Apple acquires talking Barbie voicetech startup PullString

Apple acquires talking Barbie voicetech startup PullString

5:41pm, 15th February, 2019
has just bought up the talent it needs to make talking toys a part of Siri, HomePod, and its voice strategy. Apple has reportedly acquired PullString, also known as , according to . The company , artificial intelligence to power those experiences, and toys like and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString went on to raise . Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers. PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes. In 2016 it rebranded as PullString with a focus on developers tools that allow for visually mapping out conversations and publishing finished products to the Google and Amazon platforms. Given SiriKit’s complexity and lack of features, PullString’s Converse platform could pave the way for a lot more developers to jump into building voice products for Apple’s devices. We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available. The startup raised its cash including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.
Samsung is preparing to launch a sports smartwatch and AirPods-like earbuds

Samsung is preparing to launch a sports smartwatch and AirPods-like earbuds

9:02am, 15th February, 2019
, but already the Korean tech giant has revealed its entire upcoming range of wearable devices that will seemingly be unveiled alongside the Galaxy S10. That’s because the company’s was uploaded today with support for a range of unreleased products which include wireless earbuds, a sports-focused smartwatch, and a new fitness band. — and — the new wearables include a Galaxy Sport smartwatch, fitness bands Fit and Galaxy Fit e, Galaxy Buds, Samsung’s take on Apple’s AirPods. The devices have all been teased in various leaks in recent weeks but this confirmation from the Samsung app, deliberate or inadvertent, appears to all but confirm their impending arrival. That said, we really can’t tell too much about the respective devices based on the app, which just shows basic renders of each device. Still, that might just be enough of a tease to general a little more interest in what promises to be Samsung’s biggest consumer launch event of the year. The Samsung unveiling comes days before Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s biggest event of the year, kicks off — so expect to see new product launches coming thick and fast over the coming weeks.
The Opportunity Mars rover’s greatest shots and discoveries

The Opportunity Mars rover’s greatest shots and discoveries

8:13pm, 13th February, 2019
, and the rover that was supposed to last 90 days closes the book on 15 years of exploration. It’s sad, but it’s also a great time to look back on the mission and see some of its greatest hits. Here are 25 images showing where it came from, where it went, and what it discovered on its marathon-length journey.
Nintendo announces Super Mario Maker 2 for Switch, so goodbye forever

Nintendo announces Super Mario Maker 2 for Switch, so goodbye forever

6:03pm, 13th February, 2019
has ruined my life, and all our lives, by announcing Super Mario Maker 2, the sequel to the level-constructing game on Wii U that produced thousands of devious levels for those who think the “real” games aren’t hard enough. Gamers have been asking for this basically since the Switch was first rumored. Maker 2 looks like it’s been updated in a number of helpful ways apart from being on a console that will actually be supported long-term. The interface needed some sprucing up for the lower precision players will have using their fingers instead of a stylus on the touchscreen. No doubt this will be a huge draw for Nintendo’s Switch Online service, which will likely not only allow you to share your levels and try those of others, but — if Nintendo listened to its player base — compete with ghosts and other multiplayer features. Here’s hoping we can build whole worlds, but let’s not get greedy. But we definitely have slopes now! Honestly I could play NES and SNES-era Mario games forever on repeat, and the re-releases of other Marios on Switch has made the newer ones even more accessible. Probably between those and Mario Maker I’ll never leave the house again. Details are truly scant for now except that the game will come out in June of this year, just in time for summer to arrive — and be shut out with blackout curtains so glare doesn’t get on my greasy Switch. I’ll update this post if any new information becomes available.
Opportunity Mars Rover goes to its last rest after extraordinary 14-year mission

Opportunity Mars Rover goes to its last rest after extraordinary 14-year mission

3:53pm, 13th February, 2019
Opportunity, one of two rovers sent to Mars in 2004, is officially offline for good, and JPL officials announced today at a special press conference. “I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it the Mars Exploration Rover mission as complete,” said NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen. The cause of Opportunity’s demise was a planet-scale sandstorm that obscured its solar panels too completely, and for too long, for its onboard power supply to survive and keep even its most elementary components running. It last communicated on June 10, 2018, but could easily have lasted a few months more as its batteries ran down — a sad picture to be sure. Even a rover designed for the harsh Martian climate can’t handle being trapped under a cake of dust at -100 degrees celsius for long. The team has been trying to reach it for months, employing a variety of increasingly desperate techniques to get the rover to at least respond; even if its memory had been wiped clean or instruments knocked out, it could be reprogrammed and refreshed to continue service if only they could set up a bit of radio rapport. But every attempt, from ordinary contact methods to “sweep and beep” ploys, was met with silence. The final transmission from mission control was last night. Spent the evening at JPL as the last ever commands were sent to the Opportunity rover on . There was silence. There were tears. There were hugs. There were memories and laughs shared. — Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) Spirit and Opportunity, known together as the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, were launched individually in the summer of 2003 and touched down in January of 2004 — 15 years ago! — in different regions of the planet. Each was equipped with a panoramic camera, a macro camera, spectrometers for identifying rocks and minerals, and a little drill for taking samples. The goal was to operate for 90 days, traveling about 40 meters each day and ultimately covering about a kilometer. Both exceeded those goals by incredible amounts. Spirit ended up traveling about 7.7 kilometers and lasting about 7 years. But Opportunity outshone its twin, going some 45 kilometers over 14 years — . And of course both rovers contributed immensely to our knowledge of the Red Planet. It was experiments by these guys that really established a past when Mars not only had water, but bio-friendly liquid water that might have supported life. Opportunity did a lot of science but always had time for a selfie, such as this one at the edge of Erebus Crater. It’s always sad when a hard-working craft or robot finally shuts down for good, especially when it’s one that’s been as successful as “Oppy.” The Cassini probe , and Kepler has . But ultimately these platforms are instruments of science and we should celebrate their extraordinary success as well as mourn their inevitable final days. “Spirit and Opportunity may be gone, but they leave us a legacy — a new paradigm for solar system exploration,” said JPL head Michael Watkins. “That legacy continues not just in the Curiosity rover, which is currently operating healthily after about 2,300 days on the surface of Mars. But also in our new 2020 rover, which is under construction here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.” “But Spirit and Opportunity did something more than that,” he continued. “They energized the public about the spirit of robotic Mars exploration. The infectious energy and electricity that this mission created was obvious to the public.” Mars of course is not suddenly without a tenant. The Insight lander and has been meticulously and testing its systems. And the is well on its way to launch. It’s a popular planet. Perhaps some day we’ll scoop up these faithful servants and put them in a Martian museum. For now let’s look forward to the next mission.
Xnor’s saltine-sized, solar-powered AI hardware redefines the edge

Xnor’s saltine-sized, solar-powered AI hardware redefines the edge

1:43pm, 13th February, 2019
“If AI is so easy, why isn’t there any in this room?” asks Ali Farhadi, founder and CEO of Xnor, gesturing around the conference room overlooking Lake Union in Seattle. And it’s true — despite a handful of displays, phones, and other gadgets, the only things really capable of doing any kind of AI-type work are the phones each of us have set on the table. Yet we are always hearing about how AI is so accessible now, so flexible, so ubiquitous. And in many cases even those devices that can aren’t employing machine learning techniques themselves, but rather sending data off to the cloud where it can be done more efficiently. Because the processes that make up “AI” are often resource-intensive, sucking up CPU time and battery power. That’s the problem Xnor aimed to solve, or at least mitigate, when it . Its breakthrough was to make the execution of deep learning models on edge devices so efficient that a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero could perform state of the art nearly well as a supercomputer. The team achieved that, and Xnor’s hyper-efficient ML models are now integrated into a variety of devices and businesses. As a follow-up, the team set their sights higher — or lower, depending on your perspective. Answering his own question on the dearth of AI-enabled devices, Farhadi pointed to the battery pack in the demo gadget they made to show off the Pi Zero platform, Farhadi explained: “This thing right here. Power.” Power was the bottleneck they overcame to get AI onto CPU- and power-limited devices like phones and the Pi Zero. So the team came up with a crazy goal: Why not make an AI platform that doesn’t need a battery at all? Less than a year later, . That thing right there performs a serious computer vision task in real time: It can detect in a fraction of a second whether and where a person, or car, or bird, or whatever, is in its field of view, and relay that information wirelessly. And it does this using the kind of power usually associated with solar-powered calculators. The device Farhadi and hardware engineering head Saman Naderiparizi showed me is very simple — and necessarily so. A tiny camera with a 320×240 resolution, an FPGA loaded with the object recognition model, a bit of memory to handle the image and camera software, and a small solar cell. A very simple wireless setup lets it send and receive data at a very modest rate. “This thing has no power. It’s a two dollar computer with an uber-crappy camera, and it can run state of the art object recognition,” enthused Farhadi, clearly more than pleased with what the Xnor team has created. For reference, this video from the company’s debut shows the kind of work it’s doing inside: As long as the cell is in any kind of significant light, it will power the image processor and object recognition algorithm. It needs about a hundred millivolts coming in to work, though at lower levels it could just snap images less often. It can run on that current alone, but of course it’s impractical to not have some kind of energy storage; to that end this demo device has a supercapacitor that stores enough energy to keep it going all night, or just when its light source is obscured. As a demonstration of its efficiency, let’s say you did decide to equip it with, say, a watch battery. Naderiparizi said it could probably run on that at one frame per second for more than 30 years. Not a product Of course the breakthrough isn’t really that there’s now a solar-powered smart camera. That could be useful, sure, but it’s not really what’s worth crowing about here. It’s the fact that a sophisticated deep learning model can run on a computer that costs pennies and uses less power than your phone does when it’s asleep. “This isn’t a product,” Farhadi said of the tiny hardware platform. “It’s an enabler.” The energy necessary for performing inference processes such as facial recognition, natural language processing, and so on put hard limits on what can be done with them. A smart light bulb that turns on when you ask it to isn’t really a smart light bulb. It’s a board in a light bulb enclosure that relays your voice to a hub and probably a datacenter somewhere, which analyzes what you say and returns a result, turning the light on. That’s not only convoluted, but it introduces latency and a whole spectrum of places where the process could break or be attacked. And meanwhile it requires a constant source of power or a battery! On the other hand, imagine a camera you stick into a house plant’s pot, or stick to a wall, or set on top of the bookcase, or anything. This camera requires no more power than some light shining on it; it can recognize voice commands and analyze imagery without touching the cloud at all; it can’t really be hacked because it barely has an input at all; and its components cost maybe $10. Only one of these things can be truly ubiquitous. Only the latter can scale to billions of devices without requiring immense investment in infrastructure. And honestly, the latter sounds like a better bet for a ton of applications where there’s a question of privacy or latency. Would you rather have a baby monitor that streams its images to a cloud server where it’s monitored for movement? Or a baby monitor that absent an internet connection can still tell you if the kid is up and about? If they both work pretty well, the latter seems like the obvious choice. And that’s the case for numerous consumer applications. Amazingly, the power cost of the platform isn’t anywhere near bottoming out. The FPGA used to do the computing on this demo unit isn’t particularly efficient for the processing power it provides. If they had a custom chip baked, they could get another order of magnitude or two out of it, lowering the work cost for inference to the level of microjoules. The size is more limited by the optics of the camera and the size of the antenna, which must have certain dimensions to transmit and receive radio signals. And again, this isn’t about selling a million of these particular little widgets. As Xnor has done already with its clients, the platform and software that runs on it can be customized for individual projects or hardware. One even wanted a model to run on MIPS — so now it does. By drastically lowering the power and space required to run a self-contained inference engine, entirely new product categories can be created. Will they be creepy? Probably. But at least they won’t have to phone home.
DARPA wants smart bandages for wounded warriors

DARPA wants smart bandages for wounded warriors

4:05pm, 12th February, 2019
Nowhere is prompt and effective medical treatment more important than on the battlefield, where injuries are severe and conditions dangerous. thinks that outcomes can be improved by the use of intelligent bandages and other systems that predict and automatically react to the patient’s needs. Ordinary cuts and scrapes just need a bit of shelter and time and your amazing immune system takes care of things. But soldiers not only receive far graver wounds, but under complex conditions that are not just a barrier to healing but unpredictably so. DARPA’s Bioelectronics for Tissue Regeneration program, or BETR, will help fund new treatments and devices that “closely track the progress of the wound and then stimulate healing processes in real time to optimize tissue repair and regeneration.” “Wounds are living environments and the conditions change quickly as cells and tissues communicate and attempt to repair,” said Paul Sheehan, BETR program manager, . “An ideal treatment would sense, process, and respond to these changes in the wound state and intervene to correct and speed recovery. For example, we anticipate interventions that modulate immune response, recruit necessary cell types to the wound, or direct how stem cells differentiate to expedite healing.” It’s not hard to imagine what these interventions might comprise. Smart watches are capable of monitoring several vital signs already, and in fact have alerted users to such things as heart-rate irregularities. A smart bandage would use any signal it can collect — “optical, biochemical, bioelectronic, or mechanical” — to monitor the patient and either recommend or automatically adjust treatment. A simple example might be a wound that the bandage detects from certain chemical signals is becoming infected with a given kind of bacteria. It can then administer the correct antibiotic in the correct dose and stop when necessary rather than wait for a prescription. Or if the bandage detects shearing force and then an increase in heart rate, it’s likely the patient has been moved and is in pain — out come the painkillers. Of course, all this information would be relayed to the caregiver. This system may require some degree of artificial intelligence, although of course it would have to be pretty limited. But biological signals can be noisy and machine learning is a powerful tool for sorting through that kind of data. BETR is a four-year program, during which DARPA hopes that it can spur innovation in the space and create a “closed-loop, adaptive system” that improves outcomes significantly. There’s a further ask to have a system that addresses osseointegration surgery for prosthetics fitting — a sad necessity for many serious injuries incurred during combat. One hopes that the technology will trickle down, of course, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s all largely theoretical for now, though it seems more than possible that the pieces could come together well ahead of the deadline.
Dandelion Energy, the Alphabet X spinout, raises another $16M led by GV and Comcast

Dandelion Energy, the Alphabet X spinout, raises another $16M led by GV and Comcast

11:45am, 12th February, 2019
As tech companies continue their race to control the smart home, a promising energy startup has raised a round of funding from traditionally-tech and strategic investors, for a geothermal solution to heat and cool houses. , a spinout from Alphabet X, has raised $16 million in a Series A round of funding, with strategic investors Comcast Ventures leading the round along with GV, the investment arm of Alphabet formerly known as Google Ventures. Lennar Corporation, the home building giant, is also coming in as an investor, as are previous backers NEA, Collaborative Fund, Ground Up, and Zhenfund, and other unnamed investors. Notably, Lennar once worked with Apple but is now . As a side note, Dandelion’s investment is a timely reminder of how central “new home” startups are right now in smart home plays. Amazon just yesterday announced one more big move in its own connected home strategy with the , which helps extend the range and quality of WiFi coverage in a property. This is the second funding round for Dandelion in the space of a year, after the company raised a seed round of, a mark of how the company has been seeing a demand for its services and now needs the capital to scale. In the past year, it had accrued a waitlist of “thousands” of homeowners requesting its services across America, where it is estimated that millions of homeowners heat their homes with fossil fuels, which are estimated to account for of all carbon emissions. The company is based out of New York, and for now New York is the only state where its services are offered. The funding may help change that. It will be used in part for R&D, but also to hire more people, open new warehouses for its equipment and supplies, and for business development. Dandelion is not disclosing its valuation, but in its last round the company had a modest post-money valuation of $15 million, according to . It has now raised $23 million in total since spinning out from Alphabet X, the company’s moonshot lab, in May 2017. The premise of Dandelion’s business is that it provides a source of heating and cooling homes that takes people away from consuming traditional, energy grid-based services — which represent significant costs, both in terms of financial and environmental impact. If you calculate usage over a period of years, Dandelion claims that it can cut a household’s energy bills in half while also being significantly more friendly for the environment compared to conventional systems that use gas and fossil fuels. While there have been a number of efforts over the years to tap geothermal currents to provide home heating and cooling, many of the solutions up to now have been challenging to put in place, with services typically using wide drills and digging wells at depths of over 1,000 feet. “These machines are unnecessarily large and slow for installing a system that needs only a few 4” diameter holes at depths of a few hundred feet,” Kathy Hannun, cofounder and CEO of Dandelion, has said in the past. “So we decided to try to design a better drill that could reduce the time, mess and hassle of installing these pipes, which could in turn reduce the final cost of a system to homeowners.” The smaller scale of what Dandelion builds also means that the company can do an installation in one day. While a pared-down approach this means a lower set of costs (half the price of traditional geothermal systems) and quicker installation, that doesn’t mean that upfront costs are non-existent. Dandelion installations run between $20,000 and $25,000, although home owners can subsequently rack up savings of $35,000 over 20 years. (Hannun noted that today about 50 percent of customers choose to finance the installation which removes the upfront cost and spreads it out across monthly payments.) This is also where Lennar comes in. The company is in the business of building homes, and it has been investing in particular in the idea of building the next generation of homes by incorporating better connectivity, more services — and potentially alternative energy sources — from the ground up. “We’re incredibly excited to invest in Dandelion Energy,” said Eric Feder, Managing General Partner for Lennar Ventures, in a statement. “The possibility of incorporating geothermal heating & cooling systems in our new homes is something we’ve explored for years, but the math never made sense. Dandelion Energy is finally making geothermal affordable and we look forward to the possibility of including it in the homes Lennar builds.” The fact that Comcast is among the investors in Dandelion is a notable development. The company has been , and taking in, a number of as it builds its own connected home offering, where it not only brings broadband and entertainment to your TV and come computers, and also provides the tools to link up other connected devices to that network to control them from a centralised point. Dandelion is “off grid” in its approach to providing home energy, and while you might think that it doesn’t make sense for a company that is investing in and peddling services and electronic devices connected to a centralised (equally electricity-consuming) internet to be endorsing a company that’s trying to build an alternative, it actually does. For starters, Dandelion may be tapping geothermal energy but its pump uses electricity and sensors to monitor and moderate its performance. “Dandelion’s heat pump is a connected device with 60 sensors that monitor the performance and ensures that the home owner is proactively warned if there are any issues,” Hannun said in an interview. “This paves the way to operate it in a smart way. It’s aligned with the connected home.” In other words, this positions Dandelion as one more device and system that could be integrated into Comcast’s connected home solution. Aside from this, view in terms of the segment of customers that Comcast is targeting, it’s selling a bundle of connected home services to a demographic of users who are not afraid of using (and buying) new and alternative technology to do things a different way from how their parents did it. Dandelion may not be “connected” but even its approach to disconnecting will appeal to a person who may already be thinking of ways of reducing his or her carbon footprint and energy bills (especially since they may be consuming vast amounts of electricity to run their connected homes). “The home heating and cooling industry has been constrained by lack of innovation and high-costs,” said Sam Landman, managing director of in a statement. “The team at Dandelion and their modern approach to implementing geothermal technology is transforming the industry and giving consumers a convenient, safe, and cost-effective way to heat and cool their homes while reducing carbon emissions.” Landman and Shaun Maguire, a partner at will both be joining Dandelion’s board with this round. “In a short amount of time, Dandelion has already proven to be an effective and affordable alternative for home heating and cooling, leveraging best-in-class geothermal technology,” said Maguire, in a statement. “Driven by an exceptional leadership team, including CEO Kathy Hannun, Dandelion Energy is poised to have a meaningful impact on adoption of geothermal energy solutions among homeowners.”
Amazon looked to the past to build the future

Amazon looked to the past to build the future

10:45pm, 11th February, 2019
Over the last 20 years, smart home gadgets have evolved from fantasy to commodity. Walk into Best Buy and there are dozens of products that take just a few minutes to set up. It’s wonderful. Even better, it’s easy. There are lights and locks and screens from big and small companies alike. And therein lies the problem. There isn’t a unified solution for everything and Amazon’s vertically integrated offering could be the solution for the consumer and retail giant alike. Sure, most smart home gadgets work, but nothing works well together. The smart home has to be as easy as flipping a switch to control a lightbulb. , Eero, speaks to the problem. Assembling a smart home containing more than a couple of smart gadgets is hard. There are countless spots where something can go wrong, exposing a smart home as nothing more than a house of cards. What’s best for the average consumer is also the best for Amazon. In order for the smart home to be easy and functional as possible, one company should control the experience from every entry point. This is Apple’s approach to smartphones and Apple has long offered the easiest, most secure smartphone experience. In theory, Amazon will likely look to either bundle Eero routers with the purchase of Amazon Echos or build mesh networking into Echo products. Either way, Amazon is ensuring its Fire TV and Echo products can reliably access Amazon’s content services, which is where Amazon makes its money in the smart home. As Devin , mesh networking is the solution to the problem created by Amazon’s push into every room. Wifi is critical to a truly smart home, but there’s more to it. The smart home is complicated and it goes back over 20 years. Before wireless networking was ubiquitous, hobbyists and luxury home builders turned to other solutions to add electronic features to homes. Some gadgets still use modern versions of these protocols. Services like Z-Wave and ZigBee allowed home security systems to wireless monitor entry points and control power to otherwise disconnected gadgets like coffee makers and lamps. Later competing wireless protocols competed with Z-Wave and ZigBee. Insteon came out in the early 2000s and offered redundant networking through RF signals and power line networking. In 2014 Nest with the help of Samsung, Qualcomm, ARM, and others introduced Thread networking that offers modern network redundancy and improved security. And there’s more! There are gadgets powered by Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi HaLow and line of sight IR signals. This cluster of competing protocols makes it difficult to piece together a smart home that’s controlled by a unified device. So far, at this nascent stage of smart home gadgets, Amazon and Google have built a compelling case to use their products to control this bevy of devices. Apple tried, and in some ways, succeeded. Its HomeKit framework put iOS devices as the central control point for the home. Want to turn on the lights? Click a button in iOS or more recently, tell a HomePod. It works as advertised, but Apple requires compatible devices to be certified, and therefore the market of compatible devices is smaller than what works with an Amazon Echo. Meanwhile, Goole and Amazon stepped into the smart home with their arms wide, seemingly willing to work with any gadget. It worked. Over the last two years, gadget makers took huge steps to ensure its products are compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Last month, at CES, this became a punchline when a toilet was announced that was compatible with Alexa. Smart commodes be damned. All of these connected gadgets require their own setup process. Every connected light, thermostat and toilet demand the initial user be comfortable navigating several smartphone apps, knowing their network configuration and what to Google when something goes wrong — because things go wrong. Amazon’s own Alexa app doesn’t help. The single app is loaded with several tentpole functions including voice calling, skill setup, remote operation and access to Alexa — it’s overwhelming and unwieldy once several Echos are configured under the same account. Something has to change. If the smart home is to reach new demographics, barriers have to be dropped and centralized control has to become paramount. A layman should be able to purchase a couple of voice control hubs, connected lights, and a thermostat and set them up through a single app even though the devices might use different networking methods. Amazon has already taken a big step towards working with different smart home wireless protocols. In 2017 the company introduced the Echo Plus. This version of the Echo speaker included support for Zigbee (Philips Hue lights use Zigbee). Later, in 2018 the company upgraded the Echo Plus and included a temperature sensor and offline smart home networking so when the Internet goes down, the user can still control their connected products. Amazon has a growing portfolio of smart home companies. Along with its own Echo products, Amazon owns Ring, a video doorbell company, Blink, a wireless video camera system, and recently purchased, Mr. Beams, an outdoor lighting company. Now, with Eero, it can offer buyers a WiFi solution by Amazon. The only thing missing is a unified experience between these devices. In order for any company to win at the smart home, consumers need to fully trust this company and Amazon has so far only had several, relatively, minor incidents concerning the privacy of its users. A couple reports have surfaced reporting Amazon handing over voice data to the authorities. Other reports have taken issue with Amazon’s video doorbell company’s neighborhood watch system that could lead to profiling and discrimination. Amazon can weather disparaging reports. Amazon cannot weather dysfunctional products unable to reach Amazon’s revenue-generating services. Amazon is not alone in its quest for smart home domination. Google, Samsung, and Apple take this growing market seriously and will not let Amazon eat the whole pie. Consumer electronic giants will likely continue to scoop up smart home gadget companies that have traction with consumers. Look for companies like Arlo, ecobee, Belkin, Wyze Labs, sevenhugs and Brilliant to be acquired. These companies offer some of the best products in their respective fields and would compliment the companies currently owned by the big players as they look to offer consumers a the most complete experience.
Another fine mesh

Another fine mesh

8:35pm, 11th February, 2019
acquisition of mesh router company Eero is a smart play that adds a number of cards to its hand in the rapidly evolving smart home market. Why shouldn’t every router be an Echo, and every Echo be a router? Consolidating the two against stubborn competition. It’s no secret that Amazon wants to be in every room of the house — and on the front door to boot. It bought connected camera and doorbell companies and , and of course at its events it has introduced countless new devices from connected plugs to microwaves. All these devices connect to each other, and the internet, wirelessly. Using what? Some router behind the couch, probably from Netgear or Linksys, with a 7-character model number and utilitarian look. This adjacent territory is the clear next target for expansion. But Amazon could easily have moved into this with a Basics gadget years ago. Why didn’t it? Because it knew that it would have to surpass what’s on the market, not just in signal strength or build, but by changing the product into a whole new category. The router is one of a dwindling number of devices left in the home that is still just a piece of “equipment.” Few people use their routers for anything but a basic wireless connection. Bits come and go through the cable and are relayed to the appropriate devices, mechanically and invisibly. It’s a device few think to customize or improve, if they think of it at all. Apple made some early inroads with its overpriced and ultimately doomed Airport products, which served some additional purposes, like simple backups, and were also designed well enough to live on a table instead of under it. But it’s only recently that the humble wireless router has advanced beyond the state of equipment. It’s companies like Eero that did it, but it’s Amazon that’s made it realistic. Build the demand, then sell the supply It’s become clear that in many homes a single Wi-Fi router isn’t sufficient. Two or even three might be necessary to get the proper signal to the bedrooms upstairs and the workshop in the garage. A few years ago this wasn’t even necessary, because there were far fewer devices that needed a wireless connection to work. But now if your signal doesn’t reach the front door, the lock won’t send a video of the mail carrier; if it doesn’t reach the garage, you can’t activate the opener for the neighbor; if it doesn’t reach upstairs, the kids come downstairs to watch TV — and we can’t have that. A mesh system of multiple devices relaying signals is a natural solution, and one that’s been used for many years in other contexts. Eero was among the first not to create a system but to make a consumer play, albeit at the luxury level, rather like Sonos. Google got in on the game relatively soon after that with the OnHub and its satellites, but neither company really seemed to crack the code. How many people do you know who have a mesh router system? Very few, I’d wager, likely vanishingly few when compared with ordinary router sales. It seems clear now that the market wasn’t quite ready for the kind of investment and complexity that mesh networking necessitated. Amazon, however, solves that, because its mesh router will be an Echo, or an Echo Dot, or an Echo Show — all devices that are already found in multiple rooms of the house, and seem very likely to include some kind of mesh protocol in their next update. It’s hard to say exactly how it will work, since a high-quality router necessarily has features and hardware that let it do its job. Adding these to an Echo product would be non-trivial. But it seems extremely likely that we can expect an Echo Hub or the like, which connects directly to your cable modem (it’s unlikely to perform that duty as well) and performs the usual router duties, while also functioning as an attractive multipurpose Alexa gadget. That’s already a big step up from the ordinary spiky router. But the fun’s just getting started for Amazon. Platform play Apple has powerful synergies in its ecosystems, among which iMessage has to be the strongest. It’s the only reason I use an iPhone now; if Android got access to iMessage, I’d switch tomorrow. But I doubt it ever will, so here I am. Google has that kind of hold on search and advertising — just try to get away. And so on. Amazon has a death grip on online retail, of course, but its naked thirst for an Amazon-populated smart home has been obvious since it took the smart step to open its Alexa platform up for practically anyone to ship with. The following Alexavalanche brought garbage from all corners of the world, and some good stuff too. But it shipped devices. Now, any device will work with the forthcoming Echo-Eero hybrids. After all it will function as a perfectly ordinary router in some ways. But Amazon will be putting another layer on that interface specifically with Alexa and other Amazon devices. Imagine how simple the interface will be, how easily you’ll be able to connect and configure new smart home devices — that you bought on Amazon, naturally. Sure, that non-Alexa baby cam will work, but like Apple’s genius blue and green bubbles, some indicator will make it clear that this device, while perfectly functional, is, well, lacking. A gray, generic device image instead of a bright custom icon or live view from your Amazon camera, perhaps. It’s little things like that that change minds, especially when Amazon is undercutting the competition via subsidized prices. Note that this applies to expanding the network as well — other Amazon devices (the Dot and its ilk) will likely not only play nice with the hub but will act as range extenders and perform other tasks like file transfers, intercom duty, throwing video, etc. Amazon is establishing a private intranet in your house. The rich data interplay of smart devices will soon become an important firehose. How much power is being used? How many people are at home and when? What podcasts are being listened to, at what times, and by whom? When did that UPS delivery actually get to the door? Amazon already gets much of this but building a mesh network gives it greater access and allows it to set the rules, in effect. It’s a huge surface area through which to offer services and advertisements, or to preemptively meet users’ needs. Snooping ain’t easy (or wise) One thing that deserves a quick mention is the possibility, as it will seem to some, that Amazon will snoop on your internet traffic if you use its router. I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that it’s not only technically very difficult but very unwise to snoop at that level. Any important traffic going through the router will be encrypted, for one thing. And it wouldn’t be much of an advantage to Amazon anyway. The important data on you is generated by your interactions with Amazon: items you browse, shows you watch, and so on. Snatching random browsing data would be invasive and weird, with very little benefit. Eero addressed the question directly shortly after the acquisition was announced: Hi Steve! and Amazon take customer privacy very seriously and we will continue to protect it. eero does not track customers’ internet activity and this policy will not change with the acquisition. — eero support (@eerosupport) Maybe they would have eventually as a last-ditch effort to monetize, but that’s neither here nor there. Now the bad news. You don’t want Amazon to see your traffic? Too bad! Most of the internet runs on AWS! If Amazon really cared, it could probably do all kinds of bad stuff that way. But again it would be foolish self-sabotage. Free-for-all What happens next is an arms race, though it seems to me that Amazon might have already won. Google took its shot and may be once bitten, twice shy; its smart home presence isn’t nearly so large, either. Apple got out of the router game because there’s not much money in it; it won’t care if someone uses an Apple Homepod (what a name) with an Amazon router. Huawei and Netgear already have Alexa-enabled routers, but they can’t offer the level of deep integration Amazon can; there’s no doubt the latter will reserve many interesting features for its own branded devices. Linksys, TP-Link, Asus, and other OEMs serving the router space may blow this off to start as a toy, though it seems more likely that they will lean on the specs and utilitarian nature to push it with budget and performance markets, leaving Amazon to dominate a sliver… and hope that sliver doesn’t grow into a wedge. One place you may see interesting competition is from someone leaning on the privacy angle. Although we’ve established that Amazon isn’t likely to use the device that way, the fear doesn’t have to be justified for it to be taken advantage of in advertising. And anyway there are other features like robust ad blocking and so on that, say, a Mozilla-powered open source router could make a case for. But it seems likely that by acquiring an advanced but beleaguered startup that was ahead of the market, Amazon will be able to make a quick entry and multiply while the others are still engineering their responses. Expect specials on Eeros while stock lasts, then a new wave of mesh-enabled Echo-branded devices that are backwards compatible, mega-simple to set up, and more than competitive on price. Now is the time and the living room is the place; Amazon will strike hard and perhaps it will set in motion the end of the router as mere equipment.
Lenovo Watch X was riddled with security bugs, researcher says

Lenovo Watch X was riddled with security bugs, researcher says

4:15pm, 11th February, 2019
Lenovo’s Watch X was widely panned as As it turns out, so was its security. The low-end $50 smart watch was one of Lenovo’s cheapest smart watches. Available only for the China market, anyone who wants one has to buy one directly from the mainland. Lucky for Erez Yalon, head of security research at Checkmarx, an application security testing company, he was given one from a friend. But it didn’t take him long to find several vulnerabilities that allowed him to change user’s passwords, hijack accounts, and spoof phone calls. Because the smart watch wasn’t using any encryption to send data from the app to the server, Yalon said he was able to see his registered email address and password sent in plain text, as well as data about how he was using the watch, like how many steps he was taking. “The entire API was unencrypted,” said Yalon in an email to TechCrunch. “All data was transferred in plain-text.” The API that helps power the watch was easily abused, he found, allowing him to reset anyone’s password simply by knowing a person’s username. That could’ve given him access to anyone’s account, he said. Not only that, he found that the watch was sharing his precise geolocation with a server in China. Given the watch’s exclusivity to China, it might not be a red flag to natives. But Yalon said the watch had “already pinpointed my location” before he had even registered his account. Yalon’s research wasn’t just limited to the leaky API. He found that the Bluetooth-enabled smart watch could also be manipulated from nearby, by sending crafted Bluetooth requests. Using a small script, he demonstrated how easy it was to spoof a phone call on the watch. Using a similar malicious Bluetooth command, he could also set the alarm to go off — again and again. “The function allows adding multiple alarms, as often as every minute,” he said. Lenovo didn’t have much to say about the vulnerabilities, besides confirming their existence. “The Watch X was designed for the China market and is only available from Lenovo to limited sales channels in China,” said spokesperson Andrew Barron. “Our [security team] team has been working with the [original device manufacturer] that makes the watch to address the vulnerabilities identified by a researcher and all fixes are due to be completed this week.” Yalon said that encrypting the traffic between the watch, the Android app, and its web server would prevent snooping and help reduce manipulation. “Fixing the API permissions eliminates the ability of malicious users to send commands to the watch, spoof calls, and set alarms,” he said.
Google makes it easier for cheap phones and smart devices to encrypt your data

Google makes it easier for cheap phones and smart devices to encrypt your data

9:20pm, 7th February, 2019
Encryption is an important part of the whole securing-your-data package, but it’s easy to underestimate the amount of complexity it adds to any service or device. One part of that is the amount of processing encryption takes — an amount that could be impractical on small or low-end devices. wants to change that with a highly efficient new method called Adiantum. Here’s the problem. While encryption is in a way just transforming one block of data reversibly into another, that process is actually pretty complicated. Math needs to be done, data read and written and reread and rewritten and confirmed and hashed. For a text message that’s not so hard. But if you have to do the same thing as you store or retrieve megabyte after megabyte of data, for instance with images or video, that extra computation adds up quick. Lots of modern smartphones and other gadgets are equipped with a special chip that performs some of the most common encryption algorithms and processes (namely AES), just like we have GPUs to handle graphics calculations in games and such. But what about older phones, or cheaper ones, or tiny smart home gadgets that don’t have room for that kind of thing on their boards? Just like they can’t run the latest games, they might not be able to efficiently run the latest cryptographic processes. They can still encrypt things, of course, but it might take too long for certain apps to work, or drain the battery. Google, clearly interested in keeping cheap phones competitive, is tackling this problem by creating a special encryption method just for low-power phones. They call it Adiantum, and it will be optionally part of Android distributions going forward. , but the gist is this. Instead of using AES it relies on a cipher called ChaCha. This cipher method is highly optimized for basic binary operations, which any processor can execute quickly, though of course it will be outstripped by specialized hardware and drivers. It’s well documented and already in use lots of places — this isn’t some no-name bargain bin code. As they show, it performs way better on earlier chipsets like the Cortex A7. The Adiantum process doesn’t increase or decrease the size of the payload (for instance by padding it or by appending some header or footer data), meaning the same number of bytes come in as go out. That’s nice when you’re a file system and don’t want to have to set aside too many special blocks for encryption metadata and the like. Naturally new encryption techniques are viewed with some skepticism by security professionals, for whom the greatest pleasure in life is to prove one is compromised or unreliable. Adiantum’s engineers say they have “high confidence in its security,” with the assumption (currently reasonable) that its component “primitives” ChaCha and AES are themselves secure. We’ll soon see! In the meantime don’t expect any instant gains, but future low-power devices may offer better security without having to use more expensive components — you won’t have to do a thing, either. Oh, and in case you were wondering: Adiantum is named after the genus of the maidenhair fern, which in the Victorian language of flowers (floriography) represents sincerity and discretion.
The Raspberry Pi store is much cooler than an Apple Store

The Raspberry Pi store is much cooler than an Apple Store

2:51pm, 7th February, 2019
The Pi Foundation just a brand new project — an actual . If you live in Cambridge in the U.K., you can now buy a bunch of sweet Raspberry Pis to tinker and develop some cool stuff. The Raspberry Pi has always been about making coding more accessible. And a physical retail space fits the bill. The foundation has developed a lineup of insanely cheap computers with an ARM-based processor, a bunch of ports, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The latest flagship model, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ costs only $35. But if you want something smaller and cheaper, there are other models for various needs. Maybe you just need a tiny computer for some internet-of-things project. You can opt for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ for $25 in that case. It has a bit less RAM and fewer ports, but it works pretty much like any Raspberry Pi. There’s also power-efficient models that cost less than $10 — the Raspberry Pi Zero models. I never really thought about Raspberry Pi stores. But the introduction video makes a strong case in favor of such a store. The product lineup is getting a bit complicated and it’s always good to be able to talk to someone about your projects. Moreover, the foundation can use this store as a showcase for some cool examples. You can also buy goodies, such as mugs and plushy toys. Those white-and-red keyboard and mouse look cool too.
Robin’s robotic mowers now have a patented doggie door just for them

Robin’s robotic mowers now have a patented doggie door just for them

10:31am, 7th February, 2019
Back in 2016 we had up onstage demonstrating the possibility of a rather than just something you buy. They’re still going strong, and just introduced and patented what seems in retrospect a pretty obvious idea: an automatic door for the mower to go through fences between front and back yards. It’s pretty common, after all, to have a back yard isolated from the front lawn by a wood or chain link fence so dogs and kids can roam freely with only light supervision. And if you’re lucky enough to have a robot mower, it can be a pain to carry it from one side to the other. Isn’t the whole point of the thing that you don’t have to pick it up or interact with it in any way? The solution Justin Crandall and his team at Robin came up with is simple and straightforward: an automatic mower-size door that opens only to let it through. “In Texas over 90 percent of homes have a fenced in backyard, and even in places like Charlotte and Cleveland it’s roughly 25-30 percent, so technology like this is critical to adoption,” Crandall told me. “We generally dock the robots in the backyard for security. When it’s time to mow the front yard, the robots drive to the door we place in the fence. As it approaches the door, the robot drives over a sensor we place in the ground. That sensor unlocks the door to allow the mower access.” Simple, right? It uses a magnetometer rather than wireless or IR sensor, since those introduced possibilities of false positives. And it costs around $100-$150, easily less than a second robot or base, and probably pays for itself in goodwill around the third or fourth time you realize you didn’t have to carry your robot around. It’s patented, but rivals (like iRobot, which ) could certainly build one if it was sufficiently different. Robin has expanded to several states and a handful of franchises () and maintains that its all-inclusive robot-as-a-service method is better than going out and buying one for yourself. Got a big yard and no teenage kids who can mow it for you? See if Robin’s available in your area.
MQT builds classy Swiss watches for the truly debonair

MQT builds classy Swiss watches for the truly debonair

12:35pm, 22nd November, 2018
Ah, wonderful to see you again, sir. The usual? Kool-Aid Grain Alcohol Martini with a twisty straw. Of course. And I see you’re wearing a new watch. The Quite striking. I see the watch has a quartz ETA movement – an acceptable movement by any standard – and a very elegant face and hands combination. What’s that? It has a quickset date? Of course, no watch over $200 would skimp on that simple complication. $251 you say? On a silver mesh band, also known as a Milanese? A relative bargain, given its pedigree. Of course, sir. I’ve spoken with the chef and she’s preparing your Ritz crackers with Easy Cheese as we speak. Do tell me more about this watch. It seems to be one of your only redeeming features.[gallery ids="1749599,1749597"]What was that? No, I said nothing under my breath. Do go on. Made in Berne, Switzerland, you say, by a pair of watchmakers, Hanna and Tom Heer, who left their high-paying jobs to make watches? And their goal is not to create a beautiful quartz piece that is eminently wearable yet quite delicate? Laudable, sir, laudable. I especially like the thin 41mm case. It’s so light and airy! Not unlike your Supreme baseball cap. No, of course sir, we still give away all the mints you can eat after the meal. If you’d like I can tie that lobster bib around your neck. There we are. Nice and snug. And they make a marble version? Wonderful! That hearkens back to the of yore. A delight, truly. You’ve got a bit of cheese in your beard. Let me get… oh. I’m sorry to say that my hand got into the way of your pendulous tongue. I’m very sorry, sir. Well, it’s been wonderful chatting with you. I’ll leave you to your Rick and Morty comics. What’s that? Caviar in an ice cream cone? With sprinkles? Of course. I’ll see what I can do. I do commend you, sir, all things being equal, on your taste in watches.
Affetto is the wild boy head robot of your nightmares

Affetto is the wild boy head robot of your nightmares

12:45pm, 21st November, 2018
Affetto is a robot that can smile at you while it pierces your soul with its endless, dead state. Created by researchers at this crazy baby-head robot can mimic human emotions by scrunching up its nose, smiling, and even closing its eyes and frowning. Put it all together and you get a nightmare from which there is no sane awakening! “ robot faces have persisted in being a black box problem: they have been implemented but have only been judged in vague and general terms,” study first author Hisashi Ishihara says. “Our precise findings will let us effectively control android facial movements to introduce more nuanced expressions, such as smiling and frowning.” We when it was even more frightening than it is now. The researchers have at least added some skin and hair to this cyberdemon, allowing us the briefest moment of solace as we stare into Affetto’s dead eyes and hope it doesn’t gum us to death. Ain’t the future grand? The goal, obviously, is to lull humans into a state of calm as the rest of Affetto’s body, spiked and bladed, can whir them to pieces. The researchers write: A trio of researchers at Osaka University has now found a method for identifying and quantitatively evaluating facial movements on their android robot child head. Named Affetto, the android’s first-generation model was reported in a 2011 publication. The researchers have now found a system to make the second-generation Affetto more expressive. Their findings offer a path for androids to express greater ranges of emotion, and ultimately have deeper interaction with humans. The researchers investigated 116 different facial points on Affetto to measure its three-dimensional movement. Facial points were underpinned by so-called deformation units. Each unit comprises a set of mechanisms that create a distinctive facial contortion, such as lowering or raising of part of a lip or eyelid. Measurements from these were then subjected to a mathematical model to quantify their surface motion patterns. Pro tip: Just slap one of these on your Roomba and send it around the house. The kids will love it and the cat will probably die of a heart attack.
11 moments from the International Space Station’s first 20 years

11 moments from the International Space Station’s first 20 years

7:28pm, 20th November, 2018
It was November 20, 1998, when an unprecedented international coalition of astronomers, engineers and rocket scientists saw years of collaboration come to fruition with the launch of the International Space Station’s first component. Since then, the largest spacecraft ever built has hosted innumerable astronauts, experiments and other craft. Here are a few notable moments in the history of this inspiring and decades-spanning mission. 1984: Reagan proposes the ISS — without Russia The space station was originally going to be a U.S. effort, but soon became a collaboration with Canada, Japan and Europe, excluding the then-USSR. American-Russian relations were strained then, as you may remember, and although many in the space industry itself would have preferred working together, the political climate did not permit it. Nevertheless, initial work began. 1993: Clinton adds Russia to the bill The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent rejuvenation of international relations led President Bush to bring them into the program in a limited fashion, as a supplier and as a guest on a shuttle mission. The next year, however, President Clinton one-upped him with the announcement that Russia would be a full partner. This was both a practical and political decision: Russian involvement would save billions, but it also helped bring Russia on board with other issues, like ICBM de-proliferation efforts. At any rate, designs were finally beginning to be built. 1998: The first components, Zarya and Unity, launch to orbit Endeavour approaches Zarya when the latter was the only component in place. Though persona non grata at first, Russia had the privilege of launching the first core component of the on November 20, 1998, the anniversary we are celebrating today. The Zarya Functional Cargo Block is still up there, still being used, forming the gateway to the Russian side of the station. One month later, Space Shuttle Endeavour took off from Launch Complex 39A (we’ve been there) carrying Unity Node 1. This too is up there now, attached since that day to Zarya. 2000: The first of many long-term occupants arrive From left: Shepherd, Gidzenko and Krikalev, aboard the station. Almost exactly a year after Zarya went up, the first astronauts took up residence on the ISS — the first of 230 people so far to call the orbiting structure home. Bill Shepherd was first representative, flying with cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev; they would stay for about 141 days. 2003: Columbia disaster delays expansion The fatal breakup of Space Shuttle Columbia on reentry following its 28th mission was tragedy enough that other shuttle missions were scrubbed for over two years. As these were the primary means of the U.S. adding to and maintaining the ISS, this responsibility passed to Roscosmos until shuttle launches resumed in 2005; crewed launches wouldn’t resume until mid-2006. 2007: Kibo goes up Numerous modules have been added to the ISS over the years, but Japan’s Kibo is the largest. It took multiple missions to deliver all the pieces, and was only made possible by earlier missions that had expanded the solar power capacity of the station. Kibo contains a ton of reconfigurable space accessible from the pressurized interior, and has been popular for both private and public experiments that must be conducted in space. 2010: Enter the Cupola If Kibo is the largest component, the Cupola is likely the most famous. The giant 7-window bubble looks like something out of science fiction (specifically, the front end of the Millennium Falcon) and is the location for the station’s most striking photography, both inside and out. 2014: Beautiful timelapses With the Cupola in place, capturing imagery of the Earth from this amazing view became easier — especially with the increasingly high-quality digital cameras brought aboard by talented astronaut-photographers like Alexander Gerst and Don Pettit. The many, many photos taken out of this aperture have been formed into innumerable beautiful timelapses and desktop backgrounds, as well as witnessing incredible phenomena like aurora and lightning storms from a new and valuable perspective. It’s hard to pick just one, but Don Pettit’s “The World Outside My Window” above is a fabulous example, and is another. 2015: Gennady Padalka sets time in space record During his fifth flight to space, Gennady Padalka set a world record for most time in space: When he returned to Earth he had logged a total of 878 days and change. That’s well ahead of the competition, which is almost exclusively Russian — though NASA’s Peggy Whitson is right up there with 666 days over three missions. 2016: Chinese station calling ISS, please pick up It’s hardly crowded in space, but it can get lonely up there. So it’s nice that those who have the honor to fly reach out to each other. In this case China’s taikonaut Jing Haipeng recorded a heartwarming video message from the Chinese Tiangong-2 space station greeting the incoming ISS crew and praising the community of global cooperation that makes all this possible. 2018: Soyuz accident threatens long-term occupation A crewed mission to the ISS with astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin encountered a serious fault during launch, fortunately resulting in no injuries or fatalities but shaking up the space community. The Soyuz rocket and capsule had more than proven themselves over the years but no risks could be taken with human life, and future missions were delayed. It was possible that for the first time since it was first entered, the ISS would be empty as its crew left with no replacements on the way. Fortunately the investigation has concluded and , which will prevent such an historic absence. 2019? First commercial crew mission and beyond Russia has borne sole responsibility for all crewed launches for years; the U.S. has been planning to separate itself from this dependence by fostering a new generation of crew-capable capsules that can meet and exceed the safety and reliability of the Soyuz system. SpaceX and Boeing both plan 2019 flights for their respective Crew Dragon and Starliner capsules — though slipping dates and new regulatory attention may delay those further. The ISS has a bright future despite its remarkable 20 years of continuous operation. It’s funded more or less through 2025, but there’s talk of new space stations from Russia and China both, while the U.S. eyes lunar orbit for its next big endeavor. It’s hard to imagine space now without an ISS full of people in it, however, and falling launch costs may mean that its life can be extended even further and for less cost. Here’s hoping the ISS has another two decades in front of it.
Apple’s holiday ad is an animated short film

Apple’s holiday ad is an animated short film

5:19pm, 20th November, 2018
always has an interesting ad for the holiday season. This time, it’s a cute little animated short film. It feels like a hybrid between a Pixar movie and a Wes Anderson creation. Named “Share Your Gifts,” the ad focuses on a dreamy teenager who spends a lot of time on her MacBook. She regularly prints something she has created. We never know for sure if it’s a text, a drawing, some lyrics, etc. But every time she looks at her creations, she dismisses them and puts them in a green box. Sheets of paper pile up in the box and the girl can’t even close it anymore. During a cold winter night, her dog accidentally opens the window. The sheets of paper fly out the window. She ends up chasing her creations so that nobody sees them. Eventually, she realizes that sharing feels great and overcomes her fears. It’s a feel-good story that rings true with many creative people, even in the age of Instagram. Compared to previous years, the soundtrack might not sound familiar. That’s because it’s an original song from sixteen-year-old singer Billie Eilish. Like many young musicians, Eilish started writing music on a Mac in her bedroom. And this song was also written with her sibling Finneas O’Connell in her parent’s home. Interestingly, there’s no iPhone, no iPad, no Apple Watch. This year, it’s all about the Mac. Apple wants to make sure that everybody knows the Mac is an important product for the company. At least that’s what Tim Cook said on stage during .
Valve is discontinuing the Steam Link, at least the hardware part

Valve is discontinuing the Steam Link, at least the hardware part

12:59pm, 20th November, 2018
Valve has quietly updated the for the Steam Link. The message says that Valve is discontinuing the Steam Link. The device will become unavailable once all units have been sold. When Valve introduced the in 2015, your TV setup was completely different. Google, Amazon and Apple just released Android TV, the Fire TV and tvOS. Smart TVs weren’t so smart. In other words, you had no way to install an app and run it on your TV. The Steam Link was a tiny box with an HDMI port, USB ports, an Ethernet port, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more. It could only do one thing — you could connect the Steam Link to a Steam client running on a powerful computer and play games on a different screen. Even before the Nintendo Switch, companies were thinking about ways to play the same game in multiple ways. And if you were wondering why the Steam Link has yet to receive an update, you now have the answer. The company is switching to a software strategy. “The supply of physical Steam Link hardware devices is sold out. Moving forward, Valve intends to continue supporting the existing Steam Link hardware as well as distribution of the software versions of Steam Link, available for many leading smart phones, tablets and televisions,” the company says on the store page. You can still find devices on third-party retailers, but they’ll soon be all gone. Going forward, you’ll be able to install the Steam Link app on your phone or Android TV device (including on the Fire TV if you side-load the app). You can then launch a Steam game on your PC and play it on your TV. Unfortunately, Apple currently to allow the Steam Link app on the App Store. I really hope that Apple is going to change its mind because it would be a pretty good gaming and entertainment system.
First ever drone-delivered kidney is no worse for wear

First ever drone-delivered kidney is no worse for wear

7:40pm, 19th November, 2018
Drone delivery really only seems practical for two things: take-out and organ transplants. Both are relatively light and also extremely time sensitive. Well, in a refrigerated box have yielded positive results — which also seems promising for getting your pad thai to you in good kit. The test flights were conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland there, led by surgeon Joseph Scalea. He has been frustrated in the past with the inflexibility of air delivery systems, and felt that drones represent an obvious solution to the last-mile problem. Scalea and his colleagues modified a DJI M600 drone to carry a refrigerated box payload, and also designed a wireless biosensor for monitoring the organ while in flight. After months of waiting, their study was assigned a kidney that was healthy enough for testing but not good enough for transplant. Once it landed in Baltimore, the team loaded it into the container and had it travel 14 separate missions of various distances and profiles. The longest of these was three miles, a realistic distance between hospitals in the area, and the top speed achieved was 67.6 km/h, or about 42 mph. Biopsies of the kidney were taken before and after the flights, and also after a reference flight on a small aircraft, which is another common way to transport organs medium distances. Image credit: Joseph Scalea The results are good: despite the potential threats of wind chill and heat from the motors of the drone (though this was mitigated by choosing a design with a distal motor-rotor setup), the temperature of the box remained at 2.5 degrees Celsius, just above freezing. And no damage appeared to have been done by the drones’ vibrations or maneuvers. Restrictions on drones and on how organs can be transported make it unlikely that this type of delivery will be taking place any time soon, but it’s studies like this that make it possible to challenge those restrictions. Once the risk has been quantified, then kidneys, livers, blood, and other tissues or important medical supplies may be transported this way — and in many cases, every minute counts. One can also imagine the usefulness of this type of thing in disaster situations, when not just ordinary aircraft but also land vehicles may have trouble getting around a city. Drones should be able to carry much-needed supplies — but before they do, they should definitely be studied to make sure they aren’t going to curdle the blood or anything. The specifics of the study are detailed in a paper published in the .