Useful, interesting and cool gear

CES 2016 kicks off for press on Monday, Jan 4 and we’ll be there for the latest developments.  We’ll be looking for signs of maturity in 3D printing, signs of life in LiFi and robotics, how the Faraday Future electric car is shaping up and much more.

At the 2015 SEMA Show, ESAB was kind/nice/brave enough to let show goers try their new compact, multi-process welder, the Rebel EMP 215ic.  It can do TIG, MIG, and stick.  I was way out of practice but gave the aluminum spool on gun MIG and TIG a try – I got decent results and I was definitely the weakest link.

When connected to 230V primary, the unit provides a MIG output of 20 to 220 amps, a stick output of 30 to 160 amps and a TIG output of 5 to 240 amps. When connected to 120V primary, the unit provides a MIG output of 15 to 130 amps, a stick output of 5 to 110 amps and a TIG output of 5 to 140 amps.  It weighs about 40 lbs and takes 10 lb wire spools or 2lb spools for Al on the gun.

Pricing is still to be determined.



(This is an update on optical wireless technology for communications and builds on this post from CES earlier this year.)

1. Fraunhofer Institute has a VLC (visible light communication) section on their website with a nice overview video and links to more detailed information and contact info for Principal Investigator Dr.-Ing. A. Paraskevopoulos. There are also product details for 500 Mbit/s and 3 Gbit/s transmission units.

Fraunhofer 500 Mbits per second

Fraunhofer 500 Mbits per second

2. The latest issue of IEEE Journal of Optical Communications and Networking (Vol.6 #8) is out. You can view the latest front cover, table of contents and article abstracts here. (Full article views only by membership or pay per view.)

The 2015 issue of IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications (JSAC) is in progress with publication in Q2 2015.

3. and have announced 10 Gbit/s VLC transfer rates under what appear to be short range, prototype/lab conditions.  ITAM is Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, a PhD-granting EDU in Mexico City.  (  appears to be Spanish only so Google Translate could be your amigo. Also, is a separate US-based signal processing company.)

4. has some new whitepapers and media mentions on their website.  This is the commercial venture of Univ. Edinburgh Prof. Harold Haas who is credited with coining “LiFi” and presented at TED in 2011.

5. of France has a banner scroll for potential investors.  Can’t say if this is a good or bad sign.  Their online catalog of interesting and attractive fixtures still has no list prices – basically prices on request.

And last but definitely not least:

6. The next COWA (Center on Optical Wireless Apps) meeting will be on 19-21 Nov. 2015 at Georgia Tech.  COWA is an NSF center run in collaboration with Penn State and Georgia Tech along with members from industry.  Info on COWA and the next meeting at

There’s a PBS series called “Time Scanners” that aired this Summer. They visit the Colisseum, Machu Pichu, Petra, Pyramids, Jerusalem, and St. Paul’s Cathedral to better understand details of construction, design and usage.

Pyramid scan

Pyramid scan

The principal tool is the 3D laser scanner which emits about a million bursts of laser light per second that bounce off the surface structures to obtain the surface geometry from the “point cloud.” (If you know about art, it’s like pointillism.) And just like with 360 panorama photography, individual scans can be stiched or aligned to form larger ones.

The limegreen tripod mount unit is probably the top of the line Leica P20 which costs over $100k. For architectural scanning, measurement accuracy is typically within 6mm at 100 meters range.

TimeScanners features the heavy lifting by members from the Univ. of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) and commentary from the celebrity Structural Engineer Steve Burrows.

Here’s chapter 1 of an excellent 3 part intro series to Laser Scanning. You can learn more about 3D scanning at the excellent which also has a subforum for handheld laser scanners. Visit to learn more about the cool Mantis F5 handheld.

Who knows – in 20 years we could be taking 3D laser scan snapshots!

DKX Body Armor

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There are quite a few “Made in America” companies at the ShotShow and it’s nice to see some high quality, smartly-designed products from many of these outfits.  DKX Technologies, based in North Dakota, designs, manufactures, tests and sells NIJ-certified (National Institute of Justice) polymer fiber body armor plates.  Pictured below is one of their foam-backed plates which provides both useful buoyancy and reduces the felt impact from bullet impact – broken bones can occur even if traditional body armor isn’t penetrated.

Most people think only of Dupont Kevlar, the aramid polymer fiber, for “bullet proof” garments but as expected in the world of free enterprise, there are not only competing brands of aramid but also several PolyEthylene polymer fiber body armor brands.  One of these is Dyneema, a UHMwPE which is the “world’s strongest fiber.”  Both types of fibers are also used in other high strength fabric, rope and fiber-reinforced composite applications.

So which is “better”?  Sorry, but it “depends” –  aramid is denser and has greater heat resistance but UHMwPE is lighter and stronger.  “UHMw” stands for Ultrahigh Molecular weight and “PE for PolyEthylene.”  Think of  low molecular weight polymer as a bunch of short 1×2 LEGO bricks.  Each molecule is represented by a single brick – kinda tough to make anything strong with that.  Medium weight is like 1×4.  Ultrahigh is like 1 x 100″bricks.  Now polymer chemists would give me grief for implying  that the molecules lock together and that it’s more like pellet pasta vs spaghetti strands.

Besides the aramid and UHMwPE, there are also metal and ceramic armor plates.  Perhaps the main drawback of these materials is that there is significant deflection (ricochet) of the bullet, either whole or as fragments, which can continue to travel at high speed and hit the head, arms, other body parts, as well as other people or gear.  Polymer fiber body armor usually encapsulates and stops the bullet.  DKX had some test panels that absorbed 5.56 mm hits from just 7 meters!

DKX receives the Dyneema as rolls of fabric, waterjet cuts it to size and then forms, presses and coats the armor panels.  They are available with or without the  buoyancy foam and come in various geometries and NIJ ballistic ratings.  Check out for more details and some interesting testing videos.

RICOH had a nice elevated platform in their ShotShow booth to better try out their range of optical gear.  They had several sets of NV-10A digital color binoculars which have P.A.I.R. technology to help see through marginal atmospheric conditions such as fog, rain and snow.  P.A.I.R. stands for “PENTAX Atmospheric Interference Reduction” and seems to be a real-time image  enhancement/processing software filter.  The NV-10A also has near infra-red capability for low light conditions.

Here’s the specs: 6.6 to 13.2 magnification, 5 m minimal focus range, manual focus/zoom, ~80 min. battery life (uses RICOH BT-10 batteries), 800×600 pixel color organic EL display panel/viewing screen,  1 SD memory card slot to record 720 x480 30fps video or stills with GPS location tagging, electronic compass, image stabilization,  date/time logging, IP64 water/dust proofing, grippy rubber surfaces, weight ~3lb / 1.4 kg.   See for more details and extreme condition viewing examples.

It’s expected to have a ~$4k price tag when it becomes available late Winter in N. America.   The target market is more .gov, security agency, maritime vs the consumer Sony DEV-50.

First the disclaimer.  I’m a long time fan and follower of  FLIR.  When I was in elementary school, my father would bring me issues of Aviation Week magazine and that’s where I first saw the acronym FLIR which stands for Forward Looking Infra Red and was part of an airborne sensor suite for military aircraft.   Fast forward to this century and I started seeing the FLIR company booth at various trade shows and saw that they had some thermal imaging products that could be considered consumer level.  The prices were still fairly high  ~$1000 and up but hey, at least you wouldn’t get glow in the dark eyeball cancer like from the cheap Eastern Bloc gear.  And the FLIR analytic grade gear, costing significantly more, is so much fun to look at too.

Well, about a year ago FLIR acquired Lorex, a leading consumer grade security products company.  And not coincidentally, at CES 2014 the first wave of clearly consumer-priced products from FLIR was announced.   The FLIR FX is a modular family of cameras and accessories and the FLIR ONE brings thermal imaging capability to the iPhone 5 and 5s.  The FX received a 2014 CES Innovations Design & Engineering Award.

Boy, what a mob scene at the FLIR booth this year – sardine packed in the booth and overflowing into the aisles.  Obviously $350 to get thermal imaging and extra battery capacity on your iPhone 5/5s or $250 for a full-featured video security/action cam with both cloud or direct WiFi connectivity plus a bunch of  modular accessories has that effect on people. GoPro watch out!

I’m on the Android side of the fence so I am not allowed to say nice things about Apple or iPhonies.  But I can say the FLIR MSX feature is impressive – it is an overlay of visible light imagery on the thermal image.  The in-booth example was being able to see the outline of same temperature signage text (via MSX) along with a fresh, hot hand print next to the thermally neutral text.

Thermal imaging is not just about seeing in total darkness.  By dynamically displaying the temperature of parts and surfaces, perhaps the greatest utility comes from being able to see the relative change in temp. across a part or an assembly of parts – is there excess friction or inadequate cooling?  (How’s your BBQ doing!  Is shaken really better than stirred?) And you can store still images and video of these temperature deltas for future reference.

Both these products will be out in Spring 2014.  And hopefully at CES 2015 FLIR will be announcing the ~$300 FLIR FX thermal imaging camera.  FLIR will be making yet another product announcement at the ShotShow in a few days so I’ll be posting another entry soon about that plus a bunch of tech details for both the FLIR FX and FLIR ONE.

Nope, not SETI as in Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence but  Sensor Electronic Technology, Inc.  This SETI specializes in designing, manufacturing and selling LEDs that emit Deep UV light for sterilization applications.  Fittingly, SETI LEDs have been used for sterilization on the International Space Station.

Closer to Earth, amongst the legions of *BORING* cell phone cases and accessories, a unique one emerges.  SETI is developing a rechargeable battery powered UV-C flip top case called the UVCLEAN for sterilizing cellphones.  Consider all the oil from your skin and face collecting on your phone, add on all the stuff that sticks to that oil and you better not imagine what’s growing there.

The idea is that with the UVCLEAN you can easily sterilize your phone multiple times a day and on the go with a ~3 minute exposure cycle that should kill 99.9% of the germs on every exposed surface – not just the screen.  Also, with no cleaning fluids involved, you don’t have to worry about flooding and damaging your phone via the buttons or switches.  (You should still wipe your phone to remove skin oil smudges.)  The UVClean case could be a must have device for health care and food service workers.

If your phone is shaped like an iPhone 5 (or smaller than one) then you’re good to go.  They are aiming for a late April retail sale date and a ~$80 price tag.  Cases for other phones and tablets are in the works.

Okay, we all know what WiFi is – a short range wireless network connection for our smart phones, tablets and computers.  Most of us even know that radio waves are used to transmit the data.  Well if we use light waves instead of radio waves, we have LiFi.  The fields of Visible Light Communication (VLC), Optical Wireless, and Photonics all contributed to the development of LiFi.  Expectations are that optical wireless data transfer rates can significantly exceed radio wave rates.   Currently, “point to point” optical wireless seems to be further along in commercial product development than the “one point to many” LiFi topology.  LiFi also isn’t (currently) spectrum controlled/restricted by government agencies and it doesn’t add to the bath of radio frequency emissions that surrounds us.

I visited all the LiFi-related booths that I could find at CES.  First was (from France) which makes interior lighting LED panels that are used by both commercial startup (yup France) and French Government research agency Leti/CEA.  Tricolor!

Then, like Columbus,  I “discovered” the booth for the Center on Optical Wireless Applications ( which is a collaborative effort between Penn State and Georgia Tech with support from the National Science Foundation.   The Beijing Institute of Technology, School of OptoElectronics ( is participating in COWA and there are also currently 10 industrial partners including Airbus, Boeing, Corning, Lockheed Martin and NEC.   The booth displayed research hardware for a VLC data transmission system and an indoor position locating system.  I really appreciated their patience with all of my basic questions.

The last LiFi exhibitor I visited was which is also from France and appears to have actual products to sell and an online catalog and store.  Both Luciom and OLEDComm touted indoor locating systems – possibly the first “killer app” for LiFi.

For the great outdoors, GPS is pretty much king for determining your position.  But since signals from orbiting satellites can’t penetrate most roofs and walls, it (including differential GPS) isn’ t practical for generic indoor applications.   This is where LiFi comes in.  Most indoor settings have interior lighting – even in daytime and close to windows.  With 2014 being the year mass market incandescent light bulb production/importation stopped in the US and thus boosting the popularity of LED lighting, this brings us to the connection between LiFi and LED lighting.  It turns out that LEDs can be easily pulsed to generate LiFi data streams and the optical sensors to read these streams are fairly inexpensive.

So, just like how your GPS in your smartphone can determine where you are, display this info on a road map, and give you directions, a LiFi-enabled device  can display your location and give you directions in a building that has been mapped and has LiFi-capable lights installed.  Each Lifi light would broadcast a unique light sequence (that happens so fast, the human won’t notice) which lets your LiFi smartphone know where you are in the building.

First generation implementations would probably be hybrid and use both WiFi and LiFi.  Position information would come from LiFi but all the other data transfer (map graphics and building data) would go over WiFi.  As LiFi data transfer rates increase, it would replace WiFi.  Who knows what the next round of LiFi apps will be?   The future looks bright.   This is definitely a technology GearDb will be following.

CES – Day 3

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I’m opening this day’s summary with a BIG THANK YOU to the National Science Foundation which was one of the sponsors of the Eureka Park startup area.  The 1st floor had the early stage startups and Eureka Park: Next on the 2nd had companies a bit further along.  Our tax dollars well-spent I’d say. displayed several wearable, augmented reality glasses which they feel represent the next stage of development beyond Google Glass. stopped by for a very friendly visit in the Innovega booth and showed their Epiphany Eyewear product.  Good karma comes to those who share and play nicely. show’d their nicely-constructed, compact USB <=> Lighting connector cable.  It’s keychain sized and should sell for about $25. makes an AC-powered compact UV-lamp sterilizer.  It’s available for sale now for $50 and can handle large smart phones. just launched a line of USB cables that have a built-in alarm module.  If you forget your cable, it starts buzzing in ~3 seconds.  If someone unplugs your phone and runs off with it, the buzzing starts in ~3 seconds.  Prices range from $23-$30 depending on tip type.

If you’re tired about always hearing about KickStarter, then take a look at launched their crowdsourcing opinion judgement website.  Basically you post your position or statement, then someone posts a counterpoint and then everyone who gives a crap can vote on which side they agree with.  Bragging rights are earned and drinks are won? launched their combination dry box and waterproof speaker.  It’s about lunch box-sized  and has about 400 cubic inches of storage space.  It’s price is also just under $400.  You can connect your playback device via BlueTooth or an interior cable.  DryTunes will be at the ShotShow next week, so I’ll stop by for more info and hands on.

Stay tuned for detailed posts with images for these CES products as well as more news from the ShotShow – guns, guns, guns as well as all kinds of other outdoor lifestyle items.