This adorable tiny record maker lets you cut your own 5-inch vinyl singles

Vinyl has been coming back for the last few years, but unlike MP3s, CDs or even cassette tapes (also coming back), records aren’t easy to record on your own. This tiny toy record maker makes it easy, though you probably shouldn’t expect that famous vinyl sound quality.

The Easy Record Maker was created by designer Yuri Suzuki, who has been itching to do something like this for years.

“This idea has been my dream machine since I was teenager,” Suzuki told Dezeen. Digital media are easy to copy, but making your own vinyl has proven difficult. “Of course professional-use record cutting machines exist, but they are very expensive. As it’s a complicated process with records, there is no way to create them at home.”

That’s not quite true — last year the Phonocut record maker hit Kickstarter and more than doubled its goal, but the large (think turntable plus hi-fi), $1,000+ machine is a bit more than many are ready to commit to. The tiny Easy Record Maker is meant to be a simpler, smaller option for people who want, for instance, to let their kids create their own records for fun. (This was done in the past when records were more common, but this is surely a more serious effort.)

The device cuts and plays five-inch records, of which it comes with 10, at both 33 and 45 RPM. Operating it is as simple as plugging a sound source — your phone, a mic, whatever — into the 1/8″ headphone jack and playing the content while the cutting head is in the groove. Put down the other head to play it back, or put the record in any other turntable.

The resulting records have a “nice low-fi sound,” Suzuki said, which is as much as admitting they don’t sound particularly good — but that’s not the point.

He’s hoping that the device will make the idea and process of creating vinyl records familiar to a new generation, helping them appreciate the physical side of the medium and the value of a permanent object associated with music rather than a fleeting stream.

There’s no price yet, and no definite retailers, but expect the Easy Record Maker to be available later this year (certainly before the holidays) online and in a few stores in the U.S. and EU.

Philter Labs nets additional funding in quest to build a better portable smoking filter

Philter Labs aims to reduce the stigma associated with vaping tobacco and cannabis. The company’s product is simple enough: It’s a portable filter that, to my surprise, eliminates nearly all secondhand smoke and vapor.

The company today is announcing an additional $1 million in funding from a private equity firm that invests in the cannabis industry. This round brings the San Diego-based company’s total funding to $3 million; it previously raised from Bravos Capital and Explorer Equity Group.

“PHILTER’s mission is to empower responsible adults with the choice to keep the air clean for those around them by filtering their emissions while still protecting a person’s right to vape,” said Philter Labs CEO Christos Nicolaidis. “This new funding allows us to continue to leverage science and our patented technology to eliminate secondhand smoke, reduce waste, and live out our mission to help lead a cultural shift for cleaner air and a better environment.”

The product works as advertised. Take a drag on a vape or joint or cigarette and exhale through the filter. The little filter then grabs all the particulate and, I guess, stores the bad stuff, leaving very little exiting the other side of the filter. Even the most considerable clouds of vapor disappear.

I tried both of the company’s current products, the Phlip ($30) and Pocket ($15). Both use the same filter. The difference is use. The Phlip is designed to put a filter alongside a vape pen. A silicon band ties the filter to most small vapes — it works fine with my Pax Era. This way, with the Phlip, the idea is a person inhales from one end and exhales through the other.

Does it eliminate all the smell and vapor? No, not totally, but the device makes a dramatic reduction.

There are similar products on the market. Smoke Buddy is a longtime favorite of mine, and these work in a similar fashion but have a more pocketable design. I’m more likely to carry this filter because it fits in a pocket without an issue.

There are no buttons to press or batteries to charge. The device is passive, and Philter Labs says each filter will last about 200 exhales. The company has filed half a dozen patents, with three recently being approved for upcoming products.

“Our mission is to inspire a change in the habits that are already out there,” John Grimm, co-inventor and CTO said. “We want to reduce emissions, not only to society but to the environment, and change smoking and vaping.”

Grimm explained that it’s more than reducing the harm. To him, it’s also about reducing the stigma that’s associated with smoking and vaping.

The system uses a propriety filtering process that breaks down the emissions at a molecular level through a five-step filtration process. The company says its technology captures and dissolves the particulates, pollutants and VOCs, which results in clean air exiting the filter.

I asked Grimm if the company has published a white paper on their findings. They have not; though he pointed out that Philter Labs founded a scientific advisory board (SSAB) that includes toxicologists formally from big tobacco, along with former executives from Dosist, Curaleaf and Juul.

Researchers to study if startup’s wrist-worn wearable can detect early COVID-19 respiratory issues

It’s highly unlikely that the current coronavirus crisis will be neatly and fully “solved” by any one endeavor or solution, which makes new studies like one involving startup WHOOP’s wrist-worn fitness and health tracking wearable all the more important. The study, conducted by the Central Queensland University Australia (CQUniversity), in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, will employ data collected by WHOOP’s hardware from hundreds of volunteers who have self-identified as having contracted COVID-19 to study changes in their respiratory behavior over time.

The data to be used for this study has been collected from WHOOP’s 3.0 hardware, which has also recently been validated by a University of Arizona external study conducted specifically to determine the accuracy of its measurement of respiratory rates during sleep, which the device uses to provide quality of sleep scores to its users. That study showed it to be among the most accurate measurement tools for respiratory rate short of invasive procedures, which is what has led researchers behind this new study to hypothesize that it could be valuable as a sort of early-warning system for detecting signs of abnormal respiratory behavior in COVID-19 patients before those symptoms are detectable by other means.

The WHOOP team says that the respiratory rate its hardware reports very rarely deviates from an established individual baseline, and that when it does so, it’s usually due to either one of two causes: environmental factors, like unusually high temperatures or significant differences in oxygen concentration, or something happening within the body, like a lower-respiratory tract infection.

COVID-19 is specifically a lower-respiratory tract infection, unlike the flu or a cold, which are upper-respiratory issues. That means there’s a strong correlation between rate changes due to lower-respiratory tract issues not accounted by environmental problems (which are relatively easy to cancel out) and instances of COVID-19. And because the WHOOP wearable is designed to look for deviations as a sign of distress, among the other sings it monitors, it could notice changes to respiratory rates relative to baselines before an individual becomes aware of any significant shortness of breath themselves.

This is a study, so at this point that’s just a hypothesis, and will need to be backed up by data. The team behind it says it should take around six weeks, and there are an “initial several hundred self-reported COVID-19 cases” already present in the app from which it will begin, with a target of enrolling at least 500 individuals with positive COVID-19 test results. There are also other investigations underway to see if wearables that monitor a user’s health and fitness can provide early warning systems for potential COVID-19 cases, including a study being conducted by UCSF using the Oura Ring.

Unlike with previous pandemics, the current coronavirus crisis comes at a time when we’re increasingly used to taking data-driven approaches to solving challenges, and when we also have a lot of self-quantifying health devices in circulation. Those could help us get a better grip on assessing the spread, as well as trends related to how it circulates and ebbs/grows within a population.

We’ve come full rectangle: Polaroid is reborn out of The Impossible Project

More than a decade after announcing that it would keep Polaroid’s abandoned instant film alive, The Impossible Project has done the… improbable: It has officially become the brand it set out to save. And to commemorate the occasion, there’s a new camera, the Polaroid Now.

The convergence of the two brands has been in the works for years, and in fact Impossible Project products were already Polaroid-branded. But this marks a final and satisfying shift in one of the stranger relationships in startups or photography.

I first wrote about The Impossible Project in early 2009 (and apparently thought it was a good idea to Photoshop a Bionic Commando screenshot as the lead image), when the company announced its acquisition of some Polaroid instant film manufacturing assets.

Polaroid at the time was little more than a shell. Having declined since the ’80s and more or less shuttered in 2001, the company was relaunched as a digital brand and film sales were phased out. This was unsuccessful, and in 2008 Polaroid was filing for bankruptcy again.

This time, however, it was getting rid of its film production factories, and a handful of Dutch entrepreneurs and Polaroid experts took over the lease as The Impossible Project. But although the machinery was there, the patents and other IP for the famed Polaroid instant film were not. So they basically had to reinvent the process from scratch — and the early results were pretty rough.

But they persevered, aided by a passionate community of Polaroid owners, continuously augmented by the film-curious who want something more than a Fujifilm Instax but less than a 35mm SLR. In time the process matured and Impossible developed new films and distribution partners, growing more successful even as Polaroid continued applying its brand to random, never particularly good photography-adjacent products. They even hired Lady Gaga as “Creative Director,” but the devices she hyped at CES never really materialized.

Gaga was extremely late to the announcement, but seeing the GL30 prototype was worth it

In 2017, the student became the master as Impossible’s CEO purchased the Polaroid brand name and IP. They relaunched Impossible as “Polaroid Originals” and released the OneStep 2 camera using a new “i-Type” film process that more closely resembled old Polaroids (while avoiding the expensive cartridge battery).

Polaroid continued releasing new products in the meantime — presumably projects that were under contract or in development under the brand before its acquisition. While the quality has increased from the early days of rebranded point-and-shoots, none of the products has ever really caught on, and digital instant printing (Polaroid’s last redoubt) has been eclipsed by a wave of nostalgia for real film, Instax Mini in particular.

But at last the merger dance is complete and Polaroid, Polaroid Originals and The Impossible Project are finally one and the same. All devices and film will be released under the Polaroid name, though there may be new sub-brands like i-Type and the new Polaroid Now camera.

Speaking of which, the Now is not a complete reinvention of the camera by far — it’s a “friendlier” redesign that takes after the popular OneStep but adds improved autofocus, a flash-adjusting light sensor, better battery and a few other nips and tucks. At $100 it’s not too hard on the wallet, but remember that film is going to run you about $2 per shot. That’s how they get you.

It’s been a long, strange trip to watch, but ultimately a satisfying one: Impossible made a bet on the fundamental value of instant film photography, while a series of owners bet on the Polaroid brand name to sell anything they put it on. The riskier long-term play won out in the end (though many got rich running Polaroid into the ground over and over), and now with a little luck the brand that started it all will continue its success.

NYU makes face shield design for healthcare workers that can be built in under a minute available to all

New York University is among the many academic, private and public institutions doing what it can to address the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) among healthcare workers across the world. The school worked quickly to develop an open-source face-shield design, and is now offering that design freely to any and all in order to help scale manufacturing to meet needs.

Face shields are a key piece of equipment for front-line healthcare workers operating in close contact with COVID-19 patients. They’re essentially plastic, transparent masks that extend fully to cover a wearer’s face. These are to be used in tandem with N95 and surgical masks, and can protect a healthcare professional from exposure to droplets containing the virus expelled by patients when they cough or sneeze.

The NYU project is one of many attempts to scale production of face masks, but many others rely on 3D printing. This has the advantage of allowing even very small commercial 3D-print operations and individuals to contribute, but 3D printing takes a lot of time — roughly 30 minutes to an hour per print. NYU’s design requires only basic materials, including two pieces of clear, flexible plastic and an elastic band, and it can be manufactured in less than a minute by essentially any production facility that includes equipment for producing flat products (whole punches, laser cutters, etc.).

This was designed in collaboration with clinicians, and over 100 of them have already been distributed to emergency rooms. NYU’s team plans to ramp production of up to 300,000 of these once they have materials in hand at the factories of production partners they’re working with, which include Daedalus Design and Production, PRG Scenic Technologies and Showman Fabricators.

Now, the team is putting the design out there for pubic use, including a downloadable tool kit so that other organizations can hopefully replicate what they’ve done and get more into circulation. They’re also welcoming inbound contact from manufacturers who can help scale additional production capacity.

Other initiatives are working on different aspects of the PPE shortage, including efforts to build ventilators and extend their use to as many patients as possible. It’s a great example of what’s possible when smart people and organizations collaborate and make their efforts available to the community, and there are bound to be plenty more examples like this as the COVID-19 crisis deepens.