Make your own phone with MakerPhone (some soldering required)

Make your own phone with MakerPhone (some soldering required)

3:52pm, 13th October, 2018
There’s no shortage of interesting electronics kits out there to occupy an idle Sunday, but with this one you get a phone out of the bargain. The is a kit looking for funds on Kickstarter that lets you assemble a working mobile phone from a number of boards and pieces, and the end result looks about as wild as you’d expect. For about a hundred bucks, you get a mainboard, casing, LCD, wireless module, processor, and all the other pieces you need to make a basic smartphone. You’re not going to be browsing Instagram on this thing, but you can make calls, send texts, and play Snake. Remember when that was enough? This is purpose-built hardware, of course — you won’t be putting it together cap by cap — but it’s not exactly plug and play, either. You’ll need a soldering iron, snippers, and some Python chops. (Not delicious python meat — Python the programming language.) The MakerPhone microcontroller is Arduino-compatible, so you can tweak and extend it, too. But the creators (who previously shipped a similarly handheld gaming machine) say you don’t need any experience to do this. It takes you through the absolute basics and there are pledge tiers that get you all the tools you’ll need, too. I love the chunky UI, too. I like big pixels and I cannot lie. Sure, this probably won’t be your everyday device (it’s huge) but it’s a fun project and maybe you could make it your weird home messaging machine. I don’t know. Be creative. The MakerPhone is already , most of which was people snapping up the early bird $89 deal. But there are plenty available at $94, and it comes with a toolkit at $119.
A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg

A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg

1:42pm, 13th October, 2018
TechCrunch: Hey , dial Mark Do you mean Mark Zuckerberg? TC: Yes Portal: Dialling Mark… TC: Hi Mark! Nice choice of grey t-shirt. MZ: Uh, new phone who dis? — oh, hi, er, TechCrunch… TC: Thanks for agreeing to this entirely fictional interview, Mark! MZ: Sure — anytime. But you don’t mind if I tape over the camera do you? You see I’m a bit concerned about my privacy here at, like, home TC: We feel you, go ahead. As you can see, we already took the precaution of wearing this large rubber face mask of, well, of yourself Mark. And covering the contents of our bedroom with these paint-splattered decorator sheets. MZ: Yeah, I saw that. It’s a bit creepy tbh TC: Go on and get all taped up. We’ll wait. [sound of Mark calling Priscilla to bring the tape dispenser] [Portal’s camera jumps out to assimilate Priscilla Chan into the domestic scene, showing a generous vista of the Zuckerbergs’ living room, complete with kids playing in the corner. Priscilla, clad in an oversized dressing gown and with her hair wrapped in a big fluffy towel, can be seen gesticulating at the camera. She is also coughing] Priscilla to Mark: I already told you — there’s a camera cover built into into Portal. You don’t need to use tape now MZ: Oh, right, right! Okay, going dark! Wow, that feels better already [sound of knuckles cracking] TC: So, Mark, let’s talk hardware! What’s your favorite Echo? MZ: Uh, well… TC: We’d guess one with all the bells & whistles, right? There’s definitely something more than a little -y about Portal MZ: Sure, I mean. We think Alexa is a great product TC: hmm. Do you remember when digital photo frames first came out? They were this shiny new thing about, like, a decade ago? One of those gadgets your parents buy you around Thanksgiving, which ends up stuck in a drawer forever? MZ: Yeah! I think someone gave me one once with a photo of me playing beer pong on it. We had it hanging in the downstairs rest room for the longest time. But then we got an Android tablet with a Wi-Fi connection for in there, so… TC: Now here we are a decade or so later with Portal advancing the vision of what digital photo frames can be! MZ: Yeah! I mean, you don’t even have to pick the pictures! It’s pretty awesome. This one here — oh, right you can’t see me but let me describe it for you — this one here is of a Halloween party I went to one year. Someone was dressed as SpongeBob. I think they might have been called Bob, actually… And this is, like, some other friends doing some other fun stuff. Pretty amazing. You can also look at album art TC: But not YouTube, right? But let’s talk about video calling MZ: It’s an amazing technology TC: It sure is. Skype, FaceTime… live filters, effects, animoji… MZ: We’re building on a truly great technology foundation. Portal autozooming means you don’t even have to think about watching the person you’re talking to! You can just be doing stuff in your room and the camera will always be adjusting to capture everything you’re doing! Pretty amazing. TC: Doing what Mark? Actually, let’s not go there MZ: Portal will even suggest people for you to call! We think this will be a huge help for our mission to promote Being Well — uh, I mean Time Well Spent because our expert machine learning algorithms will be nudging you to talk to people you should really be talking to TC: Like my therapist? MZ: Uh, well, it depends. But our AI can suggest personalized meaningful interactions by suggesting contacts to call up TC: It’s not going to suggest I videchat my ex is it? MZ: Haha! Hopefully not. But maybe your mom? Or your grandma? TC: Sounds incredibly useful. Well, assuming they didn’t already #deletefacebook. But let’s talk about kids MZ: Kids! Yeah we love them. Portal is going to be amazing for kids TC: You have this storybook thing going on, right? Absent grandparents using Portal to read kids bedtime stories and what not… MZ: Right! We think kids are going to love it. And grandparents! We’ve got these animal masks if you get bored of looking at your actual family members. It’s good, clean, innovative fun for all the family! TC: Yeah, although, I mean, nothing beats reading from an actual kid’s book, right? MZ: Well… TC: If you do want to involve a device in your kid’s bedtime there are quite a lot of digital ebook apps for that already. Apple has a whole with read-aloud narration, for example. And, maybe you missed this — but quite a few years ago there was a big bunch of indie apps and services all having a good go at selling the same sort of idea of ‘interactive remote reading experiences’ for families with kids. Though not many appear to have gone the distance. Which does sort of suggest there isn’t a huge unmet need for extra stuff beyond, well, actual children’s books and videochat apps like Skype and FaceTime. Also, I mean, and are pretty much as old as the hills in Internet terms at this point. So, er, you’re not really moving fast and breaking things are you!? MZ: Actually we’re more focused on stable infrastructure these days TC: And hardware too, apparently. Which is a pretty radical departure for Facebook. All those years everyone thought you were going to do a Facebook phone but you left it to Amazon to flop into that pit… Who needs hardware when you can put apps and tracker pixels on everything, right?! But here you are now, kinda working with Amazon for Portal — while also competing with Alexa hardware by selling your own countertop device… Aren’t you at all nervous about screwing this up? Hardware IS hard. And homes have curtains for a reason… MZ: We’re definitely confident kids aren’t going to try swivelling around on the Portal Plus like it’s a climbing frame, if that’s what you mean. Well, hopefully not anyway TC: But about you, Facebook Inc, putting an into people’s living rooms and kids’ bedrooms… MZ: What about it? [MZ speaking to someone else in the room] Does the speaker have an off switch? How do I mute this thing? TC: Hello? Mark? [silence] [sound comes back on briefly and a snatch of conversation can be heard between Mark and Priscilla about the need to buy more diapers. Mark is then heard shouting across the room that his Shake Shack order of a triple cheeseburger and fries plus butterscotch malt is late again] [silence] [crackle and a congested throat clearing sound. A child is heard in the background asking for Legos] MZ: Not now okay honey. Okay hon-, uh, hello — what were you saying? TC: Will you be putting a Portal in Max’s room? MZ: Haha! She’d probably prefer Legos TC: August? MZ: She’s only just turned one TC: Okay, let’s try a more direct question. Do you at all think that you, Facebook Inc, might have a problem selling a $200+ piece of Internet-connected hardware when your company is known for creeping on people to sell ads? MZ: Oh no, no! — we’ve, like, totally thought of that! Let me read you what marketing came up with. Hang on, it’s around here somewhere… [sound of paper rustling] Here we go [reading]: Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure. For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are. Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, ‘Hey Portal.’ You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time. Pretty cool, huh! TC: Just to return to your stable infrastructure point for a second, Mark — did you mean Facebook is focused on security too? Because, well, your company keeps … MZ: We think of infrastructure as a more holistic concept. And, uh, as a word that sounds reassuring TC: Okay, so of course you can’t 100% guarantee Portal against hacking risks, though you’re taking precautions by encrypting calls. But Portal might also ‘accidentally’ record stuff adults and kids say in the home — i.e. if its ‘Hey Portal’ local listening function gets triggered when it shouldn’t. And it will then be 100% up to a responsible adult to find their way through Facebook’s labyrinthine settings and delete those wiretaps, won’t it? MZ: You can control all your information, yes TC: The marketing bumpf also doesn’t spell out what Facebook does with ‘Hey Portal’ voice recordings, or the personal insights your company is able to glean from them, but Facebook is in the business of profiling people for ad targeting purposes so we must assume that any and all voice commands and interactions, with the sole exception of the contents of videocalls, will go into feeding that beast. So the metadata of who you talk to via Portal, what you listen to and look at (minus any Alexa-related interactions that you’ve agreed to hand off to Amazon for its own product targeting purposes), and potentially much more besides is all there for Facebook’s taking — given the kinds of things that an always-on listening device located in a domestic setting could be accidentally privy to. Then, as more services get added to Portal, more personal behavioral data will be generated and can be processed by Facebook for selling ads. MZ: Well, I mean, like I told that Senator TC: And smart home hardware too now, apparently. One more thing, Mark: In Europe, Facebook have face recognition technology switched on did it? MZ: We had it on pause for a while TC: But you switched it back on ? MZ: Facebook users in Europe can choose to use it, yes TC: And who’s in charge of framing that choice? MZ: Uh, well TC: We’d like you to tap on the Portal screen now, Mark. Tap on the face you can see to make the camera zoom right in on this mask of your own visage. Can you do that for us? MZ: Uh, sure [sound of a finger thudding against glass] MZ: Are you seeing this? It really is pretty creepy! Or — I mean — it would be if it wasn’t so, like, familiar… Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) [sound of a child crying] Priscilla to Mark: Eeeew! Turn that thing off! TC: Thanks Mark. We’ll leave you guys to it. Enjoy your Shake Shack. Again. Portal: Thanks for calling Mark, TechCrunch! Did you enjoy your Time Well Spent?
Watch this quadrotor turn into a trirotor and keep flying

Watch this quadrotor turn into a trirotor and keep flying

4:05pm, 12th October, 2018
In a video that similar to those videos where humans push around , researchers at Delft University of Technology have created a system that will let a quadrotor drone keep flying even if one of the propellers is broken. The video above – which is, arguably, pretty boring – shows the drone fighting against both structural damage and wind and most definitely winning. The fact that it is able to stay airborne under such wild conditions is the real draw here and it’s a fascinating experiment in robust robotics. In other words, this drone routed around damage that would destroy a normal quadcopter. According to the system works by adding a multiple subsystems to the drone in order to manage the position and altitude. The system uses the built-in gyro and accelerometer readings to keep itself in the air and lots of processing power to keep it moving forward even as it seems to careen into the wild blue yonder. Further, the system manages motor power to ensure that the propellers aren’t “saturated.” The researchers, Sihao Sun, Leon Sijbers, Xuerui Wang, and Coen de Visser, presented their paper in Spain last week at IROS 2018.
BoxLock secures your booty against porch pirates

BoxLock secures your booty against porch pirates

11:56am, 11th October, 2018
This clever – if expensive – product is called the and it is a keyless padlock that lets your package delivery person scan and drop off your packages into a locked box. The system essentially watches for a shipping event and then waits for the right barcode before opening. Once the delivery person scans the package, the lock opens, the delivery person sticks the package in a box or shed (not included) and locks it back up. You then go and grab your package at your leisure. The lock costs $129.The company appeared on everyone’s favorite show, , where they demonstrated the system with a fake door and fake UPS dude. The internal battery lasts 30 days on one charge and it connects to your phone and house via Wi-Fi. While the system does require a box – it’s called BoxLock, after all, not LockBox – it’s a clever solution to those pesky porch pirates who endlessly steal my YorkieLoversBox deliveries.
Watch Shimon the marimba-playing robot play along to jazz, reggae, and hip hop

Watch Shimon the marimba-playing robot play along to jazz, reggae, and hip hop

9:46am, 11th October, 2018
robot with some real soul. This crazy little robot, created by Gil Weinberg at the , can listen to the other players around it and play out little ditties in response to the music. In short, it’s the world’s best jazz and hip hop collaborator because, unlike humans, Shimon can never get drunk and forget the van keys back at that Taco Bell in Fresno. “Most of what Shimon is playing is generated using a new process where he creates hundreds of melodies off line based on deep learning analysis of large musical data sets,” said Weinberg. “Then us humans (me and my students) choose melodies we like and orchestrate / structure them into songs. It’s a new form of robot-human collaboration, at least for us.” In this video Shimon and crew jam along to Dash Smith, an Atlanta-based rapper who freestyles. You’ll also notice another Georgia Tech product, a robotic drumming prosthesis that gives the drummer the power of four Neil Perts. Weinberg, Shimon’s human, is excited by the new developments. “Still under development is the other new element – we are working letting Shimon analyze in real time the rhythm, melodies and semantic meaning of the free style rapper lyrics and use this analysis to drive Shimon’s improvisation. As you know we have explored mostly improvised music, starting with drum circles moving to Jazz, rock jam-bands, and African marimba bands,” said Weinberg. “We are now ready to move to the next frontier of real time collaborative improvisation – free style rapping, where the hope is that the rapper will be influenced by what Shimon is coming up with and vice versa.”
Review: The tiny $149 Echo Sub is a huge audio upgrade

Review: The tiny $149 Echo Sub is a huge audio upgrade

7:36am, 11th October, 2018
Want to make your music more interesting? Add a subwoofer. That’s what did and, suddenly, the entire Echo smart speaker lineup is more interesting. If you were not impressed with the sound of an Echo, consider trying again when the Echo is paired with an Echo Sub. The subwoofer changes the game. The Echo Sub is a small, round sub covered in the same fabric as the Echo speakers. Currently it’s only available in dark gray. It’s designed to be sat on the floor or a sturdy desk and serve up the low notes the Echo speakers are unable to reproduce. The Echo Sub does its job. When paired with an Echo speaker, the audio is more full and enjoyable, well-balanced and healthy. The Echo Sub is a must-have for Echo owners. Review Amazon provided TechCrunch with a pair of $99 Echo speakers and the $129 Echo Sub. This kit is available for $300, but Amazon also sells the Echo Sub bundle with two Echo Plus devices for $329 — that’s the bundle to get since the Plus models have larger speaker drivers. I suspect the difference will be worth the additional $30. Setting up the system takes about 25 minutes. Each speaker is individually added to the Alexa smartphone app. Once all three speakers are installed, they have to be bundled in a virtual group. The app’s prompts make it easy, but I found the process buggy. When trying to combine the speakers into a group, the app would sometimes fail to locate one of the speakers. Other times, the two speakers were found, but the sub was not. Eventually, I got it configured and ended up with two Echo speakers running in stereo and a subwoofer handling the low-end sounds. The difference an additional speaker and subwoofer makes is lovely. But it shouldn’t be surprising. Stereo is how music was supposed to be enjoyed. Years ago the Jambox and its countless Bluetooth speaker clones convinced a generation that one speaker is all that’s needed for music. That’s a lie. One speaker gets the job done, but two, running in stereo will always be better. And in this case, with the addition of a subwoofer, it’s much, much better. Des Rocs’ Let me Live takes full advantage of the newfound soundstage. The left and right speakers explode with activity, creating an immersive listening experience that’s not possible with any single speaker from an Amazon Echo to HomePod. The stereo arrangement lets the music breath. AKA George’s Stone Cold Classic comes alive with this setup. The Echo Sub provides dramatically more depth to the track while the stereo Echos offer a full experience. Need more proof? Turn to Van Halen’s Panama. A single speaker cannot give the same experience; the channels get muddled and mixed. But when played in true stereo with the backup of a woofer, the David Lee Roth comes alive. I’m impressed with the sound quality of this $300 bundle. A lot of the heavy lifting is offloaded to the Echo Sub, allowing the Echo speakers to handle the mids and highs, which are clear and precise for the price point. At $300, it’s hard to find a better audio system than two Echo speakers and the Echo Sub. And the Echo’s smart features sweeten the deal. Amazon provided two $99 Echo speakers, and they do the job. The Echo Sub can also be paired with two $149 Echo Plus speaker, which feature more significant drivers; I suspect using two of these speakers would result in even better sound and when purchased as part of a bundle, they’re only a few dollars more. The Echo Sub works well in most situations. Compared to other subwoofers, it’s on the smaller side of the scale. It provides much-needed bass, but the woofer cannot shake walls. It does not pound, per se. It’s a great match for hard rock or pounding pop; it’s not for trunk-rattling rap. Think Arctics Monkeys instead of Post Malone. The Alexa app allows users to adjust the amount of bass, mid and treble the subwoofer produces. I found the adjustments to be minor and unable to change the sound profile of the woofer drastically. Overall, the Echo Sub is an elegant, little sub that works well in conjunction with a pair of Echo speakers. The Echo Sub can work with just one Echo speaker, too. Own just Echo smart speaker? Add an Echo Sub for an astounding upgrade in sound quality. Amazon is not the only company pairing smart speakers for a new age of stereo sound. has long allowed owners to wirelessly connect speakers to create stereo and surround sound setups. Two Google Home Max can be paired to create a lovely stereo set. The same goes for Apple HomePods: Two $350 HomePods can be wirelessly tied together for a stereo kit. Each of the setups mentioned above provides great audio quality, but they’re more expensive than Amazon’s solution. Only Sonos sells a dedicated subwoofer, though. Amazon, with the addition of the Echo Sub, now offers a great audio experience for much less than that of its closest competitors. The $129 Echo Sub is compact and capable and the best way to instantly upgrade an Echo smart speaker setup. If possible, add a second an Echo speaker to create a virtual set of stereo speakers. The Echo Sub is an easy recommendation for homes where an Echo speaker is dedicated to music. If forced to pick between adding a second Echo or adding an Echo Sub, go for the subwoofer first.
Apple reportedly plans to give away its TV content, because that worked well with U2

Apple reportedly plans to give away its TV content, because that worked well with U2

6:36pm, 10th October, 2018
has answered two questions in one day, or rather a citing someone within the company has. Why are the shows it’s planning so allegedly boring? And what does it plan to do to get a foot in the door in an increasingly competitive streaming-media market? They’re going to repeat the success they had with U2’s “Songs of Innocence” and just shunt it right onto everyone’s device. To be clear, the report suggests that Apple will give its original content away for free to anyone with an iOS or tvOS device (Macs appear to be excluded). Users will find a shiny new app early next year called “TV,” in which will be Apple’s, free of charge. Users will have the opportunity to subscribe to “channels,” for instance HBO, through which they can watch shows from those providers. Who will be allowed on this platform? It’s unclear. How will the billing work? Unclear. Will it replace standalone apps for the likes of Netflix? Unclear. How will it differ from iOS to tvOS? Unclear. The only thing that is clear is that Apple is working from a position of massive leverage as the only company that can or has reason to launch a shared media channel through a billion-dollar giveaway. No doubt there will be other ways they’ll pinch the competition: search and Siri functionality will probably be better for TV; it’ll have integrations with other first-party apps; they’ll default users to using the TV app when they find a show they like — that sort of thing. Some of you may be wondering: Can Apple really just spend a billion dollars on content and then give it away for free? The answer is unequivocally yes. This company is rich beyond imagining and they could do this every year if they wanted to (and in fact they might have to for a bit). Besides, this is a billion-dollar investment in a platform it hopes to entrap every other popular media company in. Here’s the plan: First you get a base level of okay shows on the TV app so it isn’t a wasteland and people can get used to it always being there along with the other two dozen permanent apps. Then you nag some partners and channels into putting their stuff on there because it’s a “more streamlined experience” or something and collect rent when they do. Once you have critical mass you reveal your second round of content — the good stuff — and a ridiculously cheap price, like $30 per year, or less bundled with iCloud stuff. Apple doesn’t need to make money on this, unlike other companies, so it can charge literally whatever it wants. Too low and people think it’s just a hobby, too high and they won’t pay for it on top of Netflix and HBO. Sweeten the deal with special pricing you wring out of channels because they can’t afford to leave this new walled garden, and say consumers come out ahead. Meanwhile of course this is only available on Apple hardware, so you lock people into the ecosystem more, and maybe even sell a few Apple TVs. Ultimately what they’re doing is buying their way into the market with a big up-front payment to shift and lock a non-trivial portion of the existing audience into their own app — a familiar maneuver. The money, well, they’ve already spent that. And possibly on content of questionable quality. That’s the one big fault in the plan: Apple’s squeamishness may result in a TV app with a bunch of garbage on it, in which case (hopefully) no one will use it at all and the company won’t get the leverage it needs to bully other media companies into joining up. You may remember how this kind of forced-content play worked out with U2. After they put “Songs of Innocence” on everybody’s computer, the backlash was so strong that . Turns out Apple isn’t actually a tastemaker — they just make the phones that tastemakers use. In that case it may be that their quest to unseat the actual tastemakers of this era — the likes of Netflix and HBO, which rebuilt the TV industry from the ground up — is quixotic and doomed to failure (or at least a period of ignominious limbo).
French designers build a 3D-printed metal watch

French designers build a 3D-printed metal watch

9:56am, 10th October, 2018
French watchmaker and 3D printing company teamed up to build a unique 3D printed watch, essentially the first of its kind. The team created the watch case using laser sintering to melt stainless steel 316L powder on a Renishaw AM250 printer. The watch, which uses French-made hands and a Miyota movement, isn’t completely 3D printed. However, because 3D printing is now nearly foolproof and almost as good as injection molding, the teams will begin mass producing and selling these watches in the Unitam in Paris. The watchmaker and the metals company showed off their watch at trade show in France’s watchmaking city, Besançon. It’s a clever use case for 3D printing and I’d love to see more. Sadly, the current 3D printing systems can’t make small, complex parts for watch movements so we’re stuck with making larger, less complex parts until the technology truly takes off.
Google’s smart home sell looks cluttered and incoherent

Google’s smart home sell looks cluttered and incoherent

7:46am, 10th October, 2018
If any aliens or technology ingenues were trying to understand what on earth a ‘smart home’ is yesterday, via latest , they’d have come away with a pretty confused and incoherent picture. The company’s presenters attempted to sketch a vision of gadget-enabled domestic bliss but the effect was rather closer to described clutter-bordering-on-chaos, with existing connected devices being blamed (by Google) for causing homeowners’ device usability and control headaches — which thus necessitated another new type of ‘hub’ device which was now being unveiled, slated and priced to fix problems of the smart home’s own making. Meet the ‘Made by Google’ . Buy into the smart home, the smart consumer might think, and you’re going to be stuck shelling out again and again — just to keep on top of managing an ever-expanding gaggle of high maintenance devices. Which does sound quite a lot like throwing good money after bad. Unless you’re a true believer in the concept of gadget-enabled push-button convenience — and the perpetually dangled claim that smart home nirvana really is just around the corner. One additional device at a time. Er, and thanks to AI! Yesterday, at Google’s event, there didn’t seem to be any danger of nirvana though. Not unless paying $150 for a small screen lodged inside a speaker is your idea of heaven. (i.e. after you’ve shelled out for all the other connected devices that will form the spokes chained to this control screen.) A small tablet that, let us be clear, is defined by its limitations: , … No, it’s not supposed to be an entertainment device in its own right. It’s literally just supposed to sit there and be a visual control panel — with the usual also-accessible-on-any-connected-device type of content like traffic, weather and recipes. So $150 for a remote control doesn’t now does it? The hub doubling as a digital photo frame when not in active use — which Google made much of — isn’t some kind of ‘magic pixie’ sales dust either. Call it screensaver 2.0. A fridge also does much the same with a few magnets and bits of paper. Just add your own imagination. During the presentation, Google made a point of stressing that the ‘evolving’ smart home it was showing wasn’t just about iterating on the hardware front — claiming its Google’s AI software is hard at work in the background, hand-in-glove with all these devices, to really ‘drive the vision forward’. But if the best example it can find to talk up is AI auto-picking which photos to display on a digital photo frame — at the same time as asking consumers to shell out $150 for a discrete control hub to manually manage all this IoT — that seems, well, underwhelming to say the least. If not downright contradictory. Google also made a point of referencing concerns it said it’s heard from a large majority of users that they’re feeling overwhelmed by too much technology, saying: “We want to make sure you’re in control of your digital well-being.” Yet it said this at an event where it literally unboxed yet another clutch of connected, demanding, function-duplicating devices — that are also still, let’s be clear, just as — including the aforementioned tablet-faced speaker (which Google somehow tried to claim would help people “disconnect” from all their smart home tech — so, basically, ‘buy this device so you can use devices less’… ); a ChromeOS tablet that transforms into a laptop via a snap-on keyboard; and 2x versions of its new high end smartphone, the Pixel 3. There was even a wireless charging that props the phone up in a hub-style control position. (Oh and Google didn’t even have time to mention it during the cluttered presentation but there’s this Disney co-branded , presumably). What’s the average consumer supposed to make of all this incestuously overlapping, wallet-badgering hardware?! Smartphones at least have clarity of purpose — by being efficiently multi-purposed. Increasingly powerful all-in-ones that let you do more with less and don’t even require you to buy a new one every year vs the smart home’s increasingly high maintenance and expensive (in money and attention terms) sprawl, duplication and clutter. And that’s without even considering the security risks and privacy nightmare. The two technology concepts really couldn’t be further apart. If you value both your time and your money the smartphone is the one — the only one — to buy into. Whereas the smart home clearly needs A LOT of finessing — if it’s to ever live up to the hyped claims of ‘seamless convenience’. Or, well, a total rebranding. The ‘creatively chaotic & experimental gadget lovers’ home would be a more honest and realistic sell for now — and the foreseeable future. Instead Google made a pitch for what it dubbed the “thoughtful home”. Even as it pushed a button to pull up a motorised pedestal on which stood clustered another bunch of charge-requiring electronics that no one really needs — in the hopes that consumers will nonetheless spend their time and money assimilating redundant devices into busy domestic routines. Or else find storage space in already overflowing drawers. The various iterations of ‘smart’ in-home devices in the market illustrate exactly how experimental the entire concept remains. Just this week, waded in with a which, frankly speaking, looks like something you’d find in a prison warden’s office. Google, meanwhile, has housed speakers in all sorts of physical forms, quite a few of which resemble restroom scent dispensers — what could it be ? And now has so many Echo devices it’s almost impossible to keep up. It’s as if the ecommerce giant is just dropping stones down a well to see if it can make a splash. During the smart home bits of Google’s own-brand hardware pitch, the company’s parade of presenters often sounded like they were going through robotic motions, failing to muster anything more than baseline enthusiasm. And failing to dispel a strengthening sense that the smart home is almost pure marketing, and that sticking update-requiring, wired in and/or wireless devices with variously overlapping purposes all over the domestic place is the very last way to help technology-saturated consumers achieve anything close to ‘disconnected well-being’. Incremental convenience might be possible, perhaps — depending on which and how few smart home devices you buy; for what specific purpose/s; and then likely only sporadically, until the next problematic update topples the careful interplay of kit and utility. But the idea that the smart home equals thoughtful domestic bliss for families seems farcical. All this updatable hardware inevitably injects new responsibilities and complexities into home life, with the conjoined power to shift family dynamics and relationships — based on things like who has access to and control over devices (and any content generated); whose jobs it is to fix things and any problems caused when stuff inevitably goes wrong (e.g. a device breakdown OR an AI-generated snafu like the ‘wrong’ photo being auto-displayed in a communal area); and who will step up to own and resolve any disputes that arise as a result of all the Internet connected bits being increasingly intertwined in people’s lives, willingly or otherwise. Hey Google, is there an AI to manage all that yet?
Accion Systems takes on $3M in Boeing-led round to advance its tiny satellite thrusters

Accion Systems takes on $3M in Boeing-led round to advance its tiny satellite thrusters

5:36am, 10th October, 2018
the startup aiming to reinvent satellite propulsion with an innovative and tiny new thruster, has attracted significant investment from Boeing’s HorizonX Ventures. The $3 million round should give the company a bit of breathing room while it continues to prove and improve its technology. “Investing in startups with next-generation concepts accelerates satellite innovation, unlocking new possibilities and economics in Earth orbit and deep space,” said HorizonX Ventures managing director Brian Schettler in a press release. Accion, whose founder and CEO Natalya Bailey graced the stage of Disrupt just a few weeks ago, makes what’s called a “tiled ionic liquid electrospray” propulsion system, or TILE. This system is highly efficient and can be made the size of a postage stamp or much larger depending on the requirements of the satellite. Example of a TILE attached to a satellite chassis. The company has tested its tech in terrestrial facilities and in space, but it hasn’t been used for any missions just yet — though that may change soon. A pair of student-engineered cubesats equipped with TILE thrusters are scheduled to take off on RocketLab’s first big commercial payload launch, “It’s Business Time.” It’s been delayed a few times but early November is the next launch window, so everyone cross your fingers. Another launch scheduled for November is the IRVINE 02 cubesat, which will sport TILEs and go up aboard a Falcon 9 loaded with supplies for the International Space Station. The Boeing investment (Gettylab also participated in the round) doesn’t include any guarantees like equipping Boeing-built satellites with the thrusters. But the company is certainly already dedicated to this type of tech and the arrangement is characterized as a partnership — so it’s definitely a possibility. Natalya Bailey and Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures) at Disrupt Berlin 2017. A Boeing representative told me that this is aimed to help Accion scale, and that the latter will have access to the former’s testing facilities and expertise. “We believe there will be many applications for Accion’s propulsion system, and will be monitoring and assessing the tech as it continues to mature,” they wrote in an email. I asked Accion what the new funding will be directed towards, but a representative only indicated that it would be used for the usual things: research, operations, staff expenses, and so on. Not some big skunk works project, then. The company’s last big round , when it raised $7.5 million.
The Salto-1P now does amazing targeted jumps

The Salto-1P now does amazing targeted jumps

4:36pm, 9th October, 2018
When we last met with it was bopping around like a crazed grasshopper. Now researchers have added targeting systems to the little creature, allowing it to maintain a constant hop while controlling exactly when and where Salto lands. Called “deadbeat foot placement hopping control” the Salto can now watch a surface for a target and essentially fly over to where it needs to land using built-in propellers. Researchers Duncan Haldane, Justin Yim and Ronald Fearing created the Salto as part of the The team upgraded Salto’s controller to make it far more precise on landing, a feat that was almost impossible using the previous controller system, SLIP. “The robot behaves more or less like a spring-loaded inverted pendulum, a simplified dynamic model that shows up often enough in both biology and robotics that it has its own acronym: SLIP,” wrote . “Way back in the 1980s, Marc Raibert developed a controller for SLIP-like robots, and people are still using it today, including Salto-1P up until just recently.”
Comparing Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show 2 vs Facebook Portal

Comparing Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show 2 vs Facebook Portal

2:26pm, 9th October, 2018
The war for the countertop has begun. Amazon and Facebook all revealed their new smart displays this month. Each hopes to become the center of your Internet of Things-equipped home and a window to your loved ones. The is a cheap and privacy-safe smart home controller. The gives Alexa a visual complement. And the offer a Smart Lens that automatically zooms in and out to keep you in frame while you video chat. For consumers, the biggest questions to consider are how much you care about privacy, whether you really video chat, which smart home ecosystem you’re building around and how much you want to spend. For the privacy obsessed, is the only one without a camera and it’s dirt cheap at $149. For the privacy agnostic, offers the best screen and video chat functionality. For the chatty, can do message and video chat over Alexa, call phone numbers and is adding Skype. If you want to go off-brand, there’s also the , with stylish hardware in a and a $199 8-inch 720p version. And for the audiophile, there’s the . While those hit the market earlier than the platform-owned versions we’re reviewing here, they’re not likely to benefit from the constant iteration Google, Amazon and Facebook are working on for their tabletop screens. Here’s a comparison of the top smart displays, including their hardware specs, unique software, killer features and pros and cons:
Here are all the details on the new Pixel 3, Pixel Slate, Pixel Stand, and Home Hub

Here are all the details on the new Pixel 3, Pixel Slate, Pixel Stand, and Home Hub

12:16pm, 9th October, 2018
At a special event in New York City, announced some of its latest, flagship hardware devices. During the hour-long press conference Google executives and product managers took the wraps off the company’s latest products and explained their features. Chief among the lot is the Pixel 3, Google’s latest flagship Android device. Like the 2 before it, the Pixel 3’s main feature is its stellar camera but there’s a lot more magic packed inside the svelte frame. Contrary to some earlier renders, the third version of Google’s flagship (spotted by 9 to 5 Google) does boast a sizable notch up top, in keeping with earlier images of the larger XL. Makes sense, after all, Google went out of its way to boast about notch functionality when it introduced Pie, the latest version of its mobile OS. The device is available for preorder today and will start shipping October 18, starting at $799. The larger XL starts at $899, still putting the product at less than the latest flagships from and Samsung. The device looks pretty much exactly like the leaks lead us to believe — it’s a premium slate with a keyboard cover that doubles as a stand. It also features a touch pad, which gives it the edge over products like Samsung’s most recent Galaxy Tab. There’s also a matching Google Pen, which appears to more or less be the same product announced around the Pixel Book, albeit with a darker paint job to match the new product. The product starts at $599, plus $199 for the keyboard and $99 for the new dark Pen. All three are shipping at some point later this year. The device looks like an Android tablet mounted on top of a speaker — which ought to address the backward firing sound, which is one of the largest design flaws of the recently introduced Echo Show 2. The speaker fabric comes in a number of different colors, in keeping with the rest of the Pixel/Home products, including the new Aqua. When not in use, the product doubles as a smart picture frame, using albums from Google Photos. A new Live Albums, which auto updates, based on the people you choose. So you can, say, select your significant others and it will create a gallery based on that person. Sweet and also potentially creepy. Machine learning, meanwhile, will automatically filter out all of the lousy shots. The Home Hub is up for pre-order today for a very reasonable $149. In fact, the device actually seems like a bit of a loss leader for the company in an attempt to hook people into the Google Assistant ecosystem. It will start shipping October 22. The Pixel Stand is basically a sleek little round dock for your phone. While it can obviously charge your phone, what’s maybe more interesting is that when you put your phone into the cradle, it looks like it’ll start a new notifications view that’s not unlike what you’d see on a smart display. It costs $79.
Review: The Marshall Woburn II packs modern sound, retro look

Review: The Marshall Woburn II packs modern sound, retro look

10:06am, 9th October, 2018
Marshall speakers stand out. That’s why I dig them. From the company’s headphones to its speakers, the audio is warm and full just like the classic design suggests. The company today is announcing revisions across its lines. The new versions of the Action ($249), Stanmore ($349) and Woburn Bluetooth ($499) speakers now feature Bluetooth 5.0, an upgraded digital signal processor and a slightly re-worked look. Marshall also announced a new version of the Minor wireless in-ear headphones. The wireless headphones were among the company’s first products and the updated version now features Bluetooth 5.0 aptX connectivity, new 14.2 mm drivers and 12 hours of battery life. Marshall also says the redesigned model will stay in place better than the original model. It’s important to note that the company behind these Marshall speakers and headphones is different from the company that makes the iconic guitar amp though there is collaboration. The Marshall brand is used by Zound Industries, which also operates Ubanears. The models produced by Zound Industries stay true to the Marshall brand. I’ve used several of the products since the company launched and I’m pleased to report that this new generation packs the magic of previous models. The company sent me the new Woburn II speaker (pictured above) and it’s a lovely speaker. This is the largest speaker in the company’s line. It’s imposing and, in Reddit-speak, an absolute unit. It’s over a foot tall and weighs just under 20 lbs. The speaker easily fills a room. The sound is warm and inviting. The Woburn II features a ported design which helps create the rich sound. Bass is deep though doesn’t pound. Mid-tones are lovely and the highs are perfectly balanced. If they’re not, there are nobs mounted on the top to adjust the tones. I find the Woburn a great speaker at any volume. Turn it down and the sound still feels as complex as it does at normal listen volumes. Crank the speaker to 10, drop the treble a bit, and the speaker will shake walls. Don’t be scared by the imposing size. The Woburn II can party, but it is seemingly just as happy to spend the evening in, playing some Iron and Wine. Sadly, the Woburn II lacks some of the magic of the original Woburn. The new version does not have an optical input and the power switch is a soft switch. It’s just for looks. The first Woburn had a two position switch. Click one way to turn on and click the other to turn off. It was an analog experience. This time around the speakers retain the switch, but the switch is different. It’s artificial and might as well be a power button. When pressed forward, the switch turns on the speaker and then snaps back to its original position. The clicking it gone. I know that seems like a silly thing to complain about but that switch was part of the Marshall experience. It felt authentic and now it feels artificial. Like past models, the speaker is covered in a vinyl-like material and the front of the speaker is covered in fabric. Don’t touch this fabric. It stains. The review sample sent to me came with stains already on the fabric. The Woburn II is a fantastic speaker with a timeless look. At $499 it’s pricy but produces sound above its price-point rivals. I expect the same performance out of updated Action II and Stanmore II speakers. These speakers are worthy of the Marshall name.
The Casio Rangeman GPR-B1000 is a big watch for big adventures

The Casio Rangeman GPR-B1000 is a big watch for big adventures

2:36pm, 8th October, 2018
The is comically large. That’s the first thing you notice about it. Based on the G-Shock design, this massive watch is 20.2mm thick and about 60mm in diameter, a true dinner plate of a watch. Inside the heavy case is a dense collection of features that will make your next outdoor adventure great. GPR-B1000, which I took for an extended trip through Utah and Nevada, is an outdoor marvel. It has all of the standard hiking watch features including compass, barometer, altimeter, and solar charging, but the watch also has built-in GPS mapping, logging, and backtracking. This means you can set a destination and the watch will lead you and you can later use your GPS data to recreate your trek or even backtrack out of a sticky situation. This is not a sports watch. It won’t track your runs or remind you to go to your yoga class. Instead it’s aimed at the backwoods hiker or off piste skier who wants to get from Point A to Point B without getting lost. The watch connects to a specialized app that lets you set the destinations, map your routes, and even change timezones when the phone wakes up after a flight. These odd features make this a traveler’s dream. The watch design is also unique for Casio. Instead of a replaceable battery the device charges via sunlight or with an included wireless charger. It has a ceramic caseback – a first for Casio – and the charger fits on like a plastic parasite. It charges via micro USB. It has a crown on the side that controls scrolling through various on-screen menus and the rest of the functions are accessed easily from dedicated buttons around the bezel. The watch is mud- and water-proof to 200 meters and it can survive in minus 20 degrees Celsius temperatures. It is also shock resistant. The $800 GPR-B1000 is a beefy watch. It’s not for the faint of wrist and definitely requires a bit of dedication to wear. I loved it while hiking up and down canyons and mountains and it was an excellent travel companion. One of the coolest features is quite simply being able to trust that the timezone is correct as soon as you land in Europe from New York. That said you should remember that this watch is for “Adventure Survival” as Casio puts it. It’s not a running watch and it’s not a fashion piece. At $800 it’s one of Casio’s most expensive G-Shocks and it’s also the most complex. If you’re an avid hiker, however, the endless battery, GPS, and trekking features make it a truly valuable asset. [gallery ids="1728822,1728820,1728819"]
D-Wave offers the first public access to a quantum computer

D-Wave offers the first public access to a quantum computer

6:19am, 6th October, 2018
Outside the crop of construction cranes that now dot Vancouver’s bright, downtown greenways, in a suburban business park that reminds you more of dentists and tax preparers, is a small office building belonging to . This office — squat, angular and sun-dappled one recent cool Autumn morning — is unique in that it contains an infinite collection of parallel universes. Founded in 1999 by Geordie Rose, D-Wave worked in relative obscurity on esoteric problems associated with quantum computing. When Rose was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, he turned in an assignment that outlined a quantum computing company. His entrepreneurship teacher at the time, Haig Farris, found the young physicists ideas compelling enough to give him $1,000 to buy a computer and a printer to type up a business plan. The company consulted with academics until 2005, when Rose and his team decided to focus on building usable quantum computers. The result, the Orion, launched in 2007, and was used to classify drug molecules and play Sodoku. The business now sells computers for up to $10 million to clients like Google, Microsoft and Northrop Grumman. “We’ve been focused on making quantum computing practical since day one. In 2010 we started offering remote cloud access to customers and today, we have 100 early applications running on our computers (70 percent of which were built in the cloud),” said CEO Vern Brownell. “Through this work, our customers have told us it takes more than just access to real quantum hardware to benefit from quantum computing. In order to build a true quantum ecosystem, millions of developers need the access and tools to get started with quantum.” Now their computers are simulating weather patterns and tsunamis, optimizing hotel ad displays, solving complex network problems and, thanks to a new, open-source platform, could help you ride the quantum wave of computer programming. Inside the box When I went to visit D-Wave they gave us unprecedented access to the inside of one of their quantum machines. The computers, which are about the size of a garden shed, have a control unit on the front that manages the temperature as well as queuing system to translate and communicate the problems sent in by users. Inside the machine is a tube that, when fully operational, contains a small chip super-cooled to 0.015 Kelvin, or -459.643 degrees Fahrenheit or -273.135 degrees Celsius. The entire system looks like something out of the Death Star — a cylinder of pure data that the heroes must access by walking through a little door in the side of a jet-black cube. It’s quite thrilling to see this odd little chip inside its super-cooled home. As the computer revolution maintained its predilection toward room-temperature chips, these odd and unique machines are a connection to an alternate timeline where physics is wrestled into submission in order to do some truly remarkable things. And now anyone — from kids to PhDs to everyone in-between — can try it. Into the ocean Learning to program a quantum computer takes time. Because the processor doesn’t work like a classic universal computer, you have to train the chip to perform simple functions that your own cellphone can do in seconds. However, in some cases, researchers have found the chips can outperform classic computers by 3,600 times. This trade-off — the movement from the known to the unknown — is why D-Wave exposed their product to the world. “We built Leap to give millions of developers access to quantum computing. We built the first quantum application environment so any software developer interested in quantum computing can start writing and running applications — you don’t need deep quantum knowledge to get started. If you know Python, you can build applications on Leap,” said Brownell. To get started on the road to quantum computing, D-Wave built the Leap platform. The is an open-source toolkit for developers. When you sign up you receive one minute’s worth of quantum processing unit time which, given that most problems run in milliseconds, is more than enough to begin experimenting. A queue manager lines up your code and runs it in the order received and the answers are spit out almost instantly. You can code on the QPU with Python or via , and it allows you to connect to the QPU with an API token. After writing your code, you can send commands directly to the QPU and then output the results. The programs are currently pretty esoteric and require a basic knowledge of quantum programming but, it should be remembered, classic computer programming was once daunting to the average user. I downloaded and ran most of the demonstrations without a hitch. These demonstrations — factoring programs, network generators and the like — essentially turned the concepts of classical programming into quantum questions. Instead of iterating through a list of factors, for example, the quantum computer creates a “parallel universe” of answers and then collapses each one until it finds the right answer. If this sounds odd it’s because it is. The researchers at D-Wave argue all the time about how to imagine a quantum computer’s various processes. One camp sees the physical implementation of a quantum computer to be simply a faster methodology for rendering answers. The other camp, itself aligned with Professor David Deutsch’s ideas presented in , sees the sheer number of possible permutations a quantum computer can traverse as evidence of parallel universes. What does the code look like? It’s hard to read without understanding the basics, a fact that D-Wave engineers factored for in offering online documentation. For example, below is most of the factoring code for one of their demo programs, a bit of code that can be reduced to about five lines on a classical computer. However, when this function uses a quantum processor, the entire process takes milliseconds versus minutes or hours. Classical # Python Program to find the factors of a number define a function def print_factors(x): This function takes a number and prints the factors print(“The factors of”,x,”are:”)for i in range(1, x + 1):if x % i == 0:print(i) change this value for a different result. num = 320 uncomment the following line to take input from the user #num = int(input(“Enter a number: “)) print_factors(num) Quantum @qpu_hadef factor(P, use_saved_embedding=True): #################################################################################################### get circuit #################################################################################################### construction_start_time = time.time() validate_input(P, range(2 ** 6)) get constraint satisfaction problem csp = dbc.factories.multiplication_circuit(3) get binary quadratic model bqm = dbc.stitch(csp, min_classical_gap=.1) we know that multiplication_circuit() has created these variables p_vars = [‘p0’, ‘p1’, ‘p2’, ‘p3’, ‘p4’, ‘p5’] convert P from decimal to binary fixed_variables = dict(zip(reversed(p_vars), “{:06b}”.format(P)))fixed_variables = {var: int(x) for(var, x) in fixed_variables.items()} fix product qubits for var, value in fixed_variables.items():bqm.fix_variable(var, value) log.debug(‘bqm construction time: %s’, time.time() – construction_start_time) #################################################################################################### run problem #################################################################################################### sample_time = time.time() get QPU sampler sampler = DWaveSampler(solver_features=dict(online=True, name=’DW_2000Q.*’))_, target_edgelist, target_adjacency = sampler.structure if use_saved_embedding: load a pre-calculated embedding from factoring.embedding import embeddingsembedding = embeddings[sampler.solver.id]else: get the embedding embedding = minorminer.find_embedding(bqm.quadratic, target_edgelist)if bqm and not embedding:raise ValueError(“no embedding found”) apply the embedding to the given problem to map it to the sampler bqm_embedded = dimod.embed_bqm(bqm, embedding, target_adjacency, 3.0) draw samples from the QPU kwargs = {}if ‘num_reads’ in sampler.parameters:kwargs[‘num_reads’] = 50if ‘answer_mode’ in sampler.parameters:kwargs[‘answer_mode’] = ‘histogram’response = sampler.sample(bqm_embedded, **kwargs) convert back to the original problem space response = dimod.unembed_response(response, embedding, source_bqm=bqm) sampler.client.close() log.debug(’embedding and sampling time: %s’, time.time() – sample_time) “The industry is at an inflection point and we’ve moved beyond the theoretical, and into the practical era of quantum applications. It’s time to open this up to more smart, curious developers so they can build the first quantum killer app. Leap’s combination of immediate access to live quantum computers, along with tools, resources, and a community, will fuel that,” said Brownell. “For Leap’s future, we see millions of developers using this to share ideas, learn from each other and contribute open-source code. It’s that kind of collaborative developer community that we think will lead us to the first quantum killer app.” The folks at D-Wave created a number of tutorials as well as a forum where users can learn and ask questions. The entire project is truly the first of its kind and promises unprecedented access to what amounts to the foreseeable future of computing. I’ve seen lots of technology over the years, and nothing quite replicated the strange frisson associated with plugging into a quantum computer. Like the teletype and green-screen terminals used by the early hackers like Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, D-Wave has opened up a strange new world. How we explore it us up to us.
Mars Rover Curiosity is switching brains so it can fix itself

Mars Rover Curiosity is switching brains so it can fix itself

4:23pm, 4th October, 2018
When you send something to space, it’s good to have redundancy. Sometimes you want to send two whole duplicate spacecraft just in case — as was the case with Voyager — but sometimes it’s good enough to have two of critical components. Rover Curiosity is no exception, and it is now in the process of switching from one main “brain” to the other so it can do digital surgery on the first. landed on Mars with two central computing systems, Side-A and Side-B (not left brain and right brain — that would invite too much silliness). They’re perfect duplicates of each other, or were — it was something of a bumpy ride, after all, and cosmic radiation may flip a bit here and there. The team was thankful to have made these preparations when, on sol 200 in February of 2013 (we’re almost to sol 2,200 now), the Side-A computer that ended up taking the whole rover offline. The solution was to swap over to Side-B, which was up and running shortly afterwards and sending diagnostic data for its twin. Having run for several years with no issues, Side-B is now, however, having its own problems. Since September 15 it has been unable to record mission data, and it doesn’t appear to be a problem that the computer can solve itself. Fortunately, in the intervening period, Side-A has been fixed up to working condition — though it has a bit less memory than it used to, since some corrupted sectors had to be quarantined. “We spent the last week checking out Side A and preparing it for the swap,” said Steven Lee, deputy project manager of the Curiosity program at JPL, . “We are operating on Side A starting today, but it could take us time to fully understand the root cause of the issue and devise workarounds for the memory on Side B. It’s certainly possible to run the mission on the Side-A computer if we really need to. But our plan is to switch back to Side B as soon as we can fix the problem to utilize its larger memory size.” No timeline just yet for how that will happen, but the team is confident that they’ll have things back on track soon. The mission isn’t in jeopardy — but this is a good example of how a good system of redundancies can add years to the life of space hardware.
This autonomous spray-painting drone is a 21st-century tagger’s dream

This autonomous spray-painting drone is a 21st-century tagger’s dream

12:03pm, 4th October, 2018
Whenever I see an overpass or billboard that’s been tagged, I worry about the tagger and the danger they exposed themselves to in order to get that cherry spot. developed by ETH Zurich and Disney Research will take some of the danger out of the hobby. It could also be used for murals and stuff, I guess. Although it seems an obvious application in retrospect, there just isn’t a lot of drone-based painting being done out there. Consider: a company could shorten or skip the whole scaffolding phase of painting a building or advertisement, leaving the bulk of painting to a drone. Why not? There just isn’t a lot of research into it yet, and like so many domain-specific applications, the problem is deceptively complex. This paper only establishes the rudiments of a system, but the potential is clearly there. The drone used by the researchers is a DJI Matrice 1002, customized to have a sensing rig mounted on one side and a spraying assembly on the other, counterbalancing each other. The sprayer, notably, is not just a nozzle but a pan-and-tilt mechanism that allows details to be painted that the drone can’t be relied on to make itself. To be clear we’re still talking broad strokes here, but accurate to an inch rather than three or four. It’s also been modified to use wired power and a constant supply of paint, which simplifies the physics and also reduces limits on the size of the surface to be painted. A drone lugging its own paint can wouldn’t be able to fly far, and its thrust would have to be constantly adjusted to account for the lost weight of sprayed paint. See? Complex. The first step is to 3D scan the surface to be painted; this can be done manually or via drone. The mesh is then compared to the design to be painted and a system creates a proposed path for the drone. Lastly the drone is set free to do its thing. It doesn’t go super fast in this prototype form, nor should it, since even the best drones can’t stop on a dime, and tend to swing about when they reduce speed or change direction. Slow and steady is the word, following a general path to put the nozzle in range of where it needs to shoot. All the while it is checking its location against the known 3D map of the surface so it doesn’t get off track. In case you’re struggling to see the “bear,” it’s standing up with its paws on a tree. That took me a long time to see so I thought I’d spare you the trouble. Let’s be honest: this thing isn’t going to do much more complicated than some line work or a fill. But for a lot of jobs that’s exactly what’s needed — and it’s often the type of work that’s the least suited to skilled humans, who would rather be doing stuff only they can do. A drone could fill in all the easy parts on a building and then the workers can do the painstaking work around the windows or add embellishments and details. For now this is strictly foundational work — no one is going to hire this drone to draw a Matterhorn on their house — but there’s a lot of potential here if the engineering and control methods can be set down with confidence.
Despite objection, Congress passes bill that lets U.S. authorities shoot down private drones

Despite objection, Congress passes bill that lets U.S. authorities shoot down private drones

7:43am, 4th October, 2018
U.S. authorities will soon have the authority to shoot down private drones if they are considered a threat — a move decried by civil liberties and rights groups. The Senate on Wednesday, months after an earlier House vote in April. The bill renews funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until 2023, and includes several provisions designed to modernize U.S aviation rule — from making commercial flights more comfortable for passengers to including new provisions to act against privately owned drones. But critics say the new authority that gives the government the right to “disrupt,” “exercise control,” or “seize or otherwise confiscate” drones that’s deemed a “credible threat” is dangerous and doesn’t include enough safeguards. Federal authorities would not need to first obtain a warrant, which rights groups say that authority could be easily abused, making it possible for Homeland Security and the Justice Department and its various law enforcement and immigration agencies to shoot down anyone’s drone for any justifiable reason. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have rocketed in popularity, by amateur pilots and explorers to journalists using drones to report from the skies. But there’s also been a growing accidentally crashing a drone on the grounds of the White House to on the battlefield. Both the and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have denounced the bill. “These provisions give the government virtually carte blanche to surveil, seize, or even shoot a drone out of the sky — whether owned by journalists or commercial entities — with no oversight or due process,” an ACLU spokesperson told TechCrunch. “They grant new powers to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to spy on Americans without a warrant,” and they “undermine the use of drones by journalists, which have enabled reporting on critical issues like hurricane damage and protests at Standing Rock.” “Flying of drones can raise security and privacy concerns, and there may be situations where government action is needed to mitigate these threats,” the ACLU said . “But this bill is the wrong approach.” The EFF agreed, arguing the bill endangers the First and Fourth Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the protection from warrantless device seizures. “If lawmakers want to give the government the power to hack or destroy private drones, then Congress and the public should have the opportunity to debate how best to provide adequate oversight and limit those powers to protect our right to use drones for journalism, activism, and recreation,” the EFF said. Other privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, of the bill without “baseline privacy safeguards.” The bill will go to the president’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law.
Juul files lawsuit against other e-cig makers for patent infringement

Juul files lawsuit against other e-cig makers for patent infringement

5:33am, 4th October, 2018
Juul Labs today filed a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) claiming that several organizations are infringing on Juul Labs’ patents. Juul has asked the ITC to halt the importation, distribution and sale of these products in the U.S. In all, eighteen entities are listed within the complaint as having infringed Juul patents. They predominantly hail from within the U.S. and China, with one based in France, according to the complaint. Earlier this year, Juul Labs filed for trademark infringement against which were allegedly using the Juul design or name brand. Obviously, competition is one reason to take legal action, but Juul has other priorities. The company is under an immense amount of scrutiny by the FDA and lawmakers with regards to underage usage of the product. Counterfeit products are often sold without any age verification, putting electronic nicotine delivery systems in the hands of yet more minors. From the release: Whereas Juul Labs implements strict manufacturing and quality controls during the manufacturing of its products, little is known about how most of the accused devices are manufactured. Similarly, whereas Juul Labs applies strict age-gating when selling its products through its website, many of the accused products appear to be sold with little or no real age-verification processes. Notably, in contrast to Juul’s products, many of the accused copy-cat products include inappropriate flavors, seemingly directed to attract underage users – flavors like “Bubble Bubble,” “Apple Juice” and “Sour Gummy.” In mid-September, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that Juul and other vape makers would have to come up with a more robust, comprehensive plan to combat underage use of the products. That 60-day period is about half-way complete. It’s unclear what the consequences will be for a plan that doesn’t meet the FDA’s satisfaction, but there has been plenty of talk about banning flavored liquids, which would be a severe blow to Juul and other e-cig companies.