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Japan’s latest humanoid robot makes its own moves

Japan’s National Science Museum is no stranger to eerily human androids: It employs two in its exhibition hall already. But for a week, they’re getting a new colleague. Called “Alter,” it has a very human face like Professor Ishiguro’s Geminoids, but goes one step further with an embedded neural network that allows it to move itself. The technology powering this involves 42 pneumatic actuators and, most importantly, a “central pattern generator.” That CPG has a neutral network that replicates neurons, allowing the robot to create movement patterns of its own, influenced by sensors that detect proximity, temperature and, for some reason, humidity. The setup doesn’t make for human-like movement, but it gives the viewer the very strange sensation that this particular robot is somehow alive. And that’s precisely the point.

The project is an attempt to bridge the gap between programming a robot to move and allowing it to move for itself. With a neural network in place, movement is given a loose degree of flexibility, what the researchers are calling “chaos.” Alter’s arm movement, head and posture will adjust and change on the system’s own volition. The neural network ticking behind the scenes offers multiple movement modes, switching between a longer movement mode and a more random “chaos” mode. The decision to switch is influenced by the sensors dotted around the base and take in what’s happening around Alter: proximity, humidity, noise and temperature. These sensors operate like the robot’s version of skin, copying our own senses, even if the system is far, far simpler. If the proximity sensors detect a lot of people nearby, for example, the torso shudders as the robot’s body reacts to its environment.

Alta the robot isn’t terrifying at all. #alta #robot

A video posted by Mat (@thtmtsmth) on Jul 29, 2016 at 12:40am PDT

Alter also sings — in a horrific, nightmare-inducing way. The haunting melody that comes from the machine are sine waves vocalizing how the robot’s fingers move. (The team apparently tested other noises and melodies but decided to keep things simple for this early model.)

The theory behind the CPG is based on one of the simplest artificial models for neurons, the Izhikevich neuron, which reacts in a way that’s called “spiking and burst behavior”: Something builds up, and the robot’s system creates a signal spike, which chains together with other neurons. Professor Ikeue from Tokyo University describes the central pattern generator as “coupled pendulums” — one bumps into another into another and a movement in formed. While not an equal, balanced rhythm, this becomes Alter’s own rhythm. The researchers didn’t make the movement; the robot made it itself.

Osaka University’s Kouhei Ogawa, who worked on previous humanoids at the Ishiguro lab, added: “This time, Alter doesn’t look like a human. It doesn’t really move like human. However, it certainly has a presence.” It’s true. It feels like there’s something alive in there that’s neither human nor robot. Movement seems random — even if it’s nonsensical.

“Until now, making androids talk or interact for 10 minutes was an incredible amount of hard work — simply to program something to react for that long. Alter, moving for itself, can do so easily.” The robot will be on display to the public for a week while the Tokyo and Osaka teams hope interactions will inspire new ideas on what they should teach Alter next.

Source: MIraikan (Tokyo)


Mini review video: Our quick verdict on the Alcatel Idol 4S

Alcatel isn’t a tier-one company. And the Idol 4S, its latest creation, isn’t a tier-one phone. So why did we even bother reviewing it, then? It’s all about the value — specifically, what comes in the box. For $399 (or $350, if you pre-order), you get both the mid-range phone and a simple virtual reality headset to go with it. It’s true, this VR viewer isn’t at the same level as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even the Samsung Gear VR, but it’s good enough for people who haven’t yet experienced this whole virtual reality thing and are keen to give it a try.

As for the phone itself, we enjoyed its loud, two-way speakers and bright 5.5-inch AMOLED display. Just know that because this is a mid-range phone, after all, the performance and camera won’t match any of the high-end devices we typically review. If you weren’t going to spend high-end money anyway, and are also looking to get into VR, this could be the ticket.


Make reusable dryer sheets for $3 – CNET

diy-dryer-sheets-sponges-1.jpgEnlarge Image

Taylor Martin/CNET

Many people swear by dryer sheets. Not only do they reduce static in the dryer, they can help soften and scent your clothes even more. They even have several uses outside the laundry room.

If they don’t make dryer sheets in your favorite Downy scent, you want to cut costs or help save the environment one dryer sheet at a time, you can take just a few minutes and make your own dryer sheets — or dryer sponges, rather.

The tip comes from Instructables user kelleyscuties, costs half the price of a box of name brand dryer sheets and should last for months. Here’s how it’s done.

What you will need

Chances are, you already have most of the ingredients needed for this project on hand.

Most importantly, you will need a few non-scrub sponges. I was able to find a pack of six for around $3 (£2.27 or AU$3.95). You will also need some fabric softener of your choosing and a plastic storage container to put everything in.

Depending on your preference and the size of the sponges you use, you may also need scissors.

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How to make DIY dryer sheets

Begin by cutting the sponges in half along the long side. This doubles the amount of sponges you have to work with and gets the job done just as well. Of course, if you want, you can skip this step and just use a whole sponge.

Next, mix one part fabric softener with two parts water in the plastic storage container. I used 1.5 cups (354.9 milliliters) of water and 0.75 cups (177.4 milliliters) of fabric softener. Adjust the amounts to better fit your container. You don’t need to fully submerge the sponges, since they will wick up the solution as they sit in it.

Finally, give it a stir, drop in the sponges and apply the lid to the container to avoid spills during storage.

When you’re ready to dry some clothes, squeeze out all the excess liquid from one of the sponges and toss it in the dryer with a load of laundry. For larger loads, use two halves — or a whole sponge — for better softening.

When the sponges wear out, toss them and replace. In total, a six pack of sponges gives you 12 reusable dryer sponges which will last you months, all for $3 (£2.27 or AU$3.95) and a small amount of fabric softener.


360fly 4K review – CNET

The Good The 360fly 4K is a water-resistant and dust- and shockproof 360-degree camera. It has a standard tripod mount, 64GB of internal storage, a single button for power and recording. The mobile app makes it very simple to capture, edit and share your 360-degree movies to YouTube and Facebook.

The Bad Video quality is best suited for small screens where artifacts and purple fringing are less noticeable. It’s a little pokey to power up. Audio is muffled. Built-in memory and battery, and no Micro-USB on the camera mean you always need its cradle for charging or transfers.

The Bottom Line The 360fly 4K is just all-around a better camera than the original, and its excellent mobile app is a definite plus compared to competing cameras. You’ll just have to be forgiving of its image quality.

The best thing about the 360fly 4K is its mobile app.

That sounds like a dig, but it’s only because the app is really good compared to what other consumer 360-degree camera makers are offering at the moment. It makes the 360fly 4K that much more usable, as does its design, which makes it better suited for “action cam” use than as a point-and-shoot 360 camera.

The company’s original HD-resolution 360fly camera, which is still available for $300, uses a proprietary mount, requires a little plug for its mic opening to make it water resistant, has a hard to find power/record button, a tiny status light that is difficult to see in bright light and a smooth, somewhat slippery exterior. These are all things that make for a not-so-great user experience. Plus, as has been the case with all the first-gen consumer 360 cameras, the video quality is just OK.

The $500 360fly 4K (£600, AU$850) is worth paying extra for if you have more than a casual interest in creating immersive photos and videos for sharing online. It ditches the original’s mount for a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount, it’s now water resistant down to about 10 meters (34 feet) without the mic plug and the exterior is rubberized for a better grip with wet or cold hands. Also, the activity light and power/record button are combined, which makes it easier to see with the camera off or on.

360fly-4k-06.pngView full gallery

The 360fly app gives you a preview and control of the camera.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Back to the app, though. Turning the camera on also turns on the camera’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (the latter is to help reconnect to the Wi-Fi quicker). Join the camera’s network with your smartphone, open the 360fly app and you’ll have a live preview from the camera as well as control over it and its settings.

Along with 360-degree video, you can set the camera to shoot time-lapse video, 16:9 widescreen first-person POV movies and capture 360 photos. The top resolution is 2,880×2,880 pixels; you can choose between 24 frames per second for a live onscreen view while recording, or get slightly smoother results at 30fps without the live view. Since there is just one lens, the 360 video is not spherical, but instead has a 360×240-degree field of view. You lose the 120 degrees below the lens, but you don’t have to worry about stitching.

If you really want spherical video, you can always buy a second camera and shoot them back to back and then stitch the two videos together with software. (Kodak wisely offers a dual pack for its SP360 4K camera for this purpose at a reduced price and includes a mount to hold the cameras, a remote to simultaneously trigger recordings and very basic stitch software.)

View full gallery

360fly made editing 360 video on your phone very easy.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Once you shoot a clip, you’ll probably want to edit it before sharing, even if it’s just to trim the beginning and end. The app makes this blissfully simple to do, letting you quickly select just the sections you want to include, then add music and/or an image filter, or you can adjust the playback speed for part of your clip.


Android 7.0 Nougat tipped for August release as internal testing build leaks


And no update for 2013’s Nexus 5, according to reliable leaker.

It’s looking more and more likely that Android 7.0 will hit stable release status in the coming month, with the usually reliable Evan Blass (a.k.a. @evleaks) claiming that Nougat will land “next month” along with the Aug. 5 Android security patch.

That’s not surprising given Google’s regular rollout of monthly Nougat developer previews over the past five months. The most recent preview hit on July 18, so mid-to-late August is a decent bet for a stable Nougat release on supported Nexus devices, as well as an open-source code drop to AOSP (the Android Open Source Project.)

The new Android version should arrive comfortably ahead of the usual release window.

A new Android version is usually closely followed by new Nexus phones. There’s no word on when the rumored HTC-built Nexuses might land, but given that Nougat is running ahead of Google’s previous yearly schedule, it’s probably safe to expect them comfortably before the normal October launch window.

As we welcome new Nexus phones to the mix, it could be curtains for the Nexus 5, as Blass also says the three-year-old phone won’t be getting an official update to Nougat.

Android 7.0 releases next month, with the 8/5 security patch. Sorry Nexus 5 owners, no Nougat for you

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) July 30, 2016

The Nexus 5 will continue to receive Android’s monthly security updates — for now.

That’s in line with the official Google update advisory for Nexus devices, which puts the last guaranteed update for the LG-built device at October 2015. (The 2013 Nexus 7, which received Marshmallow despite having a “last update” date of July 2015, is almost certain to remain on Android 6.0.1 as well.)

The Nexus 5 will continue to receive security updates for the time being, in line with Google’s promise of monthly patches for three years from availability, or 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device.

Even though the N5 may be reaching the end of its life, the open nature of Nexus devices — and internal similarities with the officially supported Nexus 6 — should mean there’ll be plenty of unofficial Nougat ROMs for the phone.


Whoops! Someone’s Nexus 6P was mistakenly sent a Googlers-only testing build.

In other Nougat news, there are further signs of an impending stable release, as one Nexus 6P owner on Reddit appears to have inadvertently received an over-the-air update to an internal Google testing build. Poster Brian Moyano received the 49MB OTA when attempting to revert back to the Marshmallow from the Nougat developer preview; instead of going back to Android 6.0.1, it pushed him to 7.0, build NRD90M.

The “R” in that build number means it’s on the “release” branch (as opposed to P for preview), suggesting it’s almost ready for prime time. Moyano says the “Android Beta Program” widget no longer displays in the quick settings area, and that the phone shows the Aug. 5 security patch level. Besides that, no major changes have been reported — not surprising since the fifth developer preview was supposed to be “near final” anyway.

Despite the best efforts of commenters, neither the build itself nor the OTA to get there have been pulled from the phone for wider release. So we’ll have to wait a little longer to get our hands on updated Nougat bits.

Bottom line: We’re getting closer to the final release of Android 7.0, and that means new Nexus phones probably aren’t far behind. So strap in — the usually quiet month of August is about to get a whole lot busier.


Recommended Reading: Nintendo’s NX sounds weird and that’s okay

NX is different,
and different is
Nintendo’s best option

Oli Welsh,

Based on the rumors so far, Nintendo’s upcoming NX handheld console will be… unique. This piece from Eurogamer, a site that’s been the source of some of the details, takes a look at why switching things up a bit may be the company’s best bet. A touchscreen device with detachable controllers may sound strange, but if the reports are true, “we should savor and celebrate NX’s weirdness” like Eurogamer explains here.

How ‘Uncharted 4’ fails Nathan Drake
Phil Hornshaw, Playboy

Uncharted 4 offers closure, but it’s not as satisfying as it could be according to Playboy’s Phil Hornshaw.

Meet Luca, the ancestor of all living things
Nicolas Wade, The New York Times

Scientists have learned more about how life started on Earth. It began with Luca, a single-cell organism that’s estimated to be four billion years old.

‘First Dude’? Why Bill Clinton could make a powerful First Spouse
Mara Liasson, NPR

The Democrats made the first female presidential nominee official this week. That means we could also see a male First Spouse for the first time. NPR discusses why a former president’s role would be important.

All signs point to Russia being behind the DNC hack
Thomas Rid, Motherboard

You’ve likely read reports tying the recent DNC hack to Russia by now. Motherboard takes a look at the timeline of events and offers evidence that the breach was indeed the work of Russians.


ICYMI: Eye exams go DIY and smartfeeding your pets

ICYMI: Eye exams go DIY and smartfeeding your pets

Today on In Case You Missed It: A new device can calculate people’s eyeglass prescriptions without needing to see an optometrist, though whether that’s actually responsible or not is up to you. Meanwhile a cloud-connected smart petfeeder that suffered from downed servers had to send a notice to owners to feed their pets manually, since the machines lost all connection and didn’t release food.

There’s a lot to talk about this week but we recommend reading up on NOAA’s three month weather outlook, since everyone will be talking about the DNC this weekend anyway. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.


Mercedes pulls confusing autonomous car ad

Mercedes has pulled its 2017 E-class sedan ad after critics pointed out that it could mislead people into thinking it’s an autonomous vehicle. In the commercial, you’ll see the E-class sedan on the road, overtaking the automaker’s F015 autonomous car concept — the same futuristic car we previewed last year that looked like it came right out of Minority Report. A voiceover then says “Is the world truly ready for a vehicle that can drive itself? Ready or not, the future is here” You’ll also see the sedan’s driver taking his hands off the wheel while the car is in motion.

Problem is, the E-class sedan is not an autonomous vehicle. It only has a driver assist feature called “Drive Pilot” for cruise control and automated steering, designed to frequently remind people to keep their hands on the steering wheel. According to Automotive News, safety advocates such as Consumer Reports and the Center for Automotive Safety asked the FTC to investigate the ad and the company. In the end, Mercedes decided to pull the ad completely. A spokesperson from the automaker told the publication:

“The new 2017 E class is a technological tour de force and is a significant step towards achieving our vision of an accident-free futur:We do not want any potential confusion in the marketplace to detract from the giant step forward in vehicle safety the 2017 E class represents.”

The company already removed the video from its YouTube channel, but Automotive News was able to preserve a copy, which you can watch below:

Via: The Verge

Source: Automotive News


The Public Access Weekly: Mistaken for strangers

Although I’m still two full seasons behind on Game of Thrones (and Orange is the New Black), I just got entirely distracted by Netflix’s Stranger Things. Which is what I will be binge-watching this weekend, because the only thing I love more than a crime procedural is a mystery with monsters and a killer soundtrack. And speaking of Netflix, has anyone tried out that new Flixtape feature yet? It’s similar to a feature that I would like to have, which is to build a playlist of favorite episodes and then have the ability to shuffle through them (a la Spotify). I’m keen to try out Flixtape too, which is more like a curated mixed tape of episodes.

Over in community news, a few quick things: For commenters, please be aware that there is, in fact, a filter that will automatically pull any comment that contains an f-bomb (or any spelling of that particular word including “f*ck”, etc.). If you’ve noticed that your comment has been removed, and it had an f-word in it, then that is why. This isn’t, unfortunately, the same as the bug that has been removing legitimate comments. We’re still looking into that.

In Public Access news, we are on track to have our best month ever (again!) so keep up the good work, contributors! We’re also working on an update to Public Access that will give members more features, better resources and more perks so if there’s something you’re really dying to have, then let us know either in the comments here or in an email. As we roll out these updates, we will be cracking down on spam, SEO linking and content marketing posts so consider this a heads up. We will have a new set of guidelines and policies in place to deal with these types of violations.

Lastly, hey, did you know that today is “Don’t be a dick” day? It’s true! This geek holiday was created by Wil Wheaton on his birthday to encourage folks to be classy and compassionate to each other online. So, go compliment someone in the comment section! Send someone* a bunch of cat GIFs! Offer helpful resources to a n00b who doesn’t know what they’re doing! Go out of your way to be so nice that people suspect you’re being sarcastic! It’s fun to confuse people.

*By “someone” I clearly mean me. I will happily take all of the cat GIFs, and any other GIFs that involve adorable animals.

Looking for something to read? Check out:

The Windows 10 Anniversary Update rolls out August 2nd, and Devindra gave us a run through of the changes to expect for the OS that earned an Engadget score of 91. Commenters have some mixed feelings overall, from arguing that there is still plenty that needs to be fixed and updated to discussing which features they’re most enthused to try out.

Over on the hardware side, Richard Lai got some hands-on time with Xiaomi’s recently launched Mi Notebook Air (which will also be available starting August 2nd, in China). Thinner and lighter than the Macbook Air, the Mi Notebook Air will run Windows 10, has a 1080p display, and boasts an Intel i5 processor (for the 13.3″ version). Some are eager to put it through its paces, others are just wondering how fast Apple will sue over the name.

Oops. Daniel Cooper just accidentally got himself addicted to Pokémon Go. Resistance is futile, apparently.

Looking for something to write about? Mull over:

In honor of the aforementioned “Don’t Be a Dick” day, tell us where you go for nice things on the internet (“nice things” here being anything that makes you smile and is not NSFW). Do you stop by the Nicest Place on the Internet for a virtual hug? Spend your lunch breaks watching dog videos on Mr. DOGnut? Tell us about your internet happy place.

Our own Andrew Tarantola tried out ‘the Station’, a desk that reclines to allow you to work from a horizontal, resting position… and oddly terrifies me with its resemblance to a dentist chair. However, plenty of people will likely find it a better way to work. As I’m trying to upgrade to a standing desk, I wonder: What is your work set up? Share your desk or work surface, complete with pictures of course, or alternatively, tell us what your ideal work set up would be if there were no restrictions on space or funds.

As your Community Editor, I admittedly have a vested interest in the reaction to stories like Yahoo Labs’ abuse detector and the Reddit moderator bans after the recent AMA. Both of those stories provoked some really interesting statements, suggestions and thoughts in the comments. How should AMAs, forums and comment sections be moderated? What does and does not deserve a ban? How can moderators maintain transparency with users and avoid bias? Where do you feel free speech comes into play? Is there even such a thing as online abuse? Are websites responsible for what happens in user forums and comment sections?


‘Uncharted’ movie discovers another writer for its script

The Uncharted movie has been in development hell since, oh… forever. There’s a new glimmer of hope, though: Sony has asked filmmaker Joe Carnahan to write the latest script, according to Variety. What drew him to the project was an interest in archaeology and how staggeringly popular the franchise is.

“Archaeology today is in itself an antiquity, but that world has always fascinated me,” he said. “Especially when you go to a museum today and wonder how a piece got there to begin with.” That almost seems like a reference to Uncharted 3’s opening, to be honest.

Carnahan is perhaps best known for his work writing and directing 2002’s Narc with Jason Patrick and Ray Liotta, and The Grey from 2011 — the movie where Liam Neeson fought wolves with booze bottles taped to his fists. Really.

The movie still needs a director, but even with Carnahan’s talent behind a camera, it can’t overcome his schedule at the moment. Among other projects, he has Bad Boys 3 on his plate and said that if he was going to direct, production would have to be pushed back. Considering that the film is already at least two years behind one of its promised release dates, what’s a little more time?

Via: Slashfilm

Source: Variety

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