Making a Better World One Beep at a Time

Last time, I wrote about little ways to answer this big question: how do I find my purpose in life? Simply reading books or going outside may be a far cry from what you expect of an intense introspection, but it won’t hurt to try. And even if it doesn’t enlighten you about the meaning of your own life, well, at least you got to enjoy your day.

I myself have gone on the life purpose spiral quite a few times, even as a woman whose business is doing okay and whose family gets along well, and it has led me before to another particular question. Am I being selfish when I concentrate on my personal life? What if my purpose in this world has to do with being more in the world, whatever that means?

More daunting than discovering your life path, perhaps, is asking this: what can I do to help make a better world? I know, I know. With bills to pay and children to raise, it seems like too much. Most of us are not presidents or billionaires; it’s not part of our everyday routine to have great impact on making a better world. But, as with all things, it can’t hurt to start small. As long as you start. I think, even in our ordinariness, there is much to be done.

It’s okay to focus first on those near you. Do more for the people you love. Cook your friends a hearty meal and have everyone get together, just like the old times. It may not seem like much, but in a world where interactions mostly happen through chat or our newsfeed, it’s a radical step to foster social bonds. Leave a sweet note in your kid’s lunch. Your baby girl or baby boy might be having a bad day in school, and needs to be cheered up. Who knows, they might remember small acts like this in the future and use it someday as inspiration to fuel their own dreams of creating a better world. Never underestimate the loving things you do for your inner circle.

Never underestimate the power of a smile, either. I know, I know. That seems cliche. But niceness is definitely a good icebreaker. Make a stranger’s day better by greeting them a good morning. Ask an acquaintance how they’re doing, mean it, and really listen. Spend time with the elderly, hold their hand, and enjoy their stories — there is much to learn and they have much to share. Praise your co-worker for his or her hard work this week. Again, in a world where it’s so easy to hate and judge, showing someone your attention and appreciation could be a big thing.

Yes, society has much, much bigger problems than stray kittens. All over the world, political, cultural, and economic tensions exist. But remember that small changes are still changes. You may not have the resources to fly to a third world country and start a charity, but you can go to your local health center and donate blood. You may not have the time to arrange a fundraising event for the environment, but surely you can eliminate your use of plastic. If you are good at certain skills, mentor or coach someone in your community. If you do have the resources, make sure you donate them to foundations with causes you feel the most about. Again, if you don’t, you can always share your knowledge. Advocate. Raise awareness.

And keep being aware. There are always new ways to make a difference. With the pace that technology is evolving, I’m sure the industry also wants to do its part in making a better world. Keep your eyes peeled for these opportunities. One such app to join the mission of making a difference and offer us opportunities to do so is BeepBeep Nation.

The BeepBeep Nation app provides a platform for people to request for help whenever they need it — and in whatever form, such as needing a ride or a place to stay — and for other people to respond and help out. It hopes to redefine and encourage human interaction in the technological age, through technology itself. Visit the BeepBeep Nation website to find out more about how to make a difference in the world, one beep at a time.

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New App Alerts Deaf Parents to When and Why Babies Cry

Many innovators have focused on helping children have fun living their lives and/or helping parents have a little ease in raising their children. A high-tech clothing line is producing wearable stuff that adjusts and grows along with the kids. A startup has created emotion-tracking smart glasses that can improve the social skills of autistic children. The latest to contribute is a mom doctor who developed an app that addresses a few problems in the parenting experience of deaf parents.

As parents spend time around infants, they start to learn the difference between when a baby is crying from pain, rather than fussiness. Deaf parents, on the other hand, have no way of understanding whether their baby’s cries mean something more serious.

That’s why Dr. Ariana Anderson at the UCLA Medical Center and Semel Institute developed the Chatterbaby app.

Anderson, herself a mother of four, discovered that she had been continuously learning how to interpret what her babies’ crying means over her years of motherhood. When she realized that deaf parents needed more assistance in this area, she thought of creating an app that could guide the deaf community.

By compiling a database of over 2,000 baby cries, Anderson’s app can interpret a baby’s needs with 90% accuracy. For instance, if there are long periods of silence between cries, it usually means that the baby is just finicky. But if the infant is uttering long, sustained, high-pitched wails, it means that the baby is in pain.

The app is still going through further development, but those who tested it have already given positive feedback. Deaf parents who participated in the test run stated that the service is indeed an important innovation.

Of course, every future parent would have a different parenting experience. However, innovations like this could surely bring a little convenience to the great challenge.

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Can You Build The World’s Best New Phone App?

“There’s an app for that,” must be the expression of the century — after all, it’s true. You can spy on your partner, keep track of the places you’ve taken a dump, and seek cuddle buddies. Some apps demonstrate explosive popularity but only remain on the hot list for weeks, if not days (looking at you, Pokemon Go). So how exactly do you craft the next best phone app and remain trending?

Think about what people want. What is everyone’s latest obsession? Which apps have endured the test of time? Games such as Candy Crush maintain a steady amount of users and rake in a lot of credit. Consider how and why. You’ll soon figure that the answer is simple. Anyone can play it. Its features are addicting. It’s free but also tricks you into spending an occasional buck for that extra life. Here is where market research may come in handy.

But before getting your hands dirty, consider your audience. Do you want to build an app that caters primarily to millennials? Or do you want a few Gen X heads to turn? Making an “app for everyone” may seem like the way to go, but it isn’t always the easiest.

When brainstorming, play to your strengths. Sure, you can make an app for pretty much anything. But why not create something you are already well-versed in? After all, a physical therapist working on an app for 15-minute exercises does make a lot of sense.

Once you’ve established a general sense of what your app is going to be, it’s time for the nitty gritty. Give your app multiple functions. But focus, of course, is important. You can’t throw together a photo editing app that also allows you to order a pizza. Figure out what makes the most sense and deliver real value.

An app that can do a lot of things may seem the way to go, but not with a complex design. Make your app user-friendly. Windows loyalists may often tease Mac users for being technological dummies. But the truth of the matter is, Mac will almost always remain on top for the simple fact that it is easy to use.

A seamless beginning doesn’t always make for smooth-sailing in the long run. Keep track of bugs and when the going gets tough, communicate with your users. Just because something seems like a good idea, doesn’t mean that it is. Take customer feedback seriously. What might make sense to you may be someone else’s worst nightmare. Troubleshoot with grace, like a virtual ballerina.

Most importantly, stay current. In order to remain relevant, keep up with the times. Upgrade your app to suit prevailing trends. Mermaid hair and rompers for men may eventually go out of style, but you don’t have to. Adjust to change, even when it means taking risks. Nothing ever comes easy to those who play it safe.

App-making is treacherous business, even for experienced entrepreneurs. But with consistent batting practice, any smartphone user could hit a home run.

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New U.K. Water Fountains To Help Cut Plastic Waste

Each year, an astounding number of plastic products brim over from landfills and into oceans. To reduce this ever-rising amount, companies are dumpster-diving for bottles, up-cycling them into boats and furniture. Although proper disposal remains a primary issue, encouraging a zero-waste lifestyle is just as pressing. To prevent greater damage caused by plastic bottles, Water U.K. is installing refill stations across England.

“This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it.” [said Water U.K. chief executive Michael Roberts.]

Users can pinpoint refill stations on a smartphone app. In Bristol alone, the app will ping you to 200 individual fountains. If bottle-users went for a single refill per week for an entire year, the city could shrink waste by 22.3 million bottles.

“This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop or play.”

If you’re on a mission to stay healthy, remember that keeping plastic out of oceans is also part of the job.

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Alphabet Testing Burrito Deliveries By Drone

Now that drones have proven themselves vital in the technological universe, gadget firms are pushing its limits even further. From delivering blood transfusions to restoring forests, drones are now making more conventional deliveries. Thanks to Alphabet, Australians will be receiving spontaneous burrito bags by — you guessed it — drone.

Project Wing has teamed up with Mexican food chain Guzman y Gomez, along with pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse to allow customers to order items through a dedicated app. The drones are then sent off to collect goods from the stores’ loading sites and dropping off to the testers at their homes, traveling at up to 120 km/h.

Part of Project Wing, the drones are giving Alphabet the breakthrough they’ve been after. The company is targeting the Australian Capital Territory, which is a 40-minute round trip to the nearest store. Gauging from the success of rural deliveries, Alphabet is challenging the precision of its drones.

Project Wing is training its drones to deliver items anywhere, using its sensors to identify new obstacles and each time that it does so, improving the onboard algorithms and its capacity to pick out a safe spot for delivery.

While accuracy is a must for any drone-related activity, I wouldn’t mind a splattered burrito. Anyway, it’s all about taste.

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Smart Belt Helps Parkinson’s Patients Stay On Balance

Parkinson’s is truly a difficult and debilitating disease. There is no known cure, but researchers have made some promising attempts. The use of pig brain cells promotes nerve cell growth and repair. Now, a smart belt and simple phone app may address loss of balance.

The Smarter Balance System takes the form of a special belt that is lined with vibrating actuators. These actuators provide customized rehab programs that map users’ movements in real time using a series of dots which appear on their smartphone displays.

In essence, the wearable acts as a virtual physical therapist. Exercises aim to improve postural stability and patients’ general confidence in completing simple tasks. Overall, the device is a pretty neat assistant.

Data collected by the system is then uploaded to an online server so that it can be analyzed by doctors and physical therapists, who can then adjust the regimen as required.

We have yet to hear word on when the Smarter Balance System will be commercially available. Until then, things continue to look up for patients of all sorts, thanks to wearable technology.

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Carbon Calculator Helps Reduce Harmful Footprints

The rise of eco-friendly household devices is allowing people to become less wasteful within the comfort of their home. You can host a guilt-free barbecue with a biodegradable grill. You can even sustain a high-tech home garden. Some of our actions, however, aren’t always considerate towards the environment. This carbon calculator by Conservation International allows you to adjust every aspect of your lifestyle for the benefit of the planet.

Using [the device], you can calculate your carbon footprint based on a number of personal behaviors and find how much or how little carbon you are producing – and how you make that number smaller and, therefore, better for the planet.

Don’t let the extent of climate change fool you — our individual contributions are capable of making a difference. In fact, the carbon calculator suggests that simply reducing the consumption of animal-based products can be highly impactful. It works using a simple mechanism.

Once you calculate your carbon footprint and find your offset option, the tool also gives you a comparison of your footprint to the averages by country and quick tips on how to decrease the number, for example, related to your fuel economy, clothing choices, and thermostat settings.

Nowadays, it seems we are more equipped to maintain our planet than ever. We are tackling challenges head-on, one app at a time.

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The iPhone Is Also An Advanced Hearing Aid

I have to commend the hearing-impaired. While the gift of sound eludes them, they are articulate in an entirely different language (which dogs can learn, by the way). Technology is helping to close the gap between the hearing and non-hearing with translating devices. This time around, Apple is happy to help and is launching a pretty high-tech hearing aid.

Those using the system can not only get phone calls directly routed inside their skulls, but also stream music, podcasts, audio books, movie soundtracks, and even Siri—all straight to the implant.

The concept stemmed from the average deaf person’s struggle to answer phone calls. To avoid bulky, wired devices, Apple pushed Bluetooth technologies even further.

“We spent a lot of time tuning our solution to meet the requirements of the battery technology used in the hearing aids and cochlear implants.”

Apple’s system also supports a bimodal setup, in which sound can come from either an aid or implant. There is even a feature for lost implants. Most importantly, the system does not drain the iPhone’s battery, which most add-ons tend to do.

To solve the huge problem of streaming high-quality audio without quickly draining the tiny zinc batteries in hearing aids, Apple had previously developed a new technology called Bluetooth LEA, or Low Energy Audio.

Looks like another win for technology.

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This Talking Camera Is For The Blind

Are you hard-of-hearing and in need of an aid? Do you have trouble walking and are seeking a sturdy wheelchair? Looks like you’re going to have to break the bank. Because most devices for the disabled don’t come cheap, Microsoft has come up with a solution. Seeing AI is a free app for the blind that works like a “talking camera.”

Fire up the free app and point your iPhone at anything, whether it’s a document, a menu card, a room or even a friend, and Seeing AI will tell you what it is with its voice.

Seeing AI is also supposed to be able to identify currency notes and products by barcode.

The app has proven to be impressively accurate, describing objects with great detail. It can even read books!

Microsoft hopes that this will make life a little bit easier for those with visual impairments. It… is one of several new initiatives driven by the company’s interest in exploring the possibilities that artificial intelligence can open up.

Seeing AI is evidence that help can exist where help is needed–affordably or for free.

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