The Raspberry Pi Foundation opened a boutique in the Grand Arcade shopping center in the heart of Cambridge, home of the world’s most famous nano-computer. You can buy the Raspberry Pi, of course, but also additional modules, accessories, books, magazines, objects and gadgets bearing the raspberry logo. Much like an Apple Store, the store also has a pedagogical mission and helps newbies get acquainted with technology, try out programming and see examples of what can be done with this very accessible computer.
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Tech news in brief
Cybersecurity specialist Linuz Henze has discovered a major security breach in the Keychain Access application on macOS Mojave, which is specifically responsible for protecting all your login credentials and sensitive information (passwords, certificates, secure notes, etc.). This flaw allows access to all passwords without requiring an administrator password, which is alarming. In addition, the expert explains that he has no intention of revealing the details of the flaw to Apple, as a means of expressing his displeasure that there is no “bug bounty” — a reward program for those who discover a vulnerability — for macOS, while one exists for iOS. He also encourages other researchers to publicize the security issues they discover in order to put pressure on Apple to offer a suitable bug bounty for macOS. “Finding vulnerabilities like this one takes time, and I just think that paying researchers is the right thing to do because we’re helping Apple to make their product more secure,” he contends.
Unicode finalized a list of 230 new emojis for 2019. That might sound like a lot, but if we don’t count the new variations of colors, skin tones and gender, it’s actually only 59. But these are really essential emojis! How have we gotten this far without a cute otter, an endearing sloth, a sly skunk, a goofy orangutan or a graceful flamingo? And our recipes have not been the same since the appearance of the indispensable garlic, onion and butter. You can even sit on a chair and play banjo. In addition, the consortium has added a series of emojis pertaining to disabilities: there are two guide dogs, motorized or unmotorized wheelchairs, prosthetic arms and legs, ears with hearing aids, figures that sign that they are hard of hearing, a white cane for the blind, and figures using this cane to guide them. Most users will see these new emoji upload to their devices throughout 2019 with software updates.
Google has released a Chrome extension called Password Checkup. Its role is to check passwords, both those stored in the password manager and those you enter manually, to ensure that they are not associated with hacked accounts. It operates through a Google database that stores data from more than 4 billion compromised accounts, allowing it to detect whether the identifiers you use are in this database. If so, it alerts you. If you’re not comfortable with your account credentials going through a third party, Google wants to reassure you: Password Checkup uses a combination of anonymization and cryptography to protect the exchange, with a technique called “blinding,” which creates a secret search index. The identifiers are anonymized with an Argon2 hash function to create a search key, and encrypted through elliptic-curve cryptography.
According to the security company Trend Micro, Google has removed 29 malicious Android applications from its Google Play Store. These are applications that in appearance improve and transform photos, but in fact hide malicious features. Of the 29 applications, 11 were downloaded more than 100,000 times, and three of them were downloaded more than 1,000,000 times. The three apps with the greatest number of downloads that were suppressed are Pro Camera Beauty, Cartoon Art Photo, and Emoji Camera. Other deleted apps include Art Editor, Super Camera, Art Effects for Photo, Art Effect, Prizma Photo Effect, and Pixture. Protecting its store and its users from potentially harmful apps seems like a challenge for Google. The moral is, be cautious when you download an app that does not come from a known publisher. Check other users’ comments. If critics mention suspicious behavior, it may be wise to refrain from downloading the application.
When you think of computers or accessories by Razer, black immediately comes to mind--not pink. But this is a special, limited-series operation for Valentine’s. The company will not charge the notorious “pink tax”: the price is the same as for the non-gendered variant. The Razer Blade Stealth Rose Quartz will cost US$ 1,600. For this price, you have an 8th generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, an Nvidia MX 150 GPU and a Full HD (1920 x 1080) 13.3 inch display. These pink Razer products will be available in the United States, China and ... Canada!
Researchers at New York University and Stanford University convinced Facebook users to take a break from the social network for four weeks. Nearly 3,000 users accepted the challenge and completed detailed questionnaires about their daily routine, political opinion and general mood. Randomly selected users were offered financial compensation. The dollar amount of the compensation asked was of great interest to researchers too: how much is a month’s worth of access to photos, comments, Facebook groups, friends and news feeds? On average, about US$ 100, according to the study. At the end of the four weeks, the test subjects were again questioned in detail. This revealed that they had spent more time off-line with family and friends, in front of the television, etc.
iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced Terra, its first autonomous lawnmower. While most autonomous lawnmowers require buried wires in order to define the boundaries of the area to be mowed, the Terra only requires wireless beacons around the perimeter of the lawn, which is much simpler and more adaptable. Someone will have to guide the mower once around the lawn using a mobile application, to teach it where to go and what to avoid (typically, a flower bed). The battery life lasts one hour and a full recharge takes two hours. If the battery drains midway, Terra will return to its charger and resume later where it left off. Naturally, the robot is impervious to bad weather and impact. iRobot says Terra will first launch in Germany this year. The price hasn’t been announced yet, but Terra's comparable devices range from US$ 1,000 to US$ 3,000.
Gadgets and gizmos have gradually worked their way into our homes. When they break down or need upgrading, we discard them. But there are unforeseen hazards to throwing out (or recycling, if you have a green conscience) a connected object such as a light bulb or a camera. Even without an electrical current or a connection to the internet, these gadgets hold important information, such as your Wi-Fi network’s password. Because these objects are all-too-often developed without much concern for security, these data are usually unencrypted (shocked gasps).
Samsung has announced the arrival of a eUFS storage chip (embedded Universal Flash Storage) for phones, with a capacity of one terabyte, which is a worldwide first. This new chip is the same size as the previous one, which was 512 GB, and offers up to 1,000 megabytes per second in read speed, which is ten times faster than a typical microSD card. The first phone to offer such a storage capacity will probably be the Galaxy S10 whose release is imminent.
Apple News, the mobile news application launched in 2015 with iOS 9, was initially exclusive to customers in the United States. Since then, it has been made available in Great Britain and in Australia with iOS 9.1. Today, Apple announced that News will be offered in Canada with iOS 12.2, in English and in French. In the notes accompanying the beta version of iOS 12.2, the company writes: “Apple News will be available in Canada with iOS 12.2, and is now available for Canadian users on the developer beta. Apple News in Canada supports both English and French. Readers can access a bilingual experience when they follow a channel in a second language.”
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new technology for 3D printing that is 100 times faster than conventional additive printing. If you’ve ever stood around a 3D printer watching it build your object at an agonizingly slow pace, you’ll be bowled over by the video below. The technology solidifies liquid resin using lights of two different wavelengths (365 and 458 nm) to control where the resin hardens and where it stays fluid. The key to success is the chemistry of the methacrylate resin. A photoactivator hardens the resin wherever one of the lights shines while a photoinhibitor, which responds to the different wavelength from the other light, prevents curing.
DxOMark is known for rigourously testing the quality of cameras and smartphones, but until now, it had ignored the front-facing cameras, mainly used for selfies. The new DxOMark Selfie listing, which scores the 12 most popular devices (for now), ranks the Google Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 at the top of the list, with 92 points, followed by the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 (84 points), the iPhone XS Max (82 points) and the Galaxy S9 Plus (81). At the bottom of the list is the Intex Aqua Selfie, with just 22 points (this phone, unknown to us up until now, is an inexpensive device specifically developed for the Indian market). DxOMark also assessed video performance; scores are similar to those for stills.
Since Apple killed off the audio jack, smart phones have steadily been evolving towards a portless future. Audio jacks are becoming extinct, and the “Home” button now seems to be at risk. Chinese company Meizu has taken the trend to its natural endpoint with Meizu Zero, a radical new telephone with no ports or buttons, proudly touted as “the world’s first holeless phone”. That may be stretching it a little, since it does have some (very discreet) holes on the bottom for the mic. This elegant, solid ceramic device with a 6-inch AMOLED display points the way to the future. Not surprisingly for a quasi-holeless device, the Zero is rated IP68. No price or release date has been announced, but with the Mobile World Congress on February 25th in Barcelona, more information is sure to be forthcoming.
OLED (Organic light-emitting diode) screens for laptops are coming sooner than expected. Samsung’s Displays division announced that next month, it will start producing a 15.6-inch, 4K OLED display for premium laptops (OLED displays being much more expensive than LCD ones). The screen has a brightness range of 0.0005 to 600 nits, and its spectrum of 34 million colours is double that of a standard 15-inch LCD. Samsung claims that its panel can produce blacks that are 200 times darker than those of LCD panels, and whites that are twice as bright. It is not yet known which manufacturers will put this display into their machines this year.
Nostalgia seems to be a lucrative niche in technology gadgets ... The legendary 2004 Motorola Razr will be making a comeback as a smart phone, for the price of ... hang tight ... USD 1,500. Motorola Mobility, which Lenovo bought out from Google in 2014, is determined to leverage the brand’s legacy. According to the Wall Street Journal, this phone could be released next month and would be exclusive to Verizon. We have already seen resurrections of old designs as with the Nokia 3310, but never in a price range that would place the new Razr in direct competition with the high end of the market.
A youtuber, publishing under the pseudonym Electronic Grenade, designed an absurd laptop--a conceptual work of art, in fact. It’s a mouse that houses a computer with a keyboard and a screen, and the mouse-house doubles as the mouse for the mini computer. The machine consists of a Raspberry Pi Zero W card, a 1.5 inch OLED screen, a Bluetooth mini keyboard, a 3D-printed shell (the inventor did not find anything large enough to house the hardware on the mouse market), and of course the mechanics and sensors specific to a normal mouse. Electronic Grenade promises that a video will come out soon that will detail the manufacturing process, if you want to build one for yourself.
In a year from now, on January 14, 2020, Microsoft will no longer offer any technical support or security updates for Windows 7. Launched in 2009, Windows 7 came with regular support until January 2015, the year Windows 10 appeared. Since then, the operating system got along with “extended support”, which only remedied security vulnerabilities. According to NetMarketShare, as of the last quarter of 2018, Windows 7 is still installed on 44.2% of PCs, roughly the same figure as Windows 10 (44.4%). This suggests that many PCs will be exposed to security risks next year. Almost 5% of PCs still run on Windows XP ...
Bocco Emo is the new generation of emotive robots by the Tokyo start-up Yukai, the same one that designed Qoobo, the petting robot. This new little robot expresses its empathy through gestures and sounds, in response to the user’s voice or text messages. It can also react to emojis. When it responds to upbeat messages, its cheeks glow green, and it nods enthusiastically and babbles happily. For negative messages that contain words such as “tired,” its cheeks turn red, it lowers its head and emits a sad groan. It doesn’t require a trigger word to activate because the device can detect the presence of a person. It will be available fall 2019. The price will likely compare to the previous generation, around JPY 30,000 (CAD 360). Kawaii!
All Lovot wants is to be loved. And to this end, Kaname Hayashi, a former developer of the humanoid robot Pepper, made the robot irresistible, like a hybrid between a stuffed penguin and a teletubby baby with large dreamy eyes. It doesn’t even speak, it just makes cute cooing sounds. Its only purpose is to elicit affection. You can’t use it to place an order on Amazon with Alexa. It doesn’t monitor your home. “This robot won’t do any of your work. In fact, it might just get in the way,” Hayashi told Bloomberg. “Everything about this robot is designed to create attachment.”
With the long awaited ramp-up of its 10nm production, Intel was finally able to present some exciting new features at CES Las Vegas that will come out in 2019. The major announcement was the release of Ice Lake chips based on the new Sunny Cove microarchitecture. Look for laptops with Ice Lake chips to hit the market this year. This family of processors is an important development for Intel after years of delays and difficulties with 10nm technology. The company originally planned to introduce the 10nm processors, then dubbed Cannon Lake, in 2016.
Designed by a French company, the connected sofa that we were all waiting for, that vibrates, lights up, activates Alexa, and recharges your phone, was presented at the latest CES in Las Vegas. The Smart Sofa uses several technologies, including Bluetooth, WiFi and Android OS. The sensory and immersive system is recessed under the couch and includes a vibrating seat, adjustable lighting with LED lamps, two speakers, a subwoofer and an amplifier. Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa smart assistants are integrated into the armrest, which also contains the Qi wireless phone charger. The price of the Smart Sofa starts at 2,340 USD for a loveseat, 3,050 USD for a three-seater and 3,500 USD for a four-seater.
Area-51m, unveiled at CES in Las Vegas, is going for the gamers’ hardware dream: a game-oriented laptop that lets them swap out the processor (CPU), the graphics card (GPU), the storage (HDD) and the memory (RAM). In short, a laptop that offers all the flexibility and scalability of a desktop computer. In addition, the internal architecture has been designed specifically to facilitate the disassembly / assembly of various components. However, its autonomy is not great and its weight is significant (nearly 4 kg), which is certainly not the ideal computer to use while traveling by train or by plane. Area-51m needs to stay close to a power outlet. Dell’s subsidiary does not yet know if there even is a market for the machine; this is just a feeler.
Some people like to have more than one keyboard, for example if you need to write in two different languages. You may also want to customize your keyboard to suit your particular needs. At the CES in Las Vegas, a French company presented an elegant solution: on the Nemeio mechanical keyboard, each of the 81 keys is equipped with an electronic ink display, which makes it completely customizable. On the fly, you can switch from a qwerty keyboard to a Japanese or an Arabic keyboard. You can also map your favorite software feature to any key. Because you can adjust the keys’ display size and contrast, this keyboard is also a welcome aid for the seeing-impaired.
To mark the end of the year, Google is offering a little game in the form of a multiple-choice quiz that lets you test your knowledge (or your hunches) about the most popular Internet searches in 2018. Did users google Justin Trudeau or Justin Bieber? Laurel or Yanny? You have 10 seconds to answer each of the 20 questions for the Game of the Year, but three strikes, you’re out. And since the questions get increasingly difficult, we doubt you will get to the twentieth level. But the really interesting thing is the fact that the voice that comes with the game was created using WaveNet technology, a neural network developed by DeepMind and trained with a large volume of voice samples. You can adjust the speed and tone of voice at the beginning of the game.
Apple confirmed for the editors of The Verge that some of its iPad Pros, 2018 vintage, come with a slight curvature to the aluminum chassis. But nothing to worry about, according to the company: this is a “side effect of the manufacturing process” and should not worsen over time or negatively affect the performance of the iPad in any way. In other words, Apple does not consider this curvature a defect. However, customers whose iPad does not sit stable on a flat surface find that it is indeed a very real manufacturing defect, and an unacceptable one for a product of this price. Because this curvature does not affect all devices, we cannot really agree on standards ... Chris Welch aptly notes: “Even if only cosmetic, the issue is out of character for Apple, which has rooted its reputation in manufacturing devices with best-in-industry fit and finish.”
According to Bloomberg, next year, LG Electronics plans to start selling a 65-inch TV screen that can, at the touch of a button, roll up and disappear into a box. The device uses OLED technology, which makes for screens that are much more flexible than LCDs. LG showed a functional prototype at CES 2018 last January. The South Korean conglomerate LG is banking on these so-called “rollable” televisions and OLED screens to revive its consumer electronics business, which is struggling in the face of increased Chinese competition that is pulling prices down. OLED screens accounted for only 1.1% of the market this year. No prices announced to date.
Nvidia researchers have created an artificial intelligence capable of generating realistic portraits of imaginary individuals through a generative antagonist network (GAN). Such systems have been generating human faces for a while now, but never with this kind of result. The researchers tested the same model on a slew of cat photos, but strangely, kitties seem more resistant to random generation. The researchers note in their paper: “Cats continue to be a difficult dataset due to the high intrinsic variation in poses, zoom levels, and backgrounds.” In short, it takes a certain spatial uniformity for the GAN to shine.
Serve is an experimental robot by Postmates, an American courier delivery company. The future of this kind of delivery robot outside of highly protected environments is doubtful, but with its design that is indubitably reminiscent of Wall-E, its big round eyes and its yellow body, it’s fetching. The robot can carry up to 22 kg of goods and can travel up to 50 km on a single charge. When Serve arrives at your home or office, you use your phone or a code to unlock the compartment and collect your packages.
At its re:Invent 2018 event, Amazon Web Services introduced several new features, including its hybrid cloud offering, Outposts, which allows businesses to have a piece of AWS’s cloud in-house, in a shared space, or in a data center of their choice. Like the Snowball and Snowmobile, this is a “physical” service: Amazon sends you racks of servers that you rent. This solution makes it possible to use the same tools, hardware and functionalities as on Amazon’s cloud. It streamlines the management of a hybrid cloud for companies that want to keep storage and computing power on site. AWS Outposts come in two flavors to suit the control tools and APIs needed: VMware Cloud and native AWS.
SplashData analyzed more than 5 million passwords that were leaked on the Internet, and just like the seven previous years the company has reviewed the data, people continue to set predictable, easy-to-guess passwords that rely on strings of letters and numbers that are close to each other on computer keyboards, according to a news release. In addition to perennial favourites, such as “1234567” and “12345678,” the list of ill-advised passwords for 2018 included newcomers “!@#$%^&*” (the special characters that correspond to 12345678, ranked 20th) and “donald,” ranked 23rd.
To run an online game, you need a suite of services that goes beyond the functionality of a game engine like Unreal. Epic Games has developed and intensively field-tested such a suite of services with Fortnite, its worldwide hit that brings together more than 200 million players on 7 platforms. The company has announced that in 2019, it will make the various development tools of this suite available free of charge. This will start with a C SDK encapsulating online services, together with Unreal Engine and Unity integrations. This SDK will work with all gaming engines (not just Unreal Engine) and will support multiple login methods (Facebook, Google, Xbox Live, PSN, Nintendo and Epic accounts). It will offer basic multiplatform features (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch) to persistently recognize players across multiple sessions and devices, identify friends, and manage free and paid item entitlements. Subsequently, multiplatform voice communication functions, matchmaking and cross-platform games, cloud storage of game data, etc., will be available. It’s not clear why Epic has embarked on this adventure, but developers will quickly appreciate the value of these services.
Puma is reissuing a limited edition of its RS-Computer running shoe, originally released in 1986. These shoes, which wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Stranger Things, had a strange protrusion on the heel of the right shoe that housed an electronic pedometer recording the number of steps and time spent exercising. Two buttons made it possible to test the operation and to dump the memory (black “On-Test” and red “Reset”). Between the buttons, a cover concealed a 4-pin connector. A 4/16 pin cable connected the shoe to the best microcomputers at the time (Apple IIe, Commodore 64/128, IBM PC). Software on the computer then calculated the distance and calories from the recorded data. Of course, the reissue of RS-Computer is getting a technological update (we’re pretty sure that your computer doesn’t have the appropriate 16-pin I/O port). The new version includes an accelerometer, LED indicators, a USB port for charging and Bluetooth to connect the wireless shoe to your phone. The application will have a retro look to evoke the original monochrome software. The price has not been announced.
Many key players in consumer electronics are trying to anticipate the effects of the trade war between the United States and China. In order to avoid taxation on its Chinese-made cameras upon entry into the United States, GoPro announced that it would move camera production for its main market, the United States, out of China. Cameras for other markets, however, will continue to be produced in China. Brian McGee, Vice-President of GoPro, said the move shouldn’t be too expensive because the company owns the production tools. According to a survey conducted in Shanghai by the US Chamber of Commerce in China, one-third of the 430 companies polled are considering outsourcing components or assembling outside the country due to pressure from US tariffs.
Cryptocurrencies are undoubtedly an idea before its time, but their potential has yet to show its value. These past weeks have been brutal on the stock market and cryptocurrencies are slipping as well. Ethereum network’s currency, ether, fell below USD 100 for the first time since May 2017. Its value has dropped 93% from its peak in January just above $1,400. The bitcoin is similarly sagging. It is now trading at around $3,700, down 80% from its high of almost $20,000 last December.
Qualcomm officially unveiled its new Snapdragon 855 SoC. It will ship with the next generation of top-of-the-line Android phones, most likely starting with the Samsung Galaxy S10. As with Apple’s A12, its 7 nanometer process will make the processor more energy efficient compared to the previous 10 nm. According to Qualcomm, the Kryo 485 CPU’s eight cores, which are set up for 2,84 GHz, will bring a 45 percent performance increase. The Adreno 640 GPU replaces the 630 and will offer 20 percent more graphics performance. This new Snapdragon doesn’t incorporate 5G functionality, but a separate add, the Snapdragon X50 modem, will enable 5G support for those phones that need it. On the other hand, the built-in X24 modem is compatible with the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. As for cameras, the system is shifting from JPEG to HEIF for its image format. Apple already made this transition two years ago, and Android 9 Pie added system level support for HEIF.
A startup in San Francisco purchased the rights for the Palm trademark from TCL last year to launch a mini Android phone named Palm Phone, which bears no relation to the old products associated with the brand that went under in 2010. The device is only available through Verizon as an add-on to a current phone, sharing the same number as the main phone. This gadget proves useful when you don’t want to haul a heavy, bulky phone--when you’re out playing sports, for example. Though it really is tiny (50 x 97 millimeters, and 7.4 mm thin), it runs a full version of Android 8.1 and all the apps from the Google Play Store. Obviously, it has a very small 3.3-inch LCD display. With a Snapdragon 435 processor paired to 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the device’s performance is on the low end. It was never meant for intensive use. Early market tests seem to point to battery life issues. Reviews are mixed. The Verge finds it clever and entertaining, while Ars Technica calls it utterly sub-par.
There’s a lot of talk about self-driving cars, but the revolution has also spread to other modes of transport. In Norway, the Folgefonn, an 85-meter ferry belonging to the Norled company, autonomously sailed to three different ports of call. All maneuvers, including the approach and docking, were accomplished without human intervention, which is a worldwide first for a vessel of this size. The operator simply selected the “Sail” command, which authorized computers to take the vessel on a preestablished route with waypoints. The test was conducted by the Finnish tech group Wärtsilä under the supervision of the Norwegian Maritime Authority. This system doesn’t take away the need to have humans on watch aboard ship for safety reasons, or that of having personnel in the machine room. Other companies such as the Norwegian consortium Kongsberg are working on container-shipping projects that would navigate autonomously with electrical propulsion. They could revolutionize the transport of goods if they can demonstrate their performance and safety.
DJI introduced a new mini camera mounted on a gimbal called The Osmo Pocket. It’s 12.2 cm tall and weighs just 116 g, which means it’s so portable that you wouldn’t think twice about bringing it along. Its small size has no bearing on its functionality: a 1/2.3-inch sensor records 4K video up to 60fps at 100Mbps. The 80-degree field of view is like a focal length of around 28 mm in 35 mm format equivalent. This means that the videos don’t have the GoPro feel that you’d find in the wide-angle action cams. The handle houses a battery with a life of up to two hours and a small touch screen to change the settings, including several tracking modes. A smartphone can attach to a connector on the side of the Osmo Pocket, either directly (Lightning or USB-C) or via WiFi with an optional module, to set up a larger screen and a wider range of settings.
Microsoft has won a $480 million contract to develop a HoloLens-type augmented reality prototype for use in combat and military training for the US Army. According to Bloomberg, the agreement could eventually lead to the purchase of over 100,000 units that would “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.” The US and Israeli military have already used HoloLens for training, but its use in combat would be a big step forward for Microsoft’s technology. The US Army has requested the integration of both thermal and night vision to the current HoloLens functions. “Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions,” said a Microsoft spokesperson in an email statement. Other companies like MagicLeap have also bid to hook this very large contract.
Samsung just revealed its new solid state drive (SSD) lineup that comes in three flavors and doesn’t break the bank: 1, 2 and 4 TB. The 2.5-inch form with SATA interface fits into most laptops and desktops. On the performance front, the sequential read and write speeds are up to 550 and 520 MB per second, respectively. The 860 QVO drives will be available worldwide in December, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of US$ 150 for the 1TB option. They’re not quite as fast as the 860 Pro series, but you’re spending half as much. (The 1TB 860 Pro costs $300.)
If you’ve been following us, you know how much we’re liking SpotMini, Boston Dynamic’s four-legged critter. So we sat up when we heard of the idea to transform it into some creepy centaur. The Italian startup Youbionic came up with a torso and two arms with hands that mount to the back of a SpotMini to give it dexterity that it doesn’t ordinarily have. The product hasn’t been marketed, but YouBionic is selling the blueprints for 3D models that you can print and assemble yourself for $179. Then besides the 3D printing, you also have to plan to purchase the Actuonix actuators and the necessary electronics.
A trio at Osaka University has been working on an android head-and-face since 2011. They’re making progress. By deforming 116 micropoints of its facial anatomy, they can raise its eyelids, pucker a lip, or release all features of the face. It explores more nuanced expressions, ranging from quizzical, to thoughtful, to pondering, to sly, to relaxed and alert. It doesn’t utter a sound, so watching it is oddly meditative. If all children were this quiet, I might have one. Until then, a robot head will do.
Nera is an electric motorcycle that is entirely 3D printed. Like the bicycle tire we wrote about in May, this motorcycle is the work of BigRep, a German company that distributes big Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers, which can produce objects as large as a cubic meter. Everything but the bike’s electrical components were 3D-printed, including the airless tires, rims, frame, fork, and seat. The in-house designer Marco Mattia Cristofori authored the blueprints for this futurist creation. The Nera measures 190 x 90 x 55 cm and weighs 60 kilos. Unfortunately, the motorcycle isn’t for sale — it’s just a demo to show off the wonders possible on the BigRep printers.
In an interview with Axios on HBO, Tim Cook defended Apple’s decision to use Google as the default search engine. This decision doesn’t jibe with the company’s strong rhetoric on the protection of personal data and private life, considering that Google’s business model is to make money using users’ data to target ads. “I think their search engine is the best. Look at what we’ve done with the controls we’ve built in. We have private web browsing. We have an intelligent tracker prevention. What we’ve tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through the course of their day. It’s not a perfect thing. I’d be the very first person to say that. But it goes a long way to helping.”
In a post published on his personal blog, Bill Gates admits liking Silicon Valley, the popular HBO series that follows the tribulations of the startup Pied Piper. “The show is a parody, so it exaggerates things, but like all great parodies it captures a lot of truths. Most of the different characters you see in the show feel very familiar to me. The programmers are smart, super-competitive even with their friends, and a bit clueless when it comes to social cues. Personally, I identify most with Richard, the founder of Pied Piper, who is a great programmer but has to learn some hard lessons about managing people.” However, the Microsoft founder does have one little critique. He wishes the series didn’t give the impression that large companies like Hooli are usually inept while the small ones such as Pied Piper are always nimble.
KOSEN are schools in Japan that teach technology. They offer a 5-year engineering program for 15-year-olds graduating from high school. Teams of students representing various KOSEN schools throughout the country compete on a given theme at an annual robotics meet, the KOSEN Robocon. This year, the challenge was throwing a bottle, riffing off the popular bottle-flip internet challenge. You have to hand it to the students for their creative achievements.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has launched Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+, a single-board nanocomputer using an ARM processor. Its goal is to offer something more affordable and less cumbersome than its Pi 3 Model B+. Introduced at US$ 25, it’s 10 bucks less than the Model B+ and its footprint is also smaller (56 x 35 mm vs 85 x 56 mm). As with the Model B+, it uses the same quad-core Broadcom 1.4 GHz processor and is compatible with Bluetooth 4.2 as well as with Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Cutting corners was inevitable to get to a smaller and less costly card. Gone is the ethernet port (Wi-Fi is now your only option to connect to the internet), the RAM is cut in half (522 MB instead of one GB), and there is now just one USB port where there were four.
Microsoft launched a preview of PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, a new Azure-based service that gives game developers tools that ease many things that are normally a tedious aspect of multiplayer game development: managing players’ identities and profiles, matchmaking (pairing similarly skilled players — based on the same algorithms as Xbox Live), rankings, statistics, etc. The service also offers dynamic cloud-based infrastructure: you can assign a number of servers by geographical area and set limits to stop things from getting too expensive. Earlier this year, Microsoft bought PlayFab, a Seattle-based company developing cloud-based tools to support game developers, which at the time were AWS-based.
Just over a month since its initial release, Microsoft is making the Windows 10 October Update (the new name for the old “Fall Creators Update”) once again available, but only for select customers (those skilled users who manually tell their system to check for updates). The update was withdrawn shortly after its initial release due to the discovery of a major bug causing data loss for some users: the program could erase gigabytes of personal documents, images, and music files without warning. This panic-inducing event led some to doubt Microsoft’s QA and testing procedures.
HTTP, aka Hypertext Transfer Protocol, the foundation of the World Wide Web, will abandon its TCP data transport layer. Since the TCP/IP Model has been fundamental to the Internet since its inception, the change is significant. In its next version, called HTTP/3, the hypertext transfer protocol will use QUIC as a transport layer, a protocol based on UDP created by Google and released in 2013. TCP is a very reliable protocol that ensures perfect data-packet transmission between servers and clients. The flipside is the substantial back-and-forth between the client and the server to make sure that the data is correctly transmitted—a task that weighs down the server and slows transmission speeds. UDP is a communication protocol defined in 1980 that is simpler and lighter than TCP, but also less reliable (no handshaking or error correction among other things). Google’s QUIC enhances UDP with new functions to improve its performance and reliability, without the TCP’s constraints.
Japan’s Advanced Industrial Science and Technology Institute (AIST) has developed a humanoid robot able to take on a variety of tasks typically performed on construction and renovation sites. Called HRP-5P, it can be seen putting up drywall in a video (link below). The work, though slow, seems satisfactory. The robot isn’t being presented by its development team as a marketable product, but rather as a development platform that could eventually lead to the use of robots on construction sites – for buildings, but also ships and aircraft. Given Japan’s ageing population and its disdain for manual labour, this type of robot is seen as a solution to its labour shortages.
In 2017, Samsung said it would launch a foldable Galaxy Note in 2018, while cautioning that there were still “challenges to overcome”. The challenges must be stubborn, since no folding phone looks to be launched this year. However, on Wednesday, at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, Justin Denison, Senior Vice-President of Mobile Product Marketing, unveiled a prototype of the future device. Called Infinity Flex Display, the device is both a smartphone and a tablet: the flexible, OLED 7-inch display (1536 x 2152 pixels) folds over itself like a book with no central hinge or crease and, when closed, sports a second, smartphone-like, 4.6-inch cover display (840 x 1960) on the outside. The screens work together seamlessly: an application opened on the cover display displays on the large screen when the Infinity Flex Display is folded out. That’s all we know for the time being; the price and the launch date haven’t been announced.
Netgear unveiled its first 802.11ax-compatible routers, the new standard recently renamed Wi-Fi 6. Though the Nighthawk AX8 and Nighthawk AX12 are very high-end routers, we’re not impressed so much with their function as with their form: with their sleek “wings”, they look like they’ve come straight out of a science-fiction film. But the angled wings actually do serve a function, hiding and protecting the antennas, turning an eyesore into an objet d’art. The AX8 will be available in November for US$400, and the more powerful AX12, in Spring 2019.
Yongnuo, a Hong Kong photographic equipment manufacturer, unveiled a mirrorless camera that runs on Android 7.1 and is EF-compatible, which means you can use it with any high-end Canon lense. Temporarily called “YN450”, the device offers a 16-megapixel Four Thirds sensor that can shoot 4K video at 30 fps. The back of the device is nearly entirely covered with a 5-inch touchscreen display. Yongnuo has launched a naming contest for the YN450, which looks like a big lens bolted onto a smartphone. The date of availability and price have not been announced.
At Microsoft’s Future Decoded conference taking place in London, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that underwater server farms are part of the company's plans for future data centers. He cites the proximity of humans to water: half of the world's population lives within 200 km of a coast. Being closer to users ensures lower latencies. Low latencies are particularly important for real-time services such as Microsoft's forthcoming Xcloud game streaming service. The other big advantage Nadella cited is the speed at which servers can be deployed this way. No need for cost-intensive real estate and infrastructure: just submerge and plug in a pod full of servers. These pods are designed as a sealed unit, deployed underwater for five years before being brought back up to the surface and replaced. Naturally enough, the pod uses water cooling, another cost-saving benefit. One could imagine powering them with offshore windmills or even submarine water turbines that use tidal energy.
The European Union has launched the iBorderCtrl project to further monitor third-country nationals who want to cross the borders of the Schengen area. Users will interact with a digital border guard that will direct them to enter their passports and visas for digitization and ask them the usual questions. Using AI, the system will analyse the user’s microexpressions to determine whether they’re lying. iBorderCtrl will evaluate the risk that the traveler poses and will decide whether to issue them a QR code that will let them pass through. A six-month trial will soon take place at four border crossing points in Hungary, Greece and Latvia. For the first subjects in this experiment, it’s likely that the experience will be as--if not more--stressful than it was when dealing with a human border guard.
IBM announced its intent to acquire Linux’s Red Hat for the handsome sum of $34 billion. Red Hat, started in 1994, made a name for itself with its eponymous Linux distribution which was widely used until its phase-out in 2004. With the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution, the company focused on its corporate market while redirecting its general audience to Fedora, a crowd-sourced distribution model that received Red Hat support. For years, Red Hat has positioned itself as a key player in the business of software and tools for servers and cloud computing. This is what IBM aims to acquire, to beef up its cloud-computing product line in competition with the two heavyweights in the ring, Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure). IBM made an offer of $190 per issued and outstanding Red Hat share. Red Hat stock closed at $116.68 on Friday before the sale was announced. If it comes to term, this transaction will be the third largest in US tech history (behind the merger-acquisition of Dell and AMC for $67 billion and JDS Uniphase’s purchase of SDL optical components for $41 billion). Red Hat will become a standalone business unit within the Hybrid Cloud division. A bold move for the venerable International Business Machines Corporation.
You find cats irresistible, but the hair, the scratched furniture, the soiled litter, and the smell of cod liver cat food aren’t your thing? Here’s a solution: a cat robot that eats nothing but electricity. Nybble is a feline robot with a structure made of thin layers of laser-cut plywood. A custom Arduino-compatible microcontroller with an ATmega328P chip controls its movements. An optional Raspberry Pi can be mounted on top of Nybble's back, to help Nybble with perception and decision. You can program it in your favorite language, and direct Nybble to walk around simply by sending short commands, such as "walk" or "turn left"! Petoi Nybble, developed by Rongzhong Li, is an Indiegogo project that’s already raised US$77,000 on a goal of 50,000. The first shipments are expected April 2019. Nybble builds on the previous version, OpenCat. Meow.
Following a rough patch caused by CEO Elon Musk’s series of bad PR moves, Tesla finally has some good news: it’s in the black. Last Wednesday, the electric car manufacturer published its quarterly returns, unveiling revenues of close to 6.8 billion dollars, far more than the forecast 6.33 billion. It also recorded a net profit of 312 million dollars, compared to its 619 million dollar loss this time last year. The turnaround is driven by surging production of the Model 3. In terms of units sold in the US, the Model 3 comes in fifth place behind Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Honda Accord and Toyota Corolla. It’s the highest-grossing car, at a little over 3 billion USD. The Toyota Camry retails at between 24,000 and 29,000 USD, while the average sale price for a Model 3 is 59,000 USD. The Model 3 has captured 76% of sales for pure electric vehicles, but it won’t be long before the big manufacturers enter that market, putting up tougher competition.
Last June, we reported that Apple was working on iOS 12 so that law enforcement would find it much harder to hack locked iPhones. A favourite among police forces, the GrayKey device, which connects to the Lightning port to unlock iPhones, was in the Apple engineers’ cross-hairs. It seems they’ve succeeded. According to Forbes magazine, Graykey can no longer get past the iOS 12 wall. The GrayKey device can only do what’s called a “partial extraction”: unencrypted files and some metadata, such as file sizes and folder structures. “Give it time and I am sure a ‘workaround’ will be developed … and then the cycle will repeat. Someone is always building a better mousetrap, whether it’s Apple or someone trying to defeat device security,” confided John Sherwin, police officer in Rochester, who went on to confirm that iOS 12 was preventing GrayKey from unlocking iPhones.
Just like we do, IEEE Spectrum magazine loves robots. Its team just launched a new web site featuring about 200 robots that aims to be a core reference for robotics enthusiasts. For each robot, you’ll find a description along with photos and even videos. The collection includes Unimate (1961), the first industrial robot, and Vector, Anki’s super-cute mini-robot that came out this year. Visitors are encouraged to grade the robots’ appearance, which generates a classification of the creepiest robots. IEEE Spectrum will regularly add to the collection, to maintain its preeminence on the topic. “It is great to see all those robots, photos and videos, organized in one place,” says Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics and a robot legend. “A good way to keep track of what is going on.” And who knows, in a few generations, this website might serve as a family photo album for nostalgic robots in search of their roots, back when they still depended on humans.
As soon as it appeared in 1997, Winamp was the most popular free MP3 player on Windows and also the most downloaded freeware. Its creator, Nullsoft, was bought by AOL in 1999 for around 100 million. Since then, Winamp has been in a slow tailspin, primarily due to bad management decisions and a culture shock between AOL bureaucrats and the libertarian techno geeks at Nullsoft. Apple’s launch of the iPod digital media player in 2001 didn’t help much. Version 3 in 2002 was the next nail in the coffin because most users preferred the previous versions. Winamp could have disappeared in 2005 following the exit of its creators, but for more-or-less obvious reasons, AOL kept the software alive for years. It even adapted the software to Android (2010) and more surprisingly, to MacOS (2011). In November 2013, lacking satisfactory revenues and unable to find a buyer even after discounting it to 5 million, AOL dropped the axe. Winamp’s site was unplugged the following month and the software is done for. And finally, the software was sold in 2014 to Radionomy, a Belgian company that runs an online service where users can create their own streaming radio station. Until last month, there was no further news of Winamp, but an update to the desktop player leaked last month, bringing it from version 5.666 (the last version dating back to 2013) to 5.8. This version solves compatibility problems with Windows 10 and eliminates the paid options — news that will be enthusiastically received by the community who remained loyal to the old software.
Apple is paying $300 million in cash for a portion of Dialog, including licensing power-management technologies, assets, and more than 300 employees. The company will advance an additional $300 million cash flow as an upfront for the components it will purchase over the next three years. The UK-based chipmaker specializes in power management, and all iPhones are loaded with a Dialog chip. Apple will run some of Dialog’s facilities in Livorno (Italy), Swindon (UK), Nabern and Neuaubing (Germany). Apple is earnest about gaining some autonomy in terms of processors and eager to rid itself of suppliers such as Qualcomm, Broadcom, and, maybe Intel for its phones.
Mochibot is a strange and remarkable robot made of 32 individually actuated telescoping legs, developed by a team of researchers from the Keiō and Tokyo universities. Its shape—which looks like a sphere when it’s at rest—is based on a rhombic triacontahedron, which is a polyhedron with 32 vertices and 30 faces made of rhombuses (or rhombi). Each leg has three sections to extend it from 25 to 50 cm. The autonomy of each leg’s length enables the robot to keep its balance, to move smoothly and continuously in any direction, and to better deal with varied terrain. It looks like a big sea urchin moving in fast forward. Its motion is so complex that it’s taken machine-learning to figure out the algorithms. Mochibot weighs 10 kilograms, including the batteries.
Since the departure of Steve Ballmer, who was of the opinion that Linux was the pox for anything related to intellectual property, it’s been a veritable honeymoon between Microsoft and Linus Torvald’s brainchild. Latest installment in this new love affair: the Redmond firm announces that it signed up to participate in the Open Invention Network, a group of about 2,400 companies that have agreed to cross-license their patents on a royalty-free basis for use by the “Linux System”, a collection of projects including the Linux kernel, many tools and utilities built on top of Linux, and large parts of Android. Member companies promise not to assert their patent rights against the Linux Community. Microsoft has made billions from its extensive library of software patents. Notably, a number of Android vendors, including Samsung, pay the company a royalty on each phone they ship with exFAT file system. Giving up its claim to those revenues is sign of a sea change, not only for its business model but also its corporate culture. By joining OIN, Microsoft may be able to convince even the most jaundiced skeptics that it really does love Linux and open source.
Google just unveiled its third-generation Pixel 3 and 3 XL smartphones. The exterior design has evolved since the previous generation. Though the dimensions are the same, the aluminum back has been replaced by a glass panel and a big notch now features on the front face. As can be expected, the technical specs have more punch. Last year’s Snapdragon 835 processor has given way to the new 845 version. The screen and camera quality are improved. A wide-angle selfie-mode camera makes it a lot easier to take group shots. Both devices are now compatible with the Qi-standard wireless charger. The Pixel 3 runs Android 9 Pie. The whole point of a Google phone is to have the latest and greatest Android version. It comes in 3 colors (white, black, pale pink). Pixel 3 (64 GB) is offered at 800 USD and 3 XL (64 GB) at 900 USD, now available for preorder. You can add a storage capacity of up to 128 GB to either device for an extra 100 USD.
Though it’s been quiet, Google Plus, the social network launched in 2011 to counter Facebook’s dominance, still exists. But not for much longer. After the Wall Street Journal reported that Google exposed the private details of some 500,000 Google+ users from 2015 to March 2018, Google has decided to take the axe to its ailing social network. During this period, the APIs made it possible for developers to view profile information not marked as public, including full names, email addresses, birth dates, gender, profile photos, places lived, occupation, and relationship status. Furthermore, what’s shocking about this whole business is that Google opted not to report the lapse, in part out of concern for the reputational damage this disclosure would cause. Over the next 10 months, Google plans to retire the consumer version. It will continue to make Google+ available to enterprise users.
A group of health researchers in India have tried to tally the death toll from selfie taking, counting 259 deaths worldwide from October 2011 to November 2017. This probably underestimates the casualties, as the researchers went only from news reports. The top three causes of death were, in order, drowning (carried away by riptides, falling off a boat, slipping off a shore or a bridge, etc), transportation related (mostly being hit by trains), and falling off of things, such as a cliff edge or a balcony. Unsurprisingly, the death rate increased over the reference period, with just a few reports in the first few years, and nearly 100 each in 2016 and 2017. As is the case for most accidental deaths, men were overrepresented, accounting for 72.5% of the fatalities. The mean death-by-selfie age was 23 years old, and the vast majority of deaths befell those aged 10 to 29. The US stands out by its number of selfie fatalities involving firearms. Handling a loaded gun while loading a photo to Instagram—not a good idea.
According to a report by Sandvine, 15% of the total volume of data traffic is consumed by Netflix—an indicator of how video dominates the internet. And right behind Netflix’s number-one position worldwide--yet more video services. In second place, with 13% of the bandwidth, is what Sandvine calls the “HTTP Media Stream” category that includes streaming services and video messaging traffic. Coming in third with just about 11percent, YouTube. Add to that MPEG-TS and Amazon Prime, which comes in seventh with 3.7%, and you’ve already used up 45% of the bandwidth for streaming. Good old HTTP surfing on a browser now only makes up 3.2% of all data.
The WiFi Alliance consortium has revised its naming conventions for Wi-Fi standards to make them easier to tell apart. Until now, the versions had convoluted names such as 802.11ac or 802.11g, which were difficult to memorize. Going forward, we’ll have a simpler, more intuitive version number, which will make it easier to tell that Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac, the current version) is more powerful and recent than Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n, the older standard dating back to 2009). The upcoming standard (802.11ax) will be rebranded Wi-Fi 6. Consumers will encounter these new naming conventions starting with the Wi-Fi 6 compatible routers being released over the next year.
HP unveiled a new ultra-thin laptop computer, usable as a tablet, with a leather cover on the outside. Integral to the design, the thick leather sheet is not removable. It even has a functional purpose: it attaches the screen to the body, acting as a stiff hinge at its midpoint. This is a striking feature. The Spectre Folio has an IPS 13-inch (1920 x 1080) screen with Low Power Display Technology that consumes just one watt per hour, for an impressive 18 hours of battery life. Two models are on offer, one with a Core i5 processor for US$1,300 and the other with a Core i7 processor for US$1,500. The other technical specs are identical: both come with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, etc. If you don’t have an ethical problem with dead animals, this object makes a statement, and an elegant one at that.
A recent report revealed that the voting machines used in 26 American States as well as in the District of Columbia have a serious security flaw. Election Systems & Software’s Model 650’s update procedures pose a security risk that had been identified in a report commissioned by Ohio’s secretary of State back in… 2007. While Election Systems & Software stopped manufacturing the Model 650 in 2008, the technically obsolete machines are still widely used today in the United States. Researchers have also discovered other security flaws on the Model 650, as well as flaws on many other current models of voting machines. For example, another machine, currently used in 18 States, can be hacked in just two minutes, while it takes about six minutes to vote. Democracy should worry. Prominent experts are urging state and local officials to employ paper ballots and post-election audits in order to mitigate against cybersecurity threat.
Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin officially launched their company on September 4, 1998, headquartered in their friend Susan Wojcicki’s garage in Menlo Park, California. Now, on Google’s 20th birthday, you can see the legendary garage on Street View, restored in all its former glory. If you want to see what the space looked like in 1998, have a look at this video filmed by Harry Cheung, Google’s sixth employee:
Tomorrow, in New York, Amazon will open a new store that only sells the most popular products on its on-line platform. Called Amazon 4-star, the store sells electronics, kitchen and home items, toys, books and games that have garnered a 4-star rating or higher, or are best-sellers. Prime member get to pay the lower, on-line price in-store. Digital price tags display the average star rating, total number of reviews, the Prime price and the list price. And of course, you’ll find a table dedicated to Amazon Echo and Fire TV devices. Amazon 4-star seems to us to be an expanded version of the Amazon Books store concept, a chain of 15 analog stores that only sell Amazon’s digital best-sellers. It is unclear, however, whether Amazon 4-star stores will also replicate and multiply.
The famous Rubik’s cube, invented in 1974 in Hungary by Ernő Rubik, an architect and professor of design, has been sold by the hundreds of millions. Today, it is practically being reinvented: thanks to the ingeniousness of a Japanese engineer, the puzzle now comes equipped with internal actuators and electronics to solve itself. And while our interest is piqued by this masterpiece of engineering, its inventor is not revealing either his identity or any technical details of his invention.
Amazon announced the impending release of its first kitchen appliance: a microwave oven that is compatible with the Alexa system. Moreover, it will include Dash Replenishment Services, which means it can automatically order popcorn from Amazon. With its compact size (44cm wide, 36cm tall and 25.5cm deep) and a rated power of 700W, AmazonBasics Microwave is available for preorder with a price tag of US$60, but currently only in the US with a mid-November delivery. You’ll need an Alexa-powered speaker near the microwave so you can give commands like, “Alexa, reheat some rice” or “Alexa, defrost the peas”. The appliance still features a traditional control panel for the days when you’ve lost your voice.
Using Linux on Windows 10 has never been easier. With the Fall Creators update, the Hyper-V Quick Create function, which offers three-click creation of Virtual Machines, now offers a Ubuntu 18.04.1 LTS system image specifically configured for this operating mode and ready to install. This VM builds on the Enhanced Session mode. You can resize the client window and the VM is notified of the change of resolution; you can copy and paste between the virtual machine and the host and the mouse cursor doesn't get trapped in the client window. This Enhanced Session mode uses RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol), a protocol previously unavailable on Linux. To bring this virtual machine to life, Microsoft worked with the XRDP open source project to bring RDP support to Linux. It’s definitely a love affair between Microsoft and Linux!
Following in the footsteps of the successful NES Classic Edition and Super NES Classic, Sony is emulating the Nintendo strategy to bring back an older console as a miniature gaming device and calling it “Classic”: nearly 25 years after its initial appearance, Sony announced the upcoming release of the PlayStation Classic. The new console comes with two PS1 controllers and 20 games including: Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4. BestBuy is taking early orders going for CA$130, for delivery on December 3.
Do you still have money to burn after you’ve purchased the new iPhone X? You now need a case worthy of your new device and we have it all dialed in for you: the Gray brand out of Singapore offers titanium cases with a starting price of CA$1,130 for the grey model, topping out at CA$3,900 for the iridescent version (note that the top-of-the-line iPhone Xs Max 512GB costs “just” CA$2,000). You can also have your name engraved on the case for a piffling CA$47. The cases are made of “aerospace-grade” titanium and offer a minimal X-shaped design that covers the back of the iPhone. Tempted? Don’t delay, this edition is limited to just 100.
Flying insects like bees, dragonflies, and fruit flies can perform impressive aerodynamic feats, particularly when seeking to escape predators or the movements of an annoyed human. Now Dutch scientists have built a flying robot capable of executing similar manoeuvers – despite being much larger than the average insects – that could shed light on how these creatures achieve those feats. The scientists described their work in a new paper in Science.
In the upcoming version of Windows 10, set to launch in October, when you try to install Chrome or Firefox, a large window will pop up with the message, “You already have Microsoft Edge – the safer, faster browser for Windows 10.” You’ll then have two choices: the default option, in blue, “Open Microsoft Edge”, and the second option, in grey, “Install anyway”. Needless to say, the reaction of Insider testers was less than enthusiastic. After all, if you’re going through the trouble of installing a different browser on your system, it’s probably because you’re already familiar with Edge and specifically don’t want to use it. This marketing faux-pas just looks like desperation to us, and is bound to irritate 99% of people who choose to use Chrome or Firefox for their own reasons.
Sphero unveiled the Bolt, its new and improved version of the spherical educational robot Spark+ from 2016. Its trademark see-through shell displays several innovations, like an 8x8 LED diode matrix making a screen that can display a smiling emoticon when a task is successfully completed. The Bolt also has four infrared sensors to communicate and interact with other Bolts within 5 metres, as well as an improved battery providing two hours of heavy use before recharging. Like its predecessor, this rolling robot is controlled through the SpheroEDU mobile application, and is designed to introduce kids to robotics and programing. The Bolt is now available on Sphero’s Web site for US$150, and should soon be available in stores.
Samsung is releasing a tracker – a tag allowing you to locate the object it is attached to – that’s powered by LTE-M network, unlike other, competing trackers, like Tile Mate, that work with Bluetooth and have a limited range of a couple of hundred feet. LTE-M (or LTE Cat-M1) is a network specifically designed for IoT/M2M devices that runs on 4G telephone networks. This means that Samsung’s tracker can be detected anywhere on a 4G telephone operator’s network. Battery life is about a week. SmartThings Tracker will be available through AT&T as of September 14, and through Verizon later on this year. The price of US$99 includes a one-year LTE-M subscription. After the first year, the price drops to US$50 per year.
Qualcomm has released a new processor for smartwatches and other wearables, the Snapdragon Wear 3100, intended to extend battery life, enhance always-on displays, and offer greater versatility. This new development was highly anticipated by the industry, which had been waiting for a new chip for two and a half years. The main innovation in this chip is the addition of a new, low-power co-processor that handles most tasks when the watch isn’t actually being interacted with, providing for a significant improvement in battery life. This co-processor will power a watch’s sensors and ambient display, while using up to 20 times less energy than the main processor. Another interesting feature is that when the battery gets low (charge less than 20%), the processor stops WearOS, allowing the watch to just give time for at least another week. The new processor will be found in Fossil, Louis Vuitton and Montblanc watches before the end of the year.
The Scoobe3D is an affordable, handset-sized 3D scanner that is touted to be accurate to an outstanding 0.1mm. This accuracy is delivered through a combination of three technologies: time of flight, photogrammetry and polarized 3D. Scoobe3D can scan objects of up to two cubic yards, including those with specular surfaces. Developed by a team in Germany, Scoobe3D is currently on Kickstarter at the prototype stage. Delivery is slated for May 2019. Early buyers can scoop up the Scoobe3D for €900 (CA$1,380), before the price goes up to €1,200 (CA$1,840). As for any crowdfunded item, buyers order at their own risk.
It looks like the Cambridge Analytica debacle just won’t quit. A few months back, it was revealed that the former consulting firm had collected data on millions of Facebook users without their consent. Now, a recent survey shows that in the past 12 months, 74% of Facebook-using adults have adjusted their privacy settings, taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, or deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. Worse yet for Facebook, the percentage of younger users (those ages 18 to 29) who say they have deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the past year is 44%, nearly four times the share of users aged 65 and older (12%). No surprise, then, that Facebook stock now sits at US$167.20, a new low since July 26, when its value tumbled overnight from US$217.50 to US$175. Not Mark’s best year.
Just one month after Apple, Amazon passed a market value of 1 trillion dollars yesterday. After 24 years of operation, the company is the second in history to reach the symbolic milestone of 1,000 billion dollars (1012). Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, Amazon was initially an on-line bookstore, gradually developing a unique logistical operations platform to sell a growing range of products. According to the New York Times, Amazon “captures 49 cents of every e-commerce dollar in the United States”. Its market value is greater than those of the 10 biggest brick-and-mortar retailers combined. However, Amazon is less profitable than Apple, posting “just” $3 billion in profits in 2017, compared to Apple’s $48 billion.
For its tenth anniversary, Google’s Web browser, which dominates the market, has been given a new, minimalist look. Chrome’s new user interface, available on all Chrome-supported platforms, follows Google’s Material Design 2 system, for a more modern, elegant look, with rounded corners and subtle animation, new icons and a new color palette. Also improved are Chrome’s functionalities, such as an updated password manager that can automatically generate strong passwords, and an improved autofill feature for forms.
Though this toy is ostensibly for children aged 8 and up, we believe that children of all ages will love it! Created by Mattel, Alpha Training Blue is a robotic velociraptor weighing 4lbs and standing a foot high with its beak turned to the sky. It is controlled with a real joystick with an embedded accelerometer to let you move the head and tail. It has four gaming modes, including total control mode, which lets you control your dino like a puppet. But the best mode is Training Mode, when you get to train your velociraptor by giving him rewards whenever it performs an intended action. And, just like a real animal, the robot will progressively forget its training if you ignore it for over a month, or act like a true baby by occasionally not obeying and doing its own thing. Embedded sensors allow Blue to feel and react when you pet its chin or nose. The battery provides it with one to two hours’ playtime, depending on playing mode, and recharges in just half an hour.
Lenovo has unveiled its second-generation Yoga Book, following up on the first version in August of 2016. The concept is original: the Yoga Book opens like a book, with a touchscreen on the left-hand side (LCD IPS, 10.8 inches, 2560 x 1600) and, on the right-hand side, a touch-sensitive electronic paper display (E-Ink, 10.8 inches, 1920 x 1080). On this surface, you can jot down notes or draw with the Wacom Active Pen. Flip the machine and raise the screen to turn the electronic paper surface into an electronic keyboard with haptic visual and audio feedback: you now have a tiny portable computer that runs Windows 10. The Yoga Book is essentially a hybrid between a tablet and a portable PC. Fun feature: knock on the cover twice and it opens. Battery life is up to 8 hours. The Yoga Book C930 will ship in October for US$1,000 (or rather, US$999.99…), i.e. twice the price of the first generation.
At the IFA show in Berlin, Acer unveiled an impressive gaming armchair called Predator Thronos. It looks like a cockpit equipped with a seat that reclines to 140°, and three 27-inch screens providing a panoramic view that wraps around the player for a fully immersive sensation. A control panel allows the player to adjust the angle of the chair, which is entirely motorized, to raise the arm that supports the displays to ease player ingress and egress, and to move the shelf that holds the keyboard and mouse. However, this “gaming throne” does have two problems: first, it’s heavy (220kg) and bulky – you’ll need a large house – and second, it’s probably expensive (the price hasn’t been announced). It is set to launch at the end of the year. Start saving your pennies!
Last November, we celebrated the resurrection of Sony’s dog robot, Aibo, which was killed a dozen years ago. But the new Aibo ERS-1000 was unfortunately only available in Japan at the time. Now, there’s a new development: after selling 20,000 units in Japan, Sony has announced that it will now be selling these puppies in the U.S. At an event at their American headquarters in New York, Sony said that the limited edition will be available to preorder as early as next month, with deliveries slated for the Holidays. The US$2,900 price tag may seem expensive, but it includes accessories like dog toys, as well as other advantages: no need to walk the dog, or buy chow. The new Aibo uses deep learning algorithms to learn its environment; with time and experience, it develops its own personality, which is shaped by its owner. Each puppy’s evolving personality is stored on Sony’s cloud, making it transferable from one unit to another, in case of an unfortunate incident or accident. That’s a bargain for doggy immortality!
Lithium-ion batteries have made headlines for the wrong reason: as a fire hazard. Lithium-ion batteries store much more energy than previous chemistries could manage, making them crucial to the future success of phones, drones, electric cars, etc. The hope is to develop batteries with at least the same excellent energy/mass ratio as lithium-ion batteries, less the danger associated with this particular chemistry.
Starting this week, residents of Scottsdale, Arizona, can get their groceries delivered by a self-driving vehicle. This on-the-ground experiment is the result of a partnership between autonomous vehicle builder Nuro, and Kroger, the U.S.’s largest retail chain, owner of the Fry’s banner in Arizona. Kroger says that deliveries will have a flat $5.95 delivery fee, and customers can schedule same-day or next-day deliveries. Initially, the deliveries will be made by Nuro's fleet of modified Toyota Priuses with a safety driver behind the wheel. But more interestingly, this fall, Kroger expects to start using Nuro's R1 model, which doesn't even have a driver’s seat. That’ll be one to watch!
After a year of wild speculation that saw Bitcoin and Ethereum reach new highs, 2018 has been a disaster for cryptocurrencies. The trend was reversed at the beginning of the year and their value started dropping, and never stopped. Today, the market cap of all cryptocurrencies put together is 191 billion dollars – the first time since November 2017 that it has slid below the 200 billion dollar mark. Bitcoin, which sat at a high of US$19,363 on 17 December 2017, is now worth US$6,426, or a full two-thirds less. Ethereum did even worse, shedding a whopping 79% of its value, from a high of US$1,403 on 13 January 2017 to just US$292 today. This crash could mean one of two things: either it’ll make way for a more mature, less speculative market, either it’ll put paid to the whole concept; only time will tell. For the moment, all signs point to a continued slide.
Google Chrome is slowly but surely taking over the world of desktop browsers. According to analytics vendor Net Applications, which keeps statistics on tens of thousands of websites all over the world, its main rivals have lost yet more ground over the last 12 months: Internet Explorer went from a market share of 13% to 11%, Microsoft Edge dropped to 4.2% in July from a high of 4.7% in January, and Mozilla Firefox dipped under 10%, down from 15% two years ago. Apple Safari sits neck-and-neck with Microsoft Edge, at around 4.3% during the first semester of 2017. Secure browsers, like Opera or the very interesting Vivaldi, have managed to hang on to their market share since 2016, at around 7%. Google Chrome owns almost two-thirds of the market, sitting at 65%. Net Applications says that on the mobile front, Android dominates, with 63% of the market for Chrome and 27% for Safari.
“Where’s Waldo?” is a series of picture books created by Martin Handford. The idea is to find the main character, Waldo, in an image. The problem is that each image is crammed with hundreds of people and objects, making it tough to quickly find Waldo, and keeping the kids engrossed for hours. Now, Matt Reed has developed a robot that finds Waldo. The robot has a robotic arm, the uArm Swift Pro, controlled by a Raspberry Pi. The camera takes a picture of the page and uses OpenCV to pick out the faces in the image. It then send them for analysis to Google’s AutoML Vision, which has been trained up on Waldo cartoons. If the robot finds a match with 95% confidence, the arm points to Waldo. And it works very well: Waldo is fingered in 5 seconds or less. Which kind of defeats the purpose of Where’s Waldo.
On Thursday, in New York, Samsung unveiled 3 new products: the new Note 9 phone, a smart speaker called Galaxy Home, and the new Galaxy Watch. The Note 9, which will be available as of August 24, looks an awful like its predecessors, but is more powerful, with a 4,000mAh battery. The phone comes with a new S Pen stylus that works with Bluetooth Low Energy, meaning that it can be used as a remote for the camera, for example. The Galaxy Home comes with Bixby and has eight microphones, six speakers and a subwoofer. Samsung hasn’t given any details as to release date or price, but an announcement is expected in November. Finally, Samsung parted with the Gear brand for its smartwatch, which will henceforth be called the Galaxy Watch. The device will be waterproof for swimming and offer LTE connectivity, a high-resolution AMOLED touch display and Gorilla DX+ glass. The company says that the watch will be able to last several days without charging. The Galaxy watch will come in three colours and two sizes, 42mm and 46mm, for US$330 and US$350 respectively.
On Wednesday, Anki unveiled its new robot, Vector, which looks a lot like the adorable Cozmo. Just like Cozmo, Anki reminds us of a palm-sized WALL-E, but with far more features. Vector comes with a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon, a wide-angle HD camera, an infrared laser for mapping and navigation, an array of four microphones to pinpoint the spatial origin of a sound, and touch sensors to know when you’re petting it, for example. While its voice capabilities are housed on the cloud, other capabilities, like person detection and recognition, are based on a convolutional neural network housed on its embedded processor. Vector can answer questions and take pictures on demand. It is available as of today on Kickstarter for a discounted price of US$200, but only in the U.S. It will be available in stores on October 12 for US$250.
After raising some 2.3 billion dollars and working draped in secret for 8 years, the mysterious startup Magic Leap is finally releasing a product, the augmented reality headset Magic Leap One, for US$2,295. This headset is relatively light (415g) because the Nvidia Tegra X2 chipset micro-PC is offloaded on a CD-sized saucer worn on the belt. The battery has 3 hours of use time. Though this AR headset is undeniably superior, early testers say it is far from revolutionary, and even disappointing in light of the marketing hype that had geeks drooling (remember the video of a whale breaching from the floor of a gym?). Furthermore, the Magic Leap One unfortunately has the same flaw as the Microsoft HoloLens, i.e. the field of view is just 50° diagonally, compared to 110° for VR headsets.
To the dismay of those who still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Earth is flat, Google has given up the Mercator projection for its mapping services. If you zoom out on the web version, you’ll find that Earth is now a globe. This has the advantage of avoiding many of the distortions inherent to a flat map, for example where Greenland looks as large as Africa, when it is in fact 1/14th of its size. Indeed, the downside of the Mercator projection is that it imposes a distortion effect that gets amplified as latitude increases. The new spherical projection works in map and satellite modes. You can even spin the globe with a click of your mouse. Cool!
The Naked 3D Scanner is a mirror that creates a 3D clone of your body. The integrated computer scans your body to produce some 4GB of data, compresses it down to a 4MB 3D model, then sends it to a mobile application that lets you see the changes in your body over time, which can be motivating for those who are reaching for physical goals like weight loss, sports prowess, or body building. But the goal isn’t just to provide you with a deluge of fitness-related information; in the long term, the company hopes to help you buy clothes, aid in the production of furniture tailored to your body, and even provide a perfectly lifelike avatar for video games. The mirror sells for US$1,400.
Last May, Google removed its long-time unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil”, from the company’s corporate code of conduct. Just wait until you know why. To satisfy the Chinese government’s strict Internet censorship rules, Google has developed a custom, China-only Android search application that blocks any Web content related to human rights, peaceful protests, political dissidents, democracy, police brutality, religion and many other topics. A custom mobile application is also being readied to aggregate just the news that is compatible with the official Party line. The Google News application will be fed content selected by artificial intelligence rather than human editors, providing personalized content to users. It looks like greed trumps ethics once again.
The worldwide tablet market has been declining for the last 4 years, and the second quarter of 2018 did nothing to reverse the trend. In fact, only Apple and Huawei were able to post modest growth, according to IDC’s latest report. The number of worldwide shipments was 33 million units over the last quarter, 5 million less than in the same quarter last year. In just one year, Amazon Fire lost one-third of its market share and Samsung sales have plummeted by 16%. And the only two companies that showed any growth had nothing to brag about, with Huawei posting a modest 7.7% increase and Apple just 0.1%, for its iPad. However, Apple ranks first in shipment volume, with 11.5 million units in just one quarter, which is 35% of total tablet shipments.
In the late morning of Thursday, August 2, 2018, Apple made history when its share price hit US$207.05 on Wall Street, becoming the first company to ever be worth one trillion (1012) dollars. Not bad for a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s, when its founder, Steve Jobs, stepped in to save it, and launched a series of products — the iMac, iPhone and iPad — that transformed the company and changed the world.
Samsung launched its nifty Tab S4, the successor to last year’s S3. The S4 works in both classic touchscreen tablet and desktop modes thanks to Dex software that allows you to connect it to a keyboard, a mouse and a monitor, while offering an adapted interface. The S4 has a 10.5-inch, 2560x1600, 16:10 Super AMOLED display. It runs on Android 8.1 Oreo and a next-generation Snapdragon 835 processor, and includes 4GB of RAM and two 13 megapixel cameras, front and back. Battery life is claimed to be 16 hours (7,300mAh). LTE-connected models should be available soon. The Tab S4 will be for sale as of August 10 for US$650 (64GB) or US$750 (256GB). An S Pen is included. Hopefully, this tablet will reverse Samsung’s dwindling tablet sales.
This quarter, Facebook had 185 million users in the U.S. and Canada, roughly the same number as in the first quarter. North America is Facebook’s most lucrative market by far, with the average user generating US$25.91 in revenue. This is the fourth consecutive quarter that the number of users stays stuck at185 million, which means that Facebook has probably reached its saturation point in this market. Worse, for the first time, the social media platform has actually lost users in Europe: it had only 279 million active daily users in the second quarter, compared to 282 million users in the previous quarter. Finally, the company has missed its financial targets, sending its stock plunging by 19% overnight on the NASDAQ, from US$217.5 to US$175. The overall devaluation of 119 billion dollars is the heaviest one-day loss recorded in the market’s history.
Windows 10’s next semi-annual update will use machine learning models to make update-related reboots less annoying for users. Currently, Windows can detect whether you’re working or not (inactive mouse and keyboard, no video streaming, etc.) and save reboots for inactive periods. However, at the moment, it can’t tell if you’ll be gone for moments or for hours, i.e. whether you’ve run out for a cup of coffee or left for home and bed. Thanks to a new predictive system, Windows will try to distinguish between these two scenarios and avoid rebooting if it thinks you’ll be back soon.
The first smart device running on Android Things is here. The “Smart Display” is a smart speaker with built-in touchscreen, like Amazon’s Echo Show, but using Google Assistant. Android Things is a lite version of the Android system, specifically developed for connected objects. Smart Display is designed to enhance the Google Assistant experience thanks to a screen that displays the weather, recipes, smart home controls, Duo video calls, YouTube videos, etc. Thanks to its Qualcomm SDA624 System on a Module (SoM), it delivers respectable performance and a very reactive touchscreen interface. Smart Display comes in two flavours, one with an 8-inch screen (1260 x 800) and the other with a 10-inch screen (1920 x 1200), for US$200 and US$250 respectively. In comparison, Amazon’s Echo Show has a 7-inch screen (1024 x 600) and costs US$230. Google is giving Smart Display owners three months’ free access to YouTube Premium service.
Sony has introduced a new 48-megapixel sensor for smartphones. Current phones are usually equipped with 12 megapixel cameras (Apple, Samsung Galaxy), sometimes 20 megapixel. Sony’s IMX586 sensor is 6.4 x 4.8 mm with a pixel size of 0.8 micrometres. In low light, pixels are combined in arrays of 4 thanks to a Bayer filter, for a 12 megapixel resolution. In bright light, the image signal processor makes full use of the sensor’s pixel count to capture high-resolution images, or the abundance of captured image data for high-quality digital zooming. Expected to launch in September, it will probably come standard on the next generation of high-end phones.
Good news for gamers! Thanks to a dampening of speculation activity on cryptocurrencies, the price of graphics cards (which are used massively for mining) is coming back down from its stratospheric levels. The Radeon RX 570, a popular mid-range graphics card, had gone from under US$200 in April 2017 to over US$450 in February 2018. Now, it sits at US$350, which is still expensive, but already US$100 less than its peak, and the prices are still dropping. Similarly, the RX 580 went from US$230 to US$330 through US$540. Nvidia’s GeForce has followed the same pattern. The GTX 1080 floated down to US$600 after a US$800 high in February. In fact, the price of graphics cards is clearly correlated to the value of the ether (of the Ethereum platform). And as the ether is trending downward, so should the price of graphics cards.
Dale Sande and Kianosh Pourian, from Spiria Boston, recorded an hour-long podcast for the Internet show Shop Talk. Of course, it’s all about their passion and specialty: the Internet of Things. If you’re interested and want to know more, go listen to it!
Behind the CurlicueCal handle is a Doctor in Entomology specialized in ant behaviour. Recently, CurlicueCal posted ratings of various ant emojis on her Tumblr page: Microsoft’s, Apple’s, Facebook’s, Twitter’s and others. From a myrmecological point of view, the worst emoji is Mozilla’s, since it’s in fact a termite. Among the better ones are Facebook’s, described as “elegant”, and Messenger’s: “This ant is a bold and challenging mixture of photorealism and caricature.” But head and shoulders above its peers is Apple’s ant, with a score of 11 out of 10. Mind you, CurlicueCal’ assessment is not consensual.
Researchers have put together a kit that masquerades as a GPS satellite in order to lure receptors into sending drivers in the wrong direction. The team, made up of researchers from Microsoft and Virginia Tech in the U.S. and China’s University of Electronic Sciences and Technology, explained in an article published this month that by sending packets of fake satellite data, they could deceive smartphones and onboard GPS systems, remotely changing routes with a 95% rate of accuracy. The device is based on the Raspberry Pi and is made up of just US$223’s worth of components. “According to our calculations, the effective spoofing range is 40 to 50 meters”, wrote the researchers. Should we be worried?
Tuesday July 17 was World emoji Day, and to celebrate, Apple emojified its entire leadership team. From Tim Cook to Eddy Cue, through Craig Federighi and Jonathan Ive, every last director was replaced by memojis, avatars that can be personalised to turn people into emojis. Memojis came out with iOS 12 and can be animated with iPhone X’s Face ID. But that’s not all: Apple also unveiled over 70 new emojis that will be added this year to iOS 12, watchOS 5 and macOS Mojave. The new emoji designs, based on approved characters in Unicode 11.0, include new hair options to better represent the differently-haired: red, grey, curly, or none at all.
To celebrate the Infobar phone’s 15th birthday, Japanese company KDDI will be launching a third iteration of the handset in October, and it’s fair to say that third time pays for all. Of course, it’s still an Android phone with bare-bones capabilities (a “feature phone”), but its gorgeous design, by Naoto Fukasawa, makes it unique. Infobar XV will come in three colours: classic Nishikigoi (think koi carp, i.e. red and blue), Nasukon (blue) and Cherry Berry (red). It can launch preset applications, but doesn’t provide access to the Play Store. It measures 48mm x 138mm x 14mm, its weight hasn’t been specified, and it has a 3.1-inch 800 x 480 WVGA liquid cristal screen with about 8 million pixels. It also has a rear 8 MP camera, a 1,500 mAh battery, extendable microSDHC storage (up to 32 GB), LTE and Wi-Fi. Unfortunately for us, this phone will only be available in Japan. Its price is as yet unknown.
It looks like Microsoft is out to overtake Slack on the enterprise chatting and messaging market, offering Microsoft Teams for free. Of course, the free version has some limitations, but they are far less restrictive than Slack’s. For example, Microsoft doesn’t limit the number of archived messages you can view, whereas Slack has a 10,000 message limit, which can be quickly reached in a company of several dozen employees, making it unsuited for a true enterprise environment. Teams also supports group voice and video calling, while free Slack restricts you to 1:1 video calling. Microsoft is also promoting features to come later this year, like a background blur for video chatting. This will come as a godsend for people who work at home: no need to worry about messy rooms or the mischievous, unprofessional cat that always finds its way in the background.
Big Clapper is a one-meter tall robot that looks like a stand-mounted tomato with hands coming out of its top. The robot’s main goal in life is to clap its hands in various modes: one clap, three claps, continuous clapping, on-demand claps, clapping to music, clapping and talking. Its eyes are designed to make it seem like it’s always looking at you, which adds a layer of weirdness. Big Clapper started life as an art project by Japanese designer Masato Takahashi, and is now on Kickstarter to raise funds for a larger production run. If you need a cheering squad in your life, you can have it now for US$4,500.
David Zarrouk, professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, unveiled Rising STAR, a robot with amazing locomotion skills that can crawl like a turtle or roll on wheels, as it pleases. The neatest aspect of its locomotion is its variable geometry, with allows it to select a locomotion strategy based on its environment: it can negotiate a variety of obstacles without flipping over and move over all types of surfaces, including sand, and climb vertically up small spaces, like tubing. RSTAR’s top speed is about 1m/s on hard surfaces. Spectrum’s reporters dish about Zarrouk’s talent for creating multipurpose robots with minimal hardware. Watch the video!
Microsoft launched the Surface Go, a new entry-level tablet which is basically a smaller version of the Surface Pro, at a wallet-friendly price of US$400 (US$500 with the Type Cover keyboard). It features a 10-inch touchscreen with a 1800 x 1200 pixel resolution (217 ppi), an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor with either 4 GB or 8GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage or a 128GB SSD. Measuring 24.5 x 17.5 cm, it weighs 520 g and has a battery life of about 9 hours. The Go comes with Windows 10 with S mode enabled, so it only provides access to the Edge browser and to Microsoft Store applications. As with other devices that come with S mode, owners will be able to upgrade to the full version of Windows 10 for free. The Surface Go is available for pre-order and will ship in August.
CNBC has produced a story on the world’s largest collection of Apple prototypes. Over the last 10 years, Henry “Hap” Plain collected over 250 prototypes of Apple products, which are rare items by definition. Aside from numerous Macintoshes, there are also Apple IIs, Lisas, Ipods, iPhones, a Newton MessagePad 110, an Apple Network Server, an Xserve G4 and even a prototype of a clear-shelled ImageWriter II (1985) printer and Macintosh clones from the Michael Spindler era.
There’s competition for Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini…Today, MIT presented the Cheetah 3, a 40kg, four-legged robot similar to SpotMini. The major difference between the two robots is that the Cheetah 3 has no cameras to steer itself; it’s blind. It doesn’t even have environmental sensors, something that’s pretty much standard among its contemporaries. That said, it can still take care of itself quite well, thank you very much – it can climb stairs and hop onto a table. Its secret is a group of sensors that can detect contacts. Powerful algorithms are used to give the bot a way to map out surfaces as well as obstacles. You could, in a sense, call it a “sensory” kind of robot. The Cheetah 3 was mainly designed to explore hostile environments that are hard or impossible for humans to access. If you wonder about the usefulness of a sightless robot, think of the sighted robot that that was sent into Fukushima’s central reactor in 2017: it had to abort its mission after only two hours because its camera was roasted by radiation of 650 Sv/h.
What is old is new again, at least if you ask Amazon. After the demise of the Toys ‘R Us chain, the online retailer is stepping up to try to fill the void. This holiday season, the e retail giant is releasing a massive old-fashioned hard copy toy catalogue, which will be sent to “millions” of its customers, and available for free at Whole Foods stores. The move comes after a series of reports in Bloomberg, stating Amazon had “considered” buying the now-defunct toy chain. No confirmation if or how prices will be listed in the catalogue, something which may be tricky considering the site’s reliance on dynamic pricing and deals exclusively for Prime members.
The BASIC Engine is an open-source single-board nanocomputer the size of a Raspberry Pi, with functions based on PCs from the late 80s and early 90s, that will tickle those who yearn for that time and all things retro. It connects to a monitor or a PAL/NTSC television screen with an RCA cable (forget about HDMI), and displays 508x240 pixels with a 256 colour palette. The BASIC Engine has connections for a PS/2 keyboard and a PlayStation controller. In terms of software, of note is the BASIC interpreter with a Commodore-type editor and an Infocom Z-Code interpreter. You can create fantastic old-school animations using sprites (up to 32 sprites with 32x32 pixels), and there’s about 63 KB worth of memory for programs. In terms of sound power, there’s a 5-bit digital audio, and a wavetable synthesizer based on SoundFont.
Samsung smartphones are no longer spontaneously combusting, but another weird and disturbing quirk has arisen: some users have had their pictures randomly sent to others. According to complaints on Reddit and on official Samsung forums, several Samsung phone users, including those with recent models like the Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S9, have reported having this upsetting experience. The problem seems to stem from Samsung Messages, the default application on Galaxy devices, which, for reasons unknown, mistakenly sends images stored on devices to random contacts. One Reddit user even said that Samsung Messages, not content with sending one photo, sent an entire photo gallery to a contact. Imagine some of your (very) private photos sent to your Mum, your boss, or a business partner... it’s enough to give you chills. One of the most disturbing things about this bug is that the user doesn’t receive any notification that their photos were shared, meaning they have no clue that their pictures are out there.
Tesla announced that in the second quarter, it produced 53,339 vehicles, an increase of 55% over the first quarter. For the first time, production of Model 3s edged higher than the combined totals of the S and X models (28,578 vs. 24,761); the company’s production numbers for the Model 3 are three times higher than in the first quarter. In addition, Tesla finally hit the 5,000-unit mark, with 5,031 cars rolling off assembly lines on the last week of June (last July, Elon Musk had predicted Tesla would produce 5,000 Model 3s per week by December). The company hopes to increase production to 6,000 per week by the end of August. To compare, Ford produces about 12,000 vehicles a day. Reservations for the Model 3 at the end of June were still about 420,000, even though 28,386 have been delivered to date.
After breaking his phone, Philip Frenzel, a 25-year-old student of mechatronics engineering at the University of Aalen, in Germany, invented a “mobile airbag” that automatically deploys when you drop your phone, protecting it from damage. Frenzel wanted a better system than protective cases, which are big and bulky and don’t always work, depending on the angle of impact. Frenzel’s system is more compact and technologically advanced: four claw-like springs unfold from the corners of a slim phone case when sensors detect a free fall, keeping the device itself from hitting the ground as well as dampening the impact. The dampers can be reset after a fall by simply pushing them back in the case. The German Mechatronics Society was so impressed by Frenzel’s invention that it awarded him its national mechatronics prize for 2018. Frenzel has taken out a patent to protect his creation, hoping to commercialize it through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Of course, we hope that the system will not accidentally deploy in our pocket!
Several companies, like Nuro, are working on autonomous delivery vehicles. But Robomart is turning the idea on its head by bringing the entire grocery store to your doorstep. In the promo video, the autonomous vehicle is equipped with shelves stocking fresh produce, but other types of products could easily be swapped out. With a press of a button on the dedicated app, consumers can summon the nearest Robomart, which travels to their home at a top speed of 40 km/h, or 25 mi/h. Then, the consumer can simply unlock the doors, pick the items they want, and close them again for the Robomart to trundle on to the next shopper. The mobile app keeps track of what items were picked, and bills the customer electronically. Ars Technica’s writer comments on how the rise of autonomous vehicle technology creates space for experimentation with new business models. Regardless of whether this one will work, it is in any case fascinating.
Wi-Fi devices have been using the same security protocol for over a decade. But today, that’s about to change: the Wi-Fi Alliance, which oversees the adoption of the Wi-Fi standard, will start certifying products that support WPA3, the successor to the WPA2 security protocol in use since 2004. One of WPA3’s innovations is that it protects you against offline attacks, i.e. when a hacker captures data from your Wi-Fi stream, loads it on their own computer and makes multiple guesses at your password until they get it (dictionary attack). With WPA3, hackers will only be able to take one guess offline before the data becomes useless; after that, they’ll have to interact directly with your Wi-Fi device, which means that they’ll have to be physically present. Of course, it won’t be as easy as buying a WPA3 router to enjoy all of the new layers of security; all your gadgets will also have to support it, otherwise the connection is only at the WPA2 level.
Cemtrex has taken the idea of an all-in-one office desk to a whole new level. Its sleek SmartDesk features three 24-inch IPS touchscreen displays, a proprietary gesture recognition system which allows you to turn pages with a wave of the hand, a Windows Intel Core i7 PC, and a built-in keyboard and trackpad. The desk’s surface is also a scanner, allowing you to lay documents right on the desk to scan them with click. Also built into the surface is a wireless phone charger and a sliding drawer housing wireless earbuds to make calls and send SMS texts without touching a phone. Finally, the SmartDesk is vertically adjustable so you can work sitting or standing. We love everything about it, except maybe that it only comes with Windows and costs US$4,000.
At the University of Tokyo’s JSK Lab, roboticists have developed a robot called DRAGON. This flying, modular robot can literally transform on the fly, for example stretching out from a square to a snake to pass through a narrow opening, then changing shapes again on the other side. The modules, which are connected together by a hinged joint, are all equipped with ducted fan thrusters that can be rotated to propel the machine in any direction. The robot is driven by an Intel Euclid, supported by an Inertial measurement unit (IMU), and the battery provides 3 minutes of flight time. The prototype in the video is made up of four modules. But the neatest thing about DRAGON is that it is capable to decide for itself what shape to take given its space constraints.
Unlocking your car with your smartphone and doing away with a bulky key is no longer the stuff of dreams. A consortium of automobile and smartphone builders recently published specifications for a digital key that would work on all phones and all cars. The group, called the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), includes Apple, LG and Samsung, as well as Volkswagen, Audi, General Motors and many other manufacturers. The CCC used existing technologies, like Near-Field Communication (NFC) and Trusted Service Manager (TSM) infrastructure, to build a universal digital key. The role of the organisation is to bring everyone together to develop a standard technology to work across all models of phones and cars.
To obtain quality slow motion in a 24 fps video, you need to film at a rate of 48 fps. And to capture split-second events like the bursting of a balloon, you will need thousands of frames per second using expensive, specialized equipment. This is why Nvidia created a new, deep learning-based AI able to create high-quality slow-motion footage based on a standard 30 fps video. The resulting footage seems to have been filmed at much higher speeds. Researchers trained the AI using over 11,000 videos of sports and everyday life shot at 240 frames per second. This massive archive allowed the AI to learn how to accurately interpolate between images to produce the missing shots for slow-mo, slowing the action by a factor of 8 (240/30, or 12.5% of original speed). The researchers explained the usefulness of their method: “While it is possible to take 240-frame-per-second videos with a cell phone, recording everything at high frame rates is impractical, as it requires large memories and is power-intensive for mobile devices.”
In San Francisco, in front of a small assembly of reporters, IBM Research displayed a new AI machine dedicated to the art of debate and argument. Two humans took on the machine to debate various issues, while the audience graded the human and machine debaters. At one point, the computer pleaded eloquently in favour of government subsidies for space exploration, arguing that it will “expand our collective sense of humanity’s sense of place in the universe.” While the AI draws on a massive database of millions of articles from newspapers and scientific journals, it isn’t able to ascertain the quality and veracity of its sources, meaning that input must be curated to obtain quality output. During the debating session, Project Debater consistently got high marks for thoughtful arguments backed up with facts and quotes. It structured its points clearly and understood its opponents’ arguments accurately enough to rebut them point by point. We are already looking forward to this technology coming to a personal assistant near us: “Hey, Alexa, let’s debate central bank monetary policy.”
There’s also good news in Elon Musk’s world: The Boring Company, its tunnel-boring outfit, has won its first contract. On Thursday, the City of Chicago announced that the Mayor’s office had chosen Musk’s company to build an express line from Block 37, downtown, to O’Hare International Airport. The 25 km (15 miles) trip will take 12 minutes in automated electric cars that will carry 16 passengers and their luggage in two parallel tunnels at a speed of up to 200 km/h. A new, dedicated station will be built downtown, and service could be as frequent as every 30 seconds. Currently, some 20,000 people shuttle between the city and the airport every day, and the figure is expected to rise to 35,000 by 2045. Interestingly, construction will not be done on taxpayers’ dime: The Boring Company will build the whole line at its own expense, then operate and maintain it thereafter.
Things aren’t going so well at Tesla. On Tuesday, staff were told that the company would shed 4,100 jobs out of 46,000, or about 9% of its workforce. In mid-May, Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, had warned that the company would undertake a “thorough reorganization” and flatten its management structure. “To be clear, Tesla will still continue to hire outstanding talent in critical roles as we move forward and there is still a significant need for additional production personnel,” Musk said in a letter to employees on Tuesday. “I also want to emphasize that we are making this hard decision now so that we never have to do this again.” He later added in a Tweet that the cuts were “difficult, but necessary”. At the same time, Alison Griswold, a reporter for Quartz, noted that the number of job offers at Tesla has plummeted, from 3,214 on May 10 to 1,985 on June 12, with 64 openings taken down over just two days, on June 10 and 11. Given all of this, one wonders whether the company will meet its latest production goals for the Model 3. In any case, one quarter of its American clients who had preordered a Model 3 have given up and asked for their $1,000 deposit back.
Apple is planning to add a new feature to iOS, an enhanced version of the “USB Restricted Mode” that appeared in beta iOS 11.4.1, making it much harder for law enforcement officers to access data on locked iPhones. If your future iOS 12 remains locked for over an hour, the feature will automatically turn the Lightning port into a charging-only port. In order to enable data transfer through this port, for example to connect a peripheral, you’ll have to unlock your phone. This feature seems to specifically target devices like the infamous GrayKey, a US$15,000 box that plugs into the Lightning port, currently used by law enforcement organizations to break into locked iPhones.
The United States is back in supercomputer pole position since last week’s announcement, by the US Department of Energy and IBM, of the Summit, the world’s newest most powerful computer, lapping China’s Sunway TaihuLight. With a peak performance of 200 petaflops, the IBM AC922 uses 4,608 compute servers, each containing two 22 core IBM Power9 processors and six Nvidia Tesla V100 units. The servers are connected by 300 km of fibre optics, are water-cooled and can store 250 petabytes of data. Taking up 520m2 (5,600ft2) of floor space and weighing over 340 tonnes, Summit is a massive system optimized for AI applications. Even so, it is relatively energy smart, requiring just 13 megawatts of power, compared to TaihuLight’s 15 megawatts.
The leak of internal Microsoft documents has given us an idea of what new hardware the company has in store for us. A new version of its HoloLens AR headset, code-named Sydney, should hit the market in the first quarter of 2019, for developers and maybe even for the public at large. The new headset should be cheaper than the current HoloLens (though the price is as yet unknown), as well as lighter, more comfortable and with an enhanced display. It will probably use a new sensor package derived from Project Kinect for Azure, announced at last month’s Build conference, and include a second-generation Microsoft holographic processor. The leak also reveals that three new Surface products are in the works, code-named Carmel, Libra and Andromeda. Finally, the next generation of Xbox, code-named Scarlett, should launch in 2020. There is a caveat though: the leaked documents stem from Terry Myerson’s time at the head of the Windows and Devices group. Since his departure last March, it is quite possible that Microsoft’s plans have changed.
Google announced a new beta version of Android P which includes updates of existing emojis as well as 157 new emojis, like a skateboard and a lobster. Observant observers observed that the green salad emoji no longer includes a slice of hard-boiled egg; designer Jennifer Daniel, who works on user interfaces at Google, explained on Twitter: “There’s big talk about inclusion and diversity at Google so if you need any evidence of Google is making this priority may I direct your attention to the salad emoji — we’ve removed the egg in Android P beta 2, making this a more inclusive vegan salad.”
Good news: Linux app support is now available for Samsung’s Chromebook Plus. Mind you, it’s still not standard, nor will most Chromebook users want it. To obtain it, you’ll have to specify you want the developer version of Chrome OS, enable beta and experimental things, and use the Terminal to install Linux apps. Even so, the addition of Linux apps could enhance the power and flexibility of Chrome OS, and turn Chromebooks into viable devices for a lot of things. Minecraft can also be a motivation to activate this experimental function. (Since the Chromebook Plus has an ARM-based processor, Linux software that is only compiled for x86 platforms evidently won’t work.)
Security researcher Troy Mursch has found that over 115,000 Drupal Web sites — including those of large universities, government organisations and media companies — are wide open to hacker takeovers because they haven’t installed critical security patches released 10 weeks ago. Another researcher, Jerôme Segura, indicated that many of these sites are already compromised and being used to surreptitiously mine cryptocurrencies or spread malware to unsuspecting visitors. Drupal is one of the most popular content management systems around, along with WordPress and Joomla.
At Computex 2018, Nvidia unveiled two new products: Nvidia Isaac, a new development platform, and the Jetson Xavier, an artificial intelligence computer, both designed to power autonomous robots that navigate the real world. The Isaac platform is a suite of software tools to develop and train robots. It includes a collection of APIs to connect to cameras, as well as sensors and a new simulation environment, Isaac Sim. The Jetson Xavier computer is incredibly compact for the power it packs (over 30 TOPS, or trillion operations per second). It comes with a Volta Tensor Core graphics processor, an octocore ARM64 processor, two NVDLA deep learning accelerators and processors for static images and video. And it only needs 30 watts of power, which is particularly nice in terms of autonomy. The cost of a Jetson Xavier (including access to the Isaac platform) is US$1,299.
Microsoft has reached an agreement worth 7.5 billion dollars with GitHub, the source code repository and collaborative software development platform. The all-stock deal should close by the end of the year, subject to regulatory approval in the US and the EU. Since its inception in 2008, GitHub has become an open source place, with countless software projects using GitHub repositories as a place to publish their code, including Microsoft projects like the editor Visual Studio Code and the .NET runtime. In total, 28 million developers use GitHub, depositing in 85 million sets of code. Microsoft says it will retain GitHub’s status as an open platform for all open source projects, keeping it agnostic toward programming languages and development tools. The announcement, while generally favorably received, did leave some developers skeptical, raising suspicion about Microsoft and its motives. Indeed, some open-source developers worry about the future of the platform, recalling Steve Ballmer’s comparison of Linux to cancer. Some of them still believe Microsoft to be the Devil itself, even though the company has changed considerably since Satya Nadella’s takeover in 2014.
Time magazine’s latest issue features a piece on the explosion of drones in our culture and, to illustrate the point, the cover was made with 958 illuminated drones, and a 959th one to take a photo of them. The drones all hover in formation to recreate a 100-meter high cover, complete with red and white border and the iconic TIME word mark. The technological feat was made possible thanks to a team at Intel that specializes in aerial drone displays and to Astraeus Aerial for the photo. The shot was staged above Folsom, in California, where Intel has a campus. The drones used for the shoot are Shooting Stars, light quadcopter drones equipped with LEDs that were specially designed for light shows by Intel. The position and movements of each drone are controlled by a computer and an operator on the ground.
Yesterday, Asus announced a new motherboard called H370 Mining Master. As its name suggests, it was developed specifically for mining cryptocurrencies. In fact, the motherboard sports a whopping 20 PCIe-over-USB ports supporting as many graphics cards! The arrival of cryptocurrency mining has radically changed the PC industry, not just by hiking the price of GPUs (to gamers’ dismay), but also by spurring hardware companies to develop mining-specific equipment. The motherboard should be available in the U.S. by the third quarter of 2018. Its price is as yet unknown.
EDG, a New York architecture and engineering firm, has developed a 3D printing process to restore the city’s architectural gems. Thanks to a 3D scanning laser, software like 3DSMax and Rhino as well as specialized algorithms, EDG is able to print moulds for complex ornamental architectural details. The moulds are inlaid with a laser-cut wire mesh and filled with Sika concrete to create the final piece. The entire process costs a fraction of the price of traditional techniques like sculpting.
After a long-drawn-out, seven-year battle in the courts, which included a retrial, Samsung has had to pay Apple US$539 million in damages for patent infringement. Samsung was found to have copied two utility and three design features of the ever-popular iPhone; the retrial was necessary to decide the amount of damages owing. Apple originally sought US$2.5 billion, while Samsung thought it should only have to fork over US$28 million. Apple has said that the case “has always been about more than money.” This may be true, but it’s still a lot of money…
After the wheels comes the frame: Arevo, a Silicon Valley startup, has just unveiled a carbon-fiber bicycle frame fabricated using additive manufacturing, a world first. The company has taken a standard six-axis robotic arm and equipped it with a deposition head of their own design. The head can not only deposit carbon fiber anywhere with a high degree of precision, but it also delivers and laser-heats a thermoplastic material that binds the fibers as it goes, eliminating the need for ovens. Production cost is just US$300 per frame, which is comparable to conventional carbon frames built in Asia. Arevo designed the frame in collaboration with industrial designers at a company in Colorado called StudioWest, specialized in designing bicycles for major brands like Raleigh, Giant and Canondale.
VPN Filter, a sophisticated malware, uses known vulnerabilities to infect routers made by Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, QNAP and TP-Link. Once installed, the malware uses a central infrastructure to install specialized plug-ins on the router. One plug-in allows hackers to listen to their victims’ Internet traffic to steal their Web identifiers; another one targets a protocol used in industrial control networks, such as in the power grid. A third plug-in allows attackers to paralyze any or all infected hardware. Together, all of the infected units in dozens of countries make up a 500,000-router strong botnet controlled by a Russian hacker group called Sofacy. However, the FBI has likely dealt a fatal blow to the botnet by erasing Photobucket photos whose metadata was being used by VPN Filter, and by seizing the domain name of a backup infrastructure after a federal court judge ordered the transfer of the name by domain registrar Verisign.
According to Bloomberg, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) started mass production of new generation processors ahead of the launch of the new iPhone later this year. The chip, which is expected to be called the A12, will probably be the first to use a 7-nanometre process in a mobile device, something the industry has been working toward for years. The smaller the process, the more transistors can fit on a single chip, the more efficient the chip, and the less energy is necessary for the same performance. Current smartphone processors, like Apple’s A11 Bionic or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, use a 10-nm process. In April, TSMC had announced it had started producing 7-nm processors, but hadn’t revealed for whom. Samsung has announced that it will be producing 7-nm chips by next year. According to enduring rumours, Apple plans to launch at least three new iPhones this fall: a larger version of the iPhone X, an update of the current iPhone X, and a cheaper model of the iPhone X with many of the same features but with a smaller, less expensive, 6.1-inch LCD screen.
British on-line grocery store Ocado has developed an impressive robotic grocery order assembly platform. Videos of its Andover, Hampshire warehouse are mesmerizing: a swarm of 600 robots, coordinated through artificial intelligence, swish back and forth on a rail grid suspended above stacked product bins (bins can be stacked 21 high). This grid covers an area larger than a football field. The robots can transport dozens of kilos of product at a top speed of 4 m/s (14.4 km/h) with just 5 mm of separation between them. They receive instructions through 4G technology. The position of each product bin is determined by algorithms so that products that are often ordered together, are placed together; for example, canned soup and disposable razors. A 50-product order takes about 5 minutes to assemble. Eventually, the Andover facility will have 1,100 robots. Ocado has sold the technology to several supermarket chains, like French Casino last November, Canadian Sobeys in January, and more recently, ICA in Sweden and Kroger in the US.
Russian handset company Caviar, whose claim to fame is flamboyant, pricy devices, has developed its “Tesla” model of the iPhone X, its first equipped with photoelectrical cells. The large solar panel on the back powers a dedicated battery, which in turn charges the iPhone X battery with a press of a button. The panel considerably increases the thickness of the device, from 7.7mm to 16.2mm, which means that the camera bump turns into a cavity. Only 999 units will be manufactured, and numbered in the order they were produced. The first unit, intended for Elon Musk (though it’s not clear whether his approval of the product was sought or obtained), will feature an extra engraving of the words “Made on Earth by Humans”, as a homage to the Tesla launched into space by SpaceX. The iPhone X Tesla with 64GB of storage will sell for 284,000 rubles (CA$5,850), while the 256GB model will set you back by 299,000 rubles (CA$6,160), plus taxes and customs duties.
BigRep is a German 3D printing company able to print objects of up to one meter per side on its proprietary large-scale 3D printer, BigRep One. Marco Mattia Cristofori, a designer at BigRep, has developed and printed a honeycomb bicycle tire with no inner tube, making flat tires a thing of the past. The tires are made out of PRO Flex, a flexible thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), also developed by BigRep. “The main goal of the design was to inspire and explore the endless possibilities of large scale 3D printing,” explained Maik Dobberack, Communications Director at BigRep. Unfortunately, the tires are just an “in-house industrial application design” and not intended for large-scale industrial production for the foreseeable future. This isn’t BigRep’s first foray in the cycling world: it has already printed a bicycle frame in collaboration with engineers from Aalborg University (Denmark).
Researchers with the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign and Intel have developed a deep neural network that brightens ultra-low light images without adding noise and other artifacts. The network was trained using over 5,000 pairs of images, each with an under-exposed and a longer exposure version. The final result is a system that automatically brightens up images at a much higher quality than traditional processing options, which often add high levels of noise. The team used images captured with a Fujifilm X-T2 and a Sony a7S II, but also with phones like the iPhone X and the Google Pixel 2. Impressive!
Today, Boston Dynamics released two YouTube videos showing the progress made by its Atlas and SpotMini robots. SpotMini’s is more interesting: you see the four-legged bot cruising around autonomously on a designated route across an office and a laboratory. Prior to the test, the robot is manually driven over the space so it can create a space map using visual data from the cameras mounted on its front, back and sides. During the autonomous run, SpotMini uses its camera data to locate itself on the map and to discern and avoid obstacles. Once the user hits “GO” at the start of the video, the robot is left to fend for itself. The total time for this jaunt is a bit over six minutes (the QR codes visible in the video are used to measure performance, not for navigation).
Chinese phone manufacturer ZTE Corporation, which was founded in 1985 and employs 75,000 people, has announced it’s shutting down operations, and is likely headed for bankruptcy, unless there’s a drastic turnaround from the Trump Administration. ZTE is the second largest player in the smartphone market in China, after Huawei, and the fourth largest in the US.
During its annual developer conference, Google officially announced the launch of its Internet of Things platform. Like Android TV, Android Automotive or Wear OS, Android Things is a version of the Android operating system specifically designed to work on connected devices, which don’t really need a full user interface like you would for a smartphone or a laptop. You could say that Android Things is a super-light version of the OS. Google’s solution is unique as it comes with a centralized update mechanism, which is important as it guarantees the security of the connected device. With Android Things, Google, rather than the device developers, is responsible for sending the new updates. This ensures that each time a new Android security patch is released, it is automatically sent to Android Things devices (in contrast to the delays for Android phones, which are often considerable). Developers will be able to manage software updates for fleets of connected devices using an online interface dubbed Android Things Console. The downside of this system is that only Google-approved hardware platforms are able to use Android Things. For the 1.0 version, only NXP i.MX8M, Qualcomm SDA212, Qualcomm SDA624 and MediaTek MT8516 Systems on Models (SoMs) are supported. For prototyping only, the NXP i. MX7D and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B can be used. For each device, Google is offering three years of free updates. Its pricing model still isn’t clear, nor is it clear what exactly will happen after three years.
A new world record for the Rubik’s cube has been set by Feliks Zemdegs, who solved the cube in 4.22 seconds. This isn’t the first world record for the 22-year old professional “speedcuber” from Australia – he previously won the world record at 4.73 seconds back in 2016. This year he stepped up his game, winning his title back from an American called Patrick Ponce. But no matter how unique your name, or how nimble your fingers, at the end of the day a machine, not a human, will always wear the real Rubik’s cube crown.
French website MacGeneration has developed a nifty graphic that plots iPhone, iPad and Mac sales from 2007 to today. It shows that sales of Apple phones from 2008 onwards exploded, but seem to have levelled off after 2016. Between 2017 and today, sales have stagnated, though at an astronomical level; still, there’s no more increase, as if the market has become saturated. For the iPad, the boom years were 2013-2015; since then it’s been a slow decline. What was unexpected was on the Mac side of things - sales have slowly been creeping up year over year. For Apple, the desktop end of the business seems to be quite stable. The journalist writes, “We also see that, since 2017, the three curves have levelled off. This means that Apple’s continued growth isn’t coming from these three products, but rather from accessories and services.”
Creating deep learning models is difficult and time-consuming. You’ll need the time to master many skills before you even start, and the learning curve for the techniques is quite steep. Some talented artificial intelligence engineers have recently unveiled the Lobe web application, which aims to ease access to deep learning for application developers.
On Tuesday, Facebook officially launched Oculus Go, the autonomous virtual reality headset that was first announced last October. Its $199 US price tag (for the 32 GB version) and its ease of use may well make it popular with the masses. You don’t need a high-end smart phone, like you do for the Samsung Gear VR, or a super powerful and expensive PC, like the Oculus Rift. You don’t even need any cables. You take it out of the box, turn it on, and step into virtual reality. It’s literally that easy. The Oculus Go features two 2 560 x 1 440 pixel LCD screens (a resolution of 538 dpi), 3 GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 821 processor. The graphics processor is the Adreno 530, integrated with the Snapdragon SoC. It all runs on Android 7.1.2 Nougat. Another important feature is its weight: the headset weighs 470g. The first tests reported on by the media are positive overall, and laud the image quality. You can buy the Oculus Go on www.oculus.com right now, and from Amazon and Best Buy in the near future.
Have you ever dreamt about a real-life Transformer? If so, your dreams have come true. A team of three Japanese robotics and design firms has unveiled the J-deite RIDE, a car that transforms into humanoid form. It has been in development since 2014 and was designed by famous mechanical designer Kunio Okawara; it stands four metres tall when in human/robot form. The robot is slower than a real Transformer, though, and takes a full minute to transform from the standing to the car version, and vice versa. It moves with wheels or by walking, but don’t expect it to win any races…it tops out at 100 metres an hour walking speed. Perhaps the coolest feature of this creature: it can do its transformations with two people sitting inside! Although still in the prototype phase, its creators hope to sell this technology to theme parks in the future. All aboard!
Her name is Vera, and she’s able to interview up to 1,500 candidates each day. She’s even able to check out profiles on employment websites, sift though applications and send out personalized emails. She can work 7 days a week, without the slightest sign of fatigue. Her secret? She’s a robo-recruiter, developed by a Russian start-up which uses artificial intelligence technology. She’s already used by 200 companies, like L’Oréal, PepsiCo, major retailers like Auchan and Castorama; she flags profiles that match job advertisements and gives potential employees a phone call: “Hello, I’m Vera, and I’m a robot – are you still looking for a job?” The interview can take place over the phone or by videoconference. Vera can also provide answers to commonly asked questions. Daniela Rogosic, spokesperson for Ikea Russia, one of the large companies that use Vera, explains: “Every year we receive thousands of résumés from people willing to work at Ikea Retail Russia. The initial selection is very extensive work requiring significant time resources from our HR specialists. This was what drove the idea to try the new approach and use Robot Vera.” The final decisions, however, are still the prerogative of actual people. .
In 2016, Apple came up with the idea of replacing the handgun emoji with a green plastic water pistol. Now, the days are numbered for the lethal weapon across all platforms. Google has hopped on the bandwagon with its latest Android update, and in distinctive fashion, the water gun is orange. Since Samsung and Twitter have already followed in Apple’s footsteps, Microsoft and Facebook are left as the only outliers.
The next version of Microsoft’s Windows 10 will include a new “Lean edition” developed for devices with less storage space. It will be offered to OEMs for use in low-cost laptops and tablets. This slimmed-down Windows 10 is aimed at devices with 16 GB of storage space, as the Lean system only takes up 2 GB of space. Twitter user @tfwboredom was the first to discover references to the Lean version in the latest preview build of Redstone 5 (17650). Microsoft reduced the need for storage space by doing away with elements that generally aren’t necessary on entry-level devices, and applications like Internet Explorer. Even Regedit has been scrapped… More information about the Windows 10 Lean version should be forthcoming during the Build conference in early May.
BBMW has unveiled a prototype motorcycle whose chassis and swingarm are entirely made by additive printing, using selective laser fusion. The company hasn’t yet released much information on this S1000RR Series motorcycle . The uber-futuristic and organic design of the chassis is unprecedented in the field and likely relies on topologic optimization, and shows the extent to which technology can influence design. BMW bought a HP Jet Fusion 3D printer in 2016, and has used 3D printing for several years to develop prototypes. Last year, the company introduced its i8 Roadster and Coupé vehicles, which will be available for sale sometime this year. These two vehicles feature 3D printed components in the commercial models, which is a first for the company. BMW has also announced a €10 million investment for a new additive manufacturing facility that’s set to open in Oberschleissheim, north of Munich, in 2019.
There are two kinds of people: those who love putting together Ikea furniture and derive a sense of pride and satisfaction from it, and those who absolutely hate it and find it a stressful, unnecessarily challenging experience. Now, thanks to Singaporean robotics researchers, we can add a third type: robots, who are very patient and don’t think (yet). As a result, you’ll need two robotic arms to assemble a Stefan pine chair ($25) in about twenty minutes, half of which is spent identifying the various pieces. It’s reassuring to know that robots, too, sometimes encounter setbacks. In the second video, it’s almost enough to make you take pity on them: the arm that drops one of those annoying little wooden pegs seems almost despondent.
To mark Earth Day, Apple has introduced Daisy, a new robot that disassembles old iPhones, making it easier to re-use and recycle their parts. Housed in an Apple factory in Austin, Texas, Daisy replaces her predecessor Liam, and uses certain components from the old machine. The robot is able to take apart nine different versions of the iPhone, and can process up to 200 iPhones per hour, in contrast with Liam, who was limited to just the iPhone 6.
Researchers at the University of Maryland, with the US Army Research Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, have unveiled a new zinc and water “aqueous zinc” battery that combines the best properties of zinc and lithium ion batteries. The result is a battery with a long life, that won’t degrade over time, and that’s also not at risk of exploding. These batteries may be used in future consumer electronics, or in extreme conditions, such as in vehicles in military operations or in deep-sea environments, where an exploding battery could have disastrous consequences.
Microsoft has introduced Azure Sphere, a new solution to create connected objects. It’s made up of three main components: microcontrollers (MCUs) which integrate Microsoft security technology (Pluton sub-system), Azure Sphere Security Service, a dedicated cloud service, and Azure Sphere OS which, interestingly, is based on the Linux kernel, a significant first for the Redmond group. Security is a big problem for IoT solutions, meaning that Microsoft’s proposal may appeal to developers of connected objects. The microcontrollers are custom designed by Microsoft Research and approved manufacturers don’t have to pay any royalties. The first Azure Sphere chip, the MediaTek MT3620, will be available soon.
When giving directions, we often use landmark buildings and businesses: “You’ll be taking a left after the pharmacy,” “Take a right just after McDonalds,” “Once you get to the church, stick to the left,” etc. Google Maps has decided to test this way of doing things and users have been surprised by messages like “Turn right after the Burger King,” instead of the usual, “In 100 metres, turn right.” It’s definitely more natural and personal and seems like it would be more efficient; instead of calculating distances, you just wait for a visual landmark that’s really hard to miss. Some people have wondered if this is covert advertising paid for by fast food chains, but that’s not it, it’s just that there are so many of these kind of restaurants on North American roads. For now, it seems like only a small segment of Google Map users around New York City will be able to use it. Google has confirmed that it’s being tested.
A phone manufacturer that innovates in the realm of design and that doesn’t jump on the Apple bandwagon with notches everywhere, is deserving of notice. This being the case, on a prototype of a Doogee phone, you’ll notice the screen slides down to reveal the cameras and the speakerphone. Thanks to this clever design, the OLED screen covers a full 97% of the available surface on the front face, leaving the border on the four sides just one millimetre wide. This solution seems much more elegant than the one proffered by Vivo, with its retractable camera on the Apex FullView. With its two “layers,” the Doogee Mix 4 is a bit thicker than most other high-end phones, at 11 mm versus 8 to 9 mm, but it has the advantage of being shorter while still offering a 6-inch screen. No confirmation yet on when the Mix 4 will be available for sale. Videoblogger Arun Maini notes that based on Doogee’s historical release schedule, it’s likely that the Mix 4 will be available in December, i.e. six months after the release of the Mix 3, in June.
Yes, we totally agree, this type of geeky thing really serves no purpose, but it’s fascinating nevertheless. A French hacker came up with the idea of running Mac OS 8.1, which dates from 1998, on the iPhone X, with an emulation of a Quadra 900, a Mac from 1991 with a 68040 Motorola processor. The neatest thing is that it seems to work really well and does so smoothly (starting up and loading system extensions is definitely faster than on computers from that era, for those who remember those days). The main problem is definitely how to adapt an interface developed for a keyboard and mouse, to a small touch-screen. The video shows that you can run Warcraft II (1996) without any issues. This exercise in style really demonstrates the phenomenal power that today’s phones have achieved.
The cat and mouse game between municipalities and recipients of parking tickets has heated up. Meet the lawyer bots who will challenge parking tickets on your behalf, and who could end up costing cities big bucks. DoNotPay, for example is a free online bot service that streamlines the way you contest parking tickets. It’s led to more people contesting unfair tickets, but has also opened the door to potential abuse of the system, leading to possible revenue loss for municipalities. It guides users through a series of questions, to determine for example if the ticket has incorrect details, and generates a legal letter to be submitted to the city. Some lawyer bots, like WinIt, collect a fee, but only if the appeals are successful. In the U.K. and the U.S., DoNotPay has led to the dismissal of over 450,000 parking tickets – or $13 million in fines.
Louis Vuitton, the leather maker best known for its overpriced handbags and luggage emblazoned with loud monograms that turn you into a walking billboard for the luxury brand, is venturing into high tech with the same formula: overpriced and monogrammed. It has launched LV Echo, a $425 CAD luggage tracker that allows you to pinpoint the location of your $4,000 suitcase in various international airports. This tracker uses Sigfox’s Monarch technology, which interestingly doesn’t rely on mobile networks or WIFI, but on a specialised IoT/M2M network, one that’s dedicated to low speed communications, on radio frequencies between 862 and 928 MHz (Ultra Narrow Band, UNB) based on geographic zones.
In North America, like in Asia, more and more youth between the ages of 18 and 35 live alone. In Korea, this phenomenon is particularly widespread, and researchers are trying to find ways to minimize the sense of isolation. Last month, during the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interactions, Korean roboticists presented a robot called Fribo, which was developed to allow young adults who live on their own to maintain daily contact with their friends, and doing so by listening to what’s happening in your life and those of your friends. In fact, Fribo works by listening to the daily sounds of your life. The robot’s voice recognition is minimal (and it doesn’t record voices) so it’s more private than something like Alexa. It’s also more intelligent in many respects, with the ability to understand what’s going on in its environment simply by analyzing noise. Fribo can recognize noises like the sound of a vacuum cleaner running, a microwave, a washing machine, the sound of a fridge door opening and closing, the sound of doors, etc. With time and some help, it’s able to learn the meaning of new sounds. The robot also has an ultrasound sensor so it can detect if you’re in the room or not, as well as temperature, humidity and ambient light sensors. When a Fribo hears a noise in your house that it recognizes, it sends a message to your friends’ Fribos, for example: “Oh, someone just opened the fridge door. I wonder what your friend is going to eat.” Though the concept appears strange (OK, its frankly bizarre), the first tests have been conclusive. For example, one young woman said, “Fribo helped break the silence and emptiness I felt at home after work. It’s different from the TV because it gives information about my friends’ activities. The robot seems like a living creature.” The study was conducted in Korea, however, and researchers noted they weren’t sure that Fribo would work as well in other cultural contexts.
The storm clouds are gathering over Tesla. At the beginning of April, its stock tumbled below $260 US, wiping out all of its gains from the past year, while last June it was soaring at more than $380 US. Its market capitalization has dipped back below GM’s and is now at about the same level as Ford. What’s the reason? Bad news upon more bad news. To start, on the 23rd of March, a Model X on activated autopilot crashed into a traffic separation rail on a highway in Mountain View, California. The driver died and photos of the car in its sad state were seen around the world. Coming on the heels of the incident with the Uber car that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, this didn’t help in building a positive image for the general public about autonomous driving.
The BionicWheelBot is a new octopod robot whose design is inspired by the gymnast spider cebrennus rechenbergi, an arthropod discovered a decade ago in the southern Morocco desert, with locomotion that’s adapted to the dunes. The machine is developed by German firm Festo, which has previously developed a bionic kangaroo and a robotic arm in the shape of an elephant trunk, and has made a foray into the insect world with robots in the shape of an ant and a butterfly. Fifteen motors housed the joints and body control the BionicWheelBot’s legs. Just like the gymnast spider, it can roll like a ball by retracting six of its legs while using the other two to push the ground on each rotation.
Huawei presented its two new high-end phones in Paris in front of a crowd of 1500 journalists at the majestic Grand Palais. They both run on Android 8.1; the P20 Pro has an OLED screen and the P20 an LCD, but both display the same resolution (2,240 x 1,080). Like the iPhoneX and many other copycats, these new phones have a notch, but it’s less wide than Apple’s. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Technologies Consumer Business Group, promoted it as an advantage, although without the TrueDepth camera mechanism, the advantage seems questionable to us.
After starting with Ubuntu, Microsoft has added other Linux distributions that can be used with WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux): SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, openSUSE, Debian, Kali Linux. That’s great and all, but if Microsoft didn’t support your favourite distribution, you were out of luck…until today. Microsoft has released a MIT licence C++ utility that allows you to build your own Linux distribution installation package for WSL. The tool has two target audiences: distribution owners (so that they can create a package ready for the Microsoft Store), and developers (so they can create custom distributions and load them onto their development systems). Microsoft will continue to add new features to WSL. The next major Windows update, version 1803, will include limited support for background tasks and better filesystem interoperability between the Windows sides and Linux sides.
It seems that Samsung is having difficulties with its own processors. You may not know it, but the manufacturer uses a different system-on-a-chip on its high-end phones depending on the regions of the globe: for the most part, American, Chinese, Japanese and Latin-American users get devices equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, while the rest of the world gets a “house” Exynos SOC.
IBM has unveiled the world’s smallest computer — a device the size of a grain of salt. Presented at the Think 2018 conference in Las Vegas, the chip measures only 1x1mm, but has the processing power of an x86, i.e. that of the first IBM desktop computers from the 1990s, altogether respectable, given its size. This complete system on a chip (SoC) — with a processor, memory, a photovoltaic cell for power supply, a communication unit that uses an LED and a photo-detector to communicate with the outside world — was developed as an anti-fraud device. It could be built into price tags or product packaging, allowing data to be recorded during transit and stocking, and for example, it would show if the product was handled correctly in transit, all to improve supply chain security. It will cost less than 10 cents to make. Still in the prototype stage, these chips could also be used to authenticate products that were bought online, such as food, pharmaceuticals and luxury items to ensure they haven’t been altered.
Developed by a team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, SoFi is a soft-bodied robotic fish that can swim independently alongside real fish in the ocean. Its main use is as a research tool to observe marine life without disturbing it. In order to do this, SoFi’s appearance and behaviour mimics that of real fish as closely as possible. The robot is controlled remotely via ultrasounds and it can swim autonomously for 40 minutes. Its main propulsion is done with its tail, which is driven hydraulically by pumping oil from one side of the tail to the other. The tail moves back and forth at a frequency of 0.9 to 1.4 Hz, which provides a maximum speed of 21.7 cm per second. The system will work at depths of up to 18 metres. In the video, you can see tests undertaken in the magnificent coral reefs in Fiji.
Bloomberg has revealed that Apple has a secret manufacturing plant in Santa Clara, California, where it designs and creates its own screens using MicroLED technology. It’s likely doing this to sidestep Samsung and its OLED screens in future devices. It’s well known that the company wants to diversify its suppliers: Apple has spent billions of dollars to help LG ramp up its OLED production and rumour has it that LG screens will feature on the iPhone X’s successor. Remember that in 2014, Apple was already super interested in MicroLED technology, and bought LuxVue Technology, which was developing low-power ultra-bright MicroLED screens. Odds are good that the first Apple product to feature a MicroLED screen will be the Apple Watch.
This is the conclusion of a long-term study that was just published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. At a time when too many people, including the President of the United States, think that video games are a part of the cause of violence among youth and bloodshed in schools, this is a conclusion that might indeed be welcomed. Previous experimental studies have focused on the short-term effects of violent video games. The current study, however, is the first to examine the long-term effects of violent video games using an impressive battery of tests: behavioural measures of aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy and interpersonal skills, predisposition to boredom, risk-taking and procrastination, mental health assessments (depression, anxiety), all before and after two months of daily video-game playing. Each day for two months, participants either played the ultra-violent Grand Theft Auto V, or a non-violent video game, Sims 3, or no video games whatsoever. No significant changes were observed among any of the three groups, not the daily violent video-game players, the daily non-violent video game players, or the control group that played no games at all.
Shelly is a South Korean robot-tortoise that was created to teach young children to respect robots. The idea is to reduce or eliminate aggressive behaviours during interactions with the creature. Shelly is a toy that’s fun to play with and that lights up when petted, but just like a real turtle, when hit, she withdraws and hides in her shell, and won’t come out until she’s decided that the environment is safe again. Shelly was made large enough that five to seven children under the age of 13 can interact with her at the same time. The top part, Shelly’s shell, is studded with LEDs and vibration sensors that can detect contact and impacts. Jason J. Choi of Naver Labs (Seoul), says a most interesting thing about the management of human-machine relationships: “Previous research has found that robots that rely on verbal warnings or escaping from abusive situations are not effective in restraining abusive behaviors. These kinds of reactions rather excite people’s curiosity and motivate them to abuse robots continuously. In our research, we showed that stopping attractive interaction is a better solution than somehow reacting to the abusive behavior.”
The foundation waited for Pi (π) Day to announce an updated version of Raspberry Pi 3, its first 64-bit ARM processor single-chip nano-computer. Dubbed the model B+, there are no changes to its dimensions, connections, or price ($35 USD, or $46 CDN from BuyaPi.ca and CanaKit). This new device is built around the BCM2837B0, a 64-bit processor running at 1.4 GHz, which is an updated version of the Broadcom processor used in the Raspberry Pi 3 B. A new Cypress chip offers Dual-band 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth version 4.2. Similarly, network access is improved via a LAN7515 chip that runs Gigabit Ethernet, which triples the outgoing bandwidth on USB 2.0. Power-over-Ethernet support is available using an optional PoE Switch HAT element. Raspberry Pi 1B+, Pi 2B and Pi 3B are still available for $25, $35 and $35 USD respectively. This is important for some of their industrial clientele who prefer to stick with existing products for the moment. Available as of today.
Now you too can own a replica of HAL-9000, the evil supercomputer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is also a virtual assistant that can control your home. Employees from the now-defunct Master Replicas, which created a range of props from Star Wars and Star Trek, have created a new company that’s developed an interactive replica of HAL using Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa. The replica uses Amazon’s Echo technology to control your home, with a Fire HD tablet as its base. It can be your virtual assistant, giving you updates of the news and the weather and controlling smart devices in your home. Pre-orders will start in April, with shipping in August or September. The run will be limited to… 2001 units.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has just announced a milestone for the company’s heavy-duty electric trucks: the first production cargo trip for the Tesla Semi is now underway, with two trucks en route from the Sparks, Nevada Gigafactory, to the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. They are filled with heavy battery packs, and will be climbing from 4,400 to 7,200 feet in altitude, descending down to sea level, and climbing back up 7,200 feet, on their 480-mile round-trip journey. Elon Musk has said that the trucks would have a 500-mile range and 80,000 lb. maximum load. Tesla declined to comment when asked if the trucks would make the trip on one battery charge. Obviously not, since people have seen them stop at a Supercharger station in Rocklin, on the outskirts of Sacramento, only 215 kilometres from the Sparks Gigafactory.
If you’re thinking of jumping into the cryptocurrency mining business, here’s an added bonus: you can heat your entire house by using a cryptocurrency mining rig with a wall-mounted radiator. Qarnot’s QC-1 “crypto heater” is one sleek-looking radiator, with a wooden top and matte-black finish, and is totally silent – no fans are needed for cooling down the rig, as the heat it generates is used to heat your house. The device has two Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 580 graphics cards, and can create about $120 of Ethereum per month (based on current prices). It costs about $3,570 and pre-orders are being taken now. The first rigs will be shipped before June 20th.
Or, to be precise, Microsoft is putting an end to Windows 10 S as a full-fledged operating system, and replacing it with a Windows 10 setting. Windows 10 S, which was launched last year, is a pared-down operating system primarily targeted towards schools, and likely created as competition for Chrome OS. Its main drawbacks are that users can only install applications from the Windows Store, web browsing can only be done on Edge, and Bing is the only integrated search engine. The new “S” mode will be available on the remaining versions of Windows: Home, Pro, Enterprise.
Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) technology enables websites to load quickly on mobile devices. Today, the company announced that it is working to do away with the shortcomings of this technology by creating a standard that everyone can use. The main criticism levelled at AMP is that it uses non-standard web technology, with pages that are housed on Google’s servers. These pages’ URL addresses link to Google, rather than to the original publishers of the content. “We are taking what we learned from AMP and are working on web standards that will allow instant loading for non-AMP web content”, wrote AMP project leader Malte Ubl in a post published on Thursday.
Two hardware hackers have created a robot that has broken the records for fastest solving of a Rubik’s cube — in 0.38 seconds, which is 40 percent faster than the previous record of 0.637 seconds. In contrast to a human player, who would use a looser cube, the robot works best when the cube was tightened way beyond what is intuitive. The creators used a pair of Playstation 3 Eye webcams to observe the faces of the cube, but they had trouble distinguishing the red and orange faces. So they painted them black for the cameras to recognize properly. The custom-built motor controller takes only 10 milliseconds to perform a single turn of the Rubik’s Cube. At speeds like that, if I had to bet, my money would be on the robot…
Google’s Chrome browser is now compiled with Clang on Windows. It replaces the Microsoft Visual C ++ compiler; the same compiler will be used by Google going forward for Windows, macOS, Linux and Android. No doubt this makes Chrome the first major software project to use Clang on Windows. For a long time, Chrome on macOS and Linux has been built using the Clang compiler and the LLVM toolchain. Using the same compiler everywhere makes multiplatform development much easier — you have the same bunch of bugs to fix on each platform — and Clang especially has diagnostic tools like ASan and UBSan, which Google has wanted to be able to use. Google has been heavily involved in the Clang project for several years, with the goal of achieving just such an outcome. Microsoft has worked to ensure that Windows headers and C ++ libraries work with Clang just as smoothly as with its own compiler, and by publishing documentation on the PDB format.
It looks like the US has hit peak Facebook and that it won't be getting more users anytime soon. According to new research from the Pew Research Centre, 68 per cent of Americans use Facebook, a number that has remained stagnant for two years. On the other hand, Instagram is growing in popularity - about 35 per cent of US adults use Instagram, up from 28 percent in 2016. According to the report, Snapchat is also a major competitor: many youth are using this platform in numbers that may soon eclipse their use of Facebook.
The new 4G LTE Light Phone 2 is simple and minimalist, radically design, equipped with a nice matte screen backlit with E-Ink, and weighs about 80 grams. The premise of this phone is to allow you to "reclaim your life", because without Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, and Candy Crush, Saga or Tetris, you'll definitely have extra time on your hands to devote to pursuits other than staring at a screen, compulsively scrolling though photos and news of ever-decreasing interest.
Waymo has released a new video that allows you to step into their driverless vans and see what it's like to experience a trip in one of their Chrysler Pacificas, providing a 360-degree view of what the car sees and how it works. Launched in 2009, the company has driven 5 million miles autonomously, and in the last three months alone it has racked up 1 million miles. Waymo and other companies operating driverless vehicles are attempting to educate people on how these technologies work. Waymo also launched an education campaign with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups to inform and gain the public's trust in this kind of technology.
Vulkan is the open graphics API that replaced OpenGL and is supported by all platforms, except iOS and macOS, as Apple uses its own Metal API. Game developers who want to create iOS or macOS versions have to use either Metal, which requires a lot of porting work, or OpenGL. Unfortunately, the version of OpenGL which is supported by Apple is becoming more and more obsolete, and has always been clunky. Without any help from Apple, Khronos, Valve, LunarG and Brenwill Workshop decided to step up to the plate and developed a toolbox that allows for on-the-fly conversions of Vulcan to Metal. This will definitely make the portage of many games into iOS or macOS much easier. Valve has already created a macOS/Vulkan version of its title Dota 2, and it's twice as fast as the original Mac version. Under Apache 2 license, use of the tool, named Molten VK, is free.
Samsung unveiled its new high-end phone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. There weren't any surprises, as most of the Galaxy's features had already been leaked online. Externally, for the S9 as well as the bigger sibling the S9+, there's really not much difference between these models and the previous generation. In addition to enhanced performance, the biggest new feature is on the camera side, with two 12 megapixel cameras: one with a telephoto lens opening to ƒ/2.4, and the other with a wide angle, variable opening from ƒ/1,5 or ƒ/2,4, depending on the light. DxOMark has already tested the S9's photographic abilities and has crowned it the best camera of all the phones on the market. On the front, there's an 8-megapixel camera. Also, Samsung couldn't help itself from copying Apple's Animojis, with a feature called AR Emoji. Unfortunately, the majority of early comments so far are of this ilk: "creepy puppets more likely to trigger nightmares than smiles." On a positive note for Samsung: everyone seems to have forgotten the catastrophic debacle of the Galaxy Note 7. And yes, the S9 still has an audio jack! Available for pre-order for $720 USD or $839 USD, depending on the model.
Sony’s Koov is a kit made up of over 300 pieces (see-through bricks, wheels, gears, sensors, motors, etc.) created to teach robotics and programming to youth ages 8–14. The kit comes with 23 plans for robots, but nothing prevents users from developing their own plans —on the contrary. At its core, Koov has a micro-controller based on the Arduino open source platform. Sony, however, has developed its own simplified programming language, dubbed Scratch, for these robots. Available through pre-order from Sony, at a cost of $520 USD, which seems a tad steep. Delivery is slated for the end of March.
Skydio, a startup launched four years ago by MIT researchers, has announced its first product: the autonomous R1 drone, which is able to automatically follow your movements and film them in 4K. The R1 is equipped with 12 small onboard cameras, and can recognize its environment with a high degree of accuracy, allowing it to dodge all objects in its path. Its maximum speed is 40 km/hr, it is autonomous for 16 minutes and weighs only 1 kg. It’s available at a cost of $2,500 USD, which will undoubtedly curb the enthusiasm of many potential buyers enamoured by this nifty machine.
Pixel phones generated a lot of buzz in the media, earning praise for their undeniable features, but the commercial success of the phones remains actually quite modest and has relegated Google to being a minor player in the market. According to Francisco Jeronimo, Research Director with IDC, Google doubled deliveries of the Pixels in 2017, shipping 3.9 million units. In the United States, its share of the market rose from 1.8% to 2.8%, which is definitely progress, but is still a marginal presence in the market. In contrast, Apple sold about 6 million iPhones each week in the last quarter of 2017. Google will likely have to beef up its worldwide distribution network, which currently is limited (the phones are only available for purchase in eight countries: Germany, Australia, Canada, Spain, the United States, Italy, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico).
AMD has launched two new four-core Ryzen processors (based on the Zen microarchitecture): the 5 2400G ($169 USD) and the 3 2200G ($99 USD). They are the first of their series to offer an integrated graphics processor (GPU), the Radeon Vega. Like other Ryzen chips, these new processors use the AM4 socket. With the appropriate firmware update, they should work on any existing AM4 motherboard, though not all AM4 motherboards include the video outputs necessary to use the integrated GPU. Graphics performance, though decent, will not be up to the discriminating standards of hard-core players. However, at that price, these processors, especially the 3 2200G, are ideal for business machines.
Boston Dynamics has posted a video on Youtube depicting an interaction between two SpotMinis, those agile and graceful four-legged robots. The video, entitled, “Hey buddy, can you give me a hand,” shows a SpotMini heading towards a closed door and seeming vexed at not being able to open it. Then, another SpotMini shows up to lend a hand —it has a robotic arm on its back. The arm unfolds, grabs the handle, opens the door and keeps it open while his buddy passes through. The video provokes a wide range of comments which, surprisingly, contrast wildly. In one corner: “Oh, wicked”, “Super”, “Cool”, “Amazing”, “Impressive”, “Fantastic”, “Too cute”, “Adorable”, and in the opposite corner: “Scary”, “Nightmarish”, “Technology terrorizes me”, “Welcome to our new overlords”, “We’re doomed”, “Oh no! They’ve learned to open doors! They’re the raptors from Jurassic Park!”, “It really scares me”, “God helps us….”. Which side are you on? Around here, we’re in the camp that thinks it’s cool, and we’d definitely like to have a SpotMini roaming around the halls at the office.
In early February, iBoot, which is code from the secure boot-up part of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, was leaked online and posted to GitHub. Apple sent GitHub a Digital Millennium Act takedown request, thus confirming it was indeed genuine code, and while GitHub did remove the code, it was online for a few hours. This may have lasting and damaging effects for the security of Apple devices, as the code could be used by people creating software to jailbreak or bypass Apple’s protection of iPhones and iPads. According to comments in the leak, the leaked code is from iOS 9, although it’s likely that sections of this code are used in the more recent version.
Cleo Robotics has released a tiny, donut-shaped compact drone that can fit in the palm of your hand (it measures 95 mm in diameter, 33 mm thick, weighing 90 grams). It’s got a single pair of propellers on the same axis, housed inside a ring-shaped casing; it can fit in your pocket without having to be folded or taken apart, and there aren’t any fragile external parts that need to be protected. It works using a ducted fan. Changing the drone’s direction in flight relies on control surfaces into the airstream, something that company President Omar Eleryan, is saying very little about. The drone promises to be easy to use, practical and safe. Cleo should be available to the professional security market within the next 12 months, and the company hopes to launch a drone available to the public at a price competitive with other small quadcopters, between now and late 2019. That means you’ll need to be patient before you get a hold of one of these “dronuts.”
Intel has released a prototype of their smart glasses that look just like a regular pair of glasses, which is good news if you don’t want to turn into a strange cyborg, as with the failed Google Glass. They’re connected via Bluetooth to a phone (Android or iPhone), weigh less than 50 grams, and don’t have a camera, microphones or buttons. At the moment, Vaunt Glasses have only one major role: to display notifications and offer contextual information. The batteries and all the electronics are housed in the glasses’ arms. Messages aren’t displayed on a screen, but rather projected by a low-powered laser beam (VCSEL—vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser) right onto your retina. As a result of the technology that’s used, the display is monochrome: everything displays in red, at a resolution of close to 400x150 pixels. Since the image shines directly on your retina, it’s always in focus. The battery should last 18 hours. Intel will be making a development kit available in the next several months, for an undisclosed price.
Nissan has developed a nifty system that sends slippers to their rightful place at the entryway of a traditional Japanese inn (or ryokan) all by themselves, with the click of a button. Each slipper is outfitted with tiny wheels, a motor and sensors, which enables it to cross the floor using Nissan’s ProPilot Park technology. The car giant has also integrated the system into the inn’s tables and floor cushions, allowing guests to see autonomous furniture making its way across the floor. According to Nissan, their goal is “to entertain guests and reduce staff workload,” but it’s obviously being used to promote the company’s new Leaf vehicle, an all-electric, semi-autonomous car which uses the ProPilot driver assistance technology system. Points to Nissan for a creative marketing campaign.
We’re now convinced that the head of Tesla and Space X can sell absolutely anything. Last year, Musk sold 50,000 Boring Company logo caps for $20 each. “After 50k hats, we will start selling The Boring Company flamethrower,” he joked. Today, he made good on his word - he posted a video of himself playing with a flamethrower and a page for pre-orders now appears on the website. You might say that the term “flamethrower” is a bit of a stretch - the device looks more like a roofer’s propane blowtorch than an actual combat weapon that can shoot burning fuel across distances of several dozen metres.
At the beginning of last year, HMD Global, the Chinese manufacturer that exploits the Nokia brand, brought back the Finnish brand’s iconic model - the 3310, a sturdy, no frills and cheap phone which sold 126 million units during its heyday. After it came out with the 2G and 3G models, HDM Global released a LTE “4G” model. The exterior design is identical, but the LTE model does away with the Java-based operating system (Series 30+), opting for the YunOS, an Android fork developed by Alibaba. The phone supports VoLTE HD calls and can also be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s got 512 MB of storage (up to 64 GB with a micro SD card) and the 2.4-inch screen has a resolution of 240x320 pixels. For now, the phone will be only available in China, in partnership with the China Mobile provider. The price hasn’t been announced; but to compare, the 3G is sold in the U.S. for $60 USD (at Best Buy).
Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two roboticists who worked as engineers on Google’s autonomous vehicle project (now called Waymo), founded Nuro in 2016. This company is developing a completely autonomous electric vehicle, dubbed R1, that’s purpose-built for deliveries. Ferguson explains, “The last mile transportation contributes to 30 to 50 percent of the total logistics cost of goods transportation; the problem is real and costly. We realized we could create an entirely new kind of vehicle designed purely for goods transportation and reduce this cost. Importantly, this sort of vehicle could also be created sooner, more efficiently, and safer than passenger transportation. Because of its flexible interior, R1 can be reconfigured for its specific purpose in that delivery.” The issue with the R1 is that while it focuses on the “last mile”, it neglects the last few feet… You have to be at home, dressed and ready to meet the R1 outside to receive your order. Despite this, however, the company has won over investors and received $92 million in funding.
Lixies are number displays modelled on good old Nixie tubes. They use WS2812B smart LEDs, the light from which is directed to a stack of acrylic sheets. The pros: they’re cheaper, sturdier, longer-lasting, multicoloured and only need a low voltage (5 V vs 170 V for a Nixie tube). They’re designed and made by Connor Nishijima, and cost $38 USD per unit. Since it’s a hand-made product, production delays are to be expected.
At an event in New York, DJI just announced the newest model to join its line-up of drones, the Mavic Air. On the DJI range it rests between the foldable Mavic Pro and the ultra-portable Spark, combining some of the best features of the two. The Mavic Air is equipped with a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor camera and a 24mm-equivalent f / 2.8 wide-angle lens and a 3-axis gimbal. It can take stills of up to 12 megapixels, 4K videos at 30 frames per second (up to 100 Mbps) and Full HD at 120 frames per second. It can be folded like the Mavic Pro but is 40% lighter (weighing 430g vs. 734g). When folded, it’s unbelievably small and takes up less space than the Spark, allowing you to easily carry it in a backback. The drone comes with a remote control with a screen displaying real-time video transmission of 1080p. It flies at speeds of up to 68 km/h and can reach heights of up to 5,000 metres. Its flying time is up to 21 minutes (compared with 27 minutes for the Mavic Pro and 16 minutes for the Spark). It’s available for $800 USD.
According to a report from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, we now spend almost an entire day each week online. The 15th annual report sheds some light on how our online behaviours are changing. Since 2000, the amount of time we spend online every week has risen from 9.4 hours to 23.6 hours – that’s almost a full day! Our home lives have also changed since that time: we used to spend 3.3 hours each week at home online, but this number has now risen by more than 400 percent, to 17.6 hours.
Device manufacturer LG has filed a patent application for a phone with a foldable screen that can be opened like a book, turning into a tablet. The phone has an exterior display that shows the date and time, as well as notifications, when the device is closed. No actual information is available as to whether LG is really gearing up to launch such a device though. Smart phone manufacturers seem to be riveted by folding phones; while many patent applications have been filed for these devices, there haven’t been any actual releases in this area to date. Last September, Samsung announced it hoped to launch a foldable Galaxy Note this year, while making it clear that there are still “challenges to overcome.”
Ars Technica looks back on a prediction made in 2012, which at the time generated a lot of press: that the era of video game consoles was coming to an end. Time has proven this wrong, of course, as the game console market is thriving these days. NPD analysts noted that the US market for videogames rose by 11% in 2017, and is worth $3.3 billion. The launch of Nintendo Switch was a success. Sales of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are continuing on a “record-setting pace” in the United States. Together, these high-end consoles are selling 18% better than the PS3 and Xbox 360 at the same point in their life cycle. It’s hard to believe that six years ago, the general opinion was that consoles were headed the way of the Dodo bird, to be shunted aside by cell phones, tablets and PCs. Consoles remain fixtures in many family rooms to this day.
A new set of AR smart glasses, dubbed the Blade, was recently unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by display provider Vuzix. Unlike previous versions developed by the company, the entire display and its power source are contained within the eyewear frames. Vuzix worked with Amazon, and the glasses are the first ever to feature Alexa. The glasses can be a headset, can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi, or be paired over Bluetooth with an iPhone or Android.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a firm called Furrion unveiled Prothesis, an enormous four-legged exoskeleton. This strange, mobile monster measures 4.5 metres, weighs in at a whopping 3,620 kilos (watch your toes…) and was clocked at speeds up to 32 km/hr. Its battery life is one hour. It was created to serve as a prototype upon which to model other mechs, and eventually create a racing league. For the moment though, Prothesis’ only job is to put on a spectacular show and stoke in us an irresistible desire to try it out. It works by amplifying the movements of its user, requiring a steady hand coupled with pretty sharp hand-eye coordination.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Japanese startup Xenor unveiled a smart shirt with 14 sensors that can transform your torso into a video game controller. While the device seems limited in its current iteration, it’s clearly blazing a trail for future VR games. Even if Circuit Breaker’s journalist thinks the look itself is silly, I fancy the design and think it’s pretty cool. At this rate, pretty soon we’re all going to look like characters from Tron…
German security firm SYSS has just released a report that shows the vulnerability of Windows Hello: a printed photo of the device’s owner can be used to unlock devices where Windows Hello had previously been activated. Windows Hello has an infrared requirement, which in theory should prevent it from being tricked by regular photos, so the researchers at SySS used a photo taken with an infrared camera. The image was edited to change the contrast and brightness, and then printed on a laser printer at a low resolution. It was able to fool the integrated camera on a Surface Pro4 and a LilBit USB camera on a laptop.
After an agonizing six-year wait, a $1.9 B investment and development shrouded in secrecy, startup company Magic Leap has, at long last, unveiled the design of its AR headset. The company is playing it coy on the technology and how the headset actually works, which makes it difficult to envision all the different applications and viability of the set, which seems to be in league with Microsoft’s Hololens. Magic Leap One, as it is known, is a system including a big pair of glasses lined with sensors, a circular case housing a central unit that attaches to your belt, and a wireless controller with a touch pad for interacting with virtual interfaces. It should be available in 2018 for developers.
Virgin Hyperloop One has announced that its XPI prototype pod has achieved a new record-breaking speed—it was recently clocked at 387 km/h. This speed surpasses the 300 km/h reached by the French TGVs (“train à grande vitesse”, or high-speed train) used commercially in France, but it’s still a far cry from the TGV trial record of 574.8 km/h set in 2007. It’s also slower than the record set in 2015 by a Japanese train using magnetic levitation, which reached speeds of 603 km/h. And it’s nowhere near Virgin’s 1,080 km/h goal, which hopes to see Montreal a 40 minute ride from Toronto, and Las Vegas a short 30 minute jaunt from Los Angeles. The startup, which was originally known as Hyperloop One, recently changed to Virgin Hyperloop One after receiving significant cash infusions from Virgin.
Facebook is beefing up its use of facial recognition technology, and will now alert you if a friend, or a friend of a friend, uploads a picture with you in it, even if you weren’t tagged in the photo. If you aren’t OK with the publication of that photo, you’ll be able to hide it. If someone uploads a photo of you as his or her profile pic, Facebook will also notify you. “We’re doing this to prevent people from impersonating others on Facebook,” the company wrote on its blog. This being said, everyone using Facebook will be able to request to not be identified visually. Facebook could also use a method of account recovery that will use facial recognition to check that you’re the legitimate account holder. Unfortunately for some of us, though, facial recognition is not supported by Facebook in Canada or in the European Union, where laws about protection of personal information and privacy are more stringent than elsewhere.
Microsoft has just released a free version of its Quantum development kit, which includes the Q# (“cue-sharp”) programming language developed specifically for quantum computing, a quantum simulator and other resources for anyone interested in developing applications for quantum computers. Part of the Visual Studio development tool suite, Q# is designed to work with a local quantum simulator that can simulate around 30 logical qubits of quantum computing power using a typical laptop computer, allowing developers to debug their code and test programs on small instances directly on their machines. For heavy-duty quantum work, Microsoft is offering an Azure-based simulator able to provide over 40 qubits of power. Microsoft has also supplied a complete set of documentation, libraries and programming examples, providing users with basic quantum knowledge to play with quantum-specific concepts such as quantum teleportation.
Within the Apple family, the iMac has always been the all-in-one entry-level model, right from the birth of the “Bondi Blue” iMac G3 19 years ago, with its daring design and translucent enclosure. Now, the iMac is all grown up: the impressive Pro carries a price tag of 6,300 CAD for the base model, and if your pockets are deep, you can scale up to the 16,338 CAD model, for what is probably the most expensive Macintosh in history.
On Wednesday, Qualcomm unveiled its latest system-on-a-chip (SoC), Snapdragon 845, which will power all new high-end Android phones as of next year. Built by Samsung, the 10nm chip promises increased energy-efficiency combined with superior performance and 25% more speed than the previous generation. A new image signal processor (ISP) can capture 4K video in HDR at 60 fps, which matches the performance of the current generation of iPhones. The CPU, the Kryo 385, is an ARM Cortex processor with 4 “performance” cores clocked at 2.8GHz and 4 “efficiency” cores at 1.8GHz.
Paper Signals is an open-source Google project that allows you to build voice controlled folded paper objects; origami you can direct vocally. Using your voice, you can order these cute little guys to track the weather, bitcoin or rocket launches, for example. Experienced techies use the open source code to develop their own paper assistants. To get started, you’ll need a Paper Signals kit, which includes an Adafruit Feather HUZZAH ESP8266 board, all the required cables and a micro servo motor to animate the little fellows. Then, you’ll need a phone that’s compatible with Google Assistant, a printer and craft supplies to cut, paste and assemble.
Last May, Google released its first AIY Project kit stemming from its partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, dubbed Voice HAT. Yesterday, Billy Rutledge, Google’s AIY Project Director, showed off Google’s new image recognition kit. The “Vision Kit” is a do-it-yourself build that creates an image recognition device able to see as well as identify objects.
A web developer has just posted a video on DIY website howchoo, featuring his creation that’s a hybrid of Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa and Furby, the talking stuffed animal that was once on many children’s Christmas toy lists.
The field of robotics is constantly trying to imitate creatures from the animal kingdom, with much effort devoted to attempting to authentically imitate movement patterns. An area of robotics that’s less explored (no doubt due to ethical considerations) is cybernetics, or cyborgs, which are hybrids of living beings and machines.
Remember last month’s brouhaha about the cheeseburger emoji for Android 8.0, when Google’s designers had the audacity to put the cheese slice under the beef patty? Right away, Google CEO Sundar Pichai was in full damage control mode; Google’s restaurant in Mountain View even temporarily adapted its burger recipe, serving the unorthodox version of the controversial burger. Fast-forward one month, and Android’s version 8.1 has rectified the burger bug. Its designers also used the opportunity to tweak their beer stein emoji.
Vienna-based designer Klemens Schillingers has developed a series of five “Substitute Phones” to help people dealing with cellphone addiction. The phone-like objects have the same weight and shape as a smartphone, and contain stone beads that are used to mimic the motion of your hands when you swipe, scroll and zoom on your device.
Last June, it was rumoured that Toyota was on the verge of acquiring robot-maker Boston Dynamics, which at the time was a subsidiary of Alphabet-Google. SoftBank ended up sealing that deal, but that hasn’t dampened Toyota’s robotic ambitions, as shown by its continued heavy investment in robotics and artificial intelligence. Its robotics division just unveiled its T-HR3, a brand-new, third-generation humanoid robot. It measures 1.5 metres high, weighs 75 kg, and looks at first glance like a high-performer, with fluid movement, excellent balance and good coordination. A human is at the reins, however, and controls the robot by a sophisticated immersion system known as a “Master Maneuvering System,” allowing the robot to serve as a physical substitute for people with mobility issues.
Robby the Robot, star of the 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet, just broke the world record as the most expensive movie prop in the world, after clinching a winning bid of $5.37 million USD at auction in New York City. Measuring 7 feet tall, Robby was one of the most memorable robots of his genre; he became that generation’s robot archetype, and inspired many of the toys created in the 1950s-60s. Professor Edward Morbius, who lived on Altair IV (the “Forbidden Planet”), created the robot in the 23rd Century. Robby had metal pincers, a see-through dome head, spoke 188 languages, and brewed whisky… he even knew how to cook. Robby eclipsed the record for most expensive prop, previously held by The Maltese Falcon statue, which sold for $4 million USD, and Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven-Year Itch, which sold for $4.6 million USD in 2011 – the same price fetched by the original Batmobile from the 1966 TV show. For the price, Robby came with the Jeep he drove on Altair IV, his auxiliary control panel and his original MGM packing crates.
Last night, in an airport hangar in Hawthorne, CA., Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled a stylish prototype electric semi-truck that he said will travel 800 km (500 miles) on a full charge of its lithium-ion battery pack, go zero to 100 km/h (60 mph) in 20 seconds fully loaded, and charge most of the way in 30 minutes while a driver rests and eats. An average truck trip is less than 400 km, which meant that a driver could do a round trip without recharging.
MekaMons are four-legged battle bots that can be controlled with your smart phone. They can be upgraded, and come with detachable feet, shields and weapons. They’re equipped with four IR sensors, which allow them to take stock of the environment around them and follow and attack their enemies with precision. Each robot weighs about a kilogram, and measures 30x30x15 cm.
Robot-maker Boston Dynamics, which is now owned by Japanese tech giant SoftBank, just posted a short YouTube clip showing off a new version of its four-legged robot, SpotMini. This robot, first unveiled in June 2016, became famous for its dramatic wipeout on a banana peel.
For the first time, China has become the country with the most systems on the yearly list of top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world. China took 202 spots in the ranking, eclipsing the United States, with only 144 systems – its lowest ranking since the list was established 25 years ago. Supercomputer horsepower is critical to some of the most important scientific studies of our time, like weather modeling, climate research, astrophysics, and particle physics, to name a few. We’re seeing China increasingly invest in the sciences to become a technological superpower, while the United States is slowly giving up its crown as the world leader in this domain.
Slovakian firm Kinazo Designs has unveiled the “Enduro e1”, a stylish e-bike, created using 3D printing and available for approximately $23,500 USD. Volkswagen Slovakia helped the firm develop the bike through the loan of their X Line 2000R 3D laser printer from Concept Laser, that uses laser-selected sintering (or compression) technology, and is capable of printing very large items (with build areas of 8 x 4 x 5 m). Weighing 20 kg, the Kinazo e1 features an aluminum frame and a mountain-bike style. It is powered by an eDrive system, and available in two versions with a Brose motor and BMZ batteries with 500-650 Wh capacity: Pedelec (up to 25 km/h) or S-Pedelec (up to 45 km/h). A mobile app is used to control the bike’s electronics.
Rumours about the resurrection of Aibo the dogbot proved true. Eleven years after his demise, Sony announced the imminent arrival of a new puppy. Called “aibo” (all in lower case), model ERS-1000 is cuter, smarter and more interactive than its predecessors.
Razer, the well-known gaming company, unveiled its first smartphone, simply called Razer Phone. The introduction of an Android phone by a company known for its gaming-oriented PCs, keyboards and mice is the result of Razer’s January purchase of Nextbit, a start-up founded by former Google and HTC employees in 2015. Not surprisingly, the Razer Phone looks just like the Robin, the angular phone Nextbit launched in August 2015.
Google may have axed its atrocious yellow blobs, but there’s still plenty to laugh at. A new Android emojigate is rocking the Web: a burger emoji. Specifically, a cheeseburger emoji. Google designers actually placed the cheese slice beneath the patty, when everyone knows it’s supposed to sit atop the patty. The placement of the lettuce and tomato slices is debatable, but the cheese ALWAYS covers the meat! Google designers also need a refresher course on beer, to observe how the refreshing drink works: there is no air gap between the liquid and the foam. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, has at least committed to fixing the burger issue.
Yamaha has developed a professional robot motorcycle rider. The robot hunches over an unmodified bike, sensing the environment, calculating what to do, keeping the bike stable, managing acceleration and deceleration—all the while factoring in road conditions, air resistance, and engine braking. The project is part of an industry-wide drive to incorporate autonomous features into commercial motorcycles to make them easier and safer to ride, for example the ability to free-stand even when stopped, or to respond to voice commands.
Walmart is no stranger to technology, having acquired online shopping sites to grow it's e-commerce business, tested straight-to-the-fridge grocery delivery and worked with Google to create a voice shopping assistant. But its latest foray into technology is much more visible to customers, with robots roaming the aisles to scan for out-of-stock items, check prices and fix labels. These towering white columns on wheels will perform repetitive, mindless work, freeing up human staff to perform more challenging tasks. The robots will be deployed to 50 stores in the near future.
Google’s DeepMind lab has developed AlphaGo Zero, an artificial intelligence programme that is exceptional because it was able to teach itself to play Go. Google says the programme independently acquired “superhuman abilities”, becoming virtually unbeatable in just a few days.
We all know and love Boston Dynamics’ BigDog, AlphaDog, Spot, SpotMini, and other robots it has introduced over the years. So does Xing Wang, a Chinese roboticist and founder of his own robotics company, called Unitree Robotics. Unitree’s first robot is – unsurprisingly – a dog, called Laikago after Laika, the Soviet cosmodog.
Ever see a roach on its back, flailing its legs around helplessly? Ron Fearing, of UC Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab, has the answer to their prayers: a tail. Biomimetic Millisystems has been working on cockroach robots for years. At IROS 2017, it presented a roach with a tail, able to easily and quickly flip itself over on its stomach. Besides a tail, the 77.5-gram, 18-centimeter-long VelociRoACH also has a protective polycarbonate shell for impact protection, meaning it can fall down a flight of stairs unharmed, roll over, and scurry on its merry way.
Facebook introduced the Oculus Go, its new virtual reality headset, which will be sold for a relatively reasonable US$200. The first thing we noticed about it is that it’s a standalone headset: no need for a PC, or the attendant wires. The Oculus comes with an LCD “specifically optimized for virtual reality” at 2,560x1,440 pixels, for a 90-degree field of vision. At that price, tracking functions are limited: just the headset and controller movements are detected. The Go will ship early next year, but a developer’s kit should be available in November. Facebook also announced that it was dropping the price of the Oculus Rift by US$100, to US$400.
Sony launched its original robot dog, Aibo, in 1999. It was lovable and was an immediate hit, especially in Japan, where 10 different models were available until 2005. But it wasn’t cheap. For example, the ERS-7 model, launched in 2003, cost US$1,600 (but still found 45,000 forever homes).
Intel announced that it was making a 17-qubit chip available to its research partners. According to Jim Clarke, director for quantum hardware at Intel, the company settled on 17 qubits because it’s the minimum required for error correction. The qubit supraconductors operate at 20 millikelvins (a brisk -273° Celsius). Intel is touting its bolstered protection against interference, the bane of nano-scale computing.
apanese company Omron has developed a table tennis robot called Forpheus, which will not only play with you but also teach, coach and encourage you along the way. Forpheus (“Future Omron Robotics technology for Exploring Possibility of Harmonized aUtomation with Sinic theoretics”) uses a robotic arm controlled by AI through a 5-axis motor system.
Do you like petting a soft, furry pet? Does it relax and calm you? Would you like to enjoy all the benefits of a pet, without the stoop-and-scoop or litter cleaning? Or maybe you’re allergic? Well, technology has come to the rescue with Qoobo, a robotic cushion with a large, bushy tail that realistically wags when you pet it.
We didn’t expect a new Sphero robot so soon after the recent announcement of the BB-9E and R2-D2. Yet the company has just announced the arrival of a new addition to the Star Wars family: the R2-Q5, an Imperial Astromech Droid that made its debut back in 1983 in Return of the Jedi and looks like a sinister version of the R2-D2.
Yesterday, Google unveiled the second generation of the Pixel smartphone: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The Pixel 2 is made by HTC, has a 5-inch screen, is available in white, black and blueish grey, and is similar in design to the previous generation. The Pixel 2 XL, built by LG, has a 6-inch screen, is available in black or black and white, and is entirely redesigned. Technical specifications are similar to every other Android phone this year: Snapdragon 835 SoC, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. But the big news is that neither device has an audio jack, following the lead taken by Apple last year. Despite their many qualities, the first Pixel phones haven’t been a huge hit: according to comScore, just 0.7% of Americans who reported owning a smartphone in the June-August survey period said it was a Pixel. In contrast, Apple’s iPhone is used by 45.5% of American subscribers, and Samsung has 29.5% of the market. If you want an Android phone that will always be up-to-date and using the latest version of the operating system, go for those. The Pixel 2 will sell for US$649 and the 2 XL for US$849.
Waymo, Google/Alphabet’s self-driving car division, is set to launch “a commercial ride-sharing service powered by self-driving vehicles with no human ‘safety’ drivers as soon as this fall.” Anonymous sources have mentioned the pressure Alphabet CEO Larry Page put on Waymo to speed the conversion of the new technology to a commercial product.
LG has introduced a new entry-level Android phone in India, called the LG K7i. It will be sold for 7,990 rupees, or CA$150. Its unique feature is the built-in Mosquito Away technology: a bulge on the back houses an ultrasonic wave emitter supposed to keep mosquitos away. The feature would be particularly appealing in a country like India, but even here in Canada, it could come in handy in deep woods. Unfortunately, a systematic review of the scientific literature reveals without the shadow of a doubt that ultrasonic waves have no deterrent effect on mosquitoes. Pity… and shame on LG for taking advantage of people’s credulity.
PocketBeagle is a new nano-computer measuring 56x35mm, similar to the Raspberry Pi Zero. It is based on the 21x21mm Octavo OSD3358 system-in-package and includes 512MB of DDR3 RAM, a 1GHz ARMv7 Cortex-A8, two 200 MHz programmable real-time units, a SGX530 graphics card and a power management system. The board also features micro-USB (OTG 2.0-compatible) and microSD connectors, and works with an adapted Debian Stretch distribution. Ideal for hobbyists and IoT professionals alike, the PocketBeagle is available for US$25 at Mouser, Arrow and Digi-Key.
A prototype of the driverless flying taxi developed by German start-up Volocopter was tested passenger-less on the outskirts of Dubai. The craft is basically an 18-rotor electric drone able to fly for up to 30 minutes at 100km/h. Dubai is pioneering this mode of transportation as part of the futuristic image it seeks to project.
Robots are great when they’re up, but once they’re down, they stay down. A team from the University of Tokyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries has adopted a new approach: fall-proof instead of fall-less. The Robust Humanoid Robot (RHP2) falls over all the time, but keeps getting back up again and carrying on. The humanoid, life-size machine is covered in metal armor protecting it from fall-related damage, and has autonomous behaviors to get itself upright again after a fall. It can be sheathed in a waterproof, fireproof suit to work in disaster sites or wet environments. RHP2 is powered by electric motors and needs an electric tether line, though it will eventually be upgraded to hydraulics
Canon unveiled a system it is developing to simulate a video camera in real-time. The virtual camera will give viewers the impression of being in the thick of it at events like soccer games, for example. The system requires about fifteen high-res cameras to be positioned around the pitch. The Japanese company declined to go into technical detail, but did provide a demonstration video giving a good idea of the potential of the tool. For example, in the future, viewers wearing virtual reality goggles could imagine being right on the pitch. The Free Viewpoint system could revolutionize the way sports events are filmed, and watched.
Broadcom announced it will soon release a chip that can take advantage of the new generation of global navigation satellite signals (L5 GPS signal). The chip will provide the next generation of smartphones 30-centimetre accuracy instead of the current 5 metres.
The job of inventory managers is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Boxes, packages and even entire pallets can be misplaced or moved with no record of their new location, leading to wasted time and missed sales when goods can’t be found. A group from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab came up with a solution to this problem using drones and RFID tags, which are replacing bar codes as a standard feature in the logistics industry.
Researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Kingston in the UK have developed an AI tool that turns 2D portraits into 3D models. Unlike other, similar tools, this one can produce a good likeness based on a single photo. It uses a convolutional neural network (CNN) fueled by a library of 2D pictures of faces associated to their 3D models.
California company Hyperloop One identified the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto route among the top ten ideal locations to test its new method of transportation, magnetic levitation pods electrically propulsed through low-pressure tubes.
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s other company, has been working on its Falcon 9 rocket to make it reusable, one iteration at a time. The path to success was paved with spectacular failures, as shown in this cringe-worthy video showing the company's fiery lessons learned. Kudos to Musk for allowing failure – and not just learning from it, but laughing about it.
Equifax, the credit reporting company that has collected and analyzed the personal data of 800 million consumers applying for credit, has experienced a massive breach and the exposure of data related to some 190 million accounts (including 143 million in the United States). The major breach was announced some time after the fact, and not before three members of upper management had sold their shares.
Nintendo made enemies last April when it suddenly discontinued its wildly popular NES Classic Edition after just 1.5 million units and six months on the market, with no explanation (some suspect supply issues). But all is forgiven: today, Nintendo announced that its $60 plug-and-play retro console will be coming back to retailers "next summer."
We already wrote about Cassie, the robot made up of two ostrich-like legs joined at the hip. Now, Agility Robotics published a video on YouTube showing two Cassies touring their offices.
If owning the latest iPhone is just too plebeian for you, why not try a gold-plated one or, better yet, a solid gold one? Would you like diamonds with that? London and Dubai-based GoldGenie had given the iPhone 7 Plus the bling treatment last year and is promising more of the same with the iPhone 8 and even the iPhone 7S, should it ever materialize.
A page in IT history has turned. The San Jose Mercury News revealed that Oracle is about to lay off 983 employees at its Santa Clara facility.
You thought that the “reverse mouse” had gone the way of the dodo? Logitech doesn’t think so; in fact, today, it released a new trackball mouse — the first in years. The wireless MX Ergo, with its thumb-operated trackball, promises a 20% decrease in muscle fatigue compared to a classic mouse.
Just months after the NYPD issued its officers with 36,000 Microsoft-based smartphones, the force is switching to iPhones. The city bought Windows-based Lumia smartphones as part of a $160 million NYPD Mobility Initiative that Mayor Bill de Blasio touted as “a huge step into the 21st century.”
Sphero is known for its adorable BB-8 robot, launched two years ago and controllable by smartphone. Today, BB-8 has two new friends: the R2-D2, which needs no introduction, and the BB-9E, BB-8’s evil twin which will play a starring role in The Last Jedi, the next installment of the Star Wars saga.
Google has launched a development kit for Android to ease the integration of augmented reality in mobile applications. Called ARCore, it works with Java/OpenGL, Unity and Unreal. It provides motion tracking using the telephone’s camera to observe feature points in the room, as well as IMU (inertial measurement unit) sensor data to accurately place virtual objects.
Drone startup Zipline has been making deliveries to remote hospitals in Rwanda since 2016. Today, it announced a major expansion into Tanzania, with four distribution centers with up to 30 fixed-wing drones each, making up to 500 delivery flights per day.
In what is nothing less than a high-stakes wager, Samsung has unveiled its Galaxy Note 8. After one of the greatest disasters in the history of consumer electronics, the South Korean company decided to face the challenge head-on without giving up its Galaxy Note line. Samsung hopes that consumers will be won over by this new version of its phablet with stylus, guaranteed non-explosive.
Equipment builder ASUS has launched a laptop for tight budgets that will probably be popular with parents: the machine will sell for US$280 (CA$350). Plus, it’s been built tough, to withstand the hard-knock undergrad life.
Google chose the day of the solar eclipse to reveal the treat selected for its latest version of Android: “Nougat” will be followed by “Oreo”. Google and Nabisco have inked a deal for the use the brand. This is the second time Google uses a brand name for Android, after the “KitKat” in 2013 (version 4.4).
RemoteLock 6i is an Internet-connected door lock that can be operated three ways: remotely, with a traditional key, or with a keypad code. This, along with its remote blocking and reprogramming features, can be super practical for some, like airbnb hosts who can control access to their place without being physically present.
Specdrums are rings that turn colour into sound. They connect to your phone through Bluetooth and use optical sensors to read the colour of any surface they come into contact with. An application lets you personalize the sound associated with each colour, allowing you to make music by tapping on any surface, object, or colour around you.
Ubiquiti Networks, a company specializing in networking products, has launched FrontRow, its take on wearable cameras. FrontRow is a large medallion weighing 55 grammes, with an 8-megapixel camera on one side (with optical stabilizer), a 5-megapixel one on the other, a round 2-inch touchscreen (640 x 572px), 32GB of storage, a microphone and a USB-C port.
Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman, two reporters for the Wall Street Journal, revealed that Facebook is monitoring potential rivals, including new startups with exceptional performance, thanks to an in-house database. Facebook acquired the database when it purchased Onavo, a young Israeli company. Onavo’s application, Onavo Protect, guarantees users full data protection while routing traffic through a VPN.
Black eye for Microsoft: Consumer Reports, the well-known American consumer protection magazine, has announced that it no longer recommends Surface tablets and laptops because of an unusually high number of problems, far higher than the competition’s. According to Consumer Reports, 25% of Surface owners experienced issues by the end of the second year of ownership. The Redmond company responded: “We don’t believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners’ true experiences”. Apple’s laptops are the most reliable on the market.
When it comes to PC gaming accessories, you can have any choice of colours as long as it’s black. Same thing goes for Razer’s gaming suite: black mouse, black keyboard, black mousepad, and did we mention the black headset? But now you have choices! Razer has unveiled two new revolutionary colours for its gaming suite: “Mercury”, i.e. white, and “Gunmetal”, or grey.
Most mammals are four-legged, with very few exceptions being occasionally or completely bipedal. But the animal kingdom has no examples of three-legged animals; the kangaroo, which uses its tail for balance, is not considered to be truly tripedal. To explore this further, Yoichi Masuda and his colleagues at Osaka University decided to build three-legged robots, inspired by the Martian robots in HG Wells’ 1898 sci-fi novel “War of the Worlds”. Previous experiments like STriDER (2007) had shown that until now, three-legged robots were at best “intermittent bipeds”, using only two out of three legs at any given time.
RED, the high-end 4k and 8k camera manufacturer, caused a stir when it announced that it would produce a “holographic” Android phone, called Hydrogen One. Skimpy on details, the company promised a 5.7-inch screen able to convert from 2D to 3D, support for additional modules, a price tag of $1,195 for the basic model and a delivery date in early 2018.
On Friday, at a ceremony at Tesla’s Freemont, California factory, Elon Musk handed the keys to the lucky owners of the first thirty Model 3s to roll off Tesla’s production line. “Frankly, we’re going to be in production hell,” he told a crowd of Tesla employees in a speech.
Adobe announced that it would end support for Flash at the end of 2020, after which the player will cease to be developed and distributed. The veteran of Web animation and interactivity finally died a death by a thousand cuts: a history of security flaws, poor portability on mobile phones, a crippling blow dealt by Apple, increasing disaffection by browser developers, progress made in Web standards (HTML5 video and audio, Canvas 2D, WebGL…).
Just over a month ago, Lenovo showed us a flexible computer concept that left us somewhat skeptical. Today, the Chinese company showcased a tablet prototype that looks far less outlandish. Called Folio, the tablet features a 7.8-inch flexible screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1440 and runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC and Android 7.0 Nougat.
TurtleBot3 is a robot specifically developed to teach the Robot Operating System (ROS), a popular platform with academic researchers and industrial developers. The robot comes in two flavours, the Burger and the Waffle. The Burger, based on the Raspberry Pi 3, is the cheaper version, at US$550.
On July 16, the Windows Central Web site discovered that the Microsoft sites for the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and India had changed the name of the next Window 10 update from Fall Creators Update to Autumn Creators Update.
Nokia, or more accurately HMD Global, the company that produces Nokia-branded phones, has unveiled two new phones for emerging markets, the 105 and 130. These are basic devices, with 1.8-inch screens, an LED torch and up to a month’s worth of battery on standby.
Building on the established success of the NES Classic and the probable one of the imminent Super NES Classic, Atari has announced the latest member of its video game dynasty, a mini console which once again banks on retro style and nostalgia.
The Raspberry Shake 4D is a more sensitive and powerful update to last year’s Raspberry Shake seismograph. Available by preorder on KickStarter for US$249, it includes the Raspberry Shake 4D, a 4.5 Hz geophone and a weatherproof box. Delivery is slated for October 2017.
Ikea has launched a new collection of decorative objects for the home, some of which are entirely 3D-printed. 3D-printed objects are already being created by numerous artists, but this is the first time that they are being mass-produced by a major chain. The Omedelbar collection was developed in collaboration with Swedish stylist Bea Åkerlund, who has worked with major stars like Madonna, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
Researchers at the University of Teheran have been working actively for years on robots, specializing in human-size humanoid machines like the impressive Surena III, which stands 1.9 metres tall. Today, they unveiled a smaller, cuter robot, called Surena Mini, whose look is reminiscent of SoftBank Robotics’ Nao.
On July 9, Elon Musk showed off the first Tesla Model 3 vehicle on Twitter, to the delight of the 400,000 people who have placed an order since March 2016. This entry-level sedan, more affordable than the Model S, at US$35,000 (CA$44,550), can reach 100km/h in under 6 seconds and go for 345km between charges.
Ofer Dekel is a researcher at Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington. Dekel has a problem: squirrels are feasting on flower bulbs and bird seed in his backyard — a problem experienced by most North-American homeowners. Dekel has developed a solution that isn’t currently within everyone’s reach: a model for the visual recognition of squirrels for the Raspberry Pi 3, where an algorithm identifies the squirrels, triggering the sprinkler system.
Does the mini Super NES, unveiled ten days ago, still feel too bulky? The keychain-sized Keymu may be for you. This ultra-mini Game Boy-style console features a 1.5-inch OLED screen and an Intel Edison processor. The hitch? You’ll have to build it yourself. Detailed instructions are available on Hackaday.
Swedish trucking company Einride unveiled its T-Pod prototype, a cabless truck that will revolutionize the driverless transportation of goods. The 7-metre truck can carry 15 standard pallets over 200km between charges, operating fully autonomously on highways and by remote-control from a control centre on city streets.
In 2015, Sony launched First Flight, a Japanese crowdfunding platform for its own products. First Flight funded original products we wouldn’t have expected from a mainstream electronics titan, for example a scent diffuser (Aromastic), a toy to introduce kids to robotics (Toio), or an e-ink watch (FES Watch).
Salto-1P is a miniature robot that gets around in leaps and bounds, much like a large grasshopper. But look closely, and you’ll see that the critter has just one leg, making its agility all the more astonishing. Salto-1P can jump 1.25 metres high and still keep its balance thanks to a rotating balancing tail and a pair of miniature thrusters.
Waymo, the Alphabet/Google subsidiary dedicated to autonomous transportation, confirmed last month that it was working on a driverless truck. The rumour was confirmed today when Jalopnik posted photos leaked by an anonymous source.
Rumours confirmed: Nintendo is about to launch a SNES Classic console, a miniaturized version of the magnificent Super NES of the early 90s, no doubt to the delight of nostalgia players worldwide. The SNES Classic will come with 21 games (Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, etc.), including Star Fox 2, which was never released originally. The system will be available as of September 29 for US$80, and will come with two controllers. Just 5 games are truly simultaneous multiplayer games. Let’s hope that Nintendo doesn’t repeat the NES Classic fiasco, which was hard to get in the first place, then unceremoniously axed in April despite high demand.
Female mosquitoes are particularly adept blood-sucking pests, able to “bite” their victim undetected. No surprise then that bioengineers would try to mimic them to create a device able to monitor blood chemistry, for example for diabetics who must constantly watch their blood sugar. Since 2007, a team at the University of Calgary has been working on a device designed to automatically prick wearers at various times of the day, tapping into the capillaries.
Chip designer AMD unveiled its new line of processors for data centre servers. This is of course a full frontal attack against Intel’s last, most profitable bastion, the Xeon processor. These new SoCs are based on the new Zen microarchitecture, which we’ve seen in action in Ryzen chips.
You know Salvador Dalí’s melting watches? That’s what Lenovo’s new flexible computer reminds us of. It’s basically a bendable screen with a built-in keyboard and the Thinkpad’s trademark “Tagada strawberry” mousenub (or whatever it’s called).
Traditional Sumo wrestling opposes two wrestlers in a round ring, the dohyō. The winner must force his opponent outside the dohyō or get him to touch it with a body part other than his feet.
Maluuba, the Montreal company specializing in deep learning and bought last January by Microsoft, achieved the highest possible score of 999 900 points on the classic video game Ms. Pac-Man, Atari 2600 version (from 1982).
Stack Overflow’s latest annual survey revealed that developers who use tabs to indent their code earn US$43,750 per year on average, while those who use spaces earn US$59,140, vindicating Jeff Atwood, who has always maintained that only morons use tabs to format their code.
Franklin Robotics, the Massachussetts company that brought us the Roomba, has designed a solar-powered robot to weed the garden. Tertill is a round, 2.5-pound bot that uses sensors to identify weeds, then trims then near the ground using weed wacker.
At the E3 conference in Los Angeles, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One X, its new game console long known only as “Project Scorpio”. It will come with 6 teraflops of graphical power, more than its main rival, the PS4 Pro, with 4.2 teraflops.
The problem with wireless mice is that they run out of battery every 20 to 30 hours. Logitech has made this problem history with the Logitech Powerplay, a mouse pad that recharges your mouse as you use it.
In 2014, Google presented a prototype for a completely autonomous vehicle. The cute, round, self-driving car was dubbed Firefly by its creators. After three years of experimentation, Waymo (Alphabet’s autonomous-vehicle division) announced the end of the experiment.
At the end of 2013, Google acquired Boston Dynamics with a view to setting up a new robotics division. Andy Rubin, father of Android, headed up the division, eventually called “Replicant” by Google. But analysts at Alphabet Inc. concluded that Boston Dynamics was years away from generating a marketable product able to contribute revenue to the company’s bottom line.
Boson’s DFRobot kits are designed to look like toys to turn kids on to electronics, programming and robotics. The modules are divided into four easily-identifiable, color-coded categories: blue for inputs, green for outputs, yellow for functions and pink for power.
IBM, working with Samsung and GlobalFoundries, has unveiled the world’s first 5 nm silicon chip. Beyond the usual power, performance, and density improvement from moving to smaller transistors, the 5 nm IBM chip is notable for being one of the first to use horizontal gate-all-around (GAA) transistors, and the first real use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. IBM says that, compared to commercial 10 nm chips (presumably Samsung’s 10 nm process), the new 5 nm technology offers a 40 percent performance boost at the same power, or a 75 percent drop in power consumption at the same performance.
It came out of the blue, with no sneak leaks… so we were completely surprised when the iMac Pro was unveiled at the WWDC developers conference. This 27-inch model with a 5K display in a “space grey” shell is propelled by 8, 10 or 18-core Xeon processors (depending on the model).
At the annual WWDC developers conference, Phil Schiller unveiled a brand-new Apple product, the HomePod, a connected system of seven tweeters and an array of basses for 360-degree sound, which works with Apple Music. The interface is vocal thanks to Siri and six microphones.
Motorola unveiled the Moto Z2 Play, a midrange smartphone running on Android 7.1.1. Nougat, with a 5.5-inch display, more RAM, and a better camera. It will sell for $499 and will be available from Verizon or unlocked from Motorola’s website this summer. Of the four new Mods Motorola also revealed, the one that has us most excited is the Moto GamePad, which includes dual control sticks, a D-pad and four buttons.
Next Monday, Apple will be launching the latest update for Swift Playgrounds, the iPad software for learning to program in Swift. This version will control robots and drones! Apple announced that many products are already compatible with the application, for example the Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits, the Sphero SPRK+ ball, and several Parrot drones, among others, which all connect to the tablet via Bluetooth. While the educational application primarily targets youth, we believe that the ability to control robots through code will also appeal to the not-so-young… in fact, Apple noted that Swift Playgrounds is being used by over one million people all over the world.
Last January, Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android operating system, founded a startup focused on consumer electronic devices, called Essential Products. At the Code Conference, Rubin unveiled the first Essential phone, which runs on Android (unsurprisingly) and a Snapdragon 835 processor.
Android O (Oreo?)’s new beta version (available in Developer Preview since Wednesday) features several new developments, including, at long last, real emojis! Sayonara yellow blobs! Existing emojis have been redesigned and new ones (Unicode Emoji 5.0) added.
Additive printing is about to make a splash in the maritime sector. Damen Shipyards Group, RAMLAB, Promarin, Autodesk and class society Bureau Veritas have entered into a consortium to develop the world’s first class-approved 3D-printed ship propeller. The propeller will be based on a Promarin design typically found on port tugs. The propeller, 1.3m in diameter and weighing 180kg, will be made from a bronze alloy using the Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing process. The actual printing will be performed by RAMLAB in Rotterdam. This will be the first 3D-printed maritime component to be approved by Veritas, after testing.
At its I/O conference, Google unveiled a “reference design” for virtual reality headsets compatible with its Daydream platform, which is already being used with smartphones. The headset is truly standalone, just like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive: no phone, no PC, no cables. The headset will operate with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor and a handful of Tango sensors for spatial recognition (WorldSense tracking system). Two versions of the headset should be offered by HTC and Lenovo by the end of the year. Their price is not known.
Elon Musk announced on Twitter that its solar roof tiles were available for preorder as of today, May 10. Two types are currently available: smooth and textured. Roman and imitation slate tiles are not yet in production.
Amazon has unveiled its latest voice assistant, the Echo Show, equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen. The Show has the same basic capabilities as the regular, voice-only Echo, but the built-in display adds new functionalities: videoconferencing, displaying video feed from wi-fi connected cameras, displaying visual information to complement Alexa’s audio answers, streaming Youtube and Amazon videos, displaying Prime Photos, etc. The Echo Show will come in white or black. Available for preorder in the United States only, for US$230, with delivery as of June 28.
Thanks to a partnership with Google, issue number 57 of The MagPi, the official Raspberry Pi magazine, comes bundled with a special hardware kit. Voice HAT enables users to easily add voice interactions to their Raspberry Pi project through the Google Assistant SDK and Google Cloud Speech API.
We had been anxiously awaiting the elusive Windows 10 Cloud; we ended up with a very mundane, very locked-down Windows 10 S, positioned somewhere between the Home and Pro versions. You’ll be restricted to Windows Store applications, Edge as a Web browser, and Bing as a search provider… just like that time Microsoft tried to force Internet Explorer on us. If you’re dead set on using Chrome or Firefox (not available in the Microsoft store), or Google Search by default, you’ll have to fork over US$49, i.e. the price of an upgrade to the Pro version.
Musicians are flocking to tablets such as the iPad to replace traditional sheet music. The problem, though, is that tablet screens are small, making it impossible to display a double page comfortably. Another problem is that they’re too obtrusive to use in concert, and the light they emit ruins video footage.
In Florida, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition unveiled its Planar Elliptical Runner (PER). This light, bipedal robot is unique in that it can keep its balance purely mechanically, without the assistance of a computer. The cat-sized prototype can run at 16 km/h, but its developers believe that a human-sized version could reach speeds of 30 to 50 km/h.
You’ll either love it or hate it. If you’re a lover, and willing to give up the manufacturer’s guarantee, Jerry (he of YouTube JerryRigEverything fame) can show you how to make the glass backing of your Galaxy S8 totally see-through. Judging from the video, the diceyest step seems to be the removal of the panel, especially disconnecting the fingerprint recognition system and camera.
ARM has unveiled the Mali-C71, an image signal processor (ISP) specifically designed for automotive applications. New driver assistance and autonomous driving systems require an increasing number of on-board cameras, but images produced must be processed and analyzed in real-time. Unlike a traditional camera, the goal of the Mali-C71 is not to produce pretty pictures, but to provide the highest possible levels of clarity and reliability and an ultra-wide dynamic range (24 stops). This processor is the first imaging product of a new family called Mali entirely dedicated to image processing; ARM has other image processors in the works, optimized for other uses. For mobile phone applications, the ISP can come not as a separate component but built right in a SoC, along with the CPU and GPU.
It’s robots vs. humans. Last year, a Knightscope security robot knocked over a toddler in a shopping centre. This year, one of its colleagues was tipped over in an altercation with a drunk. The robot escaped with a few scratches. Knightscope, a company from Mountain View, charges 7 $ per hour for its security robots which, among other things, can read 300 license plates per minute, stream 360-degree videos, detect guns (soon), and alert live security guards in case of anomalies. Among Knightscope’s clients are Microsoft and the Sacramento Kings.
Waymo, Google/Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, is looking for hundreds of families in the Phoenix, AZ area to test-use its self-driving vehicles in real-world conditions. The vehicles are Chrysler Pacifica mini-vans, a model that has already been used for other tests. “We’ve given 10,000 rides internally, but if you’re just providing experiences to folks inside the company, you’re missing the broader range of diversity,” John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive, said.
Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google cofounder Larry Page, is dedicated to dreaming up flying machines. This week, it released a video showing a prototype of an electric pleasure over-water craft. The Flyer does not require a pilot’s license, and learning to fly it is said to be a breeze. Kitty Hawk expects to start selling the Flyer by the end of 2017. You can already put down $100 to place your name on the waiting list and obtain a $2,000 discount on the finished machine.
Microsoft first announced its plans to bring Windows desktop apps to mobile ARM processors last year. The software giant is planning to allow partners to build laptop devices first, with a version of Windows 10 that will support ARM chips directly by including an emulator in the operating system.
Intel and Micron Technology have been working together since 2012 on a new non-volatile memory technology, called 3D XPoint, claimed to outperform the flash NAND technology used in all current SSDs. Intel is about to launch its first product with this new technology.
Google is gearing up to implement an ad-blocking feature in its Chrome browser, which corners nearly half of the browser market. Of course, it would not block out all ads, and especially not Google’s Adwords ads.
Facebook wants to connect the world, including in the virtual world. It launched the new Spaces application, currently in beta version on Facebook’s Oculus Rift, at its yearly F8 developer conference. The product lets users create a digital, 3-D (legless) avatar based on their Facebook profile photo, and interact with up to three friends around a virtual round table.
The Internet Archive Web site lets you play with emulations of old Macintosh operating systems: System 6, released in 1988, in the days of the Macintosh IIx, and System 7, released in 1991 along with the Quadra 700 and 900, the first Macs to run on the Motorola 68040 processor.
Today, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter that the first Tesla electric truck was set to be unveiled next September, saying that “…the team has done an amazing job”.
Some farmers already use drones to monitor their crops, but a team of researchers from Georgia Tech have created a far more interesting alternative. Instead of designing yet another drone, they created a robot inspired by the sloth.
BlackBerry was awarded US$815 million (CA$1.08 billion) in the arbitration of a dispute with chipmaker Qualcomm, i.e. the amount Qualcomm supposedly overcollected on its patent royalties
Japanese toy maker Bandai has re-released the first edition of the electronic pocket pet, complete with the original six characters. Bandai’s also stayed faithful to the six hardware designs it first released, though there is one noticeable difference—the new Tamagotchi is half the size of the original.
German shoemaker Adidas will begin mass-producing a shoe with a 3D-printed sole. The process will allow for more personalized shoes, shaped to an individual’s weight and gait.
British entrepreneur Richard Browning has created a real-life Iron Man suit, by attaching miniature jet engines to his limbs. He has just founded Gravity, a tech start-up who has built and filed patents for the human propulsion technology that could reimagine manned flight.
Matrix Labs released last year the Matrix Creator, a powerful Raspberry Pi accessory that adds a whole bunch of sensors to the miniature computer (including a microphone array, temperature, UV, pressure, and more), letting you extend a Raspberry Pi into a full-fledged development device with a ton of different uses.
Samsung, like Motorola (Atrix) and Microsoft (Continuum) before it, is trying to turn a phone into a PC. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 will pair with a new Samsung Desktop Experience (DeX) dock accessory to morph into a desktop PC-like environment.
In an interview with the Guardian, former Microsoft font designer Vincent Connare said he’s proud of Comic Sans MS, a sans-serif casual script typeface that has divided the internet since its release in 1994. “It was for novice computer users and it succeeded with that market.
Ikea is getting into the home automation game with its own system for smart lighting. The new range of products is called Trådfri — which means “wireless” in Swedish — and is built around the ZigBee Light Link standard for connected lights (the same as Philips Hue).
Apple Insider has discovered a patent filing that covers laptops that include docks for an iPhone or iPad. In one example an iPhone can be docked into the trackpad section of the laptop, providing the processor, graphics card, memory, and storage for the entire device. The iPhone would then be used as the trackpad. Apple’s patent for the iPad would see the tablet docking into the display portion, with a trackpad supplied on the laptop instead. Apple’s patent was first filed in September, but like many patents it doesn’t mean Apple will ever bring this type of product to the market.
Here you are, wearing your HTC headset and lost in your immersive irreality game, frolicking with pink unicorns in a verdant valley. Suddenly, Whiskers decides he needs human contact, or rather, that you need to be brought back to reality, since it’s time for his Fussy Cat Ultra Premium Wet Food with Chunks, Island Shrimp flavour.
Cisco Systems revealed that over 300 Ethernet switches have a critical vulnerability that permits the CIA to use a simple instruction to remotely execute malware and take over targeted devices.
With its new SoC Qualcomm 205, presented at an event in New Delhi, the leader in chips for mobile phones has updated its entry-level processor for the first time in three years.
Ever so discreetly, Microsoft has released a new migration tool to help users transfer documents, photos and multimedia files from Macintosh to Surface.
Google has developed and open-sourced a new JPEG algorithm that reduces file size by about 20–35% percent, while still maintaining compatibility with existing browsers, image processing applications and the JPEG standard. This new encoder is called Guetzli, which is Swiss German for cookie (the project was led by Google Research’s Zurich office).
Leigh Orf, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is trying to unravel the phenomena that lead to the formation of tornadoes. Why do some, but not all, supercell thunderstorms turn into devastating tornadoes?
One of just eight known functional Apple I computers is going to auction on May 20 in Koln, Germany. It is expected to fetch an auction price of US$190,000 to 320,000, compared to an original selling price, in 1976, of US$666.66. Pretty good return…
Joto, the first connected display board that uses a pen, is a fun whiteboard reminiscent of those plotters of yore. Except that it’s designed to be vertical, i.e. hung up on the wall like a traditional board, and the drawings are ephemeral, i.e. Joto can be programmed to automatically erase. Available by pre-order on Kickstarter for US$200, with delivery in late December 2017 or early January 2018.
You dream it, and Claudiu, a Romanian programmer, makes it! Introducing PC Building Simulator, a program that lets you virtually build the PC of your dreams without spending a penny. You start with an empty tower and a budget, and are set loose on a components library: motherboard, processor, graphics card, cable, hard drives, fans, etc. All you do is pick and click. It might not be as much fun as Goat Simulator, but it is educational and it could launch some of us on the road to assembling our own PC, which is so much more satisfying than buying off-the-shelf.
At the Geneva Auto Show, Volkswagen Group presented its vision of autonomous vehicles with its self-driving car prototype, Sedric.
Today, at the Google Cloud Next Conference in San Francisco, Google announced three new Google Cloud regions: the Netherlands, Montreal and California.
In 2012, IBM succeeded in storing one bit (a 0 or 1 value) on just 12 atoms. Today, IBM researchers have reached the final frontier of magnetic storage media: one bit, one atom.
This house, printed on site by a 3D-printer in Stupino, a town about 100km south of Moscow, demonstrates how additive technology could revolutionize some aspects of construction.
At the Barcelona show, the biggest news was of course the reissuing of the mythical Nokia 3310. Russian company Caviar, best known for its over-the-top phones, is surfing the wave with its Supremo Putin version of the 3310.
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sony unveiled its flagship Xperia, the XZ Premium. The design is boxy and boring, but the specs are to die for: 5-second videos at 960 frames per second, a 5.5-inch, 4K (801 ppi) screen, nothing less… And the rest is nothing to sneeze at: Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, IP68 water resistance, 19-megapixel main camera and 13-megapixel secondary camera. No info on price or availability has yet been released.
Last year, we wrote about the possibility of Google selling off Boston Dynamics. A year later, the company is still part of the Alphabet family. Another thing that hasn’t changed is Boston Dynamics’ impressive yet creepy creations. To wit, their latest brainchild Handle, a wheeled, bipedal robot standing at over 6 feet, able to jump 4 feet high and reach speeds of 9mph. Running on batteries, it can travel 19 miles. With just 10 actuated joints, Handle is mechanically simpler than its predecessors. Siddhartha Srinivasa, Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told Recode: “This is one of the most remarkable robots I have seen in a long time. Boston Dynamics is truly the Apple of robotics, when it comes to tightly integrating hardware design with software and artificial intelligence.”
To celebrate its fifth birthday, Raspberry Pi Foundation unveiled a new variant of the Raspberry Pi Zero, with Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi (802.11n) connectivity, priced at just US$10. The rest of the Pi stays the same, with a single-core processor clocked at 1GHz, 512MB of RAM and Mini-HDMI and micro-USB ports.
The rumours had been circulating for months, and expectations were at fever pitch. Today, Jen-Hsun Huang, President of Nvidia, finally unveiled the company’s new graphics card at San Francisco’s Game Developers Conference. The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti should be 35% faster than the GTX 1080, and faster even than the Titan X, which looks very similar. It comes with 11GB of RAM GDDR5X with 11 Gbps and runs on “just” 220 watts. It should be available sometime in March, for the surprisingly low price of US$699 (the Titan X is US$1,200). We can’t wait to see AMD’s counter-offensive, with its new Radeon RX Vega cards set to be unveiled in April.
Original design is a scarce commodity in the Android phone market, where one handset looks much like the next. So let’s raise our devices to a very different phone, the Alcatel A5 LED, produced by Chinese manufacturer TCL. This mid-range smartphone will not turn you on with its run-of-the-mill features: 5.2-inch, 720x1280 screen, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 8MP camera, 4G LTE, 8-core 1.5GHz processor. But the back panel comes drenched in multi-coloured LEDs that can be used for notifications, or beat and blink to the rhythm of your favourite tune or pre-programmed graphic theme (there’s an app for that). Not keen on the light show? Remove the panel and replace it with one equipped with loudspeakers or an extra battery. The A5 LED should be available in May for about €200 (CA$280). No word yet on North American availability.
Elon Musk unveiled a year ago a new electric car Tesla, called Model 3 (after Model S and Model X). This entry-level car will have a range of 345 km and a price of 35,000 USD (45,770 CAD). Its speed can go from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 6 seconds.
For BBC’s latest animal program, Spy In The Wild, John Downer and his team were tasked with creating animatronic animals convincing enough to live among their wild counterparts. Over 30 hyper-realistic robots were developed and deployed all over the world.
When he reviewed the new Samsung Chromebook Plus, reporter Dieter Bohn was pleasantly surprised by the very decent performance of its ARM System on a Chip (SoC), especially since the machine cost just US$450. Are ARM processors finally giving Intel a run for its money in the laptop race?
Apple’s newest campus, covering 70 hectares, will start welcoming employees in April. Its official name has been announced: Apple Park. The transfer of over 12,000 employees will take all year. The mammoth ring, providing 260,000m2 of “creativity space”, was dreamt up by Steve Jobs, who worked on it until his dying day.
Scorpion-3 is an electric quadcopter that rides like a bike. Invented by Alexander Atamanov and developed by russo-californian company Hoversurf, the flying object has stability-control software and, for safety's sake, height and speed limiters (3 meters and 60km/h, respectively). But you can disengage them... Maximum flight time is one hour, which seems like a lot, just like its price, at 50,000$. The media was quick to point out that there are cheaper ways to kill oneself or get an amputation. We're not quite at the level of Star Wars' Speeder bikes.…
This week, Agility Robotics unveiled Cassie, a bipedal robot that walks like a chicken. Cassie’s design mimics animal morphology, with a hip joint with three degrees of freedom and flexible ankle joints, giving it better stability than previous designs. The advantage of walking robots is that they can go where rolling ones can’t. Even so, the resulting gait is decidedly creepy. Happily, Cassie’s roll-out, er, step-out, is still some ways down the line.
Would you believe that 99.6 per cent of all new smartphones now run on either Android or iOS? Windows and BlackBerry are close to complete and utter extinction. According to Gartner, 1.1 million Windows smartphones were sold in the fourth quarter of 2016, or 4.4 million less than in the same period in 2015. Apple has once again overtaken Samsung, with 77 million iPhones sold in Q4, compared to 76.8 million devices sold by the Korean company. Huawei came in third, with 40.8 million units sold during the same period. Samsung delivered the most smartphones overall in 2016, but its market share fell from 22.5 to 20.5 per cent. The global smartphone market grew by less than 5% in 2016, going from 1.42 to 1.5 billion units.
Is your server slow? Are calculations endless? Good news: Intel has just unveiled the processor for you! The E7-8894 v4, of the Xeon family, can be yours for US$8,898. You will have guessed that it is meant not for your run-of-the-mill computer, but for servers handling large databases. For the price, you get a 14nm, 24 core processor with 60MB of cache that runs at 2.4GHz. The processor can address nothing less than 24TB of memory (24,000GB). Intel promises record-breaking speed.
The Roads and Transport Authority of the City of Dubai has just announced a plan to introduce an autonomous flying taxi service by next July. The EHang 184, an electric drone built in China, will carry passengers between helipads. Each drone weighs 240kg and can carry up to 100kg, i.e. one person plus one piece of luggage, at a cruising speed of 60 to 100km/h, over about 50km. In Dubai, taxidrones will be operated and controlled remotely from a “command centre”. The service would provide flights over a 40 to 50-km radius. No further details are available for the time being.
The biggest and probably most surprising news at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, running from February 27 to March 2, could be the comeback of the unforgettable Nokia 3310. The news would delight Snake II diehards, as well as fans of phones that may not be smart but that are indestructible and just keep on going. HMD Global, the Finnish company that licensed the rights to produce Nokia phones, is rumoured to announce the relaunch of the 3310 at a cost of just €60 (CA$85). Other Nokia models of a modern but admittedly boring design should also be unveiled, with Android Nougat, color touchscreen, camera, Snapdragon 430, but no Snake II.
After months of delay, Google is finally launching Android Wear 2.0 with two new watches from LG: the LG Watch Style and the LG Watch Sport. The update, which will roll out to more watches later this month, is a complete redesign of Google’s smart watch platform, with a darker color scheme, bringing the Google Assistant and standalone apps to your wrist. Perhaps the most significant change is a new, watch-based version of the Play Store, which allows you to download and run apps independently of your smartphone. If you have an LTE-enabled watch, this completely untethers your watch from your smartphone.
Senstone is a voice-recording device that looks like a large brooch. You can pin it to your collar, wear it as a pendant, or even as a bracelet. Just tap on a button and record your latest flash of inspiration; the companion app sends the audio file to the Cloud, then retrieves a text version of the recording. The system can interact with other applications, such as Trello and Evernote. Launched on Kickstarter, Senstone should support 11 languages and be available next July.
Piaggio, the Italian company that brought us the timeless Vespa, recently unveiled Gita, a rolling trunk that dutifully follows its owner around. The barrel-like container was developed in Boston by Piaggio Fast Forward, a company dedicated to creating smart, lightweight vehicles. Gita, at 66 cm high, can carry up to 18 kg. Its name means “escapade” or “quick getaway” in Italian. Gita can follow its owner in an urban setting, then navigate its own way on itineraries it already knows. Its top speed is 35 km/h, which is pretty impressive for this type of vehicle. The Gita will be thoroughly tested in real-life conditions before its release, in 2018. Piaggio also presented Kilo, a more powerful with a third wheel able to carry up to 100 kg.
Researchers have developed a drone mimicking bats, called Bat Bot (B2). This biomimetic flying robot reminds us of the hapless Clément Ader who, at the end of the XIXth century, attempted to fly bat-like airplanes. The Bat Bot is a motorized ultralight flying machine, weighing in at just 93 grams. It boasts jointed carbon-fiber arms covered in a stretchy, ultrathin (56 micrometers) silicone-based membrane. It is without a doubt a masterpiece of robotic engineering; but we’re having trouble imagining practical applications for it.
AOC has come out with a classic, 17-inch, 2560×1440 pixel monitor, for US$499. But for an extra $100, you can get the rose gold version encrusted with genuine Swarovski crystals on the back. We’re not sure if this is chick schtick (think pink) or just a bling thing. Should you wish to prettify your cubicle, you’ll have to wait a bit, since the product isn’t yet available. I’d be in, but I work facing a wall and no-one would enjoy the razzle-dazzle.
A team of MIT scientists developed hydrogel-based robots that are virtually invisible under water. A video shows an unsuspecting ryukin goldfish suddenly ensnared in the four arms of a robotic hydrogel claw, produced thanks to 3D printing. To function, these soft robots require a hydraulic connection and a pump, which are not invisible.
Gentlemen: Yo turns your smartphone into a microscope able to zoom in on a semen sample, count the total number of sperm and the number of active ones. FYI: to reproduce, you’ll need lots of wrigglers. Yo can confirm your reproductive ability or, alternatively, convince you to see a fertility specialist. You can even share vids of your mojo on your favorite social networks! The device is available by preorder for US$50. It includes necessary supplies for two tests.