Tech That Could Change Your Life in 2022

From a Wall Street Journal story by Joanna Stern, Nicole Nguyen, and Christopher Mims  headlined “Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022”:

Kidproofing social media

In 2021, the world got the idea that social-media apps—especially Instagram and TikTok—haven’t been doing enough to protect younger users from seeing harmful content and getting sucked in by addictive features. In 2022, we’ll see more efforts to protect children, by lawmakers and by the social-media companies themselves.

For the early part of the new year, Instagram has promised to roll out alternatives to its main algorithmically driven feed, where users currently have little control over what they see. Instagram head Adam Mosseri also told a Senate subcommittee in December that the company would release more parental controls for teens in 2022, starting in March with a feature that allows parents to set time limits.

TikTok said it has begun to make changes to its algorithm so people don’t end up with feeds dominated by videos about eating disorders, depression and other possibly harmful topics. A company spokeswoman said it would continue to limit features by age and provide tools for parents.

Unconvinced that the companies will make the changes needed on their own, however, lawmakers are working on new bipartisan legislation. Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) and Bill Cassidy (R., La.) have reintroduced the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, or Coppa 2.0, which would extend current privacy protections to users 13 to 15 years old, ban personalized advertising to kids entirely, and more. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) are working on legislation to require more transparency into social-media algorithms.

Home is where the bot is

Not coming in 2022: The all-helpful home robot who will take care of the kids, do the dishes and unclog the toilet. Coming in 2022: Home robots that can do more than your stationary smart speaker or roving vac—and might even keep us company.

Astro, Amazon’s Alexa-integrated household robot, uses sensors to roam around your home. It can do all the typical Alexa things (play music, answer questions, etc.) but it also uses its cameras to monitor your home when you aren’t there. If the robot is in the home of an aging relative, you can use a feature called “Alexa Together” to check in remotely.

David Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon, said Astro represents a shift to “ambient intelligence,” where our computers fade to the background and let us “interact in the real world and not have your head in a phone.”

Amazon began shipping the $1,000 Astro to a small group of invite-only testers in December. Mr. Limp said the number of people requesting invites is many times above his expectations, and the company is working on increasing inventory for 2022.

Similar devices such as ElliQ are already being tested with people 65 or older and living alone. Next year, the company plans to expand availability and add concierge services, which will allow users to order groceries and more.

Health sensors hop off our wrists

After a decade of slapping fitness trackers onto our wrists, the health sensors are starting to break free. The screenless Oura ring is packed with mini sensors for heart rate, blood oxygen and skin temperature. Whoop sells clothing, including bras and leggings, where its tracker can be strategically placed. The camera-less Google Nest Hub display uses radar to track sleepers. And mattresses from Sleep Number, Eight Sleep and others log sleep patterns too.

“It’s less about a new particular technology or sensor,” said Chris Becherer, chief product officer at Oura. Hardware makers are looking at more ways to simplify tracking, he added.

The next big health device might be your earbuds. Apple is studying the potential of AirPods to read body temperature and monitor posture, according to a Wall Street Journal report. People familiar with the plans told our colleague that the buds would take a wearer’s core temperature from inside the ear and lean on motion sensors to detect slouching. Apple is also working on iPhone features to help detect depression, the Journal reported.

Deliveries ex machina

Depending on where you live, there’s a chance a drone will drop you a delivery for the first time this year.

Flytrex, an Israeli startup operating three delivery stations in North Carolina, just received FAA approval to make deliveries in a roughly one-mile radius. The company said this will allow it to carry goods from a variety of retailers, including Walmart, to more than 10,000 households. Wing Aviation, owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., is currently testing and expects to launch the first commercial drone-delivery service in a dense urban area—Dallas-Ft. Worth—in 2022, the company said in October.

Meanwhile, in the coming year, Cardinal Health will be using very different sorts of drones, small fixed-wing electric airplanes made by Zipline, to resupply pharmacies within 10 miles of one of its distribution centers in Kannapolis, N.C. Zipline said it is also doing home deliveries for Walmart in its hometown of Bentonville, Ark.

All of these drones will continue, per FAA regulations, to be piloted by humans.

With the FAA granting more permits and drones from Amazon, United Parcel Service and more than a dozen other companies all in some stage of readiness as well, it’s likely that others will follow suit in 2022.

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