LISA is a robotic lifeguard designed to save lives in the water (PLuGHiTz Live Presents)

While it may not be at the forefront of most of our minds, drowning is a huge problem. Every 60 seconds, someone in the world dies from drowning. Children are particularly at risk because they have less self-awareness, spatial awareness, and life experience to prevent a dangerous situation and to alleviate one that has already begun. Because of this ever-present danger, a new robot from Health Sonics has entered the scene, and her name is LISA.

LISA is a truly life-saving robot, intended to help prevent this high number of deaths. She accomplishes this in a couple of steps. The first is through detection and alert. This works similarly to other detection machines, recognizing the signs of a struggle and alerting an outside party, such as a parent or emergency services.

While this is a good feature, it is not unique. Where LISA sets herself apart from other detection systems is that she can actively come to the rescue of the person in trouble. While LISA is alerting the outside world to trouble, she is also able to swim to the person in need and bring them back to the surface of the water. She does this by wrapping herself around the person and holding them above the surface.

In addition to the feature of maintaining the drowning person above the water, LISA also monitors vital signs. This is helpful for the people who come to the rescue, whether it be a family member or emergency services. This could be an essential piece of the puzzle for helping to make sure that the rescue is a success.

LISA is available for pre-order now and is designed to work in both private, public, and commercial pool environments. For more information about LISA, or to pre-order your LISA, check out the company's website.

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Common Networks is developing a wireless home internet service (PLuGHiTz Live Presents)

A Stable internet connection is one of the most important parts of modern life. For most people, if they're at home and the internet connection goes down, they don't know what to do with themselves. We rely on it for work, entertainment and, for some of us, even for food. Somehow, despite our reliance on the technology, it has not improved in any meaningful way in years. Most of us still rely on copper wires that were placed in the ground decades ago to provide our connection to the outside world. Common Networks has a new idea, using a decentralized wireless network structure to make installation easy and connectivity nearly unbreakable.

Using a combination of wireless technologies, the company is producing a wide-area mesh network. This means that if one node is damaged, the network traffic can route around the bad node and keep your internet connection alive. It also means that the network setup is less expensive to maintain because there will be no emergency late-night service tech calls, which can be a huge cost for a network operator. This cost-saving is passed on to the users, with 300 Mbps running only $49 per month with no installation fee, additional taxes, or equipment rentals.

Impressively, this is accomplished without the speed degradation we have seen with previous wireless networks. When 4G, both LTE and WiMax, came about, companies tried to build home systems on top of that technology. Unfortunately, the strength of the signal and the design of the networks made it impossible. That is no longer the case, as Common Networks has worked through those issues, designing a custom network infrastructure that is cloud-controlled and self-healing.

The company is in active development of its network in a handful of cities in California, with hopes to expand beyond the state. For more information and to see if your address is covered, check out their website.

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iPhone 11 Pro Max (PLuGHiTz Live Unboxed)

The 2019 models of iPhone are a departure from the last few generations in a couple of ways. First is the change in name for the top two tiers. These devices are given the monicker of iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Apple loyalists will know that Apple does not usually give a product the Pro name without it truly meaning something. The MacBook Pro, iMac Pro, etc., have significantly higher specs featuring better processors, more RAM, and more storage, plus significantly better screens. The iPad Pro was a massive improvement over the other devices, even adding the ability for a stylus, making it a great productivity device.

The iPhone Pro, however, does not seem to feature those major improvements. The processor is nothing special compared to the iPhone 11. The RAM and storage are not special, either. The only thing that sets the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max apart from its standard counterpart is the camera array. While the cameras are far better than the iPhone 11, many believe that this is not enough to call the devices Pro.

The second big change is in the power options. While the iPhone itself still has the old Lightning connector, the other end is no longer a USB-A. Instead, the cable features a USB-C connector, making it more easily compatible with more modern computers, including Apple's own MacBooks, which only offer USB-C. In addition, USB-C allows for higher amperage, meaning that the device can charge faster. This is important because the batteries are larger than previous models, meaning that they would normally take longer to charge. By switching to USB-C, they can charge faster than previous models.

Our review will be coming soon after we've had an opportunity to use the device. To see all of our reviews, check out our Review page.

Allergy Butler: a smart approach to airborne allergies in your home (PLuGHiTz Live Presents)

Allergy Butler is a full-service airborne allergy service that brings FDA-approved testing and therapies that can bring you and your family lasting allergy relief, without the need to spend hours at a doctors office. The founder's family suffered from debilitating airborne allergies, and it is in that spirit that they wanted to offer everyone a convenient allergy treatment that actually works, by bringing together the best research, technology, and experience for you.

Allergies are the 3rd most common chronic disease. Between 30 and 40% of all Americans suffer from them, while also being responsible for 70% of asthma flare-ups, 65% of respiratory infections, and 80% of ear, nose, and throat infections. The service works in 12 easy steps. They arrive at your home, get your basic health information and vitals. They then perform an allergy test, utilizing Comforten: a method that places tiny barbs on your arm that you can barely see and feels as though someone laid a wire brush across your skin. Placing the device 3 times on each arm, they can test for 58 allergens common in your area in addition to 2 control allergens. This is all done quickly because they are doing 10 at a time. Allergy Butler then measures your reaction to the allergens which often manifest as small bumps similar to mosquito bites.

Inputting that information into their software analyzes your results against allergy research, chemistry, botany, biology and anatomy, and even weather patterns. This can provide instant results to create the perfect therapy. A week later they return to your home with a custom immunotherapy regiment, bringing you all the supplies you need, plus training you on everything you need to know. Once you're trained you start your shots, using the smallest needles available, injecting into the abdomen because there is more fat and fewer nerves, resulting in less pain than in the arm.

If airborne allergies ail you, Allergy Butler may just be the solution. For more information visit the company's website.

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September 15, 2019 - Episode 538 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Uber's fighting off pressure, EA's testing under stress, and Vudu's hiding from bad words.

Sphero Mini Activity Kit Preview - Episode 205 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch shows off a preview of the newest addition to the Sphero lineup: the Sphero Mini Activity Kit. This kit builds on top of the existing Sphero Mini robotic ball, adding to it a variety of pre-planned activities that can be done with the ball. These activities give new owners ideas of things that can be done with their ball. This has long been a leading problem with robotic toys like this. Without ideas on how to use it, educational toys tend to be abandoned in fairly short order.

One of the activities that come in the kit is building a maze. To accomplish this, the kit also comes with the parts and pieces to build such a maze. Another activity is bowling and, once again, the kit has bowling pins to help encourage the activity. After working through some of the included activities, kids' minds can be sparked to look for new things to do or new ways to accomplish the same goals.

As with other Sphero products, the Sphero Mini can be controlled in several different ways. You can use it in play mode, where you run it like a remote-controlled car. It can also be controlled using the accelerometer in your phone or tablet, to move in the direction of the device. It can even move based on your facial expressions, with a smile moving it forward and a frown moving it backward. There is also a programming interface, which allows you to move the device around programmatically. This is where the fun of a Sphero really comes in. You can use the included block-based programming system to build logic, but you can also use full programming languages, like C#. With all of these options, you can come up with any number of ways to bowl or complete a maze.

The Sphero Mini is available now, but the Sphero Mini Activity Kit comes out in early October.

California passes new law that could effectively end the gig economy

The gig economy is the basis for companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, TaskRabbit, etc. The idea is that you can sign up to be a contractor for the company, setting your hours and working within your confines. You're never required to do a job, and your payment is entirely dependent on how much work you take on. Think of an Uber driver, who is allowed to work when is convenient for them and take or skip any ride that is offered to them. The gig economy has grown into a major player in the market over the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, one US state is making it more difficult for those companies to exist.

California has long been known for making it difficult for businesses to thrive. Over the past few years, even their main industry of entertainment has begun to head to better locations, including Georgia and Toronto. Silicon Valley has started to look for alternatives, as well, with some companies moving to other states, and other companies looking for homes abroad.

Continuing this tradition, California is working to pass a new law that risks the future of the gig economy in the state. The law would require companies that use contractors as a core part of their business to treat those contractors as employees. This would mean that companies would be required to abide by minimum wage standards, completely negating the concept of the gig economy.

While the law is still awaiting a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom, it is expected that he will sign it. If the bill becomes law, it could significantly change the way companies such as Uber and Lyft operate in the state. Rather than drivers getting to set their hours, their hours will be set by someone at the company. They won't be able to skip rides, and will likely be assigned rides. Drivers will also be assessed based on performance. All of this will be necessary to be able to pay for the increased costs of treating these contractors like employees.

Both Uber and Lyft have vowed to fight the legislation, both petitioning the Governor and preparing for a possible ballot initiative fight. If all is lost, it would not be a surprise to see these companies, and other gig-economy players, leave the state entirely.

Uber lays off another 435 employees in an attempt to save money

This has been a rough year for ride-sharing platform Uber. The company has seen increasing losses every quarter, and there seems to be no slowing it down. In just the second quarter of 2019, the company reported a loss of $5 billion, or roughly the entire GDP of Barbados. A large portion of that loss is related to the company's IPO, but the company is still losing about $1 billion per quarter without those one-time losses.

Trying to stem the ebbing tide, the company laid off around 400 marketing employees in July. This week, however, the company announced a second round of layoffs, resulting in the loss of 435 engineering and product-related employees. This second round represents about 8% of the company's engineering and product team, and the two rounds together represent about 3% of the company's total workforce. In the company's email to employees, they stated,

Previously, to meet the demands of a hyper-growth startup, we hired rapidly and in a decentralized way. While this worked for Uber in the past, now that we have over 27,000 full-time employees in cities around the world, we need to shift how we design our organizations.

It is not unusual for "unicorns" to fall victim to this mentality. When you go from having no money to having more than you can comprehend, laziness and chaos reign supreme. Hiring becomes a casual affair, and you end up with more employees than you need in offices that are too spread out to effectively accomplish goals.

Unfortunately for Uber, their profit margins could be about to take a big hit, as California has passed a new law that could drive the company out of business, or at least out of the state. The state has passed a new law extending employment benefits to independent contractors.

September 8, 2019 - Episode 537 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Apple's trying to dodge bugs, Nintendo's embracing their past, and Facebook's giving out your number.

Ultimate Hacking Keyboard Unboxing - Episode 204 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch tries something new and unboxes the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard live on the show. This keyboard is unique in that it is designed to be modular, both in itself and with accessories. The small-framed keyboard detaches in the middle, allowing you to use it as a standard ergonomic keyboard, or configure it however is convenient and comfortable for you. But, the split keyboard design gives the ability to use the keyboard with additional features.

For example, the company will offer attachments for different input methods, like a trackpad, trackball, or track pointer (like on a Lenovo laptop). They will also offer a small additional key cluster. But these add-ons are just the beginning. The name is not just cutesy, it is because the entirety of the keyboard is open source. This could lead to additional accessories from other companies, or even in the form of maker projects. Of course, all of the expandability will only come to fruition if the product and platform become commercially successful. It doesn't make sense to make add-ons for devices without customers, just ask Motorola.

The biggest challenge to the success of the keyboard could be the general layout. While a keyboard of this style would likely be targeted at computer enthusiasts, the keyboard layout is far from it. There is no function row, number pad, directional pad, navigation keys, or media controls. For most computer and keyboard fans prefer more keys rather than less. All of these capabilities, except media controls, are only available via a function key combination. Unfortunately, media controls are completely missing, though you could use the key cluster add-on to replicate the missing feature.

The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is available for pre-order, with product shipping in October. The keyboard runs $275, the add-ons run $60 each, and the palm rest runs $75.

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