Good vibrations: this bracelet lets you communicate without words

What if apps didn’t need a display to send you messages? Or what if you could talk to someone across the room without raising your voice? French wearable startup Novitact wants to solve these problems with its Feeltact bracelet, which the company showed off at CES in Las Vegas this week.

Feeltact is a bracelet that includes four buttons to send and respond to information, as well as multiple small cells that are capable of vibrating in a variety of patterns. The bracelet is connected to your phone via Bluetooth LE, and a dedicated app can be used to define what different patterns of vibrations mean.


Novitact CEO Thibaud Severeni demonstrated the bracelet to me Thursday at CES by using the company’s own mobile app, which is capable of translating pre-determined alerts and text messages into vibration patterns, but the company also wants to release an SDK to let third-party app developers access the Feeltact bracelet. The bracelet is currently available for pre-order, and Severeni said that it may cost as much as €250 (almost $300).

That’s a steep price, but I nonetheless like the idea behind Feeltact. Non-visual mobile communication seems to make a whole lot of sense for wearables, many of which either have very small or no displays at all. Not every piece of information warrants a glance. Tactile feedback may be less distracting, and possibly even more immediate than a message that gets lost among too many notifications on your screen.

Of course, Apple is also exploring this idea with its watch. The company has said that Apple watch users will be able to send subtle vibration pulses to a loved one who is also wearing the watch to let them know that you are thinking of them. Severeni told me that his company is aiming for much more complex interactions through the sense of touch, but it may be hard for the company to compete with big guys like Apple, Samsung and LG. That’s why Novitact is also thinking about licensing its technology to manufacturers of smartwatches and other wearables.


Cars aren’t just connecting to the internet; they’re connecting to everything

As in previous years, we’re seeing a lot of car connectivity news at the Consumer Electronics Showcase, but an interesting theme is emerging at this year’s conference. We’re starting to see the automobile take its place among the internet of things, connecting not just to smartphones, but also wearables, the smart home and even the roads and vehicles around them.

When a smart watch is also a key fob

You can connect a smartphone to a lot of vehicle these days. But [company]Hyundai[/company] has done one better. It’s linking Android Wear watches to its Blue Link infotainment and telematics system. The app will let you unlock and start your car with a tap of a screen icon or even a voice command. What’s better is this isn’t some concept tech. It will work on Hyundai Blue Link systems going back to its first generation in 2012 Sonata, and the app will be available for download on Google Play this quarter.

The Blue Link app soon to be available on Android Wear devices

The Blue Link app soon to be available on Android Wear devices

We’re also starting to see more linkages between the smart car and the smart home courtesy of Nest and Automatic, the maker of the popular plug-in module that will turn your unconnected car into a connected one. Now your Nest can coordinate with your Automatic module to set your home’s temperature. Instead of turning on the AC or heat when you walk in the door, Automatic can let Nest know when you’re 15 minutes from your garage based on your driving patterns and therefore start cranking the thermostat well before you arrive.

That’s a pretty basic application, but we’re starting to see more ties between apps in the home and car through services like IFTTT and after-market devices like Automatic and Mojio, but hopefully we can soon start eliminating those middlemen. At CES, [company]Ford[/company] demoed its new Sync 3 connected infotainment system publicly for the first time, and one of its features is the ability to talk directly to your home network through Wi-Fi. Ford is only using that connection for software updates today, but Ford executive director of connected vehicles and services Don Butler told me recently that Ford plans to use Wi-Fi as a bridge between the home and car in the future.

And lest we forget smartphones, we saw one of the world’s biggest automakers, Volkswagen, commit to supporting [company]Apple[/company]’s CarPlay and [company]Google[/company]’s Android Auto software in vehicles released this year in Europe and the U.S. Most of the auto industry is doing the same, though most automakers are being pretty vague on the timelines.

What’s interesting about the VW announcement is that [company]Volkswagen[/company] is already supporting an alternate smartphone overlay system called MirrorLink, and it will continue to include it in its vehicles. We’re starting to see automakers open up to multiple different means of connecting smartphones to a car, and based on my conversations with car OS makers like [company]BlackBerry[/company] QNX, this will be the norm among car companies. That’s great because ultimately it will give consumers choice, which is something we lack in a lot of connected car systems today.

Cycles, snowy roads and internet-connected salt trucks

[company]Volvo[/company] and POC were on hand at CES showing off their prototype cycling helmet, which can communicate with Volvo cars to help both cyclist and driver avoid collisions. My colleague David Meyer covered the technology last month, but as he pointed out the chances of it actually preventing accidents in the real world were pretty slim.

Volvo POC cycle helmet

But I give credit to Volvo for experimenting with the concept of making cars part of larger transportation network. Of all of the automakers it’s been looking into ways to linking vehicles to infrastructure and the roads they drive on.

One of the most interesting examples is work Volvo doing with [company]Ericsson[/company] and local government agencies in Sweden to use embedded road sensors in its cars to determine snow and ice conditions on streets and highways. By crowdsourcing data from thousands of vehicles driving on roads in real times, city crews know where and when they need to send out their salt trucks to de-ice the pavement.


These headphones are packing a hidden pair of VR goggles

At first glance, the Glyph headphones from Redwood City-based startup Avegant look chunky, but there’s a good reason: there is a pair of screens inside the headband. When you slide the band over your eyes, you might look like Star Trek’s Geordi, but you’ll be watching video in an immersive environment.

Avegant’s been working this concept as well as screens that go up close to your eyes since a successful Kickstarter in 2013, and according to the company the Glyph uses “micromirror retinal projection” technology, which should help reduce eye strain.

Aside from the two 1280 x 720 panels for your eyes, the Glyph should be great on the ears as well. It will have active noise canceling and can connect to a music player wirelessly through Bluetooth. The headphones manage a three-hour battery life while watching video, so users will need to recharge the cans with a micro USB cable.


How do you pipe video in to the Avegant Glyph? It’s got an HDMI port, so you can plug a Roku or laptop computer into the headphones like you would a television. Avegant said that with the right cables, it should be able to display content from smartphones as well.

Headphones could be an interesting vehicle for virtual reality headsets in the future. Unfortunately, the Glyph is only a video headset for now. Although it has the requisite sensors to track the user’s movement, like Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, the Glyph isn’t doing head-tracking at the moment. It also doesn’t have a camera, ruling out augmented reality applications.

For now, Avegant thinks its Glyph is a better device for watching video than a standard mobile device. “Where does [the movie] experience suck? Anytime you’re watching on your phone or tablet,”Avegant CTO and founder Allan Evans said to Re/Code. The company plans to target the Glyph at frequent fliers when it launches this fall for $599.


This Montblanc band can turn your Swiss watch into a smartwatch

One of the biggest questions in the nascent smartwatch market is whether luxury watch wearers will ditch expensive but limited mechanical watches for less prestigious but more-functional smartwatches. Swiss watchmaker Montblanc thinks it has a solution for everyone: Simply stick the smart electronics in the band. You can keep your fancy luxury timepiece on your wrist while getting notifications and fitness tracking data from a screen on the inside of your wrist.


Montblanc revealed the e-Strap in an email to customers and watch enthusiasts on January 1st and it’s expected to be officially announced at a watchmaker’s conference in Geneva this month.

It appears that the e-Strap is running Montblanc’s own software — although the screenshot looks a little bit like Microsoft Band — and according to the email, the strap should be able to measure steps and calories as well as provide notifications for text messages, emails, incoming calls, and “social feeds.” It can also be used as a remote control to play music or trigger a camera shutter.

Thanks to its touchscreen black-and-white OLED display running at 128 x 36 resolution, the e-Strap should be able to run for five days without needing a charge. When it’s out of batteries, users can top off the power with a micro USB cable.


Interestingly, it appears that [company]Montblanc[/company] may have an agreement with [company]Samsung[/company]. Although the e-Strap will work with both Android and iOS devices, Montblanc uses Samsung phones in its promotional images, and specifically outlines that the device works with “Samsung Galaxy S4, S5, Note 3, and Note 4” in its specs.


The E-strap will debut on Montblanc’s Timewalker Urban Speed line of watches, which start at 2,990 euros (US $3,592), but you will be able to pick one up on its own for 250 euros. The 20mm wide strap should work with most watches that take 20mm to 24mm watchbands.

The strap by itself looks fairly attractive, from the provided photos, made from what Montblanc calls “Extreme Montblanc Leather” which resembles carbon fiber. If the look doesn’t work for you and your collection of vintage timepieces, Montblanc is preparing a “stand-alone chic bracelet” version that will cost 450 euros.



Qualcomm IoT chief Rob Chandhok confirms he’s quit

Qualcomm President of Interactive Services Rob Chandhok has left the mobile technology giant to start the next act in his career, the long-time Qualcomm veteran told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. He did not reveal the specific project he’s working on. Re/Code originally reported the rumor of Chandhok’s departure on Monday. Chandhok is best known for tackling the technologies outside of Qualcomm’s core mobile silicon and radio business. He led BREW, Qualcomm’s pre-smartphone mobile operating system and app development platform; he oversaw the company’s augmented reality and computer vision projects; and most recently he led its internet of things efforts, launching the AllJoyn initiative and developing Qualcomm’s experimental Toq smartwatch.

Intel’s bracelet for fashionistas can receive texts

The new MICA is a connected bracelet that will go on sale at high-end department stores like Barney’s and small boutiques. At first glance, it looks less like a gadget and more like a piece of jewelry.