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Anki Overdrive goes Fast & Furious with new special movie edition

Anki has carved a niche for itself in artificially intelligent toy car racing, with Anki Overdrive offering a slot-free experience quite unlike anything else out there. There’s one thing its rival, Scalextric, has been doing exceptionally well for decades though: drawing new players in through licences.

Now Anki is joining the fray, with a special edition Anki set based on the Fast & Furious movie franchise.

Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition offers the same kinds of Anki play, with small robotic cars adhering to marker points on vinyl track over custom lay-outs. However, it features two AI cars based on vehicles driven in the films: Dom’s Ice Charger and Hobbs’ MXT.

The special version of the controller application for iOS and Android is also themed, with other characters from the films, such as Letty and Tej, making up the numbers as AI opponents or sidekicks.

There is also a new Fast & Furious track piece included, which features a power zone that triggers a blast to disable nearby opponents.

All normal Anki Overdrive track pieces are compatible with the set, so you can build your own massive playing field. Existing cars will be compatible too.

“Our collaboration for Fast & Furious will bring an all-new level of interactivity to the franchise,” said Anki’s executive vice president of worldwide consumer products, Manuel Torres Port.

“We’re incredibly excited to introduce Fast & Furious fans to gameplay that delivers what they love and connect with most from the films – the characters, cars, and action.”

Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition will be available from September priced at £169.99.


Amazon Echo Look is the personal assistant that replaces your mirror

Amazon has made a fashionable addition to its Echo range of personal assistants. Called the Echo Look, Amazon’s latest device is a camera that you control with your voice, that takes full-lengths selfies.

  • Amazon Echo review: It’s all about Alexa
  • Amazon Echo: What can Alexa do and what services are compatible?

It’s been designed to replace your mirror and to show you what your clothes choices for the day look like. You can either take pictures or videos using the camera, and then review what it’s taken on your smartphone through the companion app.

The camera itself is surrounded by LEDs for improved lighting, and it has depth sensing technology to automatically blur the background, leaving you centre stage. You can then build up a portfolio of looks and see when you last wore them, so you can make sure you don’t wear the same outfit twice in one week, because how silly would that be?

You’re able to share photos instantly with your friends or upload them to Instagram, and an built-in Style Check feature will tell you which outfits suit you best, using algorithms and expert stylists.

  • Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Getting a grip on Alexa

But of course, it’s still an Echo product and so has Alexa built-in, meaning you can ask her everything you would ask the regular Echo speaker, such as what the weather will be like for the day and how long it will take to get to work.

The Amazon Echo Look is currently only available in the US for $199, but on an invite-only scheme. We’ll update this story as soon as we hear of wider availability.


Uber highlights your rating to make you a better passenger

It’s no secret that Uber assigns star ratings to passengers as well as drivers, but finding your passenger rating has practically required a small mining expedition. After today, though, you’ll hardly have to lift a finger to understand your reputation. Uber is updating its ratings system to move your passenger rating directly under your name in the app menu. This isn’t just a matter of convenience, mind you — Uber is using the prominent rating as part of its bid to improve rider behavior. If you see your rating dip after a rough trip, Uber reckons, you’ll be less likely to harangue your driver the next time around.

The move isn’t going to please critics who believe Uber’s problem centers around vile drivers. Even if they aren’t doing anything explicitly illegal, you’ll occasionally run into drivers who pressure you into giving them a good rating. Yes, you can retaliate with a low driver rating, but a conspicuous passenger rating may encourage that rate-five-or-else strategy. With that said, there’s no question that some riders are routinely rowdy — this may ultimately get them to mend their ways.

As it stands, the update will help you distinguish between problems with your driver and your fellow commuters. If you rate an UberPool ride less than five stars, specifying factors outside of the driver’s control (such as an unruly passenger or an overly lengthy route) won’t count against that driver’s average score. This could help both sides — it might encourage good UberPool drivers to stick around rather than quitting in response to one lousy passenger ruining a trip for everyone.

Uber's new approach to passenger ratings

Source: Uber Newsroom


Amazon Echo Look is a voice-controlled camera for fashion tips

Amazon’s Echo smart speakers just went in an unusual (but potentially very helpful) new direction. Meet Echo Look, an Alexa-powered camera designed around taking your own fashion photos and videos. If you want to show off your daily wardrobe, you just have to ask the Look to take a snapshot — you don’t have to take a selfie in front of a mirror to get a full-length picture. And since it includes a depth-sensing camera, it can blur the background to make shots pop. The real party tricks come when you’re not sure about your outfit, however.

The Look’s Style Check service blends AI algorithms with fashion specialist advice to provide a second opinion. Does that jacket really go with that shirt? The goal is to get you shopping for more clothes on Amazon, of course, but this could save you from having to ask friends for tips. The more feedback you provide, the better Style Check gets at determining what outfits work.

And yes, the Echo Look still behaves like Amazon’s other speakers when you’re not using it, complete with smart home control. It’s really more of a bedroom-oriented Echo than a single-purpose device.

Don’t expect to simply order one, though. Amazon is currently selling the $200 Echo Look on an invitation-only basis. You can request an invitation if you want in, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get one. It’s not certain why that is, but it might be worth signing up if you’re never quite sure what to wear.

Source: Amazon, YouTube


FDA: Stop buying miracle cancer drugs on Instagram

The FDA has issued a warning to social media users not to be taken in by miracle cures hawked on the internet. The agency found 14 companies that made fraudulent, outrageous claims about the power of their medicines on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Marketed as “treatments,” and often described as “natural,” these pills are likely to do more harm than good to people undergoing treatment.

Nicole Kornspan, a safety officer at the FDA, explains that these drugs are often “a great temptation to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.” In addition, pet owners are being suckered in with similar bogus treatments aimed at curing cancer in dogs and cats. These remedies are often quite pricey, although often cheaper than the cost of visiting a vet for proper treatment.

Any medicine that hasn’t been tested through the FDA’s currently-rigorous process is not guaranteed to work, or not kill you. Unfortunately, Instagram has replaced the state fair or that bodega your uncle told you not to visit as the best place to find all sorts of flim-flam and nonsense.

Unfortunately, social media and drug advertising have made strange, yet comfortable, bedfellows in recent years. Kim Kardashian was slapped with a warning letter after she shared a picture of a drug designed to counter the effects of morning sickness. Kardashian was paid to promote the product and failed to point out that it’s never been tested for use on severe cases of the condition.

The agency has instructed the 14 companies in question to remove their exaggerated claims or face further penalties. Unfortunately, as ABC News rightly points out, it’s all too easy to simply change the name and open a fresh Instagram account. Similarly, any unscrupulous Instagram influencer can easily take several thousand dollars, take a snap of a pill bottle and ignore the potential catastrophe that could follow.

Via: ABC News

Source: FDA, FDA (Flickr)


Tesla Model S safety concerns cost it Consumer Reports’ top rating

Consumer Reports and Tesla really aren’t getting along well lately. The what-should-I-buy magazine has lowered the ratings of Tesla’s Model S and Model X after noting that a promised automatic emergency braking feature (originally due by the end of 2016) is still missing. The move isn’t too damaging for the Model X, since a two-point drop from a modest score of 58 isn’t likely to change buyers’ minds. For the Model S, however, it’s a big blow — the move from 87 to 85 knocks the electric sedan from the top of the ultraluxury category to third. While few people choose a car simply because it’s leading the Consumer Reports charts, it’s harder to make your case when you’re merely considered better than average.

For its part, Tesla says that the automatic braking remains a “top priority,” and that it’ll arrive as soon as possible. It would be “morally wrong and counterproductive” to rush a safety feature out when it’s unfinished, the automaker says.

It’s easy to be cynical about the move. Consumer Reports has a history of pulling recommendations for high-profile products, and not always for the best reasons (unconventional testing methods, for instance). However, it’s not hard to see why the publication would make its move here. CR gave its initial ratings on the assumption that automatic braking would be available within weeks after it purchased its Model S tester, bring the vehicle up to the safety standard of its predecessor. How do you maintain the exact same recommendation when the feature is missing half a year later? Really, the ratings dip just makes sure that prospective buyers are buying the Model S and X for what they are right now, not what they’ll eventually be.

Via: Autoblog

Source: Consumer Reports


Google Home has 5 million recipe options for your next night in

Google has been rapidly adding new features to its Home connected speaker recently, and the latest will be handy for chefs. Google Home can now read out recipes step-by-step — but it sounds like you’ll need to kick off the process using your smartphone. According to a blog post that went up today, Home will be able to read back more than 5 million recipes from sites like All Recipes, Food Network, Bon Appetit, the New York Times and more. First, though, you’ll need to find the recipe you want on your phone using either the Google Assistant on Android or Google search on your iPhone.

From there, you’ll find a new “send to Google Home” button, provided you have one set up of course. Once you’ve done that, the recipe will be loaded up and ready for you — saying “OK Google, start cooking” will prompt Home to read you the first line. You can ask Home to repeat a direction or go to a specific step at any time; otherwise saying “OK Google, next step” will move you forward. You can keep using Google Home to play music, answer questions and basically do whatever else you might want without interrupting the recipe. It’ll know you’re cooking and move forward with the recipe regardless of whatever else you ask it between steps.

It’s a natural extension of Google Home, particularly considering how nice it is to go hands-free when you’re working in the kitchen. And, as with many features Google Home has gained recently, it’s something that Amazon’s Echo can already do. However, Google’s implementation has a few advantages — rather than building specific “skills” for each recipe source, Google Home works with a whopping 5 million recipes from multiple sites right away. The first recipe skill for Echo came from All Recipes, and it now works with Food Network as well. Echo has a few advantages over Google’s recipe feature, as well — you can tell Echo what you have in your fridge or pantry and it’ll suggest options for you.

If you want to try cooking with Google Home, the new feature is rolling out this week.


The first 4K livestream from space starts at 1:30PM ET

Astronaut Peggy Whitson has already broken plenty of new ground in her current role as a commander aboard the International Space Station, but she’s about to break some more. As promised, Whitson will star in the first-ever 4K livestream from space today (April 26th) at 1:30PM Eastern. Her part will mainly involve a chat with Amazon Web Services exec Sam Blackman (AWS is hosting the event), but the panel as a whole should be worth viewing: it’s a chat with NASA and tech industry luminaries about the effects that imaging and cloud technology are having on both science and movie-making.

You’ll need a quick internet connection and a reasonably beefy computer to tune in at 4K, although lower resolutions will be an option if you can’t spare the bandwidth or computing cycles. However, it’s clear that the ISS has the tougher challenge. It’s not so much the 4K gear (a RED Epic Dragon camera paired with a 4K encoder) as the internet connection. While the network the ISS uses has been receiving performance upgrades, it remains to be seen how well bandwidth-hungry 4K video works in a real livestream. The agency has to worry about delays, too, and recently revamped its technology to cut wait times.

Provided there are no hiccups, this still represents a breakthrough. ISS crews are no stranger to 4K, but this could make 4K a relative mainstay of all their work, not just something they use for offline productions. Also, it’s a testament to how rapidly spaceborne internet has evolved. In 2010, astronauts were happy just to have web access — now, they can take advantage of features that are impractical for many people back on Earth.

Source: AWS Events


‘The Protectors’ shows how VR can help save African elephants

At first, the elephant looks like it’s asleep. But then you notice it has stumps where there should be feet. Its tusks have been sawed off. And there are countless maggots crawling along a gaping hole in its face. It’s a horrifying image as I describe it — but when viewed as a 360-degree video in a VR headset, it’s even more so. You can’t easily look away without shutting your eyes. And the three-dimensional sound makes you feel as if you’re actually there.

This is the most powerful scene in The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes, a VR documentary co-directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker) and Imraan Ismail (The Displaced). The film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, gives us a rare glimpse at the lives of rangers working in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park. They risk their lives to stop poachers from killing elephants for their ivory tusks, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against them. They’re vastly outnumbered by poachers, who are better paid, better equipped, and can easily hide in the park’s vast landscape. And then, of course, there are all of the natural dangers they face on patrol.

But when you’re confronted with the image of that cruelly mutilated elephant corpse, you understand exactly why they risk their lives. As one ranger says during the film, seeing a dead elephant almost makes them feel like they lost a child. That particular shot could be considered manipulative, but it gets to the heart of what makes VR documentaries powerful. You’re not just watching something being projected onto a screen — you’re effectively placed in the middle of the action.

“When you’re doing a normal [traditionally filmed] documentary… you kind of just hang back, or you’re off to the side,” Ismail said in an interview with Engadget. “You’d use a longer lens and steal shots — kind of shine a spotlight. But in VR it’s almost as if you have a certain number of flares to light a situation, so you have to be kind of right in the middle of it… It’s very different. You have to be almost embedded, right in the middle of everything.”

That sense of immediacy is evident throughout The Protectors. At one point, you’re slowly walking through a tall field of grass, unable to see what’s a few feet ahead of you. It’s a sequence that’s both beautiful and terrifying, since practically anything could be on the other side of the grass. And it’s more than just a suspense gimmick — it’s a way to communicate something that the Garamba Park rangers face every day. You could shoot a similar scene with traditional cameras easily, but you wouldn’t have the effect of looking all around you and being surrounded by tall grass, with the threat of danger lurking everywhere.

It’s worth pointing out that I didn’t see the film in a typical setting. I was sitting in the middle of an audience with dozens of other people who were wearing Gear VR headsets. They were going through the experience at the same time as me, and it was a unique experience hearing the audience react to the shot of the elephant corpse in unison. In a way, this was the closest a VR experience has come to a traditional film for me. I’m used to the shared experience of watching a film on a big screen, and VR is often accused of being a much more isolating experience.

When it came to capturing that elephant corpse image — which is something I’ll honestly have trouble getting out of my head — Ismail said he wanted the audience to experience exactly what he was feeling at that moment. “You can imagine just how horrifying and soul destroying it really is, as a person [to confront that elephant body],” he said. “And it then became very easy to say, let’s communicate that. And then, to add to it, for the rangers that’s their perspective as well. It’s also a defeat.”

While the film is just eight minutes long, we still get a sense of how the rangers approach their duty. Thanks to their employment by the non-profit African Parks, which manages Garamba and nine other parks throughout the continent, they have access to healthcare and education for themselves and their families. But it’s also worth noting that the rangers stick with their conservation work even when they could easily make more money by siding with the poachers. For them, it’s more of a mission than a job. That’s also why it’s all the more heartbreaking to see them relying on aging equipment and weapons.

Ismail shot The Protectors over three weeks with a crew of just three other people. Since they had to brave the dangers of Garamba as well, they couldn’t take much equipment. They relied on a portable camera rig from the VR production company Here Be Dragons, which was basically made up of eight GoPro cameras. Before and after the shoot, he also worked with Bigelow, who’s been advocating to save African elephants for years. Her 2014 short film, Last Days, lays out the problem we’re facing if we want to save the elephants from extinction.

Perhaps because we were screening The Protectors on Earth Day, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance at the premiere. She discussed being introduced to the plight of the elephants during her tenure in the Obama administration. “It became clear to everyone that this was not just a terrible crisis when it came to the elephant population,” she said. “It was a trade — trafficking that was funding a lot of bad folks, a lot of bad actors. It was being used to take ivory and sell it in order to buy more weapons, and support the kind of terrorist activity that these and other groups were engaged in.”

Ismail hopes that The Protectors will make more people aware of the ranger’s work to end elephant poaching (you can support them with donations here). This is still a critical time, after all, since more elephants are being killed than are being born. At this rate, we could lose African elephants entirely within 10 years, according to African Parks’ chief marketing officer, Andrea Heydlauf.

Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive owners will be able to check out The Protectors on May 1st on the Within app. It might sound like a rough experience, but it’s one worth watching to gain a full understanding of what the Garamba Park rangers put on the line every day.

Follow along with all of our Tribeca 2017 coverage here.


‘Call of Duty: WWII’ will take you back to Omaha Beach November 3rd

Call of Duty: WWII will launch November 3rd on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Additional details from the livestream are pouring in, but for now, feast your eyes on the new trailer.


Source: Call of Duty (YouTube)

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