Skip to content

Archive for


You’ll look like ‘Robocop’ with this smart cycling helmet

Bike helmets should be about safety first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rock one that’s also stylish. Livall’s BH51, introduced at IFA 2017, is exactly that. This cycling helmet is designed to protect your head whilst offering a sleek commuter design, enhanced by a strip of bright red LEDs on the back that you can light up every time you break or turn. Aside from that, the BH51 can pair with your phone via Bluetooth, making it possible to take calls or listen to music directly from the helmet. The stereo speakers uses bone conduction technology, so you can get your audio fix and be able to pay attention to the outside world simultaneously.

Best of all, you’ll look straight out of Robocop or Tron wearing it — and you know how much you want that. The BH51 will be available in the “willow green” color pictured above, as well as three others: “graphite black,” “sandstone grey,” and “misty blue.” If you can see yourself in one of these, Livall says it’ll hit its online store and Amazon in November for around $150.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!


Alexa and Siri are vulnerable to ‘silent,’ nefarious commands

Hacks are often caused by our own stupidity, but you can blame tech companies for a new vulnerability. Researchers from China’s Zheijiang University found a way to attack Siri, Alexa and other voice assistants by feeding them commands in ultrasonic frequencies. Those are too high for humans to hear, but they’re perfectly audible to the microphones on your devices. With the technique, researchers could get the AI assistants to open malicious websites and even your door if you had a smart lock connected.

The relatively simple technique is called DolphinAttack. Researchers first translated human voice commands into ultrasonic frequencies (over 20,000 hz). They then simply played them back from a regular smartphone equipped with an amplifier, ultrasonic transducer and battery — less than $3 worth of parts.

What makes the attack scary is the fact that it works on just about anything: Siri, Google Assistant, Samsung S Voice and Alexa, on devices like smartphones, iPads, MacBook and Nexus 7s, Amazon Echo and even an Audi Q3 — 16 devices and seven system in total. What’s worse, “the inaudible voice commands can be correctly interpreted by the SR (speech recognition) systems on all the tested hardware.” Suffice to say, it works even if the attacker has no device access and the owner has taken the necessary security precautions.

The group successfully tested commands like “Call 123-456-7890,” “open” and “Open the back door,” leaving owners vulnerable to data, or worse, real life attacks. It was even able to change the navigation on an Audi Q3.

There’s one bit of good news: At this point, the device has a range of five or six feet, so it’s of limited use unless researchers can increase the power. However, if you’re in a public place with your phone unlocked and Siri or Google Assistant enabled, an nearby attacker could possibly gain access to it.

Device makers could stop this simply by programming it to ignore commands at 20 KHz or other frequencies that humans can’t possibly speak in. However, the team found that every major AI assistant-enabled device currently accepts such commands without missing a beat. As to why the microphones even work at such frequencies (up to 42,000 Hz), filtering them out might lower a system’s “comprehension score,” an industrial designer told Fast Co. Some devices, like the Chromecast, also use it for ultrasonic device pairing.

For now, the researchers recommend that device makers either modify microphones so that they don’t accept signals above 20 Khz, or simply cancel any voice commands at inaudible frequencies. In the meantime, if you have a dog and he starts acting weird for no reason, we wouldn’t blame you for getting paranoid.

Via: Fast Co.

Source: Zhejiang University (Arxiv)


Microsoft to unveil new Surface gear on October 31st

Microsoft might not be done introducing new Surface hardware this year just because the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro are on store shelves. The company has confirmed that devices executive Panos Panay will be presenting at the company’s two-day Future Decoded event (starting October 31st — yes, Halloween), hinting that he’ll introduce new hardware. A source speaking to The Verge supports this with word that there will be “at least one” new piece of hardware at the event, so it seems like Microsoft’s habit of introducing new Surface machines in October will remain intact. As it stands, there are a few systems that could stand to get upgrades.

The most obvious candidate is the Surface Book. Microsoft introduced the current base model back in 2015, and the 2016 refresh ultimately amounted to a high-spec option rather than a true replacement. Provided the Surface Book line carries forward, it’s due for new processors (8th-generation Core seems likely), new graphics and other tweaks that you’d expect after two years.

There are other possibilities. That promised LTE Surface Pro has yet to materialize, and the Surface Studio all-in-one is nearly a year old (with graphics that were outdated when the system was new, we’d add). The Surface Hub is long in the tooth, and there’s always the chance that Microsoft will unveil a new form factor just to keep people on their toes. In short: while there are a few front runners for hardware updates, it’s hard to completely rule out surprises.

Source: The Verge


T-Mobile family plans now include free Netflix streaming

T-Mobile tends to (usually) compete on price with small freebies thrown in, but now it’s sweetening the pot with a bonus you’re likely to use. If you have a T-Mobile One family plan (that is, two or more lines), you now get a standard two-stream Netflix subscription for free. It’ll cover both new and existing Netflix viewers, and you can apply the credit toward a more advanced Netflix tier if everyone in your clan wants to watch at the same time.

There are a few catches. You need to be on a One plan, of course, so your grandfathered plan won’t cut it. Also, Netflix streaming on cellular still defaults to 480p — you need to enable higher quality yourself. And there’s a degree of lock-in involved. After all, if you switch carriers you’re suddenly back to handling the Netflix bill yourself.

The network isn’t shy about the reason for the move: this is a foil to AT&T’s DirecTV Now and Verizon’s Go90. T-Mobile claims it doesn’t have an interest in snapping up a TV provider or internet service to offer video to its customers, and that many people would just want Netflix anyway. There’s a degree of truth to that (there’s a good chance you already have Netflix), but it’s clear that T-Mobile’s deal was born out of competitive pressure.

Source: T-Mobile


US House sends self-driving car bill to the Senate

We’ve been following the progress of the SELF DRIVE Act, legislation that would allow autonomous vehicles on regular roads, for awhile now. Back in July, the Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously voted to send the bill to the full chamber for a vote; that vote was held today. It passed the House in a bipartisan victory.

SELF DRIVE, or the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, will allow companies to test up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles on regular roads, even if they don’t meet current safety standards. What this legislation does is give companies researching and actively working on self-driving tech a chance to prove their technology is safe.

The bottom line is that safety standards that apply to human-driven cars don’t necessarily apply to self-driving vehicles (such as the requirement that a car have a steering wheel). It’s a victory for companies that have been lobbying to get their cars out there; after all, it’s hard to prove that your technology is as safe as (or safer than) human-driven cars if you can’t test it on regular roads.

This doesn’t mean that these cars won’t be held to safety standards; companies that participate will need to secure permits before they can put their self-driving cars on the road and will regularly submit safety assessments to regulators. The manufacturers are also required (for the first time) to provide an official plan on how they will address cybersecurity threats in their autonomous vehicles.

The Senate has been debating a similar bill to SELF DRIVE, and they haven’t passed any legislation yet. As a result, this is just another step towards autonomous vehicle legislation, but it’s one that’s in the right direction.


Roku launches a free, ad-supported movie channel of its own

Roku announced today that is has launched its own movie channel. The Roku Channel will be available on all Roku players, sticks and TVs in the US and it will carry a selection of films that will update every month.

Some of the films available come from licensing deals with studios like Lionsgate, MGM and Sony Pictures Entertainment while others are sourced from other Roku channel publishers such as American Classics and Popcornflix. Some films you can expect to find at launch include Ali, The Karate Kid and Legally Blonde as well as hundreds of others from classics to blockbusters.

There are no added fees for the channel, which is supported by ads. But Roku says that there are half as many advertisements as there are on traditional television channels.

Roku, which just recently filed for its IPO through which it seeks to raise $100 million, has over 15 million active accounts and its devices account for 37 percent of all streaming media players used in the US.

The Roku Channel starts rolling out now and should reach all devices in the coming weeks.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Roku


British Library exhibit to highlight the sounds it’s fighting to save

Last year, the British Library began the “Save our Sounds” project, with the aim of accelerating the digitisation of millions upon millions of lost audio recordings held in its vast archive. The collection includes many rare and previously unreleased recordings of everything from speeches and music to wildlife, street sounds and pirate radio broadcasts. In some respects, it’s a race against the clock. Time is taking its toll on ancient formats like the wax cylinder, for example, and the equipment needed to play some formats is extremely hard to come by. There’s much to be done, but next month the British Library is celebrating achievements thus far with a free exhibition that “will explore how sound has shaped and influenced our lives since the phonograph was invented in 1877.”

“Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound” runs from October 6th to March 11th, 2018, and complements the 90,000-plus recordings the British Library has already preserved and made available online. The exhibition, which’ll be joined by various events, will include curiosities such as the “wireless log” of Alfred Taylor, who at 16 years of age, recorded the 1922 equivalent of a vlog. Key moments in sound will be celebrated, such as the formation of the BBC and pop charts, and artifacts such as rare records, players and recording equipment will also be on display, “exploring how technology has transformed our listening experience.”

Source: British Library


Apple and Amazon reportedly pursuing James Bond film rights

Sony’s distribution rights to the James Bond films expired with 2015’s Spectre and MGM has been looking for a new distributor ever since. As of now, Warner Bros. is expected to land the rights, but two new rather surprising players have jumped into the game — Amazon and Apple. Sony has also pursued a deal with MGM, as have Universal and Fox, but sources tell the Hollywood Reporter that the tech companies are willing to throw down as much as or more money than Warner Bros. to land the rights.

Like other recent moves, including the reported interest in a major Hollywood studio, this one highlights Apple’s interest in ramping up its video content. Apple’s pursuit of the franchise is said to be led by the company’s new video programming heads, former Sony Pictures Television presidents Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg. Their involvement is leading some to think that Apple is interested in more than just the film rights and is maybe pursuing TV licensing deals as well.

This isn’t an uncommon thought. Unlike brands such as Marvel that have spread across both film and television, the Bond franchise has largely remained on the big screen and many see it as an untapped brand. Apple’s and Amazon’s move into the bidding arena could mean that a purchase or licensing of the entire franchise may be on the table. The franchise is said to be valued between $2 billion and $5 billion.

Source: Hollywood Reporter


Mobile AI is Huawei’s not-so-secret weapon

Smartphone makers are betting on camera features to help their flagship devices stand out. Samsung launched its first dual-cameras on the Note 8, Sony introduced super slow-mo video-recording on its XZ Premium and XZ1 series, while LG equipped the V30 with a glass lens that boasts a wide f/1.6 aperture. But Huawei has chosen a different route. In lieu of a new phone, the company showed off its Kirin 970 chip at IFA 2017, calling attention to the chipset’s AI capabilities. The Kirin 970 will power Huawei’s next flagship phone, the Mate 10, which is set to launch at a separate October event in Munich.

In addition to a slew of high-end features like powerful graphics performance (integrated 12-core GPU), better power management (10nm structure) and improved LTE capability (Cat 18 support), the Kirin 970’s standout feature is its embedded neural processing unit (NPU). With the NPU, Huawei’s next smartphone will dedicate power to AI-based tasks like recognizing and sorting images or optimizing your phone’s performance.

This has several benefits, including improved performance and better battery life. The Kirin 970 “processed 2,000 images per minute, which was faster than other chips on the market,” according to Huawei’s press release. In real life, the Kirin 970 will likely speed up AI-based tasks if the apps invoke the NPU, which developers can do using either Huawei’s own APIs, Google’s TensorFlow and Facebook’s Caffe 2. This means that things like facial recognition or real-time computer vision (like detecting objects on your screen) will be faster, and consume less power than they do on other phones. Plus, your privacy will be better protected because the information is being processed on the device instead of being sent to the cloud.

Huawei’s focus on AI is different from its rivals in several important ways. Firstly, the company isn’t simply sticking a digital assistant in its phone and calling it a day like others are doing. While it may not have an anthropomorphic form, Huawei’s take on AI is a more deeply integrated one. That also means it’s harder to evaluate the benefits of the behind-the-scenes AI improvements, since there are many other factors that affect a device’s performance. (To be fair, though, Huawei’s phones in China have an assistant called Xiao E, or “small E” in Chinese, while in the US the Mate 9 supports a limited version of Amazon’s Alexa).

Because it makes its own CPUs and phones, Huawei is also uniquely able to create an AI system that uses both hardware (chip) and software for better results. Although competitors like Samsung and Xiaomi also make their own chips for their own phones, we haven’t seen them take advantage of that greater control other than to cut costs and reduce dependency on third party suppliers. On the other hand, Huawei has already launched its first AI-powered phone, the Mate 9, last year, which uses machine learning software to control hardware resources. That phone was designed to optimize performance by learning your habits over time and dedicating power to the apps it predicts you’ll next use, before you even launch them — even if it was hard to tell when the AI kicked in to help manage resources on the Mate 9.

Pursuing a different route is a clever, and arguably necessary, strategy for Huawei. Despite its status as the third largest smartphone maker in the world, it still struggles to find a place in the US, hampered in part by its hard-to-pronounce name and an apparent lack of support from American carriers. Huawei has not yet released a Kirin-powered phone on a US carrier. But the company’s head of software marketing Christophe Coutelle told reporters here in Berlin to “stay tuned” adding that the “US market is very important.”

Coutelle told Engadget that he believes the company’s investment in a dedicated chip for AI shows its position and respect for privacy. That might help allay consumers’ concerns that the Chinese company is relaying information to the foreign government.

Huawei has a long way to go before it can sway some of the fans who are firmly ensconced in Apple and Samsung’s camps, but the company said besting the two tech giants isn’t the main objective. The Chinese brand wants to focus on creating devices that help people communicate, and is staying away from making home appliances and the like for now. This decision to hone in on phones (and the occasional tablet and laptop), along with the pursuit of deep AI integration, could differentiate Huawei from its rivals, or at least add to its credibility as a leader in mobile technology. We’ll learn more about whether the Kirin 970’s benefits are truly meaningful this October. Until then, Huawei will continue to linger in the shadow of Samsung and Apple until it finds a way to convince us of its worth.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!


‘Seal’ swim analyzer measures your stroke form and power

Samsung and Speedo aren’t the only companies targeting swimmers with new products at IFA 2017. In addition the mobile giant’s Gear Fit 2 Pro and Gear Sport earlier this week, Platysens, a startup based out of Hong Kong, is doing something different with its Seal swim analyzers. Still at the prototype stage, these wearable rings help swimmers measure their hands’ movement and force as they push through the water, letting them use that data through a companion app to learn more about things like their stroke distribution. They can check whether their left hand is weaker than the right one, for example.

In addition to force measurement and motion analysis, the sensors inside the Seal can also track and left-right hand symmetry and their rhythm. Naturally, syncing to your smartphone is done wirelessly over Bluetooth, and the idea is you’ll share your data with coaches who can digest that and utilize it as a training tool.

Platysens says it hopes to turn its Seal prototypes into an actual product six months from now, though it doesn’t know how much they’ll be if that ever happens. Let’s hope it actually does though, because there’s definitely plenty of potential here.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!

%d bloggers like this: