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11
Jun

After Math: Missed connections


It was sort of an eventful week for things that almost happened. A 40-year-old astronomy anomaly turned out to really just be a passing comet, a pair of people spent two full days in their second life, and even Republicans are getting tired of Trump’s tweets. Numbers, because how else will you know how narrowly you’ve missed?

11
Jun

Uber considers sidelining its CEO


Uber has been taking steps to clean up its toxic corporate culture, such as firing employees and hiring experts, but the most dramatic changes might be right around the corner. Both Reuters and Recode have learned that Uber’s board is holding a meeting on June 11th to consider recommendations stemming from its workplace probe, and numerous executives may be on the chopping block. That could include CEO Travis Kalanick, at least for a while — Reuters sources hear that the company chief might end up “temporarily stepping away” from the ridesharing company. And when he comes back, he might have a different position, reduced powers or stricter oversight.

The hiatus might be helpful regardless of how much confidence directors have in Kalanick. His mother recently died in a boating accident, and his father was seriously injured. Simply speaking, it would be understandable if Kalanick took a leave of absence to cope with his loss.

Other executives facing an uncertain future include senior VP Emil Michael, one of Kalanick’s closest advisors, as well as human resources lead Ryan Graves and technical chief Thuan Pham (who reportedly ignored engineer Susan Fowler’s complaints). The Wall Street Journal has heard that Michael could resign as early as Monday. Regardless of who gets cut or sidelined, the board is reportedly adopting a slew of management and policy reforms suggested after the investigation.

Uber has declined to comment, but you might not have to wait long to get an official response. The firm is expected to tell staff about its decisions on June 13th, and that might include publicly disclosing some details. However, the question isn’t so much whether or not you’ll hear about changes as whether they’ll go far enough to please critics. There are many calling for an overhaul of Uber’s leadership — if the company only implements relatively minor changes, it could trigger an uproar from those convinced that Uber isn’t really willing to fix its underlying corporate problems.

Source: Reuters, Recode, WSJ

11
Jun

The passion behind the prison break in ‘A Way Out’


There’s one scene in A Way Out that operates as a continuous tracking shot, seamlessly following two convicts as they tear through the interior of a large hospital, leaping over gurneys and slinking through air vents with a cadre of police officers hot on their tails. It’s the only moment the screen isn’t bisected — the rest of the game plays out completely in split-screen co-op, either local or online.

This singular moment of unity doesn’t exactly turn A Way Out into a traditional single-player game. The action flows between Leo and Vincent, the game’s protagonists, putting one player in charge of the scene before passing control to the other, and back again. Both players see the same screen, but only one person directs it at a time, deciding whether Leo and Vincent make it out of the hospital alive. Even when A Way Out looks like a standard game, it isn’t.

“This is not a game where you level up or something,” director Josef Fares says. “We need the players to be there all the time, talking with each other all the time and being in the moment, like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’”

Fares really, really wants people to play A Way Out together in-person, sitting side-by-side on a couch and truly sharing the experience. This emotional connection is crucial — because while A Way Out looks like an action-heavy, prison-break game featuring guns, crime, violence and hardened criminals, Fares promises there’s soul behind this tough facade.

“There’s a lot of heart in this,” he says.

It’s not surprising A Way Out is founded on a deep emotional reservoir, considering the team’s debut game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Brothers is a heart-wrenching adventure about two young men on a quest to cure their father’s illness, forcing one player to control both characters with a single gamepad in order to solve puzzles and traverse dangerous lands. It came out in 2013 to widespread acclaim, and A Way Out feels like a natural evolution of this creative, sentimental aesthetic. It feels like Brothers grew up.

“All decisions that are made on A Way Out are based on the heart,” Fares says. “Even if someone tells me me, like, ‘If you do this you will sell 1 million copies more,’ my answer is ‘Fuck you.’ Look at me, I don’t have scripts and nobody tells me what to say. I say what I want to say. Passion is what drives this. That’s why it’s been great working with EA. They don’t tell us do this, do that. We decide what comes in, what goes out of the game.”

EA is publishing A Way Out via its Originals program, and the company showcased the game at its big E3 press conference in Los Angeles, putting Fares center-stage.

Fares takes his role as a leader at his studio, Hazelight, to heart. He’s the founder, writer and director at Hazelight, and for A Way Out, he’s even the person in the motion-capture suit. Leo’s movements in-game are Fares himself, whether he’s running, leaping, ducking, shooting a gun or drinking a beer. Vincent’s mo-cap was done by Oscar Wolontis, Hazelight’s production coordinator. In terms of appearance, Fares’ brother serves as the model for Leo, the more trigger-happy of the two convicts.

It’s still rare for smaller, independent studios to use motion-capture technology, though it isn’t unheard-of. For example, the powerful adventure game 1979 Revolution: Black Friday recently employed mo-cap to resounding critical and consumer success. A Way Out’s animations are reminiscent of 1979, in fact. This doesn’t mean the game’s graphics are perfectly polished and the animations always smooth (1979 doesn’t quite reach this goal, either) — A Way Out is due to hit PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in early 2018, so developers are still tweaking its systems. But, there’s only so much they can do.

“You want the honest truth? This machine is not so strong as you think,” Fares says, pointing to the PS4 running his game. “This is like a 5-year-old PC. If consoles were as powerful as PCs are today, you would see all different games. Most of the work developers put out there is to make them work on consoles.”

A Way Out is a passion project for Fares. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he talks about the game’s split-screen control scheme and its surprisingly emotional story. Though A Way Out is reminiscent of his previous project, Brothers, in a few ways — it stars two men and features a twist on a classic control scheme — Fares says it’s a completely different beast.

“We can’t be categorized,” he says. “It’s about whatever makes us, our heart go, that’s what we’re going to do. There’s no one-trick-pony or anything like that. I’m telling you, this game is going to be even better than Brothers, and the next game is going to be even better than that.”

Fares is endlessly excited for people to discover another way to play video games together, as a shared yet wholly unique experience — ideally, while they’re sitting side-by-side on the couch.

“I believe you can make a big, AAA, big-budget title with innovative, different stuff,” he says. “You just have to have the right person who believes in something. If you have a vision and a passion, nothing can stop you.”

11
Jun

‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ is a friendlier ‘Battlefield’


It’s hard to talk about EA’s multiplayer Star Wars shooter without accidentally stumbling over your words and mentioning the company’s other large-scale war series: Battlefield. It’s only natural. Long before Disney gave Electronic Arts the exclusive rights to create Star Wars video games, the Battlefront series was taking notes from DICE’s own shooter — draping science fiction trappings over the WWII game’s vehicle combat, large battlefields and even its name. When EA took over the franchise it own game inspired, however, the resulting game was accused of being gorgeous, but shallow. Fortunately, the company seems to have heard player complaints. According to Star Wars Battlefront II executive producer Matt Webster, the next game in the series could play like a more accessible, but still sufficiently deep Battlefield title.

Hints of this were all over the game’s E3 reveal: a revamped multiplayer mode with character classes, a point-based progression system and, perhaps most importantly, the promise that all online DLC would be free. Three items that directly addressed some of the original game’s biggest faults — from its shallow game modes to an online community split between season pass holders and base game owners. Webster says the changes came after the team took a closer look at who, exactly, was playing Battlefront.

“This audience is different from the Battlefield audience,” he told Engadget at the company’s E3 event. “The Battlefield player is more of a ‘core’ player.” Battlefront players, on the other hand, are pulled from both the gaming community, and a much wider, more diverse pool of general Star Wars fans. This is one of the things that led to making all of Battlefront II’s multiplayer DLC free — it avoids fragmenting the online community between people who buy DLC and those who don’t. “The Battlefield audience is used to that,” Webster says, but Star Wars fans might not be. “We want to keep people playing together. This is a great way in which we are able to do that.”

Webster says the idea is to keep the game accessible to players that might not fall into the ‘core’ demographic that represents Battlefield fans — but that doesn’t mean the game is simple. “Those players also still want depth and skill mastery,” he says, which prompted the team to tweak first-person gunplay to be more accurate and technical than third-person mode, and why they added character classes. “It’s still designed to be easy to pick up, but with enough headroom in there for players to really develop their skills.”

“Some people think accessibility is simplicity,” he says, “but it’s not. To have a system that feels simple is kind of just obfuscating the complexity.” He cites the game’s starfighter combat as an example of this — it’s designed to make players feel like an ‘ace pilot,’ but have more depth than the previous game. How much depth, however, he wouldn’t say, suggesting only that it would be more challenging to master than the flight of the previous game, but not as complex as some of the air combat in older Battlefield titles.

Without much hands-on time with the game at the show so far, it’s hard to say for sure if these promises will pan out in the final game — but if Webster’s comments are anything to go on, it sounds like the team has the right approach. EA’s first Battlefront game had all the sights and sounds of Star Wars. It was a game that felt right, but didn’t have the depth to hold some players as long as it could have. By taking an accessible, but still complex approach, Star Wars: Battlefront II could be a better middle ground between its lightweight predecessor, and the Battlefield games that inspired it. “We have to bridge quite a challenging gap there,” Webster said. “Simple enough to pick up and play, but hard to master.”

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

11
Jun

Fourteen illuminating ways to light up your life (and home) with LED light strips


Colorful lights, if done right, can look cool and futuristic. LED light strips have come a long way, which means you can ditch the year-round Christmas lights for something cleaner-looking. What’s nice about LED strips, though, is that they’re thin and flexible, so you can put them places traditional bulbs can’t go, like under cabinets and in drawers. This means they’re also functional — they can shed a little light on what’s going on in the back of the fridge or under the bed.

Related: LED streetlights save cities millions but raise health issues — and urban residents hate them

Your options for where you want to put LED strips are limited mostly by your imagination, where you have an outlet, and what you don’t mind adhering something sticky to. We’ve rounded up some Instructables and how-to videos to help you get started. If you plan to tackle any of these projects, just make sure to use caution.

Stairs

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Open-riser stairs look especially cool with LED lights, and they’re also functional, because those gaps can be especially treacherous at night, but you might be too blurry-eyed to want a full-fledged assault on your retinas. As you can see in this Instructables tutorial, there are ways to make the lights turn on automatically as you head down for a midnight snack.

Mirrors

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You know those vanity mirrors surrounded by light bulbs starlets are always looking into in old movies? You can get a more subtle effect and not not take away any of the reflected surface by covering it in bulbs.

Under couches and beds

Sometimes hip, hip lounges have cool glowing lights under their couches. Sure, it looks swank, but who needs the prices? Create the effect by putting LED lights under your couch and enjoy the ambience with far-less-expensive bottle service. And you’ll never lose a sneaker again if you add some LEDs under your bed.

As a nightlight

led light strip ideas batman or lamp

This takes a bit of work, but the result is sort of like having your very own Bat Signal. The how-to is over at Instructables.

Shelves

Shelves are great for organization, but if you also want them to double as displays for what they hold, adding some LED lights is a great addition. Just plain white ones might do the trick, or you could follow along with this Instructables and turn box shelves into color-coded showcases.

Refrigerators

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If you fear your peaches turning moldy and you have leftovers from three Thanksgivings ago somewhere in the recesses of your fridge, it might be time to add some more lighting to your ice box. Higher-end models may already have extra bulbs, but for older and less-expensive varieties, you can DIY it quickly and fairly cheaply. Add a motion sensor and timer, so the lights aren’t always on.

Under cabinets and bars

While adding a strip of lights under cabinets might be purely functional and help you see your crockpot a little better, getting a color-changing strip for your bar is just going to might it look really cool. It will fit right in with your glowing couch.

Decks

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As dusk turns to dark, the patio becomes a little less hospitable. Sure, it’s lovely to gaze at the stars (or city lights, depending on your locale), but it’s also nice to be able to see your drink or the person you’re talking to. Outfitting the deck with tons of LED strips is definitely more time-consuming and expensive, but the effect is pretty spectacular.

Pianos

There are lots of LED bulbs that can sync with your music, but this Instructables guide shows you how to make your lights match up with what you play on your piano.

Drawers

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If your junk drawer looks anything like ours, then it could definitely benefit from a little extra glow. Ikea has some LED light strips, which it made specifically for places such as cabinets and bookshelves, because they’re low-heat. As with the fridge, a motion sensor and timer would be great additions.

Christmas lights

For some people, the advantage of putting up LED light strips instead of Christmas lights is that they blend in easier, so you can leave them up all year. Check out this Instructables, which demonstrates how, since they’re up there anyway, they can become Halloween and Thanksgiving lights, too.

Pools

fiber-optic-lights-inground-pool-builder

There are waterproof LED lights that are suitable for outdoors and even pools. Considering it mixes electricity and water, you might want to get a professional.

Over the tub

led light strip ideas strips bathtub
Kohler

Water and electricity don’t mix, but if you want an ethereal glow while you soak away your stress, you can always use LED light strips over your tub. The rest of the nature-inspired ambience might be harder to come by, though.

Picture frames

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If you’re looking for a simple way to give your family portraits a little extra pop, Backlit Box can deliver a nice LED picture frame to your doorstep. If you’re more of the DIY type, these directions from Instructables will allow you to create an illuminated decoration that’s just as cool.

Cribs

Don’t turn on the lights. Don’t step on a sharp toy. Don’t wake your child. Motion-sensor bed lights provide just enough visibility, allowing you to move through the room without creating much of a disturbance. These LED strips from MyLights can also be installed on your own bed, in the bathroom, or the hallway, ensuring you’ll always have light when you need it.

Coffee tables

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One reason people use LED strips is that they can provide light in places that are hard to access with traditional lighting methods, such as a pool or kitchen drawer. Sometimes, however, people use LED lights because they just look cool. With the right set of LED strips, an old coffee table, an infinity mirror, and these directions from Instructables, you can build a futuristic coffee table for your living room.

Updated 6/11/2017: Updated to include the bathtub and Batman light. 




11
Jun

If you need an extra hand (or two) these wearable limbs can help you out


Why it matters to you

The MetaLimbs device shows what may be in store for the future of multitasking.

Researchers in the University of Tokyo’s Inami Laboratory have built a device that gives wearers an extra pair of arms. Dubbed MetaLimbs, it’s controlled by a user’s feet and knees, enabling them to move the device’s arms around and even grasp objects.

“Our scientific motivation for this project was to explore how additional artificial limbs would affect body perception, especially which configurations would make a user perceive physical alterations of his or her body as part of itself, and how our abilities and activities could be enhanced by the use of such body augmentations,” Tomoya Sasaki, who lead the project, told Digital Trends. “MetaLimbs is a proof-of-concept prototype that explores these questions.”

Since control comes from a wearer’s feet and legs, MetaLimbs is designed to be used while sitting down. However, the researchers realize this isn’t always so efficient — so they’ve integrated features that let users assume control with their toes while standing. For these reasons, Sasaki thinks the device’s applications could be broad.

“In the industrial environment, workers could be more efficient or simply safer in manipulating dangerous or heavy loads,” he said. “Or in a very different field, the entertainment industry, MetaLimbs could be used to create and implement novel artistic performances. The possibilities are endless. A market-ready implementation would probably first increase the capabilities of professionals in their daily jobs.”

Don’t expect to get your hands on MetaLimbs any time soon though. The device is just a prototype and Sasaki said they aren’t considered commercializing, since they’re focused mainly on its academic implications. However, Sasaki invites anyone inspired by the device to take a shot and develop their own. He’s even willing to share a thing or two about his creation.

“We are happy if this project inspires others to build upon it and also to explore possible research collaborations with interested parties,” he said.




11
Jun

Style and protect your 10.5-inch iPad Pro with one of these cases


With a larger, higher-quality screen, a lightning-fast A10X processor, and a stunning camera, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is more than just a suitable replacement for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The two may look similar at first glance, but they’re not compatible with the same set of accessories. Since you likely don’t want to risk breaking the display on your new tablet, snagging yourself a good case is essential. Luckily, our favorite cases for the iPad Pro 10.5 offer enhanced functionality, style, and solid drop protection. Check them out below.

Logitech Slim Combo Keyboard Case ($130)

Logitech Slim Combo Keyboard Case

This combo case includes a protective shell and cover, along with a detachable keyboard. The keyboard sports well-spaced, backlit keys, and attaches via Apple’s Smart Connector for easy pairing and charging. The outer cover is durable and easy to clean, and your iPad will automatically wake when you open it. You can also use it to prop up your iPad at four different angles, some of which are better for typing, reading, and video chatting. There’s even a convenient holder for your Apple Pencil. This case comes in black or blue.

Buy one now from:

Apple

Speck Balance Folio Case ($40)

Speck Balance Folio Case

If you primarily want drop and scratch protection, then Speck’s folio case is the ideal solution. The durable case can withstand falls from up to four feet, has a bezel that extends around the screen, and sports a soft interior lining that safeguards your iPad Pro 10.5. If you open the cover, which locks securely with a special clasp, you’ll find it supports multiple angles for typing or reading comfortably. It comes in a range of different colors, too, including purple, gray, red, blue, and black.

Buy one now from:

Speck

MoKo Slim Cover ($9)

MoKo Slim Cover

If you blew your budget on the iPad Pro 10.5, then this low-cost cover could be just what you need. The design is simple, comprising a thin, translucent polycarbonate shell with a leather-style, polyurethane cover that folds back to prop up your tablet at different viewing and typing angles. The cover connects magnetically, and supports the automatic sleep-wake function. This is a minimalist solution, however, so don’t expect rugged drop protection. It comes in a wide range of colors, including gold, blue, and silver.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Pad & Quill Oxford Case ($130)

Pad & Quill Oxford Case

You’ll fall in love with this full-grain leather case from Pad & Quill. It showcases a classic folio design that relies upon adhesive to fix your iPad Pro 10.5 in place. Don’t worry, though — the latter component is removable, residue-free, and can be reattached. The cover also supports the automatic sleep-wake function and includes a handy pocket for stowing loose documents. It also allows you to prop up your iPad in landscape mode when watching movies. The finish comes in either a chestnut or a lighter, whisky variety.

Buy one now from:

Pad & Quill

Supcase Unicorn Beetle Case ($25)

Supcase Unicorn Beetle Case

This case promises protection from impact shock with a dual-layer design that wraps flexible TPU in a hard, polycarbonate shell. The front cover has a frame that sports a built-in screen protector, and there are port covers to keep dust and debris out. You’ll also find accurate cut-outs for your tablet’s Touch ID sensor camera, and speakers, as well as a handy kickstand that makes it easy to prop up your iPad in landscape mode. You’ll get good protection with this case, but it does impact usability and clashes with the iPad’s style.

Buy one now from:

Amazon




11
Jun

With its ‘Beyond’ initiative, Audi wants to be a thought leader in AI


Why it matters to you

As AI advances, both public and private institutions will work to develop the technology in a socially responsible way.

Audi wants to be a big player in artificial intelligence but perhaps not in the way you’d expect.

At the AI for Good Global Summit, a United Nations-hosted congress on the development of AI for humanity’s benefit, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler announced the company’s new Beyond initiative, which aims to bring together a network of experts to explore the social implications of AI in the automotive industry and working world.

“AI will fundamentally change our lives and working world,” Stadler said at a press briefing in Geneva. “It’s up to all of us to make sure AI is used to benefit society.”

For the past two years, Audi has been developing a network of thought leaders, including philosophers, lawyers, psychologists, and computer scientists. A workshop brought together Audi engineers and researchers from institutions like MIT and Oxford.

From this workshop, the company has identified two areas to focus its energy — the social effects of autonomous driving and the future of work.

“[Autonomous driving] will be the biggest transformation in our industry,” Stadler said. With that in mind, policymakers, programmers, ethicists, and car manufacturers will have to collaborate to make sure these machines act in ways that are consistent with our values as persons and as a society.

“People will have to trust,” Stadler said. “Without trust there is no market.”

Stadler himself has engaged with robots and AI to develop his own trust in them, including a car ride with the humanoid Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics.

He added: “If we don’t bring trust to society, society won’t accept technologies.”

Audi is also actively developing autonomous driving systems, which the company separates into five levels, each offering a different degree of autonomy. Stadler suggested the company’s A8 is equipped with “level three” autonomy and that the company aims to test level five — i.e. fully autonomous — prototypes by 2020. These fully autonomous vehicles would give passengers the luxury to relax, work, or do whatever they wish.

“Time is the most precious good in our future,” Stadler said. “If we’re able to give that back to our customer …we ’re talking about a premium user experience.”

In the factory, Audi hopes to develop an approach to new technologies that help workers perform their tasks more safely and efficiently, rather than building machines that put people out of work. That means smarter factories with humans and machines working in tandem.

“At Audi we think human-machine interfaces should support employees,” he said. Companies like Hyundai are currently entering the field, developing exoskeletons to help factory workers carry heavy weight.

Despite many people’s concern about automation and job loss, Stadler dismissed the issue, suggesting that, as in industrial revolutions of the past, emerging technologies will shift rather than steal jobs.

“We shouldn’t talk about a fear that people will lose their jobs,” he said. “There will be different jobs available.”

Moving forward, it’s not clear how Audi will implement the Beyond Initiative — Stadler emphasized the project’s aim to develop an “attitude” related to AI implementation and tiptoed around questions about Audi’s willingness to share its AI insights — but the company plans to partner with at least two experts to inform the development of its technologies, according to a representative.




11
Jun

With its ‘Beyond’ initiative, Audi wants to be a thought leader in AI


Why it matters to you

As AI advances, both public and private institutions will work to develop the technology in a socially responsible way.

Audi wants to be a big player in artificial intelligence but perhaps not in the way you’d expect.

At the AI for Good Global Summit, a United Nations-hosted congress on the development of AI for humanity’s benefit, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler announced the company’s new Beyond initiative, which aims to bring together a network of experts to explore the social implications of AI in the automotive industry and working world.

“AI will fundamentally change our lives and working world,” Stadler said at a press briefing in Geneva. “It’s up to all of us to make sure AI is used to benefit society.”

For the past two years, Audi has been developing a network of thought leaders, including philosophers, lawyers, psychologists, and computer scientists. A workshop brought together Audi engineers and researchers from institutions like MIT and Oxford.

From this workshop, the company has identified two areas to focus its energy — the social effects of autonomous driving and the future of work.

“[Autonomous driving] will be the biggest transformation in our industry,” Stadler said. With that in mind, policymakers, programmers, ethicists, and car manufacturers will have to collaborate to make sure these machines act in ways that are consistent with our values as persons and as a society.

“People will have to trust,” Stadler said. “Without trust there is no market.”

Stadler himself has engaged with robots and AI to develop his own trust in them, including a car ride with the humanoid Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics.

He added: “If we don’t bring trust to society, society won’t accept technologies.”

Audi is also actively developing autonomous driving systems, which the company separates into five levels, each offering a different degree of autonomy. Stadler suggested the company’s A8 is equipped with “level three” autonomy and that the company aims to test level five — i.e. fully autonomous — prototypes by 2020. These fully autonomous vehicles would give passengers the luxury to relax, work, or do whatever they wish.

“Time is the most precious good in our future,” Stadler said. “If we’re able to give that back to our customer …we ’re talking about a premium user experience.”

In the factory, Audi hopes to develop an approach to new technologies that help workers perform their tasks more safely and efficiently, rather than building machines that put people out of work. That means smarter factories with humans and machines working in tandem.

“At Audi we think human-machine interfaces should support employees,” he said. Companies like Hyundai are currently entering the field, developing exoskeletons to help factory workers carry heavy weight.

Despite many people’s concern about automation and job loss, Stadler dismissed the issue, suggesting that, as in industrial revolutions of the past, emerging technologies will shift rather than steal jobs.

“We shouldn’t talk about a fear that people will lose their jobs,” he said. “There will be different jobs available.”

Moving forward, it’s not clear how Audi will implement the Beyond Initiative — Stadler emphasized the project’s aim to develop an “attitude” related to AI implementation and tiptoed around questions about Audi’s willingness to share its AI insights — but the company plans to partner with at least two experts to inform the development of its technologies, according to a representative.




11
Jun

Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Electronic Play-Doh, waterproof backpacks, and more


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At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion crowdfunding campaigns on the web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there — alongside some real gems. In this column, we cut through all the worthless wearables and Oculus Rift ripoffs to round up the week’s most unusual, ambitious, and exciting projects. But don’t grab your wallet just yet. Keep in mind that any crowdfunded project can fail — even the most well-intentioned. Do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Bean — an affordable SLA 3D printer

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Back when 3D printing was just beginning to make its way into the mainstream, the only printers available to consumers relied on more or less the same technique to create parts — a process known as filament deposition modeling, or FDM. It’s the type of 3D printing you’ve probably seen before: A printer feeds a strand of plastic filament through a hot nozzle, then carefully deposits the molten goo onto a build plate, layer by layer, to create a 3D object. This is by far the most popular kind of 3D printer — but lately, a technology known as stereolithography has moved in to steal some of the spotlight.

Stereolithography, or SLA, creates objects by flashing a laser up into a pool of photo-reactive resin, which hardens when struck by UV light. Due to the precision of this technique, SLA printers typically create much better parts than FDM printers do. The only problem, however, is that these kinds of printers have been prohibitively expensive for the past few years, so most people haven’t had access to them — but that’s beginning to change. Right now, you can get the Bean for around $300-$400 on Kickstarter — which is pretty amazing.

Read more here

Dough Universe — electronic Play-Doh

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Over the past few years, Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been absolutely inundated with toys designed to teach kids STEM skills. There are tons of them, and they come in just about every shape, size, and style you can imagine. Take a minute to peruse though your favorite crowdfunding site and you’ll find everything from modular robotics kits to conductive lego bricks — but Dough Universe might just be the most creative STEM toy yet. It’s basically play-doh that you can build circuits with.

The kit consists of two main components: a few jugs of multi-colored, conductive, infinitely re-shapable putty; and a set of simple electronic components that allow kids to interact with their doughy creations. There’s a controller (which acts as both a battery pack and speaker), a little wand for interacting with stuff, and a number of optional add-ons like motors and resistors. With this simple setup, kids are free to create whatever they want, and then connect it to the positive and negative terminals of the battery to form a circuit. Then, by touching different parts of the creation with the wand (and thereby altering the path of the current), kids can make sounds, initiate motion, and more.

Read more here

Mixxtape — smart cassette tape

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If vinyl has become too mainstream for your tastes and you’re looking to step up your hip-ness, then this new Kickstarter gizmo will be right up your alley. The Mixxtape, as it’s called, is basically a digital music player that looks –and works– like a cassette tape. That means you can load it with all the albums that you read about on Pitchfork (back before it was cool, of course) and then play them in the vintage Walkman that you snagged at the thrift store — presumably while you roller skate to the nearest mustache wax shop.

All joking aside, it’s actually a pretty sweet idea. Mixxtape functions like any other digital music player — and it can actually do some stuff that your ironic first-generation iPod can’t. Songs, podcasts, and audio books can be transferred onto it from a PC or Mac via USB, and it’s controlled through a small LCD touchscreen on the front. It supports formats like FLAC, MP3, WMA, OOG and WAV, and stores them all on the included 8GB MicroSD card, which can be swapped out if you need more space. The device’s creators claim that the battery will last a generous 12 hours, and recharge in less than one. Pretty sweet, right?

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Sea to Sky Pack — ultracompact waterproof backpack

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Who says you have to wear a backpack on your back? Certainly not the creators of the Sea to Sky Pack, as their waterproof backpack fits just as well in your back pocket as it does, you know, on your back. It’s the first product to come from a new Portland-based startup appropriately named Pacific Northwest, and it’s meant for outdoor enthusiasts who aren’t afraid of a little weather.  Constructed with 100-percent Cordura material, the durable pack is capable of holding 24 liters of whatever you’d like, and keeping those 24 liters completely dry even if the pack itself is submerged in water.

Aside from the fact that it’s waterproof, the Seat to Sky Pack also comes with a number of other features that ought to come in handy for the serious (or not so serious) hiker. For example, there are plenty of roomy and secure side pockets, as well as padded, adjustable, and breathable mesh straps to keep your backpack dry no matter how sweaty you get. The additional sternum strap can help with comfort and balance, too.  If you get into troubled waters, there’s a 95-decibel emergency whistle, and the main zipper is also reflective, which helps you stay visible (and thereby safe) at all times.  And even with all these features, the Sea to Sky Pack weighs in at just 5.5 ounces, and can be compressed into the included stuff sack to just 4.5 by 3 inches. That’s smaller than a can of soda.

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Ahead — make any helmet smart

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There’s been a huge number of smart bike helmets on Kickstarter and Indiegogo over the past couple years, and all of them are designed to make a rider’s life easier – and safer – while in the saddle.  These helmets often come equipped with lights, GPS navigation, and may even offer music playback through bone-conduction technology. But each of them have one significant problem as well: they require you to purchase a new helmet, even if the one you’re using is perfectly fine.

NYC-based startup Analogue Plus is hoping to change that, and has recently taken to Kickstarter with a gizmo that can turn your existing bike helmet into a smart helmet. The device, called Ahead, comes with a variety of mounts that allow it to securely connect to virtually any helmet. Once in place, it can be paired with your smartphone to activate a variety of different features. For instance, the Ahead’s built-in speaker and dual narrow-angle microphones allow riders to safely take phone calls while on their bikes. Those same microphones reportedly cut down on wind and background noise for clearer voice communication, with callers or personal digital assistants like Siri and Google Now. Pretty sweet, right?

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