Friday Five: bad vibrations for Amazon and self-driving slippers

Each week Zone's Letty Key handpicks and shares the five best stories on new trends and technologies...

Granary Square
1. Bad vibrations for Amazon's factory workers

In theory, Amazon's new wristband (which it patented this week) is designed to help factory workers find products more quickly by emitting ultrasonic sound pulses and radio transmissions to steer them to the correct bin. Sounds neat.

However, that tech would also enable supervisors to track their employees' every move, and identify whenever they paused for even a second. Maybe not so neat. And given Amazon's reported culture of no breaks and extreme surveillance of worker productivity, it's no wonder this news has caused consternation. 


2. Intel makes smart move with glasses

Smart glasses are a test of society's acceptance of tech enhancements to the human body. And the intrusiveness of an obvious piece of high-tech machinery on your face has met resistance, with Google Glass's all-in approach not finding favour.

Intel are approaching from the other direction – don't expect people to wear a clunky piece of headgear because of its high spec and functions, just add a screen (projected on to your retina) to regular glasses. It's OK if it's not all bells and whistles. People don't want bells and whistles dangling off their eyes. 


3. Chinese police keeping an eye on felons

Another pair of glasses serving a single-minded function are those being worn by Chinese police to track criminals based on their huge system of facial recognition and citizen data.

But they're not as cool/terrifying as they might sound – less scanning the field with glasses locking on to a glowing suspect, more police using the glasses to photograph suspicious people then sending this to a device to cross-reference with a database. Nonetheless, untempered facial recognition is still a risky door to open.


4. UN's game chainger to raise funds for Syria 

Breaking the wearables theme of this week, Unicef is hoping to appeal to gamers with goodwill by getting them to use their high-powered PCs to mine the cryptocurrency Ethereum and raise funds for Syrian children. It's part of a wider drive by the UN to use blockchain to revolutionise how aid organisations raise money.

Game Chaingers is live until 31 March, and though there's a level of cynicism around it, as the first ever blockchain-based fundraiser that’s probably to be expected. The audience targeting is atypical as well, with a nice nod to game aesthetics in the website and leaderboards.


5. Self-driving slippers: the next must-have? 

Back to wearables then. Well, you can wear them but they only perform their function when you're not. I'm talking about Nissan's self-driving slippers, which have sensors that enable them to park themselves at the push of a button. The slippers are meant to "raise awareness of automated driving technologies", according to Nissan.

So if you're sick of having to fetch/put away your slippers and don’t have an obliging dog, your problem is solved. Oh, and you also have to be staying at one (very) particular Japanese hotel. Nonetheless, if you don't mind seeing your footwear scuttling across the floor, this is tech with, ahem, legs. 

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