Awesome Stuff: Little Devices That Help You Out

from the make-it-work dept

For this week's "Awesome Stuff" post I wasn't necessarily planning a "theme," but it seemed to mostly work out as one anyway: it's about three "little" devices that enable you to do more, by changing the way we deal with information in one way or another. This is a pretty exciting space in general, and it's cool to see projects popping up that explore certain areas that make you wonder why no one had done this before -- and then you realize that what's being done wasn't really possible until the tech caught up.
  • First up, we've got the Automatic Link, a tiny device that plugs into your car's dataport and provides data directly to your smartphone. They even make it into a bit of a game, with a weekly "drive score" that helps you drive smarter to save gas. It has a number of other features as well, including automatically dialing 911 if it senses a serious car accident, and also a car locator feature, so you can always find your car via your smartphone in case you forgot where you parked or if you're sharing your car with someone else.
    For quite some time, the car's dataport was solely the domain of mechanics, and they'd use it when you went in to find out what the "check engine" light meant. A few devices have come on the market that you can buy to plug in and see what a check engine light means, but that's their entire purpose, for the most part. The Automatic Link does that too, but it's almost like a minor feature among all of the other features that make it an interesting device.

    This is another one that's not on Kickstarter, though it feels like it should be, but rather they're just taking pre-orders directly off their site, for $69.95 (and no service fees).
  • Next up, we've got the HeatMeter, which is a creatively designed device to measure and track the heating usage in your home. There are tons of electricity meters on the market to measure how you use electricity, but heating is a different realm altogether. Most of the attempts to deal with this have been focused on various smart thermostats like the Nest, but the Heatmeter goes right to the source, by attaching to the outside of your furnace or boiler with magnets, and then its sensors actually can detect when the flame turns on and off, sending this bit of info over your home WiFi system to your phone. And, of course, you can track a bunch of info via your smartphone.
    Unfortunately, there are just a few days left on this Kickstarter and it looks like it won't meet its threshold. Looking through the details, this isn't a huge surprise. Even if the concept is cool, there are a few things that might scare people off. The design of the device itself has a bit of an amateurish feel to it, especially compared to many other Kickstarter projects. I wonder if a redesigned, sleeker, more modern version might pick up some more steam (ditto for their intro video). The second red flag for me is the price. $150 seems pretty high for most people to take a chance on something like this, especially if it's not entirely clear that it will help you save money. With the Automatic Link above, it makes a good, strong, easy to understand case as to why you'll save money with the device -- and the device is less than half the cost of this one, and seems at least more likely to be in the "I'll give it a shot" range for many people. And, finally, I wonder if a lot of people wonder how well the Heatmeter actually works. I could see some people wondering just how good a magnetic device you stick to the outside of your furnace will be at accurately tracking heating usage. It may work perfectly, but I could see how skepticism might be an issue, especially at that price (in contrast, again, people understand that the data port in their cars works to provide data).

  • Finally, we move away from those kinds of sensors to the myIDkey device for tracking all your passwords. This is a little USB dongle that combines voice activation, fingerprint scanning and secure access to all your passwords (it'll even generate secure ones for you). Oh yeah, and it works with your mobile devices via Bluetooth as well. And, if you lose the device, you can quickly deactivate it over the web -- and you can resync a new one via its online storage. The device has an OLED display that will show you the password once you've proven that you're you, and it can include a bit of additional info as well.
    The myIDkey has already far surpassed its original funding goal, so this project is definitely moving forward.
There you go. Three interesting new projects that are showing new ways to do more via little devices and information, enabling things that really weren't possible until just recently -- at least not in these kinds of packages.

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    Paul Renault (profile), 16 Mar 2013 @ 10:46am

    Re.: myIDkey...

    Voice-activated? Fingerprint? Er...haven't these been fooled by work-arounds? Besides, by displaying the password, aren't you:
    1) forcing the user to use easy-to-type-in passwords?
    2) exposing yourself to "over-the-shoulder" cryptanalysis attacks?

    My suggestion? Yubikey and LastPass.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    RadialSkid (profile), 16 Mar 2013 @ 10:53am

    Over $386,000 pledged for a little dongle? For that kind of money, backers should at least get an average-sized dongle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Machin Shin (profile), 16 Mar 2013 @ 12:15pm

    Dang it.... You guys are making me give away too much money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    pixelpusher220 (profile), 16 Mar 2013 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Re.: myIDkey...

    More importantly, fingerprints *can* be compelled by law enforcement. i.e. if you encrypt your laptop via the fingerprint reader...they can make you decrypt it.

    They can't directly compel you to give up a password, but a fingerprint is already allowed.

    Similar to how using a lock with a key opens you up to being compelled to provide the key, but if it's a combination you can't be forced to give it up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Not Applicable, 16 Mar 2013 @ 4:59pm

    At present the device can be cracked and the fingerprint 'security' is not secure on this device.
    I have written to the company offering to show them the fault but so far they have declined my offer.

    I wish them good luck, they will need it, plus I recommend strongly that you avoid this device as it IS NOT SECURE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Paul Renault (profile), 16 Mar 2013 @ 5:17pm

    Re: Re: Re.: myIDkey...


    I forgot to mention: Yubikey plus a string you prepend to the password stored on the key.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Wally (profile), 16 Mar 2013 @ 5:25pm

    The Automatic Link device is basically OnStar which now uses cellular signals to transmit data.

    The password key flash drive can be made from any rudimentary thumb drive that has as little as 64 megabytes in storage and a google search will tell you how to make one. Some companies use such flash drives as an authentication method. Albeit to store passwords, but that's all. myKeyID seems to help in situations where biometrics are shrunk into a flash thumb drive-sized device into an entire multi-level authentication device:-) That is totally cool :-) The weakness only lays in the fact that the device uses BluTooth (may not be encrypted) and likely relies on batteries...good thing it's flash memory but I do somewhat question the security of a device that uses a physical connection to power on. It could introduce potentially malicious code into a computer. After all that's how stuxnet got out into the wild...

    Heat metal is the only probably the most interesting one and could help save on ever rising natural gas prices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), 17 Mar 2013 @ 12:10pm


    Just because a master burglar with superpowers can defeat my front door lock does not mean I should not have a front door.

    The myIDkey is a really good idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 17 Mar 2013 @ 4:38pm

    Re: Re.: myIDkey...

    Yes, both voice ID and fingerprint scanning are fooled reasonably easily and cheaply, particularly when they're implemented in a low-cost way. I would not be comfortable using either of those methods to secure critical data like passwords.

    I'm not so sure what an easy-to-type-in password is. Is dhHK@6%&JLdd really any harder to type in than any other strong password?

    Your second point is accurate, but is really the same vulnerability that you have when typing in passwords at all. Also, pretty easy to prevent with a little situational awareness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 17 Mar 2013 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re:

    The fingerprint scanner in particular doesn't need a master burglar to bypass. Pretty much any high-schooler can do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Mar 2013 @ 3:31am

    Re: Re: Re.: myIDkey...

    Sir, your cat has been walking on your keyboard!

    Also, cats are awesome password generators!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Mar 2013 @ 3:32am

    Re: Re.: myIDkey...

    I'm using Lastpass with multi-factor authentication. And I never ever use my master password out of home. I'm thinking about the yubikey solution but I think multi-factor is enough for most needs no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Mar 2013 @ 3:43am

    I found the automatic link is interesting to help you drive more economically. The game aspect of the thing would surely help me even though I'm already self-aware in that aspect.

    The heating thing is kind of.. Misdirected. I think it only needs one function: remote turn on/off and temp regulation on each room. So if you forget to turn it off you can do it remotely or you can turn it on before arriving to get a warm welcome once home. No flame detection needed.

    The id one doesn't seem too secure to me but maybe I didn't understand it.

    Overall the only one that seems sponsorable here is the link one ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    DS, 18 Mar 2013 @ 6:33am

    My problem with most of these types of things, is that I need a smart phone to use them. I don't have enough need for a smartphone to pay the monthly fees required to have and use one. Why can't I just use one of the many PC's or laptops that I already have in my house?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    dennis deems (profile), 18 Mar 2013 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re: Re.: myIDkey...

    I'm not so sure what an easy-to-type-in password is. Is dhHK@6%&JLdd really any harder to type in than any other strong password?
    Yes, because you have to keep hitting and releasing the shift key on opposite sides of the keyboard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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