In touch with tech at Permanent Future Lab’s Geeky Night Out

The Permanent Future Lab is a place to rediscover your sense of wonder and amazement at technology. Jurjen de Vries and Samir Lahiri  are the co-initiators who host us during the Geeky Night Out, a chance to experiment with the wide range of modern technologies at the Permanent Future Lab. The idea behind the lab is to encourage people and companies to experiment with disruptive technologies and embrace innovation.

The lab is hosted inside the Seats2Meet meeting space in Utrecht. It’s small but potent, every wall packed with goodies. Getting started can be a bit overwhelming as there are so many interesting things lying around.

I decided to begin with the Equil Smartpen2, since I’m always taking notes. It comes in a prism-shaped white plastic module, containing a pen and a page scanner. You have to fit the scanner carefully into the right position on the page, in the middle, and level with the edge, so it will get a good reading of your drawing. I downloaded both smartphone apps, EquilSketch and Equilnote to try out drawing and writing. The phone needed to be tethered to the scanner and then input needed to be received successfully by the app for calibration. After quite some back and forth, at which point I was joined by my partner in crime for the evening, Bart Kors, everything was connected and ready to go.

Equilnote with handwriting recognition
Equilnote export with uninspired handwriting recognition test

The transcription to the smartphone was instant and pretty accurate. The lines were smooth and nothing was lost in translation. The notes app seemed to recognise cursive text much more easily than my loose block capitals. It was fairly accurate with text recognition.

You can either enter freestyle handwriting and save that directly in your note, or use text recognition to convert your handwriting into digital text. Fonts and colours can be modified in the app. Interestingly, the app also works without the smartpen, and you can use your finger or a stylus on your phone screen to enter handwriting, and it will recognise it.

The drawing app allowed selection of different drawing tools, colour, size and opacity. You can export drawings to any of the apps on your phone. Jurjen joined us at some stage and suggested we try to see our notes on the tv using the Chromecast. So we hooked the Chromecast up to my phone, cast the entire screen and were able to see drawing on the paper, transcribed on the phone and then cast to the TV in real time. It’s an interesting solution to presenting what you are drawing to a group of people.

My next experiment was with the Muse brainwave reader. The goal of the Muse is to train brain relaxation. You have to download the app and then some extra content to get started. After a calibration sequence, you start a 3-minute exercise to relax your mind. The app shows a grassy plane and sky on the screen and you hear the wind blowing. The sound of the wind is an indication of your state of mind. Your goal is to keep the wind quiet by calming your mind.

The Muse is the white band in the picture

Because I have meditated before, I thought that this task would feel natural to me, but my three minutes stretched out and I quite glad when the end came. Trying to relax the mind while still being aware of the wind noise created a curious kind of tension.

The app provides feedback on your session, divided into three mental states – active, neutral and calm. I felt that the device works well because the signal was very strong and easy to influence. Also, the app is of good quality and has been well thought-out. Its an interesting and unusual way of interacting, quite out of the ordinary.

The nice thing about the lab is that you also get to experience devices that others are busy with. This is how I encountered Sphero, a remote controlled ball that can move and change colours. It’s very responsive to its controls, and went racing off much faster than one expected, like an over-excited puppy. Another group was working with either the Arduino or Spark core, trying to illuminate a long strip of led’s to make a clock. They had some success at the end and it looked brilliant, with the lights blinking in different colours.

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My experience at the Permanent Future Lab lowered the threshold and increased the fun factor in experimenting with innovative technologies. Furthermore, I didn’t need to do any coding to have meaningful experiences with technology. I met some really nice people and am looking forward to the next session where I might discover my killer idea. Hope to see you there!

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