The Lowly Luggage Tag Gets a High-Tech Makeover

e-luggage tag

By Damon Lavrinc from

We shop for flights on our laptop, book hotels on our tablet, and have a QR code boarding pass on our smartphone. So why are we still walking up to the ticket counter to get a printed sticker when we check our bags? British Airways and Designworks asked the same question and think it’s time for the luggage tag to evolve.

Next month, the airline and design firm will begin testing a reusable, e-ink luggage tag that connects with your smartphone. Using NFC, the app will beam your flight information to the tag, displaying your destination and a barcode on the e-paper screen. There’s no GPS-tracking, but the display is compatible with existing luggage scanners, so there’s no need to update the existing infrastructure at airports.

BA employees will be testing the tags during a three-month trial before the airline rolls out the system to its passengers next year. However, NFC will likely be ditched in favor of Bluetooth so the system is compatible with all smartphones that run BA’s app. And the airline estimates that travelers using the tag will be able to have their bags dropped off and checked in less than a minute.

Images: Designworks

[Original article]

Smartphone Tracker Gives Doctors Remote Viewing Powers

Why It Matters: Patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes could benefit if doctors had a way to tell when they stopped taking their medication.

This novel way of keeping tabs on patients is one of several studies of an app called taking place at hospitals in the United States. Once installed on patients’ smartphones, the app silently logs data about what they do and where they go. It’s looking for signs that something in their life has changed.

The company that makes the app, also called, was spun out of MIT’s Media Lab in 2011 from a group that applies computer algorithms to mobile-phone data to learn about the health of individuals and entire populations (see “Big Data from Cheap Phones”). That work, sometimes called “reality mining,” has shown that shifts in how people use their phones, and where they go, can reflect the onset of a cold, anxiety, or stress.

Anmol Madan, cofounder and CEO of, says that research suggested a new, inexpensive way to automate monitoring of people with conditions like diabetes or mental illness. They generally care for themselves, taking drugs at home, but they often stop taking medication if they get depressed. Then they run up medical bills when they have to see a doctor.

The app doesn’t diagnose patients directly. But it does warn that a person’s behavior has changed in ways that are linked to what doctors call “noncompliance” with a drug or treatment plan. With the app silently logging those changes, says Madan, “now the doctor or nurse can get a sense of the patient’s life and help as needed.” is available in both the Android and Apple app stores, but it can be activated only by a hospital or health-care company. Once installed, takes a few days to record the normal patterns of a person’s life. It collects motion data from a phone’s accelerometers; notes the places a person visits; logs the timing, duration, and recipients of phone calls; and records patterns in text messaging. After that, algorithms watch for any significant deviations and notify hospital staff if they occur.

Why It Matters: Patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes could benefit if doctors had a way to tell when they stopped taking their medication. One of the hospitals and health-care companies testing is Novant Health, which operates the Forsyth Medical Center and 13 other medical centers across the Carolinas and Virginia. Matthew Gymer, Novant’s director of innovation, says his group approached because it wanted an “early warning system” that could cut the number of times patients came to its clinics. Gymer declined to say how many patients are involved in Novant’s trial, but Madan says tests of typically start with hundreds of patients.

Eight months after was installed on the smartphones of some diabetes patients, it’s still too soon to say what the financial and health effects have been. But Gymer says patients “love the app because they have quicker access to caregivers” and that Novant is considering expanding the test to patients with heart problems or chronic back pain.

In the Novant trial, nurses respond to alerts generated by the app, but Madan says his company is working now on how to automate interaction with patients, too. For people with Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, an automated message might ask about stomach pain, which may be an effective way to catch people on the verge of a flare-up. Other automatic responses the company is testing are a bit further from the methods of traditional medicine. “We’ve also explored the idea of sending a funny picture,” says Madan, “or messaging a patient’s friend suggesting they call.”

[Full article]

Review: Pebble e-paper watch

Five watches showing different functions


69k backers. $10m in the can. But now that the Pebble E-paper watch is showing up on our wrists, was it worth it?

With 68,929 backers pledging more than $10m, the Pebble E-paper watch is the highest-grossing Kickstarter project to date. The pitch, to fund an Android- and iOS-compatible smartwatch, was so successful that the campaign had to be cut short. With a 144 x 168 e-paper display, vibrating motor, 3-axis accelerometer and Bluetooth connectivity, the Pebble promises to let you use your smartphone without it ever leaving your pocket.

Style-wise, the Pebble isn’t going to turn many heads, but it isn’t an eyesore. Sleek but chunky, the rectangular looks are vaguely reminiscent of Casio calculator watch, albeit one from a minimalist future. The comparison is appropriate, since both products are trying to return the wristwatch from fashion-accessory purgatory to a place of utility. If you desire something a little more stylish, the default rubber strap can be replaced with a standard 22mm watch band.

Not to be confused with e-ink, the Pebble’s e-paper display is actually a low-power memory LCD. The high contrast screen is readable, even in direct sunlight, but unlike e-ink it has a 30 fps refresh rate. This quick refresh rate allows for smooth animations in menus and watch faces. The drawback is that continually refreshing the screen drains power fast. Watch faces that feature moving second hands severely impact battery life.

[Full article]

Mobile phones: 40 years of handsets in pictures

Motorola "brick" mobile concept phone
Motorola "brick" mobile concept phone
Product designer with Motorola DynaTAC mobile concept phone in 1972. This model was called a “shoe phone” because it resembled a boot
Photograph: Motorola Archives

From the Guardian UK:

As we reach the 40th anniversary of the first public mobile phone call, we look back at four decades of innovation, from the “brick” handsets of the 1970s and 1980s to today’s smartphones. Expert Mike Short says: “Since its first use 40 years ago, the mobile phone has completely changed our lives. The first decade was a research or a ‘demonstrator’ phase, rapidly followed by analogue networks deployed over 10 years from the early 1980s largely based on carphones and used in business in the developed world. This soon led to the digital decade mainly between 1993 and 2003 when consumerisation and globalisation of mobile really took off. This led to a further data adoption phase with the arrival of 3G and during 2003 to 2013 access to the internet and the wider use of smartphones became a reality.”

[Full article]

“Digital Omnivores” Devouring Video on Tablets, Study Says

Illustration of tablet and phone

Illustration of tablet and phoneFrom the Hollywood Reporter:

Research firm Deloitte says 26 percent of the U.S. population over age 14 owns a tablet, smartphone and laptop.

There were 160 percent more “digital omnivores” at the end of last year than there were at the end of 2011, according to a new study Deloitte will release Wednesday.

The research firm defines a “digital omnivore” as someone who owns all three of the dominant, portable digital devices: laptop, smartphone and tablet. Deloitte says that group is now 26 percent of the American populace over age 14, up from 10 percent a year earlier.

[Full article]