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Toyota’s companion robot goes on sale at the end of the year

Toyota has announced that it’ll sell people its adorable Kirobo Mini “communication partner robot” from the end of this year. Would-be owners can snag one from a series of low-volume pre-sales at Toyota dealerships in Tokyo as well as Aichi Prefecture. Otherwise, they’ll have to wait until 2017 for the weeny ‘bots, which are designed to sit in your car’s cup holders, to reach store shelves across the country. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen this tech before, don’t worry, Toyota sent one into space to hang around the ISS a while ago.

Kirobo Mini is intended to offer “companionship” to lonely drivers on long journeys, offering “casual conversation” in standard Japanese. The unit will turn its head to whoever is speaking, nod in agreement and even attempt to analyze your emotions with a built-in camera. That way, when you gripe about your terrible new boss at work, Kirobo will adjust its manner of speaking to be more sympathetic.

When the robot was initially announced, Toyota implied that Kirobo would harvest data on your driving to send back to HQ. The information, the firm said, would be used to “inform future innovations and develop transport thats in tune with the driver’s mood.” References to such collection have been excised from the most recent release, but it’s worth bearing in mind should you want to spend 39,800 Yen ($392) before tax on one.

Source: Toyota


Apple Maps displays nationwide Amtrak train routes

Prefer to travel cross-country by rail? If you’re an iPhone owner, you no longer need to fire up a third-party app to plan your trip. Apple Maps has introduced support for Amtrak train routes across North America — if you want to navigate all the way from Los Angeles to Toronto while seeing the sights, you can make it happen. You’ll need to live in an area where Apple’s mass transit directions are available, of course, but this remains a big deal if you’re more interested in how you travel than the time it takes.

Source: MacRumors


The best blood pressure monitors for home use

By Stacey Higginbotham

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.

After spending 20 hours researching more than 50 blood pressure monitors, interviewing medical professionals, and testing 10 finalists with a group of nursing professors and students at the University of Texas Nursing School, we can say the best blood pressure monitor for most people to use at home is the Omron Series 10 with Bluetooth. Not everyone needs a blood pressure monitor, but those with high blood pressure (a third of Americans) or concerns about it will find a blood pressure monitor is a relatively inexpensive investment in their health.

How we picked and tested

We took 10 blood pressure monitors to the University of Texas Nursing School to test and find the most accurate, comfortable, and easy-to-use model. Photo: Stacey Higginbotham

For this guide, we decided not to review wrist or fingertip monitors because they are not recommended by the American Heart Association, and major insurers such as Aetna don’t reimburse patients for them because they question the accuracy. According to Dr. Bruce Alpert, former co-chair of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation Sphygmomanometer Committee, accuracy in wrist and fingertip monitors can be compromised by the type of algorithm the manufacturer uses to compensate for reading farther away from your heart. We also did not test smartphone apps that purport to take blood pressure readings directly from your phone, because they are not accurate.

The most important element of a blood pressure monitor is its accuracy. This is determined by the blood pressure machine itself (technically, it’s called a sphygmomanometer), and by the size of the cuff. The conditions under which you measure your blood pressure—from time of day to body position—matter as well, no matter the machine, according to both Dr. Alpert and to Dr. Leigh Goldstein at the University of Texas School of Nursing.

We brought 10 of the most promising blood pressure monitors that satisfied our basic criteria to the University of Texas School of Nursing, where nine volunteers tried on all of the cuffs after getting a baseline reading on the UT equipment. The goal was to get a variety of user impressions and to test the accuracy of the monitors against a professionally taken blood pressure on equipment you might find in a doctor’s office or hospital setting.

Each participant started with a blood pressure reading from the lab’s equipment, taken by two professors, each registered nurses. Each person then tested all nine monitors, comparing their baseline blood pressure against the test unit’s reading. Because the repeated constriction of the blood vessels in the arm during multiple tests will affect the accuracy of later readings, we took only the first two readings on each cuff into consideration when determining accuracy, looking overall for cuffs that read within the 10 mmHg of pressure suggested by doctors.

All participants took their tests sitting down with their back supported (though in the interest of time, we did not adhere throughout testing to the recommended five minutes of rest between tests). Each participant also had the option of writing their impressions of each monitor and cuff after the reading. They considered the comfort of the cuff, ease of putting it on and reading the display, and any other factors they thought were important. Some made comments about how long the monitor took to read their blood pressure and the volume of the monitor as it worked. Many of these areas are subjective, and some, like the speed of the reading, will vary from person to person, but we looked for commonalities in their input. At the end of the group testing, we continued with further tests for the five models that tested most accurately with the student nurses.

Our pick

The Omron 10 Series with Bluetooth had the most comfortable cuff of all the monitors we tried, and because of its stiffer construction, it’s also the easiest to put on one-handed. Photo: Stacey Higginbotham

Of all the models we tested, the Omron Series 10 was the most accurate, had the most comfortable cuff, and possessed the best combination of useful features—a Bluetooth connection to transmit data to your smartphone for easier health-trend tracking, the ability to average three tests taken within a 10-minute window for improved accuracy, and irregular heartbeat detection. It features an easy-to-use interface and was also the only monitor we tested with a backlit display.

Budget pick

Walmart’s ReliOn-branded monitor has a more basic set of features and is simple to use. Our testers found the cuff isn’t as comfortable or easy to put on as the Omron 10’s. Photo: Stacey Higginbotham

Those who want to spend less than $50 on a blood pressure monitor should turn to Walmart. Its ReliOn BP200 blood pressure monitor (made by Omron) is usually $25 to $30 cheaper than our main pick. The ReliOn BP200 is accurate, tracks heart rate, and stores a month’s worth of daily readings for two people. It does have a slightly trickier cuff than the Omron 10, however, and it can’t use Bluetooth to connect to your phone.

If you need to track blood pressure for more than two people

The only model we found that will track up to four users, the A&D 767F monitor is inexpensive and provided us accurate readings in our testing. Photo: Stacey Higginbotham

Those who need to check blood pressures for more than two people regularly should look at the A&D 767F. It fared well in our accuracy tests, comes with a nice case and easy-to-read display, and is priced similarly to our budget pick. It is the only option we tested with the ability to track four users, so if you have more than two people in your home—perhaps aging parents—who need to monitor their blood pressure, this could be the best choice. The cuff is tighter on the arm than our top pick’s and the machine is louder, but not terribly so.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.


Quadriplegic driver gets first autonomous car license

Sam Schmidt is no ordinary race car driver after suffering a devastating accident in training that rendered him a quadriplegic back in 2000. Now he’s also the first American to have been handed a driving license that permits him to use an autonomous vehicle on public highways. The state of Nevada has announced that Schmidt is able to drive a modified Corvette Stingray Z06 that is controlled just with the motion of his head, breath and voice commands.

There’s a little stretching of the definition of autonomous, here, since Schmidt is directly in control of the car himself. The vehicle, however, does much of the heavy lifting for him, and so qualifies under Nevada state law as self-driving. For instance, Schmidt controls the gear shift through voice commands, that the car then handles automatically, while a sip-and-puff device enables him to control acceleration and braking. The vehicle’s customization was handled by Arrow Electronics as part of its semi-autonomous motorcar project.

The granting of the license is a huge step forward in enabling disabled people to regain their independence, since Schmidt can now travel ostensibly where he wants. Nevada will also use it to burnish its credentials as a tech-friendly city, since it now houses plenty of bleeding-edge tech startups including Hyperloop One and Faraday Future — not to mention that it’s also the home of Tesla’s Gigafactory. It’s also a big deal for the world of semi-autonomous vehicles, since legislators may look more favorably upon cars with humans behind the wheel. After all, most of the alarmism that currently surrounds autopilot systems is that a computer can’t make the sort of snap judgments a person can.

Via: Popular Science

Source: Nevada DMV


MIT’s shock-absorbing robots are safer and more precise

Soft robots aren’t just about speed and grace… they should be safer, too. To prove that point, MIT’s CSAIL has developed bouncing robots whose 3D-printed soft skins act as shock absorbers. The technique revolves around printing a “programmable viscoelastic material” where every aspect of the skin (which includes solids, liquids and a rubber-like substance called TangoBlack+) is tuned to the right level of elasticity. The robot can give way where it needs to, but remain solid otherwise. As a result, it can bounce around without taking damage, and land four times more precisely than it would with an inflexible surface.

Moreover, the material is very practical. It’s cheap and easy to find, and the 3D printing eliminates problems with customization. You only need a single print job to create the skin instead of a complicated, time-consuming engineering process.

The invention should primarily help with the durability and safety of robots, of course. You could see robot helpers that work alongside humans without fear of injury, and rescue robots that won’t easily break if they fall. They would be more precise, as well, as an unexpected collision wouldn’t throw them off. However, the material could be useful for all kinds of products. CSAIL envisions phones, helmets, and other impact-prone devices that would be that much better at surviving horrible blows.

Source: MIT News


New Jersey town’s parking solution is free Uber rides

The city of Summit, New Jersey has a bit of an infrastructure issue. The NJ Transit Summit Station doesn’t have enough parking for all the people who commute through it. But fear not, the city has a solution: Uber! The city announced on Monday that it is launching a pilot partnership with the ride-hailing company to provide residents with free rides to the station.

Residents will need to have a prepaid parking permit to be eligible for the free ride. Those without permits will still get a hefty discount with $2 flat-rate rides — that’s equivalent to the station parking lot’s $4/day rate. City officials figure that this scheme will free up about 100 parking spaces, eliminate the need to expand the parking lot and save taxpayers around $5 million over the next two decades. The pilot program will start with 100 commuters and run Monday to Friday between 5am and 9pm. Should it prove effective, city officials will look to expand the program to more residents.



Apple’s Second European Data Center Prepares for 2017 Opening in Foulum, Denmark

Earlier in the year, Apple announced that it would be spending $2 billion on two new data centers in Europe, with one located in Ireland and another in Denmark. New information has emerged today regarding the second data center in Denmark, which will be located in Foulum (via The Copenhagen Post).

Foulum is a small town outside of Viborg — a larger a city in central Jutland, Denmark — where the agricultural research facilities of Aarhus University are located. This will be helpful for Apple, since the company also recently announced a partnership with the Aarhus University on a new biogas research and development project.

The research will look into how to convert biogas into electricity through the use of fuel cells, and the help of various agricultural waste materials provided by local farmers.

Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen said the new collaboration is “an excellent follow-on to Apple’s billion investment in the data centre”.

“The new partnership is a good example that [ministry investment organization] Invest in Denmark’s targeted efforts to attract data centre investments to Denmark is producing excellent results. It also illustrates that data centre investors often wish to contribute to research into and the expansion of the renewable energy capacity in Denmark to the benefit of everyone,” Jensen said in a statement.

At 6.3 billion kroner, the 166,000-square-meter data center is the “largest foreign capital investment in Danish history.” Similar to the Irish data center, the one in Denmark will help power Apple’s online services in Europe, including the iTunes Store, App Store, Apple Music, iCloud, and more. The current projections for the project prepare it for an operational launch date sometime in 2017, and construction is expected to continue through 2026.

Throughout 2016, Apple had a rough time preparing its data center in Ireland, facing multiple objections to the facility’s potential harmful ramifications for the nearby wilderness. In August, however, the Cupertino company finally got approval for its Galway County, Ireland data center. Apple’s plan was to originally have the Irish data center up and running by early 2017, but since its first proposal in September 2015 and the ensuing blockades, it’s expected that goal has been pushed further back.

Tag: data center
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Apple’s Flagship Regent Street Location in U.K. Reopens October 15

Apple has announced that its flagship Regent Street retail location in London, England reopens Saturday, October 15 at 10:00 a.m. local time, following over one year of major renovations.

Apple Regent Street with “opening soon” construction barrier in late September (Sebastian Anthony via Twitter)
Apple contracted award-winning architecture firm Foster and Partners to design the layout of the new store, which initially remained open for business at the basement level but has been fully closed since June 13.

MacRumors exclusively reported on the remodeling plans last year, including the removal of four Apple logos affixed to the store’s facade in order to allow more natural light inside and preserve the historic look of the building. Like other renovated stores, Apple Regent Street will feature Apple’s next-generation retail design.

brussels_heroApple Brussels exemplifies Apple’s next-generation retail design
The renovations included the relocation of three columns to create a more spacious feel, replacing the central glass stairs with two new side staircases, and re-configuration of the Backroom with improved facilities for employees. The store’s overall square footage has been reduced by 4,400 square feet, or around 25% of the current size.

regent-street-apple-545Apple Regent Street prior to closing for renovations
Apple Regent Street opened in 2004 and attracts over 4 million visitors per year. The iconic store expanded two years later to become Apple’s largest at the time. Apple has contracted Foster and Partners for several other projects in recent years, including the design of its Campus 2 and Apple Union Square.

Related Roundup: Apple Stores
Tag: United Kingdom
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StubHub Becomes First Ticketing App on Apple TV

StubHub is coming to Apple TV, marking what it says is the first ticketing app on the tvOS App Store. The app has been specifically designed for the fourth-generation Apple TV, enabling users to browse, search, and purchase tickets for sports games, concerts, theater and comedy shows, and other U.S. events from the couch.

StubHub, owned by eBay, is a popular online marketplace for buying and selling tickets for events, including NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games, concerts by artists such as Adele and Drake, WWE and UFC fights, comedy shows by the likes of Amy Schumer, and more. Tickets can be searched for by genre, artist, team, or venue.

StubHub for Apple TV takes advantage of the big screen with a highly visual design intended to motivate couch sitters to get out:

The design was tested and iterated through several rounds of user feedback, in which StubHub designers added the side-scroll interface for browsing within a seating section of a specific event, and included high-resolution seat maps on the listing cards so consumers could get a clear idea of the view from the section in which they were considering tickets.

StubHub for Apple TV does not appear to be available on the tvOS App Store just yet, but it should be rolling out soon.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Tags: tvOS, StubHub
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Caution)
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Mophie Launches Modular iPhone 7 Cases With Magnetic Wallet and Battery Pack Add-Ons

Mophie today announced a modular accessory line of iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus cases that allow users to attach various peripherals via magnetic charge on the back of Apple’s smartphone. Shawn Dougherty, co-founder and President of Mophie, said the new “Hold Force” line offers “stylish, protective cases” with the advantage of extra battery life and spots for credit cards.

The first step in ordering a Hold Force case is choosing the 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch case size for the iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Users will also pick between 9 color options on each accessory that range from one solid color scheme, to a “wrap” option that has a line of color sitting between see-through plastic. Cases in both sizes sell for $39.95.

The Hold Force Wallet
The second step guides users in picking out a magnetic accessory to stick on the back of the Hold Force case, which are right now limited to a wallet system and battery pack. The Hold Force Wallet is available only for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus at $19.95, and includes 2 credit card pockets that Mophie says “keeps your cash, credit cards and ID together with your phone in one spot” thanks to the new line’s secure magnetic attachments.

The Hold Force Folio offers three spots for credit cards and cash, along with a piece of material that flips and covers the front of the iPhone. Like the Wallet, the Folio is available for both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus for $19.95. The company noted that the magnetic attachments have no negative effects on credit cards while they are inside of the Hold Force system.

mophie-2The Hold Force Folio
Lastly, the Hold Force Powerstation Plus Mini can provide up to 12 hours of extra battery life for average smartphones, thanks to its integrated 4,000 mAh battery. The accessory’s basic charging system is focused on micro-USB, so an included Lightning adapter allows for support of recharging the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Mophie sells the Powerstation Plus Mini for $59.95.

mophie-4The Hold Force Powerstation Plus Mini
Those interested can purchase the new accessories from Mophie’s official website, as well as at Best Buy.

Tag: Mophie
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