View From the Valley iconView From the Valley

Pixeldelic Illuminates Silicon Valley Fashion Week

It took thousands of hours to design, craft, and test Pixeldelic’s leather jacket, pants, and boots adorned with a total of 257 LEDs. “These aren’t science fair projects,” says Joshua Hubert, an Oakland, Calif.–based fashion designer and Pixeldelic founder.  “These are made with love and passion to make sure they work.”

From LED-embellished faux fur coats to 3D-printed armor, Hubert and other fashion designers’ tech-infused garments strutted down Silicon Valley Fashion Week’s runway in San Francisco last weekend. In keeping with the Silicon Valley vibe, a DJI Phantom drone delivered a mixed drink to help quench the master of ceremonies’ thirst.

So, how exactly do you turn your clothes into a walking light show? In the case of Hubert’s ensemble, the “control hub” is the key. It is a computer system and battery discreetly hidden in the model’s jacket and in his backpack. The system consists of four main components: a PixelPusher microcontroller, pocket-sized miniature router, LEDs, and lithium polymer battery. The PixelPusher manages an array of LEDs via an iPad app.  Approximately one LiPo battery provides enough juice for nine or 10 hours, depending on the lighting pattern, says Hubert. “They’re incredibly efficient—that’s how I can get them [LEDs] so bright.”

Because the removable LEDs snap onto rivets, which are punched into the leather, you can maintain the garment without damage. “The LEDs are essentially a flexible custom-shaped external monitor to play any patterns you would on any standard screen,” Hubert says.  Although you can’t throw the outfit into a washing machine, the LEDs are waterproof. The thick leather also provides a rigid base that supports the weight of the LEDs while offering the flexibility to ride a motorcycle or walk around.

“The clothes themselves are open source,” Hubert says, so users will have the files to use their own microcontrollers or software. “I never expected to get into fashion, ever,” he says. “It was more of a useful way to bring my art with me and have direct conversations with people about the technology.” Hubert’s outfit, including the jacket, pants, and boots, costs US $8,000. The women’s outfit, including the jacket, skirt, and boots, costs $10,000. Each outfit is custom designed. 

The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experiences uses virtual reality to take people to a dying coral reef, where they can pick up objects and hunt for ocean life

Can Stanford’s Deep Dive Into Virtual Reality Help Save the Oceans?

Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson and fellow researchers at the school’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) have been exploring the effects of virtual reality on human behavior since the late 1990s. They’ve written countless papers documenting the fact that experiences in a virtual world—like exercising more, saving for retirement, using less paper, or showing more empathy—change behavior in the real one. They initially used expensive, custom-built hardware for their research; the kind of VR systems available today, like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, didn’t exist when they conducted most of their experiments.

But now that VR systems have gotten out of the lab and into the world, the team is beginning to let some of its work loose as well.

This week, for the first time, the researchers publicly released one of their potentially behavior-changing VR simulations for free download for the HTC Vive. The Ocean Acidification Experience is intended to teach users about the chemistry behind ocean acidification, as well as the problems it causes, and what they can do to help prevent it. To hit those marks, of course, the simulation has to be engaging enough to keep users involved.

Bailenson hopes he’s hit that sweet spot, and that the software will go viral. How would the group measure success? Says Bailenson: 

At the very least, people who become aware of it will now at least have heard of ocean acidification. Even better would be if all the 120,000 people who have the Vive hardware would download it and show it to friends. A home run for us would be if Google and Facebook and Oculus and Sony and all the other companies making VR hardware would include this with the hardware. Because if the tech companies embrace it fully, when VR gets into the classroom, our software will go with it.

Read More
Laid off workers head out the door, carrying boxes of their posessions, in a year of big tech layoffs

Analyst: Ugly Year for Tech Layoffs, and It’s Going to Get Worse

Early this year, analyst Trip Chowdhry from Global Equities Research predicted that the tech world was going to see big layoffs in 2016—some 330,000 in all at major tech companies. At the time, these numbers seemed way over the top. Then IBM started slashing jobs in March—and continued to wield the ax over and over as the year progressed. Yahoo began layoffs of some 15 percent of its employees in February. Intel announced in April that it would lay off 12,000 this year.

So, was Chowdhry right? “Yes,” he told me when I asked him this week. “The layoffs I predicted have been occurring.” And worse, he says, these laid-off workers are never again going to find tech jobs: “They will always remain unemployed,” at least in tech, he said. “Their skills will be obsolete.”

Some of these layoffs are due to a sea change in the industry, as it transforms to the world of mobile and cloud. But some are signs of a bubble about to pop.

It’s all going to get worse in 2017, he predicts, because that’s when the tech bubble will burst. Chowdhry, someone who has never been reluctant to go out on a limb, is predicting that’ll happen in March.

Before I turn to Chowdhry’s scenario for future gloom, take a look at the table below. These are his predictions for layoffs this year, based on an upward revision of his original estimate (to 369,000 in total), along with a few big ones that he missed. Not all have been announced to date, but he still stands by his overall numbers, and notes that many companies are trying to hide layoff activity. Microsoft, he pointed out in an October report, is “letting go of 200 to 250 people every week, and none of these are announced.” And IBM has been laying off wave after wave of people this year, according to anecdotal evidence being collected by the group Watching IBM.

That’s what’s going on at the big companies. But the transformation, he says, is just going to get more painful, because the layoff tsunami is about to hit startups.

“When you see the large companies laying off, that is an indication that the customer base is struggling,” he says. “And the startups have the same set of enterprise customers as the bigger companies. The only thing protecting them now is that they have funding that takes them to the end of this year or the middle of next year, but by March or April it’s going to get very bloody.”

They won’t be able to get more funding, he says, “because the startup companies have exhausted the number of fools. They exhausted the fools in Silicon Valley, then they exhausted the fools in New York City, in Europe, and now they’ve exhausted even the Middle East. There are no fools left.”

“The bubble will burst,” he says, “and the impacts on the tech industry will last two years.”

A tech layoff scorecard:

Company Name


Announced to date


28,000 (40 percent)


5100 (30 percent)

900 (5 percent)

HP Enterprise

72,000 (30 percent)

HP Inc

14,000 (30 percent)


150,000 (40 percent)


28,000 (40 percent)

5500 (7 percent)


3500 (40 percent)


33,000 (25 percent)


23,000 (20 percent)

Network Appliance

3200 (25 percent)

1500 (12 percent)


4750 (25 percent)

F5 Networks

1125 (25 percent)


6250 (50 percent)

1600 (15 percent)


1800 (50 percent)


Not predicted

12,000 (11 percent)


Not predicted

500 (8 percent)


Not predicted

925 (10 percent)


Not predicted

1600 (NA)


Not predicted

250 (17 percent)

Source: Trip Chowdhry

Bathroom lines in Silicon Valley are one measure of diversity, like those shown here at last month's TechCrunch Disrupt event. There is virtually no line for the women's bathroom, while the line for the men's room seems endless.

Is Silicon Valley Discriminating Against Men and Asians?

We know Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women make up 30 percent of the Silicon Valley tech workforce; 47 percent of the tech workers are white, 41 percent Asian American, 6 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent black.

So lawsuits charging discrimination at Silicon Valley companies, given the underrepresentation of some groups, aren’t unexpected. The surprise is when such charges come from well-represented groups. And that is what has happened in the past couple of weeks.

Read More
A child checks out the $250 da Vinci MiniMaker, a 3D printer for kids from XYZprinting, along with a printed merry-go-round

The MiniMaker 3D Printer Wants to Be the EasyBake Oven of 3D Printing

How many of today’s adults got their first “all by myself” cooking experiences with an EasyBake Oven? I know I did. (I had the first version, which came in a sort of turquoise blue. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been painting my kitchens turquoise ever since.) EasyBake cakes and cookies didn’t taste all that great, but they were definitely identifiable as cakes and cookies, and I did it all by myself. It was a huge confidence builder for later experiments in the kitchen.

XYZprinting thinks the same path is possible for generating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) abilities. Start kids off making things on a 3D printer that requires only minimal adult supervision, and they’ll build the confidence needed to move on to bigger tools and more complicated projects later on. This week, the company launched what it hopes is going to be the EasyBake Oven of STEAM: the da Vinci MiniMaker. The compact $250 3D printer can create objects as large as 15 centimeters in each dimension out of nontoxic filament.

That $250 sounds a bit pricey for something in the EasyBake Oven category, but consider that the original EasyBake Oven, which sold for $16 in 1963, would cost about $125 in today’s dollars. Or that XYZ is trying to pull shoppers away from $300-plus video-game systems. Or that it hopes a big market will be classroom teachers.

XYZ spokesman Ash Marin says that this gadget, the company’s cheapest model, calibrates itself. Software available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers lets users test different orientations for objects they plan to print, scale them, and virtually slice them up; it will then calculate a print time before starting. Other provided software offers simple CAD tools, along with drop-in letters and numbers. An online gallery offers 4,500 free downloadable projects; more complicated projects that involve ancillary components, like motors, will be sold as kits, priced about the same as a video game. (I’m crazy about the merry-go-round kit, shown above.)

The company, Marin said, is also getting ready to release a handheld 3D scanner, based on Intel’s RealSense technology, that is a key step in letting people make prints of…themselves. Try that with an EasyBake Oven.

Modal VR's virtual reality system for commercial applications includes a wearable headset, a full-body motion tracking suit, and a computer peripheral it calls the VR Fabricator.

Nolan Bushnell Says His New Virtual Reality Startup Has the Keys to the Holodeck—and it’s Portable

I’ve been talking to a lot of academics, investors, and analysts lately to get a sense of what’s coming down the path in virtual and augmented reality.

And at least for VR—expensive, immersive, full on virtual reality—they’ve been telling me to look to gear for the business world, not the consumer world, for the next big thing. That’s because VR hardware won’t be cheap enough, at least in an untethered form, for the average consumer anytime soon.

So maybe Modal VR, a startup company that came out of stealth today that is building VR hardware exclusively for business applications, will hit the sweet spot for the technology in 2017. Cofounder Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, thinks so. “My past successes have always been by being at the right time, at the right place,” he said in a video statement released at the launch.

The company says it will be shipping multi-user, wireless, VR systems to developers soon, but didn’t disclose a date.

“For those of us who grew up on “Star Trek,” the holodeck has always been the gold standard, Bushnell said in the launch video. “Modal VR is the first time that I believe we actually have the holodeck.”

The portable system, the company says, consists of a computer peripheral it’s calling the VR Fabricator, a virtual reality visor, a full-body motion tracking suit, and software; users will have to bring their own Mac or PC. Each Fabricator can support up to 10 users wearing visors and tracking suits; the peripherals can also be networked to add users or expand the range behind the initial 83,000 square meters.

You know this is a Bushnell effort because the featured app in the launch video is a gaming app, a virtual battle played out on what is, in the real world, a soccer field. It’s not a bad idea—I can easily see how a company makes a birthday party business out of bringing VR games to kids, competing with permanent laser tag venues, without requiring the purchase of real estate.

Other apps suggested on the website include real estate, allowing walkthroughs of multiple homes from a realtor’s office, perhaps; emergency response training; immersive exhibits in museums; and virtual field trips and simulations for students. “I want to have students be able to walk through the human body, to walk amongst the planets,” says Bushnell.

Anika Cheerla, a Google Science Fair finalist from Silicon Valley, reviews her research in breast cancer risk assessment using machine learning

Machine Learning Tools Help Google Science Fair Finalists Find Lost Objects, Predict Breast Cancer Risk

This week, 16 teams of teens from around the world assembled in Mountain View to demonstrate the results of research projects at the Google Science Fair. You can view summaries of all the projects here.

I’ve been attending these finals for several years now and am always impressed with how creatively the teens use the technologies of today. And this year was no exception: machine learning is hot in the tech world, and the teens are embracing it.

Read More
This $15 breathalyzer uses a sensor constructed by a Malaysian teen to detect early lung cancer

Google Science Fair Finalist Invents Cheap Lung Cancer Screening Breathalyzer

Eighteen-year-old Zheng Xin Yong, from Malaysia, was stunned when he learned his nonsmoking math teacher had advanced lung cancer. That’s why, for his Google Science Fair project, he set out to develop a low-cost, easy-to-use screening test for early stage lung cancer.

He came up with a combination of tetracosane and carbon powder that changes resistance according to alkane levels in air. Alkane, sometimes called paraffin, is a naturally occurring product of oxidation and is dramatically higher in the breath of people with lung cancer than those with healthy lungs.

Yong says each sensor costs about 15 U.S. cents to produce, and his entire breathalyzer-style system costs about $15; the only comparable device he’s seen is an electronic nose that costs thousands of dollars, he says.

To date, Yong has successfully tested his system on 37 subjects, 12 lung cancer patients, 12 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, and 13 nonsmokers without known lung disease. He’s hoping his research reduces the use of CT scans for lung cancer screening and increases the rate of screening in general.

Google Science Fair: A 3D-Printed Exoskeleton That Can Train a Paralyzed Hand to Move Again

Rebuilding fine motor skills after a stroke takes intensive therapy that requires repeated attempts to use the affected hand, several times a day, day after day. Some therapies involve moving the affected fingers with the other hand until new brain pathways for hand control develop. Zain Samdani, a 16-year-old from Saudi Arabia and a finalist in the 2016 Google Science Fair, demonstrated a different approach at the finalist showcase on Tuesday.

Samdani, who says he’d seen family members struggling with hand rehab, built an exoskeleton out of 3D-printed segments. He connected that to a glove that he wired to control the robotic device. The patient, he says, can wear the glove on the functional hand, and use that hand’s movements to retrain the paralyzed hand. [See video, above.]

In early tests on patients, Samdani reports, in one day the exoskeleton led to levels of improvement that physical therapists wouldn’t typically see for weeks.

Working Out With Intel and Oakley’s Chatty Radar Pace Augmented-Reality Smart Glasses

Intel’s Chris Croteau and Oakley’s Luiz Dias met with me this week to show off the Radar Pace smart glasses that will hit stores this Saturday, but they were careful to downplay expectations for this new consumer wearable technology.

The smart glasses, designed jointly by Intel and the Luxottica Group (Oakley is a subsidiary), are “really just for runners and cyclers,” they kept pointing out. “We spent a long time trying to understand what kind of wearables athletes want, and designed this for them,” they emphasized. And, they told me several times, “we’re not trying to be Google Glass.”

“We’re concerned about avoiding social awkwardness,” chimed in Scott Smith, a vice president at Luxottica, Oakley’s parent company.

Still, Radar Pace’s little voice in your ear—one that knows exactly what you’re doing and encourages you to do it a little better—has a bit of the flavor of the virtual companion in the movie Her. It’s going to be very tempting to go beyond the questions it expects (Am I on my target pace? How’s my stride length?), to getting a little chattier (I think I know that guy who just ran past. Should I say hello?). In fact, Radar Pace strays into the territory of audio augmented reality, an area with huge potential that’s getting little attention as we obsess about visual AR like Pokémon Go.

And Croteau, in spite of trying to focus on sports training, wouldn’t argue with that perception. “It is indeed AR,” he says. “We are augmenting the reality of an athlete through audio.”

Read More

View From the Valley

IEEE Spectrum’s blog featuring the people, places, and passions of the world of technologists in Silicon Valley and its environs.
Contact us:

Senior Editor
Tekla Perry
Palo Alto
Load More