Weekly Tech Recap - № 140 - Pixel 2, Sphero R2-Q5, Qoobo, self-driving taxis, etc.
Pixel 2 and 2 XL
Pixel 2 XL © Google.
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.
⇨ Ars Technica, “Hands-on with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL: One’s nice, one’s not.”
⇨ Circuit Breaker, “The Pixel’s missing headphone jack proves Apple was right.”
R2-Q5 © Sphero.
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. It will only be available through BestBuy. Sphero also unveiled the new Mini, a 42-mm sphere, about the size of a ping-pong ball, that is controlled with a smartphone. The Mini is in fact an adorable miniature version of the original Sphero. Teamed up with Sphero Edu software, the Mini turns into an educational tool to teach kids the basics of programming. 45-minute autonomy and micro USB charging. US$50.
⇨ Circuit Breaker, “Sphero’s R2-Q5 looks like the bad boy version of R2-D2.”
⇨ Circuit Breaker, “The Sphero Mini is the size of a ping pong ball and super cute.”
Autonomous taxis in the near future
Waymo’s fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. © Waymo.
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. Service will start in Phoenix, Arizona, the city where Waymo has already performed large-scale testing. Arizona is the state with some of the most permissive highway regulations; besides, Phoenix’s mild climate and wide, straight streets with few pedestrians or pitfalls, make it the ideal site to implement driverless cars.
⇨ Ars Technica, “Fully driverless cars could be months away.”
Qoobo, the pettable robot
Qoobo. © Yukai Engineering.
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. Its designer, Yukai Engineering, touts its powers against stress and anxiety: “Every day of healing starts with tail therapy” (しっぽセラピーで、癒やしのある毎日がはじまります). The cat substitute will come in two colours, “Husky grey” or “French brown”, for US$100. But, since it’s being crowdfunded, you’ll have to wait until June 2018 to get your hands on your own furball. Qoobo will come with a USB-rechargeable battery, giving it an 8-hour autonomous lifespan. The placement of the USB port hadn’t been definitively decided on the prototypes, but we have a suggestion that seems natural to us.
⇨ Endgadget, “Sometimes, all you need in life is a cat tail cushion.”
Model 3 Production Hell
Model 3. © Tesla.
Last July, in Tesla Hell, we reported Elon Musk’s prophetic words as the first thirty Model 3s rolled off Tesla’s production line. “Frankly, we’re going to be in production hell”, he said, as he promised production would ramp up to 100 cars in August, over 1,500 in September, and 20,000 per month by December. Tesla missed its target, delivering just 220 cars in Q3, despite the lessons it supposedly learned from the equally problem-plagued ramp-up of the model S and X vehicles. But Musk is still sanguine, hoping to step up production to 5,000 vehicles per week before the end of 2017, and 10,000 per week in 2018. The good news is that Tesla’s production, once up to speed, stays at that speed.