar for electric vehicle infotainment systems by offering the same telematics package in the European A1 E-tron that it delivers in its top-of-the-line A8 sedan.

The Audi A1 E-tron is a prototype plug-in that uses a 45-kilowatt electric motor powered by a 12-kilowatt battery to deliver a 31-mile range. For longer distances, a small gasoline engine generates electricity to recharge the battery and extends the urban EV's range another 125 miles. Gear heads often complain that EVs take the fun out of driving, but the A1 E-tron's infotainment system could change their minds.

It … Read more