Personal Tech

A magic carpet for your health

Email|Print| Text size + By Mark Baard
February 11, 2008

Falls are never fun, unless you can bounce back from them like Dick Van Dyke.

But you can learn a lot from falls, such as whether your meds, or an undiagnosed condition, are making you faint or lose your balance. All you need to do is fall on the right surface - one that records the details of your unexpected trips to the floor.

To that end, a University of Missouri engineering professor, Harry Tyrer, is developing a "smart carpet" that uses a thin sheet of sensors and electronics printed in organic ink.

The carpet would sound an alarm to caregivers when a person falls and provide data about his position before the accident.

A computer might also display a person's exact position on the floor after he tumbles, in the form of a chalk outline, a la CSI, Tyrer said.

The carpet won't look like Aladdin's flying ride; it will be anchored wall to wall. (Its purpose is to prevent falls, not cause them.) The sensors will be shielded against dirt by plastic layers.

The carpet might prove cheaper than fall-detection systems that rely on video cameras monitored by computers, Tyrer said.

And seniors would be free from the camera eyes. A sociologist and boomer tech advocate, Eric Dishman, told me several years ago that senior citizens would give up some privacy to remain independent. But Tyrer says Dishman hasn't met his mother-in-law.

Tyrer hopes to have a prototype ready by December; he plans to install a bedroom-size unit in a senior housing complex in Missouri next year.

Home Entertainment

From 'Star Trek' to your bedroom

It's good to be back on the bridge. Life aboard the Enterprise has never been better, or seemed more real, since I've been testing the latest surround-sound system from Zvox Audio, of Swampscott.

I have the all-in-one unit, the Zvox 425, on my bedroom floor at the moment, connected to my iMac. When Kirk and crew take a hit from Reliant (with the wicked Kahn at the con) in "Star Trek II," you can feel it.

Having a fuller and more immersive sound also makes some of the slower bits in "Star Trek II" more enjoyable. (I can listen the Enterprise's ambient instrument sounds all day.)

And, oh, the thrill of hearing Captain Sulu bark "Fly her apart, then!" from the bridge of the Excelsior in "Star Trek VI."

After this experience, there is simply no going back to built-in computer or TV speakers - unless you are as poor as I am, that is. The Zvox 425 sells for about $700.

It is wall-mountable, and will look great beneath your giant flat-panel screen, if you've got one.

Virtual Reality

Plasma television screens that do 3D

I'm not sure the home theater market is ready for 3D, but we may be about to find out. Next month, Samsung will release a line of 3D plasma TVs for American gamesters, as well as films that might come down the pike as more immersive video technologies catch on.

You will also be able to see Google Earth as never before, according to Samsung.

The Samsung TVs will be come in 42- and 50-inch sizes, with the glasses and software you'll need for the 3D experience. The company says it has engineered the screens to avoid the dizziness 3D viewers can experience.

Samsung says its 3D models will not cost much more than the plasma sets currently on the market. The sets are also backward-compatible, if you will, to plain old 2D viewing.

The 3D models might make it only into high-end home theaters this year. But they offer a tantalizing glimpse at how the 3DVR "caves" that you can now only experience at major universities might find their way into our living rooms.

Innovative last week

Bluetooth + tiny controller = phone fun

More from the mobile gaming front: Bedford-based Zeemote ( has developed a Bluetooth hand-held controller, the JS1, for playing Java games on your smart phone. With its thumb stick and trigger buttons, the JS1 looks a heck of a lot like a Wii Nunchuk controller. The wireless device, which weighs less than two ounces, works with Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Helistrike 3D, and Sonic The Hedgehog. I expect the JS1 might also be a useful tool for mobile Second Lifers wanting a more "natural" way to move their Avatars about, in world.

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