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Future smart spies: Innovative leaps in 2012

The future is now when it comes to combing biometrics and smart devices. Here are a few innovative leaps that happened in 2012.

When it comes to combining biometrics and smart devices, the future is now. Here is a look at three technological "smart" leaps that happened in 2012.

Smart gaming touchscreen recognizes your touch

Even blindfolded, a lover would recognize you by the feel of your touch, but what do you think about a touchscreen that knows you by the feel of your touch? Some touchscreens are shared among different users, but can't distinguish one person's finger from another. The Disney Research Institute in Pittsburgh has changed that. The researchers built a system that uses "capacitive fingerprinting" and weak electrical currents to distinguish between users. Eventually, the Disney researchers believe one tablet's touchscreen could be used by multiple people at the same time, like for gaming, and could also be capable of differentiating between the gamers.

NewScientist reported, "The system works by sending multiple frequencies of a weak electrical current through a user's finger when they first touch a device. Different frequencies take different paths to the ground through the human body, and the team's prototype measures the path each frequency takes, building up an electrical profile that is unique to the user (see video). Each user's interaction with the touchscreen is then assigned to their profile. The system builds on Disney's Touche system, which lets everyday objects detect touch gestures."

A 'spy' underfoot via smart 'magic' carpet

Help me I've fallen and I can't get up? You probably haven't ever stopped to think about your carpet spying on you, or on anyone else for that matter, but now there's 'smart' carpet thanks to researchers at the University of Manchester's Photon Science Institute. This 'magic carpet' has optical fibers in the underlay that distort when someone walks over it; sensors at the carpet's edge send signals to a computer. Footsteps can be analyzed and people can even be identified by their walking patterns.

The 'smart carpet' could not only detect a stumble or fall and sound an alarm, but it could analyze footsteps over time for any subtle changes in gait that might indicate mobility problems. It could be used by physical therapists to monitor patients. The researchers say it could even be used to as an intruder alert system. If it detected walking patterns of unknown individuals, and didn't recognize the footsteps, then the carpet could call the cops for help and be ready to identify the burglars' shoe types. Those sensors in the carpet could also "provide early warning of chemical spills" or fires. 

Musical Heart listens and learns

Music and exercise lovers, the University of Virginia [PDF] has invented something just for you that will "select tunes that push your pulse into the optimum range for the kind of workout you want." Music can pump you up or calm you down, and a new app can learn what works best for you and then choose the right exercise music to pump you up for your workout. Researchers "embedded a microphone into a set of headphones that listens to the throb of arteries in your ear. That data, as well as activity levels gathered using an accelerometer, is sent over the internet to a recommendation engine which chooses the next song based on the user's current and desired heart rate."

Researchers said the Musical Heart system may cost about $20. It listens and learns. "An app selects tunes that optimize the heart rate of an individual user based on a given activity, whether running, walking or relaxing – playing fast-paced music for hard workouts, and slowing the beat for cool-downs. An algorithm refines the music selection process of the system by storing heart rate data and calculating the effects of selected music on the rate. Over time, it improves music selections to optimize the user’s heart rate."

If you don't have a housekeeper to help out, how about smart socks?

Now, to the downright bizarre innovation for the person who has everything. How smart is too smart when it comes to socks? BlackSocks.com created "the smartest socks in the world." These 'smart' socks have RFID, NFC, come with a scanner and an iPhone app so you can sort your socks. You can tell how often you wash them and which sock should be paired with another. VentureBeat reported, "The socks themselves cost $189 for a 10-pack and the scanner, and you can order them online. The app, which you can also use to determine the blackness of your black socks, is free from Apple's app store."

Expect to see more innovation like this in the future as the Internet of Things picks up steam.

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