Author Archives: Słowik Tomasz

New wearable device turns body heat into electricity

Reading Time: < 1 minute
Wristband that turns body heat into electricity can power an LED

A thermoelectric generator (TEG) embedded in a wearable wristband can transform body heat into enough electricity to power an LED. Since it can power smartwatches and other wearables, this technology may theoretically eliminate the need for conventional charging devices.

Qian Zhang from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China who has been studying this technology for over 15 years says that “Energy supply is always a big issue, and this could help alleviate the energy crisis.”

TEGs are used in a wide range of applications, however their energy output is normally quite low. This is a major issue that Zhang and his colleagues are attempting to overcome. They layered a magnesium and bismuth material – the TEG materials – between polyurethane and a flexible electrode to create a wristband that could wrap around a human arm.

As a result, the wristband measures 115mm long and is just under 30mm thick. It generates power thanks to the difference between the temperature of human skin and the temperature of the surrounding environment. The unit can produce 20.6 microwatts per square centimetre at its peak, which is more than enough to light an LED attached to the wristband.

If the technology becomes more relevant it may become a stepping stone for the future generations of wearables. As a result, we may experience a future, where all of out gadgetes will be completly wireless and without the need for any charging.


Google with Guacamole. New voice assistant features

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Guacamole | Kwestia Smaku

Google has begun testing a new feature called Google Guacamole which will allow you to use voice assistant without the standard phrase “Hey, Ggoogle”. Users of Google Assistant will be able to execute fast voice tasks such as answering calls or shutting off alarms and timers without saying the trigger words.

Google has yet to confirm the development of such feature, however it has already appeared to some people in the settings list in the Google app beta 12.5 running Android 11. Unfortunately, for the time being, the feature is probably only available to employees who can test it in real conditions.

Despite all of this, Guacamole doesn’t feel like a completely new feature. That’s because the engineers at Mountain View have already embedded a mechanism that works similarly into Google Home speakers and Nest Hub devices.

As always with the new features added to the voice assistant, there may be concerns about privacy and the collection of voice data. As for now, the Guacamole will most likely work just like a standard “Hey, Google” feature. The Google Assistant is programmed to remain in standby mode until enabled, such as when you say “Hey, Google.” In standby mode, it processes brief audio snippets (a few seconds) to detect activation phrase. If no activation is found, the audio clips are not sent or saved to Google.

Guacamole will probably work on the same principle, but will be triggered when for example you receive a phonecall or when there is an alarm and only then collect the voice data. In such manner there is no need for any worries regarding the privacy and all future users may rest assured that none of their data will be sent to Google without their consent.


Tagged ,

DuckDuckGo vs Google Chrome

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Last month, Google announced the launch of a new web technology called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which would gradually replace the tradition of browsers and third-party websites storing user data (cookies). However, privacy-focused companies such as Brave, DuckDuckGo, Vivaldi, and others denied Google’s request to incorporate FloC in their respective browsers. They also argue that Google’s algorithm is overall harmful to the users.

Firstly let us illustrate what ‘Cookies’ do.

Cookies are text files containing small amounts of data that are used to mark your device when you connect to a computer network. They allow websites to remember you, your website logins, shopping carts, and other information. When a user returns to a website, the website recognizes that he or she has already visited and allows the user to continue where they left off.

Cookies are primarily used to better understand user habits (e.g., most visited websites, most recently purchased or observed items) and to provide better search results. Advertisers may use this information to display targeted advertisements for goods that are likely to appeal to that individual and result in a purchase.

Google believes FLoC is the perfect alternative to cookies and encourages others to use it.

FLoC, according to the company, would enable users to remain anonymous when browsing websites, as well as increase privacy by allowing publishers to display specific ads to groups. Rather than being tracked individually, the browsing history would be grouped with other people who have similar interests. In addition, if the user’s browsing behavior changes, the user is grouped with other users. As a result Companies would be less likely to build individual profiles based of this information.

FLoC is considered by Google to be a fair, privacy-first function, however DuckDuckGo tries to communicate that there are several gaps in how it operates. The first is that since you’ve already been allocated to a group, advertisers would have an easier time identifying you.

“With FLoC, by simply browsing the web, you are automatically placed into a group based on your browsing history. Websites you visit will immediately be able to access this group FLoC ID and use it to target ads or content at you. It’s like walking into a store where they already know all about you! In addition, while FLoC is purported to be more private because it is a group, combined with your IP address (which also gets automatically sent to websites) you can continue to be tracked easily as an individual.”

Second, there is no way to opt out of it. You have some control over what information is stored about you with cookies, but you won’t have that choice here.

All in all, DuckDuck Go states that FLoC will allow Google to store all the information about you on their servers, which in the end will be more beneficial for the advertisers and e-commerce websites. With their move where they advise to stop using Chrome they say that they just want to stop Google tracking behaviour of people.

DuckDuckGo has also published a guide on how to avoid FLoC, as well as some offensive countermeasures to Google’s new ploy. The first point of the guide explicitly tells people to stop using Google Chrome. They also demonstrated some options in Chrome’s settings menu that could be helpful to users’ privacy. DuckDuckGo’s Chrome extension has also been modified to block FLoC.


Tagged ,

Facebook pays teens to install an app that spies on them

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Once again Facebook finds itself in a position no company should end up in. It was reported that they have been secretly paying teenagers and adults to install a VPN  app that allows them to collect all the data on how they use their smartphones.

“Project Atlas”

It all began in 2016 with the so-called “Facebook Research” app where some of the users were being paid 20$ a month for permission to gather all kinds of data from their device. It enables Facebook to view web searches, location information, private messages on social media apps, and a lot of other activities. What is more, Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. To mask its involvement in everything, the program is said to be administered through beta testing services like Applause, BetaBound and uTest and is referred to as “Project Atlas.”

Violation of policies

The app was also available on iOS, however, since it can decrypt and analyzy users phone activity it was a violation of Apple policy. After the report on the app, Facebook stated that it would shut down the iOS version of its app. In this case, Apple was quicker and had already blocked the “Facebook Research”  on their system.

“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.” – statement from Apple spokesperson

Not a bright future

Facebook has had a rough couple of years now, especially after it was revealed that the data of 87 million users had been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. It is also scandalous, that ads for this app that ran on Instagram and Snapchat specifically asked for participants to be 13 to 17 years old. Who knows what we will find out in the future, but if you have any thoughts what can also be wrong with Facebook feel free to share it in the comments.





Tagged , , ,

Face-Scanning A.I. can identify rare genetic disorders

Reading Time: 2 minutesFacial recognition can unlock your phone, help to fight crime and as the time passes, can be used in many more more cases. Now it can even diagnose certain genetic diseases based on people’s faces thanks to the DeepGestalt.

Rare disorders often show up in someone’s appearance and because of that you are sometimes able to identify the condition of the patient based of his facial traits. Researchers have trained artificial intelligence to recognize these features making it possible  to make a quick and cheap diagnosis. They trained the neural network, called DeepGestalt, with the pictures of T 17,000 kids with 200-plus genetic disorders. In a test with 502 new images, DeepGestalt successfully placed the correct syndrome in its top 10 list 91% of the time outperforming the doctors in this field.

“DeepGestalt is a facial image analysis framework that is able to highlight similarities to hundreds of genetic disorders” – Yaron Gurovich, chief technology officer at FDNA

This tool in combination with genome testing can easily be used to help doctors search for specific genetic markers and make an accurate diagnosis much more efficiently and effectively. And even though there is still a long way for it to be perfect, there is a huge chance that it might be once used in everyday life.

On the other hand, given how easy it is to photograph a face, the tool could be abused by employers or insurance providers to discriminate against people with a high probability of having certain disorders. Luckily, it is said that the tool will only be available to clinicians.



Tagged , , , ,

This wristband will warn you of imminent opioid overdose

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

This project could save lives

The problem of a drug overdose has never been worse with over 41 000 deaths just from the opioid overdose in the US this year. Now, a team of software engineering students at Carnegie Mellon has developed the HopeBand – wearable device which monitors the oxygen level in blood by using pulse oximetry and measuring light reflected back from the skin to a sensor. The wristband detects an imminent overdose and not only alarms the user by emitting sound and flashing red, but also will send a text message to the emergency number giving the wearer’s location. An early alert could give enough time to administer naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist that can reverse the overdose.

“Imagine having a friend who is always watching for signs of overdose; someone who understands your usage pattern and knows when to contact [someone] for help and make sure you get help,” – says Rashmi Kalkunte, a software engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University

The team’s focus is to develop a cheap wearable device which will track user’s health no matter where they go. They started working on the project after being approached and sponsored by Pinney Associates, a pharmaceutical consulting firm. Their idea was also recognised during the Health 2.0 Conference held in Santa Clara where they won third place in finals of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Opioid Challenge.

The future development

For now the device is still in the phase of lab trials, however, the tests so far look promising.

“The challenge is that we cannot actually just test the device on a human subject,” – says Puneetha Ramachandra, a master’s degree candidate in software engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

There is still room for much more things to implement. One can see that there might be a lot of false positives since every person is different and reacts differently to certain drugs. Luckily the team does have knowledge of this fact and they have a lot of ideas what can be changed in the future.

“I can absolutely see additional sensors being incorporated to give a machine-learning backend a bigger dataset to work with, reducing the number of false positives, for example. Or, once clinical trials are open, assembling a much larger, more diverse corpus for ML training that encompasses a wide range of physical variables – like age, sex, race, etc. – that could affect what an overdose state looks like!” – says Soham Donwalkar.


The HopeBand will initially be distributed free-of-charge to opioid users through needle exchange programs. If this works out, they plan to start selling the device for the commercial use with the price tag of around $16 and 20$. Of course, this is a device for people who are actually worried about their health state. It won’t help those, who are so addicted that nothing will change their mind. Overall, this can be a very useful product.



Tagged , ,

Apple banned in China

Reading Time: 3 minutes

You can’t buy Apple iPhones in China anymore!

Well, actually… For now the court injuction is not in force yet, however, things may change in the future. Let’s start from the beginning.

Qualcomm dispute over patents

The open battle between Apple and Qualcomm over intellectual property covering wireless networks and devices has lasted for quite a while now, so you could think that things are going to get resolved soon. In fact, not so long ago both enterprises decided to break off negotiations and go to the court. For one of them it wasn’t the best idea. A Chinese court decided to preliminary ban import and sale of almost all models of iPhone’s which are available in China. What is interesting is the fact, that the case did not relate to the wireless networks what actually started this dispute, but the violation of two patents which the Qualcomm owns.

Apple is not going to give up

Apple has issued a statement, however, saying that “all iPhone models remain available for our customers in China.” Apparently, according to the filling, new models with iOS 12 have undergone changes which void Qualcomm’s complaint.

“Qualcomm’s effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world,” Apple in a statement for CNBC

What is more, iOS 12 can run on all the devices named in the decision, so the impact of it is still unclear. If the court rule were to come in force it would be a huge step back for Apple, since China generates 1/5 of the company’s revenue.


The future

Even though it might look like Apple is in big trouble, the fact is that they have a solid background.

“Qualcomm is asserting three patents they had never raised before, including one which has already been invalidated. We will pursue all our legal options through the courts.”

This means that Apple is going to appeal to higher instances, for what they 10 days from the day of the preliminary ban. However, the future doesn’t look so bright for Qualcomm either. Apple stopped paying licensing fees and no longer uses its chips in the iPhone’s. That’s contributed to a string of annual revenue declines for the company.

Recently Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated that he has interest in settling the case, but he expects a lengthy legal battle.  Considering that the dispute is already two years old, we might not see the end of it in the upcoming months. As for now we can only sit back and watch how the things are going to get resolved.



  1. Miller, C. (2017, February 01). Tim Cook says he’s open to settling Qualcomm lawsuit, but expects a lengthy legal battle. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from
  2. King, I., Decker, S., & Gurman, M. (2018, December 11). IPhone Ban in China May Push Apple, Qualcomm Toward Settlement. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from
  3. Górecki, D. (2018, December 11). Chiński sąd orzekł na korzyść Qualcomm i zakazał sprzedaży iPhone`ów. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from



Tagged , , , , , ,

Alexa, a witness of a murder?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Echo speaker

Since the release of Amazon Alexa in 2014 there have been many controversies regarding the amount of data that the speaker is collecting at all times. The way it works is that the Echo device is designed to detect “wake words” and only then start working. However, there were a lot of cases when Alexa actually recorded more than the user would expect. Echo can sometimes misinterpret the “wake words” or other commands and start listening and recording even when a user does not intend to record.

Court cases

Even though this is something that should not happen at all, the New Hampshire authorities investigating the murders of two women still want to check. A judge ruled that they can examine recordings from the Echo device because they believe that there might be evidence related to the crime. Investigators believe that Echo could have recorded the attack and the events that followed it.

Last year, when the similar case occurred in Arkansas, the suspect who owned the speaker agreed to release recording from the day of the suspected crime. In the end, a murder charge was dropped.

Is our privacy at stake?

Though these recordings might be beneficial in such cases, we have to think about the amount of information we are giving away to large corporations. Should we question our actual privacy, or should we believe that our recordings are in good, safe hands? Using Alexa you can do almost anything, from ordering food to your home address, to checking your bank account. While at a time it is very convenient, we need to keep in mind that such devices are always listening and gathering all kinds of personal data from the user.

It all comes to personal preferences and the ability to adapt to the actual changes. In the modern world the word “privacy” almost lost its meaning. Every device that you own collects information. About you, your data usage, your shopping preferences and so on. There is almost nothing you can do about it, since this is the life that we have now. This data can be used in many different ways, from personalized ads to such things like winning presidential campaigns. In most of the cases it won’t affect you that much, however, it is worth imagining what could be done with the information that is being collected about you. Who knows, maybe one day you say something that you would like to buy around Echo speaker and a couple of days you will see ads about this on Amazon.


Tagged , , ,