If you’re lucky enough to get to travel abroad, you know it’s getting easier and easier to use our phones and other gadgets to translate for us. So why not do so in a way that makes sense to you? This little gadget seeking funds on looks right up my alley, offering quick transcription and recording — plus music playback, like an iPod Shuffle with superpowers. is really not that complex of a device — a couple of microphones and a wireless board in tasteful packaging — but that combination allows for a lot of useful stuff to happen both offline and with its companion app. You activate the device, and it starts recording and both translating and transcribing the audio via a cloud service as it goes (or later, if you choose). That right there is already super useful for a reporter like me — although you can always put your phone on the table during an interview, this is more discreet, and of course a short-turnaround translation is useful, as well. Recordings are kept on the phone (no on-board memory, alas) and there’s an option for a cloud service, but that probably won’t be necessary, considering the compact size of these audio files. If you’re paranoid about security, this probably isn’t your jam, but for everyday stuff it should be just fine. If you want to translate a conversation with someone whose language you don’t speak, you pick two of the 12 built-in languages in the app and then either pass the gadget back and forth or let it sit between you while you talk. The transcript will show on the phone and the ONE Mini can bleat out the translation in its little robotic voice. Right now translation online only works, but I asked and offline is in the plans for certain language pairs that have reliable two-way edge models, probably Mandarin-English and Korean-Japanese. It has a headphone jack, too, which lets it act as a wireless playback device for the recordings or for your music, or to take calls using the nice onboard mics. It’s lightweight and has a little clip, so it’s probably better than connecting directly to your phone in many cases. There’s also a 24/7 interpreter line that charges two bucks a minute that I probably wouldn’t use. I think I would feel weird about it. But in an emergency it could be pretty helpful to have a panic button that sends you directly to a person who speaks both the languages you’ve selected. I have to say, normally I wouldn’t highlight a random crowdfunded gadget, but I happen to have met the creator of this one, Wells Tu, at one of our events, and trust him and his team to actually deliver. The previous product he worked on was a pair of that worked surprisingly well, so this isn’t their first time shipping a product in this category — that makes a lot of difference for a hardware startup. You can see it in action here: He pointed out in an email to me that obviously wireless headphones are hot right now, but the translation functions aren’t good and battery life is short. This adds a lot of utility in a small package. Right now you can score a , which seems reasonable to me. They’ve already passed their goal and are planning on shipping in June, so it shouldn’t be a long wait.
Juul Labs is today launching a pilot for its new Track & Trace program, which is meant to use data to identify exactly how Juul devices wind up in the hands of minors. Juul vaporizers all have a serial number down at the bottom, by the Juul logo. However, it wasn’t until recently that Juul had the capability to track those serial numbers through every step of the process, from manufacture to distribution to retail to sale. With Track & Trace, Juul is calling upon parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to come to the when they confiscate a device from a minor and input the serial number. Each time a device is input in the Track & Trace system, Juul will open an investigation to understand how that minor wound up with that device. In some cases, it may be an issue with a certain retail store knowingly selling to minors. In others, it may be a case of social sourcing, where someone over 21 years of age buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors. Juul will then take next steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. It may also enhance its secret shopper program around a certain store or distributor where it sees there may be a spike in sale/distribution to youth to identify the source of the problem. To be clear, Track & Trace only tracks and traces the devices themselves, and does not use personal data about customers. It’s also worth noting that Juul Labs has increased Juul isn’t yet widely publicizing Track & Trace (thus, the “Pilot” status), but it is focusing on Houston as a testing ground with banner ads targeted at older individuals (parents, teachers, etc.) pointing them to the portal. Of note: the ad campaign is geofenced to never be shown in or around a school, hopefully keeping the program a secret from young people illegally using Juul. The company wants to learn more about how people use the portal and test the program in action before widening the campaign around Track & Trace. That said, the Report portal is not limited to Houston residents — anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the portal and trigger an investigation. “It’s important to note that the pilot is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.” According to Juul, every device in production will be trackable in the next few weeks. In other words, Juul vapes that are years old are likely not fully traceable in the program, but those purchased more recently should work with the system. Juul has been under scrutiny from the FDA and a due to the device’s rise in popularity among young people. Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called it “an epidemic” and . Juul has also made its own effort, , enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure online buyers are 21+ and not buying in bulk, posing as Juul products, and exiting its Facebook and Instagram accounts. But Juul Labs also committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth use of the product. Cofounder and CPO that the company is working on Bluetooth products that would essentially make the Juul device as smart as an iPhone or Android device, which could certainly help lock out folks under 21. However, the Track & Trace program is the first real technological step taken by the e-cig company. And it’s been an expensive one. The company has spent more than $30 million to update its packaging, adjust printing standards, changing manufacturing equipment, and integrate the data and logistics software systems. For now, Track & Trace is only applicable to Juul vaporizers, but it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the company was working on a similar program for its Juul Pods.
Israel’s SpaceIL almost made history today as its Beresheet spacecraft came within an ace of landing on the surface of the Moon, but suffered a last-minute failure during descent. Israel missed out on the chance to be the fourth country to make a controlled lunar landing, but getting 99 percent of the way there is still an extraordinary achievement for private spaceflight. Beresheet (“Genesis”) launched in February as secondary payload aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and after a month and a half spiraling outward, . Today’s final maneuver was an engine burn meant to bring down its relative velocity to the Moon, then brake to a soft landing in the Mare Serenitatis, or Sea of Serenity. Everything was working fine up until the final moments, as is often the case in space. The craft, having made it perfectly to its intended point of descent, determined that all systems were ready and the landing process would go ahead as planned. They lost telemetry for a bit, and had to reset the craft to get the main engine back online… and then communication dropped while only a handful of kilometers from the surface. The “selfie” image above was taken from 22 km above the surface, just a few minutes that. The spacecraft was announced as lost shortly afterwards. Clearly disappointed but also exhilarated, the team quickly recovered its composure, saying “the achievement of getting to where we got is tremendous and we can be proud,” and of course, “if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again.” The project began as an attempt to claim the Google Lunar Xprize, announced more than a decade ago, but which proved too difficult for teams to attempt in the time frame specified. Although the challenge and its prize money lapsed, Israel’s SpaceIL team continued its work, bolstered by the support of Israel Aerospace Industries, the state-owned aviation concern there. It’s worth noting that although Beresheet did enjoy considerable government support in this way, it’s a far cry from any other large-scale government-run mission, and can safely be considered “private” for all intents and purposes. The ~50-person team and $200 million budget are laughably small compared to practically any serious mission, let alone a lunar landing. I spoke with Xprize’s founder and CEO, Peter Diamandis and Anousheh Ansari, respectively, just before the landing attempt. Both were extremely excited and made it clear that the mission was already considered a huge success. “What I’m seeing here is an incredible ‘Who’s Who’ from science, education and government who have gathered to watch this miracle take place,” Diamandis said. “We launched this competition now 11 years ago to inspire and educate engineers, and despite the fact that it ran out of time it has achieved 100 percent of its goal. Even if it doesn’t make it onto the ground fully intact it has ignited a level of electricity and excitement that reminds me of the Ansari Xprize 15 years ago.” He’s not the only one. Ansari, who funded the famous spaceflight Xprize that bore her name, and who has herself visited space as one of the first tourist-astronauts above the International Space Station, felt a similar vibe. “It’s an amazing moment, bringing so many great memories up,” she told me. “It reminds me of when we were all out in the Mojave waiting for the launch of Spaceship One.” Ansari emphasized the feeling the landing evoked of moving forward as a people. “Imagine, over the last 50 years only 500 people out of seven billion have been to space — that number will be thousands soon,” she said. “We believe there’s so much more that can be done in this area of technology, a lot of real business opportunities that benefit civilization but also humanity.” Congratulations to the SpaceIL team for their achievement, and here’s hoping the next attempt makes it all the way down.
announced that there are now that have committed to use clean energy for Apple production. It doesn’t mean all suppliers are using renewable energy, it also doesn’t mean that they use 100 percent clean energy for all their clients. But it’s still good news. All of Apple facilities on clean energy, such as offices, retails stores and data centers. But Apple is well aware that it manufactures a ton of devices and works with a ton of suppliers. That’s why the company has created a fund to help finance renewable energy projects in China. Apple is also allocation $2.5 billion in green bonds. Thanks to these initiatives, Apple has financed solar rooftops in Japan, a custom alloy made of recycled aluminum that you can find the MacBook Air and Mac Mini and more. Overall, Apple expects to reach its 2020 goal of injecting 4 gigawatts of renewable energy into its supply chain well before 2020. In fact, the company now says that it will indirectly generate around 5 gigawatts of clean energy. Suppliers in the program include Foxconn, Wistron, TSMC, Corning, STMicroelectronics and dozens of names that are mostly unknown to end customers.
The Link takes streaming music and makes it sound better. Just wirelessly connect it to an Echo device and plug it into a set of nice speakers. It’s the missing link. The Link bridges the gap between streaming music and a nice audio system. Instead of settling for the analog connection of an Dot, the Echo Link serves audio over a digital connection and it makes just enough of a difference to justify the $200 price. I plugged the Eco Link into the audio system in my office and was pleased with the results. This is the Echo device I’ve been waiting for. In my case the Echo Link took Spotfiy’s 320 kbps stream and opened it up. The Link creates a wider soundstage and makes the music a bit more full and expansive. The bass hits a touch harder and the highs now have a new-found crispness. Lyrics are clearer and easier to pick apart. The differences are subtle. Everything is just slightly improved over the sound quailty found when using an Echo Dot’s 3.5mm output. Don’t have a set of nice speakers? That’s okay, also just released the Echo Link Amp, which features a built-in amplifier capable of powering a set of small speakers (read the review here). Here’s the thing: I’m surprised is making the Echo Link. The device caters to what must be a small demographic of Echo owners looking to improve the quality of Pandora or when using an audio system. And yet, without support for local or streaming high resolution audio, it’s not good enough for audiophiles. This is for wannabe audiophiles. Hey, that’s me. Review There are Echo’s scattered throughout my house. The devices provide a fantastic way to access music and NPR. The tiny Echo Link is perfect for the system in my office where I have a pair of Definitive Technology bookshelf speakers powered by an Onkyo receiver and amp. I have a turntable and SACD player connected to the receiver but those are a hassle when I’m at my desk. The majority of the time I listen to through the Amazon Echo Input. I added the Onkyo amplifier to the system last year and it made a huge difference to the quality. The music suddenly had more power. The two-channel amp pushes harder than the receiver, and resulted in audio that was more expansive and clear. And at any volume, too. I didn’t know what I was missing. That’s the trick with audio. Most of the time the audio sounds great until it suddenly sounds better. The Echo Link provided me with the same feeling of discovery. To be clear the $200 Echo Link does not provide a night and day difference in my audio quality. It’s a slight upgrade over the audio outputted by a $20 Echo Input — and don’t forget, an Echo device (like the $20 Echo Input) is required to make the Echo Link work. The Echo Link provides the extra juice lacking from the Echo Input or Dot. Those less expensive options output audio to an audio system, but only through an analog connection. The Echo Link offers a digital connection through Toslink or Digital Coax. It has analog outputs that’s powered by a DAC with a superior dynamic range and total harmonic distortion found in the Input or Dot. It’s an easy way to improve the quality of music from streaming services. The Echo Link, and Echo Link Amp, also feature a headphone amp. It’s an interesting detail. With this jack, someone could have the Echo Link on their desk and use it to power a set of headphones without any loss of quality. I set up a simple A/B test to spot the differences between a Link and a Dot. First, I connected the Echo Link with a Toslink connection to my receiver and an Echo Input. I also connected an Echo Dot through its 3.5mm analog connection to the receiver. I created a group in the Alexa app of the devices. This allowed each of the devices to play the same source simultaneously. Then, as needed, I was able to switch between the Dot and Link with just a touch of a button, providing an easy and quick way to test the differences. I’ll leave it up to you to justify the cost. To me, as someone who has invested money into a quality audio system, the extra cost of the Echo Link is worth it. But to others an Echo Dot could be enough. It’s important to note that the Echo Link works a bit differently than other Echo devices connected to an audio system. When, say, a Dot is connected to an audio system, the internal speakers are turned off and all of the audio is sent to the system. The Echo Link doesn’t have to override the companion Echo. When an Echo Link is connected to an Echo device, the Echo still responds through its internal speakers; only music is sent to the Echo Link. For example, when the Echo is asked about the weather, the forecast is played back through the speakers in the Echo and not the audio system connected to the Echo Link. In most cases this allows the owner to turn off the high-power speakers and still have access to voice commands on the Echo. The Echo Link takes streaming music and instantly improves the quality. In my case the improvements were slight but noticeable. It works with all the streaming services supported by Echo devices, but it’s important to note it does not work with Tidal’s high-res Master Audio tracks. The best the Echo Link can do is 320 kbps from or Tidal. This is a limiting factor and it’s not surprising. If the Echo Link supported Tidal’s Master Tracks, I would likely sign up for that service, and that is not in the best interest of Amazon which hopes I sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited. I spoke to Amazon about the Echo Link’s lack of support for Tidal Master Tracks and they indicated they’re interested in hearing how customers will use the device before committing to adding support. The Link is interesting. doesn’t have anything similar in its Google Home Line. The Sonos Amp is similar, but with a built-in amplifier, it’s a closer competitor to the Echo Link Amp. Several high-end audio companies sell components that can stream audio over digital connections yet none are as easy to use or as inexpensive as the Echo Link. The Echo Link is the easiest way to improve the sound of streaming music services.
Kindle is of course the brand most think of when they consider buying an e-reader, but competition does exist and the truth is it makes the company’s newest entry-level device look like a poor bargain. The price may be low, but this budget reader just doesn’t meet the bar. The most basic current device in the e-paper Kindle lineup, the plain old “Kindle” (as opposed to Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, etc) has gained a couple features. An adjustable frontlight illuminates the E-Ink screen, there’s an improved touchscreen and a refreshed hardware design, though you’re forgiven if you don’t notice. At $110, or $90 if you allow ads on your device, it’s among the cheaper devices out there, falling well below the $150 Paperwhite and $270 Oasis (again, subtract $20 if you don’t opt out of “special offers,” which I always make sure to mention). It runs the familiar Kindle OS and of course seamlessly connects to your Amazon account, just like the others in the lineup. In general it’s more or less the same as the others in terms of formats, store and access features, and so on. So you’re not sacrificing anything on that front. Unfortunately, what you do sacrifice is something much more important: a decent screen. We’ve been privileged in the last couple years to see the quality of e-reader displays improve considerably, both in terms of resolution and lighting. A couple months ago , which offers few frills and, frankly, inferior build quality, but a beautiful screen and color temperature-adjustable frontlight, which is really worth paying for. The specs speak for themselves: the “all-new” Kindle has a 6-inch with a pixel density of 167 PPI. The Clara HD has nearly twice that: 300 PPI, like the nicer Kindles, and believe me, you notice. It makes a huge difference to how text looks — there are diminishing returns past that point, but the change from 167 to 300 is a big one. Letters look much crisper and more regular, and fonts look much more different from each other, allowing you to customize your reading experience a more. (I recently found out I can easily add fonts to the Kobo and it’s great.) It’s hard to capture the difference between the two except in macro shots, but in person it’s a serious one. There’s a reason phones, tablets, and e-readers (including Amazon’s own) all went to high pixel density and never looked back. [gallery ids="1810104,1810107"] The Clara also has a frontlight that lets you adjust the color cast from cool to warm, which you can see above (I realize the temperatures of the images themselves are different as well but you get the idea). I didn’t think I’d find this useful, but as with resolution, it’s one of those things where once you have it, it’s difficult to go back. The cold, pixelated screen of the basic Kindle was unbearable after the warm, smooth look of the Kobo. If you must have a Kindle reader and can’t spend more than $100, I’d seriously advise you to try to find an old generation of Paperwhite or the like with the higher resolution screen and frontlight. It makes a huge difference to readability and that’s really the most important part of a reader. I would however advise you to spend a little more now to avoid buyer’s remorse. The Paperwhite is a great device and not too much more if you’re willing to accept Amazon’s “special offers.” Kindles in general have great build quality as well. If you aren’t attached to the Kindle brand, however, the is only a bit more money and offers a better reading experience than either, in my opinion, as well as the flexibility that comes with the company’s devices. When the entry-level Kindle gets a screen that matches the entry-level competition, I’ll happily endorse it, but for now I have to recommend its slightly more expensive peers for a major bump in quality.
Flying cars definitely sound cool, but whether they’re actually a good idea is up for debate. Fortunately they do seem to have some surefire benefits, among which you can now count improved efficiency — in theory, and on long trips. But it’s something! Air travel takes an enormous amount of energy, since you have to lift something heavy into the air and keep it there for a good while. This is often faster but rarely more efficient than ground transportation, which lets gravity do the hard work. Of course, once an aircraft gets up to altitude, it cruises at high speed with little friction to contend with, and whether you’re going 100 feet or 50 miles you only have to take off once. So researchers thought there might be a sweet spot where taking a flying car might actually save energy. Turns out there is… kind of. The team in Nature Communications. The U-M engineers made an efficiency model for both ground transport and for electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, based on specs from aerospace companies working on them. “Our model represents general trends in the VTOL space and uses parameters from multiple studies and aircraft designs to specify weight, lift-to-drag ratio and battery-specific energy,” said study co-author Noah Furbush . They looked at how these various theoretical vehicles performed when taking various numbers of people various distances, comparing energy consumed. As you might imagine, flying isn’t very practical for going a mile or two, since you use up all that energy getting to altitude and then have to come right back down. But at the 100-kilometer mark (about 62 miles) things look a little different. For a 100 km trip, a single passenger in a flying car uses 35 percent less energy than a gas-powered car, but still 28 percent more than an electric vehicle. In fact, the flying car is better than the gas one starting at around 40 km. But it never really catches up with the EVs for efficiency, though it gets close. Do you like charts? ICEV: Internal combustion engine vehicle; VTOL: Vertical takeoff and landing; BEV: Battery electric vehicle. The vertical axis is emissions. To make it better, they had to juice the numbers a bit bit, making the assumption that flying taxis would be more likely to operate at full capacity, with a pilot and three passengers, while ground vehicles were unlikely to have their average occupancy of 1.5 people change much. With that in mind, they found that a 100 km trip with three passengers just barely beats the per-person efficiency of EVs. That may seem like a bit of a thin victory, but keep in mind that the flying car would be making the trip in likely a quarter of the time, unaffected by traffic and other issues. Plus there’s the view. It’s all theoretical right now, naturally, but studies like this help companies looking to get into this business decide how their service will be organized and marketed. Reality might look a little different from theory, but I’ll take any reality with flying cars.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has released a new report about future products — 9to5mac the report. The company could be working on a new 31.6-inch external display with a 6K resolution that could work particularly well with the Mac Pro. New iPad and MacBook Pro models with better displays are also in the works. Apple used to sell but stopped selling the latest model in 2016. The 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display had an aluminum case and an LED-backlit LCD display. It had four times less pixels than the 27-inch 5K iMac with a resolution of 2560×1440 pixels. And it never made the switch to Thunderbolt 3. When that it was working on a Mac Pro, the company confirmed that there would be a new external display. “We want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system,” Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller told Matthew Panzarino. According to Ming-Chi Kuo’s report, the new display will come earlier rather than later. Apple plans to launch the device during the second or third quarter of this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement at WWDC. As for new iPad and MacBook Pro models, Ming-Chi Kuo has learned that Apple will use mini-LED technology to improve color gamut, contrast ratios, etc. This new technology should also improve battery performance compared to traditional LED displays. Those new devices with mini-LED displays will arrive on the market at the end of 2020 or at some point during the first half of 2021. It’s unclear if Apple plans to update the MacBook Pro before then.
Eleven democratic senators, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), have to , asking a series of questions around the product’s marketing, its effectiveness as a tool to help people quit smoking combustible cigarettes, sales figures and, perhaps most importantly, more information on the deal that gave Altria a minority stake in Juul Labs. “The corporate marriage between two companies that have been the most prolific at marketing highly addictive nicotine products to children is alarming from a public health standpoint and demonstrates, yet again, that JUUL is more interested in padding its profit margins than protecting our nation’s children,” writes Sen. Durbin in the letter. Questions in the letter include records around advertising and marketing spend for Juul products, as well as any changes that might have been made to Juul’s Youth Prevention Plan following the deal with Altria. In late 2018, Juul it had sold a 35 percent minority stake of the company to Altria Group, makers of Marlboro cigarettes, for $12.8 billion. The company said that a partnership with Altria would help Juul market and distribute to currently addicted adult cigarette smokers. In the letter, the senators cite the American Heart Association, which called the Altria/Juul deal “a match made in tobacco heaven.” Juul was already in hot water over its product’s popularity among young people, so it’s only expected that a partnership with traditional Big Tobacco would further fuel concerns among critics. More from the letter: JUUL’s decision to team up with Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is also bad news for children considering that Altria has a long and sordid history of spending billions to entice children to smoke through targeted campaigns that intentionally lied about the science and health effects from cigarettes. And their efforts have clearly paid off. According to the CDC, Altria’s Marlboro cigarette continues to be the most popular cigarette brand among children in the United States, with 48.8 percent of high school smokers preferring Marlboro cigarettes. Further, the proportion of high school smokers who smoked Marlboro cigarettes increased dramatically between 2012 and 2016, by a whopping 27 percent. While JUUL has promised to address youth vaping through its modest voluntary efforts, by accepting $12.8 billion from Altria—a tobacco giant with such a disturbing record of deceptive marketing to hook children onto cigarettes—JUUL has lost what little remaining credibility the company had when it claimed to care about the public health. A Juul Labs spokesperson had this to say in response to the letter: We welcome the opportunity to share information regarding JUUL Labs’ commitment to curbing underage use of our products while fulfilling our mission to eliminate combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in our country. We agree that companies such as ours must step up with meaningful measures to limit access and appeal of vapor products to young people. That’s exactly what we’ve done, and we will do more to combat teen use to save the harm-reduction opportunity for the 34 million adult smokers in the United States. Don’t take our word for it — look at our actions. As part of our action plan deployed in November 2018 to keep JUUL products out of the hands of youth, we stopped the sale of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores, strengthened our retail compliance and secret shopper program, enhanced our online age-verification, exited our Facebook and Instagram accounts and are continuously working to remove inappropriate third-party social media content. We support the FDA’s draft guidance restricting the sale of certain flavored products, including JUULpods, at retail outlets and online, and will continue to work with FDA, Congress, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in combating underage use. U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Sen. Durbin in sending the letter. It comes just a month after the . Juul has until April 25 to provide answers and information in response to the letter.
Ikea and Sonos are partnering on a a new range of connected speakers that will be available in August 2019. The aren’t just cheap Ikea speakers with a Sonos logo. You’ll be able to control the speakers from the Sonos app just like a normal Sonos product. Ikea and Sonos showcased two different models for now — a bookshelf speaker that will cost $99 and a table lamp speaker that will retail for $179. They will available in black and white. The idea is to hide those speakers in shelves and lamps so that you’re surrounded by speakers without even noticing them. You can use the bookshelf speaker horizontally or vertically. But you can also mount a speaker on an Ikea Kungfors rack. It can act as a standalone shelf if you want to put a plant or some decoration on top of it. The table lamp is quite straightforward. This object combines both light and sound. It looks like an Amazon Echo Plus or an Apple HomePod with a lamp on top. If you live in a tiny apartment, you could save some valuable space by replacing two objects with one. The best part is that those new speakers will integrate with other Sonos speakers just like any Sonos product. For instance, you can pair two speakers to create stereo separation or pair them with a Sonos Beam to create a good sound system for your TV. If you wanted to add a Sonos speaker in your bathroom but didn’t want to spend $200 on a Sonos One, you could also consider a bookshelf speaker to hide in a corner. It might not be as powerful as a Sonos One, but customers will benefit from more options. The Symfonisk line connects to your Wi-Fi network. This way, you can use the normal Sonos app, control music from Spotify’s app using Spotify Connect and send music to your speakers with AirPlay 2. Today’s new speakers don’t have any microphone. So you won’t be able to control your music with Amazon Alexa directly.
The Global Positioning System time epoch is ending and another one is beginning, an event that could affect your devices or any equipment or legacy system that relies on GPS for time and location. Most clocks obtain their time from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). But the atomic clocks on satellites are set to GPS time. The timing signals you can get from GPS satellites are very accurate and globally available. And so they’re often used by systems as the primary source of time and frequency accuracy. When Global Positioning System was first implemented, time and date function was defined by a 10-bit number. So unlike the Gregorian calendar, which uses year, month and date format, the GPS date is a “week number,” or WN. The WN is transmitted as a 10-bit field in navigation messages and rolls over or resets to zero every 1,024 weeks. Since that time, the count has been incremented by one each week, and broadcast as part of the GPS message. The GPS week started January 6, 1980 and it became zero for the first time midnight August 21, 1999. At midnight April 6, the GPS WN is scheduled to reset, which could be problematic for legacy systems and impact time and the time tags in location data. Utilities and cellular networks also use GPs receivers for timing and controlling certain functions. For instance, the uses timestamps embedded in GPS. The U.S. Department of Energy says that “GPS supports a wide variety of critical grid functions that allow separate components on the electric system to work in unison.” It should be noted that the WN restart date could be different in some devices, depending on when the firmware was created. The bug, which some has described as the Y2K of GPS, will cause problems in some GPS receivers such as resetting the time and corrupting location data. The GPS WN rollover event may hurt the reliability of the reported UTC, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. HDS said an GPS device that conforms to the latest IS-GPS-200 and provides UTC should not be adversely affected. The agency also provided a word of caution: However, tests of some GPS devices revealed that not all manufacturer implementations correctly handle the April 6, 2019 WN rollover. Additionally, some manufacturer implementations interpret the WN parameter relative to a date other than January 5, 1980. These devices should not be affected by the WN rollover on April 6, 2019 but may experience a similar rollover event at a future date. If you own a newer commercial device with updated software, it’s most likely fine. But double check and make sure the software is up-to-date. The U.S. Naval Observatory suggests contact the manufacturer of your GPS receiver if you have been effected by the GPS week number rollover. Some GPS receiver manufacturers can be found at the website. Work has been done to avoid this kind of rollover issue — or at least punt it down the line. The modernized GPS navigation message uses a 13-bit field that repeats every 8,192 weeks.
is ready to challenge Apple with a cheaper, Alexa-powered set of wireless earbuds. If successful, it would carve out a space for the popular digital assistant, and its deep connections to the rest of Amazon’s ecosystem, in the mobile world Amazon has hitherto largely failed to penetrate. But that’s a big if. details the upcoming hardware, which sounds a lot like AirPods (and the handful of other wireless sets that have appeared): a pair of small wireless in-ear buds, a case that doubles as a charger and built-in controls and a mic so you can control your music, talk to friends and ask Alexa things on the go. Of course, the obvious question is how exactly this will work, given that AirPods have special privileges as first-party hardware that let them perform tasks others can’t yet do. If your phone is locked, non-AirPod headphones (for instance Galaxy Buds) can’t connect through their associated app to look stuff up or provide services. You can of course , but that’s a bit sad. Bloomberg’s report says that the Alexa headphones let you “order goods, access music, weather and other information,” but it isn’t clear under what circumstances. If you have to have the phone unlocked and an app open for it to work, the whole thing is a non-starter. And it seems unlikely that Apple would grant Amazon some kind of clearance to do the kind of things only AirPods can do. It’s conceivable that the headphones will, when possible, connect instead on detection of a command to a compatible Alexa device nearby with an internet connection — and there’s no shortage of those in many a tech-savvy home. But if you’re walking down the street and need to ask directions, you may have to pull the phone out, which rather negates the already somewhat limited convenience of owning a pair of wireless headphones. These difficulties, plus those associated with simply making such a sophisticated piece of hardware for relatively cheap, explain why the headphones have reportedly had a bit of trouble getting shipped. A cheaper price tag and potentially better audio quality may not be enough to make this particular endeavor a winner, but we’ll know more if and when Amazon goes official.
is today announcing its series C financing that it hopes will allow the company to bring its at-home gym to even more homes. The funding round shows investors’ excitement around the new generation of personal exercise equipment that combines on-demand training with smart features. like Peloton, offer features previously unavailable outside of gyms and with this injection of capital, the company expects to build new personal features and invest in marketing and retail experiences. L Catterton’s Growth Fund led the $45 million series C round and included investments from Shasta Ventures, Mayfield, Sapphire Sport, and others also participated. This financing round brings the total amount raised to $90 million. Tonal is based out of San Francisco, CA and was founded by Aly Orady in 2015. The company . The wall-mounted Tonal uses electromagnetism to simulate and control weight, allowing the slender device to replicate (and replace) a lot of weight-lifting machines. The Tonal machine costs $2,995, and for $49 a month, Tonal offers members access to personal training sessions, recommended programs and workouts. Since launching, CEO Orady tells TechCrunch there have been virtually no returns. He says their customer care teams proactively work with members to ensure a good experience. Orady is excited to have L Catterton participating in this financing round, saying their deep network and unparalleled experience building premium fitness brands globally is an incredibly exciting new resource for the company. The Connecticut-based investment firm helped fund in ThirdLove, ClassPass, and The Honest Company. “As the fitness landscape continues to evolve, we have seen a clear shift toward personalized, content-driven, at-home workout experiences,” said Scott Dahnke, Global Co-CEO of L Catterton said in a released statement. “Tonal is the first connected fitness brand focused on strength training and represents an opportunity to invest behind an innovative concept with tremendous growth potential. We look forward to leveraging our deep knowledge of consumer behavior and significant experience in the connected fitness space to bring Tonal’s dynamic technology and content platform to more homes across the country.” Tonal shares a market with Peloton, and Orady says a significant amount of Tonal owners also own Peloton equipment. Yet, feature-by-feature, Peloton, and Tonal are different. While they’re both in-home devices that offer on-demand instructors, Peloton targets cardiovascular exercises while Tonal is a strength-training machine. Orady states his customers find the two companies offer complementary experiences. “The common thread with our members is that they understand the value of investing in their fitness and overall health,” said Aly Orady, “All of our members are looking to take their fitness to the next level with strength training. Tonal offers the ability to strength train at home by providing a comprehensive, challenging full body workout without having to sacrifice quality for convenience.” This is an enormous market he says the company can rely on for years to come. The majority of Tonal’s customers are between 30 and 55 years old and live in, or adjacent to, the top 10 major metro US markets. There’s an even split, he says, between male and female members. Tonal is similar to , another at-home, wall-mounted exercise device that costs $1,495. While Tonal focuses on strength training through resistance, Mirror offers yoga, boxing, Pilates and other exercises and activities with on-demand instruction and real-time stats. Mirror also launched in 2018 and the company has raised $40 million. Going forward Tonal expects to expand its software to provide new personalization features to its members. The hope is to build experiences that motivate users while serving up real-time feedback. This includes building new workout categories and additional fitness experiences even when users traveling and do not have access to their Tonal machine. The company sees it expanding its retail and marketing presence. Right now, just eight months after the product’s debut, customers have very limited access to try the Tonal machine. It’s only on display at Tonal’s flagship San Francisco store and is coming to a pop-up store in Newport Beach, California. Orady tells TechCrunch the company needs new talent to help the company achieve its mission. Tonal is hiring and looking to hire in hardware, software, design, video production, and marketing. At-home exercise equipment is a massive market and Tonal offers a unique set of features and advantages that should allow it to stand apart from competitors. This isn’t just another treadmill. Tonal is a strength-training super machine the size of a thick HDTV. Challenges abound but the company seemingly has a solid plan to utilize its latest round of financing that should allow it to reach more customers and show them why the Tonal machine is worth the cost.
Meet a startup that wants to replace all the bade readers in your office with a Face ID-like camera system. Alcatraz has integrated multiple sensors to identify faces and unlock doors effortlessly. If you think about it, it’s weird that fingerprint sensors took off on mobile but everybody is still using plastic badges for their offices. Sure, high security buildings use fingerprint and iris scanners. But it adds too much friction in too many cases. First, when everybody gets back from their lunch break, it can create a traffic jam if everybody needs to place their finger on a sensor. Second, onboarding new employees would require you to add their biometric information to the system. It can be cumbersome for big companies. promises a faster badging experience with facial authentication. When you join a company, you also get a physical badge. The first few times you use the badge, Alcatraz AI scans your face to create a model for future uses — after a while, you can leave your badge at the office. The company has built custom hardware with three different sensors that include both traditional RGB sensors and infrared sensors for 3D mapping. Customers pay Alcatraz AI to install those hybrid badge/face readers. After that, companies pay an annual fee in order to use the platform. Alcatraz AI customers get analytics, real-time notifications and can detect tailgating. This way, if somebody isn’t supposed to go in the secret lab, Alcatraz AI can detect if they’re trying to sneak in by following someone who is authorized to go in there. The idea is that the on-going license cost should cover what your company was paying for guards. The startup has raised nearly $6 million from Hardware Club, Ray Stata, JCI Ventures, Ruvento Ventures and Hemi Ventures.
According to a new report from reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and shared by , the next-generation iPhone should likely feature two-way wireless charging. This feature would let you charge other devices using your iPhone. Other flagship smartphones already feature two-way wireless charging, such as the , the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the . Samsung released new to justify such a feature. Thanks to PowerShare, you can place the Galaxy Buds case on the back of your Samsung Galaxy S10 to charge them. But you can also use it with another phone or another accessory — it should work with any Qi-compatible device. And now that Apple sells AirPods with a wireless charging case, chances are Apple will also showcase the new case sitting on top of the next iPhone. According to Apple could include the new feature across the lineup. Updates to the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR should get two-way wireless charging. Apple could also increase battery sizes to mitigate the impact of this new feature. The next iPhone XS could receive a 20 to 25 percent bump, the next iPhone XS Max could get a 10 to 15 percent bump. The iPhone XR, which already has the longest battery life, should more or less keep the same battery.
“Works with AirPower mat”. Apparently not. Looks like Apple doesn’t treat customers with the same “high standard” of care it apparently reserves for its hardware quality. 9 days after launching its headphones touting compatibility with the forthcoming Apple AirPower inductive charger mat, . It’s an uncharacteristically sloppy move for the “it just works” company. This time it didn’t. Apple clearly knew AirPower was borked before launching the new AirPods wireless charging case on March 20th. Failing to be transparent about that is an abuse of customer trust. That’s especially damaging for a company constantly asking us to pre-order new products and that’s known for planned obsolescence. It should really find some way to make it up to people, especially given it has $245 billion in cash on hand. . “After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward,” said Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Engineering in an emailed statement today. That comes as a pretty sour surprise for people who bought the $199 wireless charging AirPods that mention AirPower compatability or the $79 standalone charging case with a full-on diagram of how to use AirPower drawn on the box. Apple first announced the saying it would arrive the next year along with a wireless charging case for AirPods. But when the new AirPods launched March 20th with no mention of AirPower in the press release, suspicions mounted. Now we know Apple was concerned about devices overheating, so it decided not to ship what could become the next Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard. The new AirPods with wireless charging case even had a diagram of AirPower on the box. Image via There are plenty of other charging mats that work with AirPods, and maybe Apple will release a future iPhone or MacBook that can wireleslly pass power to the pods. But anyone hoping to avoid janky third-party brands and keep it in the Apple family is out of luck for now. Luckily, some who bought the new AirPods with wireless charging case are still eligible for a refund. But if you got yours personalized with an engraving (I had my phone number laser-etched on since I constantly lose them), there are no refunds allowed. And then there are all the people who bought Apple Watches, or iPhone 8 or later models who were anxiously awaiting AirPower. We’ve asked Apple if it will grant any return exceptions. Combined with the on new MacBooks and where it announced Apple Card, TV+, and Arcade despite them being months from launch, the world’s cash-richest company looks like a mess. Apple risks looking us unreliable as Android if it can’t get its act together.
The Mars 2020 mission is on track for launch next year, and nesting inside the high-tech new rover heading that direction is a high-tech helicopter designed to fly in the planet’s nearly non-existent atmosphere. The actual aircraft that will fly on the Martian surface just took its first flight and its engineers are over the moon. “The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” said MiMi Aung, who manages the project at JPL, . An engineering model that was very close to final has over an hour of time in the air, but these two brief test flights were the first and last time the tiny craft will take flight until it does so on the distant planet (not counting its “flight” during launch). “Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn’t help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past,” she continued. “The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.” Artist’s impression of how the helicopter will look when it’s flying on Mars A helicopter flying on Mars is much like a helicopter flying on Earth, except of course for the slight differences that the other planet has a third less gravity and 99 percent less air. It’s more like flying at 100,000 feet, Aung suggested. It has its own solar panel so it can explore more or less on its own The test rig they set up not only produces a near-vacuum, replacing the air with a thin, Mars-esque CO2 mix, but a “gravity offload” system simulates lower gravity by giving the helicopter a slight lift via a cable. It flew at a whopping two inches of altitude for a total of a minute in two tests, which was enough to show the team that the craft (with all its 1,500 parts and four pounds) was ready to package up and send to the Red Planet. “It was a heck of a first flight,” said tester Teddy Tzanetos. “The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter. We only required a 2-inch hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher.” A few months after the has landed, the helicopter will detach and do a few test flights of up to 90 seconds. Those will be the first heavier-than-air flights on another planet — powered flight, in other words, rather than, say, a balloon filled with gaseous hydrogen. The craft will operate mostly autonomously, since the half-hour round trip for commands would be far too long for an Earth-based pilot to operate it. It has its own solar cells and batteries, plus little landing feet, and will attempt flights of increasing distance from the rover over a 30-day period. It should go about three meters in the air and may eventually get hundreds of meters away from its partner. , arriving at its destination early in 2021. Of course, in the meantime, we’ve still got Curiosity and Insight up there, so if you want the latest from Mars, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from.
Instant print cameras have been popular for a long, long time, but they’re seeing a renaissance now — led by Fujifilm, whose Instax mini-films and cameras lead the pack. But Canon wants in, and has debuted a pair of new cameras to challenge Fuji’s dominance — but their reliance on digital printing may hold them back. The cameras have confusing, nonsensical names in both the U.S. and Europe: Here, they’re the IVY CLIQ and CLIQ+, while across the pond it’s the Zoemini C and S. Really now, Canon! But the devices themselves are extremely simple, especially if you ignore the cheaper one, which you absolutely should do. The compact CLIQ+ has a whole 8 megapixels on its tiny sensor, but that’s more than enough to send to the 2×3″ Zink printer built into the camera. The printer can store up to ten sheets of paper at once, and spits them out in seconds if you’re in a hurry, or whenever you feel like it if you want to tweak them, add borders, crop or do duplicates, and so on. That’s all done in a companion app. And herein lies the problem: Zink prints just aren’t that good. They cost less than half of what Instax Mini do per shot (think a quarter or so if you buy a lot) — but the difference in quality is visible. They’ve gotten better since the early days when they were truly bad, but the resolution and color reproduction just isn’t up to instant film standards. Instax may not be perfect, but a good shot will get very nice color and very natural-looking (if not tack-sharp) details. The trend towards instant printing is also at least partly a trend towards the purely mechanical and analog. People tired of taking a dozen shots on their phone and then never looking at them again are excited by the idea that you can leave your phone in your bag and get a fun photographic keepsake, no apps or wireless connections necessary. A digital camera with a digital printer that connects wirelessly to an app on your smartphone may not be capable of capitalizing on this trend. But then again, they could be a great cheap option for the younger digital-native set and kids who don’t care about image quality, have no affinity for analog tech, and just want to print stickers for their friends or add memes to their shots. Oh, we do have fun, don’t we, fellow kids? The $160 CLIQ+, or Zoemini S, has a ring flash as well as the higher megapixel count of the two (8 vs 5), and the lower-end $100 model doesn’t support the app, either. Given the limitations of the sensor and printer, you’re going to want as much flash as you can get. That’s too bad, because the cheap one comes in a dandy yellow color that is by far the most appealing to me. The cameras should be available in a month or two at your local retailer or online shop.
Developments in the self-driving car world can sometimes be a bit dry: a million miles without an accident, a 10 percent increase in pedestrian detection range, and so on. But this research has both an interesting idea behind it and a surprisingly hands-on method of testing: pitting the vehicle against a real racing driver on a course. To set expectations here, this isn’t some stunt, it’s actually warranted given the nature of the research, and it’s not like they were trading positions, jockeying for entry lines, and generally rubbing bumpers. They went separately, and the researcher, whom I contacted, politely declined to provide the actual lap times. This is science, people. Please! The question which Nathan Spielberg and his colleagues at Stanford were interested in answering has to do with an autonomous vehicle operating under extreme conditions. The simple fact is that a huge proportion of the miles driven by these systems are at normal speeds, in good conditions. And most obstacle encounters are similarly ordinary. If the worst should happen and a car needs to exceed these ordinary bounds of handling — specifically friction limits — can it be trusted to do so? And how would you build an AI agent that can do so? The researchers’ paper, published today in the journal Science Robotics, begins with the assumption that a physics-based model just isn’t adequate for the job. These are computer models that simulate the car’s motion in terms of weight, speed, road surface, and other conditions. But they are necessarily simplified and their assumptions are of the type to produce increasingly inaccurate results as values exceed ordinary limits. Imagine if such a simulator simplified each wheel to a point or line when during a slide it is highly important which side of the tire is experiencing the most friction. Such detailed simulations are beyond the ability of current hardware to do quickly or accurately enough. But the results of such simulations can be summarized into an input and output, and that data can be fed into a neural network — one that turns out to be remarkably good at taking turns. The simulation provides the basics of how a car of this make and weight should move when it is going at speed X and needs to turn at angle Y — obviously it’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea. It’s fairly basic. The model then consults its training, but is also informed by the real-world results, which may perhaps differ from theory. So the car goes into a turn knowing that, theoretically, it should have to move the wheel this much to the left, then this much more at this point, and so on. But the sensors in the car report that despite this, the car is drifting a bit off the intended line — and this input is taken into account, causing the agent to turn the wheel a bit more, or less, or whatever the case may be. And where does the racing driver come into it, you ask? Well, the researchers needed to compare the car’s performance with a human driver who knows from experience how to control a car at its friction limits, and that’s pretty much the definition of a racer. If your tires aren’t hot, you’re probably going too slow. The team had the racer (a “champion amateur race car driver,” as they put it) drive around the Thunderhill Raceway Park in California, then sent Shelley — their modified, self-driving 2009 TTS — around as well, ten times each. And it wasn’t a relaxing Sunday ramble. As the paper reads: Both the automated vehicle and human participant attempted to complete the course in the minimum amount of time. This consisted of driving at accelerations nearing 0.95g while tracking a minimum time racing trajectory at the the physical limits of tire adhesion. At this combined level of longitudinal and lateral acceleration, the vehicle was able to approach speeds of 95 miles per hour (mph) on portions of the track. Even under these extreme driving conditions, the controller was able to consistently track the racing line with the mean path tracking error below 40 cm everywhere on the track. In other words, while pulling a G and hitting 95, the self-driving Audi was never more than a foot and a half off its ideal racing line. The human driver had much wider variation, but this is by no means considered an error — they were changing the line for their own reasons. “We focused on a segment of the track with a variety of turns that provided the comparison we needed and allowed us to gather more data sets,” wrote Spielberg in an email to TechCrunch. “We have done full lap comparisons and the same trends hold. Shelley has an advantage of consistency while the human drivers have the advantage of changing their line as the car changes, something we are currently implementing.” Shelley showed far lower variation in its times than the racer, but the racer also posted considerably lower times on several laps. The averages for the segments evaluated were about comparable, with a slight edge going to the human. This is pretty impressive considering the simplicity of the self-driving model. It had very little real-world knowledge going into its systems, mostly the results of a simulation giving it an approximate idea of how it ought to be handling moment by moment. And its feedback was very limited — it didn’t have access to all the advanced telemetry that self-driving systems often use to flesh out the scene. The conclusion is that this type of approach, with a relatively simple model controlling the car beyond ordinary handling conditions, is promising. It would need to be tweaked for each surface and setup — obviously a rear-wheel-drive car on a dirt road would be different than front-wheel on tarmac. How best to create and test such models is a matter for future investigation, though the team seemed confident it was a mere engineering challenge. The experiment was undertaken in order to pursue the still-distant goal of self-driving cars being superior to humans on all driving tasks. The results from these early tests are promising, but there’s still a long way to go before an AV can take on a pro head-to-head. But I look forward to the occasion.
wants robots to do the dirty part of farming: weeding. With that thought, the San Francisco-based startup enlisted the help of Michigan-based manufacturing and automotive company Roush to build prototypes of the self-driving robots. An early prototype is pictured above. Financial details of the collaboration were not released. The idea is these autonomous weeders will replace herbicides and save the grower on labor. By using high-precision weeding, the robotic farm hands can increase the yield of the crops by working day and night to remove unwanted plants and weeds. After all, herbicides are in part because weeding is a terrible job. With Roush, FarmWise will build a dozen prototypes win 2019 with the intention of scaling to additional units in 2020. But why Michigan? “Michigan is well-known throughout the world for its manufacturing and automotive industries, the advanced technology expertise and state-of-the-art manufacturing practices,” Thomas Palomares, FarmWise co-founder and CTO said. “These are many of the key ingredients we need to manufacture and test our machines. We were connected to Roush through support from PlanetM, and as a technology startup, joining forces with a large and well-respected legacy automaker is critical to support the scale of our manufacturing plan.”Roush has a long history in Michigan as a leading manufacturing of high performance auto parts. More recently, the company has expanded its focus to using its manufacturing expertise elsewhere including robotics and alternative fuel system design. “This collaboration showcases the opportunities that result from connecting startups like FarmWise with Michigan-based companies like Roush that bring their manufacturing know-how to making these concepts a reality,” said Trevor Pawl, group vice president of PlanetM, Pure Michigan Business Connect and International Trade at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “We are excited to see this collaboration come to fruition. It is a great example of how Michigan can bring together emerging companies globally seeking prototype and production support with our qualified manufacturing base in the state.” FarmWise was founded in 2016 and has raised $5.7 million through a seed-stage investment. TechCrunch first saw FarmWise .