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LandCruisers create communication network in the outback

Companies are using balloons, planes and other high-tech apparatuses to provide WiFi in underserved areas. In the Australian outback, Saatchi teamed up with Flinders University to find a way to turn the massive fleet of Toyota LandCruisers into mobile communication hotspots using Wi-Fi, UHF and Delay Tolerant Networking (DTN). The solution is a small capsule-like device that attaches to the vehicle’s window with suction cups, providing a signal range of up to 25 km (15.5 miles).

The moving network allows folks to make emergency calls or send geo-tagged messages that are passed from vehicle to vehicle. When one of the LandCruisers is in range of a base station, the data is then sent to first responders and the rest of the world. The LandCruiser network could also be useful during disasters like fires, handling communication between crews on the ground attending to the situation at hand.

It’s not just a proof-of-concept endeavor, either. The system is being tested in the Flinders Ranges, one of the most remote parts of the outback. Toyota is examining the results of the project to determine the next step, which could include employing the network in other areas and eventual commercial use. Of course, this part of Australia benefits from the number of LandCruisers used as everyday vehicles

Source: Saatchi & Saatchi


Apple R&D Spending on Track to Top Record $10 Billion Amid Electric Vehicle Rumors

While much attention has been placed on Apple’s first quarterly revenue decline in thirteen years, with some suggesting that the iPhone maker may push deeper into services to combat the slowdown, there is evidence to suggest that Tim Cook and company have bigger plans in store.

Apple analyst Neil Cybart of Above Avalon notes that Apple is now on track to spend a record $10 billion on research and development this year, up nearly 30 percent from 2015 and significantly more than the little over $3 billion per year it was spending on R&D just four years ago.

Cybart believes that the most likely explanation for Apple’s increased R&D spending is that the company is looking to make a long-term pivot beyond the iPhone, which currently accounts for nearly two-thirds of the company’s revenue. His predicted product of the future: the widely rumored Apple Car.

“Apple is not spending $10 billion on R&D just to come up with new Watch bands, larger iPads, or a video streaming service,” he wrote. “Instead, Apple is planning on something much bigger: a pivot into the automobile industry.”

Apple’s R&D spending has experienced a significant uptick since mid-2014, which Cybart attributes to Apple Car development over the past few years. There were similar quarter-over-quarter spikes in spending leading up to the release of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, as illustrated in the chart below.

The analyst added that Apple has likely already spent upwards of a few billion dollars on Project Titan, the alleged internal codename for the Apple Car, with R&D spending likely to hit at least $14 billion per year by 2017 or 2018. He predicts the odds of Apple releasing an electric vehicle are at least 80 percent.

There is one very simple reason for my high degree of confidence: Project Titan is a long-term pivot. I don’t consider Titan to be just another project that Apple has been tinkering around with in the lab for years like an Apple television set or Apple Pencil. Instead, Project Titan is much more about building a foundation for Apple that will literally represent the company’s future.

Apple is widely rumored to be working on an electric vehicle that could launch by 2020. The bulk of research and development may be centered in the Santa Clara Valley area, near Apple’s existing Cupertino headquarters, led by a team that includes former Tesla, Ford, and GM employees and other automotive experts.

Read More: Apple R&D Reveals a Pivot Is Coming — Above Avalon

Related Roundup: Apple Car
Tag: Above Avalon
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Why choose Freeview Play? 7 reasons to go free for catch-up TV

Launched in October last year, the Freeview Play service has gathered momentum of late. Many more supported devices are now available and the free catch-up technology from the UK’s major digital television provider is proving an excellent alternative to paid TV.

There are now plenty of TVs, set-top-boxes and other home entertainment kit that are Freeview Play enabled, so you have a choice on how to get it.

But why should you choose Freeview Play over other television services that also offer catch-up and on demand? Here are seven reasons we’ve come up with that should give you food for thought.

READ: What is Freeview Play, when is it coming to my TV and how can I get it?

1. Freeview Play is free

Let’s start with the most obvious reason why Freeview Play is so attractive. Once you buy a supported TV, box or device you can access its feature set for free. There are no monthly or hidden charges.

2. You can catch-up with your favourite shows

Freeview Play essentially gives you the ability to catch-up with your favourite programmes on the top TV channels in the UK without having to access their individual applications. It currently offers shows from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, plus their respective sister channels (such as BBC Four, ITV 2 and E4).

3. You can find catch-up shows in the EPG

What makes Freeview Play intuitive is that instead of simply offering access to apps, as with most Smart TV platforms, you can scroll backwards through the electronic programme guide and choose TV shows from the last seven days. Hit play and they will automatically start in the specific channel’s respectively catch-up and on demand software.

Channel 5 content is currently not available to catch-up on through the EPG, but will be added soon. In the meantime you can access its My 5 service through Freeview Play.

4. You don’t have to go to separate apps yourself

As mentioned, most Smart TV platforms offer the main catch-up TV services as individual applications, which you can access through their hubs, but Freeview Play simplifies the process by giving you the option to click on the show you want to watch rather than wade through lists of software. It automatically starts any video service for you and jumps straight to the relevant show.

5. More channels are being added

Freeview Play is working with other broadcast partners to add their content to the service. One of those, UKTV, has already announced that it will be adding catch-up content for its channels, Dave, Really, Yesterday and Drama, in the next couple of months. Channel 5 will also soon add its shows to the EPG for retrospective catch-up on demand.

6. Not just terrestrial channels will be Freeview Play-ready

After Channel 5 has been added, that will cover all the main terrestrial channels. There are plans to work with the other stations to add their content, with UKTV and its UKTV Play service the next in line.

7. There are plenty of devices already available that support Freeview Play

Amongst the manufacturers that support Freeview Play are LG, Panasonic and Humax, with the latter two already having several products on the market that feature the service.

If you’re in the market for a new TV, you should look out for the Freeview Play badge to make sure it is enabled.

The Panasonic Viera TX-40CX680B, TX-50CX700B, TX-50CX802B, TX-55CR852B and TX-65CR730B each support Freeview Play. There will also be others in its 2016 TV line-up over the coming weeks and months.

Panasonic also makes standalone recorders and Blu-ray players with Freeview Play support.

The DMR-HWT150EB, DMR-HWT250EB, DMR-PWT655EB and DMR-PWT550EB are each enabled.

Other currently available set-top-boxes include Humax’s FVP-4000T digital TV recorders, with two options on offer; one with a 500GB hard drive, the other with 1TB of storage.

You can find out more about the available devices on Freeview’s own product page.

Get catch-up and on demand TV for £0 per month with Freeview Play. Click here to find out more.


Best of CES Asia 2016: The weird and the wonderful from the Shanghai show floor

CES Asia opened it doors for the second time in Shanghai this May. And the Chinese version of the world’s largest tech show, CES, which is based in Las Vegas, didn’t hold back on the weird and the wonderful.

Condensing a show as wide-ranging as CES Asia into 12 slides might deliver a muddied message though: this show isn’t as clear-cut or nearly as large as its US counterpart; there aren’t all the biggest tellies and best phones from all the major manufacturers here; Audi was notably absent after kicking off 2015’s inaugural show (BMW has slotted into that space, seemingly); and Chinese/Asian companies aren’t particularly using the show floor as a launch platform.

Not that launches are entirely absent. CES Asia was the first place in the world to get hold of the just-announced Honor V8 smartphone, hardly a coincidence given Huawei – one of China’s biggest tech brands – owns that sister company and was presenting on the show floor for the first time (at the very first stand you could possibly arrive at, no less, ensuring it made its mark).

But we’re not leading with an image of a phone. Oh no, we just couldn’t resist showing-off the Chevrolet FVR concept car because, well, just look at it. It’s ridiculous – in the best possible way. However, it was first seen at the Shanghai Auto Show back in the middle of 2015, so not only will we almost certainly never be driving anything like it, but it’s already got a year-long tail on its life. Which is perhaps the resounding sense of CES Asia: there’s not a whole heap of new.

Garmin also used its stand to quietly show-off its Garmin Forerunner 735XT sports watch for the first time, sat alongside the delightful Vivomove smart-tracker. Digging deeper into the halls in among some abandoned mini stands there were some real gems: from a Wi-Fi teapot to an mini air-quality measuring device, both being actual products that are about to go to market – not pipe dream concepts.

Oh, and let’s not forget the Donald Trump speaker (no, really, because Trump “loves China”, right?). And the robotic hexapod. And the dozens of drones, smartwatches, obscure connected jewellery, and we’ll even throw a light-up connected guitar in there.

Which, when we put it like that, goes to show CES Asia’s versatility, its madness, and its fun. Year two was certainly bigger and better than the first, despite the lack of launches, so here’s hoping there’s more weird and wonderful tech to grace the expanding show floors for year three and beyond.

Take a look at our CES Asia 2016 round-up gallery, full screen and complete with captions, to make the most of what was on offer.


Vuze camera offers 3D VR video for less than $800

HumanEyes swore up and down that its Vuze virtual reality camera would undercut the price of professional cams by thousands of dollars, and it clearly wasn’t kidding around. The company has started taking pre-orders for its 3D 360-degree camera at a relatively modest $799. That’s significantly less than the under-$1,000 target it set back in January, and a sliver of the cost of high-end alternatives — even GoPro’s upcoming Omni rig is likely to be much more expensive, and only shoots in 2D. You’ll have to wait until the fall to get your unit, though, so don’t count on using the Vuze for a VR vacation documentary.

This isn’t the cheapest or most portable VR camera you can get. Ricoh, Samsung and others are already making smaller 360-degree cameras that cost under $400, and Nikon’s upcoming KeyMission 360 may be similarly affordable, but all these options only shoot in 2D. Vuze’s system packs eight cameras versus two to four on most of these competitors, which is what allows to record in 3D (or 2D at higher resolution). Another advantage of the extra optics, is it doesn’t have to rely on fisheye lenses (and thus compensate for serious distortion) to create its wrap-around 4K picture. As such, this might be the best way to capture VR video on an enthusiast’s budget. You’re theoretically getting the quality of the pro option without the bank-busting cost.

Source: Vuze


Dark Sky brings its ‘hyperlocal’ weather forecasts to Android

Dark Sky has been a darling of the iOS app scene years. It has a nice design, and all the features you’d expect from a weather app, but its unique selling point is “hyperlocal” reports that can pinpoint rain to the minute. To do this, it “statistically aggregates” data from 19 meteorological sources, as well as from users themselves. Although the competition has improved in recent years, and despite being a paid app in a sea of free alternatives, it remains on many a “best weather app” list.

The Android app can offer everything the iPhone one does — barring the option to send barometric data to improve local reports — but whether it does will depend on if you pay or not. While the iOS app is a $3.99 one-off purchase, Dark Sky on Android is a free app with a paid subscription option. For free, you get current conditions, a 24-hour forecast, a 7-day forecast and weather maps. So… it’s basically any weather app.

If you’re willing to pay $2.99 per year, you’ll get access to the stuff that makes Dark Sky worth talking about in the first place: hyperlocal minute-by-minute forecasts, notifications and alerts. You’ll also get something that iOS users won’t: a weather widget for your home screen.

Dark Sky admits the pricing scheme is “a bit of an experiment.” In order to win users over, it’s offering a two-week free trial for the premium features, in the hope that they’ll be hooked by the time it comes to actually paying.

There’s one other thing worth remembering about Dark Sky: it’s not a worldwide app. While it can offer basic forecasts for anywhere on the globe, its local reports are mostly restricted to the US, the UK, Ireland and parts of Canada and Australia. If you’re not sure if you’re covered, you can type your location into Dark Sky’s Forecast site — if you get a “local” tab, you’re good to go.


BBC White Paper: what you need to know

The UK government has published a White Paper today setting out its proposed changes to the BBC Charter. If approved, the new Charter — which guides and regulates the BBC’s operations — would abolish the BBC Trust and hand oversight to Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator. In addition, a new board would be established to avoid “confusion of governance issues.” The new setup would, the government argues, make the broadcaster more accountable and less susceptible to mismanagement. The BBC broadly agrees with the decision to make Ofcom its watchdog, but has some concerns with how the new BBC board members would be appointed.

Closing the iPlayer loophole

The new BBC Charter would run for 11 years, rather than 10, to take debates out of the UK’s election cycle. During that period, the licence fee would be mostly protected, rising in line with inflation for five years, starting in 2017. The government is also keen to close the so-called “iPlayer loophole” which means people can watch BBC programming online, on-demand, without paying the licence fee. Currently, viewers only have to pay if they watch the BBC’s TV channels live. To help low-income families, the BBC has also proposed “more flexible payment plans” so that everyone, should they wish to, can support and enjoy the broadcaster’s work.

No subscription model in the UK, yet


Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. Credit: Toby Melville / Reuters

For years, the BBC has been cutting back to meet saving targets. BBC Three has moved online, while sporting coverage such as Formula 1 has been abandoned. To maintain the broadcaster’s high quality programming, the government seems open to the idea of a subscription model. In the White Paper, it suggests “a more sustainable funding model in the future by empowering the BBC to consider and explore the scope for additional sources of commercial income, including testing whether some elements of subscription — in combination with the licence fee — could achieve this.”

Any subscription model would, for the time being, be limited to some kind of extra service or functionality. Furthermore, it couldn’t be used to “top-up” or replace any service that viewers already get with the licence fee. In its White Paper, the government has also stressed there are “no plans” to replace the licence fee with a subscription, at least in the next charter. However, it wants the BBC to consider whether “elements of subscription could provide a more sustainable funding model in the longer term.” The broadcaster’s ideas will then be considered in the next Charter renewal.

Taking the BBC abroad

For some time, UK politicians have been hinting at legislation that could allow Brits to take their favourite services and content abroad. It’s a common gripe — you travel across the English Channel, only to find that BBC iPlayer is now unavailable, or that half the shows you were watching on Netflix have disappeared. In its White Paper, the government suggests making BBC content “portable” so that licence fee payers can enjoy their regular service abroad. Such a mechanism would, the theory goes, help the BBC to keep the public on side while it closes the iPlayer loophole.

On the flip-side, the government is also keen to block individuals that are currently accessing iPlayer for free from abroad. VPNs and other location-masking tools are growing in popularity, reducing the BBC’s revenue from international distribution. To combat this, politicians are keen to implement a verification system tied to licence fee payments. “The government will discuss verification and other options with the BBC and look at the best way of implementing this, including through regulations if needed,” the White Paper reads. “It will be up to the BBC to determine whether this is an appropriate means of charging international viewers.”

Disclosing BBC stars’ salaries


Match of the Day host Gary Lineker. Credit: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

It’s widely assumed that the BBC spends a fair chunk of change on big stars such as Chris Evans and Gary Lineker. Under the new Charter, the broadcaster would need to disclose the names of actors and presenters paid more than £450,000 — a somewhat arbitrary threshold based on the salary of Tony Hall, the BBC’s current Director-General. The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, has hinted that these salaries would be published in broad bands in order to protect stars’ exact income.

What next?

The government is now accepting feedback on its proposals. A draft version of the new Charter will be published in the coming months, before it’s finalised and enforced from January next year. Many fear that the UK government is trying to “dismantle” the BBC — Whittingdale only fuelled those flames when he said the BBC’s demise was “a tempting prospect.” It’s spawned a wave of protests from high-profile media personalities, including Gary Lineker and numerous attendees at the BAFTA TV awards.



NOAA’s supercomputers can make hourly weather forecasts

NOAA’s US Global Forecast System has gone 4D, thanks to the power of its new supercomputers. The agency has added “time” as a fourth dimension to its weather and climate model, allowing GFS to make hourly forecasts for up to five days out. Before the upgrade, GFS could only deliver forecasts for every three hours, which isn’t exactly bad. But hourly forecasts allow first responders and disaster relief operators to plan their best course of action. Not to mention, people can use that kind of info in their daily lives, say to plan their commutes and avoid being on the road in the middle of a raging hurricane.

NOAA’s National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini explains:

“The GFS is the foundation for all of our weather and climate models, so today’s upgrade will add skill across all NOAA’s forecast mission areas, including hurricanes and other high-impact weather. Current investments in more powerful supercomputers, advanced modeling capabilities, and better earth observing systems are creating more precision in the forecast process and strengthening America’s resiliency to extreme weather, water and climate events.”

The upgraded GFS will be able to use images of weather patterns and storms that will be taken every 30 seconds by a satellite called GOES-R when it launches later this year. It can also predict rainfall in continental US and the intensity of tropical storms better than before. Hopefully, the upgrade makes a big enough bump in overall accuracy, so we can trust the weatherman more.

Source: NOAA


Roger app puts Amazon Alexa in your phone for free

Roger, a voice app brought to you by former Spotify engineers and Facebook executives, is relaunching soon as a voice platform with support from third-party services. Among them is Amazon’s Alexa, the virtual assistant that ties into Amazon’s Echo device.

Despite originally debuting as a simplistic walkie-talkie-styled app, Roger aspires to deliver more than voice messaging. It’s poised to offer the Alexa Voice Service to mobile users regardless if they own an Amazon Echo or Alexa-enabled device. This means you’ll be able to, organize your calendar, control gadgets in your smart home, and perform a whole host of other Alexa-initiated actions simply by using Roger.

While Alexa is the most impressive name when talking third-party apps here, Dropbox and Slack support is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider how many messages or notes can pass through either service in a daily basis. As far as functionality goes, you can even use Roger at present to redirect missed phone calls into the app to create “voice conversations.” There are also further plans to release a public API for developers to create their own integrations beyond Slack, Dropbox, and IFTTT.

If you’ve been looking for a way to integrate Alexa into your life without holding out for a peripheral you may not need or want, this is an interesting way to give Amazon’s virtual assistant a try. Alternatively, you can pick up the Lexi app, which offers some of Alexa’s functionality for $5. The Roger app is available for free for either iOS or Android right now.


Fender is making headphones the way it builds guitars

When an established brand enters a new product category, skepticism begins to creep in. It’s fairly common for a company to license its name to a third party to make gadgets, and that was indeed my first thought when I learned Fender was making headphones. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. The company’s approaching its new in-ear monitors and $99 buds the same way it does guitars: by making them in-house, with strong attention to detail.

At January’s NAMM show, Fender revealed its line of wired in-ear monitors, signaling its entry into the headphone market for pro musicians and more casual listeners. As part of that announcement the company explained that it purchased headphone maker Aurisonics to handle production. Unless you’re an audiophile or aspiring musician, chances are you haven’t heard of Aurisonics. For those not in the know, then, the small Nashville-based company had cultivated a following in the pro audio and audiophile space, with in-ear monitors that didn’t require a visit to a specialist to have custom molds or a 3D scan made.

Fender isn’t the first guitar brand to try its hand at consumer audio. Gibson, which has a much wider reach than just instruments, owns both the Onkyo and Philips audio lines. While headphones bear the Gibson logo, the Onkyo and Philips brands are still alive and well, with new products added each year. Fender’s approach is a bit different, though. Sure, it acquired an outside company to produce its new line of headphones, but that same workshop-like mindset from its guitar-making operation still applies.

“At Fender, we’re makers and craftsmen,” said Jim Ninesling, Fender’s vice president of amplifiers and pro audio told Engadget. “We kept this very close to home. Our best guitars are made in California and these in-ear monitors are made in Nashville by our own employees. This is a core value that we wanted to stick to as we got into this business.”

Before Fender nabbed Aurisonics, the audio company had already developed what it called DHT or Digital Hybrid Technology. To ensure a universal yet snug fit for a range of ear shapes and sizes, Aurisonics scanned thousands of ears to create the shape of its headphone shells — a process that allowed it to construct an in-ear device that fits 95 percent of people. Those shells are 3D-printed as well, with a sparkle finish that pays homage to the same paint schemes featured on Fender guitars. The guitar maker didn’t just put its logo on an existing product and release it, either. Instead, the drivers and other components were “reconfigured and improved” before launch, Fender’s Andy Rowley explained to Head-Fi back at NAMM.

With a design that serves pro musicians as in-ear monitors, Fender is targeting everyday consumers as well. I had dreams of a record deal several years ago, long before in-ear monitors were commonplace — or affordable, for that matter. The range of prices and models here immediately grabbed my attention, then. For $99, you can have a solid set of in-ear monitors or headphones that offer lifelike audio with no distortion. Even at the high end, the $500 FXA7s cost a fraction of a pair of custom-molded IEMs.

“One thing that we knew going into this was that we knew that we didn’t want to just make an inexpensive consumer headphone,” said Ninesling. “It had to be pro-grade quality, but also be totally applicable to a consumer who just wanted to listen to music on their phone.”

Fender’s desire to market these pro-grade in-ears to consumers is all well and good, but how do they perform off-stage? Quite well. I’ve been using the $400 FXA6 as my primary headphones for a few weeks and in terms of sound, they rival wired on-ears that cost the same or even a little more. Fender’s new in-ear monitors work admirably as everyday headphones, and the clarity of the audio is one of their biggest strengths. The sound is crisp and clear across a wide range of genres, making them a good choice for a vocalist. Indeed,my colleague Roberto Baldwin plans to put them through their paces on stage soon, the next time his band has a gig.

“All of these products provide ample dynamic range and full frequency response,” Ninesling explained. “What you can expect as you move up the price range is higher-end driver configurations and more detail in the high frequencies.” He went on to explain that instrumentalists might favor the $200 FXA2 while a singer may prefer the pricier FAX6s that I tested for their increased clarity. I can attest that vocals stand out in nearly every style of music I listened to during my time with the $400 model.

From the hit of the the snare drum to a layered lead guitar part, you can hear sound a song has to offer, including some things you may not have noticed before. That said, I found when listening to hip hop that the FXA6 favors the highs and vocals, somewhat at expense of bass notes. When it comes to bluegrass, rock other styles that aren’t as bass-heavy, but that’s where Fender’s in-ears shine. Fittingly, guitar-driven genres sound the best coming from these IEMs.

That clarity is certainly something that you’d want in a pair of in-ear monitors for the stage. Fender says these devices are tuned to “deliver music in its purest form,” including 6Hz-22kHz frequency response and 109dB @1mW sensitivity to keep distortion at bay. The resulting sound may seem lacking in bass for those who are accustomed to the heavy dose of low end most consumer headphones offer these days. Still, I found the EQ to be generally well-rounded.

Another attractive feature for Fender’s new in-ear line is that 3D-printed universal shell. In addition to accommodating most listeners, the shape also helps with the noise isolation alongside SureSeal rubber tips. Before the music even starts, any ambient noise is drastically reduced, offering an opportunity to tune out what’s going on around you. Again, this is welcome feature for the stage too, but it’ll serve us regular folks who need to focus in the office or while working at a busy coffee shop.

“We can block out a huge amount of noise just with the housing — how it’s created and how it fits in your ear,” Ninesling continued. “It’s not only comfortable, but it provides an amazing isolation from outside noise as well.”

A product billed as in-ear monitors isn’t the most obvious choice as regular headphones. Fender’s new IEMs feature an over-ear hook similar to a lot of fitness earbuds also have, only these allow you to bend the top of the cable to fit the curve on the back of your ear as snug (or loose) as you’d like. “It goes in your ear pretty much the same way as an in-ear headphone; it just has a unique shape to it, and it’s like that for a reason,” Ninesling explained. “It’s not that much of a step for a consumer.”

Ninesling says that professional musicians have kicked their expensive, custom-made in-ears to the curb in favor of this universal fit option. “They found them more comfortable and they liked them better,” he said. He also reiterated that the goal is to win over as many of the Fender faithful as possible with a product that fits a wide range of people, but that it’s offering its family of artists a custom-molded solution as well. He didn’t go so far as to confirm that the option would eventually be available for consumers, but he did admit that “it would make sense” for the company to consider it.

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