sprout – Stay N Alive

My Top 10 Gadgets of the Future That You can Buy in 2015

Recently I was asked to appear on my local Fox affiliate, Fox 13 to appear on their weekly lifestyle show, “The Place”. They wanted me to talk about my top 10 favorite gadgets of 2015. I agreed to take on the challenge, which really wasn’t a challenge since I already own most of them! You can see some of my reviews over on Youtube.com/TheSocialGeek (where I’ll post more in the future as well). If you’re coming from seeing me on TV, welcome! Introduce yourself in the comments and share with your friends!

2015 was filled with many pivotal moments in “the future”. It is 2015 after all – you know, the year when Marty McFly meets his future children as he travels to the world decades away, one we sat in amazement when we saw it in the 80s. We are in a world now of self driving cars, drones, hoverboards (just not the same as Marty’s!), and houses you can talk to! For an idea of where we’re headed, check out my predictions around “The Entirely Contextual, Peer-to-Peer, Self-Aware Future of Technology”.

I wanted to pick my 10 favorite items that matched this future. Most of them I own! Many of them you may not even realize exist, or realize their potential, but the future is evident in all of them. Here are my picks for 2015, all released (in some form) this year – let’s make this a new tradition! Click the links on each to find out where you can buy them:

  1. Sprout by HP With 3D Scanning Platform – $1978.88

    I was privileged, among all my reviews, for the HP Sprout to be the only one on my 2015 list to receive for free from the manufacturer. Bias aside (I was not paid to include it in this list), this is one of my favorite gadgets of 2015, the year they also released their 3D scanning platform.

    The Sprout by HP has a built in projector, as well as scanner that hovers above a mat below, allowing you to scan things in both 3D and 2D. The projector projects a second screen onto the desk allowing you, with the scanner, to use your desk as a touch screen for additional capabilities.

    This year HP also released a platform for 3D scanning that allows scanning of almost an entire 3D object in very good detail. When combined with a 3D printer you can take things from scan, to edit, all the way to real life! Click here to see my article on how we figured out how to scan things with this 3D scanner and put them in Minecraft!

    So why did I choose this in my list? My kids are always on it! My toddler daughter loves coloring with the built in Crayola coloring app, which you can use your finger on the desk to color in a virtual coloring book, being rewarded with new sounds and songs as you finish the drawing. She can also very easily just touch the screen to open her favorite PBS Kids or Disney Junior websites. It’s so much easier than figuring out how to use a mouse!

    Add to that my teenagers wanting to scan things, edit them, and print them out, it is one of my favorite gadgets of 2015. This is truly a playground for my kids, a gadget I see them on most.

  2. Viewmaster VR Viewer – $20.93

    Being 2015 I had to have some sort of VR device on my list. The truth is there are several I could have chosen. Google makes one you can cut out of cardboard and slip in your phone. Samsung makes one that only works with the Galaxy S series. Facebook has Oculus Rift, which is an amazing experience I’ve tried, but can’t be purchased yet by the general public.

    The most versatile of all the products I found was one by the same company that made the first “virtual image experiences” when we were kids – the Viewmaster. If we were to see one of those in “Back to the Future”, I think this is what it would look like in 2015. Heck, it even looks like Doc’s glasses in the future!

    Viewmaster has reinvented itself as an entire, multimedia, virtual reality experience. You slip in your phone, almost any smartphone (they even provide adapters you can add to allow smaller phones to work), and it immediately works with a whole variety of virtual reality apps you can download from your favorite app store.

    If you download one of Viewmaster’s 3 branded apps, unlike the Galaxy Gear VR or Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, you can use a provided circular disc that looks like one of the old Viewmaster discs you’d put in the device when we were young, and an augmented reality experience appears around the disc. So Viewmaster not only supports virtual reality, but augmented reality as well! With the AR experience, you can then choose the experience you want to start with and it takes you to a completely virtual world in 3D 360 view you, or your kids (if they can get it away from you) can learn from. I was really impressed with this $30 device!

  3. Sphero’s BB8 – $149.95

    It wouldn’t be 2015 without Star Wars! Sphero, the makers of a ball you can control and move around with your phone, shone, bringing us to the light side in this space. When Star Wars was being made, Sphero was approached to make the technology behind the lovable little droid named BB8 who stole the show in the series (which I’ve now seen 4 times). One of the first Star Wars toys you could buy was a mini BB8 you could control with your phone.

    Why is this cool? The coolest thing about this device is that, despite being able to control a ball that rolls around the floor in the shape of your favorite Star Wars character, it also has a head that through either “the Force” or magnets manages to stay on the top of the droid the entire time you control it. It also has a mode where it will “patrol” for you just like your very own droid!

  4. The Hoverboard – $360.17

    “Back to the Future” and Hoverboards go together like Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble. I kept hearing complaints this year that people didn’t get their hoverboard. Well, if that’s true I don’t know why people keep calling the self-moving device you can stand on without any handles a “hoverboard”. Yes, it does have wheels, but this is the hoverboard of our future (there is actually another non-wheeled version that is still far from production, but I’ll save that for one of my future lists).

    The Hoverboard has dominated Christmas headlines as not only one of the most popular and most in-demand items of 2015, but also one of the most dangerous. Videos have swarmed Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter of people falling and even injuring themselves on this device. Then there are the supposed “exploding batteries”. So this gadget is not one to take lightly! So wear your helmet and put on some shoes! (Oh, and please don’t do a handstand on it like this girl!)

    You can watch me shovel snow on my driveway on one of these here!

  5. Tesla Model S – $69,900 (before incentives)

    You may think that Teslas are for the rich and famous, but with incentives, and new versions (including the X just announced this year) coming out regularly, there is a very good chance you will be able to afford one in your lifetime. Add to that leasing options, competition, and other ways to force the price down and this will actually, very soon become very affordable to the average consumer.

    So why did I choose such an expensive “gadget” for my 2015 list? It was this year that Tesla, with a single software update, released a “self-driving” option for every one of their cars in production, making them the first car currently sold to consumers that allows them to drive without touching the gas, brakes, or steering wheel.  Self-driving cars people!

    But that’s just the start of it all. Tesla is owned by Elon Musk, who just single-handedly (well sorta) launched a rocket and landed it on the same rockets used to launch. Through his company SpaceX they have already launched missions with NASA. Add to that the potential of Musk’s “Hyperloop” technology, as well as a battery that powers your entire home and gets swapped out with 0 net energy cost, Tesla and Elon Musk’s other inventions are essentially space-age technology!

    Now you won’t wonder why I’m so passionate about getting a Tesla dealership in Utah – Tesla is about so much more than cars! In fact I’m so passionate about this one that I’ve vowed that, assuming my own business is in shape by the time, when Utah gets a Tesla dealership and passes laws to allow it (yes, it’s illegal currently in Utah), I will buy one.

  6. The Apple Watch – $296

    As a former Google Glass owner, I totally understand the value of a wearable device that can provide notifications and easy access to information without needing to take your phone out of your pocket. I like the Apple Watch because it is not so obvious, much less a distraction, but still gives me those “heads up” notifications I got from Google Glass. That said, it did make me “turn back time” a little bit by buying a watch for the first time since I owned a cell phone.

    To be honest, most of the other smart watches should also fit in this category. If you own an Android watch you should consider one of the Android Wear devices, which are also very solid devices. I currently own the Apple Watch though, and it was Apple’s big debut for 2015 (Android Wear was released in 2014), so it gets to be on my list for this year!

  7. Owlet Baby Monitor – $249.99

    I had the privilege to be one of the first owners of the Owlet Baby Monitor, which released later this year. The Owlet Baby Monitor attaches as a “sock” to your baby’s foot, and tracks vitals such as heart rate, respiration and breathing. The sock communicates with a base station you can put next to your bed to receive comfort in knowing your baby is sleeping and breathing safely all night long. When the baby stops breathing an alarm goes off so you can go check on your baby.

    We were able to use ours upon the birth of our child with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Coming home from the NICU this peace of mind did help us sleep a little better and feel a little more at comfort. Fortunately we had no real alarms go off to worry about, but already 2 families have saved their childrens’ lives as a result of this device. That makes this device a “must buy” for families with newborns in my book!

  8. Amazon Echo – $179.99

    While your TV may be the screen of your home, and your phone may be the interface for your home, Amazon Echo is the ears of your home. With a simple call to “Alexa”, the default name for each Amazon Echo, this device allows you to ask it just about anything and it will respond.

    Alexa integrates with all your favorite every day apps and gives you a voice control for them. “Alexa, play music” plays music. “Alexa, set an appointment with Bob for Friday at 12pm” will add an appointment to your calendar. The Echo even integrates with smart hubs like the Samsung Smart Hub, allowing me to control things around my house with my voice. “Alexa, turn on the lights” will turn on the lights. I even have it integrated with my fireplace through a Z-Wave relay I hooked up to work with my smart hub – “Alexa, turn on the fireplace” turns on the fireplace!

    I especially like this device because the entire family uses it. One of our favorite things to do is have it play music for us while we play board games as a family. “Who Shot the Sheriff?” is a popular song while we play the popular card game, “Bang”. Whatever it is, you’ll grow to love this device the more you use it and play with it.

    Check out my unboxing of the Amazon Echo here!

  9. DJI Inspire – $2619

    Besides the Tesla, this is one of the few on my list that I don’t own, but DO have on my wishlist for 2016! Drones have been one of the major highlights of 2015, and I’d do a disservice if I didn’t have a drone on this list. They were in fact so popular that the US Government has required all drone owners to register or get fined.

    The DJI Inspire is the Mercedes of the branded drones. With legs that retract above the camera, 4K video, and a gimbal that allows full, stabilized and unrestricted view of the entire landscape, this is an aerial photographer’s dream. As a photographer myself, this is something I definitely want to own some day to get some of those tough shots from above.

  10. Samsung Smart Hub – $99

    In 2015 Samsung released its version 2.0 of its popular “Smart Hub” device which allows you to have full control of your home. The device connects over Wifi and Z-wave (and a few other wireless codecs) allowing you to tie all those devices together.

    For instance, in my home when I come within proximity of my home, my phone lets the Smart Hub know over the internet, and the Smart Hub then notifies, over z-wave, my garage door opener to open for me. Then when I leave that proximity it closes again, automatically. I never have to push a button!

    Another scenario is it can turn on certain lights in the morning when I wake up, or set my Nest thermostat to a certain temperature. It also notifies me when certain people come home, or when people are traveling through the house. With the Samsung Smart Hub I have full control over everything that happens in my house, and I don’t ever have to be there!

So there you have it – one gadget at a time we are getting closer to the future of Marty McFly and Doc. I love these gadgets, and they have definitely gotten my attention in 2015! What gadgets have you loved and what might I have missed? Share with me in the comments!

How to Scan Anything You Want Into Minecraft Using Sprout by HP

A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to be one of a few that were selected to receive a Sprout by HP. As part of the criteria, they wanted me to come up with some ideas for cool things I could build and make using the device, which has a 3D scanner built in. I got my Sprout, and I’m loving every bit of it!

The Sprout by HP comes with a touch mat and scanner, and also has a touch screen. It comes with an optional keyboard and mouse but honestly, especially if you’re a casual computer user you can do most functions without a keyboard or mouse at all!

The scanner points down at the touch mat, and not only projects images onto the touch mat, giving you a second screen to work with, but also scans the touch mat allowing you to select objects and use the touch mat itself as a touch screen. With the Sprout by HP’s scanner you can scan anything from simple paper documents, to 3D images. And if you have the optional and separate 3D Capture Stage, you can scan even more accurate and 360 degree images that you can use for various things like what I’ll show you in this demo. I’ll share an unboxing of the unit in a future, much less formal video.

I wanted to figure out something really cool to do with the computer’s 3D scanning capabilities. My geek friend, Chris Pirillo, suggested I figure out a way to scan things into Minecraft with the 3D scanner. Naturally, since I literally wrote the book – okay, a book, on Minecraft – I thought this was a really cool idea. I’m afraid to admit I wasn’t sure it could be done at the time, but I’m proud to say I figured it out, and it’s actually fairly simple to do!

To do it, you need the Sprout by HP (go buy it now on HP.com or select retail stores!), and just a few software programs that will bring your scanned item into your Minecraft game. Here’s what you need:

  • First, you’ll need a copy of the stable release version of MCEdit. You can download this by going to khroki.github.io/MCEdit-Unified/ and clicking on the button at the top. Make sure you don’t download the development versions, as those do not yet have all the features you need. Once downloaded, you can install the program – I’ll show you how to run it for your purposes later.
  • Next, you need a special script, created by user pepsi_ on minecraftforum.net, that will let you convert the native Sprout by HP 3D scans in .obj file format into MCEdit readable format. I’ve created a downloadable file at www.dropbox.com/s/kn04sr9amy5ntvy/obj2mc.zip?dl=0 – I’ll include a link in the Youtube description and on the blog post about this video. When you download this file just unzip the file and remember where you put it.
Now that you have these things, you get to have some fun! Let’s start by scanning in you item to the Sprout by HP. To do so, tap “3D Capture” on the Touch Mat. You’re going to use the optional 3D Capture Stage which you can purchase at sprout.hp.com for this demo. Select “3D Capture” on the screen, and then choose “Automatic Scan”. You’ll then be prompted to connect your 3D Capture Stage.
Once the Stage is connected, follow the instructions on your screen. You’ll be prompted to scan the background – remove all items from the touch mat and stage, and allow it to scan the background. This prepares the unit for scanning your image.
For my purposes, I like to put the stage in the tilt position. To do so just twist the stage, and place your item. It’s wise to use the supplied sticky tack to hold it in place, as the stage will spin around during the scan. Once your item is in place, you’re ready to scan! Select “Start Scan” and sit back and watch it do it’s work!
Once your scan is done it will prompt you to have the option to do it again. I recommend doing this as often as you need, each time in a different position – on the side, on its’ back, flipped around and so forth until you’ve given the computer every angle you possibly can to develop as accurate a 3D image as possible. When finished, it will save to your hard drive. It will also show up under your 3D scans in the Sprout Workspace to use in other projects.
Now you just need to export the image into a location you can easily access. To do this, with your 3D image open, select the upper-right hand menu and choose “export to obj”. This will allow you to name the file and select where you want to place it – for your purposes you’ll place it on the desktop for ease of access – DON’T FORGET WHERE YOU SAVED YOUR FILE!
Now you’re ready to import your 3D image into Minecraft! This is where the fun starts.
To import your image into Minecraft you’ll use MCEdit. Before you open that though, you need to export the file into a format MCEdit can understand. Remember the obj2mc program from earlier? You just need to run it.
To run the file, just open up the unzipped directory you unzipped earlier. Run the file obj2mc.exe by double-clicking on the file. The program should start running and a new window will pop up with different options. You just need to select your scanned obj file that you just created.
To select the file, select the “…” button in obj2mc. Double-click on the file you just saved on your desktop. And now your file will be loaded!
At this point you can edit any of the options on there. I suggest leaving most of them alone unless you know what you’re doing. Now hit “convert”, and your file will be created in the same place as your original obj file. Let’s import it into MCEdit, which will allow us to choose where in your Minecraft world you want to place your newly scanned item!
First of all, it’s important to note that obj2mc does not scan in color, so your object will be in a gray, generic stone type of Minecraft block. Maybe if someone updates a new program to update these to color, I’ll do another video.
Let’s start by opening MCEdit. Just double-click on the MCEdit executable once you’ve installed the program. Now open up the map from your Minecraft world. Click on “import”, and then select your scanned object. Now place it where you want it to go in your world. Select “save” and your object will now be there when you visit Minecraft!
In future videos, I’ll show you how to upload your Sprout by HP scans onto a Minecraft server so you can share with other friends and never lose your objects. I’ll also show you how to take objects you place or create inside Minecraft itself, and print them out on a 3D printer like the sub $1000 Dremel 3D Idea Builder which works quite well with the Sprout by HP. I will also note that HP sent me one of these to review, which I will share in a future episode.
The Sprout by HP opens up a whole world of possibilities for makers and hackers like myself. I can take practically anything from the real world, import it into the digital, and even produce it back into the real world again in a new, but more creative dimension. My mind has had a mad rush of thoughts and ideas of things that can be scanned, modified, and even printed out using all the different and cool sensors on the machine. I can’t wait to come up with new possibilities and ways to improve on all of this, perhaps maybe even developing a UI inside the Sprout itself to import these into your Minecraft game. The possibilities are endless.
To get the Sprout by HP go to sprout.hp.com. I also suggest the 3D Capture Stage for more accurate 3D images. The Dremel 3D Idea Builder can also be purchased from a link on the HP website, and I’ve had a blast turning my digital creations into physical with the Dremel! A special thanks again to HP for sending me this amazing product.
Now go make things!
Disclosure: HP sent me a Sprout by HP computer, 3D Capture Stage, and Dremel 3D Idea Builder for free, and also sponsored this video and blog post. While that has certainly influenced my excitement, I plan to keep these units and enjoy them for future videos and blog posts which were not sponsored by HP. I really do love this product and plan to share even more in the future! The Sprout by HP is teaching me a lot about where manufacturing and product design is going in the future, one where just about anyone can make things right in their own living rooms!